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Title: The Amalgamated Society of Engineers, 1880-1914 : a study of trade union government, politics, and industrial policy
Author: Weekes, Brian C. M.
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 1970
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In 1880 the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) consisted of largely autonomous local trade societies seeking unilaterally to regulate the terns and conditions under which engineering craftsmen were employed. The Executive Council (which spent most of its time administering the system of centralised benefits) consisted of part-time members drawn from, and elected by, the London members. In 1892 the first full-time Executive Council was elected as part of a general reform of the Society's government; the reforms did not change the A. S. E. 's craft character rather they were designed to improve the execution of traditional policies. As the climax of a long campaign for the eight-hour day the Executive Council called a strike of its London members in 1897. The ensuing dispute, which the Employers extended to all districts, lasted thirty weeks, and was ended on the terms laid down by the recently formed Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF). Under the terms of settlement the A. S. E. accepted a procedure for avoiding disputes and Management's right to prerogative over matters Which previously it had claimed unilateral control. The Society disaffiliated from the T. U. C. because of the Parliamentary Committee's failure to tobilize trade union support for the engineers eight-hour struggle. Affiliation was made to the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) in the false hope that this Federation would augment the A. S. E. 'a industrial strength. It is convenient to discuss the A. S. E. 's reaction to the 1897-98 defeat and its consequences under headings which indicate the main themes. Technical change From the mid-1880's something approaching a revolution occurred in machine technology based upon improved high speed steels. The establishment of the EEF and the sustained attack upon craft methods of production can be largely explained by the employers' determination to fully exploit the new technology. Government Constitutional authority within the A. S. E. was divided between the Executive Council, a lay Delegate Meeting, and a lay Final Appeal Court. There was no policy making body. The Society was governed according to the rule book which was unaffected by the terms under which the 1697-98 dispute was settled. Consequently it was difficult for the Executive Council to develop collective bargaining and to restrain district committees, from acting in breach of the agreement, but within the rules of the Society. Both the Delegate Meeting and the Final Appeal Court tended to defend local as against central decision making authority. The Executive Council's action in 1903, withdrawing benefit from members of the Clyde striking against a wages reduction, led to a serious weakening in their authority. Three Executive Councilmen were defeated when seeking re-election, the Final Appeal Court partially over-ruled the Executive's benefit decision, and the 1904 Delegate Meeting limited the Council's right to intervene in district matters. In 1912 after a complicated dispute the Delegate Meeting dismissed the Executive Council from office. This assertion of authority by a rank and file body was not overtly influenced by syndicalist ow industrial unionist ideas. Industrial Policy The Executive Ceuneil intermittently and uncertainly tried to develep collective bargaining to replace lest unilateral regulation while powerful district committees attempted to retain their previous methods of operation. In 1902 the Executive concluded the Carlisle agreement for controlling the introduction of the premium bonus. This proved to be an unpopular agreement and probably discredited collective bargaining. The Executive elected in 1913, to replace the one dismissed by the 1912 Delegate Meeting, after a ballot vote of members, ended the Carlisle Agreement and the general agreement with the EEF. Eventually the York memorandum was approved by the members, which although it incorporated provisions which speeded up the procedure for avoiding disputes, continued those aspects which to many ASE members, were the humiliating terms under which the Society had been defeated. After 1898 with the Society formally precluded from negotiations on management matters an informal system of work place, industrial relations began to develop based upon district committees and the widespread appointment of shop stewards. Polities During these years the A. S. E. became involved in politics for the first time. All ballets on political questions were very small. The A. S. E. affiliated to the Labour Party but neither the Independent Labour Party (ILP) nor the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) were active within the Society. George Barnes (General Secretary 1896-1908) was an influential supporter of the Socialist trade union alliance upon which the Labour Party was established. In 1914 the A. S. E. members voted against raising a political levy under the 1913 trade union act. From the turn of the century most officials and active members supported the Labour Party and it was sometimes argued that the Society's problems (which were industrial) could be solved by political action. How, was never clear. The developing sympathy among A. S. E. members for a view of trade union democracy which favoured control exercised through district or workshop organisation casts some light on the development of the shop stewards movement during the War.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: DA Great Britain ; HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform