Issue date
12 Mar 2001
'The First world war led to a very rapid development of the shop stewards' movement,' wrote G. D. H. Cole. 'Under war conditions, changes in workshop practice were continually being made . . . . up‑grading of less skilled workers to skilled jobs, breaking up jobs previously done by skilled workers into their skilled and less skilled components, extended employ­ment of female labour, and so on. These changes had to be introduced by negotiation at the workshop level; for they were far too many and diverse to be handled by full‑time Trade Union officials or by district negotiation. They came to be handled mainly by shop stewards and shop stewards' com­mittees.'

'The shop steward' wrote R. Page Arnot 'was originally a minor official appointed from the men in a particular workshop and charged with the duty of seeing that all the Trade Union contributions were paid. He had other small duties. But gradually, as the branch got more and more out of touch with the men in the shop, these men came to look to the official who was on the spot to represent their grievances.... In some big industrial concerns, composed of a number of workshops, the committees of stewards from the various shops very largely took over the whole conduct of negotiations and arrangement of shop conditions.'

This was especially true of the engineer­ing and ship building industries and of the North East, Clydeside and Coventry areas, where the more militant trade unionists began to look to the shop stewards as a permanent alternative leadership.

 

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