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Print Unions


Watch 'Print Unions & Strikes' (54 sec)

The Unions and ‘Chapel’ (work-based Union branch) played an important role within the printing industry in Scotland. Most printing firms operated a ‘closed shop’ policy, which meant that to work in the company you had to be a Union member. Unions limited the number of apprentices and created a strong sense of belonging to the local ‘chapel’. The chapel was presided over by the ‘Father of the Chapel’ who would represent employees in disagreements with management and undertook a social welfare function for Union members. 

Whilst The Society of Master Printers of Scotland was the employers organisation for the printing industry. It was the Unions of the 20th century who  continued the fight for their members’ rights, particularly with respect to working hours and holidays with pay. The strength of the print Unions and their bargaining power with print employers meant that by 1946 the National Graphical Association and the Scottish Typographical Association had negotiated two weeks’ holiday with pay, making print workers the first in the UK to achieve this.

The papermaking industry in Scotland was not as highly unionised as the printing industry. Papermills were often owned and run by several generations of particular families. Mill owners were highly paternalist and were reluctant to let Unions into their firms. Papermills were not ‘closed shops’ and did not operate the strict apprenticeship system of printing firms. Mill employees were often Union members but the Union was not as strong in this industry. As a result papermaking employees were slow to capitalize on the inroads made by Unions in other industries to secure shorter working hours and better conditions.

This section will aim to provide a brief history of the origins of the trade union movement within the printing industry in Scotland. Together with a brief introduction to other craft industries unions such as the Booksellers Association. It will detail brief histories of the major print & other craft industies unions and then discuss the impact that these unions had on the working lives of Scots within the printing industry.