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Title: Key girls : the engineering industry and women's employment, 1900-50
Author: Wightman, Clare
ISNI:       0000 0001 3567 971X
Awarding Body: Birkbeck College
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 1997
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Male workers were the 'mainstay' of the engineering industry. Women, however, formed an increasing share of its workforce in new and growing areas of production. Between 1900 and 1950, female employment in the industry's most prosperous trades of electrical engineering and motor vehicle manufacture increased fourfold. The present study examines the factors which determined how and why such growth occurred. In doing so, it challenges the singular importance given to male dominance - whether through gender ideology or through job exclusion - which pervades most historical explanations of women's work. This thesis deliberately highlights other influences on employers' use of labour. It demonstrates the complexity of female employment which was determined not only by ideology but also by market circumstances, the nature of engineering production, the need for flexibility in work organisation and a continuing reliance on skilled male workforces. This is most clearly shown in electrical engineering and motor vehicle manufacture between the wars. A study of demarcation disputes also questions the decisive role of ideology. These show that engineering employers responded to a number of influences in their decision to employ women, such as cheapness, volume of work, competition, labour supply and opposition from unions. In the absence of union power during the decade following the 1922 lock-out they did not automatically opt for female labour. Instead there had to be a range of factors in place for women to seem a profitable alternative to male workers. As well as broadening the explanation of women's work beyond male dominance in order to take account of other influences and factors, this thesis re-evaluates the role and attitudes of trade unions. Studies of their approach to female labour challenge the view that it was an unambiguous gender struggle, in which unions (like employers) sought to promote the interests of men over women.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Trade unions ; Skilled workers ; Male dominance