1st Edition

A Fair Day’s Wage for a Fair Day’s Work?
Sweated Labour and the Origins of Minimum Wage Legislation in Britain

ISBN 9781138272484
Published October 30, 2016 by Routledge
248 Pages

USD $62.95

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Book Description

The nature of sweating and the origins of low pay legislation are of fundamental social, economic and moral importance. Although difficult to define, sweating, according to a select committee established to investigate the issue, was characterised by long hours, poor working conditions and above all by low pay. By the beginning of the twentieth century the government estimated that up to a third of the British workforce could be classed as sweated labour, and for the first time in a century began to think about introducing legislation to address the problem. Whilst historians have written much on unemployment, poverty relief and other such related social and industrial issues, relatively little work has been done on the causes, extent and character of sweated labour. That work which has been done has tended to focus on the tailoring trades in London and Leeds, and fails to give a broad overview of the phenomenon and how it developed and changed over time. In contrast, this volume adopts a broad national and long-run approach, providing a more holistic understanding of the subject. Rejecting the argument that sweating was merely a London or gender related problem, it paints a picture of a widespread and constantly shifting pattern of sweated labour across the country, that was to eventually persuade the government to introduce legislation in the form of the 1909 Trades Board Act. It was this act, intended to combat sweated labour, which was to form the cornerstone of low pay legislation, and the barrier to the introduction of a minimum wage, for the next 90 years.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Introduction; Part I Sweating Revealed, 1843- 90: The 'discovery' of sweated labour, 1843-50; The 'rediscovery' of sweating, 1876-90. Part II The Search for an Effective Solution: Anti-sweating campaigns, 1890-1905; The turning point of 1906 and the legal minimum wage. Part III The Minimum Wage in Practice: The test case of the 1910 Cradley Heath dispute; R.H. Tawney and the minimum wage; The persistent problem of low pay; Conclusion; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.

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Sheila Blackburn is Lecturer in Labour Conditions and Modern Social Policy at the University of Liverpool, UK.


’Sheila Blackburn has written an excellent and timely study of sweated labour in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries...This book is rich in both primary material and reinterpretation. A short review cannot do justice to it, but it is essential reading for those who wish to discover the wider, rather than narrow, world of the ’sweated trades’.’ History ’Blackburn has produced a study that will be a key text for students and historians interested in British labour, gender relations and working-class politics since the nineteenth century. Its timely appearance and attempt to address contemporary questions about economic and social development should also secure it an audience within the wider social sciences and beyond.’ English Historical Review ’Blackburn is an undoubted expert on the history of sweated labor, and this richly detailed and erudite exploration is the product of careful and imaginative research. Her nuanced analysis demonstrates the complexity of the much misunderstood subject of sweating and the serious limitations of previous interpretations. ... Blackburn’s book will be of huge value for those wishing to deepen their understanding of the conceptual and practical dimensions of worker exploitation and of the range of working practices and forms of industrial organization in English industrial society.’ Journal of British Studies ’The year 2009 marks the centenary of the introduction of minimum wage legislation in Great Britain in the form of the Trade Boards Act 1909. This splendid book by Sheila Blackburn is the best possible tribute to the centenary. ...Sheila Blackburn has produced a magisterial research monograph in the very best traditions of social investigation. She deals with an important issue, brings many different methods of investigation into play, nicely mixes primary and secondary source material and ” above all ” has an empathy with the topic and with low-paid workers.’ British Journal of Industrial Relat