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A New Jazz Age and Labor Unrest

By the mid-twenties, Britain's economy had improved, rising with the boom that had come elsewhere in the interconnected world of trade and business. But unemployment in Britain remained over ten percent, and unemployment was especially high in Britain's declining coal, cotton, shipbuilding and metal industries. Britain's exports remained low – about half what they were in 1913. And in textiles it faced new competition from Japan.

The Conservative Party's government, under Stanley Baldwin, put the country back on the gold standard – Britain having gone off the gold standard during the war, as had other warring powers. It was widely believed that the gold standard was a return to the monetary stability of the good old days before the war. But, in returning to the gold standard Britain overvalued its currency, which lowered the cost of imported goods, including foods and raw materials, but it made the price of the goods that the British were trying to sell abroad higher in price.

mine owners, a cartoon

Coal mine owners viewed by members of Britain's labor movement.

Britain's employers were trying to keep wages down, but labor rebelled. In 1926, coal miners went on strike. The strike in coal expanded into a general strike, which shook the nation. The specter of revolution was haunting Britain again. But the strike was broken, with Britain's workers having gained little.

Meanwhile, with improvement of the economy, Britain's population was rising again, and in the latter half of the twenties a new jazz age was in the making. People with limbs that were lost in the war were still seen making their way in the streets, and it was obvious that there would be no return to the glittering days of those prewar times called the Edwardian Age. But an attempt was made at "eat, drink and be merry." The tango, foxtrot, Charleston, Black Bottom, shimmy and the blues rose and fell in popularity. Bohemians had appeared, preferring simple furnishings or living in Spain, Italy or France. Ideas critical of fundamentalism were spreading within the churches. The Church of England, whose hierarchy had been enthusiastic supporters of the war, now had regrets and was swinging in the direction of pacifism and sympathy towards the political Left. Church attendance was declining, and divorce was on the rise.

Against 19th century cheerfulness and optimism, a poet inclined toward religious and political conservatism, T S Eliot, focused on incoherence and the prevalence of wickedness and wrote a poem called The Waste Land.

Technological advances were apparent in the number of automobiles and busses on the streets, the number of autos having doubled between 1922 and 1927 to one car for every 57 persons. Radio and movies had become widespread. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC), the world's oldest national broadcasting organization, had been formed in 1922. It had changed from a private company to a public service organization. When newspapers went out on strike in 1926 the BBC became the country's major news source, and impressed many, but not all, by its balanced coverage of the 1926 general strike. The government had given it independence from political manipulations. It was to be funded by a ten shilling fee in wireless equipment sales and prohibited from advertising.

John Maynard Keynes mentioned contraceptives in a lecture on Malthus and aroused an old propriety expressed by a Cambridge undergraduate who called his words "unseemly and immoral."

Many women were now smoking in public, thinking it looked chic. Some women went to pubs or nightclubs. And they discussed their sex lives. A generation gap between the old suffragettes and the liberated young women was noticed, and mothers of young women spoke of never having thought of behaving as their daughters did.

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