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Remember the days of The Chapel?

Started by Dave Hughes, March 03, 2009, 11:19:59 AM

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Dave Hughes

I've been contacted recently by Alex Lawrey, who is carrying out research for a new book. I'll let him explain:

QuoteI am currently writing a book called 'The Chapel and the Lodge', about the long history of printers' chapels and stonemasons' lodges and I would really like to chat (online, on the phone, where-ever) to printers who can remember the days of 'the chapel', anyone you can put me in touch with would be greatly appreciated.

The book is largely centred on the UK although as people and ideas travelled I have been looking at the transmission of the labour relations paradigm (for want of a less high-brow description) and I have found some (admittedly limited) evidence of 'the chapel' used in an American context (a strike at a Methodist publishers in the early 20th century as reported in the online archives of the New York Times). Although 'the chapel' may not have had wide currency in American printers unions there are certain words ('Rats') that suggest some form of transmission from the old world... I dont know for sure but to give another example the 8 hours movement which originated amongst Owenite trades unionists (GNCTU) in Britain clearly influenced trades unions worldwide: the same slogan used by the Owenists can be seen in Sydney in the 1860s so someone must have taken the ideas or words with them when emigrating or communicated through letters etc a kind of anti-globalisation movement in the mid 19th century that was global in its reach.

I would appreciate a link on the forum, basically any printers (or others) from anywhere who can remember 'the chapel' or just the local branch of the union (finding out whether 'chapels' did not exist is as relevant as discovering that they did) would be greatly appreciated. The story on your site about a printers initiation is remarkably similar in certain respects to rituals in printers fraternities in London of the 18th century and even those practised by the Compagnie de Griffarins (a printers journeymen combination) in Lyon in the early 16th century, so over time and space something of the antiquated ritual has survived. It seems that journalists also use the word chapel as a designation for local branch I am not sure when or how that came about its an area I need to investigate further.

I am also interested in how changes in technology were negotiated in the workplace, Wapping gives a sort of jaundiced view of this question there must have been examples of succesful negotiations for new technology and working arrangements both before and after the Wapping strike and I think its good to write about situations when industrial relations worked as well as when they didn't. Jan Materne's work on the Plantin printing chapel has shown that its main function was ensuring workplace discipline and the smooth operation of the presses, after all if their industry goes down the drain so do their jobs so workers groups have a vested interest in advancing their own industry. Even a public sector union like the FBU is generally in favour of modernisation, I mean what fireman would want to use 19th century equipment? 

If anyone can help Alex you can either post here (I've emailed Alex a link) or you can contact him directly via email at: alexlawrey -AT- (obviously replace -AT- with the commercial at symbol).
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Alex Lawrey's, request for information on the Chapel in the concept of print unions got me to thinking. This concept certainly travelled to Australia and North America. I was a member of the Printer and Kindred Industries Union (PKIU) in Australia and the International Typographical Union (ITU) in Canada. The in-house representatives of these unions were known as the Chapel. The Father of the Chapel (FoC) and his Chapel representatives, usually handled in-house issues and would deal directly with a department head on a specific work practice or misunderstanding that did not effect the industry as a whole and the collection of union dues. Small union print shops would have at least an FoC a Deputy Father, and possibly a Clerk. Larger companies would have a FoC, a Deputy, a  Clerk and departments would have their own Chapel Rep. These positions were filled via in-house elections.

At Canadian Linotype, the servicemen were members of the ITU, but we did not have a Chapel as such. Any matters pertaining to the union were direct to the head engineer who acted as a defacto FoC. Most of us were on the road and really worked to suit ourselves. However, when we were in a large newspaper office we certainly had to abide by the Chapel rules for that newspaper, even if we didn't know them. For example,  I converted a Linotype Comet to TTS tape operation at the Toronto Star in the early or mid 1960's. This was their first tape operated machine. I completed the job and had given instructions to a couple of operators, and handed the machine over to them. An operator put a tape of a production job on the machine, and was watching it run. The tape got about halfway through when mats started to pile up in the assembler. Before the operator could respond to the problem I reached across and stopped the machine. Next thing I knew I had the Chapel rep giving me a piece of his mind. He told  me that the machine was no longer under my control and I should leave it alone. Showing him my union card didn't help. After a short discussion between the Chapel rep and the foreman, all the type set to that point was dumped and the tape started over again by the operator.

When I was out of town, I was often invited out or home for a meal by the Chapel Rep. I  installed some Linotype Model 31 machines at LaPresse in Montreal. They had just returned to work after a strike. The FoC came over and asked to see my union card. During the conversation he invited me to join him and a number of other comps to a local tavern for a drink after work.

Sitting around a table later that afternoon the conversation turned to the strike that had just finished.

I said "The strike didn't last long."

The FoC replied "No we were given some incentive to return to work."

I asked if the company had made them a good offer.

The FoC said, No, that their wives had got together and had a meeting and threatened them that if they didn't reach agreement with the company they would withdraw their services both in the kitchen and the bedroom. That gave them all the incentive they needed to reach an agreement with the newspaper.

When I returned to Australia in 1969, it was as an executive of  Fairfax so I sat on the other side of the table. With the planned introduction of automation and the elimination of hot metal we had a lot of discussions with the Chapel and the PKIU executives, resulting in  a very long bitter strike in 1976. I must say that in general the PKIU and the Chapel executives always conducted themselves appropriately. I can't say the same for some of the rank and file, outsiders and some students from the Sydney University,  who were only there to cause trouble.

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

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