The Manchester Typographical Society archive, which is held in the Library, consists of 80 volumes of material, dating from 1825 to 1991 and including reports, minute books, rule books and other papers including agreements, souvenir booklets and membership registers.
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JJ Dickson, Manchester Typographical Society and Branch of T.A. - centenary, 1797-1897 (1897) - Shelfmark: D47
A select chronology of major events in the early history of the Union, with pertinent extracts from the minutes:
Instituted November 1797. First formed in a Tavern called The Black Boy, situated in Cathedral Yard. First secretary was Mr R. Roberts.
The earliest extant records date from 5 July 1825.
August 1825, resolution regarding piecework: ‘That immediate measures be taken in order to procure the abolition of piecework, which is so eminently calculated to engender rancour and bad feeling amongst workmen, and to reduce the number of hands that should be employed.’
1827: ‘That the Society do remove to some other house in consequence of the general badness of the ale with which we are served.’
June 1828: Funeral fund begun.
September 1828: Sick fund established.
1832: A motion to take part in celebration re: passing of the Reform Bill was rejected.
September 1832: It was agreed that a member who had worked in a non-union shop should be published in the ‘Rat List’ for the ensuing year.
February 1839: ‘That the letterpress printers do, as a body, petition Parliament for a total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws’.
April 1844: An Out-of-work fund established.
December 1850: Local travelling allowance established.
October 1852: After much debate the Manchester Society amalgamated with the Provincial Typographical Association.
April 1860: In Oldham a practice whereby one office borrowed apprentices from another office while men were unemployed was promptly stopped by the union.
September 1864: Following a vote of members of the Provincial Association it was decided to move the Union’s office from Sheffield to Manchester.
December 1864: A movement to reduce the working hours from 59 hours to 55 hours was begun. By May 1865 the 55 hour week had become ‘an accomplished fact’.
August 1869: Manchester workers joined in a demonstration ‘in aid of the Building Trades, who were struggling against their employers for the maintenance of their just rights and privileges’.
June 1872: The Society took part in a huge demonstration in favour of a nine-hours’ day for factory labour.
September 1877: The Society participated in a gigantic demonstration on the opening of Manchester Town Hall.
1887: The Society invested £250 in the Manchester Ship Canal Company.
1894: Proposals to set up a labour newspaper in Manchester were supported in principle but the proposal to take up £1 shares in the same was rejected.
A fuller chronology is given in the Library Bulletin no. 8, 1998
The Manchester Typographical Society archive includes many fascinating items. The photo below shows part of the paperwork for the tramping system. “Tramps” were Society members who were on the tramp travelling between branches looking for work.
The heading ‘amount paid’ relates to how much a member of the society “on the tramp” was paid as a subsistence allowance if the local branch secretary could not find him work and if he failed to find any for himself. Members from as far afield as Dublin and Edinburgh often appear.
The purpose of the tramping system was to ensure that journeymen printers would not depress wages locally by competing for jobs in one place. There would have been a strict circuit which they had to follow - on foot - and their membership had to be in good order.
The item on the left is a letter from J.A. [Bolton secretary James Anderson] of 24 August 1839, to Thomas Gregory.
Mr Lomax is a master printer who has done various things contrary to the rules of the Society, so the Society has ‘closed’ his office i.e. ordered its members not to work there.
What did Lomax do that broke the Society’s rules?
He employed someone temporarily, without conferring with the local secretaries of the Society (Rule XXVII).
He also employed a man by the name of Bircholl who had only served five years of his seven-year apprenticeship, having then “bought up” the remaining two years by paying his master (Rule X,3). Bircholl then set himself up in business as a master printer. The business failed and Bircholl returned to work as a journeyman working for Lomax. Lomax bought most of Bircholl’s materials (papers, print etc) but did not have enough “ready” (cash or ready money) to pay Bircholl all that he owed him for the materials. So Lomax had to employ Bircholl and pay him so much a week until his debt to Bircholl was cleared.
Anderson “waited on” (visited) Lomax and Bircholl and told them that Bircholl should serve out the last two years of his apprenticeship. Lomax and Bircholl agreed to this but have done nothing to make this happen. Lomax now says that he will not take him as an apprentice and sees no reason why he should not keep him for as long as he wants.
Lomax has plenty of work coming and wants a hand, but until he makes Bircholl his apprentice - or fires him - a “fair man” (i.e. one operating according to union rules) cannot work there (Rule XXIII).
Rules about apprenticeships, such as how long they lasted (seven years usually) under the authority of a master printer (who was time served himself), along with how many apprentices an office should be allowed to have, were vital ways in which the Society controlled the labour market for printers in their locality. Without that control the market would be full of people who had inadequate training in the trade and who as non-members could be persuaded to undercut the wages of “fair men” (time-served members). There was also the question of the quality or otherwise of the work that they produced.
The complex relations between Lomax and Bircholl show how little economic distance there was between a small struggling master printer and a man working for him. Almost certainly Bircholl would have asked for less than the going price for a “fair man”. Without the ‘closed shop’ of the Society, wages could experience a ‘race to the bottom’.