Post World War II: 1946-1970 (2022)

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  • Gains and losses for women after WWII
  • The struggle for equal pay
  • Migrant workers in the UK labour market: 1946-1970

Gains and losses for women after WWII

The gains made during the Second World War proved transitory as women were demobilised from ‘men’s work’ to make way for the returning servicemen, as had happened following the First World War. However, unlike the 1920s, the late 1940s and 50s were periods of sustained economic growth. The post-war reconstruction effort made the need for an expanded labour force urgent. In the late 1940s, the government launched campaigns to encourage women to enter or stay in the labour market, and encouraged the migration of workers from (former) British colonies to fill the labour shortages.

The welfare state created many job opportunities in what was seen as ‘women’s work’. Jobs were available in the the newly created National Health Service for nurses, midwives, cleaners and clerical staff. Banking, textile and light industries such as electronics also expanded during this period and provided women with opportunities in clerical, secretarial and assembly work. Jobs were still strictly segregated by gender and routine repetitive work was categorised as women’s work for women’s (lower) wages.

The proportion of women in the labour force as a percentage of women of working age (15-64) increased from 45.9% in 1955 to 51% in 1965. Despite this increase in the rate of women’s employment, women were still considered to be 'secondary workers'. Women's wages were not considered central to families’ income, instead it was thought that women's wages were for ‘extras’ such as holidays or new consumer durables. Mothers of young children were once again discouraged from working and most of the state funded nurseries set up during the WWII were closed by the post-war Labour government. Welfare payments for families were based on the assumption that a man’s income supported his wife and children who were his dependants (the ‘family wage’). The benefit rates for married women were set at a lower level than those for married men.

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In the early 50s, many employers still operated a ‘Marriage bar’, whereby married women were barred from certain occupations like teaching and clerical jobs (but not lower paid jobs) and those working were sacked upon marriage. But throughout the 1950s and 60s it became more common for married women to work for wages - at least part-time. By the 1960, 38% of married women worked but women were routinely sacked when they got pregnant and continued to be paid less than men even if they did the same jobs.

Discuss

The struggle for equal pay

Women workers continued to campaign for equal pay through the 1950s. Women teachers and some civil servants were the first to win equal pay in 1961 and 62 respectively. However, these early victories only applied where women and men were employed in exactly the same jobs. However, most women workers in the public sector had jobs which were gender segregated and where no men were employed in roles such as secretaries, cleaners and typists. Women in these workplaces remained excluded from any of the ongoing debates about equal pay, as did women who worked in the private sector.

Women’s trade union membership increased through the 1950s and the 60s. In 1946, some 1.6 million women workers were unionised (24% of all women workers) and by 1969 this had risen to 2.5 million (29% of all women workers) (Undy, 2012). However, during this period trade unions continued to be led by white men who did not always prioritise the demands of their women and non-white members.

1968 was a significant year in the struggle for equal pay. Women sewing machinists who sewed car seat covers at the Ford car factory in Dagenham went on strike. They were angry because their jobs had been re-graded as unskilled, which resulted in them being paid 13% less than the male assembly workers. The women argued that their job required the same level of skill as the men’s jobs. The strikers had to overcome the initial reluctance of male workers and the trade union to support their cause. Eventually, the women accepted an increase which took their pay to 92% of the men’s pay. This was followed by other strikes over equal pay across the country and to renewed trade union support and campaigning on this issue. These campaigns led to the passage of the Equal Pay Act (1970), which applied to the public and private sectors where men and women were engaged in the same or broadly similar work.

Explain

Migrant workers in the UK labour market: 1946-1970

Post World War II: 1946-1970 (2)

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A Labour pamphlet after the response of the report of the Royal Commission for equal Pay 1946, which concluded tentatively that teachers and some civil servants might benefit from equal pay, but also argued that unequal pay was necessary to secure motherhood as an attractive vocation compared to paid work.

Credit:

TUC Collections, London Metropolitan University

From the 1950s onwards, due to the labour shortages following WWII, the UK government encouraged the immigration of migrant workers to rebuild Britain and service the newly created NHS. While more men than women migrated in the earlier years, from the late 1960s, there were significant numbers of women who migrated to join their families settled in the UK. Many of these women worked in the health service but, like women from all ethnic backgrounds, were more likely than men to be engaged in repetitive jobs which were poorly paid and had little prospect of promotion.

Even where migrant women were educated in English and held professional qualifications, they found that only low-paid, unskilled jobs were open to them. In those days, there were occasions when trade unions colluded with the management to maintain differential wages between men and women, and between white and non-white workers. In 1963, Bristol Omnibus Company, supported by the local Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) branch, refused to employ black or Asian bus crews. At this, the local black communities boycotted bus services for four months until the company backed down and overturned the ‘colour bar’. Similarly, a strike by black workers took place at Courtauld's Red Scar Mill, Preston, when the management forced Asian workers to work more machines for less pay, with the collusion of white workers and their union. Such attitudes by trade unions of the day meant that migrant women workers were disadvantaged in the labour market both because they were women and also because they were immigrants.

Examine

Objectives

After undertaking the activities within this section, students will be able to:

  1. Describe the gains and losses experienced by women in the workplace after World War II and the contributing factors
  2. Explain the changes that took place in post WWII Britain for women, including the struggle for rights at work
  3. Examine the role strikes have played in gaining rights for women in the workplace
  4. Understand the reasons why the British government encouraged the immigration of workers after WWII.
Gallery
  • View the full imagePost World War II: 1946-1970 (3)

    The August 1951 issue of 'Red Tape', the journal of the Civil Service Clerical Association, reports of a mass meeting on equal pay in London.

  • View the full imagePost World War II: 1946-1970 (4)

    A Labour pamphlet after the response of the report of the Royal Commission for equal Pay 1946, which concluded tentatively that teachers and some civil servants might benefit from equal pay, but also argued that unequal pay was necessary to secure motherh

  • View the full imagePost World War II: 1946-1970 (5)

    Women Bus drivers at Fulwell station in Twickenham in 1947

  • View the full imagePost World War II: 1946-1970 (6)

    Women machinists at the Ford Motor Company plant in Dagenham took strike action on 7 June 1968 for equal pay. The women won a pay increase to 92% of men's wages.

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Case studies

  • Ford strike at Dagenham 1968

The Dagenham women machinists sewed seat covers for the cars produced by a Ford Motor Company plant. As part of a re-grading exercise in 1968, these women machinists were graded as unskilled workers whereas men who did the same level of work were placed in the semi-skilled grade. The women also received less pay than the men who swept the factory floors, and were considered unskilled workers. At that time it was common practice for companies to pay women less than men, irrespective of the skills involved.

Post World War II: 1946-1970 (11)

Women machinists at the Ford Motor Company plant in Dagenham took strike action on 7 June 1968 for equal pay. The women won a pay increase to 92% of men's wages.

Credit:

Pat Mantle TUC Collection, London Metropolitan University

187 women sewing machinists took strike action on 7 June 1968 in support of a claim for re-grading, parity with men in the unskilled grade and recognition of their skills. At first, the union and the male workers did not support the demand for an increase in women's pay.

The women workers soon won the support of their union. The strike gained momentum when the stock of car seats ran out and their action resulted in a halt to all car production at Ford. Barbara Castle, the Employment Minister, was brought in to help negotiate a settlement.

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After 3 weeks on strike, the machinists settled for 92% of the rate paid to unskilled male workers.Their actions received wide publicity and precipitated wider action in the form of several other equal pay strikes in 1968-69. This mobilisation eventually led to the passage of The Equal Pay Act 1970, the first legislation in the world aimed at ending pay discrimination between men and women. As for the Ford machinists and other women workers at Ford, it took a few more strikes over subsequent years to achieve equal pay.

For more see: Post World War II: 1946-1970 (12) Ford strike at Dagenham

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FAQs

What happened during post World war 2? ›

At the end of the war, millions of people were dead and millions more homeless, the European economy had collapsed, and much of the European industrial infrastructure had been destroyed. The Soviet Union, too, had been heavily affected.

What is post World war 2 period? ›

In Western usage, the phrase post-war era (or postwar era) usually refers to the time since the end of World War II. More broadly, a post-war period (or postwar period) is the interval immediately following the end of a war.

What are the important things in post-war period? ›

Three important political events define the period between the end of World War II in 1945 and 1970: the Cold War, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War. These three events provide the overarching framework for a rich array of social and political changes that took place in America during that time.

How did post ww2 affect America? ›

After years of wartime rationing, American consumers were ready to spend money—and factories made the switch from war to peace-time production. After years of wartime rationing, American consumers were ready to spend money—and factories made the switch from war to peace-time production.

What was life like after ww2? ›

World War Two ended finally in the summer of nineteen forty-five. Life in the United States began to return to normal. Soldiers began to come home and find peacetime jobs. Industry stopped producing war equipment and began to produce goods that made peacetime life pleasant.

What are the causes and effects of World War II? ›

The major causes of World War II were numerous. They include the impact of the Treaty of Versailles following WWI, the worldwide economic depression, failure of appeasement, the rise of militarism in Germany and Japan, and the failure of the League of Nations.

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