Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies

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Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies was a British right-wing (but non-political) movement established in 1925 to provide volunteers in the event of a general strike. During the General Strike of 1926 the OMS was taken over by the government and was used to provide vital services such as transport and communications.

Prelude[edit]

Main article: Red Friday

On "Red Friday", 31 July 1925, the government avoided a confrontation with the Miners Federation of Great Britain, which was expected to be followed by secondary industrial action by the railwaymen of the National Union of Railwaymen, and wider confrontation. However, as Stanley Baldwin said later, "we were not ready": the government had an emergency plan but inadequate means of implementing it. Accordingly, the government established a Royal Commission and provided a subsidy to enable the mineowners to maintain the miners' existing wages and hours of work.[1][2] In early August, the Home Secretary William Joynson-Hicks reported to the cabinet on the state of preparations, and his recommendations were approved, but it deferred the establishment of a volunteer service.[3]

Formation[edit]

The OMS had its public origins in the letters page of The Times where many were calling for the formation of a volunteer organisation intended to take over the jobs of striking workers in the event of a general strike, which was widely feared amongst the conservative establishment at the time as part of a 'communist plot'. The same letters page was used on 25 September 1925 by Home Secretary to announce the formation of just such a group, with the letter announcing the new OMS name.[4] Nevertheless, the Home Secretary stated on 1 October that he had known of its inauguration for many weeks and the promoters had consulted him. The government had no objection to it.[5]

The organisation, to be run by a committee chaired by Lord Hardinge, was to have branches in every city and to recruit volunteers in five classes, four of which were based on the men's fitness and age and the fifth of which was for women who were to be set to work only in places where they could avoid any "rough handling".[4] Lord Jellicoe and other top military men sat on the committee, both to give the OMS a military discipline and to instill public confidence in the group that such important figures were involved.[6]

The organisation was however explicitly non-political. This meant that the British Fascists were barred from joining unless they changed their name, abandoned their military structure, and changed their manifesto. This led to a split in the British Fascists, with several of the leaders leaving to become the loyalists, an organisation absorbed into OMS.[7] It showed its apparent independence by employing nobody in government service.[6]

Reaction[edit]

Whilst the scheme was enthusiastically supported by the highly conservative Daily Mail it was denounced as a form of fascism not only by the Communist Party of Great Britain but also by the otherwise anti-communist Daily Express, which compared the OMS to the Ku Klux Klan and the Blackshirts.[8] An early speech by one of the group's leaders was deemed unfit for broadcast by the BBC who feared that it would compromise their impartiality.[9] Brigadier-General William Horwood, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police also refused to work with what he believed to be a fascist organisation and by the end of 1925 the government had informed General Sir Robert McCalmont that in the event of any general strike the OMS would be disbanded and their membership taken over entirely by the government.[9] Nonetheless the OMS did have the confidence of some provincial police forces and branches of the Conservative Party despite its inauspicious start.[9]

Development[edit]

The development of OMS was not regarded as wholly favourable by some government officials, who were concerned at rumours that OMS agents were expecting to supplant official organisations in the event of an emergency.[10] The junior ministers William Mitchell-Thomson and J.C.C. Davidson met the leaders of OMS, who agreed not to establish branches where there were local objections, but to encourage unofficial contacts between the local officials. OMS would concentrate on recruiting lorry drivers rather than those more likely to be employed by local authorities.[11]

OMS was short of funds by March 1926, having failed to gain the commercial backing that it hoped.[12] It also lacked the means to train volunteers.[13]

General Strike[edit]

Following the outbreak of the 1926 General Strike and the introduction by the government of emergency powers, the OMS turned over its membership lists to the newly appointed government civil commissioners and thus became a state organisation.[14] Although the OMS name continued to be used, any notion of independence was abandoned with the OMS an arm of government.[15] The group had some 100,000 members registered at the commencement of the strike, although the middle class status of many of these volunteers meant that they often proved wholly unsuited to the manual work, such as the running the railways and ports.[16] It produced slightly over 5000 volunteers, of whom car drivers, lorry drivers and power station workers were the largest groups.[17] The group did manage to produce the British Gazette, a pro-government newspaper published during the strike.[18]

The OMS and fascism[edit]

The British Fascisti (BF), which maintained transport and communications units to be used in the event of a strike, provided an organisational structure for the OMS although there was uncertainty at government level about allowing BF members to join the OMS given fears about their potentially revolutionary nature.[19] Members of BF were allowed to join only if it agreed to renounce fascism and the BF name, a proposal rejected by the majority of the group's controlling committee under Rotha Lintorn-Orman. The minority faction, led by Brigadier-General R.B.D. Blakeney and Rear-Admiral A.E. Armstrong, split to form a new group known as the Loyalists (as well as the Scottish Loyalists under the Earl of Glasgow) and this group was subsumed into the OMS as soon as the strike began.[20]

Despite this individual fascists obtained high rank within the OMS. BF member and later co-founder of the National Fascisti Colonel Ralph Bingham worked along with Peter Howard, who had published a magazine for fascists in the Ukraine and who was later a member of the New Party, running an OMS depot during the strike.[21] The BF's Neil Francis Hawkins, later a leading figure within both the British Union of Fascists and the Union Movement, was also important in the OMS during the strike.[22]

Later organisations[edit]

The OMS can in some ways be compared to 1970s movements such as Civil Assistance, which played on widespread public fear of trade union militancy.[citation needed]

Bibliography[edit]

  • R. Page Arnet, The General Strike, May 1926: its origins and history, Labour Research Department, 1926; reprint 1967
  • Robert Benewick, A study of British fascism: Political Violence and Public Order, Allan Lane, 1969
  • Stephen Dorril, Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley & British Fascism, Penguin Books, 2007
  • A. Mason, 'The Government and the General Strike, 1926', International Review of Social History 14 (1969), pp. 1-22
  • Anne Perkins, A Very British Strike: 3 May - 12 May 1926, Macmillan, 2006
  • G.A. Phillips, The General Strike: the politics of industrial conflict, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976
  • Patrick Renshaw, The General Strike, Taylor & Francis, 1975

References[edit]

  1. ^ Renshaw 1975, pp. 122–7
  2. ^ Mason 1969, p. 7
  3. ^ Phillips 1976, p. 95
  4. ^ a b Perkins 2006, p. 70
  5. ^ Page Arnot 1926, p. 54
  6. ^ a b Renshaw 1975, pp. 130–131
  7. ^ Benewick 1969, p. 35
  8. ^ Perkins 1971, pp. 70–71
  9. ^ a b c Perkins 1971, p. 71
  10. ^ Renshaw 1975, pp. 132–3
  11. ^ Phillips 1976, pp. 96–7
  12. ^ Phillips 1976, p. 97
  13. ^ Renshaw 1975, p. 186
  14. ^ Perkins 1971, p. 114
  15. ^ Renshaw 1975, p. 131
  16. ^ Renshaw 1975, pp. 132–133
  17. ^ Phillips 1975, p. 134
  18. ^ The Cabinet Papers Glossary - O from The National Archives website
  19. ^ Dorril, p. 198
  20. ^ Benewick 1969, p. 35
  21. ^ Dorril, p. 184
  22. ^ Dorril, p. 200