By W. Hamish Fraser
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Additional info for A History of British Trade Unionism, 1700-1998
Unions had to confront the issue of politics and how to operate most effectively in a state which was increasingly placing its weight on the side of capitalism. Despite the many set-backs, unionism had emerged in some ways strengthened from the struggles and set-backs of the 1830s and early 1840s. They had learned of the need for mutual support against employers, who had shown a readiness to combine where necessary against unionism. There was an increasing number of examples of support given across craft and union boundaries and trades delegates’ meetings were an established feature in many cities.
It was a shrewd new tactic that had been learned from hard experience, that to resist new technology was futile and what needed to be done was for existing workers to retain control of it. A great deal of later craft unionism was precisely about gaining control of new machines for union members. The printers also tried to consolidate with the formation in January 1845 of the National Typographical Association, linking the various societies of London, provincial and Scottish compositors. The idea here, too, was to have a central authority which could co-ordinate strike action, conserve resources and deploy industrial pressure to the best advantage.
The struggles in mining, as in many other industries, were not just about wages, but over the whole pattern of work. Alan Campbell, Fred Reid and others have written of the tradition of the ‘independent collier’ who saw himself as a free tradesman contracting to produce coal at a pace which suited himself. The new coal companies wanted a different kind of work-force, one which operated to the discipline of the owners. Rules and fines were brought in to force the miners to work for a full week. In Lanarkshire they were actively forbidden to keep poultry and dogs, lest it encourage a casual approach.