Men of Faux Steel, Man of Flannel

Joachim von Ribbentrop nailed his political colours firmly to the mast. Formally he was still Germany’s ambassador to Great Britain, but in practice was behaving ever more like Germany’s foreign minister, a post that he would soon occupy de jure. The abdication and departure into effective exile of Edward VIII had removed his one qualification – to put it at its kindest – for the post in London. He had long harboured the delusion that the pro-German sentiment he detected in Edward provided the foundations of a serious rapprochement between the two countries. Ribbentrop’s speech at the Leipzig Trade Fair trotted out all the clichés of recent Nazi utterance on foreign policy, notably the need to rebuild Germany’s prosperity by restoring the colonial empire, of which Britain had deprived her. Germany belonged amongst the “haves” and not the “have nots”. Autarky  gave an economic string to her bow that allowed her to dispense with other nations.

The American steel industry blinked not once but twice in the face of trade union pressure. It was a major triumph for John L. Lewis’s CIO, all the more striking coming as it did after the punishing  rear-guard actions fought by the automobile makers against the CIO’s ambitions. Not only did USC, the industry leader, finally bow to accepting workers being represented by an “outside” (uncontrolled) union, but the smaller “independents” conceded pay rises and a 40 hour week. It might be argued that the latter concession opened government contracts to them under the Walsh-Healey Act and that, given the scale of naval rearmament due, was a wise commercial decision, but it was clear that there was a high price to industrial peace.

Britain’s inimitable Transport Minister, Leslie Hore-Belisha, was having to open his mouth ever wider to suck in the precious oxygen of publicity. He floated the idea, apparently, of banning all car-parking on public roads. The private sector would make good the loss of facility by providing commercial car parks. He also announced a campaign for the improvement of quality of life by barring the use of car horns at night as well as persuading manufacturers to produce quieter vehicles. When he reverted to the topic a couple of days later in the House of commons, it was clear that he had been taken aside and had a few of the facts of life explained to him.


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