22nd May 1942. All Hands to the Pump.
In 1940 Clement Attlee, the Labour leader in Churchill’s war-time cabinet, urged everyone to stay calm and continue in his or her job until ordered to do otherwise. This at a time when the government had won the right to direct any adult aged between 14 and 65 into some kind of employment.
By 1942 Labour Minister, Ernest Bevin had mobilised 22 million workers and troops, causing the News Chronicle to reflect Today: ‘no country in the world has ever mobilised its manpower to this extent’, and went on, ‘that only about 350,000 men and women were directed into jobs they hadn’t chosen’. Which could have been Government propaganda!
It was in May 1940 that Parliament had rushed through, in three hours, the Emergency Powers Act, which gave the government unlimited authority over every person and all property in the land. Banks, munitions, industry, wages and profits where there were powers to impose 100% tax.
All strikes were banned under Order 1305, of July 1940, but there were some stoppages later in the war, in aircraft production, coal and shipbuilding. Many over seemingly trivial matters such as canteen facilities, but important when one considers the long hours and general pressures people were working under.
One concern was the abolition of differentials between skilled and unskilled being watered-down with new recruits of both sexes receiving the same, admittedly, good money.
Those in vital industries were kept there by Bevin’s, 1941 Essential Work Orders (EWO), which affected eight million workers. It also stopped sacking in key industries, shipbuilding, engineering, aircraft work, railways and the building trade, where conditions were eased by better rates of pay.
Women played a vital part in all areas of war-work as the Daily Telegraph reported in May, of a New Register of Women for War Work.(1)
Some 400,000 women of the 1920 Class registered under the Registration for Employment Order and would be entered on a National Work Register, and to consider what they wanted to to do including uniformed services.
However women would not be taken away from useful employment, such as looking after evacuees, and those running homes and looking after children weren’t expected to move.
The EWO could be blamed for a decline in production especially in coal, which fell every year of the War, though loss of young manpower and long shifts must have contributed.
The shortage of manpower was improved later by a ballot of men which allocated many to work in mining: the Bevin Boys.
(1) Reported on Wednesday May 7th 1941.