Social Change in the Industrial Revolution: An Application of Theory to the British Cotton Industry

By Neil J. Smelser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
NEW CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT: THE EVOLUTION OF TRADE UNIONS

Introduction . In the last few chapters we followed the differentiation of roles within the family itself. The end-product in the 1840's and 1850's was a more specialized family structure. As part of this process, several of the family's functions began to slip away. To take over these old functions, complementary organizations began to appear. In particular, we witnessed the commencement of a greater interest in formal education for factory children. In this chapter and the next we shall trace the evolution of several other organizations which were geared closely to the functions of the family economy between 1770 and 1840 -- the trade union, the friendly society, the savings bank, the loan society, etc.

We may render the evolution of these social units more intelligible by applying the model of structural differentiation once again. Each came into existence or changed its old structure to fulfil a function more adequately. Each followed the steps of dissatisfaction, disturbance, handling and channelling, etc., in its course of development. This process is formally identical with the differentiation of roles in the family economy, even though we are now dealing with the appearance and change of larger organizations.

From the economic standpoint, the trade union is significant in so far as it controls or restricts the conditions of industrial production. We shall ignore this aspect of trade unionism in our analysis. From the standpoint of the family, the trade union is a specialized organization which regulates the relationship between the family unit and its industrial employment.* If there is any differentiation whatsoever between the family and the organization of production in society, such problems of regulation must arise. The trade union is thus an organization which mediates between the family and its industrial pursuits: "a continuous association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment."1

Because wage problems arise so often in industrial disputes, it is

____________________
*
That is to say, the trade union regulates, in part, the conditions of exchange at the EG-CG boundary. Above, pp. 163-4.
1
Webb, History of Trade Unionism, p. 1.

-313-

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