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World War I and the Working Class in Britain

  • Alastair Reid

Abstract

There can be no reasonable doubt that twentieth-century total wars had a significant impact on the domestic populations of the countries involved. Most obviously there was the removal of millions of young men into the army, there was also a major re-orientation of production towards war industries and this had a major impact on employment and consumption, and finally, in most of the combatant nations, there were substantial restrictions on everyday life brought about by shortages and government controls. Similarly, it should be obvious that the intensity of the impact of these pressures would have varied between nations: depending above all on whether they were defeated, invaded, or both. Thus there was a dramatic contrast between Britain and Belgium during World War I, with the latter experiencing drastic declines in living standards and an increase in death rates among non-combatant age groups of up to 60 per cent. Equally there was a striking contrast between Britain and Germany in World War I as the British stranglehold over sea-borne trade gradually brought the German economy to its knees.1 Since Britain was not invaded and came out on the victorious side, it would seem likely that her domestic population suffered much less during World War I than that in most continental nations.

Keywords

Wage Rate Trade Union Unskilled Worker Social Reform Woman Worker 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    J. Winter, ‘Some paradoxes of the Great War’ in A. Wall and J. Winter (eds) The Upheaval of War: Family, Work and Welfare in Europe 1914–1918 (Cambridge, 1988).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A. Marwick, Britain in the Century of Total War: War, Peace and Social Change 1900–1967 (London, 1968) quotation from p. 15.Google Scholar
  3. See also A. Marwick, The Deluge: British Society and the First World War (London, 1965).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    J. Winter, The Great War and the British People (London, 1985).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 4.
    J. Hinton, Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement 1867–1974 (Brighton, 1983) pp. 96–7;Google Scholar
  6. J. E. Cronin, Labour and Society in Britain 1918–1979 (London, 1984) p. 23;Google Scholar
  7. and for a more recent full-length study, see Bernard Waites, A Class Society at War: Britain 1914–1918 (Leamington Spa, 1987).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    G. Braybon, Women Workers in the First World War: the British Experience (London, 1981) pp. 112–53.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    A. J. Reid, ‘Dilution, trade unionism and the state in Britain during the First World War’ in S. Tolliday and J. Zeitlin (eds) Shop Floor Bargaining and the State: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (Cambridge, 1985) pp. 46–74;Google Scholar
  10. H. A. Clegg, A History of British Trade Unions since 1889, Vol. 11 1911–1933 (Oxford, 1985) pp. 138–41.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    S. Andreski, Military Organisation and Society (London, 1954).Google Scholar
  12. For criticisms see P. Abrams, ‘The failure of social reform: 1918–1920’, Past and Present, 24 (1963) pp. 43–64;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. and A. Marwick, War and Social Change in the Twentieth Century (London, 1974) p. 223.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Alastair Reid 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alastair Reid

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