Trade Union Militancy 1917-27


During WW1


  • they are organisations which represents workers, which means they can use collective bargaining to pressure for better pay and working conditions
  • Employers are more likely to negotiate and compromise with the threat of a strike
  • 1868 = Trade Union Congress (TUC) was formed in Manchester and acted as an administrative and organisational council to help trade unions work together but it still had no formal power


  • The enlistment of 5 million men from the workforce of 15 million left the remaining, especially skilled workers, in a strong bargaining position 
  • 1918 = 200,000 Welsh miners went on strike even though it broke wartime industrial rules and so Lloyd George was forced to negotiate and agree to many demands to get them back to work
  • Bonuses were given to some in key trade, like doc workers - these were fixed sums and benefited the least paid the most 
  • Inclusion of Labour in Asquith's 1915 coalition government strengthened the trade union voice in the government
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During WW1

  • Generally wartime unions showed patriotism and co-operated with the government which improved their relationship with the state 
  • Although membership rose to just over 5 million they were LESS important during the war


  • 1914-15
  • Between the National Transport Workers' Union; the National Union for Railwaymen and the Miners' Federation 
  • rested more on suspicion of the aims of employers and each other rather than genuine support
  • it did present a strong national front for the trade unions since they agreed to sympathy strike in support of each other 
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Revival of Trade Unions after WW1

  • The government and empoyers wanted to return to pre-war practices - 1919 Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act obliged employers to end wartime conditions 
  • Succesful actions in Clydeside had given confidence and a strong political voice to trade unions
  • Membership fell 20% to 4.3 million members but this was still stronger than the pre-war average
  • British trade failed to return to pre-war levels due to loss of dominance in foreign markets which put pressure on the whole economy 
  • Wages were progressively cut by employers seeking to stay competitive and profitable 
  • Lloyd George coaltion was dominated by the conservatives which opposed trade unions 
  • 1918-19 = the police went on strike which had a harsh governmnt response and dismissed those involved 
  • 1921 = the return to private mines from state controlled one - wages were cut to increase profit 
  • Trade Unions became increasingly important to the working class after WW1 
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Revival of Trade Unions after WW1


  • 1919 Sankey Commision - government retain control of the coal industry but government returned them to private trade 
  • Owners immediately cut pay and let go of those who were not happy with the cut in wages 
  • 1920 Emergancy Powers Act = to recall troops from Ireland and reposition them for the threat of a strike by the Triple Aliance (in reality they were not a serious threat)
  • Transport (ernest bevin) and rail (james thomas) workers did not join the strike 
  • the triple aliance collapsed since it only existed on mutual support 
  • the miners unable to support a strike were forced to return to work with reduced wages 
  • Weakened trade unions as is showed no real threat of a united front 
  • Marked the end of government involvement in pay and employment reforms 
  • inter-war period the government maintained a non-interventionist stance 
  • trade unions became defensive rather than offensive like in 1915 
  • unable to prevent the forced reduction of wages across industry because they lacked power 
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Revival of Trade Unions after WW1


  • 1920 = a committee for organising politcal action by the Labour Party 
  • it was to prevent Britain from supporting Poland's war effort and were prepared to hold strikes to stop the production of weapons and raise awareness for the problem 
  • 6,000 protestors attended a march in London 
  • raised tension between middle and working classes - belief in socialism and support of communist countries 
  • repaired the damage of 'black friday' 
  • government investigation showed them to be no real revolutionary threat as they lacked the organisation


  • AEU = amalgamated engineering union  formed in 1921 with paid membership meant funds for strikes and discourgaed conflict with employers 
  • TGWU = transport and general workers' union = formed in 1922 with 14 unions representing 350,000 workers in a wide range of trades 
  • often disliked as removed power from independent unions 
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Red Clydeside


  • During the war Glasgow had around 70,000 more residents than pre-war and so increased the demand for accomdation meaning landlords upped the prices and if they could not pay tennants would be evicted. 
  • Hit women whose husbands were serving the most = resulted in forced evictions by the courts 
  • Led to protests mainly by women (leader Mary Barbour) - they blocked balifs and picketed the houses of landlords 
  • November 1915 = 25,000 were involved in the strikes 
  • doc yard and munitions workers' threatened sympathy strikes with the protestors 
  • The government ordered a halt on police action to stop the workers going on strike
  • Posed a massive threat as the army already had shell shortages 
  • 1915 Munitions of War Act - has stopped workers finding better paid jobs which angered them
  • Co-operation = Glasgow Women's Housing Association; Clyde Workers' Committee and the ILP worked together 
  • employers supported the strikers in order to stop their workers striking 
  • 1915 = Rent Restriction Act - guarenteed pre-war rent levels would be fixed till the war ended 
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Red Clydeside

  • demonstated the unions ability to pressure the government 
  • ILP supported protests and voiced concerns of the workers - strengthening voices nationally 

1919 40 HOUR STRIKE 

  • Government policies required a 54-hour working week - 6am to 5.30pm and until noon on saturday - revolutions across the globe made workers hopeful for change 
  • January 1919 = Clyde Workers' Committee organised a strike of 70,000 workers and presented a petition to government for a 40-hour working week 
  • 31 January 1919 = 60,000 workers gathered in George Square - the bill was rejected 
  • Fighting broker out between the protestors and the police - the sherif read the riot act but reports say it was knocked from his hands - 19 policemen and 34 protestors were injured 
  • government deployed 6 tanks and many troops to restore order - machine guns on high buildings 
  • although it failed = national engenieering unions recieved a 47-hour work week 
  • generated awareness for potential action and how strong a threat could be 
  • seen as revolutionary actions - 2 leaders imprisoned and 10 acquited 
  • strengthened link between the ILP and unions - militant leaders became labour MPs in 1922
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1926 General Strike


  • Economic depression = return to the gold standard in 1925 which reduced the value of the pound which decreased exports 
  • Fear of communism = 1924 the 'Zinoviev Letter' linked the Labour Party to the Russian Government which lead to opposition to trade unions 
  • Confidence in the TUC = had supported 150,000 textile workers in the 1925 dispute with employers over reduced wages 


  • TUC promoted better organisation with 5.5 million members in 1925 
  • The same year coal mine owners declared a plan to: abolish national minimum wage; cut wages 10-25% and maintain profit levels no matter how much wages fell
  • TUC committed to a sympathy strike 
  • To avoid this Stanley Baldwin's government aided mine owners to help protect wages 
  • TUC had no idea how to support a strike if it were needed after the subsidiaruy ended in April 1926 
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1926 General Strike

  • James Thomas felt the government would want a peaceful solution 
  • Samual commision recommed a cut to wages so employers did 
  • TUC negotiated for the miners yet these faltered when the daily mail refused to print pro-government editorial 
  • General Strike commenced 3rd May 1926 
  • there was confusion from the start over who should strike and the TUC had limited control 
  • 3 million (printers and railwaymen) should join the strike 
  • large scale  9 day strike with back up from group 2 workers (textiles) 
  • By 6th May there was fighting between police and strikers in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh 
  • The government recalled the army to London 


  • Negotiations with Herbet Samual of the Commisiion 
  • but the TUC sent proposals without consulting the miners federation - national wages board; minimum wage for miners; those forced out of mining offered alternative emplyment; wage subsidies during negotiations 
  • Commission said these would mean a reduction in wages TUC agreed but the federation did not
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1926 General Strike

  • 11th May 1926 = TUC accepted and the next day the strike was over 
  • Stanley Baldwin refused to accept these proposals 



  • Baldwin's government had a no-negotiation stance where he refused to compromise over proposals 
  • Organisation of the Maintenance of Supplies to limit the impact of a strike
  • Parliamentary opposition - MacDonald's Labour party did not support the strike as he saw it as foolish rather than a serious tactic 
  • middle class citizens were called to fill the jobs left by strikers = 226,000 special police officers were recruited, others worked in elctricity plants or driving lorries 


  • TUC lacked the power for mass production 
  • the government took on an agressive stance - anti strike propaganda and dominatin of the BBC 
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1926 General Strike


  • TUC failed to stand up for the views of the miners despite representing them 
  • Leadership was confused and weak 
  • Threat of violenc and strong government oppostions and thus loss of support for workers 
  • lacked the control for a two-wave strike 
  • Lack of unity across the TUC 


  • Middle class were against the stike and favoured the government's propaganda 
  • massive fear of communism and meant the TUC was feared 
  • violence destroyed the legitimacy of the strikers 


  • 1927 Trade Disputes Act = banned sympathetic strikes 
  • TUC membership dropped to 3,75 million with a loss of trust 
  • 1926 suspension of the Seven Hours Act - return to 8 hour day and a cut in wages 
  • the miners continued to strike and only returned due to financial hardship 
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