Comment: lessons of history that are still relevant todayOn 20 Feb 2001 in Personnel Today Fashion dictates that we are all modernisers now. Whichmodern manager remains a personnel officer when their contemporaries are HRmanagers? But I have acquired a new respect for the value of experience throughthe celebrations of my union’s 150th anniversary. The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union was foundedin 1851. It was distinctive because it organised skilled people on the basis ofa mixture of practical, pre-welfare state benefits, and policies aboutemployment issues. What members really wanted was respect for theircontribution to our country’s dominance in the world of manufacturing. Theyrevered what it meant to be an engineer in Victorian Britain. What they really showed, though, was that they couldvoluntarily organise a wealthy modern institution. It was a part of workingclass emancipation to learn the mystery of self-help in creating an institutionin a hostile environment. They started a fight with employers over compulsoryovertime and piecework, and lost. The employers stood on the right to manage,and won. But the union did not disappear like many of its rivals andpredecessors. The organisation was so robust that it lived to fight anotherday.What is interesting is the key lesson the union learnt backin 1852. General secretary William Allen told members after the dispute, “We donot anticipate any future struggles such as we have seen for dominance orsuperiority – struggles in which all victors as well as vanquished fearfullysuffer. We think both parties are wiser than they were and more moderate. “We recognise that for trade societies to advance theinterests of the artisan, they must become different from what they have been.They must assume a different form, use another set of means. They must strivefor higher objects and, instead of accumulating power to do battle with otherinterests, they must husband resources to forward that intelligent, industrialprocess which will lift the operative into a higher condition. This will givehim a more stable position, add to his comforts and increase his opportunitiesfor knowledge.” We had dozens of employers at the recent celebrations, manyof them from industries unheard of in 1852. We even forgot old battles andwelcomed the Engineering Employers Federation as guests. But our pride and pleasure in the union’s role was madepossible only by learning the lessons of history. As I sat at the Grosvenor inPark Lane listening to Gordon Brown, Sir Ken Jackson and the president of thebiggest union in the world, IG Metall, expand on modern industrial relations,the need for American standards of productivity and the role of lifelonglearning in putting the “great” into Great Britain, I knew William Allen wouldhave understood the argument. After all, he was the first to use it. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos.