Craft regulation and the division of labour : engineers and compositors in Britain, 1890-1914
This thesis deals with the struggles of two groups of skilled workers in late 19th century Britain, engineers and compositors, to defend their position in the division of labour in the face of pressures towards technical and organisational change. Its principal concern is to trace and explain the divergent long-run experiences of these two occupational groups, focusing particularly on the period 1890-1914. The thesis opens with a critical review of the dominant theoretical approaches to the division of labour. Their tendency to deduce the evolution of the division of labour from a unilinear model of capitalist development, it is argued, renders them incapable of providing an adequate account of such central phenomena as the ongoing complexity of the distribution of skills in the labour force and the impact of industrial conflict on the division of labour itself. Elements of an alternative approach offering a more satisfactory relationship between theory and empirical cases are sketched out; their practical fecundity is explored in the body of the thesis. The body of the thesis is divided into three parts. Part I focuses on the relations between skilled workers and employers in engineering and printing before major waves of mechanisation in the 1890s, highlighting those structural features which conditioned both the forms and outcomes of conflicts over technical change in each case. Accordingly, the characteristics of market structure, the division of labour, and trade union and employer organisation are analysed for both industries. The principal conclusion of this section is that craft regulation had been eroded to a considerable extent in both industries by employers' attempts to cheapen and intensify skilled labour within the framework of the existing division of labour. Part II presents a primarily narrative account of the conflicts sparked off by a major wave of technical and organisational change in the two industries during the 1890s, together with the extent of their resolution up to 1914. The early success of compositors in capturing control of mechanical typesetting is contrasted with the employers' victory over similar issues in the 1897-8 engineering lockout. These variations in craftsmen's ability to capture new technology placed the two trades on divergent paths in relation to their future position in the division of labour. The remainder of this section examines engineering employers' failure fully to transform the division of labour before 1914, together with the progressive consolidation of craft regulation by the typographical unions. Part III explores the long-term outcomes for the position of skilled workers in the division of labour, taking account of developments in the inter-war years, which it is argued confirm the divergent fates of the two groups. The concluding chapter attempts to identify the central structural forces conditioning the differences in the outcomes in the two cases, and to balance their importance against that of the strategic choices of the historical actors. The thesis as a whole highlights the role of conflict between skilled workers and employers in determining the consequences of technical and organisational change for the position of craftsmen in the division of labour within the limits set by market forces and technology. The outcomes of industrial conflict are in turn traced back to Variations in the balance of forces between skilled workers and employers, emphasising the impact of market structure and the preexisting division of labour for the bargaining power and solidarity of each group. At the same time, it is argued that structural factors conditioned but did not determine the actual pattern of alliances formed by workers and employers, which depended in large measure on an essentially political process influenced by specific historical conjunctures, past experiences of conflict and cooperation, and the strategic choices of each group of actors.