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Artisan or Labour Aristocrat? Author(s): E. J. Hobsbawm Reviewed work(s): Source: The Economic Histor y
Artisan or Labour Aristocrat? Author(s): E. J. Hobsbawm Reviewed work(s): Source: The Economic Histor y

Artisan or Labour Aristocrat? Author(s): E. J. Hobsbawm Reviewed work(s):

Source: The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Aug., 1984), pp. 355-372 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Economic History Society

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The lecture which I have the honour of giving today is not intended as a continuation of the debate on the labour aristocracy, which has been gathering pace and impetus in recent years.1 In this sense the question-mark at the end of the title is deceptive: there will be no direct answer to the question whether the concept of a labour aristocracy is useful, what this stratum consisted of, or how it developed. Of course, such an answer is unnecessary for the group on which I want to concentrate today, namely the skilled workers usually known in the nineteenth century as "artisans", since as a group they, or certainly their organized sector, would certainly have considered themselves a privileged stratum or aristocracyof labour. Conver- sely, insofar as there was a model of the "labour aristocrat"in the minds of the many who used this term, or equivalent terms, in the nineteenth century, it was almost certainly that of the skilled artisan, separatedby an abyss from the "labourer". Whatever may have been the case elsewhere, in the world of the tradesman"accordingto workshop etiquette-and nowhere is professional etiquette more sternly insisted upon than among the handicrafts-all who are not mechanics are labourers."2 However, while I believe that my observations have some bearing on the debate about a labour aristocracy, my argument does not depend on any particular position in that debate. It is essentially an argument about the fortunes and transformationsof the skilled manual wage-worker in the first industrial nation. His characteristics, values, interests and, indeed, protective devices, had their roots deep in the pre-industrial past of the "crafts" which provided the model even for skilled trades which could not have existed before the industrial revolution, such as the Journeymen Steam-Engine Makers. Skilled labour continued to bear the marks of this past until well into the twentieth century; in some respects it survived strongly until World War II. It is now generally accepted that the British industrial economy in its prime relied extensively, and often fundamentally, on skilled hand-labour with or without the aid of powered machinery. It did so for reasons of technology, insofar as manual skill could not yet be dispensed with; for reasons of productive organization, because skilled labour supplemented and partly replaced design, technological expert- ise, and management; and, more fundamentally, for reasons of business rationality. So long as it did not stand in the way of making satisfactoryprofits, the heavy costs of replacing it, or incidental to its replacement, did not seem

* A revisedversionof the TawneyMemorialLecture,ig83. 1 Muchof thislectureis basedon theresearch,stilllargelyunpublishedin print,of a numberof younger labourhistorians.Amongthemreadersfamiliarwith the fieldwill recognizemy debt to Nina Fishman, GarethStedmanJones, WayneLewchuk,Keith McLelland,Joe Melling,AlastairReid, RichardPrice and JonathanZeitlin.

2 Anon., WorkingMen and Womenby a WorkingMan (i879),


p. 62.





to be justifiedby the prospectsof the profitsto be made withoutit. This

applied not only to special cases like


madefrombuildingone riverboatthanfromproducing6,ooo cars.3Unlike the USA, skilled manuallabourwas not in short supply. And the major incentiveto replaceit, namelythe mass productionof standardizedgoods, wasunusuallyweakorpatchyin theBritishhomemarketuntilthelastdecades of the century,whilethe commandingpositionof Britishgoodson the world market,or morepreciselyin the marketsof whattodaywouldbe calledthe "thirdworld"andthe white empire,kept old methodsof productionviable. Moreover,it maybe suggestedthat, in termsof moneywages,Britishskilled labourwas probablynot expensive.It may well have chargedless than the trafficcould have borne. The Britishskilledworkerthus occupieda crucialpositionof considerable strength,andthe longerhe occupiedandexploitedit, the moretroublesome and expensiveit would be to dislodge him. Skill could indeed have been toppled.Skilledmenweredefeatedin pitchedandapparentlydecisivebattles

Fleet Street. Sir AndrewNoble of

doubt correctly,that there was more money to be

between the early i83os

Yet what followed in the i85os and i86os was, in most industries, a tacit

system of arrangementsand accommodationsbetweenmastersand skilled labour which satisfied both sides. The position of the skilled men was reinforcedto such an extentthat the much moresystematiclaterattemptto displacethemby a new andmoresophisticatedmechanizationandby "scien- tific management"also largely failed. The nineteenth-centuryartisanwas indeed doomed. Except on some small if crucialpatchesof the industrial economy,andin the undergrowthof the blackeconomy,he-for evenin our

days it is very rarelya she-no

does Britishindustry. The historyof the artisanis thus a dramain five acts:the firstsets him in his pre-industrialheritage,the second deals with his strugglesin the early industrialperiod,the thirdwithhis mid-Victorianglories,the fourthwithhis successfulresistanceto renewedattack.The lastseeshis gradualbutfarfrom smoothdeclineand fall since the end of the firstpost-warboom.

and the early i85os-even

the powerful engineers.

longercounts for much. But then, neither


I shallbeginwitha simpleobservation.In mostEuropeanlanguagesthe word

artisanor its equivalent,used withoutqualification,is automaticallytakento meansomethinglike an independentcraftsmanor smallmaster,or someone


allytakento referto a skilledwage-worker,or indeedsometimesinitially(as in Gaskell'sArtisansand Machinery)to any wage-worker.In short, artisan traditionsandvaluesin this countrybecameproletarianized,as nowhereelse. The termartisanitself is perhapsmisleading.It belongslargelyto the world

3 J. Zeitlin,'The LabourStrategiesof BritishEngineeringEmployers,i890-I922'

in H. C. Gospeland

C. Littler, eds. ManagementStrategyand IndustrialRelations:An Historicaland ComparativeSurvey (i983).

My referenceis to p. 20 of the originalpaperat the SSRCConferenceon BusinessandLabourHistory, 23 Marchi98i.






of nineteenth-century social and political discourse, probably entering the public vocabulary in the course of the ill-fated campaigns, almost the last collective endeavoursof both craftmastersand journeyman-the latteralready vastly predominating-for putting life back into the Elizabethan labour code at the end of the Napoleonic wars. The term seems rarelyto be used for social description or classificationin the eighteenth century. The actual word almost universallyused in working class circles is "tradesman".While in nineteenth- century middle-class usage it came to mean almost without exception a, generally small, retailer (a man who was "in trade"), in working-class usage

it retained, and perhaps among older men still retains, the ancient craft usage of the man who "has a trade": here language and the differentiation of the

estate of artificers into those who make and those who

may note in passing that while "being in trade" develops connotations of contempt or deference, "having a trade", at least for those who have it or compare themselves to its possessors, maintains its connotations of self- satisfaction and pride. As the word "master" shows an analogous development, becoming in nineteenth-century usage a synonym for "employer", so conversely "journey- man" becomes synonymous with a wage-working tradesman. Indeed, in the dawn of industrialization it was sometimes used for any wage-worker. Trade societies and trade unions, in which the name of the old artisanate survives, are now not only bodies of traditional crafts like hatters or brushmakers, but unprecedented ones like journeymen steam-engine makers and boilermakers. While unions gradually dropped the word "journeyman" from their titles, the word itself continued as a description of the skilled man, no longer in contrast to the "masters"in his trade, but ratherin contrastto the apprentices whose numbers he sought to control, and especially the "labourers" or "handymen" against whom he defended his job monopoly. Nineteenth- century class differentiation and stratification is thus deeply rooted in the vocabulary, and hence the congealed memories, of the pre-industrial craft world. What is more, the term "the trade" becomes essentially identified with the skilled workers who practise it. "The men of every trade speak of their trade among themselves as 'the trade'."4 "In connexion with labour affairs" says an early twentieth-century labour dictionary, "this term denotes either (I) a specific craft or occupation in the field of manual employment, or (2) the collective body of workers engaged at a single specific craft or occupation."5 Indeed, "the trade" may actually become a synonym for the union. Thus as late as World War II we find a cooper's apprentice, outraged by seeing a labourer doing skilled work, successfully threatening the boss to bring the matter to the attention of "the trade", if he is not told to stop.6 I do not wish to labour the linguistic point, though the question of language is significant and would repay systematic research. At all events, it is clear that not only the vocabulary and institutions of pre-industrial craft organiza- tion passed over to the working class almost en bloc,but the basic Victorian

sell, go together. We

4 WorkingMen and Women,p. I02.

5 Waldo R. Browne, What's What in the Labor Movement:A Dictionary of Labor Affairs and Labor

Terminology(New York, I92I),

p. 497.

6 Bob Gilding,TheJourneymenCoopersof East London(Oxford,I971), pp. 56-7.





classificatory distinction within the working classes also derived from craft tradition. It is common ground that the Victorian division of workers into either "artisans"(or some similar term such as "mechanics") and "labourers" was unrealistic, and had always been descriptively inadequate. Yet it was very generally accepted, and not only by skilled workers, as representing a real dichotomy, which caused no majorclassificatoryproblems until the expansion of groups which could not be realistically fitted into either pigeon-hole, or neglected, and who, from the i89os, came to be known vaguely as "semi- skilled".7 From the masters' point of view it represented the difference between all other labour and skilled labour, i.e. "all such as requires a long period of service, whether under a definite contract or agreement, and in a single firm, or with no such agreement, the learner moving about from firm to firm."8 This was also essentially the men's definition.9 From the men's point of view it representedthe qualitativesuperiorityof the skill so learned-the professionalism of craftsmanship-and simultaneously of its status and rewards. The apprenticed journeyman was the ideal type of labour aristocrat, not only because his work called for skill and judgement, but because a "trade" provided a formal, ideally an institutionalized, line of demarcation separating the privileged from the unprivileged. It did not much matter that formal apprenticeship was, almost certainly, not the most important gateway to many trades. George Howell estimated in i877 that less than io per cent of union members were properly apprenticed.10 They included as firm a pillar of the crafts as Robert Applegarth, secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners [ASCJ]. The basic fact was that good fitters-even good carpentersand bricklayers,who were much more vulnerable to interloping-were not made in a day or a month. So long as genuine skill was indispensable, artisans-the kind who would never be out of a job if jobs were going-were less insecure than has been sometimes suggested. What they had to protect themselves against was not so much labourers or even handymen who could immediately take over their jobs, but a long-term oversupply of trained tradesmen-and of course the insecurity of both trade cycle and life cycle. In many trades-e.g. in engineering-the risk of an uncontrolled generation of a reserve army of tradesmen was small, though in some of the building trades, with their large influx of country- trained men, it was significant. Such, then, were the artisans we are dealing with. I may note in passing that they are not to be confused with the so-called "intelligent artisan" of the mid-Victorian debates on parliamentaryreform, or of Thomas Wright, that "hero of a thousand footnotes", to quote Alastair Reid. Artisans were indeed apt to be more adequately schooled than most non-artisansand, as the history of most labour movements shows, far more apt than the rest to occupy responsible and leading positions. Even in the I950S skilled workers provided


B. Dearle, IndustrialTraining:WithSpecial Referenceto the ConditionsPrevailing in London(I914),

Pp. 3I-2.

8 Ibid. p. 9 RoyalCommissiononLabour(P.P.i892


XXXVI/i) GroupA, Q. i6064.

Evidenceof J. Cronin,Secretary

of the AssociatedMillmenof Scotland. 10GeorgeHowell, 'TradeUnions, Apprenticesand TechnicalEducation',ContemporaryReviewxxx









the same proportion of full-time union officials-about 95 per cent-in former craft unions with a heavy admixture of the semi-skilled, as in unions still described as skilled unions.11 Yet, as Thomas Wright correctly observed, the reading artisans with intellectual interests-at least in England-were a minority among their mates whose tastes did not differ notably from the rest of the proletariat.12An analysis of a sample of what might be considered "intelligent artisans" by definition confirms the point. In the first three years' intake of the London Mechanics' Institution such groups as, say, hatters, coopers, and shipwrights were grossly under-represented, though they would scarcely have considered themselves less skilled, or lower in the artisanal pecking-order than, say, the somewhat over-represented wood-working trades.13 The truth, confirmed by later attendance statistics at evening schools14 is that some trades found it professionally more useful to make written calculations and use or produce designs than others, and therefore tended to be more studious. We may therefore safely leave the "intelligent artisan" to one side. What did they derive from their pre-industrial craft heritage? Academics should have no difficulty in grasping the assumptions behind the thinking and action of corporate crafts, since we largely continue to act upon those assumptions ourselves. A craft consisted of all those who had acquired the peculiar skills of a more or less difficult trade, by means of a specific process of education, completed by tests and assessments guaranteeing adequate knowledge and performance of the trade. In return such persons expected the right to conduct their trade and to make what they considered a decent living corresponding to its value to society and to their social status. It is quite easy to translate this last requirement into the terms of market economics, and indeed much of what the crafts did served to restrict entry to the trade, to exclude competition by outsiders (possessing their own trade or not) and to restrict output and labour supply in such a manner as to keep the average income at the required level. In our days market economics have indeed taken over, but the basic assumptions of crafts had only a peripheralrelation to the discourse of business schools. They spoke the ancient language of a properly structured social order, or, in E. P. Thompson's terms, a "moral economy":

The obviousintentionof our ancestorsin enactingthe Statute(of Artificers) was to producea competentnumberand perpetualsuccessionof mastersand journeymen,of practicalexperience,to promote,secureandrenderpermanentthe prosperityof the nationalarts and manufactures,honestlywroughtby theirability and talents[my emphasis],inculcatedby a mechanicaleducation.

And this in turn meant that they had "an unquestionable







quiet and exclusive enjoyment of their several and respective arts and trades which the law has already conferred upon them as a property."'15That labour

H. A. Clegg,A. J. Killick,Rex Adams,TradeUnionOfficers(Oxford,i96i),

p. 50.

12 Cf. AlastairReid, 'IntelligentArtisansandAristocratsof Labour:The Essaysof ThomasWright'in

Jay Winter, ed. The WorkingClass in ModernBritishHistory:Essaysin Honourof HenryPelling (Cambridge,




13 The Registersof the Institutionarepreservedin BirkbeckCollege,Universityof London,to which

I am obligedfor access.

14 N. B. Dearle,Industrial Training, pp. 566-7.

15 'Reportof the Committeeon the Petitionof the Watchmakers,i8I7',

citedin A. E. Bland,P. A.

Brown,R. H. Tawney,eds. English EconomicHistory: Select Documents(I914),

pp. 588-go.





was the working man's "property" and to be treated as such, was, of course,

a commonplace of contemporary radical political debate.

Conversely, the duty to work properly, was assumed and accepted: the London Operative Tinplate Workers who left their job, were obliged to return to complete any unfinished work, or to pay for it to be completed, on pain of fine by their Society.16 In short, the trade was not so much a way of making money, but rather the income it provided was the recognition by society and its constituted authorities of the value of decent work decently done by bodies of respectable men properly skilled in the tasks which society needed. The ideal, and indeed the expected, situation was one in which the authorities left or conferred these rights on the body of the trade, but in which the trade collectively ensured the best ways in which they were carried out and safe- guarded. In the classical, or if you prefer the ideal-typical, corporate crafts of the

pre-industrial period,

hands of the craft masters, whose enterprises formed the basic units of the collectivity, as well as of its educational and reproductive system. It is clear

that artisan interests represented essentially by hired workers would be formulated rather differently. It is less evident that a "trade" so identified would not be the same as a self-contained stratum of craft journeymen within a craft economy, even when organized in specific journeymen's gilds, brotherhoods or other associations. The difference between the latter type of organization and the British "trade society", which developed directly into the craft union, deserves more analysis than it has received, though some recent work has advanced it significantly. It has been suggested that such forms of collective journeymanaction tended to stress "honour"and the social prestige of the journeymen outside,and often at the expense of, their economic interests, often by a sort of hypertrophy of symbolic practices such as the well-known journeymen rituals, fights and riots.17 All we need note here is that this road of journeyman development-which has no British parallel, so far as I know-could not easily lead directly into trade unionism.

this regulation and safeguarding was essentially in



The economic interests of wage-workerswere clearlyfundamentalin British journeyman trades' organizations even before the industrial revolution. That

is to say, they were designed to safeguard them against the primary life risks

to manual workers, namely accident, sickness and old age, loss of time, underemployment, periodic unemployment, and competition from a labour surplus.18 Whereas the core of German or French journeyman collectivity was to be found outside the workshop-in the institutionalized period of travel, the journeymen's hostel or lodging-house where the rituals of initiation took place-the essential locus of the British apprentice's socialization into

16 A. Kidd, History of the Tin-Plate Workersand Sheet-Metal Workersand Braziers Societies (I949),



17 Cf. Andreas Griessinger, Das symbolischeKapital der Ehre: Streikbewegungenund kollektivesBewus- stseindeutscherHandwerksgesellenim i8. Jahrhundert(Berlin,i98i), for an extensivediscussion.

18 Iorwerth Prothero, Artisansand Politics in Early Nineteenth-CenturyLondon:John Gast and His Times

(Folkestone, I979),








thewaysof the journeymanwaspatentlytheworkplace.Therehe was"taught both by the preceptand the exampleof his mates, that he must respectthe tradeandits writtenandunwrittenlaws, andthatin anymatteraffectingthe tradegenerallyhe mustsacrificepersonalinterest,or privateopinion,to what the tradehas rightly or wronglyruled for the generalgood."19There was thus no cleardistinctionbetweenthe "customof the trade"as traditionor ritualizedpractice,and as the rationaleof collectiveactionof workerson the job or the sanctionof concessionswon by it. Thus some formalizedrituals could be allowedto atrophywithoutweakeningthe forceof the "customof the trade". The basic journeymaninstitutions,as Prothero'sArtisanPoliticsshows, were the friendlybenefitsociety, the house of call, the trampingsystem- whichgave artisansa nation-widedimension-and apprenticeship.To these researchhas rightlyinsistedwe must add the unorganized,yet by no means totallyinformal,workgroupin the shop or on the site.20 They protectedthe interestsof hiredmen-yet it mustneverbe forgotten thatthis was seen to be "thetrade",composedessentiallyof hiredmen, that is to say a specificbody of respectableand honourablemen defendingtheir "craft",i.e. their right to independence,respect, and a decent livelihood which society owed them in returnfor the properperformanceof socially essentialtasks which requiredtheir educationin skill and experience.The "rightto a trade"in the originalconstitutionof the ASEwascomparedto the right belongingto the holderof a doctor'sdiploma.21The qualificationfor the job was identicalwith the rightto exerciseit. The artisan'ssense of independencewas, of course,basedon morethana moral imperative.It was based on the justifiedbelief that his skill was indispensableto production;indeedonthebeliefthatit wastheonlyindispens- able factor of production.Hence the artisan'sobjectionto the capitalism which,in theearlynineteenthcentury,increasinglydeniedthemoraleconomy whichgavethe tradestheirmodestbut respectedplace, was not so much to workingmasters,whomtheyhadlongknown,orto machineryassuch,which could be seen as an extensionof handtools, but to the capitalistseen as an unproductiveandparasiticmiddleman.Masterswho belongedto the "useful classes"both insofaras-to quote Hodgskin-"they are labourersas well as theirjourneymen"andinsofarastheywereneeded"todirectandsuperintend labour,andto distributeits produce"22werefine:only, unfortunately,"they are also"-Hodgskin again-"capitalists or agentsof capitalists,and in this respecttheirinterestis decidedlyopposedto the interestsof theirworkmen". Smallmastersraisedno problemat all, andindeedcouldoftenbe, or remain,

19 ThomasWright,Some Habits of the WorkingClasses (i867), p. I02. Galtonin S. andB. Webb,Historyof Trade Unionism(i894), pp. 43I-2,

attached to the workplace, John Dunlop, Artificialand CompulsoryDrinking Usages of the UnitedKingdom

(7th edn. i844), passim.

See alsothe accountby F. W. and,forthe importanceof rituals

20 See R. Price, Masters, Unions and Men: WorkControlin Building and theRise of Labour(Cambridge,

1g80), ch. 2, for references.

21 "Itis ourdutythento exercisethe samecontroloverthatin whichwe havea vestedinterest,as the physicianwhoholdshis diploma,or the authorwho is protectedby his copyright."Prefaceto the Rules

of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, i85I, cited in J. B. Jefferys, ed. Labour'sFormativeYears(I948),

p. 30.

22 Cited in G. Stedman Jones, Languagesof Class (Cambridge, i983), pp. I36-7.





members of unions. The theoretical foundations of early socialism, misnamed "utopian", are to be found in this attitude. Essentially it envisaged the elimination of competition and the capitalist by means of co-operativeproduc- tion by artisans. Prothero has shown how artisanswho began simply by trying to defend or re-establish the old "moral economy" could find themselves driven, under the pressure of the economic transformations of the early nineteenth century, to envisage a new and revolutionaryway of re-establishing the moral social order as they saw it, and in so doing to become social innovators and revolutionaries. And Prothero has also, rightly, drawn atten- tion to the fact that in this respect the evolution of the British journeyman artisans runs parallel with that of the continental, or rather French, ones.23 Both tended to become politically active as artisans and in doing so to transform themselves into the "working classes" or essential sectors of these. Yet there is a vital difference. Utopian socialism, or rather mutualism and producers' cooperation, became and long remained the core of French socialism. But in Britain, in spite of occasional surges of popularity and an attraction for journeymen cadres, cooperative socialism was always a periph- eral phenomenon, on the way to oblivion even as Chartismswept the country, the first mass working-class movement, in which journeymen artisans, like all others under economic pressure, took their share. Socialism declined in the Britain of the i840s, as it rose on the continent. Whatever the reasons for this difference-and they remain to be fully explained-they will probably have to be sought partly in the political conditions of the country, but chiefly in the very advance of the British capitalist economy over the rest, which already made an economy of small commodity producers, individual or collective, somewhat implausible or economically marginal. Journeymen were workers. They lived in a world of employers. Characteristically, the only form of cooperation which proved to have genuine appeal from the start was that which sought to replace an economic sector of small independents, namely the co-op shop.


Thus the tradesman had no difficulty in coming to terms with an economy of industrial capitalism, once that economy decided to accept his modest claims to skill, respect and relative privilege, and plainly offered expanding opportunities and material improvement. And this clearly came to be the case in the i85os and i86os. Their position may be symbolized in the anniversary dinner of the Cardiff branch of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners in i867, in the Masons Arms, nicelydecoratedwithevergreensetc. andovertheheadof thepresident'schairwas

a design portrayingthe friendshipexistingbetweenemployerand workman,by their cordiallyshakinghands. This iconographic theme appears frequently at the time.24 In the backgroundwas representedthe commerceof all nationsandin the corner

23 Prothero,Artisans,pp. 337-8.Fora clearstatement,seeWilliamH. SewellJr., WorkandRevolution

in France: The Language of Laborfrom the Old Regime to i848 (Cambridge, i980),



24 See the descriptionof bannersin W. A. Moyes,TheBannerBook(Gateshead,I974).






werebustsof ancientphilosophersetc. This designborethe followinginscription:

"Successto honourablecompetition"and"theprosperityandwealthof nationsare due to science, industryand a just balanceof all interests."25

It would be an error to suppose that such sentiments were incompatible with going on strike. It may be worth noting, as Richard Price reminds us, that if the artisan certainly required collective organization, his collective force is normally not yet to be measured by the membership of trade unions. The general assumption, by Mayhew and others, was that "society men" represented perhaps io per cent of all but exceptional trades. Powerful bodies like the masons had perhaps I5 per cent of the trade organized in i87I, the carpenters and joiners perhaps II-I2 per cent, the plasterers under io per cent.26 The Amalgamated Engineers with perhaps 40 per cent in i86i were quite exceptional.27Whether or when society men in unorganizedtrades acted as pace-makers of economic advance is today a re-opened question. At all events, in wage and hours movements there was no sharp distinction between the organized and the unorganized, inasmuch as both had the same interest in restriction against non-tradesmen. Thus, among the bricklayers of poorly organized Portsmouth, where there were no indentured apprentices and 70 per cent of the men had just "picked up" the trade, there was nevertheless no piece-work, and the advancement of labourers, once frequent, had become rare.28In Glasgow, where the Webbs found poor relations with employers, no working rules, no limit on apprentices and far-from-dominant unions, there was no piece-work, and labourers did not "encroach".29The truth is that craftsmanship was not only the criterion of a man's identity and self- respect, but the guarantee of his income. The best men, said a student of unemployment in the London building trade, always get work.30 In the Amalgamated Carpenters and Joiners it was taken for granted that "the success of the society depends on the members being invariably competent workmen",31 and they were recruited accordingly, and indeed kept up to the mark. "If a man's not worth 36 shillings a week" said the ASE MonthlyRecord proudly, though perhaps in i9ii no longer with total sincerity, "the union has rules to deal with incompetence."32Just so JamesHopkinson had observed in the i830s: "Our shop was a strong union shop and the leading workmen in the town worked there."33 The small-arms fire with which the artisans fought the big guns of the employers derived its effectiveness from the ramparts of skill which protected it as well as from the solidarity of the marksmen. The skill, and the artisan's independence, were symbolized by the posses-

25 AmalgamatedSociety of Carpentersandjoiners (hereafter ASCJ) MonthlyReport, January i868,

26 Price, Masters, Unions and Men, p. 62.

27 M. and J. B. Jefferys, 'The Wages, Hours and Trade Customs of the Skilled Engineer in i86I',

p. 25.


but the inclusion of members of other skilled unions would raise this

Hist. Rev. XVII(I947), pp. 29-30; percentage.

28 LSE Library, Webb Collection, Coll. EA 3I, pp. 245-9.

29 Ibid. pp. 3II-22.

30 N. B. Dearle, Problems of Unemploymentin the LondonBuilding Trade (i908), p. 93.

31 ASCJ, Monthly Report, Feb. i868, p. 63.

32 AmalgamatedSocietyof Engineers(hereafter ASE), MonthlyRecord,June i9ii, cited in M. Holbrook- Jones, Supremacyand Subordinationof Labour (i982), p. 68.

33 J. B. Goodman, ed. VictorianCabinetMaker: TheMemoirsofjames Hopkinson,i8i9-94 (i968), p. 24.





sion of personaltools,34those small but vital means of productionwhich enabledhim to workanywhereat his trade.Broadhurst,the unionleaderand Lib-LabMP, kept his mason'stools packedand readythroughouthis time of politicaleminence:they were his insurance.35Manyyearslater,in I939, whenthe boilermakerHarryPollittwasdeposedfromhis postin the Commu- nist Party,his motherproudlywrote:"Yourmarking-offtools arehere, and I havekept themin vaseline,readyfor use at anytime."36At a moremodest level, when Jess Oakroyd,in J. B. Priestley'sGoodCompanions,lost his job andwent on tramp,the most importantthinghe took with him was his bag of tools. Thehighestskillsdidnotnecessarilyrequirethemostexpensiveorelaborate tool-kit,thoughproudtradesmen-notablyin wood-working-spentheavily on tools and luxurycontainersas statussymbols.The ASCJin i886 limited benefitfor the loss of a tool-chest,on the groundsthat "if a membertakesa more valuablechest to work [i.e. than is necessary]he shoulddo so at his own risk."37Tool insuranceby the union was usual amongwoodworkers, thoughless so amongmetal-workers,presumablybecausetheirpersonaltools were ancillaryto shop equipment.38The "tool benefit"of the ASCJ was clearlyintended as a majorselling-pointfor the union-it insuredagainst theft,andnot onlyagainstfireandshipwreck-and its importanceis indicated by the frequencyof branchresolutionsandnoticeson the subject.39Indeed, in their first thirty years the amountof tool benefitpaid per memberwas roughlycomparableto accidentbenefit, and amountedto c. 55 per cent of


Yet the valueof implementswas secondaryto theirsymbolicimportance. London shipwrights,than whom few were more skilled, ownedperhaps50 shillings'worthin i849, accordingto Mayhew,41andin the i88os the union

paid 50 per cent of replacement costs up to a maximum of ?5.42


estimatedcabinetmakers'toolsat ?30-40, joiners'toolsat up to ?30, coopers' at ?I2. Thesefigures,exceptforcarpentersandjoiners,areratherhigherthan thosequotedin the RoyalCommissionon Labouror derivablefromthe lists of stolentoolsin the carpenters'reports;andaccordingto bothMayhewand

34 "Thatif the CentralAssociationof Employerscarryout theirthreatof a

it is the

duty of working men to

begin manufacturing for the public

That inasmuch as many of our


theirintentionof lendingsuchtoolsforthebenefitof thosepersonswhomaybethrownoutof employment by the masters'strike."Announcementby the Councilof ASEin TheOperative,23 Dec. i85I.

it is

35 HenryBroadhurst,TheStoryof hisLifefromStone-mason'sBenchtotheTreasuryBench(i90i),

36 HarryPollitt,ServingmyTime(I94i edn.), p. I4.

37 ASCJr,MonthlyReport,July i886, pp. I37-8.

p. 2.

38 The Boilermakersappearto have had none (D. C. Cummings,Historyof the UnitedSocietyof BoilermakersandIron& SteelShipBuilders(Newcastle,I905), pp. 36-7, 52. The ASE AnnualReports includedexpenditurefor "lossof toolsby fire"in an itemof the accountscoveringmiscellaneousgrants,

fromwhichits relativeinsignificancemaybe inferred. 39 Followingbranchpressure,listsof toolsstolenfrommemberswerepublishedin theMonthlyReport fromOctoberi868 on.

40 Totalbenefitpermemberof ASCJi860-i889 inclusive:Funeral,?3 2S. 8d.;Accident,Li I5s. iold.; Tool, Li W4s. 61d. (G. Howell, TheConflictsof CapitalandLabourHistoricallyandEconomicallyConsid- ered,beinga HistoryandReviewof theTradeUnionsof GreatBritainetc.(2ndedn. i890), p. 5I9.

41 Henry Mayhew,TheMorningChronicleSurveyof Labourand thePoor: TheMetropolitanDistricts


42 DavidDougan,TheShipwrights:TheHistoryof theShipconstructorsandShipwrightsAssociation,i882- I963 (i968), pp. I9, 30. SeealsoRoyalCommissiononLabour(P.P. i893-4, xxxiv), GroupA Q. 20,4I3,


p. 225.






probability,tools were bought piecemealin a man's last years of appren- ticeship, and usually second-handto begin with.43 But they symbolized independence.Hencethedisputesabout"grinding-time".Sincethetradesmen broughtto the job his skill and his tools, both must be absolutelyreadyfor action.He and only he must sharpenthem-at a weeklyexpensewhichwas not negligible.44Logicallythe momentfor this wasat the end of the last job, andin the employer'stime, which(ormoneyin lieu)wasexpectedto be made available.45Even today, as Beynonshowsfor Ford's, tools still imply some independencefor tradesmenas againstproductionworkers.46 But if personaltools symbolizedindependencefor the artisans,controlof the tools symbolized,conversely,the superiorityof management.We know thatmanagementwas aboutto transformits plantorganization,whenemery wheels were taken from the shop and workerswere no longer allowedto sharpentoolsin theirown wayandto theirown specifications,but musthave this done to angles determinedby others in a special tool-room.47And, characteristically,the tool-roomwas to remainthe last strongholdof the craftsmanin the semi-skilledmass productionengineeringworks of the twentiethcentury.Evenin the non-unionmotorindustrybetweenthe wars, managementwouldbe carefulof the susceptibilitiesof the tool-roomandturn a blind eye to the unionismof toolmakers.In the nineteenthcenturysuch controlwas most visible in the giant railwaycompanies,enterpriseswhich employedand trainednumerousartisansand, thoughrecognizingthat their foremenwereessentiallydrawnfromamongthem, andhencewerelikely to havethe artisanview,48sawno needfor a symbiosiswith partlyautonomous labour.Thus the GreatWesternand the GreatEasternturnedcraftsman's pride into an obligation,by obligingworkmen,in the unilaterallyimposed workingrules, to buy and insuretheirpersonaltools. Foremenin Stratford wereto examinethemen'stool-chestsbeforetheyweretakenoutof theworks, andin Derbythey neededa specialpassto do So.49 The labourpoliciesof the railwaycompanies,whichdeservemorestudythanthey haveso farreceived in Britain,sometimeslook as thoughthey had been specificallydesignedto replacecraftautonomyandexclusivecontrolby managerialcontrolof hiring, training,promotionto highergradesof skill, and workshopoperations. For tools symbolizednot merelythe relativeindependenceof the artisan from management,but, even more clearly,his monopolyof skilled work. The standardexpressionfor whatthe unskilledor the not specificallytrained

43 Mayhew,v, p. I93. For dataon tool costs fromthe RoyalComm.onLabour(GroupA), see P.P.


XXXVI/ii, Q. i6,848,




44 Mayhew,ibid. pp. 94, 96, I55,

45 S. andB. Webb,IndustrialDemocracy(I9I3

46 HuwBeynon,WorkingforFord(Harmondsworth,I973),


2I4 estimatesthe weeklycost at between6d. and2S. a week.

edn.), p. 3I3.

p. I45: "Onthe assemblylineone manis

as good as the next man

In a skilled work situation things are slightly different

by virtue of the

factthat [themen] controlthe tools, or the knowledge,vitalto the completionof the job. The foreman hasto ask them."

47 Zeitlin,'LabourStrategies',pp. 2I, 26.

48 "Theshopforemenwill be men who areskilledin the workof theirrespectiveshops.Probablyas workmenthey showedespecialabilityand skill, whichled to theirpromotionfromthe ranks."James Clayton,'The Organizationof the LocomotiveDepartment',in John Macaulay,ed. ModernRailway

Working:A PracticalTreatisebyEngineeringExperts(I9I2-I4)

49 KennethHudson,WorkingtoRule:RailwayWorkshopRules:A Studyof IndustrialDiscipline(Bath,


II, p. 57.





menmustbe preventedfromdoingatallcosts,i.e. "encroaching"or "follow- ing the trade", was some variantof the phrase "takingup the tools", or "workingtradesmen'stools" or "gettinghold of the tools for himself'.50 Bricklayers'labourers,in morethanoneset of workingrules,wereprohibited specificallyfrom the "use of the trowel".51 Coopers'labourerswere only allowedto use some specifiedcoopers'tools such as hammers.52Conversely, artisansrecognizedeachothers'statusby lendingeachothertools.53In short, they maybe definedessentiallyas tool-usingandtool-monopolizinganimals. The rightto a tradewas not only a rightof the duly qualifiedtradesman, but also a family heritage.54Tradesmen'ssons and relationsdid not only becometradesmenbecause,as amongthe professionalmiddle classes,their chancesof doing so werenotablysuperiorto the rest, but also becausethey wantednothingbetterfor theirsons, andfathersinsistedon privilegedaccess for them. Free apprenticeshipfor at leastone son was providedfor in many a setof Builders'WorkingRules.55The formidableBoilermakers'Societywas largelyrecruitedfrom sons and kin,56and in EdwardianLondonhereditary successionwas consideredusualamongboilermakersandengineers,in some printingtrades, though among the buildersonly for the favouredmasons, plasterers,and perhapsplumbers. Here it was also pointed out that the attractionsof officejobsfor tradesmen'ssonsweresmall.57This is confirmed by the analysis of some 200 biographiesfrom the Dictionaryof Labour Biography58(mainlyof thosebornbetweeni850 and i900) whichshowsthat, thoughthe numberof sons of non-tradesmenwasonly c. 75 per cent of that of tradesmen,the numberof tradesmen'ssons who went into white-collaror similarjobswasnot muchmorethanhalfof thatof non-tradesmen'ssons. In short,fortheVictorianartisan,workshopeducationratherthanschoolingwas stillwhatcounted,anda tradewasatleastasdesirableorbetterthananything else effectivelyon offer. Indeed, the largestsingle groupin the Dictionary sample (from which I have excluded the overwhelminglyself-reproduced miners)consistedof c. 70 sonsof tradesmenwhotookup trades,in abouthalf the cases, their father's. And we know from Crossick'sstudy of Kentish

50 WorkingMen and Women, p. 66; ASE QuarterlyReport, Dec. i893, Training, p. 25.

pp. 48, 59; Dearle,Industrial

51 Cf. the collectionof builders'"workingrules"in theWebbCollection(LSELibrary,Coll.EBxxxi-

xxxvi and Coll. EC vi-xviii);

EB xxxiv).

for instance Bridgnorth i863,

Shrewsbury (Coll. EC vii).

Loughborough i892,

Worcester i89i


52 Gilding, JourneymanCoopers,p. 56.

53 ThomasWright, TheGreatUnwashed(i869),

p. 282: shopmateswill lend a long-termtramping

artisan "their best tools". Charity Organisation Society, Special Committeeon Unskilled Labour: Report

and Minutes of Evidence,June i908,

time,howfararetheyshortof tools

othertools. If you lookedintotheirbasketsyou wouldfindten percentof themdeficientin tools."Note thatthe witness,a buildingforeman,claimsto be merelyguessing.He does not look into the artisans' baskets.For the penaltyof losingtools, namelylapsinginto unskilledlabouring,see Mayhew,Morning

ChronicleSurvey, v, p. I30.

p. 98: "Inthe caseof mechanicswhohavebeenout of workfor any ? Thereis a lot of freemasonryamongthem,andtheylendeach

54 J. B. Jefferys,TheStoryof theEngineers(i945),

p. 58 on secondandthirdsons, andsonsof fathers

out of the trade,joiningthe trade.

55 WebbColl.EBxxxiv: Hull,Redditch,Wakefield;Coll.ECVII:Bristol,Dudley,Gornal,Kiddermins- ter, Leicester,Rotherham,Stourbridge,Wigan.

56 KeithMcLellandandAlastairReid, 'The ShipbuildingWorkers,i840-I9I4'

57 Dearle,IndustrialTraining,p. 241.

58 JoyceM. BellamyandJohnSaville,eds. Dictionaryof LabourBiography, I-VI, (I972-i982).

(unpub.paper),p. i8.






London in i873-5 that 43 per cent of the sons of engineering craftsmen were sons of men in these crafts, and 64 per cent came from skilled fathers in general; 64 per cent and 76 per cent of shipbuilding craftsmen came from shipbuilding and skilled families respectively; as did 46 per cent and 69 per cent respectively of building tradesmen. I leave open the question whether, as Crossick suggests, the links binding artisans together and separatingthem from the unskilled, actually tightened during the mid-Victorian period.59 This does not mean that entry into the trades was closed. It could hardly be, considering the rate of growth in the labour force, not to mention powerful enterprises like the railways, which deliberately saw to the training and promotion of unskilled labour, and provided a significant road for its upgrad- ing; in the Dictionary sample this is very noticeable. What it does suggest is the relative advantagethe stratum of tradesmen had in reproducing itself, and the significancewithin the skilled labour force of this block of self-reproducing artisans; and not least their capacity to assimilate the non-artisans who succeeded in joining their ranks, so long as artisan status meant a special and lengthy education in skill, essentially conducted by artisansin the workshop. And in i906, according to one estimate, about i8 per cent of occupied males beween the ages of I5 and I9 were still classified as apprenticesand learners.60 Inindustriesandregionsdominatedby artisans-the north-eastcoastimmediat- ely comes to mind-their ability to assimilate new entrants was clearly enormous. One recalls that even in I9I4, in spite of considerable efforts, 6o per cent of the workforce of the Engineering Employers' Federation were still classified as skilled.61 Under these circumstances the artisans, or the bulk of them, were both privileged and relatively secure.


The crux of their position lay in the economy's reliance on manual skills, i.e. skills exercised by blue-collar workers. The real crisis of the artisan set in as soon as tradesmen became replaceableby semi-skilled machine operators or by some other division of labour into specialized and rapidly learned tasks, i.e. broadly speaking in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. This phase of artisan history has been fairly intensively investigated, at least for some industries,62 and it is at this point that the main attack on the concept of an "aristocracy of labour" has concentrated. Apart from a diminishing minority, the craftsman's position was no longer protected by the length of training and practice, by skill and the willing toleration of employers. It was protected primarilyby job monopoly secured by tradeunions and by workshop control. Yet the jobs now monopolized and protected were no longer skilled jobs in the old sense, though those who were best at protecting them were usually formerly skilled trades, like compositors and boilermakers, which

59 GeoffreyCrossick,An Artisan Elite in VictorianSociety: KentishLondon, 1840-1880

60 CharlesMore,Skill and

the English WorkingClass (i980),



Table 5.I3.


61 M. L. Yates,Wagesand Labour Conditionsin British Engineering(I937),

p. 3I, Table6.



62 E.g. A. Reid,'TheDivisionof Labourin theBritishShipbuildingIndustry,i880-I920'


Ph.D. thesis, Universityof Cambridge,i980);

Engineersand Compositorsin Britain,i890-i9I4'

J. Zeitlin,'CraftRegulationandthe Divisionof Labour:

(unpublishedPh.D. thesis, Universityof Warwick,






insisted on their members' monopolizing the new de-skilled jobs. But even this undermined the special position of the artisan. For, as we all now know from the Fleet Street printing trade, when skill and privilege or high wages are no longer correlated, artisans are merely one set of workers among many others who might, given the right circumstances (generally the occupation of

a strategic bottleneck), establish such strong bargaining positions. Speaking generally, at the end of the nineteenth century the trades found themselves, for the first time since the i83os and i840s, threatened by industrial capitalism as such but without the hope of by-passing it. Their existence as a privileged stratum was at stake. Moreover, the employers' main attack was now against their craft privileges. Hence, for the first time, their key sectors turned against capitalism. Thus, unlike some of the traditional trades, the new metal-working crafts of the industrial economy had not been given to breeding political activities. There are few if any engineers and metal- shipbuilders among the nationally prominent Lib-Lab politicians before the i89os. Yet almost from the start, engineers were prominent among the socialists. At the ASE's Delegate Meeting in I9I2 more than half the delegates present appear to have been advocates of "collectivism" to be achieved by class war.63The small argumentative Marxist sects like the Socialist Labour Party were full of them. Engineering shop stewards and revolutionaryradical- ism in World War I went together like cheese and pickles, and metal- workers-generally highly skilled men-later came proverbially to dominate the proletarian component of the Communist Party, to be followed a long way after by builders and miners.64 The left attracted them for two reasons. In the first place, a class-struggle analysis made sense to men engaged in battle with organized employers on what seemed to be the crucial sector of the front of class conflict; and by the same token the belief that capitalism wanted "a just balance of all interests", was plainly no longer tenable. In the second place, the radical left in the unions, ever since the i88os, specialized in devising strategies and tactics designed to meet precisely those situations which appeared to find traditional craft methods wanting. I do not wish to underestimate this shift to the left, which now gave to the British labour movement a political outlook fundamentally different from that of Chartist democracy, which still prevailed amid the sober suits of Liberal radicalism-a new political outlook which, some might argue, was de facto more radical than many continental socialist movements. At the same time this shift should not be identified with the various brands of socialist ideology which now sprang up, and, naturally, attracted young artisans conscious of their new predicament: in the i88os men in their mid- to late twenties, from Edwardian times perhaps men in their late 'teens. For most tradesmen the shift to anti-capitalism began simply as an extension of their trade experience. It meant doing what they had always done: defending their rights, their wages, and their now threatenedconditions, stopping management

63 B. C. M. Weekes, 'The AmalgamatedSocietyof Engineers,i880-I9I4:

A Studyof TradeUnion

Government,Politicsand IndustrialPolicy'(unpublishedPh.D. thesis, Universityof Warwick,I970),

pp. 3i8-20,


Asearlyas i895 fourASEmembersstoodasparliamentarycandidatesunderIndependent

Labour Party auspices: David Howell, British Workersand the IndependentLabour Party, 1888-1906


p. 88.

64 KennethNewton, The Sociology of British Communism(i969),

Apps. II, III.






from telling the lads how to do their job, and relying on the democracy of the

workplace rank-and-file against the world, which, if need be, included their unions' leaders. Only now they had to fight management all the time, because management was permanently threatening to reduce them to "labourers", and now had the technical means of doing so. They were far from revolutionaries, but how did this constant confrontation differ from the class struggle which the revolutionaries preached? If the masters no longer recognized the interests of the skilled men, why should the men recognize those of the masters? I do not believe that many tradesmen were as yet affected by the drastic renunciation of old craft assumptions suggested by some of the ultra-left, who recommended fighting capitalism with its own market principles, by working as little or even as badly as possible for as much money as the traffic would bear. Such ideas were put forward in the syndicalist periods. However, at this stage there is no evidence that tradesmen-still often suspicious of payment by results, though increasingly pushed into it-thought in such terms which, as the Webbs pointed out, undermined their basic principle of pride in work, rewardedby a wage which recognized ther standing. Yet the period from i889 to I9I4 introduces us to an artisan predicament which is similar to that of the British economy as a whole, because it is one aspect of it. Just as there were men in business who recognized that fundamen- tal modernization was needed in the British productive system, but failed to mobilize sufficient support to achieve it, so also in the field of labour. The

left, including the artisan left,

knew that craft unionism of the high Victorian

kind was doomed. It was the target of all critics. The mass of proposals for trade-union reform between i889 and I927, ranging from federation and amalgamationto a complete restyling of the union movement along industrial lines,65 were all directed against a position which was barely defended in theory even among the leaders of old-style craft unions. Yet no systematic general union reform was achieved, though craft unions recognized some need to expand, federate, and amalgamate. They also accepted that elite organizationmust henceforth be part of the mass unionization of all workers, and that in such mass unionism the craft societies would inevitably be less dominant, either numerically or strategically. Yet attempts at general reform failed so clearly, that after I926 they were defacto abandoned. Railways and engineering are obvious examples of this failure. The new National Union of Railwaymen, designed as the model of a comprehensive industrial union, never succeeded in integrating most of the skilled footplate men, and the engineers did not even try, though their left-wing leadership time and again committed them to broaden their recruitment:in I892, in i90i and again in I926. But as late as I93I the Amalgamated Engineering Union told the Transport and General Workers:

With regardto the organizingactivitiesof the AEU, whilst it was true that the constitutionof the union was amendedto permit of all gradesof workers beingorganizedwithinthe union, this hadnot beenoperated,the AEU confining its organizingactivitiesstrictlyto thosesectionsof theindustrywhichit hadalways organized.It was not the intentionof the AEU to departfromthis policy.66

65 Cf. the Resolutionof the Hull TUC, I924,

in W. Milne-Bailey,ed. TradeUnionDocuments(I929),

p. I29;

for the abandonmentof systematicreform,ibid. p. I33-4.

66 J. Zeitlin,'TheEmergenceof ShopStewardOrganizationandJobControlintheBritishCarIndustry',

HistoryWorkshop,io (i980),







For, justas the Britishindustrialeconomyappearedto enjoyits Edwardian Indiansummer,so did the artisans.Did they need to reformthemselvesout of existence?Sheer bloody-mindedshop-floorresistancereversedthe total victorywon by the EngineeringEmployers'Federationin the i897-8 lock- out, incidentallydrivingthe union'ssocialistgeneralsecretaryGeorgeBarnes into the wilderness.67It had so far restoredthe positionthat buyingoff the craftsmenbecamethe majortask of the I914 wareconomy.Their position had actuallybeen strengthened,becausethe systemof paymentby results, which employerspreferredto Tayloristand Fordiststrategies,laid the base for endless shop-floorconflictsand, in consequence,shop-stewardpower. Moreover,duringthe war the industrywas flooded, not with promoteable semi-skilledmachinemen, but with 650,000 women, virtuallyall of whom

rapidlydisappearedfromthe labourmarketafter i919. The unionhadto be defeatedonceagainin frontalbattlein I922. Afterthat,unionswerevirtually drivenout of suchnew sectorsof the industryas motorsandelectricalgoods, even though once againemployersin generalfound the costs of systematic plantrationalizationtoo high, andthe foreseeableprofitsinsufficientlyattrac- tive to justifysuch heavyoutlays.

Onceagainthe artisansthereforehadtheirchancein the I930s,


rearmamentand war made times more propitiousfor labourorganization. This was the last triumphof the Victoriantrades.The men who broughtthe watersof unionismback into the desert of non-unionshops were largely,

perhapsmainly, craftsmen,like the tool-makersand the men who built the aircraftof the I930S and I940s, andwhoserolein the growthof massmetals unionismwascrucial.Theywerethefirstnucleusoftherevivedshop-stewards' movement.These men were craftsmen,or at least, even when engagedon whatwasin effectsemi-skilledwork,craftsmenby backgroundandtraining. They were now also largelyCommunists,or becameCommunists.68


Yet,whethertheywantedtoornot, theywereinitiatingtheirownliquidation as a special stratum of the working class. This was largely because the mechanizedengineeringindustriestheyorganizedno longerrestedon artisan

skill, though they still neededit. But it was also partlybecausethe left no longerhada coherentunionpolicy.Giventhe failureof generalunionreform, it lackeda practicable"newmodel"of unionorganization.It benefitedfrom a governmentpolicy,particularlyfrom I940 whenErnestBevintookoverthe Ministryof Labour,whichfavouredunionism;but it neithercontrolled,nor oftenunderstoodor usuallyevenapprovedit. Its majorweapon(leavingaside

the production-orientedunionismof the Communistsin I94I-5)

the sameas in I889-I92I: sheerblinkered,dour, stubborn,defenceof "the

was much

67 Zeitlin, 'Labour Strategies', pp. 30-2.

68 For this part of the paper I am especially indebted to the as yet unpublished research of Ms Nina Fishman on the Communist Party and the Trade Unions in the I930sand I940s. See also R. Croucher,

Engineersat War, i939-i945 (i982), esp. pp. i68-74, and James Hinton, 'CoventryCommunism: A Study of Factory Politics in the Second World War', History Workshop,io (i980), pp. I00-2.






customof the trade"in the shops. It is irrelevantthat some of the left may haveidentifiedthis in somewaywaywith the roadto revolutionor at leastto politicalradicalization.De facto, the left had no specificunion strategy,but merelypursuedthe old tacticswith intelligence,dynamismand efficiency- in a situationquite unlike that of i889-I92I. What they achieved was the generalizationof the old craft-monopoly methodsto all sectorsof the trade-unionmovement,andin industrieswhere tradesmenformed a diminishingminorityamong the mass of semi-skilled operatives.And in doing so the artisansbecamemerelyone set of workers amongmanyotherswho were in a positionto applysuch methods,and not necessarilythe ones who couldstrikethe best bargains.In the Fleet Streetof the late twentieth century, not only has the qualitativedifferencebeween compositorsand "printers'labourers"disappeared,but the chapel of the NationalGraphicalAssociationis not necessarilya morepowerfulbargainer

than that of SOGAT82. There is

tradesman. Someareclearlyon the wayout, like the locomotivedriversof the old craft unionASLEF. Somesurvive,butin a worldtheyno longerquiteunderstand. Someworkfor as muchmoneyas they canget, andfornothingmore.69This is a fundamentalbreakin crafttradition,which, as has been argued,aimed at an incomecorrespondingto the craftsman'sstatusas a group,as professors

stilldo.70 Hencethe persistenthistoricaldistrustof piece-rates.A Communist engineer,interviewedby a researcher,recallshis amazementwhenhe discov- ered duringthe war that workersin Coventrynot merelycould, but were expectedto push their earningsinto what seemed the stratosphere.And, indeed, the famous CoventryToolroomAgreementof I94i reflectedthis curious interminglingof old and new principles, until its breakdownin

no longeranythingspecialaboutbeing a

the I970s.

Whereasin the past the toolmakers'earningshad providedthe

measuring-rodof their "differential"over and aboveless favouredgroups, this differentialwas henceforthfixedagainstthe entirelyundeterminedlevel of whatnon-toolmakerson piece-workcouldearn.Craftsmanship,goodwork, was no longerthe essentialfoundationof good earnings.If anything,it was now a liability,since it stood in the way of the sky-highwageswhich could beearnedbythemenwhodeliberatelyandconsciouslyputspeedandskimping beforesoundwork.Financiallythe"cowboy"-the termis ofuncertainorigin, but seemsto emergein the buildingtradeduringthe hey-dayof "thelump" in the i960s-could do betterthanthe good tradesmen.

Finally, the possibilityof trainingas a craftsmangrew less. In i966 the

69 Beynon, Workingfor Fords, p. I45.

70 "Perhapsthe mostinterestingpointaboutthe shipwrights'powersof workcontrolwasthattheydid not use themto maximizetheirearningsor to createdifferentials.The shipwrightswerewillingto accept wagesunrelatedto the effort or skill of individualsand which tendedtowardsa single rate."(David Wilson,'A SocialHistoryof Workersin H.M. Dockyardduringthe IndustrialRevolution,particularly, I793-i8I5' (unpublishedPh.D. thesis, Universityof Warwick,I975, p. i88). For Edwardianskilled builders'insistenceon standardratesfor standardoutput, see CharityOrganizationSociety,Reporton

Unskilled Labour, Q. 25I-72,



The Webbsargued,IndustrialDemocracy,p. 7I9,


parallelwith middle-classprofessionalcorporatismapprovingly,that "The progressiveraisingof the CommonRule, by constantlypromotingthe 'Selectionof the Fittest',causesan increasingspecialization of function,creatinga distinctgroup,havinga Standardof Lifeandcorporatetraditionsof its ownwhich

eachrecruitis gladenoughto fall in with."





numberof apprenticeswasonlyaboutthree-quartersof whatit hadbeensixty yearsearlier,or indeedin I925, andby I973 it hadplummetedto 25 percent of the i966 figure.71 And so did the incentiveto follow one's fatherinto a propertrade.Bookeducationandnot skillis nowthe roadto statusand,with diminishingexceptions, even skill has moved into the world of diplomas. And, of course, the roadinto that worldhas broadened.There was a time when minersmight want their sons out of the pit at all costs, but engineers werecontentto offertheirsons a presumablyimprovingversionof theirown prospects.How manyof the sons of toolmakerstodayarecontentto become toolmakers? The artisansno longerreproducethemselvesor theirkind. The generation of men who grew up with artisanexperienceandartisanvaluesin the I930s and I940s, still survives,but is growingold. When the last men who have drivenand caredfor steamlocomotivesretire-it will not be long now-and whenengine-driverswill be little differentfromtram-drivers,andsometimes quite superfluous,what will happen?What will our societybe like without thatlargebodyof menwho, in one wayor another,hada senseof the dignity andthe self-respectof difficult,good, andsociallyusefulmanualwork,which is also a sense of a society not governedby market-pricingand money: a society other than ours and potentiallybetter?What will a countrybe like withoutthe roadto self-respectwhichskillwithhand,eye, andbrainprovide formen-and, one mightaddwomen-who happennot to be goodat passing examinations?Tawneywouldhaveaskedsuch questions.I can do no better than to concludeby leavingthem with you. BirkbeckCollege,London

71 In absolutenumbers:i906,


(More,Skill, p. I03);

i966, 27I,650

(Min. of Lab. Gazette, Jan.



66,ooo (Min. of Lab. Gazette, May i974).

The statutoryschoolleavingagewasraisedto i6

fromSept. I972.

Onlymalefiguresaregiven,in viewof the insignificanceof femaleapprenticeship.