War and unemployment in an industrial community : Barrow-in-Furness 1914-1926
A single industry town and an important munitions centre, Barrow-in-Furness experienced the full force of industrial mobilisation, government intervention, and mass unemployment in the years between 1914 and 1926. In analysing the responses to these events, the thesis will give insights into their impact on a town dependent on industries stimulated by war and crippled in the post-war economic climate. The study comprises of two interrelated components. The first section establishes the socio-economic context at the outbreak of the war and examines the influence of war and depression on the occupational and social structure of the town, together with health trends and housing conditions. In doing so, the thesis will analyse the dual effects of higher wartime earnings and long term mass unemployment on popular health, and the role of housing reform in maintaining social stability. Having established the context in which ideology and social attitudes developed, the second section will interpret the impact of war and depression in terms of the pressures placed on industry, the local authority and the wider population. This section will address three key themes, beginning with an examination of the divisive impact of leftwing ideology on the Labour Party, political allegiances and the composition of local authority bodies. Moving on, the study will assess the implications of these developments for local authority policy and the material well-being of the unemployed, giving particular attention to the distinctive response of Barrow's Board of Guardians and the application of the Poor Law. Thirdly the thesis examines the strategies adopted by the wider community to meet the demands of the depression, beginning with key local organisations, but focussing closely on methods of working class self-sufficiency. The thesis will conclude by addressing three important questions which emerge from this study. Firstly, drawing the various themes together, the thesis will analyse the impact of war and depression on social perceptions and levels of social antagonism. In demonstrating that to focus on workplace militancy and 'class conflict' is to miss the thrust of local developments, the thesis will argue that the tensions, hardships and uncertainties of the period stimulated social cohesion rather than class conflict. Secondly, the thesis will examine the nature of the communal identity that emerged during these years, and finally, will determine whether Barrow, as a result of the town's distinctive response to the post-war crisis, can be included among the 'Little Moscows'of the period. By examining these salient themes, the thesis provides fresh insights into the nature of social relationships and levels of class antagonism throughout the period, and makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of the impact of war and depression, and the social dynamics of distress.