The Women of Red Clydeside: Women Munitions Workers in the West of Scotland during the First World War

TitleThe Women of Red Clydeside: Women Munitions Workers in the West of Scotland during the First World War
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsBaillie, Myra
Number of Pages332
Date Published2004
UniversityMcMaster University
CityOttawa, Canada

During World War One, the Clydeside region became one of the most important centres of war production in Britain. Previous historical accounts have focussed on the skilled workers, debating the extent to which they were red-hot revolutionaries or narrow craft conservatives. To date, there has been no study of the region's large, capable, hard-working female workforce. This thesis traces the experience of the tens of thousands of women employed in the Clydeside munitions industry, paying particular attention to the working conditions in local factories. This thesis contributes to the long-standing historiographical arguments over the nature of Red Clydeside by offering a new view of the dilution crisis which stands at the epicentre of the debate. It finds more cooperation between male and female munitions workers than has previously been recognized, and suggests that class confrontation, not craft conservatism, was at the root of the deportation of the shop steward leaders in March 1916. Although women did not participate in industrial disputes to the extent of the male workforce, they nevertheless contributed to the industrial unrest on the Clyde by joining trade unions and engaging in spontaneous strike activity. In addition, the significant presence of middle class women in positions of authority within the factories generated class hostility, turning munitions factories into breeding grounds of class tension. This study offers a further contribution to the historical knowledge of women workers in the First World War by conducting a searching investigation into the oppressive working conditions in munitions factories and their impact on the health of the female workforce. It disputes the view that munitions women were healthy, robust creatures, arguing that working conditions were particularly harsh in Clydeside factories, with women working longer hours and undertaking heavier work than women in other industrial areas of Britain. In addition, the much-lauded new welfare measures in the factories had little impact in mitigating the debilitating effects of munitions work on women's health. (Author)

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