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The creation of the NUPB&W
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.