A study of the problem of work effort in British industry, 1850 to 1920
The thesis investigates the factors determining the effort put forth by industrial workers in Britain during the second half of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth. Why was so much energy and of such kinds put into work, and neither more nor less? What was the contribution of culture and institutions? And in which ways, if any, did the conduct of labour change over time? Labour effort contributes significantly to productivity differentials, between factories and across nations, and its study thus sheds light on that slackening of Britain's economic performance which historians have detected in the late Victorian period. Yet it is, additionally, a subject of interest in its own right. Work was the preponderating element in a man's daily experience, and much of the wide range of factory life found reflection in the matter of how hard he laboured and in what way. Indeed it is the contention of this thesis that an explanation of the level and forms of effort in the late nineteenth century must make reference to the workshop environment and its associated customs and social relationships. These arguments are illustrated by detailed studies of the shoe and flint-glass trades. Despite obvious contrasts between these industries, important similarities are found to exist in the issues surrounding labour effort. In both industries operatives limited output; shoe and glass employers alike contributed to the failure to fully realise the productive potential of their establishments; the social equilibrium of both industries was subject to mounting competition from overseas - a challenge compounded in the shoe trade by rapid technical change; and in each case these disruptive tendencies eventuated in industrial confrontations which, however apparently successful for employers, left the fundamental characteristics of industrial organisation unchanged. These themes were common, not merely to glass and shoe manufacture, but to a range of major industries. The culture of output limitation was, we conclude, widespread in industry in this period, and emerged from similar reasons out of similar contexts.