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Provost's Imagine Fund for Arts and Humanities

Colonial Influences on Welfare debates in Britain, 1892-1911

Between 1892-1914, the gap between rich and poor in Britain widened enormously, impairing the health of working people. To solve this problem, the Liberal party in Britain argued for higher taxes on the rich to pay for health and welfare protection. Historians argue that Liberals wanted to make British workers efficient—and more likely to vote for the Liberals. I will demonstrate that movements in New Zealand and India also influenced British calls for social legislation.
First, New Zealand pioneered many social interventions. New Zealand initiated women’s suffrage in 1893, along with labor arbitration, cooperative enterprises, protective labor legislation, and old age pensions. They not only taxed rich landowners, they also took land from the Maori to finance these schemes. How did New Zealand’s labor legislation influence Britain?
Second, I will examine factory labor legislation in Bombay. Nationalist leaders claimed that British factory owners were trying to pass this legislation so Indian mills could not compete with British ones; I will investigate the veracity of this claim. Some nationalist leaders saw state intervention as typical of British imperialism, but others, such as the leader of the dalit or untouchable movement, Lokhande, supported legislation to protect mill hands. How did these imperial debates influence British legislation in turn?
These will be chapters in my book in progress, “Rage against the Machine: Individual Rights in the British Empire.”

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