The war and the transformation of the British society 1903-28 - Booklet 4

The Economic and social changes 1918-29:

The changing role of women, the Industrial inrest and the General strike.

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The changing role of women 1918-28


Political progress

  • There was some progress in the political position, with women aged 30 and over getting the vote in 1918. However, younger wome, in their twenties, were dissapointed with the age limit. They were considered too young immature to cope in a responsible way with the vote. The real reason was that men feared a female majority of voters.
  • Women also won the right to stand for parliment and in 1919 Nancy Astor became the first women MP to take her seat in Parliment. In 1928 women aged 21 and over were given the vote . At last they had equal voting rights to men.
  • In 1929 margret Bondfield became the first female member of the goverment.
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The changing role of women 1918-28


The social progress

The war had given many women greater confidence and changed their attituide to their appearence and social habits.

  • Young women no longer had chaperones. They were able to go to the cinema or to dances with boyfriends without having to take an aunt or other female with them.
  • The flapper was the most extreme example of these social changes. These were young women, in their twenties who challenged the old fashioned ideas about women. They wore revealing clothes with short skirts, a lot of makeup and short hair hair. They drank and smoked in public and performed modern dances such as the charleston.
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The changing role of women 1918-28

Employement opportunites

After the first world war women returned to their traditional, unskilled, low paid jobs or thier roles as houswives. By the 1930's  women's wages were only half those of men, even if they were doing the same job.

However there was some progress:

  • The sex Disqualification Removal Act of 1919 meant that women could no longer be barred from any job because of their sex. In theory, they could now enter proffesions such as law and architecture. However, the law still onl applied to single women. Once married, a women had to give up her job.
  • In 1925 the civil service admitted women to goverment service for the first time.
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The industial unrest 1918-26

In 1926, there was a general strike which lasted for nine days. This was due to the problems in the coal industry and developments in the trade union movement.

Problems in the coal industry

During the first world war, the Goverment nationalised, or took over the coal mines. This benefited the miners because they got:

  • A seven-hour day
  • A national minimum wage.
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The industial unrest 1918-26

Coal mining however suffered in the years after the first world war.

  • Exports of British coal, fell as British coal has to compete with the cheaper coal produced by countries such as the USA, Germany and Poland.
  • The Miners wanted the goverment to permanently nationalise the coal industry. In 1919 the Prime Minister, Lloyd George set up the sanky commision to look into the coal industry and promised to accept it's findings. In 1920, it recommended permanent nationalisation. Lloyd George went back on his word and would not accept this conclusion.
  • When the coal industry faced a serious slump in the winter of 1920-21 and began to lose five million pounds a month, the Goverment handed the industry back to private owners. Their solution was to cut the miners pay and make them work a longer day.
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The industial unrest 1918-26

The trade union movement - The trade union movement grew larger and stronger in the years before and after the first world war. Some trade unions at this time beleived that strike action was the most effective way of bringing about changes in society. Their ultimate weapon was 'direct action' or strikes culminating in a national or general strike. The British trade unions moved closer to the idea with theformation of the Triple Industrial alliance in 1913.

  • The three largest unions, the Miners Federation of Great Britain (MFGB), the Transport Worker's Federation (mainly dockworkers) and the National Union of Railwaymen, agreed that if one memeber came out on strike the other two would come out in sympathy.
  • This would effectivley lead to a general strike as the country would be paralysed.

The triple alliance was abandoned during the first world war but trade unions increased their strength as membership doubled from 4 to 8 milllion between 1914 and 1920. There was a great number of strikes in the period 1919-20 and the Triple Alliance was revived in Feb 1919.

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The industial unrest 1918-26

Black Friday - 15 April 1921. - there was almost a general strike in 1921.

  • In April 1921, the coal industry owners announced wage cuts and a longer working day. They locked out the miners until they agreed to these terms. The longer working day did not make sense. It meant that miners would produce even more coal that could not be sold.
  • The MFBG called upon the transport workers and the railwaymen to support them in a strike against the wage cut on Friday 15 April.
  • At the very last moment, however, these two unions pulled out leaving the miners to fight alone. That is why the miners called it 'Black Friday'.
  • The Triple Alliancem which was now known as the 'Cripple Alliance', collasped. The miners were eventually starved back to work in July 1921. They had to accept pay cuts and the additon of an extra 30 minutes to the working day.
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The industial unrest 1918-26

Red Friday - 31 July 1925 - Coal prices contined to fall, leading to the second occasion when there could have been a general strike.

  • The pit owners again announced a longer working day and pay cuts. The miner's leader, A.J. Cook, was furious. His reply, 'Not a penny off the pay! Not a minute on the day' became the miner's slogan.
  • The trade Union Congress (TUC) backed the miners. All movement of coal by land or water was to be stopped from 31 July.
  • The Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, was not ready for a general strike. He therefore gave a subsidy, or financial support, to the coal owners to last nine months and to prevent a cut in wages. In the meantime, he set up another commision, led by liberal Herbert Samual, to study the problems in the coal industry anc come up with a long-term soultion.
  • The unions called their success 'Red Friday'. It was, however, only a breathing space. Everyone knew there would be a showdown if the miners and pit owners did not agree about what was to happen when the Goverment subsidy ended on 1 May 1926.
  • Meanwhile the Goverment made preperations for a general strike.  
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The industial unrest 1918-26

The immediate cause of the strike

The Samual Commision reported in March 1926 but failed to find a solution that would keep either side happy. Shortly after the commision reported, Baldwin annocunced that the subsidy would end on 30 April. The owners then set wages even lower than they had previously proposed. The miners refused to accept this and were again locked out. They called on the other unions to support them by coming out on stike. The TUC agreed to support the miners and to neogotiate with the Goverment on their behalf.

On the 30 April 1926, the employers made their final offer - a 13% wage cut and a 'Temporary' increase in the working day by one hour. It was rejected by the MFGB. On the following day , the TUC voted by large majority in favour of striking in support of the miners. Talks between the TUC and Baldwin continued in an effort to find a solution. These were called of by Baldwin on 2 May when he heard that the printers at the offices of the Daily Mail had refused to write an article, 'For King and Country'; which criticised the miners, The strike began at midnight on 3 May.

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The industial unrest 1918-26

The General Strike of 1926

This lasted for nine days and brought much of the country to a standstill. At first, the strike seemed successful and in the first few days the number of strikers actually increased. The strikers were well organised. They allowed essential supplies and had no intention of bringing out hospital workers or other key workers. There was little trouble and only person was killed in the first week.

However scenes of violence gradually increased. In Glasgow and Doncaster strikers were arrested, tried and imprisoned. There were ploice baton charges, stone throwing, attempted derailment of trains driven by volenteers and overturned lorries and buses.

Much to the suprise of the miners and most strikers, the TUC did not extend the strike. instead, on 12 May it's leaders went to Downing Street and called of the strike.

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The industial unrest 1918-26

Reasons why the General strike failed:

Goverment preperations

The Goverment had been preparing for a general strike since Red Friday, July 1925, and by May 1926 it had a list of 100,000 volenteers prepared to help with essential services during a strike. During th strike the goverment used the army to escort food convoys and guard the food depot set up in Hyde park. Special constables were recruited to help keep law and order.

The work of the volenteers

Many middle-class people disagreed with the idea of a general strike and volenteered to help the Goverment. For some people jobs such as driving buses were 'good fun'. Such people managed to keep some buses and trains running.

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The industial unrest 1918-26

Goverment propaganda

Thw Goverment printed it's own newspaper during the strike, The British Gazette. The chairmen of the BBC, Sir John Reith, decided to allow only broadcasts by the Goverment and he refused airtime to the TUC and the labour party leader, Ramsey MacDonald. The Goverment even placed loudspeakers in the streets to ensure more people heard the Goverment version of the events. The strike was portrayed as a threat to the British system of Goverment - an attempt by the minority of the people to bully the majority. The Goverment insisted that the strike was not working and it praised the work of the volenteers.

TUC Mistakes

The TUC did not get their message across to most of the public because they were not allowed to broadcast on the BBC. Their own newspaper, The British Worker, was not well distributed and did not reach the North-East until 12 May, the last day of the strike. The TUC was looking for a way out. 10 May - it asked the Miners' leaders to accpet the samual commisions recommendations.When the Miners refused , the TUC met the Prime Minister and called off the strike.

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The industial unrest 1918-26


Stanley Baldwin

The Prime Minister played an important role. He broadcast every day on the radio and spoke in a very matter-of-fact, common sense way. He did not attack the miners and insisted he wanted to help them, but argued that a general strike was not the way. Above all else he refused to talk to the TUC unitl they called off the strike.

The attituide of the general public

Public support was very important - it would decide the outcome of the strike. Goverment propoganda sucessfully convinced many that the strike was a threat to the Goverment and was wrong.

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The industial unrest 1918-26

The results of the General Strike

  • The miners were left to fight alone. Some began to drift back to work in August 1926 and the majority had returned by December. They had to accept the pay cut and the longer working day. The problems of the coal industry had not been solved. Indeed they were now even worse due to the exports lost during the strike.
  • Calling off the General strike lowered confidence in the TUC. Many workers were penalised when they returned to work. Ringleaders were sacked and others had to accept inferior terms of employment. Baldwin passed the Trades Disputes Act in 1927 to make all future General Strikes iilegal. Workers could no longer come out on strike in sympathy of other workers.
  • The General Strike was a disaster for the trade union movement. TUC memebership fell from 5.5 million in 1925 to 3.75 million in 1930. Nethertheless, it was a success for the Labour party. Many workes now turned away from strike action and began to support the idea of a Labour Goverment to improve their living and working conditions.1929 Labour party, for the first time won more seats than either the Liberals or Conservatives.
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