Extraordinary Gentlemen: the Economic League, business networks, and organised labour in war planning and rearmament

Miller, C. W. (2017) Extraordinary Gentlemen: the Economic League, business networks, and organised labour in war planning and rearmament. Scottish Labour History, 52, pp. 120-151.

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For an organisation active for three-quarters of the twentieth century and heavily backed by some of Britain’s largest companies, it is astonishing how little is known about the Economic League. Founded after the First World War by well-known and influential individuals from the upper echelons of Business to ‘disseminate economic knowledge [and] put forward the case for capitalism amongst the working class’, ephemera produced by the League, especially for the period between the world wars, was circulated by the million and still survives in significant quantities. However, the totality of published academic historical research into its activities extends to just one article and one (self- published) book, by Arthur McIvor in 1989 and Mike Hughes in 1994, respectively. Never at any point willing to divulge past secrets, the League denied McIvor access to its archives while Hughes based his work on a handful of published sources. Late 1980s and early 1990s investigative journalism by Paul Foot and others into the League’s systematic blacklisting of workers brought about its collapse in 1993, and with it – it appears – the deliberate destruction of its records. Thus, until now, Hughes’ work marked the end of research into its activities. This paper has two goals. Firstly, it attempts to answer some of the unknown questions about the League’s membership and finance. The second is to understand the League’s ‘power’ by viewing it through a different lens, not only as a shadowy organisation whose dubious activities warrant highlighting, but as an organisation with aims and objectives like any other, which took decisions that can be evaluated and whose success one can attempt to measure. To achieve this, the years of initial defence planning and subsequent arms expenditure programme from c.1932 to 1940 are re-examined from an employer, rather than employee, perspective, drawing on previously unused material from the Scottish Business Archives.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:Economic League, Labour History, Business Networks
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Miller, Dr Christopher
Authors: Miller, C. W.
Subjects:D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Journal Name:Scottish Labour History
Publisher:Aberdeen Scottish Labour History Society
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2017 Aberdeen Scottish Labour History Society
First Published:First published in Scottish Labour History 52:120-151
Publisher Policy:Reproduced with the permission of the publisher.

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