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Employers' organisation and strikebreaking in Britain, 1880-1914

McIvor, Arthur J. (1984) Employers' organisation and strikebreaking in Britain, 1880-1914. International Review of Social History, 29 (1). pp. 1-33. ISSN 1469-512X

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The historical development of employers' associations and the role these organisations played in strikebreaking has been considerably neglected in industrial-relations history. With a few notable recent exceptions, research has tended to concentrate on the development and struggles of the organisations of men, rather than the masters. This is partly the result of the secrecy and anonymity of employers' associations and their reluctance to allow access to their records or to attract media interest, and partly because the defensive and conservative attitudes and policies of employers' organisations have proved less attractive to historians than the more militant political and social theories that lie at the foundation of trade-union policy. In particular, the strikebreaking activities of employers and their organisations were not widely publicised. As a result, this whole emotive area is shrouded in exaggeration, sensationalism, distortion and the propagation of myths by both workers and employers. The object of this paper is to analyse the parameters of employers' coercive strikebreaking tactics from the 1880's to 1914 and to shed some light on the role employers' associations played during industrial stoppages. The first section briefly outlines the main developments in employers' organisation, solidarity and labour-relations policy before 1914. Following this is a discussion of the various strikebreaking tactics utilised by employers in this period, broken down into sections on labour replacement, victimisation and legal action, strike compensation and internal solidarity, and, finally, the lock-out.