The War, Women & Industry

(handwritten notes by RD)
Apparent date: during WW2 (text indicates 1941)


(Page 1—2 sides)

When the Normans of William the Conqueror struggled with Harold’s serfs on the fields of Hastings—even in ancient tribal wards the women took man’s place in the fields and the hunting parties until the hunting grounds were once more large enough to sustain the tribe, or the bounty was safely tucked away in the baron’s treasure chests. And again women returned to her former position in society, to slavery and drudgery, to back-breaking work in the fields, to human incubation, to pounding of the grain and the gathering of wood.

Then came the industrial and bourgeois revolutions, the development of the factory system, the growth of monopoly and imperialism, the contracting of the world market and the industrial competition of the East—the wars of 1914-18 (and) 140 --? And women with man was not released from her slavery and drudgery but was shackelled to the machine

The war of 1914-18 with its demand for female labor caused by the formation of huge armies of men for trench warfare cut the threads of the moral code and even virtuous women took their place in industry—in the field planting and harvesting, in the factories operating the machines, in the streets running the buses. But when the territories of the imperialists were once more large enough to sustain their appetites for a period and the booty was safety tucked away in their treasure chests, woman did not return as before to her former position in society—no—woman became a permanent factor in industry—a permanent wage slave. Prior to 1914 in the United States over 75% of all women in manufacturing were in 5 industries (textiles, apparel, food, tobacco and hand & foot wear). By Nov. (19)18 steel plants covered by survey gained 16,000 women while the spinning, weaving and knitting mills lost over 10,000 women. Likewise there was an increase of the percentage of women employed in aircraft (construction) from .4% to 23% from 1914-Nov.’18. Not only did women move away from textiles etc. into new fields of industry but they took over jobs which required skill and experience. In the metal trades 37,683 women substituted for men in the 278 firms covered by survey. Ninety-one firms employed women on lathes in men’s places and 83 firms reported on their work as follows: 10% said (the) project (was) a failure, 5% reported work as good or better than men while more than half the firms reporting keep(ing) women as lathe operators after the signing of armistice. And while it is true that 9 months after armistice the no(number of) women employed in the 4 leading war agent and implement industries had dropped to 43.3% of pre-armistice numbers at the same time the no(number) of men employed dropped to 61.5% of pre-armistice force. Not only did woman enter industries where she had never been before but she entered industries where skill and experience were required and what is most important, retained and even increased her numbers in these industries after the emergencies which open the doors to entry that passed away. The Canadian figures substantiate the American findings. In the post-war years of 1921-31 when industry was relatively stable for a capitalist economy, the population increase for Canada was 18%; however the percentage of females gainfully occupied 10 years and over increased 36%.

As individuals, women have a more or less broken industrial life but as a group are a permanent part of the labor supply and even as individuals due to the prolonged depression period of 1929-40 fewer numbers break their industrial life through marriage, pregnancy or retirement. This can best be shown by a breakdown of the number of females gainfully occupied (11 years and over) in Canada into single or married groups.

In the period 1921-31 there was a 36% increase in the number of females gainfully occupied and only an 18% pop(ulation) gain. While the single women comprise by far the largest group, over 80%, their number during this period gained only 33% while the percentage of married women gainfully occupied increased 90%.

In the United States in 1920 a quarter of the total of the number of women working were married and 15% of the women aged 45 years and over were in industry. Married women and women over 45 are obviously a stable section of the employed population.

(Notes—Page “ b “ 2 sides)

(In the) Early days of Canadian industry when the country was one of less limited opportunity, workers left trades that dissatisfied them, with new (frontiers?) many opened up (their) own shops, or when grievances were many, walked out . (An) organization might or might not be formed and if it was as soon as grievances disappeared, the union died.

Today male workers are stuck in industry, in spite of yokel boy makes good stories (and they) can’t walk out or go out to the frontier or bum jobs around. So are women stuck in industry.

Not ‘til the 80’s did working men consider (them)selves as a permanent class of workers and so developed trade unions. Industry needed a permanent group of wage slaves (and) brought in many settlers. With permanent wage earners came the necessity of permanent trade unions as protection. Women in industry were not permanent. Today as individuals they are subject to a more or less broken industrial life, but as a group (they) are permanent part of the labor supply.

The emergencies of 1915-20 made possible extensive unionism among semi-skilled and unskilled trades—textile, packing houses, metal trades, seamen. Industrial depression marked a falling off of many of these Women concentrated in so-called unskilled and semi-skilled occupations. Over 60% of women gainfully employed in 1920 were in trades, professional service, domestic and personal service and clerical occupations—only about 25% of the male working population are engaged in these trades (at this time.) Women (are) not in strategic industries—mines, railway, building (but what about metal? --RD)

With the depression women not only as a group became permanent in industry but even individually—supporting the male by their jobs. Women got the vote and (there was) no notable change in the political life of the country. (It is) particularly true of women’s unions that they were conceived through a strike; women organize in (an) emergency. Old constitutional clauses barring women from positions must be removed. Women should pay the same dues as men, thus (there will be) no recognition of their low wages as permanent.
(Notes—Un-numbered page, 2 sides)

In all the wars prior to 1940 --?, the American civil war, the Great War of 1914-18 etc., women took her place in industry because of the shortage of male labor, large numbers of the men being forced into army service.

Today in Great Britain where millions of men have been conscripted to defend the far-flung outposts of British Imperialism, the Unemployment exchanges report for the Feb. period 277,301 female unemployed and 303,548 male unemployed—these numbers by no means constitute the total of unemployed workers.

In one Canadian munitions plant 2500 women are employed and only 1500 men. Women taxi cab drivers are making their appearance and on Canadian streets gasoline attendants are delivery girls. Throughout Canada women are rapidly increasing their numbers in the factories, working the night shifts and taking over jobs which heretofore had always been handled by men. Not only in the war industries but even in the textile trades which have for years been a stronghold of female labor. The Weldrest Hosiery employees at Toronto are on strike because the men knitters are losing their jobs to women. In the Dominion Provincial Emergency War Training, of the 3,688 in training for the month ending January 31, 1941—306 were female and of the 3,382 males only 828 were sponsored or guaranteed jobs. Of the 306 females 224 were guaranteed jobs. Of the 9,277 afforded training in the industrial classes, only 1,702 were placed in employment.

What’s behind all this? Why are women entering industry so rapidly and taking over men’s jobs? Is there a shortage of male labor? In the United States there are still over 5 million unemployed. Unemployment figures are available in Canada only through the trade unions that submit reports to the government. The unions reporting for March had a membership of 280,671. Of that membership 6.6% were without employment on April 1st and the organized workers in Canada are the highly skilled workers. Under the pressure of events even the deep-rooted prejudices of the bourgeoisie against female labor are swept aside. In their haste to swell and pluck the war profits and to capture the markets of Orient from Hitler’s forced and Japan’s coolie labor, they too must search for cheaper labor. Woman constitutes the cheap labor market. Woman is the unorganized worker.

Findings of a test conducted at the Cheney Silk Works in Pennsylvania showed that men produced 65.37% quantity, women 50%. Men produced 30.74% more than women but women came 2.42% nearer perfect quality in spite of this. The average earnings of women in industry vary from one-half to three-quarters of that of men. In Germany the Krupps and Siemens used the fascist party to crush the workers trade unions and force the German workers to accept miserable wages; women were told their place was in the home raising children for cannon-fodder. In Canada we have a free labor market, free to work at low wages. At present the capitalists consider the fascist movement a luxury, empowered as they are with the Industrial Disputes Act and the Defence of Canada Regulations, but another tool that they are wielding to lower the present standard of living is women labor.

No longer can the trade union movement allow the slogan of equal work equal wages to remain a statute on the constitution. Industrial unionism was a big step in the right direction. To organize women labor is a life and death problem to Canadian trade unionism.
(other point notes and statistical tables in file)

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