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Labour legislation

Munitions of War Act 1915

Although the Munitions of War Act of 1915 gave the government a high degree of control over labour, periodic industrial conflict continued. Following the formation of the coalition government in 1916, David Lloyd George included Labour's Arthur Henderson in the War Cabinet. He caused more tension when he appointed John Hodge and George Barnes, both with strong union affiliation, as Ministers of Labour and Pensions.

In 1917, as strikes spread, a Commission of Enquiry into Industrial Unrest was appointed. It concluded that the high price of food was a major source of discontent. The government introduced measures to reduce prices. The coalition government of 1918 was faced with the problem of re-establishing peacetime industrial relations. Clauses of the Munitions of War Act were cancelled and rates of wages agreed on for a limited period.

Industrial Courts Act 1919

The Industrial Courts Act of 1919 established the Industrial Court for the settlement of disputes. Following the recommendations of the Whitley Committee on the Relations of Employers and Employed in 1917, Whitley Councils were established in individual industries for the negotiation of overall wages, conditions and problems of management.

The Sankey Committee 1919

Thanks to low unemployment, the post-war boom experienced calmer industrial relations. However, in January 1919 the Miners’ Federation demanded wage increases, a six-hour day and nationalisation of the mines. Lloyd George initiated the Sankey Commission, which included several miners' leaders, to consider wages and ownership. The Committee worked out a compromise on wages and hours, and recommended state ownership of the mines - but the government refused to accept nationalisation.

In September 1919, attempts to reduce wages in the railway industry by Sir Auckland Geddes, President of the Board of Trade, resulted in a national rail strike. However, within a week and in compliance with other unions, the Negotiating Committee of the Transport Workers made a settlement that maintained wage levels for a further year.

Emergency Powers Bill 1920

In the summer of 1920 the economic boom collapsed. As prices and unemployment rose further, industrial strife became more likely. The unions planned a revival of the pre-war Triple Alliance between mining, transport and railway workers. The miners began a strike for higher wages in October 1920, with railwaymen and transport workers threatening supportive action. The government passed an Emergency Powers Bill to ensure essential services and negotiated a temporary six-month increase in wages.