A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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The enquiry was undertaken at the request of the Ministry of Production, to discover the extent to which complacency exists among workers at present, and the main causes of it.

The following summary is based on reports received from all Regions except the Southern, the South Eastern and Northern Ireland. Care was taken to discount the fear often expressed by anxious people that complacency will develop as a result of the general good news, and Intelligence Officers were asked to secure evidence about the state of mind of the workers themselves, though no direct investigations were undertaken in factories. Non-factory workers, such as miners and transport workers, have not been included in the enquiry. More than one Intelligence Officer stressed that it had not been possible to make more than a superficial investigation because the time allowed - a fortnight - was too short and also because a number of their contacts were then on holiday. Even so, the reports received show a high measure of agreement on the causes of complacency.

It should be noted that, though some of their reports were not completed till later, Intelligence Officers finished their investigation by September 1, before the Allied landings on the Italian mainland and Italy's capitulation.


Complacency is not the best word to describe the state of mind revealed by this enquiry. One report points out that “possibly no two correspondents would agree exactly as to the characteristics of a complacent worker”. Not many people are reported to be complacent, in the dictionary meaning of “self-satisfied, in pleasant mood”, but if complacency is taken to mean the lack of a sense of urgency, then it appears to be the mood of a large minority. Indeed, in so far as a sense of urgency is dependent on a sense of extreme crisis - as at the time of Dunkirk - its decline may be regarded as widespread, though not necessarily affecting the workers' output. For the purpose of this report, then complacency is taken to mean a lack of the sense of urgency which does adversely affect the worker's output. It should, however, be borne in mind that this lack of urgency may take different forms according to the causes underlying it; it may show itself as over-optimism, light-heartedness, contentment with present conditions, lethargy, apathy, boredom, indifference, grumbling, uneasiness, cynicism or frustration. All these are mentioned in reports, frequently as better describing people's mood than does complacency.


It is not possible to say to what extent a lack of urgency exists among workers at present, to such a degree as adversely to affect their output. It undoubtedly exists, but reports do not agree as to its extent. The long list of causes (Section 5.) given to account for it, however, covers a far wider field than is indicated by the types specifically said to be affected, and is probably a more reliable indication of its extent.


The following are particularly mentioned:

  1. Workers in occupations not directly, or not obviously connected with the war effort , such as workers in the clothing, boot and shoe, and chemical trades. Among some iron and steel workers there is said to be “a strong feeling that, because they are only making billets, pig iron, joists, plates, etc., they are not doing any actual war work”. Even shipyard workers are not quite exempt from this feeling: “their work differs so little from that of peace that there is not the same feeling as if they had switched over to war work”. The type of occupation is said to be a more important factor than the grade of the worker.

  2. Young workers , particularly young unmarried workers - women especially - with good pay and no relatives in the Forces; also young men who would rather be in the Forces.

  3. Transferred workers . This includes workers transferred to another part of the country, often with a resultant sense of grievance, as well as workers transferred from one factory or one workshop to another, without understanding the reason for the change.

  4. Directed labour , particularly people directed into occupations for which they have no liking. Thus, a contact in a shipyard attributes an increase of slacking there since the war to the larger proportion of non-regular shipyard workers, i.e., the casual and directed labour, who have no interest in the work and are anxious to get out of it as quickly as possible.

  5. Time workers . Those on piece work and bonus schemes are more enthusiastic than those paid by the hour.

  6. Those on monotonous and unskilled work


(These are arranged in order of the frequency with which they were mentioned in reports. The first four - a, b, c & d - appear to be widespread.)

(a) Certainty of Allied Victory appears to be the most widespread cause. “The sense of danger has passed, never to return, and with it has passed the sense of urgency.” The apparent impotence of the Luftwaffe, the absence of heavy raids, the belief that we shall not be invaded and that the Battle of the Atlantic is won, or nearly won - all these have added to the sense of security.

“Recent good news” : It is generally agreed that “the sense of urgency is being progressively lost as the war situation improves”, but it is by no means certain that recent events have greatly hastened the process. Some consider that “recent good news, by improving people's spirits, has improved health and encouraged people to greater effort and has done much to counterbalance the widespread feeling of fatigue and strain”: it is even thought that it has “increased the workers' will to finish off the job”. Many people, on the other hand, do not regard the present situation as particularly cheering - in view of “the delay in opening the second front” and “doubt as to our relations with Russia” - and compare the present period with that of “the phoney war”.

(b) Desire for a Second Front- . For most people, the invasion of Italy seems not to qualify and many of them “feel the war hasn't started, and won't start till we land in France”. It is considered that the launching of the awaited second front would have a most noticeably bracing effect and would increase output in all types of industry both by using up the large stocks of arms which are thought to be greatly in excess of present needs, and by involving a larger number of British troops than are actively engaged at present. In the meantime many are weary or cynical because they feel that: (i) “We are letting Russia win the war for us” and are not doing our share; (ii) “Many higher-ups in this country are pleased at the thought of a weakened Russia”; (iii) The Government's handling of the war on the battlefront is too leisurely. Few now believe “the excuse of lack of arms for a major offensive”.

(c) The belief that postwar conditions will be worse than the present . There seems to be fairly widespread fear of unemployment and a slump after the war. Many are cynical about postwar plans and ask: “Why hurry to end the war with the prospect of dole queues instead of good wages”? For many, the war means increased wages and comparative security with the result that they are well satisfied with present conditions. It is thought that if workers could feel some sort of security for the postwar period, there would be more energy put into their war effort.

(d) Fatigue, strain and reduced vitality , both mental and physical. These are attributed to: (i) All the restrictions and difficulties on the home front, such as the blackout, transport, shopping, queuing, etc; (ii) wartime diet, whether its lack of variety or - for heavy workers - its insubstantiality; (iii) Home Guard and Civil Defence duties added to already long hours. The length of the war and monotony of wartime life are both thought to contribute.

The public's determination to have a holiday away from home at all costs this year has been attributed far more to the physical and mental need for it than to the feeling that the war is as good as won - though this has seemed to justify a holiday.

(e) “The gulf between workers and managements” and the workers' distrust of the managements. There is a feeling among workers that “the mainspring of industry is still profit for the Employer”.

Managements and foremen are accused of indifference and are variously blamed for “failing to provide an incentive to work”, particularly in not explaining the reason for hold-ups, etc; for “bad supervision”; for “failing to take Production Committees seriously”. Examples are given of the good results when managements try to increase workers' interest, either in overcoming their boredom by putting them on a different type of machine, or by publicising the success of their products in the fighting line.

(f) Income Tax , particularly in connection with overtime, as workers “don't see why they should work extra, just to pay the money back to the Government”. The method of deduction, too, means that “some workers do not like to earn too much money in the summer when working hours are longer, as the tax on these earnings will have to be paid in the winter, when earnings are least”.

(g) High Wages , with little opportunity for spending, tend to make some people work only the minimum number of hours necessary to earn a livelihood.

(h) The belief that we have piled up enormous quantities of war material which is not being used . This belief has been confirmed by:-

  1. The present change over in industry. Staff reductions in munition factories; transfers of labour; the closing down of some factories and the partial operation of the full capacity in others; rumours of cancelled contracts; - all these give workers the impression that “things are slackening off” and that there is less need for effort. Insufficient work, resulting in enforced idleness, may be interpreted either as evidence of surplus production or merely as “just another example of mismanagement”.

  2. Press reports and “speeches of prominent men extolling the enormous production of Britain and America”. For example, “workers in Singers, Dalmuir, say that Sir Andrew Duncan told them some time ago that we have as many small arms as will last us for the next 18 months”.

(i) Suspicion or distrust of the Government , particularly over:

  1. The second front and co-operation with Russia.

  2. The Beveridge plan and post-war conditions.

  3. Muddle or inefficiency - whether on the part of industrial managements or in the administration of the home front - which the Government is thought to cause or condone.

Thus, government officials, inspecting industrial plants, are considered to be either “stupid or inside the racket, when machines that have been idle for years are set going, or models - produced perhaps years before - are laid out as if just off the bench”.

Transferred workers - especially those transferred to England from Scotland and Wales - are said to be bitter about the Government for what they consider lack of planning and disregard of workers.

(j) Inability to relate the product of their labour to the needs of the war effort (See Section 4, (a))

(k) Resentment at inequalities particularly:

  1. Inequality of wages, especially between skilled and unskilled. “Men do not like to find their daughters bringing home pay packets that are as big and in some cases bigger than their own, for work that they regard as being much lighter and less arduous.”

  2. Inequality of sacrifice, such as: “restricted holidays for the workers while the wealthy go away; overcrowded transport for the workers while the wealthy use taxis; the combing of shops by the leisured while the workers have no time for shopping; preferential treatment of the ‘better-to-do’ in shops; discrimination in the call-up”.

(1) The bad influence of particular workers . “One grouser, or one man who has ‘not had a fair deal’ will effectively distract work in one workshop, out-weighing any effects of news or appeals.” So, too, will “the idle youth or the flashy girl, who ought not to continue in such employment”, but are sometimes protected from dismissal by their Union or the Essential Work Order.

September 24, 1943 .

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