20 MARCH 1942, Page 9



MANY people believe that the average worker in a munitions- factory is making big money and possibly doing little work for it. Mass-Observation (the social research organisation for which I am responsible) has recently made an extensive study of war industry in seven areas.* Wage-information was collected during this enquiry from firms employing from 20,000 down to zo workers, and from a sample of workers personally. Of all war- workers covered by the sample study 88 per cent. were receiving less than £6 per week, two-thirds less than £4. A factory employing 2,000 mainly on shell-making gives a fairly representa- tive picture. The twenty getting over £9 range up to £12 OS. 5d. gross a week, for a man doing a 95-hour week ; all are skilled workers on piece-rates, and most of them are on night-shift (paid an extra fifth), working about 20 hours overtime or more.

In a big factory engaged on certain basic raw materials the highest earner gets £8 6s. 5d. a week gross ; just overt per cent. are getting more than £6 5s. Without exception, these workers are doing extensive overtime, including the whole week-end. An important factory engaged on aircraft-components has average wages among its labour force of £4 13s. 6d.; the ten lowest-paid average £2 IOS. 2d., the thirteen highest £8 8s. 3d. Examples could be multiplied. One more, from a key factory engaged on a " secret weapon." Under t per cent. of the employees (nearly all skilled) are getting more than £6 5s. a week, all men ; much highly skilled work is done by women, and they do regular over- time plus week-ends ; no women earn more than £3 145. ad. The highest-paid group of workers encountered were the sheet- ' metal workers on fuselage-assembly in two aircraft-factories, where individual men were earning £2o-£25. In another aircraft- factory the average rate for a skilled man working a 6o-hours week was £12, in a " good " week, but there were frequent hold- ups. Nothing does more to upset war-production than these hold-ups, of course, not only because of the effect on output, but also because of the direct effect on skilled workers with relatively high standards of living. This is well reflected in the diary of a woman married to an aircraft-worker, normally earning £8-£to weekly. She writes: "Everyone knows by now that something is wrong with pro- duction, and that all the appeals of workmen will not remedy matters. My husband earned £2 ills. last week, and 'on production, too. It tells its own tale."

A few weeks later she writes:

" There was an argument in the workshop today because work is being reserved for the women, and youths, who have to pay 3os. per week lodging-money, are not given a chance to earn bonus. Women have to learn, but young men also have to live, and they will enter the army with a very bitter taste in their mouths if they are shunted already. A sidelight on large wages: my husband last week earned no overtime or bonus, and his flat rate was not big enough to pay the household bills, let alone his expenses. We had to draw La from the bank. It is usually forgotten that men work long hours, under trying conditions, for their bonus and overtime."

The established system in many sections, of the basic rate with cumulative additions for every hour of overtime, plus complex bonuses, automatically raises the wartime level of gross earning.

* The full report, People in Production, is being published by tile Advertising Service Guild from No. so Hertford Street, W. r, at "c beginning of April. In the case of the aircraft-workers, and of many other outstanding earnings, it is often the result of crude piece-rating and careless planning. In many cases high earnings are derived from working- hours which all experience and study (see the publications of the Industrial Health Research Board) prove to be excessive and in- efficient in terms of actual output and production ; many firms are still working such hours. Much has been heard of high juvenile earnings. Investigation shows that a small minority of juveniles earn above £2 55s.; these are often boys in the building trade, which is indeed a general source of discontent, because high rates are paid to imported labour on new factory and aerodrome sites, which automatically upset and irritate the local economy and cultural pattern.

Taking all the available evidence, it seems clear that only a tiny section are earning excessive money in war-industry, and these include some who are, of course, supremely skilled workers, men with abilities possibly as high as many directors who take £20 a week as a matter of course. I am not acting as advocate for the present system of wage-differentials, though I would point out that it is as much a part of the present system of industry as profit-making or shareholding or separate firms. You cannot obliterate one part of the pattern without obliterating all of it. If one modification is desirable, all are desirable. I am describing the factual situation, and consequently suggesting that the average situation has been distorted by publicity-emphasis, with results unfavourable to the war-effort. The exceptional is news, the normal is not. The Government have not taken responsibility for giving an accurate picture of what is happening in this and other aspects of war economy, to serve as a yardstick and a background-corrective to misconceptions. There is no general picture of war-economics in the public mind, and it needs to be there if people are to react fully and favourably to new demands, pressures, restrictions and taxations. At present, war- economics appear to ordinary people in disjointed, negative con- flict and chaos. The new income-tax, for instance, was launched on millions of workers who had never paid it before with an almost pathetic absence of advance explanation and advocacy. Now, the Treasury are belatedly coping with a situation, largely predictable and avoidable, which, through being ignored, has harmed war-production and home morale. The published emphasis on individual cases of high earning has had an un- fortunate effect. It has made people outside war industry believe that there is extensive wage-profiteering going on inside it, while those in one firm engaged on war-production are led to think that there are higher wages going for everyone somewhere else.

Are industrial workers better off since the war? Recent studies by the Institute of Statistics at Oxford indicate that wage-earners in 1940 paid 7-9 per cent. for the war, while non-wage earners paid 12-15 per cent. As that Institute comments: " If the enormous difference in average income of the two classes compared is taken into consideration, the financial war-burden on workers appears to be relatively high." Our own limited studies in this field suggest that, on the whole, workers are now worse off. Most increases in earnings are offset by increases in necessary expenditure, savings, new taxation, special new industrial expenditure. The stories of workers spending lavishly, for instance, in Coventry, have been grossly exaggerated, as anyone who spends a week in Coventry can see—there are few places where it is more difficult to spend your money, even if you want to. The continuous decline in available spending-outlets, coupled with the failure of savings-propaganda to advance beyond the 1941 stage, is producing an effect which is likely to be more marked in 1942. The economic incentive in industry is declining. As there is less to spend money on, the urge for high earnings (directly related to overtime and week-end work) is weakened. The structure of British industry has been built up at every level around the structure of effort for profit. The only alternative incentive appears to be the straight feeling of national urgency, and unity, still strikingly absent in relation to the nation's supreme need. This can be obtained at the price of a new spirit of re- sponsibility from those inside industry and from those outside commenting on it.