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Sunday 23 Apr 2017
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Printers and Unions
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Print trade unionism is a story of struggle and sacrifice, of pride and self-confidence. Union membership and organisation is closely tied to the development of print skills and craft and of new technologies in a most dynamic series of interrelated industries.

On the following pages is a tale of bravery and comradeship and the evolution of a single organisation to represent workers in all sectors of print production; from paper making, an ancient and key industry, to laser driven typesetters and printers.

The history includes a wide range of lesser-known crafts from paper finishers to bookbinders and electrotypers, from wallpaper makers to letterpress operators. It is a story rich in drama and achievement.

The history of printing is key to any understanding of the onward march of knowledge. Print workers have always been in the front ranks of those fighting to extend access to knowledge, a struggle that, in it is intimately tied to that of liberty, freedom and workers’ rights. Britain’s print workers have also supported their brothers and sisters abroad when they too have been engaged on the same quest.

Special recognition in the Collection is given to those many print workers who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain and who laid down their lives in World War Two.

The following pages are drawn from a specially commissioned history of the Graphical, Paper and Media Unions written by the late John Gennard, Emeritus Professor University of Strathclyde.

John Gennard studied and wrote extensively on the histories of the printing and papermaking trades unions. John’s knowledge of the unions, his understanding of the industries and his support as an educationalist and historian to the many men and women who fought for and supported trade unions in the printing and papermaking trades remains unsurpassed. We thank him for all of his hard work and dedication in producing this history.

Please note that this history is copyrighted. Apply here for permission to reproduce in part or in whole. Reproduction must always include clear reference to origin of the text in the Printers’ Collection at Marx Library and to Professor Gennard.

The Graphical, Paper & Media Union

The Graphical, Paper and Media Union (GPMU) came into being on 30 September 1991 following an amalgamation between the National Graphical Association (82) and the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (82). The former was the result of an amalgamation on 29 March 1982 between the National Graphical Association (NGA) and the Society of Lithographic, Artists, Designers, Engravers and Process Workers (SLADE). The Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (82) was a merger on 31 July 1982 between the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (75) and the National Society of Operative Printers, Graphical and Media Personnel (NATSOPA).

The GPMU initially brought together in one union all trade unionists working in the printing, packaging, publishing and papermaking industries. Its members worked as papermakers, ink makers, graphic re-producers, printing plate makers, printers, artists, designers, photographers, telecommunication and electronic media workers, keyboard and desktop publishing operators, bookbinders, print finishers, packers, warehouse staff, dispatch and delivery drivers, clerical, administrative and managerial staff, tele-sales and other sales staff. 20% of GPMU members were women.

On its formation, it was the seventh largest union in the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the largest graphical, paper and paper-conversion trade union in the world.

On 1 November 2004, the GPMU transferred its 103,000 members into AMICUS becoming its Graphical, Paper and Media Sector. In 2007 AMICUS and the Transport and General Workers Union merged to form UNITE The Union in which the former GPMU became its Graphical, Paper and Media Sector.

Over a period of 220 years, 50 trade unions came together to form the GPMU. Trade unions in the printing and paper making industries emerged in the 1780s. However, long before this, compositors, machine men and bookbinders controlled their working lives through the institution of the chapel.

The Chapel

When William Caxton set up the country’s first printing press at Westminster in 1476, the process separated into two operations that remained little changed for some 400 years. First, compositors arranged from their case of type individual letters and spaces to form lines of text, which were assembled in galleys before being locked into place. Then machine men inked the surface of the assembled type and pressed it against sheets of paper. In addition to these two groups of workers, there were proofreaders, flyboys and apprentices usually indentured for between seven and ten years.

Long before the arrival of printing trade unions, printers exercised self-government through the chapel, a term whose origins remain unclear. Some say it is connected to the location of early printing offices in or near churches or a reference to the large number of religious books and bibles that were the bread and butter work of earlier printers. Given medieval guilds had their own chapel; the term is possibly connected to the historical organisation of the trade. The Stationers’ Company was the guild for both master printers and other workers.

The chapel legislated both on how production was organised and how its members behaved in the workplace. Membership was compulsory for compositors and pressmen hired on a permanent basis. Apprentices only joined on finishing their apprenticeship. Masters, foremen and proofreaders were all excluded. Chapel income came from entry fees and fines from enforcing its rules. The five misdemeanours incurring fines were fighting, swearing, bad language, being drunk at work and failing to snuff out a candle when leaving the workshop. Chapel organisation, however, was democratic and its members decided each issue. This democratic ideal was compromised by the turn of the 18th century as by that time the chapel was under employer control. New life, however, was given by the arrival of trade societies and trade unions.

Printing Craft Unions

The demarcation of jobs between the craft printing unions was, until the 1960s, clear. In the letterpress printing process the composing and correction (reading) functions involved five craft unions of which two were confined to London and one to Scotland. The London Society of Compositors (LSC) founded in 1785 but re-launched in 1848, organised compositors and readers (correctors of the process) in London defined as a 15-mile radius from Charing Cross. It had 14,000 members. The Association of the Correctors of the Press (ACP) formed in 1854 had 1,500 members employed in periodical and trade typesetting houses. Its members who became readers by passing the Association’s entry examination had previously been readers’ assistants. The LSC considered an efficient reader who read, and corrected, the compositor’s work required understanding of the compositors’ work. Every compositor was a potential reader. The ACP viewed reading as a profession and not an extension of the composing function.

The Monotype Casters and Type founders Society (MCTS), formed in 1889, organised monotype caster attendants, which the craft unions claimed were mechanics and not printers. Monotype machines required two workmen – a keyboard operator and a type caster. When monotype-casting machines were introduced, the Typographical Association (TA) organised the type casters as well as the keyboard operator. The employers argued typecasting was semi-skilled work and as it required no knowledge of composition should not be represented by the craft unions. The LSC disdained to organise monotype castors so the MCTS came into being recognised as a craft union by the other main letterpress craft unions. It had 939 members with 75% employed in London. It had some membership in the provinces and refused to confine recruitment to London. In 1962, the MCTS transferred into the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding and Paper workers (NUPB&PW).

The Typographical Association (TA), founded in 1849, had 63,000 members and organised in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic compositors, readers, monotype keyboard operators, type casters and machine managers.

The Scottish Typographical Society (STA) formed in 1853 had 6,500 members. It established in 1918 an Auxiliary Section open to all non-craft print workers in Scotland. In 1973, the STA changed its name to the Scottish Graphical Association (SGA). On 1 October 1975, the SGA amalgamated with the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT) to from SOGAT (75).

For the transmission and receiving of text and pictures for inclusion in newspapers and magazines, the appropriate union was the National Union of Press Telegraphists (NUPT) formed in 1909 and which had 1,300 members. Its members received and transmitted text and pictures to newspapers, to news agencies (Reuters, Press Associations, etc) to betting shops and to television and radio stations. Its wire and tele-photo operators also worked in the House of Commons and the Stock Exchange.

Members of the National Society of Electrotypers produced letterpress-printing plates and Stereotypers (NSES) which had 5,000 members employed in the foundry of newspapers, general print and advert setting houses. Although many stereotypers worked in newspapers or trade houses, the more common situation was their employment in general print in ones and twos. Most general printing establishments had insufficient work to justify employing a stereotyper so stereotyping equipment was often operated by members of other unions, often causing ill-feeling between the NSES and those unions.

A printing machine manager staffed letterpress-printing machines. In London, they had their own union, the Printing Machine Managers Trade Society (PMMTS), separate from compositors. The PMMTS, formed in 1839, had 5,700 members. In England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic except for Dublin, machine managers were members of the TA and in Scotland of the STA. In 1955, craft compositor and machine men in London finally became members of one union when the LSC and the PMMTS amalgamated to create the London Typographical Society (LTS).
On 1 January 1964, after 180 years of separatism, the letterpress craftsmen of London and of the English provinces, Wales and the Island of Ireland came together when the LTS and the TA amalgamated to form the National Graphical Association (NGA). On 28 June 1965, the ACP and the NUPT transferred their membership into the NGA. In October 1967, the NSES did the same. By 1967, apart from Scotland, the UK had a single letterpress craft union.

Twenty-two years later in October 1979, the National Union of Wall covering, Decorative and Allied Trades (NUWDAT) joined the NGA. It was an industrial union with 4,000 members. It represented the wall covering industry, skilled and unskilled workers on its origination side, on its machine production side and in the finishing, warehouses and despatch areas. It also organised the white-collar employees of the industry. 25% of its members did administrative, technical and clerical jobs in the wall covering industry.

The lithographic printing process became significant in the last half of the 19th century, and its two craft unions were organised on national lines. In plate making and pressrooms the dominant union was the Amalgamated Society of Lithographic Printing and Auxiliaries of Great Britain and Ireland (ASLP). Formed in 1860, it had 11,800 members who controlled a process that printed not only on paper but also on metal, for example beverage cans and food containers. The union had two other groups of members – Plate Preparers and the operators of small offset printing and duplicating machines. In the 1960s, the lithographic printing process expanded at the expense of letterpress leading to, on 1 January, ASLP merging with the NGA.

Origination work in lithography was organised by The Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers, Engravers and Process Workers (SLADE), which came into being in 1885. It had 12,000 members. The technological developments of the 1970s and 1980s centred on the growth of photocomposition or computerised typesetting, replacing hot metal. These technological developments led to inter-union disputes between the NGA and SLADE which were only resolved when the two unions amalgamated in March 1982 to form the NGA (82) an act which also created a single craft union within the UK printing industry. Before the introduction of the camera, pictures or illustrations were produced by craftsmen actually creating the picture by engraving on wood or metal or by lithography. Photography allowed the design and creation of illustrations to be performed separately from the printing reproduction process. The development of new techniques changed this by allowing the complete image of the job to be prepared in print form before reproduction began. The preparation of copy could be done before work reached the printing plant from either ‘original copy’ or from flexible photographic film material.

The United Society of Engravers was founded when the Scottish Calico Printers and the Manchester Calico Printers merged in 1969. The union was Manchester based and merged with SLADE in 1973. Its 631 members became the Wallpaper and Textile Section of the union. Calico was a type of white or unbleached cotton cloth. It was a printed cotton fabric.

Typographical Associations and the TUC

The formation of the Typographical Association is complex, however, the union had a major influence on the development of the British trade union movement. A forerunner, the Northern Typographical Union, was founded in 1830. This was a federation of small, local societies in England and the Isle of Man, and included the well-established Manchester Typographical Society - founded in 1797. During the early 1840s, the Northern Typographical Union began organising compositors in southern towns, but suffered setbacks and reconstituted itself as the National Typographical Association in 1844. The London Union of Compositors had reconstituted itself as the South East Region, and the General Typographical Association of Scotland as the Northern Region. However, the organisation had insufficient income to cover disputes, and following a major strike in Edinburgh during 1848, it was forced to dissolve. The Association's South East Region re-established itself as a separate union, the London Society of Compositors.

In 1848 the National Typographical Association collapsed. In 1849 the Provincial Typographical Association dropped the word “Provincial” and a nation-wide organisation called the Typographical Association emerged. In 1853 the Scottish Typographical Association was formed.

Three prominent members of the Typographical Association played an important role in calling the first meeting of the Trades Union Congress held in Manchester on 4th June 1868. William Dronfield, a compositor, was the Secretary of the Sheffield Typographical Society. In 1866 he called a conference in Sheffield, which organised the United Kingdom Alliance of Organised Trades, and he was elected as its secretary. William Henry Wood was a compositor, who became the Secretary of the Manchester Typographical Society. In 1864, he was elected as the first Secretary of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council. Wood played a prominent role in the Sheffield conference of 1866. Samuel Caldwell Nicholson was also a compositor who became the treasurer of the Manchester Typographical Society. In 1864, he was elected the first President of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council. Each was convinced of the need for a national trade union organisation. Together they called a meeting in Manchester in 1868, held in the Mechanics’ Institute, which is regarded as the first ever Trades Union Congress.

The creation of the NUPB&W

The Bookbinders

In 1775, bookbinders in London formed three lodges collectively known as the United Friendly Society of Journeymen Bookbinders. Bookbinding was, at this time, a highly skilled handcraft. In 1839, a 30-week long dispute over limitations of apprentices strained the Society’s funds so in 1840, the London Consolidated Lodge of Journeymen Bookbinders was formed. In April 1840, a national bookbinding organisation entitled the Bookbinders Consolidated Union was created. The London Consolidated Lodge joined this national union but its financial weakness, stemming from the 1839 dispute, resulted in its eventual withdrawal. The internal dissensions amongst London bookbinders continued. In 1844, a Finishers’ Friendly Association was formed which was accused by the Consolidated Lodge of libel, resulting in the formation of a breakaway union – the Day working Bookbinders Society.

By 1860, four societies represented bookbinders in London – the London Consolidated Lodge, the Day working Bookbinding Society, the Vellum Binders and the London branch of the Consolidated Union. Between 1850 and 1890, as cloth binding came to the fore, highly skilled finishers no longer played a dominant role in union affairs. The Vellum Binders Society, formed in 1823, specialised in binding account books. It survived until 1911 when it joined the National Union of Bookbinders and Machine Rulers. In 1873, a fifth organisation for London bookbinders came into existence with the formation of the London Society of Machine Rulers. Machine ruling was used, for example, in the production of ledgers used in offices and later banks. In English provinces, machine rulers were members of the bookbinders’ national union, which tried unsuccessfully to organise London Machine Rulers. The London Society of Machine Rulers did not participate in talks, which brought into existence in 1911 the National Union of Bookbinders and Machine Rulers. This was a merger of four London bookbinding societies. It was 1925 before the London Society of Machine Rulers joined the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding, Machine Ruling and Paper workers (NUPBMR&PW).

By the mid 1830s, bookbinding centres had their own trade society but, in October 1835, delegates from these local bookbinding societies formed the Bookbinding Consolidated Relief Fund. It was primarily a benefit society financing relief to bookbinders travelling to seek work. In 1840, the Bookbinders’ Consolidated Relief Fund and the London Bookbinders joined forces to form the Bookbinders’ Consolidated Union but within 12 months the London union withdrew. In 1857, the Consolidated Union opened a London branch and in 1872 added the words “Machine Rulers” to its title to become the Bookbinders and Machine Rulers Consolidated Union. In September 1872, the Edinburgh Union Society of Journeymen Bookbinders (formed in 1822) also joined the Bookbinders and Machine Rulers Consolidated Union. The Bookbinders’ and Machine Rulers’ Consolidated Union remained more concerned with the dispensation of benefits and relief to those travelling to seek work than with improving employment conditions.

Bookbinders were the first print craft union to organise women workers, although there was much debate before this was achieved in 1918. The craft bookbinders wanted to keep the female labour problem of unregulated pay to a manageable level until it could be eliminated. They feared female labour would undermine their wages. However, in the early 20th century the organisation of women into unions such as the Printers’ Warehousemen and Cutters led the bookbinders to reconsider their policy towards women workers. If women bookbinders were to remain in separate unions from men, there was a serious prospect of inter-union strife.

The organising of women was hotly debated in the National Union of Bookbinding and Machine Rulers and only in 1918 did it agree to admit women. In doing so, it came into conflict with the Printers’ Warehousemen and Cutters Union. This problem was only resolved when the Cutters and the Bookbinders amalgamated in 1921 to form the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding, Machine Ruling and Paper Workers (NUPBMR&PW).

There were, however, those who advocated women establish their own trade unions. In 1874, the Society of Women Employed in Bookbinding was formed but failed to expand significantly and collapsed in 1913. More successful was the Manchester and Salford Society of Women Employed in Bookbinding and Printing Trades, formed in May 1896 and which existed for 46 years. It was recognised by employers in 1898 and established branches in Warrington and the Potteries. On 1 January 1943 it merged into the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding, and Paper workers becoming its Manchester Women’s branch. Its members in Warrington and Stoke transferred to the NUPB&PW branches in those towns while members in Crewe formed the Crewe branch of that union.


The Pressrooms

Pressmen were amongst the first in the industry to organise into a trade union that only admitted those who had served an apprenticeship. The London Union of Pressmen (LUP) formed in 1834 and then split in 1875 when its secretary formed an alternative organisation referred to as the Amalgamation which was more trade union orientated than the LUP, which was a club controlling certain job vacancies. Relationships between the Amalgamation and the LUP were poor with the two refusing to recognise each other. In 1879 the Amalgamation changed its title to the Amalgamated Association of Pressmen. In 1891 the LUP joined the Amalgamated Association whose members in December 1925 voted to dissolve the Association and join the Printing Machine Branch of the NUPBMR&PW.

The Platen Machine Minders Society (PMMS), part of the growth of trade unions amongst non-craft workers, was formed in London in 1890. Its members worked on the new platen presses that printed single-sheet stationery, posters and handbills. In 1912 its members voted against merger with the PMMTS but although merger talks restarted in 1914, they made little progress. Eventually in 1924 the PMMS joined the Printing Machine Branch of the NUPBMR&PW.

The Warehouse

Trade unionism amongst craft employees in warehouses in printing establishments began in London in 1840 with the formation of the London Society of Printers’ Warehousemen. Although committed to achieving minimum wages for warehousemen and cutters, it gave a higher priority to its benevolent society activities. In 1860, the Caxton Printers’ Warehousemen’s Association came into being, recruiting any employees under 45 years of age working in printers’ or booksellers’ warehouses, provided they had worked for at least five years in such an environment.

The creation of trade unions in the late 1880s for unskilled workers saw the formation in 1889 of the Printers’ and Stationers’ Warehousemen, Cutters and Assistants Union catering for men who unloaded, stacked, sorted, cut and folded paper in printers’ and stationers’ warehouses. Its membership was open to men over 18 years of age employed as a warehouseman or warehouse assistant in the printing, bookbinding, ruling, rolling or stationery trades. Within ten years, the union had established itself as a dynamic one in contrast to the two craft unions that required five years experience before granting membership. In 1893, the two craft unions merged to form the Amalgamated Society of Printers’ Warehousemen. Despite this, the Printers’ and Stationers’ Warehousemen, Cutters and Assistants Union continued to grow and in January 1900 swallowed up the merged craft union to create the National Amalgamated Society of Printers’ Warehousemen and Cutters. In 1912, the word “amalgamated” was dropped from its title. The union was involved in inter union disputes with the bookbinders’ trade union and the printers’ labourers’ union – NATSOPA. In 1874 it merged with the National Union of Paper mill Workers to create the National Union of Printing and Paper Workers (NUPPW). In 1901 the Manchester Printers’ and Stationers’ Cutters’ Union joined the Amalgamated Society followed one year later by the Dublin Paper Cutters’ Society. In 1903, the United Women Bookbinders Union, formed in 1892, joined the Society to protect its members from the introduction of folding machines. In 1901 a small society, the Male Relief Stampers’ Society, was formed but in 1919 transferred its membership into the London branch of the NUPBMR&PW.

Friction between the National Union of Bookbinders and Machine Rulers and the National Union of Printing and Paper workers over the organisation of women in the bookbinding and machine ruling trades continued, so a merger of the two societies offered the only long term solution. This was achieved in January 1921 with the formation of the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding, Machine Ruling and Paper Workers with a membership of 100,000. At the time this was the largest ever amalgamation in the history of printing trade unions. The words ‘Machine Ruling’ were dropped from the union’s title in 1928 thereby creating the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding and Paper workers.

Paper mill Workers

Papermakers were also amongst the earliest trade unionists. The Original Society of Papermakers (OSP) was formed in 1800. Its members were handmade-paper craftsmen who had served a seven-year apprenticeship. The union’s head office was in Kent, the principal centre of the trade, but the union was formed as the industry entered decline resulting from the introduction of papermaking machines. In 1826 the Society became divided by an internal dispute over pay rates for a new method of making lightweight paper. This ended in the formation of a breakaway society in 1830. The two societies, known as the Star and the Deckle, relaxed their qualifications for membership. In 1837 the two unions reunited as the Original Society of Paper workers. The OSP continued to exist for a further 100 years until joining the NUPB&PW in 1948.

OSP craft pride prevented adjustment to the new conditions. The growing workforce of machine men and finishers in the machine mills were without union representation so in September 1854 formed the United Brotherhood of Paper workers. A number of its members objected to its formation and in 1869 formed a breakaway union, the Modern Society of Papermakers. This Society and the United Brotherhood pursued their separate paths for a quarter of a century before joining together in 1894 as the Amalgamated Society of Papermakers (ASP). It represented the beatermen, machine men and finishers – the craftsmen of the machine mills - whilst the OSP represented craftsmen in the vat mills, so called after the large tank or “vat” in which they worked. In 1937, the ASP joined the NUPB&PW.

There were semi-skilled and unskilled workers in papermaking establishments. The National Union of Papermill Workers (NPUMW) came into existence in 1890 to cater for their interests. On its formation, there were three craft paper worker unions. The OSP failed to adjust to the factory age. Machine-produced paper had two craft unions – the United Brotherhood and the Modern Society – catering for men in charge of machines and included overseers and foremen. The National Union of Papermill Workers was open to all male and female workers over 16 years of age employed within a paper mill. At the time of its formation, unskilled employees in paper mills worked for 72 hours for wages of 75p per week. In 1914, the union amalgamated with the National Society of Printers’ Warehousemen and Cutters to create the National Union of Printing and Paper Workers, which merged in 1921 with the National Union of Bookbinders and Machine Rulers to form the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding, Machine Ruling and Paper Workers (NUPBMR&PW).


Other Workers

Until 1926, circulation representatives of newspapers were members of the NUPBMR&PW’s London Central Branch. One result of the 1926 general strike was that circulation representatives, including circulation managers, split from the London Central Branch to create the Circulation and Publishing Association. In 1931, circulation representatives of newspapers returned to the NUPB&PW as a new branch entitled the Travellers and Circulation Branch.

In 1961, the Book Edge Guilders’ Trade Society members transferred into the London Bookbinders Branch of the NUPB&PW. It had been founded in 1889 and organised those who gilded and polished with an agate the edges of books. In the following year, two other unions joined the NUPB&PW – the Monotype Casters and Type founders and the Paper mould and Dandy Roll Makers’ Society. The last named union’s members made the “dandy rolls” which had a raised wire design that was incorporated with the papermaking machine and run lightly upon wet pulp to produce a watermark. The “dandy rolls” at that time made the watermark in banknotes, passports, driving licences, government document and cup final tickets. In July 1963 the Pattern Card Makers’ Society founded in Manchester in 1865, transferred its 176 members into the NUPB&PW. Its member’s jobs were skilled and included assembling “swatches” of clothes into pattern cards, the operation of serration machines and mounting ranges of dyed clothes. The Society’s membership was dependent on the cotton industry for their work.


This union came into being in 1889 as the Printers’ Labourers’ Union for assistants in the machine rooms of London. Its members argued they were not ‘labourers’ and changed the name to the Operative Printers’ Assistants’ Society. When the union recruited outside London, National was added to its title. Finally in 1912, after the union recruited some machine managers, the word “and” was inserted between the words “Printers” and “Assistants”. NATSOPA was born.

In 1938 NATSOPA secured recognition from employers to organise and bargain for clerical and administrative workers in printing firms and newspaper offices but with severe restrictions upon its freedom to represent them. NATSOPA thus organised administrative and clerical grades, copyholders, revisers, machine managers, machine assistants, photo printers, linotype assistants, general assistants and ancillary staff.

Although it claimed to be a “National” union, over 90% of NATSOPA’s membership was employed in London and over half employed in newspapers. The Machine Branch, the Clerical Branch and the Revisers, Ink and Roller Makers and Ancillaries (RIRMA) organised NATSOPA’s London membership. Some 42% of the London Clerical Branch worked in national newspapers. The RIRMA branch encompassed occupational groups such as engravers’ assistants, cleaners, revisers and photo-technicians. The Machine branch organised NATSOPA casual workers in national newspapers. NATSOPA also organised employees in ink manufacturing.


SOGAT came into being on 1 February 1966 with the amalgamation of the NUPB&PW and NATSOPA. The merger was based on a two-pillar structure holding up the “umbrella” organisation. SOGAT was divided into two highly autonomous divisions upon which the parent society, SOGAT, nested. Every member of SOGAT belonged to one of two divisions known as Division A and Division 1. The former comprised the members of NUPB&PW and the latter the members of NATSOPA. The integration of the divisions into SOGAT was to be decided at a National Conference to be held no later than 1969.

The important factor in the creation of SOGAT was the formation of the NGA in 1964, which was seen as the forerunner to the emergence of one craft union for the industry. NUPB&PW and NATSOPA feared a single craft union would isolate them, resulting in the undermining of craft/non craft differentials, in the continued prevention of access to non-skilled employees to skilled jobs, in the poaching of their members, in a continuation of the apprenticeship system in opposition to adult promotion to craft jobs and in the continued segregation of workers in the industry. In the early 1960s, the lithographic printing process advanced at the expense of the letterpress process and NUPB&PW and NATSOPA feared a single craft union would deny their members’ a stake in this “litho revolution”. They recognised that in these circumstances to remain separate would result in the craft unions and the employers colluding against them and/or in playing them off against each other.

The problems of devising a constitution for SOGAT proved insurmountable and in 1972 the amalgamation was dissolved. The NUPB&PW retained the title SOGAT but NATSOPA adopted the title the National Society of Operative Printers, Graphical and Media Personnel but retained the acronym of NATSOPA. The divorce happened because it proved impossible to accommodate the fundamental constitutional principles of NUPB&PW and NATSOPA. The former was a de-centralised union with a high degree of branch autonomy. The latter was a highly centralised union with a strong autocratic general secretary. Despite the divorce, both unions continued to be pro-merger. In 1975, SOGAT and the Scottish Graphical Association amalgamated to form the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (75).

Two years earlier, the Sign and Display Union, which organised screen printers who produced posters, point of sale, exhibitions and illuminated vehicle signs merged into NATSOPA.

In 1982, NATSOPA and the SOGAT (75) merged to create the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (82). The pressures leading to this merger included continuing technological developments, most notably the rise of lithography, the growth of multi-national companies, the continued growth of an alternative printing industry such as the expansion of in-plant printing in banks, insurance companies and local and national government and the growth of information systems based on electronic devices


In November 2004 the GPMU transferred its members into AMICUS. AMICUS had been formed through a merger of the engineering, electrical and manufacturing union the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union and the white collar, scientific and finance union MSF. The GPMU transferred its membership at the same time as the finance and banking union Unifi. The GPMU became the Graphical, Paper and Media Sector of AMICUS in which it has full autonomy for industrial matters. AMICUS members employed in printing, publishing, packaging, paper and media industries such as engineers, electricians, process and publishing workers transferred into the Graphical, Paper and Media Sector.

Unite - The Union

In 2007, AMICUS and the Transport and General Workers Union merged to form Unite The Union, the biggest union in the UK with 1.5 million members and covering all sectors of the economy in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The Graphical, Paper and Media Sector, took into membership TGWU members employed papermaking and packaging.

In January 2014, further a re-organisation, driven by the economic changes to the printing industry which reflected in the declining number of members coupled with technological change notably in commercial printing, book printing, direct mail and newspapers saw the Unite Information Technology and Communications Sector merge with the GPM Sector to form the GPMITC sector, bringing into the new sector workers employed in the IT industries and workers in the electronic media and in broadcasting notably technical staff at the BBC and ITV.

Globalisation and Technological Change

Just as technological and economic change forced the mergers of many small, local graphical and paper making unions over a period of 150 years, technological and economic change created the need for unions to merge to stay relevant. Technological change has included the development of high-speed presses, automated print finishing, electronic publishing, the development of the Internet, web based publications, electronic books and the almost universal use of computers have created the paperless society.

The everyday requirements for printed products has diminished and this in turn affected the print and graphical unions worldwide - along with the globalization of economies.

Printed products can be produced anywhere in the world in ‘real-time’, the use of the internet and social media to get upto the minute information has effected newspapers with some newspapers now becoming ‘digital first’ or ‘digital only’ publications.

Specialist graphical and papermaking unions are now few and far between in Europe and in western economies. Graphical unions have merged with larger multi industry unions (such as Unite in the UK and Ireland).

For instance in Germany print graphical workers and journalists formally in the IG Media union are now part of the 2.1 million strong ver.di union. In the Nordic countries graphical workers are part of larger general or technology based unions, in the USA the Graphic Communications International Union have long been members of the Teamsters Union and in Canada, Canadian graphical and papermaking workers, previously part of the Canadian, Energy And Paperworkers Union are now part of Unifor following a merger between the CEP and the Canadian Autoworkers Union in 2013.

One significant development, due to the effects of globalisation was the creation of a global union Workers Uniting. In 2008 Unite and the United Steelworkers in the USA and Canada signed an agreement to form an independent union, registered in four countries, the UK, Ireland, USA and Canada to fightback against the power of multi-national corporations.

The USW itself has many thousands of members employed in the papermaking and packaging sector and the USW works closely with Unite in the paper and packaging sectors in developing collective bargaining strategies across common companies, exchange of information, regular dialogue, the involvement in European Works Councils and on organizing initiatives.

The effects of globalization have been felt far and wide for graphical and paperworkers. Global Union Federations such as the International Graphical Federation merged with other unions in the service and finance sector to form Union Network International (with a specialist graphical and packaging sector) and paper and packaging workers formerly in the International Chemical Workers Federation and International Metalworkers Federation are now part of the manufacturing global union federation of IndustriALL.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 10:32