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 insufficient and poor quality artillery shells. The ‘Shell Scandal’ was reported in the Times newspaper as a fatal bar to British success.

Soon the Shell Scandal became a political crisis, leading to the collapse of the Liberal government and the formation of a coalition government, with David Lloyd-George as Minister for Munitions.

The ‘Shell Scandal’ developed into a more general concern about the supply of munitions, making the government very sensitive to any threat of disruption in Scotland's heavy industries, all of which were interlinked to maintain supply.

Threat of strike action

The government was concerned about disruption to wartime production, mainly because of the threat of strike action by workers in the shipbuilding, engineering or coal industries.

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.

At the heart of the trade union movement was the belief that workers should be able to join together to campaign for improvements in working conditions and wages. Workers also believed that they had a right to withdraw their labour and strike if they did not get these improvements. From the employers’ point of view, trade unionists were a nuisance since any improvements in workers' conditions were likely to reduce the profits of the owners.

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.

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.