[This passage has been excerpted from Dale H. Porter's The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London, which is reviewed eleswhere in the Victorian WebGPL.]

The MBW [Metropolitan Board of Works] specified wages for laborers in order to undercut the common practice of hiring "butty" gangs. These were small groups of men, often Irish, mustered by a tough foreman who obtained jobs by competitive bidding for the whole gang. Foremen typically took on relatives and friends but often shaved their pay. The butty system resulted in uncertain wages for the men and poor workmanship at the job site. Whether rates were set for skilled workers by collusion with the contractors, by arrangement with the trades unions, or for other reasons is uncertain. Stipulating wages in the contract did have the effect of stabilizing income through the financial uncertainties of long projects, thus providing some security for workers and, at the same time, assuring the MBW and its contractors of a relatively continuous work force. After the strikes of 1859-60, this would have been a prime consideration, but it was also beginning to spread as a general principle of labor organization, especially among the large-unit industries such as shipyards and engineering works. [108]

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References

Dale H. Porter, The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London. Akron, Ohio: University of Akron Press, 1998.


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