The Ship Constructive and Shipwrights' Association was formed in 1908. It later became known as the Ship Constructors and Shipwrights' Association. It developed out of problems arising from a loss of status of the shipwrights when shipbuilding changed from wood to iron and sail to steam power.
In 1850 the United Kingdom Alliance of Associated Shipwrights had been formed as a loosely organised federal association of local autonomous societies. It failed to develop any form of centralised structure, or indeed, to reach agreement on the relationship of the local societies to a central structure. Local societies were reluctant to surrender parochial control of their assets and in that situation, each society tended to find its own solution. Even a change of title in 1878 to United Kingdom Amalgamated Society of Shipwrights failed to achieve any significant cohesion of the independent shipwrights' societies and the amalgamation became merely a discussion forum unable to stand comparison with the 'new model' amalgamated unionism of the Boilermakers or Engineers.
In 1882, as a result of initiatives taken by Glasgow and North Eastern societies, the Associated Society of Shipwrights was formed from eleven local societies at Glasgow, Govan, Leith, Clydebank, Greenock, Aberdeen, Dundee, Dumbarton, Jarrow, Tyne, (Heburn) and Walker. They were quickly joined by seven other societies at Preston, Port Glasgow, Kinghorn, Grangemouth, Fleetwood, Barrow and Whitehaven which spread the society's influence beyond Tyneside and Glasgow.
Later the title was changed to The Associated Shipwrights' Society in an attempt to unify the shipwrights working in timber and iron. Gradually other independent societies joined:
|South Shields Shipwrights||1823||1893|
|Passage West Shipwrights, Cork||1855||1893|
|Wexford Shipwrights' Association||1861||1893|
|City of Dublin Shipwrights||1887||1893|
|Belfast Shipwrights' Assoication||1855||1893|
|Newry and Warrenpoint Shipwrights||1889||1893|
|Liverpool Shipwrights' Society||1889||1894|
|Liverpool Mast and Block Makers||1848||1897|
|Wear Boat Builders Benevolent Society (Monkwearmouth)||1872||1898|
|River Thames Shipwrights' Protective and Benefit Society||1874||1899|
|Boat Builders' Union of the River Thames||1840||1899|
|Newport-Monmouth Shipwrights' Society||1858||1903|
|Gloucester Shipwrights' Society||1858||1903|
|Wear Shipwrights' Benevolent Society [including Hylton Shipwrights]||1846||1908|
|Shipwrights and Shipwrights' Ironworks Society||1882||1908|
|London and District Society of Drillers||1889||1908|
The name was then changed to Shipconstructive and Shipwrights' Association in 1908 after several major amalgamations. This brought an amalgamation with the Amalgamated Society of Drillers and Hole Cutters which in 1896 had itself been an amalgamation of some twenty five independent societies. In 1913, the North East Coast Riggers' Association joined and in 1919, the last of the old shipwright societies, the Liverpool Shipwrights' Trade and Friendly Society (1794) was absorbed.
In January 1963, it became part of the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Blacksmiths, Shipbuilders and Structural Workers which itself amalgamated to become the General Municipal and Boilermakers Society.
Major issues in the history of the union included piece work to which the union was hostile as being conducive to poor workmanship; demarcation primarily with the carpenters and joiners; the balance of power between the Executive and the local societies as expressed through circulars and delegate conferences. Alexander Wilkie played a central part in the development of the early years of the Union.
Apart from papers relating to union business, the bound volumes of Reports and papers include material relating to the following:
- Federation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades
- General Federation of Trades Unions
- Labour Representation Committee and Labour Party.
- Trades Union Congress and Scottish Trades Union Congress.
Many of these papers are the inaugural and early Reports and Conference papers and in addition there is material on: Housing, Old Age Pensions, Education, Boer War, Land, Co-partnership, Anti-vivisection, Public Transport.
We are grateful to the Chairman of The Friends Of The Library, John Smethurst, for assistance in compiling this brief history of the Shipwrights.