Paul Salveson explains why the railway companies refused to recognise trade unions

Resource Type: Audio | Posted on 22nd July 2011 by Liam Physick

In answer to a question from Ian Brownbill, Paul Salveson explains why the railway industry, in stark contrast to other industries such as textiles, steadfastly refused to recognise trade unions. He explains that this was largely due to the railways’ militaristic ethos. He also points out that textile companies were able to benefit from collective bargaining, and thus that it may have been against the railway bosses’ interest not to recognise unions, especially as most railway union leaders were moderates like Jimmy Thomas rather than radicals like Tom Mann

Interviewee: Paul Salveson

Interviewee Gender: Male

Interview Transcript

Ian: I’m just interested why the, the railway unions found it hard to get their voice heard than, say, maybe, some of the large textile unions, you know, in the 1880s, 1890s?

Paul: Yeah, it was very much that, sort of, militaristic approach that the early railway companies, like London and North Western, they were a state within the state, if you, you go round towns like Crewe, you know, where the LNWR employ probably about 30,000 people, and so pretty well everyobody living in that town, one way or another, would have been influenced by the company, and they even expected, you know, sort of, supervisory staffs to, you wouldn’t get promotion unless your were, sort of, a card-carrying member of the Church of England, yeah, things like that, the idea that anybody would be seen as tantamount to mutiny and, so it was this very, very high, very controlled industrial discipline, which it didn’t have in common at the same way in the textile industry, sort of, certainly the, you know, Lancashire cotton industry, which I’m, sort of, fairly familiar with, you had some sections of the workforce there, like the mule-spinners, were very, very highly skilled and, you know, they were more or less allowed to, to get on with it, as long they, you know, produced the, the necessary goods and continued to provide profits for the mill-owners, and you got into a, sort of, very elaborate system of industrial bargaining between unions and employers, that actually suited the employers to have, if you like, a, a controlled labour force, but a control expressed through the trade unions, and that was certainly the case in, in other industries as well, you know, there was the feeling of self-discipline and self-control by, by some of the more skilled unions, whereas on the railways, it was partly fear, bloody-minded prejudice that, you know, we were, we are the big bosses and we are just not gonna have anybody challenging our power. You could say that it was actually against their own economic interests, to a certain extent, not to recognise the unions, in particular you have such compliant leaders as Jimmy Thomas, you know, he was far more typical of your railway union leader than the likes of somebody like Tom Mann, let’s say, or (indecipherable), who was a, sort of, local organiser for the railway workers’ unions in Liverpool, you know, Thomas more or less, set, set, the if you like, the tempo for railway union moderation in the early twentieth century.

Tagged under: 1911 strike, london and north western railway, trade unions, tom mann, jimmy thomas, military discipline

Categorised under: Work & Industry

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