Living Wage Week – history of campaigning for decent pay


This week is Living Wage Week (30th October – 5th November), organised by the Living Wage Foundation. The Foundation raises awareness about the importance of a living wage throughout the UK that meets the real cost of living. Every year at the start of Living Wage Week the independently-calculated living wage for London and the rest of the UK is announced. You can see the figures here.

The TUC Library holds material that documents the long struggle by working people for a minimum, and a living, wage. The document below is from 1906, when a minimum wage conference was organised by The National Anti-Sweating League. This reminds us that in many ways the existence of insecure, low paid work, based on piece rates or long hours, is nothing new.

In the 1940s the same issues prompted the article below – “How do girls manage?” – from the postal union journal. The article discusses how a young woman, living alone, can meet the rising costs of living.

It was also an issue that concerned apprenticeships during that period, as shown in the newspaper cutting below. In 1941 apprentices won a large pay rise, negotiated by the various engineering unions and the Engineering Employers’ Federation.

A fair and equal wage for women also became an important campaigning issue in the post-war economy, culminating in the passing of the 1970 Equal Pay Act. However, as our Winning Equal Pay website shows, equal pay for women in many sectors is still an issue today.

In the 1970s there were increasing disputes between unions, employers and the Government over the issue of prices and incomes policy and the straining of the Social Contract. The image below is from a strike by domestic staff and cleaners, demanding a living wage, at an Oxford University college in 1972.

By 1979 the disputes over what constituted a fair pay rise and a living wage culiminated in the “Winter of Discontent”, particularly affecting low paid workers in the public sector.

To find out more about any of the items, or any other material held in the library, get in touch.




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