Labour History Review

'Unsung Heroes Behind Them': The Labour History of Sidney Pollard

Labour History Review (2003), 68, (3), 311–327.

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J. Saville, ‘Labour and Learning’, Guardian, 22 December 1998, p. 18; ‘Professor Sidney Pollard: obituary’, The Times, 18 December 1998, p. 25; P. Mathias, ‘Sidney Pollard’, Journal of European Economic History, 28, 2, 1999, pp. 411-28; D. Martin, ‘Sidney Pollard’, Labour History Review, 64, 1, 1999, pp. 139-42. In addition to these obituaries, there were also several remembrances published by Colin Holmes, ‘Sidney Pollard’, Independent, 10 December 1998; ‘Sidney Pollard’, Sheffield University Newsletter, 23, 5, 1999, p. 8; ‘Sidney Pollard’, History Workshop, 49, 2000, pp. 277-8; and ‘Sidney Pollard 1925-1998’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 105, 2000, pp. 513-34. All references to Holmes, ‘Pollard’ in this paper refer to the latter source. Biographical accounts also appeared in the two festschrifts, C. Holmes and A. Booth (eds), Economy and Society: European Industrialisation and its Social Consequences: Essays Presented to Sidney Pollard, Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1991; H. Berghoff and D. Ziegler (eds), Pionier und Nachzügler? Festschrift für Sidney Pollard, Bochum, Brockmeyer, 1995. Also D. MacRaild, ‘Labour history and the labour movement in Britain’, Economic History Review, 53, 3, 2000, pp. 584-5; and D. Renton, ‘Sidney Pollard: the refugee historian’, Immigrants and Minorities, 21, 1-2, 2002, pp. 184-200. ‘Labour and Learning’ Guardian 18 Google Scholar

There are comprehensive attempts to convey the totality of Pollard's academic work in both Holmes, ‘Pollard’ and Holmes and Booth, Economy and Society. This paper takes a different approach, concentrating in detail on just one aspect of Pollard's published work, his labour history. Google Scholar

Of necessity, this means dividing up Pollard's work, and following an external schema, which he would not have recognised. Yet it is impossible to do justice to all areas of Pollard's work in a paper of this length. Readers interested in this total aspect are guided towards D. Renton, Sidney Pollard: A Life in History, London, I. B. Tauris, 2004 forthcoming. Google Scholar

A point made in K. Burk, Troublemaker: The Life and History of A. J. P. Taylor, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2000. Troublemaker: The Life and History of A. J. P. Taylor Google Scholar

J. L. Hammond and B. Hammond, The Village Labourer 1760-1832: A Study of the Government of England before the Reform Bill, London, Longmans, 1911; J. L. Hammond and B. Hammond, The Skilled Labourer 1760-1832, London, Longmans, 1917; J. L. Hammond and B. Hammond, The Town Labourer 1760-1832: The New Civilization, London, Longmans, 1919. The Village Labourer 1760-1832: A Study of the Government of England before the Reform Bill Google Scholar

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R. Groves, Sharpen the Sickle! The History of the Farm Workers' Union, London, Porcupine Press, 1949; R. Groves, The Strange Case of Victor Grayson, London, Pluto, 1975 edn. An obituary was published for Groves in Labour History Review, 54, 1, 1989. Sharpen the Sickle! The History of the Farm Workers' Union Google Scholar

The quote refers to S. and B. Webb, The History of Trade Unionism, London, Longmans, 1894; also S. and B. Webb, Industrial Democracy, London, Longmans, 1898; and R. Harrison, The Life and Times of Sidney and Beatrice Webb 1858-1905: The Formative Years, London, Palgrave, 2000. The History of Trade Unionism Google Scholar

G. D. H. Cole and R. Postgate, The Common People 1746-1938, London, Methuen, 1938. The Common People 1746-1938 Google Scholar

S. Pollard, Labour History and the Labour Movement in Britain, Aldershot, Ashgate, 1999, p. ix. Labour History and the Labour Movement in Britain ix Google Scholar

H. Braverman, Labour and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, New York and London, Monthly Review Press, 1999 edn. Labour and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century Google Scholar

P. Joyce, Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Questions of Class, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 27; G. Stedman Jones, Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983. Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Questions of Class 27 Google Scholar

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, London, Gollancz, 1963. The Making of the English Working Class Google Scholar

Pollard, Labour History, pp. ix-x. Google Scholar

H. Kaye (ed.), The British Marxist Historians, London, Macmillan, 1995; E. J. Hobsbawm, ‘The History Group of the Communist Party’, in M. Cornforth (ed.), Rebels and Their Causes: Essays in Honour of A. L. Morton, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1978, pp. 21-48; V. Kiernan, ‘Making histories’, Our History Journal, 8, 1984, pp. 7-10; D. Parker, ‘The Communist Party and its historians 1946-89’, Socialist History, 12, 1997, pp. 33-58; B. Schwarz, ‘"The people" in history: the Communist Party Historians’ Group', in R. Johnson et al. (eds), Making Histories: Studies in History-Writing and Politics, London, Hutchinson, 1982, pp. 44-95. The British Marxist Historians Google Scholar

For some of the debates surrounding Braverman's book, A. Zimbalast (ed.), Case Studies on the Labor Process, New York and London, Monthly Review Press, 1979; Brighton Labour Process Group, ‘The capitalist labour process’, Capital and Class, 1, 1977, pp. 3-26; A. Friedman, ‘Responsible autonomy versus direct control over the labour process’, Capital and Class, 1, 1977, pp. 43-58; V. Beechey, Unequal Work, London, Verso, 1987. Case Studies on the Labor Process Google Scholar

Such journals as Economic History Review were open to a limited number of labour historians in the 1950s and 1960s (including Pollard and Hobsbawm), but this space then closed, partly because the fashions of the 1960s pointed towards the sociological and the cultural, and away from the economic, partly also because the tastes of economic history turned towards more cliometric, ‘incontrovertible’ evidence. There is an account of both processes in M. Berg, Eileen Power 1889-1940, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 258. Google Scholar

Pollard's argument could also be criticized on the grounds that Thompson's work, far from transcending postmodernism, actually encouraged the move away from an analytical use of class, and therefore prepared the ground for the linguistic turn. S. Ashman, ‘The Communist Party Historians’ Group', in J. Rees (ed.), Essays on Historical Materialism, London, Bookmarks, 1998, pp. 145-60. The point is debated in several of the books already cited, as well as the following, B. D. Palmer, Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History, Philadelphia, Temple Press, 1990; J. Vernon, Politics and the People: A Study in English Political Culture c. 1815-67, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993; E. M. Wood and J. B. Foster (eds), In Defense of History, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1997; also Social History, volumes 17-20, and Labour History Review, volumes 59-61. Essays on Historical Materialism 145 60 Google Scholar

The reference is to Eric Hobsbawm's famous essay, reprinted in M. Jacques et al., The Forward March of Labour Halted?, London, New Left Books, 1981. Hobsbawm's paper is best understood as a work of auto-criticism. For examples of the deterministic or teleological character of his earlier works, E. J. Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels. Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1959; and to a lesser extent, E. J. Hobsbawm, Labouring Men. Studies in the History of Labour, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964. The Forward March of Labour Halted? Google Scholar

S. Pollard, ‘In search of a social purpose’, in P. Alter (ed.), Out of the Third Reich: Refugee Historians in Post-War Britain, London, German Historical Institute, 1998, pp. 195-217, 207-8. Out of the Third Reich: Refugee Historians in Post-War Britain 195 217 Google Scholar

S. Pollard and P. Robertson, The British Shipbuilding Industry 1870-1914, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1979, p. 68. The British Shipbuilding Industry 1870-1914 68 Google Scholar

S. Pollard, ‘Town planning in the nineteenth century: the beginnings of modern Barrow-in-Furness’, Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, 63, 1952-3, pp. 87-116, 155; also S. Pollard and J. D. Marshall, ‘The Furness railway and the growth of Barrow’, Journal of Transport History, 1, 2, 1953, pp. 109-206; and S. Pollard, ‘Barrow and the 7th Duke of Devonshire’, Economic History Review, 8, 2, 1955, pp. 213-21. ‘Town planning in the nineteenth century: the beginnings of modern Barrow-in-Furness’ Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society 63 87 116 Google Scholar

J. D. Marshall, Furness and the Industrial Revolution, Cumbria, Michael Moon, 1981 edn. Furness and the Industrial Revolution Google Scholar

D. MacRaild, Culture, Conflict and Migration: The Irish in Victorian Cumbria, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 1998. Culture, Conflict and Migration: The Irish in Victorian Cumbria Google Scholar

This was an early study of a theme found elsewhere, not least in Barrow. Marshall, Furness and the Industrial Revolution. Google Scholar

S. Pollard, ‘The ethics of the Sheffield Outrages’, Hunter Archaeological Society Transactions, 7, 3, 1954, pp. 119, 125, 139. ‘The ethics of the Sheffield Outrages’ Hunter Archaeological Society Transactions 7 119 Google Scholar

Including S. Pollard and A. J. Hunt, ‘The growth of population’, in D. L. Linton (ed.), Sheffield and its Region, Sheffield, British Association, 1956, pp. 190-5; S. Pollard, ‘Sheffield and sweet auburn — amenities and living standards in the British Industrial Revolution: a comment’, Journal of Economic History, 41, 1981, p. 902; also S. Pollard, ‘Labour’, and S. Pollard, ‘The new unionism in Britain: its economic background’ both in Pollard, Labour History, pp. 30-51 and 199-219. Sheffield and its Region 190 5 Google Scholar

MacRaild, ‘Labour history’, pp. 584-5; also P. Weiler, ‘Labour history and the labour movement in Britain’, Victorian Studies, 43, 4, 2000, pp. 625-7. Google Scholar

H. L. Beales, The Industrial Revolution 1750-1850: An Introductory Essay, London, Longmans Green, 1928; H. L. Beales, The Early English Socialists, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1933; H. L. Beales, ‘The Great Depression in industry and trade’, Economic History Review, 5, 1, 1934-5; and H. L. Beales, ‘The "basic" industries of England 1850-1914’, Economic History Review, 5, 2, 1934-5. The Industrial Revolution 1750-1850: An Introductory Essay Google Scholar

S. Pollard, ‘Nineteenth century co-operation: from community building to shopkeeping’, in A. Briggs and J. Saville (eds), Essays in Labour History, London, Macmillan, 1960, pp. 74-112, 83. Essays in Labour History 74 112 Google Scholar

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Pollard, History of Labour in Sheffield, pp. 27-31. Google Scholar

S. Pollard and A. J. Hunt, ‘The growth of population’, in D. L. Linton (ed.), Sheffield and its Region, Sheffield, British Association, 1956, pp. 190-5. Sheffield and its Region 190 5 Google Scholar

Pollard, History of Labour in Sheffield, pp. 198-201. Google Scholar

Ibid., p. 309. The optimism of this conclusion may perhaps reflect the optimism that Pollard himself felt at this time. One consistent theme of Pollard's later life would be his regret for the passing of what he saw as the Keynesian moment. S. Pollard, ‘New light on an old master’, Economic Journal, 104, 422, 1994, pp. 138-62, 150-1; also S. Pollard, ‘Keynesianismus und Wirtschaftspolitik seit der Großen Depression’, Geschicte und Gesellschaft, 10, 2, 1984, pp. 185-210. Google Scholar

The title of S. Rowbotham, Hidden from History: Three Hundred Years of Women's Oppression and the Fight Against It, London, Pluto, 1971. Hidden from History: Three Hundred Years of Women's Oppression and the Fight Against It Google Scholar

Thompson, Making of the English Working Class, p. 14. Google Scholar

S. Pollard, A History of Labour in Sheffield, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 1959, p. vii. A History of Labour in Sheffield vii Google Scholar

Pollard, History of Labour in Sheffield, pp. vii-viii; also J. Mendelson, S. Pollard et al., Sheffield Trades Council 1858-1958, Sheffield, Sheffield Trades Council, 1958. Google Scholar

S. Fielding, ‘British Communism: interesting but irrelevant?’, Labour History Review, 60, 2, 1995, pp. 120-3. In fairness to Fielding, his comments were both tentative and narrowly-aimed. His target was the preponderance of literature on British Communism, to the exclusion of other labour and socialist traditions. It was Fielding's critics who raised the general points. ‘British Communism: interesting but irrelevant?’ Labour History Review 60 120 3 Google Scholar

S. Pollard and C. Holmes (eds), Essays in the Economic and Social History of South Yorkshire, Barnsley, South Yorkshire County Council, 1977. Essays in the Economic and Social History of South Yorkshire Google Scholar

S. Pollard, Economic History; A Science of Society?, Sheffield, University of Sheffield, 1964, p. 17. Economic History; A Science of Society? 17 Google Scholar

S. Pollard, The Idea of Progress: History and Society, London, A. C. Watts, 1968, pp. 126-35. The Idea of Progress: History and Society 126 35 Google Scholar

P. Mathias, ‘Sidney Pollard’, in S. Pollard, Essays on the Industrial Revolution in Britain, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2000, pp. vii-viii. Essays on the Industrial Revolution in Britain vii viii Google Scholar

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This was published as A. Briggs and J. Saville (eds), Essays in Labour History: In Memory of G. D. H. Cole, London and New York, Macmillan and St. Martin's Press, 1960. Essays in Labour History: In Memory of G. D. H. Cole Google Scholar

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D. Martin, ‘Sidney Pollard’, pp. 139-42; for Royden Harrison, see M. Barratt Brown and J. Halstead, ‘Royden Harrison: Pioneer of labour history studies and workers’ education', Guardian, 3 July 2002. Google Scholar

S. Pollard, ‘Feargus O'Connor, Irishman and Chartist’, Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, 3, 1961, pp. 64-5; S. Pollard, ‘Leaven of life: the story of George Henry Fletcher’, Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, 4, 1962, pp. 56-7; S. Pollard, ‘The history of the National Union of Railwaymen’, Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, 6, 1963, pp. 47-8; S. Pollard, ‘The making of the English working class’, Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, 8, 1964, pp. 39-41. ‘Feargus O'Connor, Irishman and Chartist’ Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History 3 64 5 Google Scholar

S. Pollard and J. Salt, Robert Owen, Prophet of the Poor: Essays in Honour of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of His Birth, London, Macmillan, 1971. Robert Owen, Prophet of the Poor: Essays in Honour of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of His Birth Google Scholar

S. Pollard, ‘Robert Owen as an economist’, Co-operative College Papers, 14, 1971, pp. 23-36; S. Pollard, ‘Robert Owen and the reduction in working hours: some considerations in the light of recent research’, Annual Bulletin of Business Research, Chuo University, 8, 1987, pp. 189-203; also S. Pollard, ‘Robert Owen's contribution to economies’, published in Japanese in C. Tsuzuki (ed.), British Socialism Considered: The Pursuit of the Alternative, Tokyo, Sanseido, 1986, pp. 11-32; and S. Pollard, ‘Owen, Robert, 1771-1858’, International Handbook of Co-operative Organisations, 1993, pp. 279-82. ‘Robert Owen as an economist’ Co-operative College Papers 14 23 36 Google Scholar

In addition to the original volume, the same authors also brought out A. Briggs and J. Saville (eds), Essays in Labour History, 1886-1923, London and New York, Macmillan and St. Martin's Press, 1971; and A. Briggs and J. Saville (eds), Essays in Labour History, 1918-1939, London, Croom Helm, 1977. Essays in Labour History, 1886-1923 Google Scholar

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John Harrison to Sidney Pollard, 28 October 1967, ‘Owen Book’, Korrespondenz, Pollard papers. The formers books have included J. F. C. Harrison, Learning and Living 1790-1960: A Study in the English Adult Education Movement, Aldershot, Gregg Revivals, 1994 edn; J. F. C. Harrison, Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America: The Quest for the New Moral World, London, Routledge, 1969; J. F. C. Harrison, Late Victorian Britain. 1875-1901, London, Routledge, 1991; also M. Chase and I. Dyck (eds), Living and Learning: Essays in Honour off. F. C. Harrison, Aldershot, Scholar, 1996. Google Scholar

S. Pollard, ‘Factory discipline in the Industrial Revolution’, Economic History Review, 16, 2, 1963, pp. 254-71; also S. Pollard, ‘The factory village in the Industrial Revolution’, English Historical Review, LXXIX, 312, 1964, pp. 513-31. ‘Factory discipline in the Industrial Revolution’ Economic History Review 16 254 71 Google Scholar

E. P. Thompson, ‘Time, work-discipline and industrial capitalism’, Past and Present, 38, 1967, reprinted in E. P. Thompson, Customs in Common, London, Merlin, 1991, pp. 352-403. ‘Time, work-discipline and industrial capitalism’ Past and Present 38 Google Scholar

S. Pollard, The Genesis of Modern Management: A Study of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, London, Edward Arnold, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1965, pp. 62-3, 69. The Genesis of Modern Management: A Study of the Industrial Revolution in Britain 62 3 Google Scholar

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S. Pollard, The Gold Standard and Employment Policies Between the Wars, London, Methuen, 1970; Michael Postan to Sidney Pollard, 19 May 1967, ‘Honours, offers’, Pollard papers; the chapter appeared as ‘Labour in the United Kingdom’, in The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, volume seven, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1978, pp. 97-119, 649-64. The Gold Standard and Employment Policies Between the Wars Google Scholar

S. Pollard and J. P. P. Higgins (eds), Aspects of Capital Investment in Great Britain 1750-1850: A Preliminary Survey, London, Methuen and Co., 1971. Aspects of Capital Investment in Great Britain 1750-1850: A Preliminary Survey Google Scholar

S. Pollard and C. H. Feinstein (eds), Studies in Capital Formation in the UK 1750-1920, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1988. Studies in Capital Formation in the UK 1750-1920 Google Scholar

S. Pollard, Britain's Prime and Britain's Decline. The British Economy from 1870 to 1914, London, Arnold, 1989; S. Pollard, The Wasting of the British Economy. British Economic Policy 1945 to the Present, London, Croom Helm, 1982. Britain's Prime and Britain's Decline. The British Economy from 1870 to 1914 Google Scholar

S. Pollard and C. Holmes, Documents of European Economic History, Vol. I: The Process of Industrialisation, 1750-1870, London, Arnold, 1968; Vol. II: Industrial Power and National Rivalry, 1870-1914, London, Arnold, 1972; Vol. III: The End of the Old Europe 1914-1939, London, Arnold, 1973; S. Pollard, European Economic Integration, 1815-1970, London, Thames and Hudson, 1974. Documents of European Economic History, Vol. I: The Process of Industrialisation, 1750-1870 Google Scholar

The long-term impact of Pollard's work on regional history is described in P. Hudson, ‘The regional perspective’ in P. Hudson (ed.), Regions and Industries: A Perspective on the Industrial Revolution in Britain, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 5-40. Regions and Industries: A Perspective on the Industrial Revolution in Britain 5 40 Google Scholar

The idea of economic marginality forms the main theme of Pollard's last book, S. Pollard, Marginal Europe: The Contribution of Marginal Lands since the Middle Ages, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1997. Marginal Europe: The Contribution of Marginal Lands since the Middle Ages Google Scholar

Pollard's later works of labour history were conventional in method, not argument. One of the few post-1980 labour histories was an important defence of the claim that the German trade unions were too weakly placed in 1932-3 to block Hitler's rise. ‘German trade union policy 1929-1933 in the light of the British experience’, in J. Baron von Krüdener (ed.), Economic Crisis and Political Collapse: The Weimar Republic 1924-1933, Berg, New York, Oxford, Munich, 1990, pp. 21-44. Google Scholar

M. Burawoy, The Politics of Production, Verso, London and New York, 1985; A. L. Friedman, Industry and Labour: Class Struggle at Work and Monopoly Capitalism, London and Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1977. The Politics of Production Google Scholar

Pollard's reading follows the popular abbreviations of Braverman's argument, not Braverman himself. Braverman's actual belief was that skill tended to become polarised with large groups of people tending to concentrate among the categories of the highly skilled (including managers), and the largely unskilled. Braverman, Labour and Monopoly Capital, pp. 294-310. It should also be pointed out that Braverman's book was primarily concerned with the origins of management, and as such it drew on Pollard's Genesis. Google Scholar

R. Harrison and J. Zeitlin, Divisions of Labour: Skilled Workers and Technological Change in Nineteenth Century England, Brighton, Harvester, 1985; T. Matsumura, The Labour Aristocracy Revisited: The Victorian Flint Glass Makers 1850-80, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1983; C. More, Skill and the English Working Class 1870-1914, London, Croom Helm, 1980; R. Penn, Skilled Workers in the Class Structure, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1984; also J. Foster, Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution: Early Industrial Capitalism in Three English Towns, London, Methuen and Co., 1974; P. Joyce, Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in Late Victorian England, London, Methuen, 1980. Divisions of Labour: Skilled Workers and Technological Change in Nineteenth Century England Google Scholar

As in the passage cited above from Pollard, History of Labour in Sheffield, pp. vii-viii Google Scholar

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Renton, David