The period 1914–21 was one of the most eventful in the history of British trade unionism. It was a time of trade union growth and structural change, of mounting industrial conflict, and of ideological ferment. The stimulating force behind these developments was of course war, and the aftermath of war. Before 1914 labour had rarely been in short supply in Britain, so that the bargaining power of trade unions was in normal times strictly limited. This of course was particularly true of those unions catering for unskilled or semi-skilled workers. The war turned this situation on its head. Unlike previous conflicts in which Britain had been engaged, the war which began in 1914 was of so total a character as to require almost complete mobilisation of the nation’s manpower resources. As the demand for men to fill the ranks of the armed services mounted inexorably, so the resources of labour at home became scarcer. The domestic economy, with its depleted supply of manpower, had not only to continue to provide the population with basic necessities, but had also to meet the demands of the burgeoning armies for more and more munitions. The pressure on manpower was thus acute, not only was the regular labour force that remained absorbed into full employment, but thousands of women entered the labour market to do the jobs for which men could no longer be spared.
KeywordsFull Employment Short History Labour Movement Labour Party General Council
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