So here’s a question on historical rates of pay

In the face of so many present-day problems, it’s all too easy to become wistful for a lost golden era of nationalised industry that brought secure jobs and forged strong communities. The low-paid jobs in call centres and distribution sheds, most located in bigger cities, that eventually arrived to replace the noise and filth of the pits were cleaner and safer, but they lacked the solidarity and support networks. Soon they, too, may disappear.

It is, of course, a lament for the vanished days of coal and steel jobs in South Wales.

But an interesting question, one to which I on’t know the answer. Were those jobs, by today’s standards, well paid? Are today’s call centre jobs, byt the standards of those days, badly paid?

Sure, obviously, I know, those jobs were relatively well paid at the time. One that sticks in the mind was that miners, mid-70s, were getting 200% of median wage. This was, as far as I can see, £50 a week for manual workers. OK, double that for miners and steel workers. Why not, we’re just guessing anyway.

Upgrade that for inflation. £800 a week from inflation only. £1,100 a week as the labour value of it.

If that’s correct then they would still be regarded as well paid jobs. But I think I might be overcooking those 1975 wage levels. So, anyone able to actually fin what wages were, in nominal terms, back then?

33 thoughts on “So here’s a question on historical rates of pay”

  1. It’s a lament for the days when men had well-paid men’s jobs, and the women worked in low-paid jobs (e.g. dinner lady).

    Today, the warehouse sorter is just as likely to be female; and is paid no more than a dinner lady.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    No industry in Britain can survive if it has a union. Not one. The problem is that “the solidarity and support networks” were (and to a lesser extent are being) run by paid pro-Soviet hacks who were determined to destroy British industry in order to bring about the glorious liberation of Britain by a Soviet invasion.

    They have been replaced by industries without unions.

    Before we can have any discussion of the future of the British working class we have to distinguish the benign tumours in society from the malignant.

  3. Hmm… ISTM that the major drivers of “community” were danger, poverty and lack of a car, which pulled people together, not the security of the job, and certainly not whether it was in a nationalised industry.

  4. Bloke in North Dorset

    Whether or not they were well paid I don’t remember once as a child being told to become a miner. All the miners round us stressed the need to get an education so we didn’t have to go down the pit. That was mid ‘60s and it won’t have changed much by the ‘70s, despite all the strikes for pay rises.


    It’s 1961 though: “The standard rate for the lowest grade of adult underground workers yields a wage of £10 18s. 6d. for a week of five normal shifts, and for surface workers, £9 18s. 6d. The average weekly pay of all colliery workers of all ages during 1961, including overtime, was £16 11s. 1d. Average earnings of underground workers in this period were £17 5s. 9d. ”

    There were benefits in kind too – free coal and housing allowances.
    I like teasing lefties round here that the reason Beeching so savaged North-East rail lines was that mine workers could afford cars earlier than most so rail passenger numbers dived earlier than the rest of the UK. Also that pit villages only became nice when the mining ended.

  6. I left the RAF in 1976. I worked in a factory as a semi-skilled welder for 4 months earning £1/hour. I suppose a similar job today would be more than minimum wage but not a lot more.

  7. Mines closed because progress in shipping made it cheaper to haul coal from surface mines in N America and Australia than dig it in deep mines in the UK. Pretty much all the deep mines in Germany and N France closed in the 80s. There are still some operating in Poland, where wages remain low enough to be competitive.

  8. “Hmm… ISTM that the major drivers of “community” were danger, poverty and lack of a car, which pulled people together, not the security of the job, and certainly not whether it was in a nationalised industry.”

    Indeed. People don’t have “community” for the hell of it. It served a purpose and that is no longer there. When you can buy a box of eggs easily, you don’t need to know the neighbours who can give you one.

    Even in quite upmarket workplaces, a lot of this has gone. But no-one is staying in jobs for 20+ years any longer. Few people have ties to company like they used to.

    You want “community”, it’s outside of the workplace now. Go and help out at a charity. Go and join a samba club.

  9. Clearly, mining and steel jobs weren’t secure. Because they went.

    Speaking as someone who has lost various family members through mining/steel accidents and has come close to losing more, I don’t miss the steel and coal industries one bit.

    They were large scale cripplers of healthy men.

    Having said that, in the mid to early 70s a foreman in a steel works earnt enough to afford a nice new build 3 bed semi with decent garden and garage.

  10. Darren,

    “Having said that, in the mid to early 70s a foreman in a steel works earnt enough to afford a nice new build 3 bed semi with decent garden and garage.”

    then women went to work…

  11. Darren (and Bloke on M4):

    I don’t know what the difference is (or was) between where you are and where I am (USA), but, over here, women have pretty much been at work for at least 30 years longer than you claim (or infer).

  12. Gene Berman,

    I admit, I gave a simplistic answer. So, I should expand it. We now have more women in higher paid jobs when younger, and more women going back to work soon after having children.

    Because women are very likely to work after having kids, this has changed the calculations on mortgage lending. It used to be that women’s salary was either not included, or included as a small factor (like 3 times man salary, 1 times woman salary).

  13. Bloke in North Dorset


    Women have always worked but it was mostly low level jobs or jobs which were traditionally for women eg primary school teacher. What happened in the ’70s over here was a move of women in to “men’s” jobs and the professions. This led in the ’80s to mortgages being based on a couple’s income rather than just the mans, which pushed up house prices and made it difficult to buy a decent house on a single salary.

  14. £800/£1100 a week? B***y ‘ell! In my nice comfortable university-educated middle-class lifestyle I’ve never been on more than £300 a week, and that was for one year out of an average of a ten-year average of £200/wk. My grandfather fought to educate himself out of the pits for this?

  15. I got me a 2.2 in Physics and Maths at Sheffield, and joined Ferranti Bracknell in 1969 to write real-time software on Ferranti 1600 series computers for the British Navy (CAAIS). I started on 1050 pounds per yea. All the talk in our cohort was how, if we turned out to be really really good, we **might** get to make 3000 a year by age thirty.

    That 1050 was about 20% more than colliers were making in 1961, eight years earlier (on Bongo’s numbers).

  16. P.S. Do be careful of cited wages. When I first went to work in the petrochemicals biz I was struck by how much more the men made than their “basic wage”. That’s because “basic wage” turned out to be a technical term meaning ‘the basis from which their actual pay is calculated’.

    By contrast, when I was a young academic my pay was exactly what it said in the ads in the newspapers except that I got a free pocket diary every year too.

  17. Mrs G. landed a job in the telecommunications industry in 1973, paying £640/year. Yours truly and her father were mightily impressed. Five minutes later the good lady was earning £35k/year. Thanks in part to open borders, this sort of wage progression no longer happens. You can argue the workforce, the economy, has benefitted from the influx of educated professionals, but it came at the expense of me and mine.

  18. What SMFS said plus this from the article itself : ‘The professionalisation of even entry-level work has made it very difficult to find employment without some form of academic qualification or accredited skill.’

    We have created a situation where supply of graduates massively exceeds demand – and yet large numbers of them are almost unemployable? A situation unique to maybe the UK and US – a staggering failure of policy on every level

  19. “. . . but they lacked the solidarity and support networks. ”

    Support networks destroyed with the encouragement of people like this article’s author through their insistence that everything be done inside the state, nothing outside of it.

  20. “Can’t even plan to go to the dentist in case they get called in to work.”

    And I don’t get this – I’m working ‘zero-hours’ right now and I tell my boss when I am available to work. And yeah, sometimes I get a ‘can you work tomorrow’ call – but its a question, not an order.

    I mean, FFS, you could always just not answer the damn phone.

  21. I carry in my wallet a wage slip of my dad’s from the week ending 3 August 1974, the day after my 12th birthday.

    I carry it to remind me not to whine about work.

    Dad worked as a bus conductor and on top of his regular 40 hours he worked 16 hours overtime that week and his take-home pay was £35.07.

  22. Coal & Steel remained pretty much “closed shop” industries forcing wages higher and industry loss making. Public sector & Rail remains so in 2017 UK, sustained by taxpayer subsidies to pay those higher wages & benefits and job security.

  23. @Agammamon, December 17, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    “. . . but they lacked the solidarity and support networks. ”

    Support networks destroyed with the encouragement of people like this article’s author through their insistence that everything be done inside the state, nothing outside of it.

    Spot on. AKA Socialism/Communism – communities cease to exist as state hijacks & removes their responsibility & goodwill.

  24. Agammamon: ditto me. Things like dentist appointments are far-off enough that I emal my agency at the start of the month saying things like: unavailable Wed/Thu-12/13-Nov. I’ve had one day where they pestered claiming it was an emergency, and on offering a full days’ pay for half a day I dropped in on the way. I had to forcefully insist that the anaesthetic made me unavailable the next day.

  25. Somewhere I have my lifetimes wage slips, but as they are not to hand I will trust my memory…
    1973, age 18 my first job as trainee valuer £700pa? Didn’t work out so a few months later I got a job as computer operator at NCR. I went to the interview thinking, if they offer 800 I’ll take it, they offered 900. In practice there was a lot of overtime and shift premiums: In the year I was there I was paid nearer £1,400.

  26. Oh, and I forgot. In that first job they held out the promise that (not taking inflation into account) I might be earning 3,000pa by age 30.

  27. @AndrewC I started in London as a trainee actuary in August 1973 on £1530 pa, so your dad was earning more than me (good for him). IIRC I paid my shared of a flat, went out most evenings (including the ROH and Proms, but drink may have been taken, too) and had enough over to put £50 a month.into a building society account.

  28. 1975 wages – you have to ask which month ‘cos we had 25% inflation thanks to the massive pay rises handed out to the miners and the follow-up demands from the other public sector unions. The NUM got two *big* pay rises in 13 months from Wilson as a reward fo bringing down the Heath government. Lots of people will tell you that the inflation was due to the Arabs raising the price of oil – utter nonsense: our imports of oil at the higher price were less than 3% of GDP, so the price rise could not have increased RPI by as much as 3%.

  29. As has been pointed out many times on these pages, it’s total compensation that needs to be looked at. Or, more simply, how many people would give up their comfy chairs in air-conditioned call centres for the extra pay if they also have to take on the hard grubby physical labour and risk to health.

    Anyone? Bueller? If not, then people are already better off than they were in the days of mining unions.

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