National Association of Operative Plasterers
Plasterers went through great difficulties before a stable union structure could be established, with intermittent attempts made between 1810 and 1860. The Building Trades Dispute of 1859, when workers were locked out, provided the necessary impetus for a national union to be established in 1860. The first thirty years were marked by the need to balance 'national' and 'local' concerns with many local branches wishing to preserve their financial and decision making powers. The main offices moved from Liverpool to Birmingham in 1880 and then on to London in 1885. Following the move, members in Manchester resisted centralisation and initially refused to co-operate until agreements were reached on branch autonomy.
By 1889 the union was making significant progress and running national campaigns against the sub-contracting of skilled work. 1891 saw major disputes in London and Halifax with the latter lasting for over six months. Against a backdrop of major industrial disputes the Union struggled to keep going in the 1890's with the financial reserves being depleted through regional strike action and a national lock out which lasted for three months in 1899.
In 1900 the Union became a part of the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner of the Labour Party.
The case for independent labour representation was strengthened not by political debate but from the need to do something about the Taff Vale judgement, which arose out of a railway strike in 1900. In 1901 the House of Lords held that the funds of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants were liable for damages arising out of a strike of its members. This decision reversed the previous understanding of the law - at least for the previous 30 years - that trade unions could not be sued for damages. Following the lengthy Bradford lock out (January to December 1903) the Union became involved in an important legal case [Smithies v. NA.O.P] which was only finally resolved in 1909. The General Secretary of the time remarked that the case provided ‘a very good harvest for the lawyers' and the union was burdened with the high costs of defending the case.
In 1913 the union was subjected to a lengthy lock out in London which was ended only by the outbreak of War. With many members in the Army the union suffered severe financial difficulties in wartime but grew rapidly after the end of conflict in the temporary post-war boom. The union made a particular effort in assisting disabled service personnel to find employment.
In 1918 the union changed into the National Association of Plasterers, Granolithic & Cement Workers but reverted to the original title in 1930. The inter war period saw the union in financial difficulties through lengthy disputes and high levels of unemployment in the building industry. Active campaigning took place in respect of housing policy both in terms of additional house building but also for the need to ensure quality of work. From 1939 the union became more centralised in operation and during the Second World War permitted changes in working practices in the light of wartime needs.
In 1967 the union incorporated with the Scottish National Plasterers' Union and became a part of the Transport & General Workers Union in 1968.
Resources about Plasterers unions in the library collection
The Working Class Movement Library has N.A.O.P. records from 1890-1947, with monthly, quarterly and annual reports from that period. It also has two works on the history of the union by JR Newman in 1960 (The N.A.O.P. heritage: a short historical review of the growth and development of the National Association of Operative Plasterers, 1860-1960 - Shelfmark: B33) and ‘Onlooker' in 1930. Search our catalogue for more information here.
Other sources of information
The Modern Records Centre at Warwick University has extensive records:
National Association of Operative Plasterers (MSS.126/OP) 1862-1967 - Journal (Executive minutes and accounts), 1862-1865; National Executive Council minutes, 1949-64; reports, 1873-1967; census, 1881; judicial proceedings, 1908; rules, 1965; London District minutes, 1895-1913, and fines book, 1920-1932.
Material related to the Scottish unions can be found at both the National Library of Scotland and the University of Aberdeen. The papers of the Manchester branch of the N.A.O.P. can be accessed at the Greater Manchester County Record Office, which from March 2014 is housed in Manchester's Central Library.