Flying to the Moon: reconsidering the British labour exchange system in the early twentieth century

Mansfield, Malcolm
March 2001
Labour History Review (Maney Publishing);Spring2001, Vol. 66 Issue 1, p24
Academic Journal
This article analyses the reaction of trade union members and employers to the functioning of the labor exchange network established in the early years of the twentieth century. As such it does not deal with industrial conflicts, with wage bargaining or with industrial relations in general. A precondition for the establishment of national insurance, the labor-exchange mechanism formed part of a project to recast urban space in accordance with the requirements of industrial efficiency. With insurance working as an incentive to register and the exchanges operating as a neutral instrument of placement and control of access into the insurance fund, the working-population could be mobilized across the seemingly uniform surface of the national labor market. The centralized clearing procedures of the labor exchanges constructed labor markets as homogeneous urban spaces containing interchangeable units of labor-power. Under these conditions supply and demand could be counterposed as the pages in a double-entry ledger. Imbalances could then be adjusted by clearing at the national level. Increasingly detached from the individual, unemployed worker, the new social policy constructed unemployment from top down, bypassing the autonomous and local mechanisms which were already in place and imposing formal rules over custom and practice.


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