Lynn Beaton (1982)

The importance of women’s paid labour
Women at work in World War II

This is the first time that this Court has had to deal directly with the problem of female labour. The Unions here insist on ‘equal pay for equal work’. This phrase has an attractive sound, and seems to carry justice on its face; for, obviously, where a woman produces as good results as a man in the same kind of work she ought not to get less remuneration.
Justice Higgins, Mildura Fruit Pickers’ Judgement, 1912.

Source: Worth Her Salt. Women at Work in Australia, Hale and Ironmonger 1982;
See also: Shitfing Horizons, Lynn Beaton, 1985.

When we speak of women’s work we initially think of the work that women do at home, their unpaid domestic labour. The old catchcry ‘women’s work is never done’ refers to the hundreds of household chores for which women are assumed to take total responsibility. However there is also another sort of ‘women’s work’ – the work done by women in the paid workforce, which is characterised by the fact that it tends to be done only by women. Although the work women perform at home is itself invisible because it is always done away from the public eye, women are seen by society as housewives and mothers and not as paid workers. Women’s unpaid domestic work is seen as primary and paramount, and their workforce participation is therefore reduced to apparent insignificance and social ‘invisibility’.

The social invisibility of women’s paid labour is used to justify paying women lower wages than men. Underlying the conception that housewifery and motherhood constitute women’s primary role is the assumption that they are dependent on fathers and husbands. Thus when women enter the workforce they are not seen as needing the same remuneration as men because they are already ‘sharing’ a man’s wage. Women as individuals are also rendered vulnerable to accepting low wages because they themselves see their paid labour as less significant than their primary task of home-making. As Juliet Mitchell says in Woman’s Estate, ‘Their exploitation is invisible behind an ideology that masks the fact that they work at all – their work appears inessential.'

Thus as long as women are seen primarily as unpaid domestic workers their suppression and exploitation in the paid workforce continues unhindered, since their work has no ideological existence. This ‘invisibility’, in fact, ensures its continuation. Hence it is vital that the real significance of women’s paid labour to society is fully understood, for without this understanding it will remain invisible, and women will remain vulnerable to exploitation as cheap labour.

The importance of this source of cheap labour to Australian industry is well demonstrated by the conflicts that arose over the question of women’s pay rates during World War II. This crisis exposed social undercurrents that in more stable periods tend to go unnoticed and remain undetectable to future generations. This ‘undetectability’ is especially true of women in the paid workforce, for their very social invisibility ensures that they are frequently absent from contemporary documentation. This then forms an important instrument for the continuation of their suppression and their availability for exploitation. Cultural invisibility is bound up with social condemnation; and for married women to work in such a social climate, they must have a great need. Thus, before World War ii, working women were mostly either single, deserted, or economically disadvantaged. If a married woman worked, it was seen to be a negative reflection of a husband’s ability to support her.

The outbreak of World War ii created a critical need for vast increases in the number of women in the paid workforce. This necessitated a temporary reversal of the relative promotion of women’s two functions, a reversal which highlighted the usually imperceptible participation of women in the paid workforce. The ideological promotion of the working woman gave her a social significance and visibility that enabled her to fight against the exploitation of low wages and poor conditions. The promotional change is shown clearly by Andrée Wright, who has recorded changes in the image of femininity as portrayed in the Australian Women’s Weekly through the war years. The working woman not only became ‘visible’ but attained primacy over her housewife counterpart: ‘During the early war years, up to 1942, homemaking and motherhood remained the most important job.’ As the need for increased supplies of female labour became paramount, the Australian Women’s Weekly began to change the image of its heroine: ‘As long as women were needed in the workforce, magazine propaganda painted an attractive image of the working woman.’ But as soon as the war was over, the ‘working woman’ ceased to exist for the Women’s Weekly, being replaced by ‘the bride’.

Before looking at the wartime situation we should discuss further the means by which women are maintained as a cheap labour force. The apparent social insignificance of women’s work would be threatened if men and women shared the same jobs. Thus, to ensure the continuation of the cheap pool of female labour, women must be confined to particular jobs, which become ‘female occupations’. This sex segregation of the workforce provides further social justification for the economic fact that women receive lower wages. Socially it ensures consistency in the claim that women’s work is less significant and therefore worthy of lower remuneration. And in giving men higher wages it also ensures that they remain the prime breadwinners and that women’s incomes are seen as supplementary.

Historically the question of the sex segregation of the workforce has dominated questions of women’s wages in Australia. From its inception the Arbitration Court embarked on a course which provided legal rationale and social justification for paying women lower wages than men. As its policy became more defined, the sex segregation of the workforce became increasingly important to the maintenance of men’s wages at the standards won by the trade union movement. In 1907 Justice H. B. Higgins declared that the basic wage should be fixed at a level which would provide the ‘normal needs’ of the average employee. In 1912 he distinguished ‘men’s’ work from ‘women’s’, and established the legal basis for women’s lower wages when he declared that the ‘normal needs’ of men were greater than those of women, for a man was paid to support a family and a woman only to support herself.

Employers seized on this opportunity to acquire cheaper labour and the Court was constantly approached to re-classify occupations as ‘female’. The unions were forced to combat these attacks on their conditions – they had either to enforce industrial sex-segregation or to fight for equal pay for women. At first they adopted the same protective policies that had been developed to defend their conditions against the introduction of cheap Asian and Melanesian labour. But women were a permanent feature of the Australian labour force and could not be dispelled from the nation’s shores. Their cheap labour continued to pose a threat and had to be constantly fought. During the Depression it seemed more pernicious, and some sections of the trade union movement began to agitate for equal pay. No legal female basic rate was actually set but it was assumed it could not be less than 50 per cent of the male basic wage, and most awards set it at around 54 per cent.

With the outbreak of World War II the issue came to a head. At first there was a general reluctance to allow women into new fields of employment at all. But as the war proceeded it became evident that, if the country was to make the most of its resources, women would have to take over men’s jobs to release men for combatant duty. This realisation brought strong opposition from both sides of the industrial fence. Male labour would not tolerate the intrusion of cheap labour into their fields of employment; and employers, although willing to employ women in any capacity, were totally opposed to paying them higher wages. But women had to be enticed into the workforce and many of them were not prepared to work in unpleasant factory conditions, even in wartime. Those women who did enter the workforce frequently engaged in industrial action and many refused to enter the workforce at all, despite the enormous propaganda campaign which was implemented to attract them.

The first men’s jobs were offered to women in October 1940 but not without great trepidation. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) faced a critical shortage of telegraph operators. Three hundred and fifty women had been trained by voluntary groups of women desperate to help the war effort. It was estimated that it would have taken eight months and £175 per person to train men to the same standard, so the RAAF proposed the formation of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) to make use of the operative skills of the trained women. The conservative United Australia Party government prevaricated until January 1941, when they agreed to allow women to enter the air force but only as a temporary measure and only on two-thirds of the male salary. The opposition, led by the Australian Labor Party (ALP), opposed their entry on the grounds that they should be admitted on equal pay.

The emergence of the WAAAFs broke the ice, but large-scale employment of women in men’s work was still not acceptable. The services had no trade union representation nor were the women any threat to post-war conditions, since the very nature of the work ensured that this was a wartime measure only. In April 1941 the Australasian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) called a conference to discuss the question of women’s rates of pay. It had recognised the inevitability of women’s entering men’s jobs, and sought to defend conditions and post-war job security by supporting claims for equal pay and calling on the ALP to implement it. ‘The conference affirms the right of women to earn their living in industry, the professions and the public service and demands for all workers the legal right to equal occupational rates based on the nature of the job and not the sex of the workers.'

In June 1941, 658, 100 women were ‘gainfully’ employed, an increase of 15,000 since the outbreak of the war in 1939. The need for women in the workforce was becoming more and more pressing, and in July 1941 the War Cabinet estimated that ‘in the course of two years the total number of women engaged in the services, munitions and aircraft production ... should be raised from 12,972 to 52,376’. The Curtin Labor Government which came to power in October of that year was not opposed to women receiving higher wages and therefore could entice women to replace men in the workforce without raising the ire of the trade union movement. But the real turning point came in December, when the entry of the Japanese into the war changed the nature of Australia’s commitment from one of support for the allies in Europe to one of national defence. Prime Minister John Curtin immediately announced that as a war measure the government supported ‘the principle of extensive employment of women in industry where men are not available in sufficient numbers to attain the scale of production approved of as a war objective’. At the same time he gave his assurance that the introduction of women in wartime would not threaten the traditional employment situations: ‘All women employed under the conditions approved shall be employed only for the duration of the war and shall be replaced by men as they become available.'

In March 1942, to facilitate the necessary entry of women into the required areas of employment, the Labor Government instituted the Women’s Employment Board (WEB) to rule on cases pertaining to the wages and conditions of women entering jobs for which no previous female rates had been designated. The WEB met with dogged opposition throughout its short life. The interests of capital opposed its existence, threatened its validity in every way conceivable, and when all else failed they simply refused to pay women the rates awarded by the WEB, on the grounds that the Board was constitutionally invalid.

The WEB’s field was outside that of the Arbitration Court because it only granted awards for women working in areas that were new for women and for which there were no fixed rates. It was unable to grant awards across the board. Its rulings and its awards of up to 100 per of the male rate for a job were based on the concept of equal pay for equal work, a concept which forced women to prove the value of their productive capacities before receiving equal pay with men, but which broke away from the traditional wage-setting concept of ‘needs’.

The WEB’s first challenge came at its inception. It was to consist of two employer representatives, two representatives of labour and an independent judge. The government, as one of the largest employers of women in men’s jobs, appointed one of the employer representatives and invited the Associated Chamber of Manufactures to nominate the other. They refused to do so, claiming that as ‘the Board was to do work which is properly a function of the Arbitration Court, reconsideration should be given to its appointment’. This delay prevented the Board from functioning until May 1942. In September the Senate disallowed by one vote the National Security Regulations under which the Board was constituted, and on the same day the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures and Hecla Electric appealed to the High Court to test the Board’s legal validity. The WEB had just made its first comprehensive ruling covering the wages of female metal workers in nineteen firms. It awarded them 90 per cent of the male rate after a one-month probation period on 60 per cent.

The Labor Government responded by introducing the Women’s Employment Bill, which bypassed the need for the National Security Regulations and showed its determination to defend the WEB. The Prime Minister saw the Board as an essential part of the country’s war mobilisation, vital at this stage due to the imminent threat of the Japanese advances in the Pacific. Curtin stated that unless the Board was maintained ‘Australia’s war effort will be gravely impeded. In addition the organisation of the labour resources of this country and the diversion on a large scale of women to employment in war production and essential industries will be rendered practically impossible.'

Arthur Calwell, a member of the Labor Government, threatened a double dissolution if the Senate rejected the bill, saying ‘as a matter of fact the best thing that could happen to this Parliament now that it is becoming unworkable because of the intransigence of the Opposition in the Senate would be to have a double dissolution so that the people might decide the issue’. The bill was allowed to pass through the Senate, but the challenges to the Board’s existence continued. In January 1943, Eddie Ward, Minister for Labour, announced that the powers of the Board would be extended to enable it to make common rulings, thus rendering the Board’s operations more efficient and less time-consuming. Employers applied to the Full Arbitration Court hoping to prevent any common rulings being handed down by the WEB, but the Court ruled in support of the Board.

Until this time employers had couched their opposition to the WEB in legal and constitutional jargon but their response to the common rulings for the metal trades exposed the underlying economic motives. An employers’ deputation to the Prime Minister complained that the rates that the WEB proposed to introduce in the metal industries ‘were entirely uneconomic from a national standpoint’.

The attacks on the WEB and the challenges to its rulings continued until it was finally disbanded and its work transferred to the Arbitration Court in late 1944. The Board had made a significant impact, however – it had awarded rates of up to 100 per cent of the male rate to between 80.000 and 90,000 women. These rates caused anomalies with the wages of other women workers who in most cases were still receiving only 54 per cent. The WEB forced employers to oppose women’s wage increases in such a way that it became evident that keeping women’s wages low was of the utmost importance to them, and this was the most significant aspect of the WEB’s institution.

The log books kept by Muriel Heagney while she was an organiser for the Australian Engineering Union of NSW from 1943 to 1945 show the reluctance of individual employers to pay the rate handed down by the WEB. Most of the women she represented were involved in war work, and yet the log books are full of discontent, stoppages and disputes created by the refusal of employers to pay WEB rates. One outstanding example of the manoeuvres typical of employers is provided by the Cooper Engineering Company in NSW, which paid the women in the main shop 90 per cent of the male rate while those in an annexe doing similar work were paid the female Metal Trade Award. On 24 March 1943 Heagney reported: ‘There is great discontent and men and women are agreed that action should be taken to secure the 90 per cent for all women engaged in this shop.’ The women had threatened to decrease their production to 60 per cent in protest at their 60 per cent wages. Management stalled for a further three months, putting up excuse after excuse, all of which proved to be invalid. Finally they reclassified many of the jobs to avoid payment of WEB rates permanently.

In Melbourne the refusal to pay the rates was organised by the Chamber of Manufactures, which instructed their members not to pay. In March 1943 3000 women employed in vital war industries went on strike to defend their right to receive the WEB rates. It seemed that employers would prefer a Japanese victory rather than lift the pay rates of women workers. The WEB rates affected only 90,000 women at the most, and there were more than 800,000 women in the workforce at the peak of female employment in 1943. The remaining 715,000 were employed in traditional women’s jobs and received wages set at about 54 per cent of the basic male rate before the war and pegged since the beginning of the war.

The arrival of the us forces in the Pacific in 1943 led to a shift in emphasis on the industrial home front. The need for manpower and munitions became secondary to the need to produce goods and services for the us forces. The lend-lease agreement entered into by the USA and Australia required the home front to produce food, clothing. stores and provisions while the Americans provided most of the munitions and heavy materials. The traditional female-employing industries now became vital to the war effort. All offered very low wages, and refusal of employers to raise them obstructed the war effort because it was difficult to fill the jobs. Women w ere confronted by the obstinacy of employers who preferred to leave war contracts unmet rather than raise the wages of women workers.

In all these areas of low-paying women’s work, the number who actually sought employment fell far short of the number required by government estimates. The army, navy and the Women’s Land Army, although not traditionally areas of female employment, paid traditional women’s wages and in every case enlistment fell well below expectations despite widespread and glamorous recruiting campaigns in the press. In the factories the situation was even worse. In the food-processing, clothing and textile industries, in particular, labour shortages were critical. The shortages have been blamed for the decline of the textile industry after 1943.

Women were encouraged to work in the factories by appeals to their patriotic fervour, the work being portrayed as ‘your bit for the boys at the front’. The fact was that there were hundreds of voluntary organisations where you could do your bit for the front without having to suffer the unattractive conditions of the factories. The pittances offered as wages in traditional female-employing factories attracted no one except the most desperate. Once these women were employed, factories could not entice others. However, while the factory owners adamantly refused to raise women’s wages, they managed to find ways around wage-pegging, in order to increase men’s take-home pay.

Heagney shows evidence of this in her log book, and a statement on the (minimum rates for women’ made by the Clothing Trades Union pointed out: ‘It must nevertheless be remembered that the payment by employers of bonuses and other forms of incentive payments over and above the 1942 “pegged” rates has had a considerable influence on keeping the men reasonably contented.’ The statement also explained that many women had left the clothing trades for jobs that paid the higher WEB rates. Women stated clearly that they would happily work for higher remuneration, and the higher rates elsewhere did in fact attract enormous numbers. In 1942 the Sydney County Council advertised twelve positions at WEB rates ranging from £4 8s 7d to £6 7s 6d and received 2000 applications. At this time female labour was critically short in the low-paid areas.

The Arbitration Court supported the employers’ stand, knowing full well that higher rates of pay would attract women workers but refusing to grant them. In the 1944 ruling against a wage increase for female boot and trade workers, it said: ‘The court should not intrude into the field of manpower distribution or regulation by fixing a rate which it would otherwise not fix for the purpose of affecting or controlling the available supply of manpower.’ The situation was one of emergency but the Court based its refusal to increase wages on what would be normal in peacetime. This claim was especially hollow when at this very time women were being conscripted to work in factories under the Manpower regulations.

A Manpower Committee had been set up at the beginning of the war to reorganise the direction of labour resources. In January 1943, under the National Security Regulations, the Manpower Committee extended its powers. It could now direct any person to engage in specified employment, and it used these powers to direct women into low-paid jobs. All childless women between the ages of eighteen and forty-five were required to register, and the National Service Officers called up large numbers of women for interviews. The first forced engagements took place in March 1943. The NSW Director of Manpower proclaimed that ‘women who are unwilling to work, but whose excuses failed to satisfy the authorities together with all those who failed to answer the call-up would be notified to start work immediately’.

The Manpower Committee worked with employers to ensure them a supply of cheap female labour. The 1944 Annual Report of the Chamber of Manufactures revealed that they had negotiated with the Deputy Director-General of Manpower; he had agreed to make an office available to a liaison officer who would work with the Manpower officials. The Chamber report said ‘the appointment ... would be of assistance both to the authorities and to our members.’ Manpower became the scourge of women, forcing them to work and forcing them to transfer from one job to another. In a Melbourne textile factory four teenage girls walked out after one of them had been compulsorily moved to a new section of the factory. The union tried to conciliate in the dispute and the girls agreed to return to work if the boss apologised personally. Instead he reported them to the local Manpower office. The girls were summoned to the office and the union reported that ‘at first Mr Thornton of the Manpower Department at Prahran had tried to bounce them and threatened them to six months’ imprisonment’. The union was able to intervene, however, and the girls were given back their jobs.

Many resisted industrial conscription. Of all the women conscripted between January 1943 and July 1944, 14 per cent lodged appeals, of which half were upheld. Middle-class women had wider job claims, and could prepare more effective appeals; this meant that the target of Manpower was working-class women. And it was working-class women who were driven into factories. Penalties for disobeying were severe. It is an interesting statement on the social attitudes toward female labour that there were no serious moves to oppose female conscription into low-paid jobs, yet the institution of the WEB and the rates it delivered were consistently opposed. Clearly social prejudices and the needs of employers were not so much against women working as against their entering new fields of employment and receiving higher wages.

Women themselves showed their antagonism to many of the jobs they were expected to fill during the war. Employed women showed their preparedness to fight: female union membership increased from 32.8 per cent of the total female workforce in 1939, to 51.9 per cent in 1945, while male membership increased only from 51.6 per cent to 54.9 per cent in the same period. The number of disputes involving men and women increased steadily from 416 in 1939 to 945 in 1945. These last statistics are not sex-segregated, but some indication of the number of women involved is given by a statement on female minimum rates prepared by the Clothing Trades Union in 1943:

So far as the men are concerned, this objective [no disputes] was largely achieved and at no stage during the war was there a dispute even of a minor nature involving males ... What has applied by and large to men has not, unfortunately applied equally to women workers in the clothing industry. Circumstances in regard to female employment are totally at variance to those surrounding employment of males and the result has been somewhat disastrous.

Thousands of women chose to stay unemployed despite the widespread publicity and the threats of the Manpower Committee. In the long run, however, even conscription could not solve the employment situation satisfactorily. Women were being involuntarily transferred to the food-processing industry from metal-industry jobs attached to war contracts, and suffered large salary reductions. The discontent that arose from such transfers is hardly surprising. According to Heagney, ‘In the metal industry women had received overtime wages ranging up to £9 per week and now in food processing industries they would not attain more than £4 with the same amount of overtime.'

At the very end of the war the situation was still critical: the WEB had been disbanded, women’s wages were still pegged, and industrial conscription had failed to attract the required number of women into the vital war industries. The Arbitration Court refused to consider increasing women’s wages, and the government resorted to a means that had been possible all along. It gazetted a 75 per cent women’s rate in the vital industries under the authority of its National Security Regulations. The 75 per cent set a new precedent for women’s pay rates, as it affected not only women doing men’s work but also those doing traditional women’s work. The fact that it was granted only as a final desperate measure is indicative of the enormous pressure placed on the Labor Government by employers to retain women’s cheap rates of pay.

It was also a measure designed to last only until the war ended. Although these rates did eventually flow on, the immediate post-war wage rates returned to the pre-war levels. The fact that women’s wages were not increased in traditional women’s employment areas, despite the critical nature of the need to attract women into the workforce, shows the importance of women’s cheap labour to the Australian capitalist economy. This becomes even more apparent when we consider that most employers in vital industries were filling government contracts on a cost-plus basis, whereby the government paid employers a percentage of their costs as a profit. Thus to pay women higher wages would have meant an increase in costs and therefore a higher profit margin.

Employers themselves were fully aware of this. The Chamber of Manufactures claimed that some members were facing prosecution for refusal to pay WEB rates ‘in spite of the fact that working under a cost-plus system, compliance with the order would result in added profits to the firms in questions.’ Another employer was reported by the Argus as saying ‘that he did not object to paying high wages to females, because on the cost-plus system he was able to charge profits on cost of labour ... but it was public money he was dealing with and he wanted official approval. 132 Even though their profits would have been increased in the short term, employers refused to lift female wages to attract sufficient women to essential industries, and thus they hampered the war effort.

Immediately after the war there were drastic shortages of goods, materials and labour. During the war, industry had experienced a dramatic expansion which would be converted to peacetime uses, and this made the employment of cheap labour as vital as it had been during the war. But cheap labour was still just as scarce. The low birth rate of the Depression was beginning to take its toll; the number of juveniles available was well below requirements. The battle over women’s wages continued but significantly it took a muted form, with employers refusing to lift female wages and women refusing to work. The Labor Government chose to remain silent but gave tacit support to employers. The Re-establishment and Employment Bill had made no provision whatsoever for the women who had worked through the war, leaving them to fend for themselves and to avail themselves of low-paid work in industry, of which there was much available. At the opening of an exhibition of women’s industry in June 1945 the Minister for Labour and National Service, E. J. Holloway, said: ‘Factory work is a career with a future. The reluctance of many parents to consider such a career for their daughters has mostly been due to lack of knowledge of improved factory conditions, wages and amenities and opportunities.

This reference to improvements must have expressed an aspiration, for they were certainly not a reality. The only factories forced by the war to upgrade their conditions for women workers were those that came under the jurisdiction of the WEB, and Holloway clearly did not mean these; women in these factories were successfully being cleared out of men’s jobs, not attracted into them. The wages referred to comprised the princely sum of 50s per week offered to young girls in the hosiery trade; the opportunities one must leave to the imagination. The situation had not eased by July 1946 and no moves had been made to increase pay. Most women were still paid 54 per cent – a waitress earned 60s, a laboratory assistant £3 12s, a showroom girl 60s while a male dry-cleaner was offered £6 per week.

The ‘situations vacant’ pages in the Age were full of advertisements for ‘girls’ and ‘women’, which far outnumbered those for ‘men’ and ‘boys’. Some employers actually chose to employ men and to pay them the full male rate rather than lift the wages of their female staff. In May 1946 Fairfield Hospital announced its intention to apply for registration as a training school for male nurses, which reflected the abysmal shortage of nurses. A massive publicity campaign had been waged by the press, churches and State governments to attract women into the nursing profession, but it secured only fifty-four applicants. In July 1946 the Age reported that a Brisbane clothing manufacturer was training ‘25 returned servicemen to work his sewing machines’.

While more women were urged to join the workforce, there was at the same time a massive publicity campaign telling women that their place was at home with their children and husbands. The wartime proximity of the Japanese had reinforced an awareness of Australia’s small population and its vulnerability as a white outpost in Asia. A programme to attract migrants was delayed by the housing shortage and inadequacies of transportation. Women were encouraged to procreate and to become home-makers once again. They were told that the men returning from active service needed extra special care and attention and that children would need greater help and guidance to compensate for the traumas suffered in wartime. The whole burden of domestic and psychological rehabilitation was thrown on to women.

This apparent contradiction is resolved if we examine the relationship between the two functions of unpaid housekeeper and paid worker. The commonly held view that women were forced out of the workforce after World War II is misleading, and has in fact helped to re-establish the invisibility of the working woman. The total number of employed women during the war rose by nearly 200,000 between 1939 and 1943, and had dropped by nearly 70,000 from that peak by 1946. But by 1948 the total number of employed women had risen above the 1943 peak by 4000. These figures do not include the defence forces, which absorbed 65,000 women throughout the war and approximately 46,000 at the peak of 1943. The Department of Labour and National Service estimated that from 1945 to 1947 only 53,400 women left the workforce.

It is a fact that women were forced out of the men’s jobs they had been occupying. The temporary sex integration in some job areas had to terminate’ because unless women continued to work in strictly defined job areas their wages could not be maintained at a lower rate. Before the war, employers had sought to employ women in many of the jobs classified as male, but the war experience showed that either women must be kept in specially classified women’s work or they must receive higher rates of pay. During the war the trade union movement had shown that it would not tolerate women entering men’s jobs on cheaper rates of pay, and the disparity in women’s wages created by the WEB rulings led to a high level of industrial disputation among women. This indicated that the only course open to employers, if they were successfully to maintain their cheap pool of female labour, was to enforce strict job segregation. The women who had worked throughout the war had to make way for ex-servicemen: women’s jobs in munitions had all terminated, and ex-service personnel were to be given job preference when seeking new employment. Thus the squeezing of women from men’s jobs was done effectively and almost invisibly. It was a basic prerequisite for the continued exploitation of women at a cheaper rate than men. It seems clear that most of the women who worked both during the war and after it were those who had no choice, for most single women work, and not all married women are free to choose not to work or to devote their time to their families. These are the women who provide the constant pool of cheap labour, and their number is obviously economically determined. The war industries absorbed all of these available women; in fact industry absorbed a greater proportion of women than before, but eventually the number of jobs outgrew the number of available women. The war experience proved that the cheap source of labour provided by women was obviously a vital one, since employers valued it above short-term profits and war contracts. Clearly this source could only be preserved if women workers remained socially invisible and rigidly contained in certain job areas.