a1 University of Connecticut
This article examines the views of Britain's organized railway, mining, and engineering workers (machinists) and their union leaders about state involvement in workplace accident prevention (1876–97), accident compensation (1876–1911), and the 1911 National Insurance Act. The miners and the railwaymen left numerous comments on these topics because they labored in unusually hazardous trades. (Their unions were large and were relatively democratic.) After 1880, leaders of the miners and railwaymen concluded that it was problematic to rely solely on trade union workplace bargaining power to protect worker life and limb and to compensate injured workers for their economic losses. Faced with what was initially seen as a Hobson's choice between employer compulsion and state compulsion, after the mid-1880s these trade unionists began to lean toward the latter. Historical experience led the trade union leaders whose views are discussed in this article to trust increasingly the Labor Department of the Board of Trade and to endorse Liberal welfare-state programs proposed in 1908 and thereafter. In 1911 the rank-and-file machinists who expressed their views about National Insurance in letters to the labor press were suspicious of augmenting the power of the state, but they were unwilling to scuttle National Insurance, preferring to agitate to expand union rights of participation. Worker opposition to some features of state-mandated income maintenance programs, especially those with compulsory payroll deductions, should not be interpreted as rejection of the welfare state in principle.