50 Years Ago: Equal Pay for Women

A writer in Reynold’s Newspaper October 13, 1918 bewails the fact that women’s wages should be lower than men’s. She complains that: —

   Woman has been treated as a sort of lay figure for students of economics. Her value to the employer as a profit- maker, to the community as a potential Mother, to the politician as a dispenser of votes, has had the fullest consideration. But who has claimed the right of woman to that payment for her labour which will allow of a full and independent life?

The writer forgets that in the past the capitalist has only employed women in preference to men because they were cheaper, and if we except those special occupations where women — because of lightness of touch etc. — excel, men would still be employed in preference to women if wages were the same for both sexes. A woman who does equal work with a man must obviously require and obtain the same amount of the necessities of life. It does not follow, however, that the employer must pay her a wage that will provide it. Girls living with their parents for instance, look upon the factory as a makeshift to obtain a living until they get married. The capitalist knows this, and the girls seldom organise to try and force them to pay for their labour-power at its cost of production, hence the parents have to make up the difference. The employment of large numbers of women sets free men who, competing with their fellow-workers’ provide employers with the power to reduce men’s wages: and married women, unable to live on their husbands’ wages, take their place beside the younger women in the factory, and the capitalist gets the husband and wife for wages that would not sustain them if they lived separately.

From an article ‘Woman and her Work’ by F. Foan. Socialist Standard, December 1918.