By Matt Perry
Having a look past information and financial cycles, Perry investigates the human impression of unemployment from the viewpoint of these who lived via it, their employers and groups, arguing that the teachings of the Thirties have direct relevance this day because the structural difficulties of commercial capitalism stay inherent.
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Extra resources for Bread and Work: The Experience of Unemployment 1918-39
As the origins and course of the depression were beyond the understanding or control of British policy-makers, the relative fortuitousness of the British situation is hardly cause for national self-congratulation. Nor should the 1930s be treated in isolation from what preceded or followed. At its beginning, the catastrophic defeat of organised labour in 1926 shaped the political pattern of the 1930s and this has to be seen as the context for the ‘revolution that never was’. Revisionists also over-react to the temptations of teleology and hindsight, and in asserting the ‘openness’ of the late 1930s they ignore the structural constraint and contingency of an increasingly probable war.
Unemployment statistics may be misleading because of the geographical units used. Thus many local pockets of acute unemployment may be missed in the aggregate figures. For example, the appalling unemployment figures for Jarrow were merged with the less shocking figure for Hebburn in 1935. The major problem with the statistics from our perspective, however, is that they are purely quantitative and therefore of little help in assessing the subjective experience of unemployment for its millions of victims.
Such a line of inquiry suggests that the British economy was in a UNEMPLOYMENT: HISTORY AND PERSPECTIVES 27 favourable position when compared to its European counterparts. 55 Those other countries suffered much greater political instability than Britain. As the origins and course of the depression were beyond the understanding or control of British policy-makers, the relative fortuitousness of the British situation is hardly cause for national self-congratulation. Nor should the 1930s be treated in isolation from what preceded or followed.