Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932


Leaflet entitled 'Concentration camps for the workers', 1934

image from Red Clydeside collection

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.

Source: Bissett Collection, Glasgow University Special Collections