Depression and Austerity - WJEC HY4

Covering the impact of the Depression, worst hit areas, social and economic impact of the Depression and the extent, Labour's Collapse and the National Government and the extent of recovery.

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History ­ HY 4 Miss Bromfield's Course
The General Strike of 1926:
General strike is a strike which involves most major industries.
This strike lasted 9 days with 2 main causes, problems in the coal industry and changes
in the trade union movement.
Problems with the Coal Industry:
PreWW1 British coal mines were owned by individual mine owners, who chose
worker's wages.
Because mine owners chose what to pay the workers, there was no wage equality.
In 1889 the miners set up the Trade Union of Coal, campaigning for better conditions
and fairer wages.
In 1912 the miners of Britain went on strike to achieve a national minimum wage but
were unsuccessful.
In the context of 1912, to have the mine industry out of action was a huge worry for the
British Government.
Reasons for the 1912 Strike:
British coal is harder to mine than abroad.
Other countries had invested in higher tech mining machinery.
All different mines had different owners, rules and regulations so the industry wasn't
organised or efficient.
Other forms of power were being developed which appeared cheaper and more
After the 1912 Strike:
The government were concerned the miners would strike during the war.
During WW1 the Government took control of all mines and nationalised the industry.
The government set a 7 hour day limit and introduced the minimum wage, which calmed
things down during the war.
In 1919 miners wanted the mines to remain nationalised but the government were
determined to hand the mines back. Lloyd George found himself near a mine crisis so
set up a commission to see if mining should remain nationalised.
He said whatever the commission found, he would put in place. The commission found
coal industry should remain nationalised. Lloyd George, however, handed the mines
back anyway.
Between 1920 and 1921 the coal industry hit a slump. It was estimated that the industry
lost £5 million a month, and this slump coincided with Lloyd George handing the mines
The private mine owners were losing money fast so had to cut mages sharply to save
money and increase hours. Now only a matter of time before the miners kick back
against the mine owners and the government.
Changes in the Trade Union Movement:

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Page 2

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Just preWW1 the British trade union movement were bigger and stronger than ever
before, and in 191014 there were many strikes in various industries, some official and
some unofficial.
The 1910 railway strike, boiler man strike, cotton workers and miner's strike.
In 1911 there was a huge Docker's strike and national rail strike. The Government
were so concerned they called in the trips against the strikers, leading to fatalities.
During this time many trade unions thought the only way to negotiate was through strike
action.…read more

Page 3

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The money ran out by May 1926 and wages would be cut again. Baldwin and the
government knew a general strike would happen. The commission reported its findings
in March `26 and couldn't find a solution to mining problems.
It agreed with a plan to cut wages, but didn't agree with lengthened hours and said mine
owners should invest in improving the coal industry.
People couldn't afford to improve the coal mines, and Baldwin stated his money would
run out on the 30th April.…read more

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Calling off the strike had huge implications for the TUC. Workers didn't trust them
anymore. Returning workers were also punished for striking, those who were seen as ring
leaders were immediately sacked.
Baldwin's government passed the Trade Disputes Act in 1927 banning General strikes
and sympathy strikes. The general strike almost destroyed the Trade Union movement
and within 5 years membership dropped by over 1 million.…read more

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Most within the Labour movement thought it was immoral to impose the double burden of
unemployment and reduced benefits but MacDonald and Snowden insisted the cuts were
They were willing to reduce payments to the unemployed but only 10% rather than 20%,
but it became clear that this didn't have the support of the majority of the Labour cabinet
and without the support and with so many disagreements, the Government found this a
fairly unsuccessful attempt to solve the problem.…read more

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Baldwin had by the summer of 1931 achieved the remarkable feat of roundly defeating
two of the countries most powerful vested interests, trade unionism and millionaire press.
Negatives for the Labour Government:
The Government's record in domestic affairs was uninspiring. The Lords threw out a Bill
to raise the schoolleaving age to 15 and the Conservatives and Liberals combined to
wreck a Bill to remove most of the more objectionable features of the Trade Disputes Act
of 1927.…read more

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By 1928 share prices were determined not by trading prospects of concerns whose
shares were bought but by conviction of investors in general that share values were bound
to go on increasing.
The crash deepened the slump by bringing an end t o the fold of US loans abroad and
tariffs against foreign competitors were rapidly introduced everywhere to protect home
manufacturers.…read more

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There was contrary pressure on MacDonald, and the TUC infuriated MacDonald and
Snowden by rejecting the claim that the situation threatened immediate catastrophe and
made counterproposals.
The maintenance of the gold standard and high international value of sterling preserved the
rate of interest on Government, and Bevin saw the Government plans as a device to
protect the middle class at the expense of the weakest sections of the community.…read more

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There was a demand for an independent Conservative appeal to the electors on the issue
of a tariff. This would wreck the National Government, owing to the theological
adherence to Free Trade and was likely to rally the scattered but angry hosts of Labour.
The 3 parties forming the government would issue their own separate programmes under
a "doctor's mandate" and the government as a whole sought from the electorate
unfettered authority to decide to do what it thought best.…read more

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Policies towards the export trade also illustrated the confusion of the Government's
actions and achievements of only partial success. However, by the coal act of 1938
royalties were nationalised (with compensation to owners) and a belated attempt was
made to give added strength to the Reorganisation Commission.
The Government's contribution to progress in the steel industry was limited. A tariff was
put on imported steel, and the Government demanded some in return measure of
Some towns e.g.…read more


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