Defining Equal Work for Equal Pay: Trade Unions, the Post Office, and the Battle for Wage Equity in World War II

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 8:30 AM
Concourse H (New York Hilton)
Mark Crowley, University of Wuhan
Equal pay for women has received considerable attention from scholars of British history that illustrate some of the difficulties faced by women to achieve improved working conditions and pay during WWII. This paper uses the Post Office as a case study to examine how this department helped push the government towards exploring a variety of options not only to provide equal pay for women after the war but also the long-term revision of sexual barriers inhibiting women’s employment in so-called ‘skilled areas’ of the labour market that were dominated by men. The Post Office was used as an institution to improve women’s pay in the public service and secure long-term improvements and opportunities for women. The Post Office has received little attention from scholars of wartime Britain despite the fact that it was the single largest employer of women in wartime. Over 100,000 women worked for the Post Office in every area of service. The Post Office created a variety of opportunities and challenges as women workers were central to every aspect of Post Office work and the wider war effort.

This paper re-examines the wartime campaign for equal pay for women in the public service. Using a variety of government and trade union material, the study examines the major driving forces behind the campaign and the precedents cited to support the adoption of wage equality. Although women did not achieve wage equality during WWII, the changes adopted by the Post Office improved pay and conditions for women and reduced the inequalities between male and female workers in ways that were long-lasting and enduring.

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