Few historians have doubts about the size of the impact of the First World War on British society and therefore on British industrial relations. In these, as in other areas, it can be debated how far the war actually created new conditions and how far it merely speeded up developing trends. But its effect was massive. Government needed the support of the trade unions to get the necessary increase in the production of war materials. Therefore, trade union leaders were called into consultation with government in a way they had never been before. The pressure from government on employers, to ensure that production was not disrupted, intensified and unions gained recognition in areas where they had never done so before. Government itself was directly involved in manufacturing. Not only were government departments providing the bulk of the contracts to private industry, but they controlled the railways, took a measure of control over coal mining and in munitions established ‘national factories’ to expand the production of war equipment. By the end of the war five million workers were employed in state-controlled establishments. But to achieve the necessary war production required changes in the work-place, and the war accelerated many of the technological and managerial developments which had been proceeding relatively slowly before 1914.
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- Workers, War and the State, 1914–21
W. Hamish Fraser
- Macmillan Education UK
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