Two Major Events In British History: the Industrial Revolution and the 1926 General Strike

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Introduction

Britain experienced a number of events that dramatically affected its civilization and international relations. The Industrial Revolution, as one of them, brought fundamental developments in the metal, textile, transport, and agricultural industry, as well as the improvement of economic policies in England’s society. The 1926 general strike, on the other hand, marked the climax of class struggle in England where mineworkers walked out of the mines with other workers in the first general strike joining them. Colonialism forced Britain to seek colonies or empires outside Europe to boost its industries in terms of cheap labor and raw materials. Lastly, the Irish rebellion made the Irish landowners evoke a revolt against the government’s plantation policy, which had disposed them of their lands. More importantly, all these events attracted the attention of the international community making Britain noticeable internationally. However, in this paper, the writer considers colonialism and the 1926 general strike as two crucial events that have had a monumental impact on British society and more importantly its international presence.

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In simple terms, colonization refers to a phenomenon in which a population of one or more species dominates a certain area. Colonialism, on the other hand, refers to the phenomenon where countries from “Western Europe expanded their territories to outside Europe hence controlling the countries in America, Africa, and Asia” (Marcy & James, 2003, p.5). The foremost colonial powers included Britain, Portugal, Spain, and Germany among others from Europe. The 1926 general strike, on the other hand, stands out as an essential event for consideration where business managers made vital decisions regarding the way they would handle their workforce. One can perhaps draw lessons from the repercussions of infringement of the worker’s welfare or rights by studying the aftermaths of the 1926 general strike in the United Kingdom. The paper narrows down to colonialism and the 1926 general strike as two central events in Britain that have immensely affected British society with the consequences of fostering the UK’s presence on the global scene.

The 1926 General Strike

In 1926, Trade Union Congress (TUC) called for a general strike in the UK. The strike went on for nine days. Though unsuccessful in attaining its aim, the strike attempted to “force the British government to take action to prevent wage reduction and mitigate the worsening working conditions faced by coal mines workers” (Renshaw 1975, p.158). Modern-day businesses face dynamics of changing business productivity, which perhaps must prompt the managers to take interventions in an attempt to save an organization from dying. Such interventions would take a valid number of options.

During the First World War, Britain recorded an immense reduction in the coal output per worker. As Peter notes, “productivity was at its lowest ebb. Output per man had fallen to 199 tonnes in 1920 from 247 tonnes in 1924” (2001, p.449). Amid the reduction in production, the prices of coal were also immensely dropping. As part of war repatriation strategies, Germany had resorted to the exportation of free coal to Italy and France hence affecting Britain’s coal market. Additionally, “The reintroduction of the gold standard in 1925 by Winston Churchill made the British pound too strong for effective exporting to take place from Britain. In addition, the economic processes involved in maintaining a strong currency raised interest rates, which hurt all businesses” (Robertson 1926, p.376). This formed a business scenario that called for action to save the coal industry from collapsing. However, first, to occur in the UK, such scenarios repeat themselves in almost every business organization across the globe.

More often, businesses would want to make sure that their profits are normal even in times of economic crises. The mines owners knew this fact exceptionally well. As David (1988) reckons,

“Mine owners wanted to normalize profits even during times of economic instability by reducing production costs – they decided on wage reductions for miners. Coupled with the prospect of long working hours, the industry was thrown into disarray” (p.105).

The mine owners officially announced that they would reduce the wages of their workers. Was this a solution worth welcoming? The repercussions of this decision perhaps help the entire world shape its approaches to human resource issues especially with the existence of workers’ unions. Any attempt to touch on workers’ wages, as an intervention to save a business organization, borrowing from aftermaths of the 1926 general strike in the UK, perhaps calls managers and business leaders to reconsider the strategy. This brings the repercussions of Britain’s coalmines owners’ decision into the picture.

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TUC reacted to calls to reduce the wages of coal mine workers by promising to support them in their dispute with the coalmines owners. Voicing the imminent likely dispute, the government intervened to offer subsidies that would maintain the workers’ wages as standard. Unfortunately, these subsidies were temporary. As Peter notes,

“The Samuel Commission published a report on March 10, 1926, recommending that in the future, national agreements, the nationalism of royalties and sweeping reorganization and improvement should be considered for the mining industry” (2001, p.449).

This report recommended the reduction of wages of the coalmines workers by 13.5 % upon withdrawal of the government subsidies. There was also a remarkable increment of workday hours. The consequence of this decision was the general strike. During the nine days of the strike, transportation came to a standstill amid other consequences including work boycotts. This affected the production output of their coal mines. With time, some workers, perhaps following economic challenges, decided to go back and work under the new oppressive terms and conditions. Symons (1957) notes, “The miners maintained resistance for a few months before being forced by their own economic needs to return to the mines…By the end of November, most miners were back to work” (p.158). A good number of those who refused to accept the new terms, hence opting to remain out of the coalmines, remained unemployed for a long time. On the other hand, “Those that were employed were forced to accept longer hours, lower wages, and district wage agreements” (Goodhart 1927, p.471). Consequently, people who participated in the strike emerged as having not achieved anything.

The extent to which the aftermaths of the 1926 general strike affected the international community is conspicuous. Rothberg (2011) claims, “the sheer fact that the idea of a general strike is being discussed shows how far our political discourse has come”(Para.1). Attempts to protect the organization’s workers’ rights in Britain and the international floor perhaps reminisce the 1926 general strike. New strategies designed to improve the working environment emanate from the oppressive working conditions. Moreover, bargaining for better policies in workplaces is a credit of the existence of poor policies that are oppressive. The UK’s general strike was largely instigated by such struggles. Consequently, any existence of such non-conducive working conditions and poor work policies bring the UK’s general strike into the picture.

Colonialism

Britain is the nation that established the largest empire with its numerous colonies that perhaps lasted for longer periods than other European countries. Broadly speaking, the colonialism of Britain comprised of various types: settler, indirect, hybrid, and direct colonialisms (Leys 1996, p.11). British Empire encompassed one of the nations that had gone through the process of industrialization, which had begun in the same nation before spreading to other regions of the world including America. Demands to increase outputs of cottage industries required more inputs in terms of raw materials forcing Britain to seek additional raw materials by establishing colonies. Arguably, colonialism could create more employment opportunities for the British people since increased outputs of the industries implied the requirement of more labor (Rodney 1982, p.34).

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If a person approaches colonization from the settler colonialism point of view, he/she may argue that it fostered Britain’s international presence. Hau et al. (2006) argue that the most widespread form of British colonialism was “settler colonialism, where permanent residents transplanted broad ranges of institutions arrangements” (p.1427). Settlers dispersed within the colonies, where they engaged themselves in economic activities aimed at producing raw materials for their home-based industries. For instance, in East Africa, they engaged in the vast growth of coffee, tea, and cotton among other products that acted as raw materials (Fage 2002, p.31). In the vast colonies, British people interacted with local communities who sought to provide the hefty cheap labor for the settler’s farms. Communication was a substantial drawback. Hence, the British administrators had to learn local languages to bridge the gap. In this context, British society experienced a fair deal of influence since colonization had an effect of initiating subsequent campaigns for concepts of multiculturalism in the modern world. Multiculturalism issues, not only bother the global-focused British society of today but also the entire elite global population.

Whether direct, indirect, settler or hybrid colonialism, Britain had one objective: to increase the economic wellbeing of its citizens in the colonies and back at home. For instance, Sir Fredrick Lugard, the high priest and imperialism representative for Britain in the West and East Africa lamented, “European brains, capital, and energy have not been, and will never be, expended in developing the resources of Africa from motives of pure philanthropy” (Chiriyankandath, 2007, p.7). Ideally, this means that Britain was not exporting its technologies and industrial knowing how to improve its colonies’ way of life. Through this comment, Lugard laid out, with no doubt, the intentions and the purposes of British society’s interests in the West and East Africa. According to Maxon and Ndege, British society was largely impacted by colonialism since “metropolitan and local investors leaped economic benefits from the colonies” (1995, p.67).

All the various policies engineered and implemented at various periods of the colonization era had the British society’s selfish interests at their heart. They focused on the construction of transport and communication networks, reorientation of colony wealth, and factors of production. These included lands to favor the economic development of the British natives in the colonies (Ferguson 2002, p.112). The proceeds of the implementation of these policies helped to improve the living standards of British society. Additionally, there was the implementation of policies inclined towards the British society in many parts of the world where the British had established colonies. Such nations included Australia, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, New Zealand, Ghana Pakistan, Lesotho, Hong Kong, and many more other states that Britain had established colonies. Given the widespread of British colonies, while not negating the fact that even America was colonized by Britain, its influence on the colonies’ systems of administration during colonization and after independence cannot be overlooked. Behind the roots of every system of administration of a nation that was under the British colony, is Britain’s name ingrained in it.

Acemoglu et al. (2001) posits:

As a generalization, the territories with relatively high levels of development before colonialism declined during and after the colonial period…Those with lower levels of pre-colonial development improved their relative position” (p.1372).

In this context, Britain laid the foundation for the onset of the development in the underdeveloped nation, which was to be continued upon independence. More importantly, most of the colonies especially the African colonies had no formal system of administration of public resources. The legal systems based themselves on forces and laws of ethics and morality, which had segregated influence within the countries. Britain came through colonization to impose legal frameworks of administration of the public resources.

Many political scholars contend that colonization amounts to one of the most vital historic events of Britain that escalated its presence in the international arena. For instance, a conference that took place in 1961 in Cairo defined neo-colonialism as “the survival of the colonial system, which became the victims of an indirect and subtle form of domination by political, economic, social, military or technical means” (Kohli 2004, p.115). In this context, the declaration of independence is an illusion to the colonies that mark the dawn of freedom. Colonies assumed political independence. Political independence implies that the British colonies received the freedom to make their policies. However, Britain still has a tremendous say in the colonies when it comes to economic policies through regulation and the setting of certain economic policies. For instance, it sets some preconditions that the commonwealth member states must satisfy before getting grants or financial aid. The fact that, during colonial time, Britain shipped raw materials and significantly improved its economy by increasing its productivity makes it dominant over former colonies. Former colonies especially from Africa have not yet acquired full economic independence.

The integration of the colonies in the capitalistic international economy narrows down to colonization. As La Porta et al posits,

The main force keeping economies in the global system and sustaining imperialism is the market itself. It proves a remarkably seductive place for people with the means of paying the market… offering everything and anything” (1998, p.25).

Consequently, the elites from Africa and other undeveloped parts of the world obtained the opportunity to consume products that had gone through the process of value addition in the British industries without the Africans having to put up the factories themselves. As previously argued, the increased raw material from the colonies prompted more construction of industries in Britain. Bearing in mind that importing from the global market is far cheaper than putting up industries to produce the same commodities, most people elsewhere in the globe prefer to shop in this global market. This can accelerate revenues to the British-based industries. This revenue improves the public utilities in Britain and hence the British society.

Colonization perhaps also helped to shape the minds of the people whose nations were under the colony of Britain. Lange is to the opinion that,

The most subversive act of colonialism was to introduce into the minds of Africans and peoples of other pre-capitalist societies the idea that material progress and prosperity were possible for the masses of people” (2003, p.302).

The onset of colonization came to change the ideologies that the natives of the colonies held. For instance, the general perception amongst the native people was the predominant fixing of conditions in material terms. Ample harvest indicated that more was available to eat. However, the natives could not look at the increased harvest as an opportunity to better their living conditions. Colonization altered this mindset. Furthermore, as Fage reckons, “With colonialism came to the idea of progress – that humanity is capable of improving its condition of existence – today can be better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today” (2002, p.196). As a result, any advancement of the society belonging to the colonies that were under British administration is attributable to the developments initiated by the British rule. From this context, colonization immensely fostered British culture and the entire commonwealth fraternity, thus, increasing its presence in the international arena.

Conclusion

As revealed in the paper, the UK has many historical events that have affected British society in different ways. Over the years, some of these events have served to foster Britain’s international presence. Among the many events, the paper has discussed colonialism and the 1926 general strike as two outstanding events that have had an enormous influence on British society, both in the local and international arena. Colonization is particularly significant since it increased the availability of raw materials in the Britain-located industries. Critics argue that colonization had no positive impacts on the colonies, rather than exploitation – the mass draining of the colonies’ resources. However, the paper views colonization as a historic event that had multi-fold benefits for both the native British society and the colonies’ natives. These benefits encompass aspects such as reconstitution and modeling of the economic systems of the colonies to assume capitalistic economic models of Britain among others. Making the colonies adopt the Capitalistic model is particularly one of the products of colonization. Capitalism and imperialism are vital for a nation to participate in the international free markets controlled by forces of demand and supply. By treating Britain as well established industrially, and one that was seeking more raw materials in the colonies, colonization helped to improve the economic status of the Britons by virtue of creating more employment through the provision of additional factors of production. The 1926 general strike stands out as a chief event that shaped and prompted the incorporation of what we now term as human resource concepts into organizations. People have argued the evolution of this concept as being widely instigated by discontentment that is historically traced from coalmines workers in Britain. In this context, human resources are now part of almost every industry across the globe, endeavors to solve some of the concerns that transpired during the 1926 general strike in the UK. For this cause, the paper asserts that the industrial revolution and the 1926 general strike constitute two key events in British history that radically affected the UK’s society locally. Consequently, they fostered its international presence.

References

Acemoglu, D., Simon, J., & James, R., 2001. The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation. American Economic Review, 91(23), pp. 1369–1401.

Chiriyankandath, J., 2007. Colonialism and Post-Colonial Development. Web.

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Goodhart, L., 1927. The Legality of the General Strike in England. The Yale Law Journal, 36(4), pp. 464-485.

Hau, M., Mahoney, J., & Lange, M., 2006. Colonialism and Development: A Comparative Analysis of Spanish and Brutish Colonies. American Journal of Sociology, 111(5), pp. 1412-1462.

Kohli, A., 2004. State-Directed Development: Political Power and Industrialization in the Global Periphery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

La Porta, R., Florencio, L., Andrei, S., & Robert W., 1998. Law and Finance. Journal of Political Economy, 106(11), pp. 13–55.

Lange, M., 2003. Embedding the Colonial State: A Comparative-Historical Analysis of State Building and Broad-Based Development in Mauritius. Social Science History, 27(7), pp. 397–423.

Leys, C., 1996. The Rise and fall of Development Theory. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Marcy, R., & James, S., 2003. The Colonization of Unfamiliar Landscapes. New York: Routledge

Maxon, M., & Ndege, P., 1995. The Economics of Structural Adjustment, Ogot, B. A. and Ochieng, W. R. (Eds.) (1995) Decolonization and Independence in Kenya, 1940-1993. London: James Currey.

Peter, M., 2001. The First Industrial Nation: An Economic History of Britain, 1700 1914. London: Routledge.

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Robertson, H., 1926. A Narrative of the General Strike of 1926. The Economic Journal, 36(143), pp. 376-497.

Rodney, W., 1982. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press.

Rothberg, P., 2011. Do we need a general strike? Web.

Symons, J., 1957. The General Strike.London: Cresset Press.

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