In 1906 Bernard Shaw addressed the annual dinner of the Society of Authors:

What a heart-breaking job it is trying to combine authors for their own protection . . . Those of you who, like myself, have studied ‘sweating’ as an industrial phenomenon, are aware that it occurs at its very worst in those trades where the employer, instead of having the work done in his own factory, gives it out to workers who do it in their own homes. You can get at the factory through the factory inspector and your Factory Acts, but you cannot get at the private home. Without union and collective action, we are helpless. When we begin working, we are so poor and so busy that we have neither the time nor the means to defend ourselves against the commercial organizations which exploit us. When we become famous, we become famous suddenly, passing at one bound . . . to a state in which our time is so valuable that it is not worth our while wasting any of it on lawsuits and bad debts. We all, eminent and obscure alike, need the Authors’ Society. We all owe it a share of our time, our means, our influence.

Shaw was active on the Committee of Management of the Society of Authors for ten years, from 1905 to 1915, when – Victor Bonham-Carter tells us in his Authors by Profession – ‘he diplomatically withdrew seeking characteristically to avoid any dissension in the Society due to his unpopular opinions about the war.’ Nevertheless, more than sixty years elapsed before the Society grasped the nettle of trade unionism.


The End of A Gentleman’s Profession
Poetry and The Poetry Business