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War and the transformation of British society c1903–28

Key Topic 1: The Liberals, votes for women and social reform

The activities of the women’s societies and the reaction of the authorities. Overview

Children’s welfare measures, old age pensions. Overview

Labour Exchanges 1909, the National Insurance Act 1911. Overview

The political position of women in 1903




Reactions of the authorities to militancy and protest

Forced feeding

The ‘Cat and Mouse Act’

Children’s Charter (1906)

The School Meals Act (1906)

Medical Inspection, 1907.

The reasons for and importance of Old Age Pensions Act (1908).

Labour Exchanges (1909)

National Insurance Act 1911.

Key Topic 2: The part played by the British on the Western Front

The BEF and 1914. Overview

Britain’s contribution to the Western Front 1915–17. Overview

The end of the war. Overview

The despatch of the BEF

The part played in the events of 1914

The failure of the Schlieffen Plan

The race for the sea

Setting up of the trench system.

The nature of trench warfare

Haig and the Battle of the Somme

The development and importance of new weapons



The creeping barrage.

Britain’s part in the events of 1918

Ludendorff’s offensives

The drive to victory.

Key Topic 3: The home front and social change

DORA, censorship and propaganda. Overview

Recruitment and rationing. Overview

The part played by women. Overview

The importance of censorship

Examples of propaganda

The various methods of recruitment: 1914–16

The reasons for, and impact of, conscription: 1916–18

Conscientious objectors.


The effects of submarine warfare on Britain

Measures brought in by the Government to alleviate the threat of U-Boats.

Key Topic 4: Economic and social change 1918–28

The changing role of women 1918–28. Overview

Industrial unrest 1918–27. Overview

The General Strike of 1926. Overview

Extension of the franchise

The changes in women’s work and social changes.

Trade union membership

Industrial militancy in the years 1918–20

The long-term and immediate problems of the coal industry

Black Friday (1921)

Red Friday (1925)

The Samuel Commission (March 1926).

Government preparations and measures to deal with the General Strike

The reasons why the TUC called off the General strike

Trades Disputes Act of 1927.

The reasons why the TUC called off the General strike

The General Strike was called by the TUC in order to support the Miners claims over wages and hours worked. However it had not been supported by all of the union leadership and had failed to gain the support of the Labour Party: Ramsay McDonald, then leader of the Labour party, stated that "The election of this fool as miners' secretary looks as though it would be the most calamitous thing that ever happened to the T.U. movement" when writing about the leader of the Miner's Union.

The TUC had been engaged in negotiations with the Conservative Government in the run up to the strike and had been close to reaching an agreement with them: which the Miner's Union was not happy about. On May 7th, during the General Strike, the TUC, without telling the Miners Union, re-opened talks with Sir Herbert Samuel, Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry. Samuel and the TUC came up with a proposal that would:

  • Create a National Wages Board with an independent chairman
  • Guarantee a minimum wage for all miners
  • Ensure that workers displaced by pit closures were given alternative jobs
  • Wages would remain the same whilst talks continued: but would probably need to go down in the future

The TUC felt that these proposals, whilst not perfect, were acceptable. The Miner's Federation did not.

On May 11th, 1926, Mr Justice Astbury, a judge in the high Court, ruled that the only strike that was legitimate and covered by the Trade Disputes Act was that of the Miner's, and that all other unions were in breach of the law for going on strike. He also added that the Miner's had not followed their own rules on calling industrial action. The next day the leaders of the TUC visited Downing Street and told the Prime Minister that they were calling off the General Strike.

Reasons why the strike was called off:

  • The unions were not united in their support of the Miner's
  • The government had responded effectively to the Strike and it's impact was not as debilitating as intended

Reactions to the end of the General Strike:

Manchester Guardian:

"The effects on British labour will be profound. The history of 1921 has repeated itself. The support of other unions has been withdrawn, The Government has committed itself to little or nothing. The mineowners are committed to nothing."

Fenner Brockway:

“Everyone was confident that the Government had climbed down….Then the fuller reports became to come by wire….When they showed that the terms were only an arrangement with Sir Herbert Samuel and that the miners lock-out was to continue one simply could not believe one’s eyes”

Stella Davies:

“In the course of the afternoon while I was on my round of the picket stations, the news came through. The end of the strike had been announced as an ‘unconditional surrender’. The pickets could not at first believe it. They would wait until they heard from their headquarters before they left their post and I left them, still picketing, to rush home and sit before the wireless. No comfortable words came from the BBC The official governmental line was that the Samuel Memorandum was not binding upon them, being merely a recommendation, its terms were not, in the event, put into operation.”

A History of the National Union of Miner's:

Steadily, their control of the situation grew. The General Strike was not only solid, it was gaining more and more support. Then, suddenly, on May 12, it was called off.

The TUC General Council had sold out this unprecedented struggle for decent pay and conditions. Following a promise from Sir Herbert Samuel that, provided the General Strike was called off, negotiations on miners pay and conditions would resume on a status quo basis, the General Council agreed to a return to work despite fierce opposition from the MFGB.

This was a bitter betrayal. The MFGB was left to fight alone, its nearly one million members and their families bearing the full brunt of the Tory Governments attack. Although the TUC had abandoned them, however, mining communities were supported with food and donations from rank and file trade unionists in Britain and around the world.

Walter Citrine:

"I do not regard for General Strike as a failure. It is true that it was ill-prepared and that it was called off without any consultation with those who took part in it. The fact is that the theory of the General Strike had never been thought out. The machinery of the trade unions was not adapted for it. Their rules had to be broken for the executives to give power to the General Council to declare the strike. However illogical it may seem for me to say so, it was never aimed against the state as a challenge to the Constitution. It was a protest against the degradation of the standards of life of millions of good trade unionists."

Kingsley Martin:

The General Strike of 1926 was an unmitigated disaster. Not merely for Labour but for England. Churchill and other militants in the cabinet were eager for a strike, knowing that they had built a national organisation in the six months' grace won by the subsidy to the mining industry. Churchill himself told me this on the first occasion I met him in person. I asked Winston what he thought of the Samuel Coal Commission. When Winston said that the subsidy had been granted to enable the Government to smash the unions, unless the miners had given way in the meantime, my picture of Winston was confirmed.

Jenny Lee:

Stanley Baldwin promised that there would be no victimization when the miners went back to work. That was one more piece of deliberate deception. My father was not reinstated - from four months he trudged from pit to pit, turned away everywhere. Uncle Michael was also victimized, and so sadly he came to the decision that the only thing to do was to go off to America.




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