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1842 General Strike (1842)

The 1842 General Strike, also known as the Plug Plot Riots, started among the Staffordshire miners and soon spread through the country affecting factories, mills and coal mines from Dundee to South Wales and Cornwall.

The strike was influenced by the Chartist movement, a mass working class movement from 1838 – 1848. After the second Chartist Petition was presented to Parliament in April 1842, Stalybridge contributed 10,000 signatures. After the rejection of the petition the first general strike began in the coal mines of Staffordshire. The second phase of the strike originated in Stalybridge.

Relation to Textiles:

The General Strike was the culmination of earlier discontent among the working class with wage reductions in the mills; starting in the Bayley’s cotton mill in Stalybridge, it spread around the mills, with almost half a million workers involved at the peak, marching on factories and disabling the boilers by force if it was necessary.

The rioters generally called for higher wages, a shorter working day, or lower rents (most workers lived in housing built and owned by the mills themselves) – a reflection of the popular view among the working classes that conditions had worsened over the years – indeed, the wage increase they were calling for was merely a restoration of the wages of 24 years before.

Relation to Power:

By the middle of the 19th Century, with a significant number of the working class in industrial jobs rather than agricultural or in cottage industries, issues affecting workers, particularly wage cuts in response to a depression in the early 1840s, could now be stoked to incite protest and riots. Although movements such as Chartism failed in their immediate political goals, they laid the groundwork for future social changes, and it was in any case clear that political power for the as-yet voiceless was on the horizon.

The general strike was known as the Plug Plot Riots because mills were stopped from working by removing plugs or bolts from steam engines so that pressure could not be raised and hence no power was available to drive the machinery.

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