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Social, Economical, and Political Effects of World War I
"Everywhere in the world was heard the sound of things
breaking." Advanced European societies could not support long wars or
so many thought prior to World War I. They were right in a way. The
societies could not support a long war unchanged. The First World War
left no aspect of European civilization untouched as pre-war
governments were transformed to fight total war. The war metamorphed
Europe socially, politicaly, economically, and intellectualy.
European countries channeled all of their resources into total
war which resulted in enormous social change. The result of working
together for a common goal seemed to be unifying European societies.
Death knocked down all barriers between people. All belligerents had
enacted some form of a selective service which levelled classes in
many ways. Wartime scarcities made luxury an impossibility and
unfavorable. Reflecting this, clothing became uniform and
utilitarian. Europeans would never again dress in fancy, elaborate
costumes. Uniforms led the way in clothing change. The bright
blue-and-red prewar French infantry uniforms had been changed after
the first few months of the war, since they made whoever wore them
into excellent targets for machine guns. Women's skirts rose above
the ankle permanently and women became more of a part of society
than ever. They undertook a variety of jobs previously held by men.
They were now a part of clerical, secretarial work, and teaching.
They were also more widely employed in industrial jobs. By 1918, 37.6
percent of the work force in the Krupp armaments firm in Germany was
female. In England the proportion of women works rose strikingly in
public transport (for example, from 18,000 to 117,000 bus conductors),
banking (9,500 to 63,700), and commerce (505,000 to 934,000). Many
restrictions on women disappeared during the war. It became
acceptable for young, employed, single middle-class women to have
their own apartments, to go out without chaperones, and to smoke in
public. It was only a matter of time before women received the right
to vote in many belligerent countries. Strong forces were shaping the
power and legal status of labor unions, too. The right of workers to
organize was relatively new, about half a century. Employers fought
to keep union organizers out of their plants and armed force was often
used against striking workers. The universal rallying of workers
towards their flag at the beginning of the war led to wider acceptance
of unions. It was more of a bureaucratic route than a parliamentary
route that integrated organized labor into government, however. A
long war was not possible without complete cooperation of the workers
with respect to putting in longers hours and increasing productivity.
Strike activity had reached its highest levels in history just before
the war. There had been over 1,500 diffent work stoppages in France
and 3,000 in Germany during 1910. More than a million British workers
stopped at one time or another in 1912. In Britain, France, and
Germany, deals were struck between unions and government to eliminate
strikes and less favorable work conditions in exchange for immediate
integration into the government process. This integration was at the
cost of having to act more as managers of labor than as the voice of
the labor. Suddenly, the strikes stopped during the first year of the
war. Soon the enthusiasm died down, though. The revival of strike
activity in 1916 shows that the social peace was already wearing thin.
Work stoppages and the number of people on strike in France
quadrupled in 1916 compared to 1915. In Germany, in May 1916, 50,000
Berlin works held a three-day walkout to protest the arrest of the
pacifist Karl Liebknecht. By the end of the war most had rejected
the government offer of being integrated in the beaurocracy, but not
without playing an important public role and gaining some advantages
such as collective bargaining. The war may have had a leveling effect
in many ways, but it also sharpened some social differences and
conflicts. Soldiers were revolting just like workers:
They [soldiers] were no longer willing to sacrifice their
lives when shirkers at home were earning all the money, tkaing,
the women around in cars, cornering all the best jobs, and
while so many profiteers were waxing rich.
The draft was not completely fair since ot all men were sent to the
trenches. Skilled workers were more important to industry and some
could secure safe assignments at
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Labour relations, Strike action, Trade union, Industrial Workers of the World, Labor, AFLCIO, Labor history of the United States, Labor unions in the United States, infantry uniforms, bus conductors, french infantry, elaborate costumes, european civilization, women works, first world war, machine guns, secretarial work, belligerents, selective service, armaments, common goal, impossibility, krupp, total war, european countries, europeans, public transport, skirts
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