The Railway Clerks' Association, 1919-1939

McMahon, Anthony (1993). The Railway Clerks' Association, 1919-1939. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis analyses the history of the Railway Clerks' Association between 1919 and 1939. At the beginning of this period the Association was the largest and strongest white-collar trade union in the country; in 1920 it had recruited nearly 90 per cent of the railway white-collar work-force. Although the membership numbers declined after 1920 they soon stabilized at 50 to 60 per cent of its potential membership which was significantly greater than the overall density of trade union membership amongst the male labour force between 1921-1939. At the beginning of the period, in 1919, the Association obtained negotiating recognition from the railway companies. Even so, it continued to use parliamentary methods to influence its members' employers and to sponsor its members as parliamentary candidates: at first to gain parliamentary influence to further its own aims, later to help with the Labour Party's long-term aims. Its best success in this field was in 1929, when eight members of the Association were elected. It called its members out on strike in 1926 - the only white-collar trade union to do this. The response from its membership was not overwhelming, but the importance of this gesture is that it happened and there was a visible response.

After commenting on theories concerning white collar trade unions, the working conditions of railway clerks and the organisation of the Association, the thesis discusses, within the framework of Michels' theory of organisations, selected aspects of the Association's work: wage negotiations, including the negotiations that secured recognition; parliamentary and electoral work; the Association's efforts to persuade the railway companies to provide better pension funds; its experiences during the General Strike; and how it dealt with internal dissension. The thesis concludes with an assessment of the Association as an example of a white-collar trade union and the level of organization and experience it had achieved by 1939, in relation to the challenge of war and its aftermath that the Association was to face.

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