This chapter establishes the industrial and economic context for the book as a whole through a careful study of the coal industry in Britain in the period under consideration. It outlines the continued growth of the industry in the decades leading up to the First World War, levels of mechanisation, the character of employers and the role of women’s often unpaid labour in mining communities. The second part of the chapter focuses on the experiences of disabled workers, a group almost entirely neglected by labour historiography despite their numerical and social significance. The provision of ‘light work’, either underground or on the surface, was widespread but its extent and character waxed and waned with economic change, legislative interventions and the availability of labour.
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