Campaigning for young workers


November will be the TUC’s third annual Young Workers Month. To mark the occasion, we look back at the labour movement’s campaigns on behalf of young workers.

In 1928 the Ministry of Labour introduced the Juvenile Transference Scheme, to encourage the young unemployed to move to other parts of the country to find work. Most of those that transferred were from Scotland and the North moving to the Midlands and London and the South East. The TUC opposed the transference of those under 16 and was concerned that those between the ages of 16-18 could simply be exploited as cheap labour.

Leaflet from the Ministry of Labour promoting the Juvenile Transference Scheme, c.1927

The 1929 General Election was the first to be fought following the Representation of the People Act 1928, which had introduced equal suffrage for women from the age of 21. The leaflet below was produced by the Labour Party during the 1929 election campaign.

Leaflet produced by the Labour Party, 1929

In 1937 apprentices went out on strike, in one of the first such disputes of its kind. Apprentices were “bound” to their employers with very few rights and often low pay. Dissatisfaction with conditions and the structure of their training spread from apprentices on Clydeside to other areas of the country. At its peak over 3,500 apprentices were on strike. The dispute was finally resolved with a national agreement for the Amalgamated Engineering Union to represent apprentices, securing improvements to their working conditions.

Apprentices strike, 1937

In 1938 the TUC introduced a Youth Charter for young workers, demanding the raising of the school leaving age to 16, a limit of 40 hours on the working week, a ban on overtime for those under 18 and 14 days paid holiday per year.

TUC young workers recruitment leaflet, 1938

During the Second World War young people were instrumental to the war effort on the Home Front. By 1943/44 manpower shortages in the mining industry led to the introduction of a scheme to transfer young men volunteering for military service into coal mining activities. These became known as “Bevin Boys“, after wartime Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin. Following the war, many young people were encouraged to aid reconstruction efforts, particularly by taking up apprenticeships in house building and other trades.

In the post-war period recruitment of young people remained high on the agenda for the union movement, although the tactics that were sometimes employed now seem rather old fashioned. In the early 1960s it was not unusual for unions to hold “Personality Girl” contests to try and recruit young women, with events including “makeup demonstrations” (see below).

Leaflet for union recruitment week, 1960

The leaflet below promotes the Youth Employment Service in 1963. The service had its roots in the post-war Labour government and the 1948 Employment and Training Act and sought to provide advice on career options for school-leavers . By the 1970s the scheme had been replaced by the Careers Service.

Youth Employment Service leaflet, Ministry of Labour, 1963

In 1978 the Callaghan government introduced the Youth Opportunities Scheme, later reorganised into the Youth Training Scheme by the Thatcher government. The period of economic and industrial unrest in the late 1970s-early 1980s resulted in rising unemployment and growing concerns that it was hitting the young particularly badly. In 1981 there was a People’s March for Jobs and the TUC also organised the Jobs for Youth Campaign, including the Jobs Express – a train that travelled round the country highlighting the unemployment issues affecting young people.

Poster promoting the TUC Jobs Express rally, November 1981

The Youth Opportunities Scheme (YOPS) and its transfer into the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) in 1983-4, provoked some controversy amongst elements of the labour movement. These concerns often echoed those of similar schemes stretching back to the 1920s – namely, concerns about the quality of the training provided and the potential for exploiting young people as cheap labour.

Young people on the Youth Opportunities Scheme (YOPS) hold placards demanding proper training and an end to cheap labour, 1983

The TUC Library continues to collect a broad range of material relating to issues concerning young people. These include recent publications from the TUC and other organisations on the youth labour market, guides for students and agency workers, post-financial crisis austerity and inter-generational fairness, the housing crisis affecting young people, etc.

For more information on what we hold on these subjects, or to arrange an appointment to visit, get in touch.







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