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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.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 10:32