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Historical Perspectives

and be picked out for work on the whim of the foreman. Bevin, who as a trade unionist had campaigned to end what was a horrifically insecure form of employment for over thirty years, saw his opportunity to make an advance. During 1940, Regional Port Directors were appointed for the Mersey and the Clyde and steps were taken to both regularise employment and increase the mobility of labour. Dockers were registered as a permanent labour force and guaranteed a minimum weekly wage. Welfare provisions on the waterfront were made for the first time and employers were no longer directly able to engage, pay or discipline dockers, all these powers transferring instead to the Port Director. In return, dockers agreed to work when and where they were required and the success of the scheme, which raised productivity by 40%, saw Bevin extend it to all Britain's major ports in late 1941 with the creation of the National Dock Labour Corporation. Controlled by representatives from government, employers and trade unions, by June 1944 this had ended the casual system for some 43,000 dock workers.

Advances were made across industry as a result of its war effort. Bevin used his position as Minister of Labour not only to ensure increased production, but also to secure many of the advances that the trade union movement had campaigned for over the previous thirty years. Union membership, wages and working conditions were improved in manufacturing. The hated casual system was ended in the docks. The terrible conditions, low pay and poor employers suffered in the mines were acknowledged and began to be challenged. Union officials and rank-and-file activists all felt they had earned their right to have a say in how industry was managed. As the war ended, organised labour intended both to consolidate these gains, in particular the achievement of full employment, and to extend them.

1) Board of Investigation into the Immediate Wages Income in the Coal-Mining Industry 1942.
2) National Conciliation Board for the Coal Mining Industry National Reference Tribunal 1944.

Selected Bibliography

R. Croucher, Engineers at War (Merlin, London: 1982).

A. Calder, The Peoples' War (Cape, London: 1969).

H. Pelling, A History of British Trade Unionism (Penguin, London: 1992).

H. Smith (ed.) Britain in the Second World War: A Social History (Manchester University Press, Manchester; 1996).

T. Burridge, British Labour and Hitler's War (Deutsch, London: 1976).
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The Home Front in the Factories, Docks and Mines by Jon Murden