Work

Work

London's changing role as a world city in the twentieth century is reflected in the changing nature of employment in the capital. In 1900 it was the largest and wealthiest city the world had ever known, confident in its role as the governing, trading and commercial heart of the British Empire. It was also Britain's biggest industrial city, with a wide range of manufacturing trades and a growing consumer market.

A century later, London's docks had closed and it was no longer a major port. Most of its manufacturing industry had collapsed, and its population had been overtaken by at least thirty urban areas around the world. Yet London is still at the centre of the world's money markets with a thriving economy based heavily on the financial, leisure and service sectors, and with very low unemployment.

Nearly everything about the world of work in London has changed dramatically over the century, though it would be difficult to argue that every change has been an improvement. Far fewer jobs rely on purely manual skills, working conditions are generally far better and nearly every Londoner has, at least in theory, more leisure time than a hundred years ago.

People's expectations of work have changed. Staying with the same employer for many years is much less common, and despite reductions in the working week surveys show that most Londoners in fact work longer hours now than they would have done fifty years ago. Most people earn more but feel they have to work harder.

More people who work in Greater London live further away from their place of work than a century ago, and have a longer commuter journey than ever before. The rise of new IT based communication systems has in theory made the need to travel from home to workplace unnecessary in many jobs, but in practice London's roads and railways are more crowded than ever. In spite of this, surveys suggest that most people are happy with their work, have a high level of job satisfaction and are not seeking a life of leisure.

During the first half of the twentieth century the industrial jobs which had developed in the inner London areas around the City, just south of the river and above all in the docks and East End all remained. Many of them were poorly paid, such as the garment industry where large numbers of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe found employment. The docks could employ up to 30,000 men but it was often casual work with no certainty of regular income.

In the 1900s most working class Londoners still usually lived near their place of work, but the arrival of cheap electric tram and railway services made a longer daily ride to work possible. The first commuters were the lower middle class clerks travelling into the City, and here office employment grew rapidly, but the working classes also began to move out to the suburbs and to the new cottage housing estates built by the London County Council.

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