Back to the ’30s?

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Following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement this week there has been a great deal of commentary about the “colossal cuts” that will need to be made to public services in the next Parliament (according to the IFS) that will push public spending back to 1930s levels.

What was the economy like in the 1930s and what were the trade unions and labour movement saying about it? Material from the TUC Library’s extensive collection can shed light on that question. Take this leaflet produced by the TUC in 1935 in a “call to the workers” about the actions of the National (i.e. coalition) Government. Many of the statements made in the leaflet sound very familiar today: “It never has been a ‘National’ Government. Its character and policy have been predominantly Tory. Its power has been used to further the interests of landlords, financiers, industrial magnates, ship-owners, farmers and others. It has turned a deaf ear to the claims of the workers…. ‘National’ Government began by cutting the wages of teachers, civil servants, policemen, sailors, soldiers, airmen and other state workers. It also reduced the benefit of the unemployed. It cut the education grant. It promised to bring prosperity. Actually it strangled the trade of the nation by its economy campaign.”

TUC leaflet “A Call to the Workers”, 1935

The TUC Library also contains a wealth of material relating to the general economic conditions of the UK in the 1930s. A small selection of such items can be seen below:

A small selection of items relating to 1930s economic conditions

A timeline of events relating to the labour movement in the 1930s can be seen on our history website here. Events include the rise of fascism in Europe, the Spanish Civil War and domestically a number of marches and demonstrations highlighting issues such as unemployment. In 1933 the National Unemployment Demonstration drew widespread support and the library holds a number of documents related to the event, including a number of striking posters such as the one below:

A poster produced for the 1933 National Unemployment Demonstration

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