Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Labour and the War Emergency: The Workers' National Committee during the First World War

Document type Article
Author Swift, David
Journal History Workshop Journal
Volume 81
Date 2016-05-19
ISSN 1477-4569
Pages 84-105


The centenary of the First World War has generated a renewed focus on the conflict, and is an appropriate time for a reappraisal of the role of the British Left in this period. Most work on the labour movement and the war has tended to focus on strikes, conscientious objectors and the peace movement. Yet this approach obscures the significance of labour patriotism in this period, and the huge contribution to the war effort and domestic struggles made by the Left during the conflict. Whilst the trade-union movement and the Parliamentary Labour party had planned to form a Peace Emergency: Workers’ National Committee to co-ordinate the Left’s anti-war effort, the declaration of hostilities on 4 August changed their priorities. The prospective Peace Committee transformed into the War Emergency: Workers’ National Committee (WNC). It was this body that ensured labour-movement cohesion, relevance, and achievement throughout the long and draining years of the war.