Craft unionism and industrial change : a study of the National Union of Vehicle Builders until 1939
This thesis is about how the members of a long-established multi-craft union, originating in the coachmaking trade, coped with the massive changes in the means of transport, culminating in the dominance of mass production motor car firms. Part I explores changes in the nineteenth and early twentieth century with the rise of railways and motor cars. In both, some coachmaking skills were made redundant, while others were very necessary. The rise of the motor industry, far from destroying coachmaking unionism, wrenched it out of a long period of stagnation. Part II focusses on the interwar period, which witnessed major changes in car body production. Brush painting and varnishing was. replaced by cellulose spraying; wooden framed bodies were replaced by all-steel ones; assembly lines came into use, and the division of labour greatly increased, with large numbers of semi-skilled workers employed in the biggest firms. Analysis of the main technical changes, and the changing state of the car industry, shows that, despite massive unemployment among its members, and a membership decline of over one third, in the early 1930s, the RUVB did not suffer "technological unemployment". Although there was a material basis for craft unionism in much of the car body industry in the 1920s, and in the rest of vehicle building during the whole interwar period, the union still tried to organise semi-skilled workers. But when an "Industrial Section" was created in 1931, it was a response to the union's financial crisis caused by unemployment payments, and no serious recruitment of mass production operatives took place. The contrasting experiences in Coventry and Oxford in the 1920s and 1930s are analysed in detail. The study is not a conventional head office-based union history, instead favouring case studies of the organisation of work, technical developments, industrial structure, and local union organisation.