In part one of ourÂ blog series on female munitions workers, my colleague Vicky detailed how the work of women and girls in Britainâs industry became increasingly vital as the pressures of war siphoned off the maleÂ workforce.
As Vicky pointed out, the essential and visible role that women played in keeping Britain supplied made clear their competence and value, with the Adjutant General to the forces commenting in 1916 that:
‘Women have shown themselves capable of successfully replacing the stronger sex in practically every calling’. 1
Such a condescending tone towards female workers was sadly common during the First World War. However, rather than just accepting their role as patronised patriots, many female workers seized upon the recognition of their work, contending that if their work was equal to a manâs, their pay must be also. This blog will focus on the issue of and the struggles (both successful and unsuccessful) for equal pay by women, and womenâs trade unions such as the National Federation of Women Workers, whose Woman Worker magazine provides a fantastic insight into the issues facing female workers in the war. 2
âEqual for pay for equal workâ was an important issue before the war, when most women did not earn enough to support themselves, but the need for wage equality and collective organisation among female workers seemed to become more pertinent during the First World War. Unlike before,Â many women were doing work previously carried out by men, and trades whose wages were once onlyÂ decided by their owners and the whims of the market had become ‘controlled’ by the Ministry of Munitions during war time. Continue reading »
- 1. Womenâs War Work (catalogue reference:Â MH 47/142/1) ^
- 2. Copies of the Woman Worker can be viewed in the Trade Unions Congress Library Collections, housed at London Metropolitan University, https://metranet.londonmet.ac.uk/services/sas/library-services/tuc/ ^