Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

Trade unions and trade conditions

Trade unions and trade conditions

The primary sources for information about conditions within the trade can be found in the records of the trade unions, on the one hand, and of the Labour Department on the other.

Although a number of specialised unions for occupations such as the letterpress machinists, bookbinders, lithographers, and paper-cutters were in existence at different times, with varying combinations in different regions, these nearly all came into existence after the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1894, and all were preceded by the various Typographical Associations which began with the Wellington Typographical Association in 1862 and were gradually combined into the New Zealand Printing and Related Trades Union. In 1995, this combined with the New Zealand Journalists and Graphic Process Union to form the New Zealand Printing, Packaging and Media Union which has now become a division of the New Zealand Engineers' Union (since 1996). The combined records of the successive unions have been deposited in the Victoria University of Wellington Library Labour Archives collection. The records of the Otago Typographical Association, and the Otago Branch of the Printing Union, are divided between the Dunedin Public Library and the Hocken Library of Otago University. Peter Franks is writing a history of the printing unions. Vivienne Porzsolt's typescript study, 'New Zealand printing unions in the 1920s and 1930s' (1982) is in the Turnbull Library's manuscript section.

Baxter contributed a brief historical survey to McKay (1940), and there are two centennial histories of individual branches. P.J. Stewart published Type of a Century in 1974, recounting the history of printing in Dunedin and Otago from the workman's point of view, with a more systematic account of the Otago Typographical Association and its successors from 1873. The Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Printing and Related Trades Union published Centenary 1862-1962 in 1962, drawing upon the Wellington Typographical Union's Jubilee Souvenir 1862-1912 for the earliest years. The Jubilee Souvenir seems to have drawn heavily on oral histories, but it also made use of such union records as existed.

Separate publications of the various unions, such as rulebooks and annual reports, made be found as individual items in library collections. The union records contain most of these publications, although many of the small local unions left no significant records.

Complementing the union records are those of the Department of Labour. Such records as survive are held in the National Archives, although a substantial amount of the material of interest is in the files damaged in the Hope Gibbons Building fire of 1952. The files which may be relevant are those dealing with the Factories Act (L/NA/1), the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act (L/NA/3), and Apprenticeship and Awards (L/NA/4). The annual reports of the Department, from its first in 1893 (AJHR H.10, 1893) publish statistical material on wage rates and employment levels, and occasionally include some brief information on conditions and accidents.

A much more substantial source of information on conditions in the trade would be in the arguments presented to the Arbitration Court during award applications. The awards themselves, printed in the 'Book of Awards', correctly Awards, Recommendations, Agreements etc. (1894/1900-1936), and succeeding titles, do not always give information on specific points relating to conditions. When the award defines what is and what is not covered it often specifies particular aspects of the work; however much of the necessary detail will have been presented in evidence, spelled out by the union in its application and refuted by the employers as they can. It will sometimes be recorded in newspaper reports, but must usually be sought in the records of the Court (not always preserved), or more fruitfully, in the records of the union or of the employers. In the case of the first major claim before the Court in 1912, the unions (a recently federated association) printed their full argument, the New Zealand Federated Typographical Association's Dominion Award Dispute, giving considerable detail on the impact of the new typesetting technology. In 1922 they published the Case for Typographers, in another significant dispute, with an analysis of the employers' figures and arguments. These are the exception. The union journal Imprint (beginning in October 1923) regularly published summaries of the union case before the Court, and the Wellington Branch's short-lived Printers' Mallet (1966-68), likewise reported current developments in industrial relations. The new union journal, The Printed Word (1995- ), follows this tradition.

Modern occupational illnesses differ from those of the past: in place of lead poisoning, burns from lead squirts or acid splashes, and respiratory troubles from acid vapours for photo-engravers, Imprint was concerned with occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) for photo-typesetters, including effects on eyes and brains of overexposure to visual display terminals (vol.33 no.2 (March 1981) p.7), and The Printed Word (vol.1 no.7, June 1996, p.10) has an article 'Solvent-induced neurotoxicity—the new asbestos?' about neurological poisoning from toxic chemicals in processing machinery, especially when used within inadequately ventilated premises. For OOS, a more general example of many is an article by Christine Robertson in the Evening Standard, Palmerston North, 20 January 1997 (p.5), which deals with the suffering it causes, and the employers' obligations under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

For the period before the formal sources existed we must rely on informal accounts. The evidence given to the Sweating Commission of 1889-90 (AJHR H.5, 1890) contains some extremely useful reports of the actual conditions experienced by men and women in some establishments, with some information also from management (notably George Whitcombe of Whitcombe & Tombs). The Pope, the Prelate and the Printer (1892) reports in detail the trial when Joseph Evison, manager of the Catholic Times, sued officials of the Wellington Typographical Society for libel for describing his management practices as 'sweating'; the resulting pamphlet gives much useful detail about the trade conditions of the time.

For the earlier years a few sources, chiefly with anecdotes, are available. In 1886 the publishers of the Otago Daily Times issued a collection of 'newspaper reports and correspondence' on the 'strike of compositors' very recently concluded. There are few disputes in the newspaper trade which have been as clearly and impartially documented. Harvey's 'Editors and compositors: contemporary accounts of the nineteenth century New Zealand press' (1990) surveys some of the documentary sources which provide information. Through the Elibank Press, Harvey has also published Trials of the Colonial Printer (1985) which brings together anecdotes to illustrate the conditions under which the printers worked. McKay's 'Tales of the trade' (1940d) also brings together a collection of anecdotes gathered by interviews (McKay's extensive collection of unpublished materials was destroyed by fire in the late 1950s).

The 1885 Government Printing Committee Report (AJHR I.5, 1885) includes a detailed commentary on the conditions in the Government Printing Office, as well as comments on the work-flow and the possible benefits of contracting work out. This is the only analysis of conditions in any printing establishment to give such detail.