But now, how do we make it all work out properly?
ACADEMIC discussion about equal pay for men and women teachers or equal pay for equal work in any profession or occupation is a waste of space, energy and sometimes even brainpowcr. The case for equal pay in our present social and economic organisation is based on irrefutable logic; it is cast iron.
All major trade unions and associations have accepted the principle and have "equal pay for men and women" as part of their declared policy. The question now is only one of translating the policy into fact. of implementing it. of willingness and—much more important—the ability of industries services and professions to pay men and women equally. But that, unfortunately, does not dispose of the "difficulties"—not to use the word which might seem to reopen the question, "injustices" —which the practice of equal Pay will, and does already, raise. The father and sole support of a normal family of, say. five. that is, himself, his wife and three children, will not enjoy the same return for his work with his unmarried woman colleague.
Nevertheless the best logic, the most forceful arguments within our present philosophy of wages (to dignify the forgivable error in the fundamental approach) are with those who argue for equal pay for equal work, no matter by whom it is done.
Asking for trouble
THE fundamental error may be side-tracked and some case made against equal pay for men and women if it is argued that in the nature of things women arc not capable of the same work as men. In view of the massive. and ever-present evidence of women being capable of equal work with men, the argument would have to be based ona theoretical abstract conception "man-work" and "woman-work." calculated over the whole of their training, apprenticeship, full-working and declining-working years.
It might then be argued that the total woman-work for 100 women over a period of time as compared with a similar possible total for manwork would in fact be less, so that the unit of womenswork would always he less in the over-all account.
To arrive at the substantially smaller total for the 100 women over 50 years, such facts as the greater turnover in women employees (that is, the much larger number of women who are employed only for comparatively short periods) involving periods of at least adjustment and perhaps part training. and such possibilities of difference as women's greater susceptibility to illness, disease and fatigue, above all the fact of maternity, would be taken into account.
The result might—it is by no means certain—yield an abstract value for the unit of woman-work less than that for man-work in services and employments where on the face of it men and women are equally successful and effective. Hence equal pay for equal work would involve a differential as between men and women.
But that way madness lies! Think of the interminable arguments and the masses of figures and formulas, all so very unpersuasive, that would be involved.
No. the matter must be solved at a different level. But before this is attempted, the present theory of the payment of wages and salaries ought to be looked into.
Not a 'commodity'
THE basic error from a Christian I and merely human point of view lies simply in the fact that we think of labour as a "commodity" which can be bought and sold—the price of which is regulated by. the supply and demand for it.
Even the trade unions have accepted these propositions, implicitly at least, and in their notable and successful fight over the past century to raise the general level of wages, and particular wage rates, to something nearer to a just and equitable remuneration, they have merely employed means to "shorten the supply," whether temporarily and locally, as in a strike. or generally and over all labour within a given industry by rules and limitations and restrictions or definitions of jobs, and by closed-shop tactics. Some Christian and even Catholic moralists have argued in respect of wages, understandably enough. as if the end-product, the work done, the thing produced. were that for which the wage was paid and by which the amount of the wage was regulated absolutely. Piece-rates accepted by many trade unions clearly look to the product. not even to the labour. as the justification and the norm of reward, even when these are surrounded with all sorts of conditions, regulations and standards_ Yet in fact a man's or a woman's labour cannot he bought as a commodity. It is not a commodity. It cannot be separated from the "person," who enjoys clearly defined, inalienable rights. Bondage and slavery took account of these rights; at least recognised them even when it denied their exercise. If a man or woman is "hired," clearly account is taken of their inherent rights. In a sense, then, the relationship between slave and master, servant and master, hired man and master is more human. more "right," than that between wage camel' and wage paver.
BUT. right or wrong in our modined competitive capitalist system, there is little practical hope of altering this basic approach to wages. Communism, of course, in its theoretical ideal, "To each according to his needs. from each according to his ability," is free from this particular error—though it more than makes up for it in others.
We must therefore accept the fact that pay must be equal for equal work. no matter by whom the work is done—youth, maid, man or woman.
Equally clearly, the gross injustice of so unequally distributed real rewards must be remedied, sooner or later. and there must be a practical ideal to which to work. An easy one is to hand, for which there is existing warrant and it is practised among a sizeable proportion of the present working population. It is the dis tinction between pay and allowances. Pay is equal in equal ranks, but one may receive allowances to which his responsibilities entitle him and another not.
In the local and national civil services, industries and professions the
allowance might he termed Family
Support Allowance and be payable irrespective of the sex of the person employed. Sc' the widow and the
spinster supporting a family would qualify. Difficult as the drafting of the regulations governing entitlement might be, it ought not to be beyond the power of human wit.
Family Support Allowance should, of course.,he graded with the grades
of service or rank or responsibility, but should not vary with the number in the "family." It should be calcu lated by the amount necessary to
keep an "average family" at the standard of living deemed proper for the grade or rank of the profession or calling. Varying allowances for the numbers of children should, as at present, be left to the State family allowance scheme.
THERE are. of course. a number
of points that will involve considerable discussion and controversy, and require much clarification. These are perhaps the more important : an age limit below which no Family Support Allowance is payable, whether the claimant is married or not (as in the Armed Services at present); whether two or more persons can claim in respect of one family— for example, son and aged father. But these are only details. The essential point is that both the principle and the practice of equal pay for equal work is allowed, and yet the clear anomalies which arise from its present practice are avoided.
To end where we began. open discussion in articles and correspondence in newspapers and work in professional association and trade union branches of some such scheme as this Family Support Allowance would he more fruitful of ultimate Justice than beating over the battlefield where emancipated equal-rights women have won a decisive tactical victory already.