Munitions and government control

The Shell Scandal

By 1915, the failure of British forces to break the deadlock of the Western Front was being blamed on poor quality artillery shells.

The ‘Shell Scandal’ developed into a more general concern about the supply of munitions.

The government was very worried that any disruption in Scotland’s heavy industries might affect the supply of shells and bullets to the Western Front.

The Munitions of War Act

In 1915, the Government passed the Munitions of War Act, preventing munitions workers from resigning and moving to a new job without their employer's consent. This recognised that the country's economy had become a war economy, aimed at increasing production and reducing disruption.

In summary, Scotland's traditional industries were vital to the war effort and if those industries were disrupted, Britain ran the risk of losing the war. However, the demand for increasing production led to changes that caused difficulties for the future.

Threat of strike action

In 1915, the government had already given in to the rent strikers and the factory workers who had come out in support, but now the government took a harder line.

The Munitions of War Act made strikes in industries supporting the war effort illegal.

In 1916 the Clyde Workers Committee was involved in a strike at the Beardmore forge in Parkhead, which spread to other factories. The government had four leaders of the CWC arrested under the Defence of the Real Act. The men were court-martialled and deported to Edinburgh.

New technology and unemployment

The introduction of new technology and production methods such as automatic machinery and assembly lines did improve output during the war but also threatened jobs.

After the war, the slump in international trade, the fall in orders for new ships and the adoption of new production methods combined to worsen the problems of Scottish heavy industries.

During the 1920s, employment in Scottish shipbuilding fell by 90 per cent. In the face of foreign competition, over half of Scotland's iron furnaces were dismantled by 1927 and the coal industry employed one-third fewer people in the 1920s than before the war.