Concentration camps for the workless

> Part of the Great British history they don’t teach you at school – how the jobless were treated in the 1920s and 30s… and who’d bet against camps returning again ?

During the prolonged unemployment of the 1920s the British government proposed a scheme for transferring labour from the worse effected areas to training schemes in the South of England. For this purpose an Industrial Transference Board was set up in 1928 to monitor and control the transfer of labour form unemployment black-spots. The ITB soon brought to the attention of the Ministry of Labour a ‘class‘ of men not easily fitted into the broader scheme, men deemed ‘soft and temporarily demoralised through prolonged unemployment‘. These men were considered a danger to the morale of the other men and were considered unfit for transfer until they had been ‘hardened’.

The scheme for ‘hardening’ in Labour Camps (on penalty of loss of the dole) was devised by Baldwin’s Tory government, but was carried through with Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Government and expanded by the 1931 National Government. They were supported by the TUC as well as the Labour Party, and were opposed and exposed only by the National Unemployed Workers Movement, in which the Communist Party was the leading influence.

Between 1929 and 1939 25 secret concentration camps were built in the most remote areas of Britain and more than 200,000 unemployed men were sent to these camps. The Labour Camps were conducted under military discipline and men were interned in the centres for three-month periods, working for up to nine hours a day breaking rocks, building roads and cutting down trees. In August 1939, in preparation for the war against Germany, the Ministry of Labour issued instructions that the managerial records of its own concentration camps should be weeded out, and much of the documentation was destroyed.

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  1. Mike Sivier

    Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    Shocked? It seems Labour took part in mandatory work schemes, in which the unemployed were treated like criminals, back in the 1920s and 30s – following a Tory lead. Is history repeating itself?

  2. amnesiaclinic

    Reblogged this on amnesiaclinic and commented:
    Between 1929 and 1939 25 concentration camps at secret locations were built. 200,000 unemployed men were sent for 3 months at a time under military discipline to “harden up”! Records were destroyed at the outbreak of war….

  3. tommaz jay

    The work camps transformed in to Government employment rehabilitation centers that to my knowledge were still in existence up to 1988. These centres were for hardcore unemployed and were backed up by severe sanctions that included removal of some or all unemployment benefits. Rent payment would be withdrawn and the threat of evictions and ultimately your children taken into care were used as a weapon to force the unemployed to comply to compulsory re education into the ehic of hard work that wouldset you free from the evils of being depend on government hand outs.
    For anyone interested there was one located in Green Lane. Felling now part of Gateshead MBC. This is just off the Felling bypass. It was later used by the council as a base for training roadworkers after the DWP abandoned the use of compulsory rehabilitation centre’s.
    Tommaz Jay
    Once proud to be a member of a society that now has forgotten how to care.

    • untynewear

      Cheers, tommaz jay, that’s interesting – I don’t remember employment rehabilitation centers, but that would have been in a period of my life when employment was easier to find and periods on the dole were short, so I wouldn’t have qualified for one.

      But with politicians so devoid of imagination or just a plain, honest acceptance of how things are at the moment (5 unemployed for every vacancy – even after the figures have been fiddled) how long before work camps are reintroduced ?

    • Martha Tulip

      dont forget, our history is not just one of ‘kings & queens’ -working class history is poorly and fragmentally documented – read E.P.Thompson’s ‘Making of the English Working Class’ for example – the ruling class has always and will always persecute the workers in britain – it’s what they are ‘entitled’ to do

  4. Eileen Elrich

    After his apprenticeship in a Sunderland shipyard was terminated by the closure of the yard my dad was sent to one of these camps near Corby to do forestry work. He was only 5 feet tall and extremely malnourished so the work was terribly hard for him. I don’t think he ever forgot the experience. He was always worried about losing his job to the extent that he lied about his age and worked on in a car factory on permanent nights till he had a stroke. He died at 69 after a lifetime trying to make ends meet. I once read a book by Wal Hannington about these camps and make no mistake this is what we are heading for again if the Tories get back in at the next election. Sadly the Labour party aren’t much better. They have forgotten the working class exist.

    • untynewear

      Corby’s a long way to go, especially as there was work camps much nearer, at Kielder and Hamsterley forest…or was that part of the ‘punishment’ for being unemployed – making it more difficult to nip off home ?

      Wal Hannington – another important person written out of official history. But he lives on here – my avatar is a detail from the cover of one of his books.

      • Eileen Elrich

        Oh, they sent them miles away from home, no nipping home – they were under military discipline. There are all sorts of features all over this country which were built by unemployed workers, for example the Rock walk in Goodrington (Paignton) Devon was built by unemployed welsh miners. Our history is all around us but we have to search it out,

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