Effects of war on industry

Coal, iron, steel and textiles were all vital for war:

  • Without a constant supply of coal, Britain's rail network and the Royal Navy would not be able to function.
  • Without iron and steel the munitions and engineering industries could not produce the bullets, explosive shells, artillery, barbed wire, tanks and ships needed to fight the war.
  • The naval race before the outbreak of war had already saved the shipyards. When war did break out, the main docks on the Clyde were taken over by the Royal Navy to produce more warships.

The Shell Scandal

Soldiers beside a dud shell
Soldiers beside a dud shell

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 barrier to British success.
  • The Shell Scandal became a political crisis, leading to the collapse of the Liberal government.
  • It led to the formation of a coalition government, with David Lloyd-George as Minister for Munitions.
  • The Shell Scandal developed into a general concern about the supply of munitions.
  • The government grew sensitive to any threat of disruption in Scotland's interlinked heavy industries.

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 recognized that the country's economy had become a war economy, aimed at increasing production and reducing disruption.

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. 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
  • had a right to withdraw their labour and strike if they did not get these changes

From the employers’ point of view, trade unionists were a nuisance since better workers' conditions were likely to reduce the profits of the owners.

Scotland's traditional industries were vital to the war effort. 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.