Labour History Review

The Great Labour Unrest and Political Thought in Britain, 1911-1914

Labour History Review (2014), 79, (1), 37–54.

Abstract

This article reconstructs the political and economic debates generated by the Great Labour Unrest of 1911 to 1914. It reveals the breadth and depth of public discussion of the causes, remedies and meaning of industrial action. The first part examines how contemporaries explained the unrest. It shows how discussion of the origins of the strikes broadened into a debate about the political, economic and moral ‘condition of England’, while also demonstrating the centrality of the cost of living to contemporary explanations of industrial militancy. The second section charts the range of remedies suggested, revealing how politicians, economists and commentators from across the political spectrum attempted to produce policies in response to the labour unrest. The third part traces the impact of the labour unrest upon more systematic political thought. It demonstrates how the industrial disputes sharpened debates about the nature of justice, particularly distributional justice, alongside discussion of the control of industry and the role of the state. Responses to the labour unrest were shaped both by longstanding anxieties about the moral health of the nation, and emerging analyses of the distributional impact of economic change.

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Author details

Thompson, James