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Britain's biggest wartime stoppage: the origins of the engineering strike of May 1917

Stevenson, David (2020) Britain's biggest wartime stoppage: the origins of the engineering strike of May 1917. History, 105 (365). 268 - 290. ISSN 0018-2648

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Identification Number: 10.1111/1468-229X.12970


This article re‐examines the causes of the May 1917 engineering strike, the biggest strike in Britain during the First World War. Besides official files, it uses private papers and the records of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. The stoppage began in sympathy with sacked employees at Tweedale & Smalley in Rochdale, who were resisting the spread of ‘dilution’ (replacing skilled by unskilled workers) from military contracts to private and commercial work. A second major issue was the government's replacement of the ‘trade card’ scheme protecting skilled engineers from military service. These issues would have been easier to resolve had it not been for underlying war weariness and falling real earnings, as well as uncertainty over whether skilled men could regain their pre‐1914 employment privileges. The strike was unofficial, and would not have spread so far and fast without local leadership from shop stewards, though this later proved a source of weakness. None the less, although the strike initially seemed a failure, it frightened the government and elicited major concessions. In part this was because Prime Minister David Lloyd George accepted that he must combine repression with the alleviation of legitimate grievances.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 The Author
Divisions: International History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D501 World War I
Date Deposited: 28 Aug 2019 09:45
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2024 18:12

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