The enforcement of the Munitions of War Acts, 1915-17 : with particular reference to proceedings before the Munitions Tribunal in Glasgow, 1915-1921
The legal control of wartime industrial relations, especially in Glasgow, produced ambiguous results for those upon whom the restrictive Munitions Acts impinged. Firstly, drastic labour controls did on occasion amplify, rather than suppress, industrial conflict. Secondly, factory discipline, especially timekeeping, may have been marginally improved as a result of penal deterrence, though other factors were probably more significant. Thirdly, trade unionists who found the restrictions on wage advances and on mobility an insufferable fetter in a tight labour market, could seek, nonetheless, to further their interests through the legislation, in spite of the statutory curbs. Thus they and their trade union officials, in a relationship frequently marked by mutual support at the tribunal, sought to exploit the legislation's manifold provisions resourcefully and imaginatively. For example, they sought to manipulate, to their advantage, ostensibly restrictive provisions by means of 'collective bargaining by litigation', and they also attempted to turn defence into attack in those cases where the employer had instigated a contentious prosecution. It is argued that the varied and ambiguous results flowing from munitions workers' involvement with the tribunal reflects the double-edged quality of legislation which displayed, if only partially, certain corporatist features. Thus it embodied both blunt restrictiveness on the one hand# and flexibility and opportunism for labour on the other. For the object of the legislationg according to its sponsors, was to foster the 'national interest', which could justify, through the attempt to eliminate the operation of the market in the munitions trades, limited restrictions on employers as well as restraints on labour. Trade unionists thus maximized their opportunities under -the Munitians Act, while defending themselves with vigour against its coercive deployment. Working class attitudes to law were, in conclusion, marked by a new boldness and directness in the circumstances of the war.