1c: Change and challenge in the workplace: Changing work opportunities and conditions, 1939-79


The Second World War

  • The movement to war production brought full employment & the deployment of lots of women into factories & jobs previously designated for men.
  • 1944 - estimated 33% of civilian population was involved in war work (inc. 7m women) - mass unemployment of 1930s nearly disappeared & working conditions, wages & benefits improved.
  • Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin issued an Essential Work Order in March 1941 which tied people to jobs considered essential for the war effort & made it difficult for employers to dismiss them.
  • There was still a shortage of skilled workers in areas such as engineering & ship building & the Sept 1939 Control of Employment Act allowed semi-skilled workers to undertake formerly skilled jobs.
  • Skilled workers in essential war industries were exempt from military service.
  • Working conditions in factories often improved & Bevin insisted that employers provided medical centres & canteens for their employers when possible.
  • Bevin established the popular radio programme 'Worker's Playtime' & ensured that munitions workers knew they were a vital part in Britain's eventual victory, & wages also increased.
  • 'Bevin Boys' - in Dec 1943 Bevin introduced the conscription of 10% of young men into the coal mines rather than military service as the mines had lost 36,000 of their workers - many of the 'Bevin Boys' resented this policy.
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Full employment

  • Record levels of low employment had a direct impact on industrial relations - employers needed to keep skilled workers & used attractive wages & working conditions to prevent them from leaving for another job.
  • Workers had little worry about unemployment so were more mobile & more likely to leave a job that didn't suit them → employers often offered benefits e.g. cheap canteen facilities, work outings.
  • Employment opportunities developed due to better education & strong economy - people had more choice & could be flexible in their employment.
  • As technology developed, there were more white-collar & technological jobs in electronics, light engineering & the provision of consumer goods, as well as more demand for managers.
  • Surveys showed that those in professional & white-collar jobs gained more satisfaction from work than those in manual jobs.
  • There was growth in the service sector, tourism, shops & restaurants.
  • By 1956, 500,000+ people directly employed in the production of motor vehicles/components.
  • Average weekly earnings for men increased from £8.30 in 1951 to £15.35 in 1961 & then £30.93 in 1971 - this was often to compensate for the tedious factory jobs.
  • Retail prices rose by 63% between 1955-69, however weekly wages went up by 88%.
  • People could buy more with their money - as technology & mass production developed, the cost of consumer items like TVs fell in real terms.
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Growth of unemployment in the 1970s

  • Full employment began to decline - as industrial problems began to take effect, unemployment rose to 1m in 1972 & ideas about job security began to fade against a new reality of joblessness.
  • Decline in heavy industry meant there was more unemployment in industrial parts of Britain like the north, South Wales, the Midlands & Scotland - there was often little alternative to jobs in mines & factories in these areas.
  • In the West Midlands so much of the industry was geared to motor vehicle production that problems in this area could have massive knock-on effects - e.g. a downturn in the car-producing factories led to short-time working in headlight manufacture.
  • 1976 - Labour gov conceded that the working opportunities that had existed since the end of WW2 were no longer possible → it abandoned the commitment to full employment & accepted that market forces would have a greater role in determining who worked and who did not.
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