5.2.7: 1910 - heden - Working conditions

In the small and middle-sized companies (often family businesses) that dominated book publishing in the early twentieth century, the publisher-director often played a large personal role. The publisher was a man (women at first hardly ever had management positions) with a high social status and cultural prestige. As the organiser of the publishing process in which many different partners were involved, the publisher had to have a thorough knowledge of all aspects of the trade and of the mores in contacts with authors, colleagues and others. A large number of junior employees (skilled or unskilled) were taken on for jobs such as editing, correspondence, administration and accounting, much of which was done by hand. In the composing rooms and printing rooms both skilled and unskilled personnel, with various specialisations, worked side by side. At the beginning of the century, the wages were low and working days were as long as eleven hours. After realising a number of local labour agreements, the most prominent printing union, the Algemene Nederlandsche Typografen Bond (General Dutch Typographers' Union), established the first national collective labour agreement for the printing industry in 1914.

This agreement and later collective agreements not only regulated the wages, but also the legal status of the employees and included convenants regarding the training of young typographers. The publishing industry was given its own course at the Vakschool voor den Boekhandel (School for the Book Trade, 1913), reorganised in 1919 and incorporated in the Amsterdamsche Grafische School (Amsterdam School for the Graphic Industry). In the 1930s, the Vereeniging ter Bevordering van de Belangen des Boekhandels (Association for the Promotion of the Interests of the Book Trade, VBBB) set up various correspondence courses for publishers and booksellers.

In 1920, typesetters and printers briefly enjoyed an eight-hour working day, which was lengthened again in 1923. Not until 1946 were the working hours reduced again (48-hour working week, Saturday afternoons off). The typesetting and printing trade was considered to be physically and mentally tiring. Continuing innovation in composing techniques and printing techniques appeared to lighten the load a little, but in fact caused tensions between employers and their personnel and between the different branches of the industry, as people were afraid the innovations would erode their professional qualifications.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the changes in working conditions for both the printing and publishing companies accelerated. Driven by economic motives, both branches of business aimed at an increase in scale and heightened productivity. In typesetting and printing, the breakthrough of new techniques (photosetting, word processing, automated printing presses, new binding techniques and desk-top publishing) meant that people were increasingly being replaced by machines. In the book publishing industry, the advantages of scale increase were less easy to achieve. The trade did, however, become more professional from the 1950s onwards. The standards for text editing and book design were raised and day courses were established for the publishing and bookselling trade (1969: Frederik Muller Academy). During the period of expansion in the seventies and eighties, the book publishing industry remained a favoured working environment for all kinds of highly-qualified personnel, many of them freelancers, as a result of its status as an 'intellectual broker'. However, publishing was increasingly becoming on-screen work and the economic circumstances raised the pressure to deliver.

author: F.D.G. de Glas

Working conditions