National Hunger March, 1932

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The National Hunger March of September–October 1932 was the largest[1] of a series of hunger marches in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s.


Hunger marches to London had previously taken place in 1922–23, 1929[2] and 1930,[3] and 1927 had seen a South Wales miners' march.[4] Due to the Great Depression and mass unemployment, throughout 1932 there was a profound atmosphere of unrest across Britain with "high tension across the country", "running battles between police and demonstrators" and "violent clashes ... between the police and unemployed protestors in Merseyside, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Coventry, Nottingham, Oldham, Porthcawl, Stoke, Wigan, Preston, Bolton and Belfast",[5] many of which followed protests organised by the communist-led[6] National Unemployed Workers' Movement (NUWM).


With unemployment at 2,750,000,[7] the 1932 National Unemployed Workers' Movement organised "Great National Hunger March against the Means Test" included about 3,000 people[8] in eighteen contingents of marchers,[9] mainly from economically depressed areas such as the South Wales Valleys, Scotland and the North of England designed to meet up in Hyde Park in London. A petition containing a million signatures demanding the abolition of the means test and the 1931 Anomalies Act[10] was intended to be presented to Parliament after a rally in the park.[1]

The first contingent of marchers left Glasgow on 26 September,[11][5] and the marchers were greeted by a crowd of about 100,000 upon their arrival at Hyde Park on 27 October 1932.[12] The marchers had not received much in the way of media publicity on their way to London, but having reached the capital, "...they met an almost blanket condemnation as a threat to public order, verging upon the hysterical in the case of some of the more conservative press".[13] Ramsay MacDonald's National government used force to stop the petition reaching parliament, with it being confiscated by the police.[14] Fearing disorder, the police deployment was Britain's most extensive public order precaution since 1848[15] and Lord Trenchard, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner mobilised a total police force of 70,000 against the marchers and their supporters.[16] Serious violence erupted in and around the park, with mounted police being used to disperse the demonstrators,[17] and across central London in the days to come with 75 people being badly injured.[18] Home Secretary Sir John Gilmour was questioned about the ongoing disturbances in the House of Commons.[19]


The march led directly to the formation of the National Council for Civil Liberties. Its founder, Ronald Kidd, set up the Council as he was concerned about the use of agent provocateurs by the police to incite violence during and after the 1932 marches.[20]

The hunger marchers inspired Bill Alexander to join the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and eventually becoming the party's "assistant general secretary". Alexander went onto become the commander of the British Battalion of the International Brigades during the late portion of the Spanish Civil War. Another communist activist who credited the hunger marchers as an inspiration was Thora Silverthorne, who bandaged the feet of marchers who passed through Oxford.

The 1932 march was followed by another in 1934[21] and others, including the 1936 Jarrow March.


  1. ^ a b Cook, Chris and Bewes, Diccon; What Happened Where: A Guide To Places And Events In Twentieth-Century History p. 115; Routledge, 1997 ISBN 1-85728-533-6
  2. ^ Lavalette, Michael and Mooney, Gerry; Class Struggle and Social Welfare p. 132; Routledge, 2000 ISBN 0-415-20105-5
  3. ^ Morgan, Jane; Conflict and Order: The Police and Labour Disputes in England and Wales, 1900-1939 p. 242; Clarendon Press, 1987 ISBN 0-19-820128-1
  4. ^ Burnett, John; Idle Hands: The Experience of Unemployment, 1790-1990, p. 256; Routledge, 1994 ISBN 0-415-05501-6
  5. ^ a b Ewing, Keith D. and Gearty, C.A., The Struggle for Civil Liberties: Political Freedom and the Rule of Law in Britain, 1914-1945; p. 220, Oxford University Press, 2001 ISBN 0-19-876251-8
  6. ^ Marwick, Arthur; A History of the Modern British Isles, 1914-1999: Circumstances, Events, and Outcomes p. 110; Blackwell Publishing, 2000 ISBN 0-631-19522-X
  7. ^ Cohen, Percy; Unemployment Insurance and Assistance in Britain p. 39; George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd, 1938
  8. ^ Jenkins, Alan; The Thirties, p. 43; Stein and Day, 1976
  9. ^ Laybourn, Keith; Britain on the Breadline: A Social and Political History of Britain Between the Wars, p. 33; Alan Sutton, 1990 ISBN 0-86299-490-X
  10. ^ Hannington, Wal; Ten Lean Years - An Examination of the Record of the National Government in the Field of Unemployment: An Examination of the Record of the National Government in the Field of Unemployment, p. 52; Read Books, 2006; ISBN 1-4067-9811-8
  11. ^ Hannington, Wal; Unemployed Struggles, 1919-1936: My Life and Struggles Amongst the Unemployed, p. 237; Barnes & Noble Books, 1973 ISBN 0-85409-837-2
  12. ^ Cronin, James E.; Labour and Society in Britain, 1918-1979, p. 96; Batsford Academic and Educational, 1984, ISBN 0-7134-4395-2
  13. ^ Waddington, David P.; Contemporary Issues in Public Disorder: A Comparative and Historical Approach p. 31, quoting Stevenson & Cook 1979:173; Routledge, 1992 ISBN 0-415-07913-6
  14. ^ Worley, Matthew; Class Against Class: The Communist Party in Britain Between the Wars p. 296; I.B.Tauris, 2002 ISBN 1-86064-747-2
  15. ^ Thurlow, Richard C.; Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts to the National Front p. 63; I.B.Tauris, 1998 ISBN 1-86064-337-X
  16. ^ Hannington, Wal; The Problem of the Distressed Areas - An Examination of Poverty and Unemployment: An Examination of Poverty and Unemployment, p. 195; Read Books, 2006; ISBN 1-4067-9849-5
  17. ^ Lewis, Gail; Forming Nation, Framing Welfare, p. 197; Routledge, 1998 ISBN 0-415-18129-1
  18. ^ Hitchner, Dell Gillette; Civil Liberties in England from 1914 to 1940 p. 144; University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1940
  20. ^[dead link]
  21. ^ Rose, Sonya O.; Which People's War?: National Identity and Citizenship in Britain, 1939-1945 p. 30; Oxford University Press, 2003 ISBN 0-19-925572-5

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