The History of Trade Unionism/VIII. The trade union world 1890-1894
CHAPTER VIII THE TRADE UNION WORLD [1890-1894]Edit
WHEN we were engaged, between 1890 and 1894, in in- vestigating the history and organisation of all the several Unions, no complete statistics as to the extent of the membership were in existence. We accordingly sought to obtain, not only an analysis of the Trade Union world as it then was, but also a complete census of Trade Unionism from one end of the kingdom to the other. We retain this analysis practically as it stood in the first edition of the book in 1894, as a record of the position as it then was in subsequent chapters tracing the principal changes and developments of the last thirty years.
To deal first with the aggregate membership, we were convinced in 1894 that, although a certain number of small local societies might have escaped our notice, we had included every Union then existing which had as many as 1000 members, as well as many falling below that figure. From these researches we estimated that the total Trade Union membership in the United Kingdom at the end of 1892 certainly exceeded 1,500,000 and probably did not reach 1,600,000. Our estimate was presently confirmed. Working upon the data thus supplied, the Labour Depart- ment of the Board of Trade extended its investigations, and now records a Trade Union membership for 1892 of
Trade Union Statistics 423
1,502,35s. 1 The Trade Unionists of 1892 numbered, there- fore, about 4 per cent of the Census population.
But to gauge the strength of the Trade Union world of 1892 we had to compare the number of Trade Unionists, not with the total population, but with that portion of it which might conceivably be included within its boundaries. Thus at the outset we had to ignore the propertied classes, the professions, the employers and the brain-workers of every kind, and confine our attention exclusively to the wage- earners engaged in manual work. Even of the working- class so defined we could exclude the . children and the youths under twenty-one,, who are not usually eligible for Trade Union membership. The women present a greater
1 During the whole course of the nineteenth century the Government failed to ascertain, with any approach to accuracy, how numerous the Trade Unionists were. Until the appointment of Mr. John Burnett as Labour Correspondent of the Board of Trade in 1886, no attempt was made to collect, officially, any information about Trade Unionism. The five annual volumes published by Mr. Burnett between 1886 and 1891 contained a fund of information on Trade Union statistics, and the returns became year by year more complete. The report for 1891 gave particulars of 431 Unions with 1,109,014 members, whilst that for 1892 covered a slightly larger total. But, restricted as he was to societies making returns in the precise form required, Mr. Burnett was unable to get at many existing Unions, whilst a considerable deduction had to be made from his total for members counted both in district organisations and in federa- tions. The Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies gave particulars, in his Report for 1892 (House of Commons Paper, 146 II. of March 28, 1893), of 1,063,000 members in 442 registered Trade Unions alone, after deduct- ing organisations which are not Trade Unions, and many duplicate entries. A large number of societies, such as the Northern Counties Amalgamated Weavers' Association, many of the Miners' Unions, the English and Scottish Typographical Associations, the United Kingdom Society of Coachmakers, the Flint Glass Makers, the Yorkshire Glass Bottle Makers, and others were then (as most of them still are) unregistered. Thus our own statistics revealed a 50 per cent greater Trade Union membership than the Government figures. It is difficult to state with exactness the number of separate organisations included, as this must depend upon the manner in which federal bodies are regarded. These exhibit almost infinite variations in character, from the mere " centre of communica- tion " maintained by the thirty-two completely independent local societies of Coopers, to the rigid unity of the forty district organisations which make up the Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton-spinners. The number of independent societies may be reckoned at either 930 or at anything up to 1750, according to the view taken of federal Unions and federations. We put it approximately at noo.
424 The Trade Union World
difficulty to the statistician. The adult female wage-earners engaged in manual labour in 1891 were estimated to number between two and three millions, of which only about 100,000 were even nominally within the Trade Union ranks. To what extent the men's Trade Unionism was weakened by its failure to enrol the women workers was a matter of dispute. From the industrial point of view the answer depends on complicated economic considerations, such as the extent to which women compete with men in particular industries, or women's trades with those in which men are employed. Owing to the exclusion of women from the Parliamentary franchise until 1918 their absence from the Trade Union world detracted little from its political force. We have dealt elsewhere 1 with the relation of women workers to the Trade Union organisation. Meanwhile we omit the women as well as the young persons under twenty- one from our estimate of the place occupied by Trade Unionism in working-class life.
We know of no exact statistics as to the total numbers of the manual-working class. The figures collected by Leone Levi, and those of Sir Robert Giffen, together with the inferences to be drawn from the census and from Charles Booth's works, led us to the conclusion at best only hypothetical that of the nine millions of men over twenty- one years of age in 1891, about seven millions belonged to the manual-working class. Out of every hundred of the population of all ages we could roughly estimate that about eighteen are in this sense working men adults. Accepting for the moment this hypothetical estimate, we arrived at the conclusion that the Trade Unionists numbered at this date about 20 per cent of the adult male manual- working class, or, roughly, one man in five.
But this revised percentage is itself misleading. If the million and a half Trade Unionists were evenly distributed
1 See our Industrial Democracy and Problems of Modern Industry : also Men's and Women's Wages, should they be Equal ? by Mrs. Sidney Webb, 1919.
The Massing of Trade Unionism 425
among all occupations and through all districts, a move- ment which comprised only 20 per cent of working men would be of slight economic or industrial importance, and of no great weight in the political world. What gave the Trade Union Movement its significance even thirty years ago and transformed these million and a half units into an organised world of their own, was the massing of Trade Unionists in certain industries and districts hi such a way as to form a powerful majority of the working-class world. The Trade Unionists were aggregated in the thriving in- dustrial districts of the North of England. The seven counties of England north of the Humber and the Dee con- tained at least 726,000 members of trade societies, or almost half of the total for the United Kingdom. At a consider- able distance from these followed the industrial Midlands, where the seven counties of Leicester, Derby, Notts, Warwick, Gloucester, Northampton, and Stafford included a total Trade Union membership of at least 210,000, whilst South Wales, including Monmouthshire, counted another 89,000 members of trade societies. The vast agglomeration of the London district, in which we must reckon Middlesex, the subsidiary boroughs of West Ham, Croydon, Richmond, and Kingston, as well as Bromley in Kent, yielded not more than 194,000 Trade Unionists.
These four districts, comprising nearly 21,000,000 in- habitants, or rather more than two-thirds of the population of England and Wales, possessed in 1892 twelve-thirteenths of its Trade Unionists. The total Trade Union membership in the remainder of the country, with its 8,000,000 of popu- lation, did not exceed 105,000, largely labourers. The only county in England in which in 1892 we found no trace of Trade Union organisation was Rutland, which did not, at this date, contain a single branch of any Union whatsoever. But Huntingdonshire, Herefordshire, and Dorsetshire, con- taining together over 350,000 inhabitants, included, accord- ing to our estimate, only about 710 Trade Unionists between them. Scotland, with four millions of population, had
426 The Trade Union World
147,000 Trade Unionists, nearly all aggregated in the narrow industrial belt between the Clyde and the Forth, two-thirds of the total, indeed, belonging to Glasgow and the neigh- bouring industrial centres. Ireland, with three-quarters of a million more population, counted but 40,000, nine- tenths of whom belonged to Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Limerick.
Of particular counties, Northumberland and Durham at that date took the lead, closely followed by Lancashire. The table on following page supplies particulars of this date for the strongest Trade Union counties in England and Wales.
This superficial investigation shows us at once that Trade Unionism coincided in 1892, as it does in 1920, in the main with density of population. The thinly peopled plains of Dorsetshire, the Highlands of Scotland, the West of Ireland, the Cumberland and Westmorland Hills, were practically devoid of Trade Unionism ; the valleys of the Tyne and Tees, Lancashire and London, and the busy industrial villages of the Midlands showed a comparatively high per- centage. But the correspondence of Trade Unionism with density of population is by no means exact. Oldham, for instance, with a population of 201,153, had 25,000 male Unionists, 1 or 12.43 per cent, whereas Birmingham (in- cluding the suburbs of Aston, Handsworth, and Solihull), with 621,253, had only 26,000, or 4.19 per cent, Newcastle (including Gateshead), with 328,066 inhabitants, had 26,500 Trade Unionists, or 8.08 per cent, whilst Leeds (including Wortley, Hunslet, and Burley) had but 16,000 to a popula- tion of 415,243, or 3.85 per cent. And, most striking ex- ception of all, the crowded five and a half millions of the Metropolitan area had but 194,000 Trade Unionists, or only 3.52 per cent of its population, whilst Lancashire, even including its northern moorlands and its wide agricultural districts, had 332,000 for less than four millions of people,
1 There were, at this date, altogether about 45,000 Unionists in Old- ham, but of these some 20,000 were women.
or 8.63 per cent of its population. Reckoning that 18 out of every 100 of the population are adult male workmen, Trade Unionism thus counted among its adherents in some counties over 50 per cent of the total number of working men.
Table showing, for certain counties in England, and for South Wales, the total population in i8gi, the ascertained number of Trade Unionists in 1892, and the percentage to population in each case. (In the first edition of this book the student will find a coloured map of England and Wales, showing, in five tints, the percentage of Trade Union membership to Census population in 1891 in the several counties, as estimated in this table.)
Total Population in 1891.
Ascertained Number of Members of Trade Societies in 1892.
Percentage of Trade Unionists to Population.
Northumberland .... Durham
506,030 I 024,369
Lancashire Yorkshire, E. Riding . . . Leicestershire
3,957.906 318,570 070 286
8.63 7.42 7.34
Derbyshire South Wales and Mon mouth-
432,414 I ^2">,3IS
Nottinghamshire .... Yorkshire, W. Riding . . Gloucestershire Cheshire . ....
2,464,415 548,886 7O7 078
31,050 I4I.I40 26,030 32,000
5-73 4-74 4.52
Cumberland London District (including Middlesex, Croydon, West Ham, Richmond, Kingston, and Bromley) .... Yorkshire, N. Riding with York City
No other county had 15,000 Trade Unionists, nor as much as 3 per cent of its population in trade societies.
- Of these, some 80,000 were women. Fully four-fifths of all the
organised women workers were, at this date, included in the Lancashire textile Trade Unions.
The Trade Union Wond
But this percentage itself fails to give an adequate idea of the extent to which Trade Unionism, even in 1892, dominated the industrial centres in which it was strongest. Within the concentration by localities, there was a further concentration by trades a fact which to a large extent explains the geographical distribution. The following table shows in what proportion the leading industries contributed to the total Trade Union forces :
Table showing the approximate number of members of trade societies in 1892 according to industries, in the different parts of the United Kingdom.
England and Wales.*
Engineering and Metal Trades Building Trades . Mining Textile Manufactures . Clothing and Leather Trades .
45,300 24,950 21,250 12,330
3,400 2 QSO
287,000 148,000 347,000 200,000
Printing Trades . Miscellaneous Crafts Labourers and Transport Workers ....
- Including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, which contained
together about 1285 Trade Unionists.
f Included in the above total were 99,650 women in 52 Unions, dis- tributed among the groups as follows :
Engineering and Metal Trades Building and Furniture Trades Mining ....
Textile Manufactures . Clothing and Leather Trades Printing Trades . Miscellaneous Crafts Labourers and Transport Workers
99,650 We m,y add that the subsequently published Board of Trade statistics
The Metal Trades
For the general reader, this table, together with the fore- going one showing the geographical distribution of Trade Unionism, completes our statistical survey of the Trade Union world of 1892. To the student of Trade Union statistics a more particular enumeration may be useful. Before we attempt to picture Trade Union life, we shall therefore devote a dozen pages (which the general reader may with a clear conscience skip) to the dry facts of organisa- tion in each of the eight great divisions into which we distributed the Trade Union membership of 1892.
The first division, comprising all the numerous ramifica- tions of the engineering, metal-working, and shipbuilding trades, was then characterised by old-established and highly developed national Unions, with large membership, cen- tralised administration, and extensive friendly benefits. The 287,000 Trade Unionists in this division were enrolled in over 260 separate societies, but almost one-half belonged to one or other of four great national organisations, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (established 1851), the United Society of Boilermakers and Iron Shipbuilders (established 1832), l the Friendly Society of Ironfounders of England, Ireland, and Wales (established 1809), and the Associated Society of Shipwrights, a belated amalgamation
for 1892, arranged on a slightly different classification, gave the following totals by industrial groups :
Metal, Engineering and Shipbuilding
Mining and Quarrying
Other Trades .
See Report on Trade Unions for 1901 (Cd. 773).
279,534 157.971 315,272 204,022 83,299 154,947 307.313
1 The Boilermakers claim only to have been established since 1834, but there is evidence of the existence of the Society in 1832. In a few other cases, notably those of the Stonemasons, Plumbers, and Bricklayers, we have been able to carry the history of the organisation further back than has hitherto been suspected.
430 The Trade Union World
formed in 1882 by the many ancient local Unions of wooden shipbuilders. Of these great Unions, that of the Boiler- makers, with 39,000 members, was incomparably the strongest, having no rival for the allegiance of its trade and including practically the whole body of skilled work- men engaged in iron shipbuilding and boilermaking from one end of the United Kingdom to the other. The great Unions of Ironfounders and Shipwrights, with respectively 15,000 and 14,000 members, were not quite so universal as the Boilermakers. The Associated Society of Ironmoulders (Ironfounders) of Scotland (established 1831), with 6000 members and a few minor Unions of less skilled ironf ounders, maintained separate organisations ; whilst the Shipwrights' Provident Union of the Port of London (established 1824, 1400 members), the Liverpool Trade and Friendly Associa- tion of Shipwrights (established 1800, 1400 members), and a few other old-fashioned port Unions still held aloof from the Shipwrights' amalgamation. 1 The Amalgamated Society of Engineers, the largest centralised Trade Union in the kingdom, with 66,000 members at home and 5000 abroad, towered over all its rivals, but had to compete with compact sectional or local Unions, admitting one or more of the numerous classes of workmen in the engineering and machine-making trade. 2 Among the actual producers of iron and steel, the British Steel Smelters' Association (estab- lished 1886), with 2400 members, originally a Scotch Union, was extending all over the kingdom ; whilst the Associated Society of Iron and Steel Workers (established 1862), with
1 The equally archaic port Unions of the Sailmakers, dating, like those of the Shipwrights, from the last century, were united in the Federation of Sailmakers of Great Britain and Ireland (established 1890), with 1250 members.
2 Of these the most important were the Steam-Engine Makers' Society (established 1824, 6000 members), the Associated Blacksmiths' Society (a Scottish organisation, established 1857, 2300 members), the United Kingdom Pattern Makers' Association (established 1872, 2500 members), the National Society of Amalgamated Brassworkers (established 1872, 6500 members), the United Journeymen Brassf ounders' Association of Great Britain and Ireland (established 1866, 2500 members), and the United Machine Workers' Association (established 1844, 2500 members).
The Building Trades
7800 members, occupied a unique position in the Trade Union world from its long and constant devotion to the sliding scale. The tin and hollow -ware workers, 1 the chippers and drillers, the Sheffield cutlers, and the crafts- men in precious metals were split up into innumerable local societies, with little federal union.
It is interesting to notice the large proportion which this division of Trade Unionists in Scotland bore to the total for that country. Whilst in England and Wales it formed only one-sixth of the aggregate number, in Scotland it measured nearly one-third, almost entirely centred about Glasgow.
Table showing the approximate number of Trade Unionists in each group of the Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades.
Engineers and Machine Makers
8 2 "JO
2 7 SO
Smiths and Farriers Brass and Copper Workers Sheet Metal Workers . . Ironfounders and Core- makers ' Shipbuilding and Boiler making
7.350 13,350 16,000
A <; <%OO
7,250 13 25O
300 150 2OO
9,900 15,500 17,500
Iron and Steel Smelters . Workers in Precious Metals Sundry Metal Workers .
23,500 3,5oo 34,750
The organisation of Builders and Furniture Makers re- sembled in many respects that of the Engineers and Ship- builders. The 148,000 Trade Unionists in this division were sorted into 120 separate Unions ; but again we find one- half of them belonging to one or other of three centralised
1 The makers of tin plates had a Union in South Wales (established 1871, and reorganised 1887) which claimed a membership of 10,000. The National Amalgamated Tinplate Workers' Association of Great Britain (established 1876) had 3000 members, and the General Union of Sheet Metal Workers (established 1861) had 1250 members.
432 The Trade Union World
Trade Friendly Societies of national scope. Of these the Friendly Society of Operative Stonemasons (established 1832, 16,000 members) was the most powerful, having practically no rival throughout England or Ireland, and maintaining friendly relations with the corresponding United Operative Masons' Association of Scotland (established 1831, 5000 members). But the largest and richest Union in this division was the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners (established 1860, 34,000 members at home and 4000 abroad). Although this Society could count but a small proportion of the total number of carpenters in the kingdom, it included three-fourths of those who were Trade Unionists, the remaining fourth being divided between the Associated Carpenters and Joiners of Scotland (established 1861, 6000 members), the old General Union of Carpenters and Joiners of England (established 1827, 4000 members), and a few tiny trade clubs in the Metropolis which had refused to merge themselves in either of the national organ- isations. The Bricklayers were in much the same position as the Carpenters. The Operative Bricklayers' Society (established 1848, 22,000 members) included three-fourths of the Trade Unionists, the remainder being found either in the United Operative Bricklayers' Trade, Accident, and Burial Society (established 1832, 2500 members), or in a few isolated local trade clubs in Scotland and Ireland. Of the other Unions in the Building Trades, the United Opera- tive Plumbers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland (established 1832, reorganised 1865, 6500 members) was by far the most effective and compact, and was specially in- teresting as retaining practically the federal constitution of the Builders' Union of 1830-34. With the exception of the United Operative Plumbers' Association of Scotland (estab- lished 1872, 700 members), a small society resulting from a secession, no rival organisation existed. On the other hand, the Painters, Slaters, Packing-case Makers, Upholsterers, and French Polishers were split up into numberless small Unions, whilst the Cabinetmakers and Plasterers had each
one considerable organisation 1 and several smaller societies, which, however, included but a small proportion of the trade.
Table showing the approximate number of Trade Unionists in the various branches of the Building and Furniture Trades.
Stonemasons .... Bricklayers Carpenters Cabinetmakers .... Sawyers and other Wood- workers ....
16,750 24,000 33,000 7,200
8,250 700 7,850 2,000
2 5 2,300 3,250 300
25,250 27,000 44,100 9,500
4 7 SO
2 I 5O
I e CCQ
Plumbers . . .. Upholsterers and French Polishers .
5,400 2 SOO
7.OOO 3 2 SO
Sundry Building Trades
The Miners and Quarrymen, comprising about sixty-five societies, were in 1892 the best organised of the eight great divisions into which we classified the Trade Union forces. Among the coalminers the " county," or district Union, without friendly benefits, was the predominating type. Nearly two-thirds of the whole 347,000 Trade Unionists in this division were gathered into the Miners' Federation of Great Britain (established 1888), a federal Union comprising about twenty independent organisations, some of which, like the Yorkshire Miners' Association (established 1858, 55,000 members), were highly centralised, whilst others, like the Lancashire Miners' Federation (established 1881, 43,000 members), were themselves federal bodies. The Miners' Federation, whilst not interfering with the financial auton- omy or internal administration of its constituent bodies,
1 The Alliance Cabinetmakers' Association (established 1865, 5500 members) and the National Association of Operative Plasterers (estab- lished 1862, 7000 members).
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effectively centralised the industrial and Parliamentary policy of the whole army of its members from Fife to Somer- set. Outside the Federation at this date stood the powerful and compact Northumberland Miners' Mutual Confident Association (established 1863, 17,000 members), and Durham Miners' Association (established 1869, 50,000 members), to- gether with the solid little Mid and West Lothian Miners' Association (established 1885, 3600 members), and the loose organisations of Sliding Scale contributors which then figured as Trade Unions in South Wales. 1 The coal and iron miners of the West of Scotland had scarcely got beyond the ephem- eral pit club and occasional Strike Union. Among the tin, lead, and copper miners Trade Unionism, as far as we can ascertain, was absolutely unknown.
Table showing the approximate number of Trade Unionists among the persons engaged in or about Mines and Quarries.
Coal and Iron Miners . Colliery Enginemen Cokemen, Overmen, Colliery Mechanics, &c. Quarrymen
9,250 10 500
9,750 jo 500
Shale Oil Workers . . .
The salient fact of Trade Unionism among the textile operatives in 1892 was that effective organisation was nearly confined to the workers in cotton, who contributed at least two-thirds of the 200,000 Trade Unionists in this division. Like the Miners the Cotton Operatives have always shown
1 The South Wales miners were, at this date, in a transition state. The Miners' Federation had gained a considerable following in Monmouth- shire and Glamorgan, but the bulk of the men still adhered to the Sliding Scale machinery, claiming 36,000 members, for the maintenance of which a fortnightly contribution was usually deducted by the employers from the miners' earnings. The Forest of Dean Miners' Association (4000 members) seceded from the Federation in 1893. A small Miners' Union (2250 members) at West Bromwich also held aloof.
The Cotton Operatives 435
i strong preference for federal Associations with exclusively
- rade objects. The powerful Amalgamated Association ol
Dperative Cotton-spinners (established 1853), a federal Jnion of 19,500 members comprising forty separate dis-
- rict associations, joined with its sister federations, the
Northern Counties Amalgamated Association of Weavers established 1884, 71,000 members) and the Amalgamated Association of Card and Blowing Room Operatives (31,000 nembers, established 1886), in the United Textile Factory Workers' Association (established 1886). This Association, ormed exclusively for Parliamentary purposes, focussed the rery considerable political influence of 125,000 organised
- otton operatives in Lancashire, Cheshire, and Yorkshire,
ind was, next to the Miners' Federation, by far the most >owerful Trade Union organisation in the country. 1
The highly developed organisation of the Cotton )peratives contrasted with the feebleness of the Woollen- corkers. In the other branches of textile manufacture the xtreme localisation of the separate industries had given ise to isolated county or district organisations of lace, losiery, silk, flax, or carpet-workers usually confined to mall areas, and exercising comparatively little influence in he Trade Union world. Incomparably the strongest among hem was the Amalgamated Society of Operative Lace- nakers (3500 members), which comprised practically all the .dult male workers in the Nottingham machine-lace trade, f we exclude the constituent organisations of the United textile Factory Workers' Association, the separate Unions n the various branches of the textile industry numbered 115.
1 The Cotton-spinners' Union was then composed exclusively of adult lales, the boy " piecers " being brigaded in subordinate organisations, a the Cotton-weavers and Card-room Operatives' Unions women formed large majority of the members.
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Table showing the approximate number of Trade Unionists in the various branches of the Textile Manufacture.
Cotton-spinners .... Cotton-weavers .... Cotton Card-room Opera- tives Woollen- workers Woolsorters, Combers, &c. Silkworkers
31,000 6,000 2,500
31,000 15,500 2,500 2 560
Flax and Linen-workers Carpet-weavers .... Hosiery- workers Lacemakers . .
6,350 4, SOO
3,390 3,OOO 6,500 4 *5OO
Elastic Webworkers. Dyers, Bleachers, and Finishers . .
700 II 82O
7 00 12 IOO
Overlookers Calico-printers and En- gravers Miscellaneous Textiles .
The large section of workers engaged in the manufacture of clothing and leather goods was, perhaps, the least organ- ised of the skilled trades. One society, indeed, the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives (established 1874), counted almost 43,000 members, and exercised a very real control over the machine boot trade. And although the hand industry was in this case rapidly declining, the Amalgamated Association of Boot and Shoemakers (estab- lished 1862) maintained and even increased the earnings oi this body of 4700 skilled handicraftsmen. The Tailors, on the other hand, had succeeded neither in controlling the new machine industry, nor in upholding the standard earn- ings of the handworkers. The Amalgamated Society of Tailors (established 1866, 17,000 members), together with the Scottish National Operative Tailors' Society (established 1866, 4500 members), had absorbed all the local Unions,
The Printing Trades
but included only a small proportion of those at work in the trade. The Felt Hatters and Trimmers' Union (estab- lished 1872) had 4300 members, together with a women's branch (established 1886) numbering nearly as many. In other branches of this division some strong organisations existed in the smaller industries, but the workers for the most part formed only feeble local clubs or else were totally unorganised. There were altogether over sixty separate Unions in this division.
Table showing the approximate number of Trade Unionists in the Clothing and Leather Trades.
Boot and Shoemakers .
Other Leather Workers
Tailors and other Clothing
Hatmakers, Glovers, &c. .
The 46,000 Trade Unionists in the paper and printing trades were divided between four considerable Unions with 27,000 members, and forty-five little societies numbering not more than 19,000 altogether. The compositors lead off with three extensive organisations, the London Society of Compositors, confined to the Metropolis (established 1848, 9800 members), the Typographical Association (established 1849, 11,500 members), which had absorbed all but four of the Irish and four of the English local societies outside the Metropolis, and the Scottish Typographical Association (established 1852, 3000 members): The Bookbinders and Machine Rulers' Consolidated Union (established 1835, 3000 members), mainly composed of provincial workers, far ex- ceeded the London Consolidated Bookbinders' Society, the largest of half-a-dozen Metropolitan Unions in this trade.
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Table showing the approximate number of Trade Unionists in the various branches of the Paper and Printing Trades.
Compositors and Press and Machine Men .... Bookbinders Papermakers Miscellaneous Printing Trades
27,250 5.150 3,150 2,400
4,000 700 500 450
33,250 6,150 3,650 2,950
There remained a number of trades which it was difficult to classify. These miscellaneous crafts furnished over 130 societies and 58,000 Trade Unionists. Some, like the Coopers, Cigarmakers, Brushmakers, Basketmakers, and Glassworkers, were usually well organised ; others, like the Coachbuilders, Potters, Bakers, and Ropeworkers, included but a small percentage of their trades. 1
Table showing the approximate number of Trade Unionists in the Miscellaneous Trades.
Basket and Brushmakers .
Coach and Waggon Builders
Millers and Bakers .
Sundry Trades .
The great army of labourers, seamen, and transport workers of every kind we enclosed in a single division. Out of the 1 20 organisations belonging to this group the
1 The United Kingdom Society of Coachmakers (established 1834) had 5500 members. The Mutual Association of Coopers (established 1878) was then a loose federation of old-fashioned local Unions, with about 6000 members.
The Labourers' Unions 439
Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (established 1872), with its permanent membership of 31,000, its high contributions, extensive friendly benefits, and large accumu- lated funds, resembled in character the large national societies of the engineering and building trades. Alongside this stood the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (established 1880, 7000 members). Some other Unions in this group; such as the London and Counties Labour League (established 1872, 13,000 members), and the National Agricultural Labourers' Union (established 1872, 15,000 members), had become essentially friendly societies. But the predominating type in this division was, as might have been expected, the new Union, with low contributions, fluctuating membership, and militant trade policy. Of these the strongest and apparently the most stable was the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers (established 1889), with 36,000 members on the books. Next in membership came the Dock, Wharf, and Riverside Labourers' Union (established 1889), the Tyneside and National Labour Union (established 1889), and the National Amalgamated Sailors and Firemen's Union (established 1887), each with a membership fluctuating between 20,000 arid 40,000. Other prominent Unions in this division were the General Railway Workers' Union (established 1889), the National Union of Dock Labourers (established 1889), the National Amalgamated Coalporters' Union (established 1890), and the Navvies, Bricklayers' Labourers, and General Labourers' Union (established 1890). The builders' labourers and the carmen were organised in numerous local Unions, which, in some cases, such as the Mersey Quay and Railway Carters' Union (established 1887), and the Leeds Amalga- mated Association of Builders' Labourers (established 1889), were effective trade societies. The chief exponent of New Unionism among the agricultural labourers was then the Eastern Counties Labour Federation (established 1890), which had enrolled 17,000 members in Suffolk and the neighbouring counties. But any statistical estimate of the
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ill-defined and constantly fluctuating membership of the Unions in this division must necessarily be of less value than in the more definitely organised trades. 1
Table showing the approximate number of Trade Unionists among the Labourers and Transport Workers of every kind.
Seamen, Fishermen, Water- men &c
3Q 2 SO
Railway Traffic Workers . Enginemen, &c. (other than Colliery or Railway) . Carmen, &c
37 3 500
100 I OOO
It would have been an interesting addition to our statistics if we could have added to these tables a column showing the proportion which the Unionists in each trade bore to the total number of workers in it. Unfortunately the classification of the census 2 is not sufficiently precise to enable this to be done. We were therefore thrown back upon such information on the point as we can obtain from other sources. We knew, for instance, that in Lancashire
1 We did not include in the above statistics the Unions in classes not included among the manual workers. The National Union of Teachers, established 1870, was, already in 1892, a powerful organisation with 23,000 members. The Telegraph Clerks, Life Assurance Agents, and Shop Assistants also had Unions varying from 1000 to 5000 members, and there were two organisations of postal employees. The National Unions of Clerks and Domestic Servants were less definitely established. There were also small societies among the London Dock Foremen and Clerks and the Poplar Ships' Clerks.
Nor did we include such essentially benefit societies as the Marine Engineers' Union (9500 members) and the United Kingdom Pilots' Association, which were composed largely of workmen belonging for trade purposes to particular Trade Unions.
2 The census figures for 1891 merge, for each trade, " workmen, assis- tants, apprentices, and labourers." They do not, for instance, distinguish between Bricklayers and Bricklayers' Labourers, who belong to very different Trade Unions. Under Hosiers or Hatters are included shop- keepers and their assistants, as well as the manufacturing operatives.
Who are the Non-Unionists? 441
the Amalgamated Association of Cotton-spinners included practically every competent workman engaged in the trade. The same might be said of the Boilermakers' Society in all the iron shipbuilding ports, though not in some of the Mid- land districts. And to turn to an even larger industry, 80 per cent of the coalminers were in union, some dis- tricts, such as Northumberland and parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire, having practically every hewer in the society. And in other industries and localities the Union was some- times equally inclusive. Among the Dublin Coopers or the Midland Flint Glass Makers, the Nottingham Lace- makers or the Yorkshire Glass Bottle Makers, non-Unionism was practically unknown. We see, therefore, that instead of numbering only 4 per cent of the total population, the Trade Union world was in certain districts and in certain industries, already in 1892 practically coextensive with the manual labour class. On the other hand, there were many occupations in which Trade Unionism was non-existent. Whole classes of manual workers were practically excluded from the Trade Union ranks by the fact that they were not hired workers at wages. In the nooks and crannies of our industrial system were to be found countless manual workers who obtained a precarious livelihood by direct service of the consumer. Every town and village had its quota of hawkers, costermongers, tallymen, and other petty dealers ; of cobblers, tinkers, knifegrinders, glaziers, chairmenders, plumbers, and other jobbing craftsmen ; of cab-runners, " corner boys," men who " hang about the bridges," and all the innumerable parasites of the life of a great city. When we passed from these '" independent producers " to the trades in which the small master survived, or in which home work prevailed, we saw another region almost barren of Trade Unionism. The tailors and cabinetmakers, for instance, though often highly-skilled craftsmen, had only a small minority of their trades in Union, whilst the chain and nailmakers were almost unorganised. The effect upon Trade Unionism of a backward type of industrial organisa-
442 The Trade Union World
tion was well seen in the manufacture of boots and shoes. In Leicestershire and Stafford, where the work was done in large factories, practically every workman was in the Union. In the Midland villages, where this was carried on as a domestic industry, and in East London, where it was only passing out of that phase, the National Society of Boot and Shoe Operatives counted but a small proportion of members. And in those districts in which the small master system still held its own it cast a blight even on other trades. Thus the Birmingham district and East London were bad Trade Union centres, not only for the sweated trades, but also for those carried on in large establishments. But the great bulk of non-Unionism was to be found in another field. The great army of labourers, as distinguished from mechanics, miners, or factory operatives, were in normal times as unorganised as the women workers. Except in certain counties, such as Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, Oxford- shire, Wiltshire, and the Fen districts, Trade Unionism among the farm labourers could scarcely be said to exist. Of the three-quarters of a million of agricultural labourers in the United Kingdom, not more than 40,000 were then in union. Nor were the other classes of labour in much better plight. The two hundred thousand workers in the traffic depart- ment of the railways contributed only 48,000 Trade Union- ists, mostly from such grades as guards and engine-drivers. The large class of tramway and omnibus workers had, after a brief rally, reverted to a state of disorganisation. The great army of warehousemen, porters, and other kinds of city labourers counted only a few hundred Trade Unionists in all the kingdom.
The Trade Union world was, therefore, in 1892, in the main composed of skilled craftsmen working in densely populated districts, where industry was conducted on a large scale. About one-half of the members belonged to the three staple trades of coalmining, cotton manufacture, and engineering, whilst the labourers and the women workers were, at this date, on the whole, non-Unionists.
Trade Union Influence 443
But the influence of Trade Unionism on working-class life cannot be measured by the numbers actually contribut- ing to the Union funds at any one time. Among the non- Unionists in the skilled trades a large proportion have at one time or another belonged to their societies. Though they have let their membership lapse for one reason or another, they follow the lead of the Union, and are mostly ready, on the slightest encouragement from its members, or improvement in their own position, to rejoin an organisa- tion to Which in spirit they still belong. In the Labour Unions the instability of employment and the constant shifting of residence caused the organisation, in 1892, to resemble a sieve, through which a perpetual stream of members was flowing, a small proportion only remaining attached for any length of time. These lapsed members constitute in some sense a volunteer force of Trade Unionism ready to fight side by side with their old comrades, provided that means can be found for their support. Moreover, the Trade Unionists not only belong to the most highly-skilled and best-paid industries, but they include, as a general rule, the picked men in each trade. The moral and intellectual influence which they exercise on the rest of their class is, therefore, out of all proportion to their numbers. In their ranks are found, in almost every industrial centre, all the prominent leaders of working-class opinion. They supply the directors of the co-operative stores, the administrators Df clubs and friendly societies, and the working-class repre- sentatives on Parish, District, and Town Councils. Finally ive may observe that the small but rapidly increasing class 3f working-men politicians invariably consists of men who ire members of a trade society. We may safely assert that, 3ven in 1892, no one but a staunch Trade Unionist would iave had any chance of being returned as a working-class nember to the House of Commons, or elected to a local governing body as a Labour representative.
It is therefore impossible by a statistical survey to give my adequate idea of the Trade Union world of 1892. We
444 The Trade Union World
may note the fact that the thousand separate unions or branches between Blyth and Middlesborough numbered some 200,000 members. We may ascertain that within fifteen miles of the Manchester Exchange at least as many Trade Unionists lived and worked. But no figures can convey any real impression of the place which the Trade Union, even then, filled in the every-day life of the skilled artisans of the United Kingdom. We are therefore fortunate in being able to supplement our statistics by a graphic description of Trade Union life supplied to us in 1893 by a skilled craftsman, who joined his Union on the expiration of his apprenticeship, and served for some time in various official capacities.
To an apprentice, Trade Unionism is little more than a name. He may occasionally overhear the men in his shop discussing their Union and its work ; and he knows that after " club night " a number of stories of the incidents of the meeting will be related ; whilst, if he works in a strong Society shop, he may even hear heated discussions on resolutions submitted to the meeting. But the chief topic will always be the personal one who was at the meeting, and what old chums were met ; for the " club " is generally the recognised meeting-place for " old cronies " in the trade. If he works in a shop where any of the Trade Union officials are also employed he may sometimes receive a word of advice and exhortation " to be sure to join the Society when he is a man." On the whole, however, his knowledge of, and interest in, the Society will be very slight. But should a strike occur at his shop whilst he is yet a lad, the presence and power of the Trade Union will be brought very vividly home to him ; and as he works by himself or with the other lads in an otherwise deserted shop he will form some opinions of his own. He will naturally feel a violent antipathy to the " Blacks " brought into his shop, for the sense of comradeship is strong among boys ; and he will notice with considerable pleasure that they are usually inferior workmen. But in spite of this, if the employer is " a good sort," who treats him well and kindly, he will probably still think that the men are wrong to strike. For the boy regards the employer as the one " who finds work for the men to do," and hence looks upon a strike as an act of ingratitude ; and further, he has also a vague idea that the men are in the position
Joining the Union 445
of being many to one, and hence he promptly sides with the weaker party.
As the youth draws near the end of his apprenticeship he finds that he is frequently spoken to by Union men and urged to join the Society. He notices, too, that more attention is paid to him, and that his opinions are frequently asked upon trade matters. Finally he is invited round to the little public in which the club meetings are held, and introduced to the Lodge officials, and to a number of his fellow-tradesmen. The advantages offered by the Society are freely dilated upon, great stress being laid upon the friendly benefits the sick, superannuation, funeral, and, above all, the out-of-work pay. For the Trade Society is the only institution which provides an out-of-work benefit. Against sickness and death he may already be insured in one or other of the numerous Friendly Societies ; but the out-of-work pay is never provided except by a Trade Society, since only there is it possible to know whether a claimant is out of work by reason of bad trade, or bad character, or inefficiency, or even if he is really out of work at all. And as the advantages of this provision are pointed out to him he recollects the time when his father, a staid, steady-going mechanic, was thrown out of work by slack times ; and the memory of that bitter experience clings very closely to him. Perhaps he is also in love. The thought of seeing " her " miserable and their children hungry whilst he himself is helpless to assist, must always be one of the most harrowing things to a careful young artisan, with visions of a happy little home in the near future. There is, however, another view of the club which appeals with almost equal force to our young artisan just out of his apprenticeship and finding himself in possession of an income nearly double that to which he has been accustomed. The Trade Union Meeting House is the recognised club for the men in the craft, and thus presents many social attractions. Friendships are made numerous " sing-songs " and smoking concerts arranged ; and the joke and friendly glass, the good cheer and the conviviality, all present great attractions to the young workman.
The club is also a centre for obtaining the latest trade news. Here come the unemployed from other towns ; here are to be heard reports of reductions or advance of wages, increased or diminished working hours, stories of tyranny, or the first rumours of that bug-bear to the men the invention of new machines, with its probable displacement of their labour ; or even worse, the introduction of women and boys at reduced prices. There
446 The Trade Union World
is also an occasional visit from an important official of the central office to look forward to, and his words to digest afterwards. All these attractions incline the young artisan to enrol himself in the Lodge, but it is mainly personal considerations which in the end decide him to take the step. Are the good men in his trade those whom he likes, who have treated him well, helped him out of his difficulties and given him coppers when a lad ; the powerful men, the foremen, and those whose words carry most weight with their fellows are these men members of the Union ? If they are, and if, as is most probable in a Society shop, he has formed friendships with other young fellows who are already members, it is not long before he consents, and allows himself to be duly proposed as a candidate for membership.
The next club night sees him at the door of the club-room waiting anxiously, and perhaps timorously, whilst the formalities go on inside. Usually the ordinary business of the evening is all disposed of before the election of new members takes place. At the first mention by the President of the fact that a candidate is waiting to be elected, the doorkeeper (hitherto posted inside the door to see that no one comes in or goes out surreptitiously, and that none of the " worthy brothers " are in an unfit state to enter the room) slips rapidly outside, and holding the door firmly, refuses admission to any one while the ceremony lasts. The President then rising, calls for order, and having read out the name of the candidate and those of his proposer and seconder, asks those members to tell the Lodge what they know about him. Then the proposer rises, and addressing " Mr. President and worthy brothers," states what he knows that the candidate is a young man, apprenticed in his shop and duly served his time a good workman and a steady young fellow anxious to join the Society and sure to be a credit to the Lodge. He resumes his seat amid applause ; and the seconder rises and repeats the same eulogy. Then the candidate is called into the room, the door- keeper admitting him with some ceremony. He enters in fear and trembling ; for the formality of admission, though shorn of its former mysterious rites, is still conducted with sufficient solemnity to make it loom as something rather terrible. At once he finds himself the object of the friendly curiosity of the members, and the cause of applause, all of which adds considerably to his nervousness and trepidation. But he is agreeably surprised to find the ceremony a very meagre one. The President, rising, calls upon all the members to do likewise, and then, all standing, he reads out an initiatory address, and a portion of the Rules of
The Lodge Meeting 447
the Society. Then in a simple affirmation the candidate pledges himself to abide by the Rules, to study the interests of the Society, and neither to do, nor, if he can prevent it, allow to be done, anything in opposition thereto. He has then to formally sign this pledge. That being done, his name is entered as a member, and upon paying his entrance fee, he is presented with a card of membership and a book of Rules of the Society.
He is now an ordinary member of the Lodge, and this newly acquired dignity is fully bi ought home to him in the course of a week or so, when he receives his first summons to attend a Lodge meeting. He wends his way to the little public-house in the dirty back street where the Lodge is held, and arriving shortly before eight o'clock, the time fixed for the opening of business, finds a number of his fellow-workmen congregated round the bar dis- cussing the evening's programme and trade matters generally. The men come in by twos and threes, and he notices that, with few exceptions, all are neat and clean, having been home and had their tea and a wash in the interval between then and working hours. 1 The officers of the Lodge arriving, are greeted with a general recognition as they pass upstairs to prepare the club-room for the business of the evening. Shortly after the hour fixed for commencing, the President takes the chair, and, as the men slowly straggle up into the room, rises and declares the meeting open for business. The club-room is a long, low-ceilinged room which constitutes the first floor of the public-house. Down the centre of the room runs a trestle table with forms along the sides, on which the members are seating themselves. At the top a shorter table is placed crosswise, forming a letter T, and here sits the group of officers. The room is decorated with the framed " emblems " of various trade societies, interspersed with gilt mirrors and advertising almanacs. At one end is a throne and canopy, showing that it is used also as a club-room by one or other of the friendly societies which still maintain the curious old rites of their orders. In a corner stands a cottage pianoforte, indicating that the room is also used for concerts, sing-songs, and convivial gatherings.
The first business of the evening is the payment of contribu- tions. The Secretary, aided by the " Check Secretary," the
1 Old members often recall the days when the men used to come to the club straight from work, and " in their dirt." They frequently ascribe the orderly behaviour at club meetings at the present time, as compared with the rowdiness of the past, largely to this change of habit, itself a direct result of the reduction of the hours of labour.
448 The Trade Union World
Money Steward, and Treasurer, receives the subscriptions from the men as they come, one by one, up the room, enters the payment in the books, and signs the members' cards. In many cases women and children come to pay the subscriptions of their husbands or fathers ; and he will feel a sense of shame at the idea of these having to come through the public bar to perform their errand. When the subscriptions are all received, the unemployed members, and the wives or other relatives of those who are sick, present themselves to draw their respective benefits. General inquiries are made after the health and hopes are expressed for the speedy recovery of the sick ones ; and the sums due are paid out by the officials with considerable formality. During these pro- ceedings there has been a constant hum of conversation in the room, and a continual running in and out of members to the bar, and back again. But all this now comes to an end. The President rises and calls for order. Strangers and non-members are cleared out of the room. The doorkeeper takes up his position inside the door to watch the comers-in and goers-out ; and the drink-stewards make ready to attend to the members' wants, and act as waiters, in order to dispense with strangers in the room, and to prevent any unnecessary bustle and confusion. 1 The business of the evening opens with the reading of the minutes of the last meeting. Questions concerning the enforce- ment of some resolution, or the result of some instructions given to the officers, are asked and answered, and the minutes are confirmed by a show of hands and signed by the President. Then letters received, and copies of those despatched by the Secretary since the last meeting are read. These include letters from the General Office interpreting some rule as to the payment of benefits, from the District Committee giving notice of a trade regulation, and from other branch secretaries asking for particulars as to the character and ability of some candidate for admission. Then follows the excitement of the evening the report of delegates appointed to interview an employer on some grievance. They will explain how they waited on Mr. So-and-so, who at first refused to see them, and ordered them off his premises ; how presently he came round and listened to their complaints ; how he denied the existence of the alleged evil, and demanded the names of the men who complained, which the delegates of course refused to give ; and how at last, after much dispute, he tem- porised, and gave them to understand that the grievance would be
1 Many Unions forbid all drinking during the branch meeting.
remedied. Then the members present from the shop in question are called upon to explain what improvements, if any, have been made in the matters of which they complained. If their report is satisfactory, the subject is allowed to drop. If not, there is a heated discussion. Our friend, seated with the young fellows at the back of the room, finds himself clamouring for a strike. The officers do their best to hold the meeting back. They suggest that the District Committee * ought first to be communicated with ; or if the grievance is one against which the General Rules or District Bye-laws permit the men to strike without superior sanction, they urge further negotiations with the employer. The discussion is eventually closed by an order to the Secretary to write to the District Committee for advice, or by an instruction to the delegates to again interview the offending employer, and if he " bamboozles " them a second time, to strike the shop.
This excitement over, the interest of the meeting flags, and members drop out one by one. Perhaps there is an appeal by a member to whom the Committee has refused some benefit to which he thinks himself entitled. Against this decision he appeals to his fellow-members in Lodge assembled, urging his long membership, his wife and family, and his work for the Union as reasons why he should be leniently dealt with. Elo- quent speeches are made on his behalf by personal friends. But the Committee and the officers declare that they have acted according to the Rules, and remind the Lodge that if they are ordered to pay an illegal benefit, the Central Office will disallow
- he amount, and order the members to repay it to the Union
[unds. With a strong Committee the vote will be against the nan ; with a weak one, and especially if the man is a jovial and ' free-and-easy " comrade, his friends will turn up in sufficient lumbers to carry the appeal. It being now ten o'clock, all other 3usiness such as resolutions proposed by individual members
- ets adjourned to the next club night, and the President declares
- he Lodge duly closed. The Secretary hastens home, to sit up
Durning midnight oil in balancing the books, entering the minutes, naking reports to the Central Executive or District Committee, md writing the letters ordered by the meeting.
The Lodge meeting soon plays an important part in the life of >ur active-minded artisan. He feels that he is taking part in the
1 In the great Amalgamated Societies District Committees, composed >f representatives of local branches, are formed in the great industrial
- entres, and decide on the trade policy to be adopted by their constituent
ranches. These decisions must be confirmed by the Central Executive.
450 The Trade Union World
actual government of a national institution. Special meetings are held to discuss and vote on questions submitted by the Executive to the whole body of the members, such as the alteration of a rule, the election of some central official, or a grant in aid of another trade. But primarily the Lodge is his Court of Appeal against all industrial tyranny, a court in which he is certain of a ready and sympathetic hearing. There he takes complaints of fines and deductions, of arbitrary foremen, of low piecework prices of anything, in short, which affects his interest or comfort as a wage-earner.
The tendency of this ever-present power and actuality of the Lodge and its officials is to overshadow in the mind of the member the larger functions and responsibilities of the Central Executive. To him they are something far away in the vast outside world, and their powers are very vague and shadowy. They are, however, brought home to him in some of the incidents of his Trade Union and working life. There is, for instance, the " emblem " of his Society, a large and generally highly- coloured representation of the various processes of the trade in which he is engaged, often excellently designed and executed. This, purchased for a few shillings soon after his admission to the Society, or more probably at the time of his marriage, is hung, gaily framed, in his front parlour. On it is recorded his name, age, and date of admission to the Society, and it bears the signatures, and perhaps the portraits, of the general officers. To him it is some slight connecting link with the other men in his trade and Society. To his wife it is the charter of their rights in case of sickness, want of work, or death. As such it is an object of pride in the household, pointed out with due impressive- ness to friends and casual visitors.
But more important is the Monthly Circular, now a recognised feature in most of the large Unions. Here the member feels himself brought into direct contact with the outside world of his trade. Has he been ill or out of work and drawn relief, his name and the amount of money drawn are duly recorded. If he has not himself been so unfortunate, he here learns the names of those who have, and perhaps hears from this source for the first time of such a calamity having befallen some friend in another and distant town. Here also are reports of the state of trade and the number of unemployed in every place where a branch of the Society exists ; of alterations in hours and rates of wages effected during the month, by friendly negotiations or by a lock-out or a strike. Finally, there are letters from lodges or from individual
" On the Road " 451
members on all sorts of topics, including spicy abuse of the Central Executive, and tart rejoinders from the General Secretary. As his interest in the Society increases, our artisan himself writes letters to the Circular, explaining some grievance, suggesting a remedy for some grievance already explained, or answering criti- cisms upon the conduct and policy of his District Committee or his Lodge.
In addition to the Monthly Circular there is the Annual Report. This is a large volume of some hundreds of pages, con- taining, in a summarised form, the progress and doings of the Society for the whole year, with the total income and expenditure and the balance in hand, the proportionate cost of all the various benefits, a statement of the accounts of each branch, and many other figures of interest and importance. He feels a glow of pride as the growth of his Society in funds and members is recorded, and perhaps also a longing to see his own name printed as one of the officers of one of the Lodges, and thus be even distantly associated with the success of the Society.
But after a year or two of the comparative freedom of the journeyman's life he begins to feel strongly the desire for change and adventure. The five or seven years' apprenticeship through which he has just passed has kept him chained in one place, and EL period of unrest now begins. Moreover, he has heard as a
- ommonplace among his fellow-workmen, that no man knows
his own ability or what he is worth until he has worked in more towns or shops than one. They have also expatiated to him upon the delights of " the road " ; and finally he determines to take advantage of his membership of the Society to go on tramp 3n the first opportunity. He is therefore not altogether dis- pleased when some temporary contraction in his trade causes lis employer to turn him adrift, and thus gives him a right to Iraw his travelling card. 1
At the close of his first day's tramp, footsore and weary, he seeks the public-house at which the local Lodge is held, and laving refreshed himself, starts off to find the Secretary. To lim he presents his tramp card. When, on examination, the lates upon it are found to be correct, and the distance traversed
1 The travelling card, formerly called a " blank," is now, in most cases, i small book of receipt forms. On it is recorded the particulars of his nembership, and the date to which he has paid his contributions. Along vith it he receives a complete list of the public-houses which serve as the Society's Lodge-houses, and also a list of the names and addresses of the L,odge secretaries.
452 The Trade Union World
is sufficient to entitle the traveller to the full benefit of sixpence and a bed, the Secretary writes an order to the publican to provide this relief. The date and place are then clearly marked on the travelling card, and the Secietary retains the corresponding half of the receipt form to serve as his own voucher for the expendi- ture. Should he know of any suitable situation vacant in the town, he will tell the tramp to repair there in the morning. But if no such post offers itself, the wayfarer must start off again in the morning, in time to arrive before night at the next Lodge town, at which alone he can receive any further relief.
If our friend takes to the road during the summer months and finds a situation within a few weeks, he will have had nothing worse than a pleasant holiday excursion. But if his tramp falls during the winter, or if he has to remain for months on the move, he will be in a pitiable plight. Whilst he is in the thickly- populated industrial districts, where " relief towns " in his trade are frequently to be met with, he finds his supper and bed at the end of every fifteen or twenty miles. But as he one by one exhausts these towns, he will, by the rule forbidding relief from the same Lodge at less than three months' interval, be compelled to go further afield. He presently finds the Lodges so far apart that it is impossible for a man to walk from one to another in a day. The relief afforded becomes inadequate for his maintenance, and many are the shifts to which he has to resort for food and shelter. Finally, after a specified period, usually three months, his card " runs out " ; he has become " box-fast," and can draw no more from the Society until he has found a job, and resumed payment of his contributions.
But our artisan, being an able-bodied young craftsman, has found a job. Settled in a new town, his tramping for the present at an end, and himself recovered from the evils, moral and physical, which that brief period has wrought upon him, his interest in his Society revives. He attends his new Lodge regularly, at first because it is the only place in the town where he meets friends. Presently his old desire to figure as an official of the Society returns to him. He cultivates the acquaintance of the officers of the Lodge, mixes freely with the members, and takes every occasion to speak on exciting questions. At the next election he is appointed to some minor post, such as auditor or steward. He makes himself useful and popular, and in the course of the year finds himself a member of the Lodge Com- mittee.
From membership of the Branch Committee he succeeds to
The Branch Secretary 453
the position of Branch Secretary, the highest to which his fellow- tradesmen in his own town can elect him. On the night of the election he is somewhat surprised to find that there is no keen competition for the post. The pay of a Branch Secretary is meagre enough from ten to fifty shillings per quarter. Most of his evenings and part of his Sundays are taken up with responsible clerical work. Besides attending the fortnightly or weekly com- mittee meeting, lasting from eight to eleven or twelve at night, he has to prepare the agenda for the special and general meetings of the members, conduct the whole correspondence of the Lodge, draw up reports for the District Committee and Central Executive, keep the accounts, and prepare elaborate balance-sheets for the head office. Even his working day is not free from official duties. At any moment he may be called out of his shop to sign the card of a tramp, or he may have to hurry away in the dinner-hour to prevent members striking a shop without the sanction of the Lodge. When a deputation is appointed to wait on an employer, he must ask for a day off, and act as leading spokesman for the men. All this involves constant danger of dismissal from his work, or even boycott by the employers, as an " agitator." Nor will he always be thanked for his pains. Before he was elected to the Secretaryship, he was probably " hail, fellow, well met " with all the other members. Now he has constantly to thwart the wishes and interests of individual members. He must be always advising the Committee to refuse benefits to members whose cases fall outside the Rules of the Society, and counselling Lodge meetings to refuse to sanction strikes. Hence he soon finds little cliques formed among the malcontents, who bitterly oppose him. He is charged with injustice, pusillanimity, treachery, and finally with being a " master's man." But after a while, if he holds steadfastly on his course, and abides strictly to the Rules of the Society, he finds himself backed up by the Executive Committee, and gaining the confidence of the shrewd and sensible workmen who constitute the bulk of the members, and who can always be called up to support the officers in Lodge meetings.
One of the duties or privileges thrust on our Secretary is that of representing his trade on the local Trades Council. He is not altogether gratified to find that the Branch has elected, as his co- delegates, some of the more talkative and less level-headed of its members. Some older and more experienced men decline to serve, on the ground that they have no time, and " have seen enough of that sort of thing." Nevertheless our Secretary at the outset
454 The Trade Union World
takes his position very seriously. To the young Trade Unionist the Trades Council represents the larger world of labour politics, and he has visions of working for the election of labour men on the local governing bodies, and of being himself run by the Trades Council for the School Board, or the Town Council, or perhaps even for Parliament itself. When the monthly meeting of the Council comes round, he therefore makes a point of arriving punctually at eight o'clock at the Council Chamber. He finds himself in the large and gaudily decorated assembly room, over the bar of one of the principal public-houses of the town. A low platform is erected at one end, with chairs and a small table for the Chairman and Secretary. Below the platform is placed a long table at which are seated the reporters of the local newspapers, and the rest of the room is filled with chairs and improvised benches for the delegates. Here he meets the thirty or sixty delegates of the other Unions. He notices with regret that the salaried officials of the Societies which have their head- quarters in the town, and the District Delegates of the great national Unions who are located in the neighbourhood the very men he hoped to meet in this local " Parliament of Labour " are conspicuous by their absence. The bulk of the delegates are either branch officials like himself, or representatives of the rank and file of Trade Unionism like his colleagues. The meeting opens quietly with much reading of minutes and correspondence by the Secretary. Then come the trade reports, delegate after delegate rising to protest against some encroachment by an employer, or to report the result of some negotiations for the removal of a grievance. A few questions may perhaps be asked by the other delegates, but there is usually no attempt to go into the merits of the case, the Council contenting itself with giving a sympathetic hearing, and applauding any general denunciation of industrial tyranny. If a strike is in progress, the delegates of the trade concerned ask for " credentials " (a letter by the Secre- tary of the Council commending the strikers to the assistance of other trades), and even appeal for financial assistance from the Council itself. This brings about difference of opinion. The whole Council has applauded the strike, but when it comes to the question of a levy, the representatives of such old-established Unions as the Compositors, Engineers, Masons, and Bricklayers get up and explain that the Rules of their Societies do not allow them to pledge themselves. On the other hand, the enthusiastic delegates from a newly-formed Labour Union promptly promise the assistance of their Society, and vehemently accuse the Council
The Trades Council 455
of apathy. Then follows a still more serious business a com- plaint by one of the several Unions in the engineering or building trades that the members of a rival Union have lately " black- legged " their dispute. The delegates from the aggrieved Society excitedly explain how their men had been withdrawn from a certain firm which refused to pay the Standard Rate, and how, almost immediately afterwards, the members of the other Society had accepted the employer's terms and got the work. Then the delegates from the accused Society with equal warmth assert that the work in question belonged properly to their branch of the trade ; that the members of the other Society had no business to be doing it at all ; and that as the employers offered the rates specified in their working rules, they were justified in accepting the job. At once an angry debate ensues, in which personal charges and technical details are bandied from side to side, to the utter bewilderment of the rest of the members. In vain the Chairman intervenes, and appeals for order. At last the Council, tired of the wrangle, rids itself of the question by referring it to a Committee, and an old member of the Council whispers to our friend a fervent hope that the Committee will shirk its job, and never meet, since its report would please neither party, and probably lead to the retirement of one if not both trades from the Council.
The next business brings the Council back to harmony. The delegates appointed at the last meeting to urge on the Town Council or the School Board the adoption of a " fair wage clause " now give in their report. They describe how Mr. Alderman Jones, a local politician of the old school, talked about wanton extravagance and the woes of the poor ratepayer ; and the Council will be moved to laughter at their rejoinder, " How about the recent increase in the salary of your friend, the Town Clerk ? " They repeat, with pleasure, the arguments they used on the deputation, and their final shot, a bold statement as to the number of Trade Unionists on the electoral register, is received with general applause. But in spite of all this they report that Alderman Jones has prevailed, and the Town Council has rejected the clause. Our new member notes with satisfaction that the Council is not so ineffective a body as he has been fearing. After a good deal of excited talk the Secretary is instructed to write to the local newspapers explaining the position, and calling attention to the example set by other leading municipalities. The members, new and old alike, undertake to heckle the retiring Town Coun- cillors who voted against the interests of labour ; and the best
456 The Trade Union World
men of the Council, to whichever political party they belong, join in voting for a Committee to run Trade Union candidates against their most obdurate opponents.
Passing, rejecting, or adjourning resolutions, of which notice has been given at a previous meeting, takes up the remainder of the evening. First come propositions submitted on behalf of the Executive Committee, composed of five or seven of the leading men in the Council. The Secretary explains that an influential member of the Trade Union Congress Parliamentary Committee has intimated that if they want a certain measure passed into law, they had better carry a particular resolution, which is thereupon read to the meeting. It is briefly discussed, carried unanimously, and handed to the reporters, the Secretary being ordered to send copies to the local M.P.'s and possibly to the Cabinet Minister concerned. Resolutions by other members are not so easily dis- posed of. The delegate from the Tailors, a fanatical adherent of the Peace Society, proposes a strong condemnation of increased armaments, ending up with a plea for international arbitration. But the engineer and the shipwright vehemently object to the resolution as impracticable, and one of them moves an amendment calling on the Government to find employment for hardworking mechanics in times of industrial depression by building additional ironclads. The Socialist Secretary of a Labour Union submits a resolution calling on the Town Council to open municipal work- shops for the unemployed a project which is ridiculed by the Conservative compositor (who is acting also as one of the re- porters). During the debate the Chairman, Secretary, and Executive Committeemen lie low and say nothing, allowing the discussion to wander away from the point. The debate drops, and if a vote on a popular but impracticable resolution becomes imminent, some " old Parliamentary hand " suggests its adjournment to a fuller meeting. For the next few evenings our friend finds all this instructive and interesting enough. Before the year is up he has realised that, except on such simple issues as the Fair Wages Clause, and the payment of Trade Union wages by the local authorities, the crowded meeting of tired workmen, unused to official business, with knowledge and interest strictly limited to a single industry, is useless as a Court of Appeal, and ineffective even as a joint committee of the local trades. At the best the Council becomes the instrument, or, so to speak, the sounding-board, of the experienced members, who are in touch with the Trade Union Parliamentary leaders, and who (at a pay of only a few shillings a quarter) conduct all the correspondence
Opening a New Branch 457
and undertake all the business which the Trade Unions of the town have really in common.
But our friend receives a sudden check in his career. One pay-day he is told by his employer that he will not be wanted after next week. It may be that he has had some words with the foreman over a spoilt job, or that he has been making himself too prominent in Trade Union work, or simply that his employer's business is slack. But whatever the cause he is discharged, and must seek employment elsewhere. At once he declares himself on the funds of the Society, sending notice to the President and Treasurer of his position and signing the out-of-work book at the club daily, like any other unemployed member. For the next two or three weeks he tramps from shop to shop in his district seeking work, and eagerly scans the daily papers in hopes of finding an advertisement of some vacant situation. Then comes the news from a friend of a vacancy in a distant town. He resigns his position as Secretary of the Lodge, draws the balance of out-of-work pay due to him, and departs regretfully from the town where he has made so many friends to start upon a new situation.
On arriving at his new place he is surprised to find that there is no branch of his Society in the town. There are a few odd members, but not enough to support a branch hence they send their contributions to the nearest Lodge town. As soon as he has settled down he takes steps to alter this. In his own work- shop he argues and cajoles the men into a belief in Trade Unionism. At night he frequents their favourite haunts, and by dint of argument, promises and appeals, finally gets enough of them to agree to join a Lodge to make it worth while opening one in the town. He forthwith communicates with the Central Executive Committee, and they, knowing his previous work, appoint him Secretary pro tern. A meeting of all the trade is then called by handbills sent round to the shops, and posted in the men's favourite public-houses. On the eventful night the General Secretary and perhaps another Central officer, come down to the town. They bring a Branch box containing sets of Rules and cards of membership, a full set of cash and other books, a number of business papers, and even a bottle of ink in fact all that is needful to carry on the business of a Lodge. The room will be crammed full of the men in the trade interested in hear- ing what the Society is and what it wants to do. Speeches are made, the advances of wages and reduction of hours gained by the Society are enumerated, the friendly benefits are explained, and
458 The Trade Union World
instances are given of men disabled from working at their trade, receiving 100 accident benefit from the Society, and setting up in a small business of their own. Then the General Secretary opens the Lodge, and entrance fees and contributions are paid by a large number of those present, and the meeting changed from a public to a private one. Officers are elected, our friend again finds himself chosen as Secretary, a friendly foreman accepts the post of Treasurer, while the other old members present at the meeting are elected to the remaining offices. Addresses from the Central officials start the Lodge on its way, and the meeting breaks up at a late hour with cheers for the Society and the General Secretary.
Within the next three months the Branch Secretary finds that all that glitters is not gold. At least half of those who joined at the beginning have lapsed, and at times the branch looks like collapsing altogether. But by dint of much hard work, persua- sion, and perhaps the formation of friendships, it is kept together until a time of prosperity for the trade arrives. This is the Secretary's opportunity to make or break his Lodge, and being a wise man he takes it. He puts a resolution on the agenda paper for the next Lodge meeting in favour of an advance of wages, or a reduction of hours, or both. The next meeting carries it unanimously, and it at once becomes the talk of the whole trade in the town. Men flock down and join the club in order to assist and participate in the proposed improvements. Then the Secretary appeals to the General Executive for permission to ask for the advance. They consider the matter seriously, and want to know what proportion of the men in the town are members, and how long they have been so ; what is the feeling of the non- Unionists towards the proposed movement, and whether there is any local fund to support non-Unionists who come out, or buy off tramps and strangers who come to the town during the probable strike. All these questions being more or less satisfac- torily answered, permission to seek the improvement is at length given, and now comes the Secretary's first taste of " powder " in an official capacity.
During this agitation the number of members in the Lodge has been steadily increasing, until it comes to include a good propor- tion of the trade in the town. The non-Unionists have also been approached as to their willingness to assist the movement, and the bulk of them readily agree to come out with the Society men if these undertake to maintain them. A special Committee js formed to conduct the " Advance Movement," including
Organising a Strike 459
delegates from the non-Society shops prepared to strike. A local levy is put on the members of the Lodge, in order to form a fund from which to pay such strike expenses as may not be charged to the Union. At length all is ready, and our Secretary is instructed to serve notices upon all the employers in the town, asking for the advance in wages or the reduction of hours claimed by the men.
Meanwhile the employers have not been idle. They have heard rumours of the coming storm and have met together and consulted as to what should be done, and have formed a more or less temporary association to meet the attack. Upon receiving the notices from the men's Secretary they invite a deputation of the men to wait upon them and discuss the matter. To this the men of course agree, and on the appointed night the Secretary and the " Advance Committee " appear at the joint meeting. The leading employer having been elected to the chair, asks the men to open their case for an advance of wages and reduction of hours. This they do, emphasising the facts that wages are lower and hours longer here than in the same trade in neighbouring towns ; that the cost of living is increasing ; and that some men are always unemployed who would be absorbed by the proposed change. The employers retort by urging the smallness of their profits and the difficulty of securing orders in competition with other towns where wages are even less than they are here ; and also by urging that the cost of living is decreasing and not increasing an assertion which they support by statements of the price of various articles at different times compared with the present. The men's Secretary has as much as he can do to keep his men in order. The new members the " raw heads " of the Com- mittee are almost hoping that the employers will not agree, for to them a strike means merely a few weeks' " play," at the expense of the Union. And the ordinary workman is so little used to discussing with his adversaries that any statement of the other side of the case is apt to arouse temper. The employers, too, unaccustomed to treating with their men, and still feeling it somewhat derogatory to do so, are not inclined to mince matters, or smooth over difficulties. Hence the meeting becomes noisy ; discussion turns into recrimination ; and the conference breaks up in confusion.
Meanwhile the Central Executive has watched with anxiety the approach of a dispute which will involve the Union in expense, and end possibly in defeat. The General Secretary, accompanied by one of the Executive Council, appears on the scene, and
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endeavours to mediate. But as the town has been a non-Union one, the employers refuse to see any but their own workmen, and thus lose the chance of the very moderate compromise which the General Secretary is almost sure to offer. This slight to their Official naturally incenses the local Unionists, and on the follow- ing Saturday, when their notices have expired, they " pick up '"' their tools as they leave the works and the strike is begun.
Then follows a period of intense excitement and hard work for the men's officials. The employers advertise in all directions for men at " good wages " to take " steady employment," and counter advertisements are inserted giving notice of the strike. All the streets are closely picketed by men, who take it in turns to do duty in twos and threes outside a factory or workshop for so many hours each day ; pickets are sent to meet all trains, and by dint of promises, bribes, and appeals to their " manliness and brother- hood," workmen who have been attracted to the town by the employers' advertisements are induced to depart. Perhaps a few " blacks " may escape their vigilance and get into some shop. Every time they come out they are followed and urged to abandon their dirty calling and join their fellows in the good work. Some give way, and their fares are at once paid to the place whence they came. Subscription boxes and sheets are sent out to raise the funds necessary for the extra expenses, which must not be taken from the Society's funds. If the strike drags on for many weeks delegates go from town to town addressing meetings of Trade Unions and Trades Councils soliciting aid, and usually succeed in getting a good deal more than their own expenses, the surplus being remitted to the Lodge. There are the non-Unionists who have come out on strike to be supported ; " blacks " to bribe and send away ; printing and delivering of bills and placards to be paid for, and numerous other subsidiary expenses to be met, all of which must be defrayed from the local fund.
But even the most protracted strike comes to an end. If trade is good and the men are well organised, the employers will not have succeeded in getting any good workmen, and not even sufficient bad ones, to continue their works, and their plant and reputation are alike suffering from unskilled workmanship. So one by one they give in, and accept the men's terms, until at length the men are again at work. On the other hand, if business be slack the strike may end in another way. One by one the employers obtain enough men of one sort or another to carry out what orders they have in hand. As week succeeds week the strikers lose heart, until at last the weak ones suddenly
A New Trades Council 461
return to work at the old terms. The officers and committeemen and a few dogged fighters may remain out, hoping against hope that something will turn up to make the employers give in. But the Central Executive will probably object to the continued drain of strike-pay, and may presently declare the strike closed. This will cause some little resentment among the local stalwarts, but the strike-pay being now at an end, those who are still unemployed must tramp off to another town in search of work.
If the strike results thus in failure the newly formed Lodge will soon disappear and the men in the trade remain unorganised until the advent of another leader of energy and ability. But if it has resulted in victory the prosperity of the Lodge is assured. The workmen in the trade flock -to the support of an institution which has shown such practically beneficial results. Meanwhile the Secretary, to whom most of the credit is due, begins to be known throughout the trade, and spoken of as the man who changed such and such a place from a non-Union to a Union town. Short eulogistic notices of his career appear in the Monthly Circular, and thus the way is paved for his future advancement.
Having thus succeeded in organising his own trade, he finds an outlet for his energies in doing the same for others in his town. Perhaps there are other branches of his own industry without organisations, and if so he begins among them exactly the same work as he pursued among his own members. When the time is ripe a meeting is called and a branch of the society, which em- braces the particular body of men, opened, and he accepts the post of President to help it along until its members have gained some experience. Then he will begin again with other trades and go through the same process, and thus in the course of time succeed in turning a very bad Trade Union town into a very good one. When that is accomplished he determines to start a Trades Council. He attends meetings of all the Unions and branches in the town and explains the objects and urges the importance of such a body. He writes letters to the local Press, and agitates among his own personal following until his object is well adver- tised. Finally a joint meeting of delegates from the majority of the local societies and branches is got together. The Rules of a neighbouring Trades Council are discussed and adopted, and at length a Trades Council is definitely established, if only by the two or three branches which he has himself organised. He is of course appointed its Secretary, and gradually by hard work, and perhaps by successfully agitating for some concession to labour by the Town Council or local School Board, he wins the approval
462 The Trade Union World
of all the societies, and the Council then becomes a thoroughly representative body. As Secretary of a newly established Trades Council he becomes rapidly well known. He is in constant request as a speaker in both his own and neighbouring towns ; and he is sent to the Trade Union Congress and instructed to move some resolution of his own drafting. But as the work gradually increases, our friend, who has all the time to be earning a livelihood at his trade, finds that he must choose between the Trades Council and his own Lodge. Through the Trades Council he can become an influential local politician, and may one day find himself the successful " Labour Candidate " for the School Board or the Town Council. But this activity on behalf of labour generally draws him ever further away from the routine duties of Branch Secretary of a National Society, and he will hardly fail to displease some of the members of his own trade. He may therefore prefer to resign his Secretaryship of the Trades Council, take a back seat in politics, and spend all his leisure in the work of his own Society, with the honourable ambition of eventually becoming one of its salaried officers. In this case he not only conducts the business of his Lodge with regularity, but also serves on the District Committee. Presently, as the most methodical of its members, he will be chosen to act as its Secretary, and thus be brought into close communication with the Central Executive, and with other branches and districts.
All this constitutes what we may call the non-commissioned officer's service in the Trade Union world, carried out in the leisure, and paid for by the hour, snatched from a week's work at the bench or the forge. But now the fame of our Secretary and his steady work for the Society have spread throughout the district, and when it is decided to appoint a District Delegate with a salary of 2 or 2 : los. per week, many branches request him to run for the post. His personal friends and supporters among them raise an election fund for him, and for a few weeks he dashes about his district and attends all the branch meetings to urge his candidature upon the members. Finally the votes are taken in the Lodges by ballot and sent to the general office to be counted, and he finds himself duly elected to the post. Again he moves his home, this time to some central town, so that he can visit any part of his district with ease and rapidity. His district stretches over three or four counties, and includes many large industrial centres, and he finds himself fully occupied. Let us see how he spends his days, and what is the work he will do for his Society.
A District Delegate 463
JEvery morning he receives a whole batch of letters on Society business. The General Secretary orders him immediately to visit one of the branches in his district and inspect the books, a report having reached the office of some irregularity. A Branch Secretary telegraphs for him to come over at once and settle a dispute which has broken out with an important firm. Another writes asking him to summon a mass meeting of the trade in the district to take a vote for or against a general strike against some real or fancied grievance. The Secretary of the Employers' Association in another town fixes an appointment with him to discuss the piecework prices for a new sort of work. Finally the Secretary of his District Committee instructs him to attend a joint meeting which they have arranged with the District Committee of another Union to settle a difficult question of overlap or apportionment of work between the members of the two societies.
Our friend spends the first half an hour at his correspondence, fixes a day for a special audit of the accounts of the suspected branch, drops a hasty line to the General Secretary informing him of his whereabouts for the next few days, and writes to the Branch Secretary strongly objecting to the proposed mass meeting to vote on a strike on the ground that " an aggregate meeting is an aggravated meeting," and appointing, instead, a day for a small conference of representatives from the different branches. Then he is off to the railway station so as to arrive promptly on the scene of the dispute just reported to him. Here he finds that a number of his members have peremptorily struck work and are hanging about the gates of the works. He will half persuade, half order them to instantly resume work, whilst he goes into the office to seek the employer. If it is a " Society shop " in a good Trade Union district he is heartily welcomed, and the matter is settled in a few minutes. The next train takes him to the neighbouring town, where he spends two or three hours with the Employers' Secretary, using all his wits to manipulate the new prices in such a way as at least to main- tain, if not to increase, the weekly earnings of his members. In the evening he has to be back at the centre of his district, thrashing out, in the long and heated debate of a joint meeting, the difficult question of whose job the work in dispute between the two Unions properly is, and what constitutes a practical line of demarcation between the two trades. Thus he rushes about from day to day, finishing up at night with writing reports on the state of trade, organisation, and other matters to the Executive Committee sitting at the headquarters of his Union.
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He has now been for many years the devoted servant of his fellow-workmen, re-elected at the end of each term to his posl of District Delegate. Upon the removal by resignation or death of the General Secretary he is pressed on all sides to put up for the post. The members of the District Committee, and all the secretaries of the local branches, urge on him his fitness, and the advantages the district will derive from his election as General Secretary. Again a committee of his friends and supporters raises a fund to enable him to travel over the whole country and visit and address all the branches of the Society. Meanwhile the Executive Committee prepares for the election of the new General Secretary. At the removal of the late head officer they at once meet to appoint one of their number to carry on the duties pro tern., and to issue notices asking for nominations for the post (generally confined to members who have been in the Society a certain number of years and are not in arrears with their subscriptions) . Printed lists of candidates are forthwith sent to the branches in sufficient numbers to be distributed to all the members. A ballot-box is placed in the club-room, the election standing over at least two meeting nights in order to allow every member full opportunity to record his vote. The boxes are then sent from the branches to the central office, where the members of the Executive Committee count the papers and declare the result.
Our District Delegate .having been declared duly elected to the post of General Secretary is again compelled to remove. This time it is to one of the great cities London, Manchester, or Newcastle the headquarters of his Society. He is now entitled to a salary ranging from 200 to 300 per annum, and has attained the highest office to which it is in the power of his fellow-tradesmen to appoint him. We will there leave him to enjoy the dignity and influence of the position, to struggle through the laborious routine work of a central office, and to discover the new difficulties and temptations which beset the life of the general officer of a great Trade Union.
The foregoing narrative gives us, in minute detail, the inner life of Trade Union organisation of thirty years ago. But this picture, on the face of it, represents the career of an officer, not a private soldier, in the Trade Union army. Nor must it be supposed that the great majority of the million and a half Trade Unionists rendered, even as privates,
Trade Union Membership 465
any active service in the Trade Union forces. Only in the crisis of some great dispute do we find the branch meetings crowded, or the votes at all commensurate with the total number of members. At other times the Trade Union appears to the bulk of its members either as a political organisation whose dictates they are ready to obey at Parliamentary and other elections, or as a mere benefit club in the management of which they do not desire to take part. In the long intervals of peace during which the con- stitution of the Society is being slowly elaborated, the financial basis strengthened, the political and trade policy determined, less than a half or perhaps even a tenth of the members will actively participate in the administrative and legislative work. Practically the whole of this minority will, at one time or another, serve on branch committees or in such minor offices as steward, trustee, auditor or sick- visitor. These are the members who form the solid nucleus of the branch, always to be relied on to maintain the authority of the committee. From their ranks come the two principal branch officers, the President and the Secre- tary, upon whom the main burden of administration falls. Though never elected for more than one year, these officers frequently remain at their posts for many terms in succes- sion ; and their offices are in any case filled from a narrow circle of the ablest or most experienced members.
Besides the active soldiers in the Trade Union ranks, to be counted by hundreds of thousands, we had therefore, in 1892, a smaller class of non-commissioned officers made up of the Secretaries and Presidents of local Unions, branches and district committees of national societies, and of Trades Councils. Of these we estimate that there were, hi 1892, over 20,000 holding office at any one time. These men form the backbone of the Trade Union world, and constitute the vital element in working-class politics. Dependent for their livelihood on manual labour, they retain to the full the workman's sense of insecurity, privation, and thwarted aspirations. Their own singleness of purpose, the devotion
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with which they serve their fellows in laborious offices with only nominal remuneration, and their ingenuous faith in the indefinite improvement of human nature by education and better conditions of life, all combine to maintain their enthusiasm for every kind of social reform. Thus they are always open to new ideas, provided these are put forward in a practical shape, by men whose character and intelligence they respect. This class of non-commissioned officers it is which has, in the main, proved the progressive element in the Trade Union world, and which actually determines the trend of working-class thought. Nevertheless these men are not the real administrators of Trade Union affairs except in the little local Unions, run by men working at their trade, which are fast disappearing. In the great national and county Unions the branch or lodge officials are strictly bound down by detailed rules, and are allowed practically no opportunity of acting on their own initiative. The actual government of the Trade Union world rests exclusively in the hands of a class apart, the salaried officers of the great societies.
This Civil Service of the Trade Union world, non-existent in 1850, numbered, in 1892, between six and seven hundred. 1 Alike in the modern organisation of industry, and in the machinery of Democratic politics, it was, even in 1892, taking every day a position of greater influence and im- portance. Yet if we may judge from the fact that we have not met with a single description of this new governing
1 We did not include in this figure a large class of men who are indirectly paid officials of Trade Unions, such as the checkweighers among the coal-miners, and the " collectors " among the cotton-weavers, cardroom-workers, etc. The checkweigher, as we have stated (p. 305), is elected and paid weekly wages, not by the members of the Trade Union, but by all the miners in a particular coal-pit. But as Trade Unionism and the election of a checkweigher are practically coincident, he frequently serves as lodge secretary, etc. The collectors employed by certain Trade Unions to go from house to house and collect the members' contributions are remunerated by a percentage on their collections. Though not strictly salaried officials, they serve as Trade Union recruiting agents, as well as intermediaries between members and the central office, for complaints, appeals, and the circulation of information.
The Trade Union Officer 467
class, the character of its influence, and even its existence, had hitherto remained almost unobserved. To understand the part played by this Civil Service, both in the Trade Union Movement and in the modern industrial State, the reader must realise the qualities which the position demands, the temptations to which its holders are exposed, and the duties which they are called upon to perform.
The salaried official of a great Trade Union occupies a unique position. He belongs neither to the middle nor to the working class. The interests which he represents are exclusively those of the manual working class from which he has sprung, and his duties bring him into constant anta- gonism with the brain-working, property-owning class. On the other hand, his daily occupation is that of a brain- worker, and he is accordingly sharply marked off from the typical proletarian, dependent for his livelihood on physical toil.
The promotion of a working man to the position of a salaried brain-worker effects a complete and sudden change in his manner of life. Instead of working every day at a given task, he suddenly finds himself master of his own time, with duties which, though laborious enough, are indefinite, irregular, and easily neglected. The first requisite for his new post is therefore personal self-control. No greater mis- fortune can befall an energetic and public-spirited Trade Unionist, who on occasions takes a glass too much, than to become the salaried officer of his Union. So long as he is compelled, at least nine days out of every fourteen, to put in a hard day's manual work at regular hours, his propensity to drink may not prevent him from being an expert crafts- man and an efficient citizen. Such a man, elected General Secretary or District Delegate, is doomed, almost inevitably, to become an habitual drunkard. Instead of being confined to the factory or the mine, he is now free to come and go at his own will, and drink is therefore accessible to him at all hours. His work involves constant travelling, and frequent waiting about in strange towns, with little choice of resort beyond the public-house. The regular periods of
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monotonous physical exertion are replaced by unaccustomed intellectual strain, irregular hours, and times of anxiety and excitement, during which he will be worried and enticed to drink by nearly every one he meets. And in addition to this the habitual drunkenness of a Trade Union official, though it involves discredit, seldom brings dismissal from his post. No discovery is more astounding to the middle- class investigator than the good-natured tolerance with which a Trade Union will, year after year, re-elect officers who are well known to be hopeless drunkards. The rooted dislike which working men have to "do a man out of his job " is strengthened, in the case of a Trade Union official, by a generous recognition of the fact that his service of his fellows has unfitted him to return to manual labour. More- over, the ordinary member of a Trade Union overlooks the vital importance of skilled and efficient administration. He imagines that the drunkenness and the consequent incom- petency of his General Secretary means only some delay in the routine work of the office, or, at the worst, some small malversation of the Society's funds. So long as the cash keeps right, and the reports appear at regular intervals, it seems never to occur to him that it is for lack of headship that his Society is losing ground in all directions, and for- going, in one week, more than a dishonest Secretary could steal in a year.
Fortunately the almost invariable practice of electing the salaried officials from the ranks of the non-commissioned officers tends to exclude the workman deficient in personal self-control. The evenings and holidays spent in clerical duties for the branch do not attract the free liver, whilst the long apprenticeship in inferior offices gives his fellow-work- men ample opportunity of knowing his habits. Thus we find that the salaried officials of the old-established Unions are usually decorous and even dignified in their personal habits. An increasing number of them are rigid teetotalers, whilst many others resolutely refuse, at the risk of personal unpopularity, all convivial drinking with their members.
The Salaried Official 469
But another danger one which would not immediately have occurred to the middle-class investigator besets the workman who becomes a salaried official of his Union. The following extract, taken from the graphic narrative we have already quoted, explains how it appears to a thought- ful artisan :
And now begins a change which may possibly wreck his whole Trade Union career. As Branch Secretary, working at his trade, our friend, though superior in energy and ability to the rank and file of his members, remained in close touch with their feelings and desires. His promotion to a salaried office brings him wider knowledge and larger ideas. To the ordinary Trade Unionist the claim of the workman is that of Justice. He believes, almost as a matter of principle, that in any dispute the capitalist is in the wrong and the workman in the right. But when, as a District Delegate, it becomes his business to be perpetually investigating the exact circumstances of the men's quarrels, negotiating with employers, and arranging compromises, he begins more and more to recognise that there is something to be urged on the other side. There is also an unconscious bias at work. Whilst the points at issue no longer affect his own earnings or conditions of employ- ment, any disputes between his members and their employers increase his work and add to his worry. The former vivid sense of the privations and subjection of the artisan's life gradually fades from his mind ; and he begins more and more to regard all com- plaints as perverse and unreasonable.
With this intellectual change may come a more invidious transformation. Nowadays the salaried officer of a great Union is courted and nattered by the middle class. He is asked to dine with them, and will admire their well-appointed houses, their fine carpets, the ease and luxury of their lives. Possibly, too, his wife begins to be dissatisfied. She will point out how So-and-so, who served his apprenticeship in the same shop, is now well-off, and steadily making a fortune ; and she reminds her husband that, had he worked half as hard for himself as he has for others, he also might now be rich, and living in comfort without fear of the morrow. He himself sees the truth of this. He knows many men who, with less ability and energy than himself, have, by steady pursuit of their own ends, become foremen, managers, or even small employers, whilst he is receiving only 2 or 4 a
470 The Trade Union World
week without any chance of increase. And so the remarks of his wife and her relations, the workings of his own mind, the increase of years, a growing desire to be settled in life and to see the future clear before him and his children, and perhaps also a little envy of his middle-class friends, all begin insidiously, silently, unknown even to himself, to work a change in his views of life. He goes to live in a little villa in a lower middle-class suburb. The move leads to his dropping his workmen friends ; and his wife changes her acquaintances. With the habits of his new neighbours he insensibly adopts more and more of their ideas. Gradually he finds himself at issue with his members, who no longer agree to his proposals with the old alacrity. All this comes about by degrees, neither party understanding the cause. He attributes the breach to the influences of a clique of malcontents, or perhaps to the wild views held by the youngei generation. They think him proud and " stuck-up," over- cautious and even apathetic in trade affairs. His manner to his members, and particularly to the unemployed who call for donation, undergoes a change. He begins to look down upon them all as " common workmen " ; but the unemployed he scorns as men who have made a failure of their lives ; and his scorn is probably undisguised. This arouses hatred. As he walks to the office in his tall hat and good overcoat, with a smart umbrella, curses not loud but deep are muttered against him by members loitering in search of work, and as these get jobs in other towns they spread stories of his arrogance and haughtiness. So gradually he loses the sj^mpathy and support of those upon whom his position depends. At last the climax comes. A great strike threatens to involve the Society in desperate war. Un- consciously biased by distaste for the hard and unthankful work which a strike entails, he finds himself in small sympathy with the men's demands, and eventually arranges a compromise on terms distasteful to a large section of his members. The gathering storm-cloud now breaks. At his next appearance before a general meeting cries of " treachery " and " bribery " are raised. Alas ! it is not bribery. Not his morality but his intellect is corrupted. Secure in the consciousness of freedom from out- ward taint, he faces the meeting boldly, throws the accusation back in their faces, and for the moment carries his point. But his position now becomes rapidly unbearable. On all sides he finds suspicion deepening into hatred. The members, it is true, re-elect him to his post ; but they elect at the same time an Execu-
Out of Harmony 471
tive Committee pledged to oppose him in every way. 1 All this time he still fails to understand what has gone wrong, and prob- ably attributes it to the intrigues of jealous opponents eager for his place. Harassed on all sides, distrusted and thwarted by his Executive Committee, at length he loses heart. He looks out for some opening of escape, and finally accepting a small appoint- ment, lays down his Secretaryship with heartfelt relief and disappears for ever from the Trade Union world.
The Trade Union official who became too genteel for his post was, like the habitual drunkard, an exception. The average Secretary or District Delegate was too shrewd to get permanently out of touch with his constituents. Never- theless the working man who became a salaried officer had to pick his way with considerable care between the dangers attendant on the rdle of boon companion and those in- separable from the more reputable but more hated character of the superior person. To personal self-control he had to add strength and independence of character, a real devotion to the class from which he had sprung, and a sturdy con- tempt for the luxury and " gentility " of those with whom he was brought in contact. All this remains as true to-day as it was in 1892, but the general advance in education and sobriety, and the steady tendency towards an assimilation of manners among all classes, render the contrasts of the social nineteenth century daily less marked. The Trade Union official of 1920 finds it much easier to maintain a position of self-respecting courtesy both among his own members and among the employers, officials, and middle- class politicians with whom he is brought in contact.
We break off now to describe, in the following chapters, the development of the Trade Union Movement from 1890 to 1920, and to discuss some of its outstanding features.
1 We have here another instance of the deeply rooted objection on the part of workmen to " sack " their officials. A Society will make the life of an unpopular official unbearable, and will thwart him in every direction ; but so long as he hangs on he has a safe berth.