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England Labor Unions

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 5 months ago




The following two articles, "Trades- Societies and Strikes" and "Trades- Unions and Strikes: Their Philosophy and Intention," were both re-published as a part of a conjuntive article found in an 1867 edition of "The North British Review." Each of these articles focuses on issues pertaining to relations between laborers and their owners in 19th century England. The first offers a historical context of their relationship while the second offers insight into six demads laborers presented to their employers in 1860. "Trades- Societies and Strikes" will be highlighted and noted to offer a more comprehensive historical understanding; "Trades- Unions and Strikes: Their Philosophy and Intention" will be followed by critical commentary on four of the six demands.



Trades-Societies and Strikes: Report of the Committee on Trades-Societies, Appointed by the National Association for the promotion of Social Science. 1860



 THE history of attempts to adjust the relation between workmen in 

England, extends over a period of more than five hundred years. The first

statute regulating wages was passed in 1350, after a great plague had thinned the

labouring class, and when the survivors, taking advantage of

the small supply of workmen, were claiming an advance of

wages. The animus of the Legislature of the day is shown in

the preamble, where this very natural desire is ascribed to idleness

and malice, and declared to be the cause of ' great damage

of the great men, and impoverishing of all the commonalty.'

Farm-labourers were bound down to a certain rate of wages,

under penalty of three days in the stocks for disobedience to

the law; while workmen in the building trades were exposed

to fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the Justices (hn1).

At an early period combinations began to be formed among

workmen to free themselves from the effects of this and similar

enactments; but the iron fingers of the Legislature were ready

to nip such attempts in the bud. So far back as the reign of

Henry VL, persons causing general chapters of masons to be

held were declared felons, and persons attending such chapters

were to be punished by imprisonment and fine. In 1549 an

Act was passed to suppress the confederacies of workmen who

had conspired together to determine, among other things, how

much work was to be done daily, and at what hours and times;

and it was declared that any one convicted of such a crime

should for the first offence pay £10; for the second, £20 ; for

the third, £40 ; with the alternative of twenty days' imprisonment,

in the first case; the pillory, in the second; and the pillory

and loss of one ear in the third. But it was soon found

that this law was too stringent, and when, next year, the city

of London petitioned against it, on the ground that it would

drive away their craftsmen and artificers, and impoverish their

city, it was ' made void for ever.' A kindlier spirit towards the

labouring classes, however, appeared in some of the legislation

of this period ; and efforts were not wanting to check the oppression

to which they were often exposed. In the fifth year

of Kli/ubeth, an important and well-known enactment was

passed, requiring that every workman should have served as an

apprentice seven years, and restricting the number of apprentices

which masters might employ. Another important provision

of this Statute was, that the wages of labour were to be fixed

every year by the Justices of the Peace at the Easter Quarter-

Sessions. This practice, though the Act was not formally repealed

till 1813, had gone into disuse long before. Meanwhile the industry of

Great Britain assumed a different form. The bodies of workmen working together

were often becoming much larger, and the opportunities

of combination to defeat the law and advance their interests

increased in a corresponding ratio. The Legislature, ever ready

to apply its specific, passed Act upon Act, 'prohibiting all

agreements or associations of workmen for the purpose of advancing

wages, or controlling their masters in the management

and regulation of their business; and empowered the magistrate

to convict summarily, and punish with imprisonment for

two or three months, any workman who should take part in them.'

It cannot bo denied that in the whole course of this legislation

against 'combinations' the sympathies of the Legislature

were for the most part with employers; and the fact must be

borne in mind, when attention is turned to the excesses and

follies that have accompanied the assertion of their rights by

workmen in these recent years of new-found freedom (hn2). As

Adam Smith shrewdly remarks: ' Whenever the Legislature attempted

to regulate the differences between masters and workmen,

its counsellors were always the masters.' Combinations

on the part of masters, the same writer remarks, were authorized,

or at least not prohibited by law ; it was the combinations

of workmen only that fell under its lash. Against workmen

convictions of breaking the law were taking place constantly ;

but there is no record of any conviction against an employer.

We know how difficult it is to get rid of traditional feelings,

even when the occasion for them has disappeared. For nearly

five hundred years, with but little interruption, a traditional

sense of hard usage, in respect of their relation to their employers,

had been working into the soul of the labouring class.

To eradicate that feeling it would be reasonable, we apprehend,

to allot a period not less than the three generations said to be

required for purifying the blood.

No law can have much effect which is not backed by the

general conscience of the community; and for want of such

backing the ' Combination Laws' were often disregarded. And

it must be confessed the temptation to do so was sometimes

very great. In the year 1786, for example, the bookbinders of

 London, whose day of work was from six in the morning to

eight at night, applied to four of the masters for a diminution

of one hour; the application was followed by the discharge of

the men and the apprehension of their leaders, and by a criminal

prosecution. Most of the masters combined against the men,

and the booksellers backed the masters; but other masters

were more favourable, including King George in., who had a

bookbinder's shop in the then Buckingham Palace, for keeping

in repair the royal library at St. James's, and who was the first

to grant the hour. About the same time, the

Sheffield had a strike against the ' extortionate practice' of making thirteen cutlers

knives to the dozen. An employer who had made himself

obnoxious by enforcing this vexatious violation of Cocker, was

lampooned in doggrel, characterized by the usual combination

of bad rhyme, rough humour, and bitter feeling, especially as

regarded the use to be made of the thirteenth knife :—


'Then may the odd knife his great carcass dissect,

Lay open his vitals for men to inspect;

A heart full as black as the infernal gulf,

In that greedy, blood-sucking, bone-scraping wolf.'


At the commencement of the century strikes were common

in almost every trade, and the Legislature made a vehement

effort in 1800 to extinguish them completely by one other stringent

enactment. The attempt was not only a complete failure,

but its results showed that such enactments only stimulated

the evil they were meant to cure. At last, a committee of the

House of Commons, of which Mr. Hume was chairman, having

reported, in 1824, against the Combination Laws,measures were

passed repealing them in that and the subsequent year. The

immediate effect of the repeal was to give a great impulse to

strikes, and the policy of re-enacting the exploded law was

seriously considered in 1825. But milder counsels prevailed.

In 1838, when an inquiry into the effects of the repeal was

made by a committee of the House of Commons, it was reported

that its bearing on the conduct of strikes had been on the whole

beneficial. There was not so much violence as formerly, and

the union men were pronounced by the majority of masters to

be the most highly skilled of the operatives, and the most

respectable in the trade. Since that time there is a very

general concurrence of testimony, to the effect that strikes have

been conducted with less of barbarous violence, with an increasing

measure of outward self-restraint. No doubt cases of violence

do still occur, and the brutal endeavour to blow up the

house of the knife-grinder Fearnyhough, at Sheffield, a few

months ago, looks as if matters were becoming worse than ever (hn3).

But unfortunately not a few instances are on record of attempts

to blow up houses, and of many other outrages at

Sheffield. The policy of annoyance and vexatious interference with masters,

it is unhappily true, as will appear subsequently, that

trades-unions have lately become far more offensive than ever

they were formerly. But the days when vitriol used to be

dashed in the faces of obnoxious workmen, when men at the

point of death were brought into court on stretchers to identify

the villains that had shot them, when clothes burnt almost to a

cinder were produced to show what vitriol had done, when even

young women were blinded for life for going against the rules

of the union, and when actual occurrences such as these gave

a dread significance to threatening letters from the ' captain of

the vitriol forces,' dated from ' nine miles below hell,' and to

the rough representations of pierced hearts, coffins, pistols,

death's-heads and cross-bones that embellished them—such

days, we trust, have passed away for ever. Even if no higher

principle were in force, the members of trades-unions have

common sense enough to see that such atrocities inflict incalculable

damage on their cause, and on the very smallest allowance

of charity, they must be credited with a sincere desire to

prevent their recurrence, although their policy and methods

may not be so readily exonerated. In point of numbers, resources, organization, and activity

trade-societies have made marvellous progress. Since the repeal

of. the Combination Laws, a variety of circumstances has contributed

to this result. In forty years the industry of Great Britain has made

an amazing stride, and the number of workmen has vastly increased.

The application of steam-power has

caused the concentration of much larger numbers than in former

times, and has thus at once given them facilities for conferring

together, and impressed them with a higher idea of their

strength. The penny-post, the cheap newspaper, and the railway

have bound together the scattered companies and regiments

of the army, and greatly promoted unity of sentiment and

action. And, rightly or wrongly, the idea has gained a strong

hold on their minds, that in the distribution of the profits of

production labour has not had its due portion, and that capital

has been fattening on the fruits that should have fallen more

largely at least, to the workman's share. From the very nature

too of the action which trades-unions have taken, they have

necessarily tended to enlarged organization and increasing power.

We do not allude here, nor shall we in this article, where

space is so limited, to those confessedly benevolent and beneficent

objects which most trade-societies embrace, the sick-funds

and the aid-funds, by means of which they so laudably strive to

benefit their members in distress. It is of their economic bearings

on the labour-market that we speak, when we say that continual

enlargement has been their necessary tendency. For

whatever screw-power they can exercise in raising wages and

easing labour, is due to the difficulty they cause in the way of

employers obtaining labour on easier terms than those which

they propose. It was enough in former times that this difficulty

was made to exist in the immediate neighbourhood of the

employer's work. But in these days, when communication is

so easy, when labour can be transported in four-and-twenty

hours from one end of the island to the other, it is necessary for

the policy of trades-societies that the same difficulty should

exist over the whole country; that employers, when they

quarrel with their men in London, should find the workmen of

Aberdeen and Inverness, of Dublin and Belfast, as stiff and immovable

as those who have been working in their yards or mills.

Nay more, wider limits must be contemplated than the boundaries

of the United Kingdom. The possibility of obtaining

foreign workmen on more favourable terms is becoming an important

element in the strife, and to carry out in full the policy

of trades-unions, it is necessary to take steps for a common

understanding and united action among the labourers of all

civilized lands (hn4). It is no wonder, therefore, that trades-unions

should have been strengthening their position in every possible way. The

International Congress of of workmen held at Geneva last Autumn

was an important step towards a union much more wide than the

limits of a single kingdom or nationality. And where there are heads clear enough to see, and

imaginations active enough to fancy, the termimis ad quern of

their enterprise, there floats before the mind's eye the vision of

a world-wide confederation of labour, an organization that

utterly dwarfs the zollvereins, and leagues, and confederations

of all past and present time, and before whose overwhelming

might, capital, if such a thing should be able to survive at all,

would have no alternative but to ' stand and deliver.'

The increasing power and resources of trades-unions since the

repeal of the Combination Laws has been clearly shown by the

gigantic strikes which have occurred from time to time in

some of the most important and extensive branches of our

industry. According to Dr. Watts of Manchester (whose

calculations, however, have been challenged by unionists), the

great strike of the Preston spinners, which lasted thirty-eight

weeks, involved a loss of no less than £627,000. That of the

amalgamated engineers cost about half-a-million. The cost of

colliery strikes can hardly be put down at less. In regard to

the actual number of trades-societies, and the members of each,

exact information cannot easily be got. The Daily Telegraph

of 28th January 1867 represents the number of associations

as having been, a short time ago, 1800 or 2000. The number

of towns in which these societies existed exceeded 400.

 London had then 290 such bodies; now it has probably more.

In Dublin, Glasgow, Liverpool, Sheffield, and Manchester, the

number ranged from 45 to 97; and it had been estimated by

competent authority that the members of each amounted to

about 100. The fifteenth report of the ' Amalgamated Society

of Engineers, Machinists, Millwrights, Smiths, and Patternmakers,'

shows that during 1865 nearly £28,500 was added to

the accumulated fund, the total amount of which, at the close

of that year, was £115,357, 13s. lOJd. During the year there

had been an increase of 3583 members, making a total of

30,978. The expenditure during the year was £49,172, 6s. 2d.

The society of carpenters and joiners numbered 5670 members,

and had a fund of £8320, 13s. 7d., the expenditure for the

year having been £6733, 11s. 5jd. At the conference of

trades' delegates of the United Kingdom, held at Sheffield in

July 1866, there were present 138 delegates, representing

nearly 200,000 members. Two things are apparent from these

figures : on the one hand, the immense power and resources of

the trades-societies of Great Britain; on the other, the fact that

their membership is but a small fraction of the total labourers,

skilled and unskilled, of the country.

Much though the bearing of trades-unions on social interests

has been agitated, it is surprising how little can be said to have

been conclusively settled or placed beyond the reach of controversy.

Commonly, when a subject has been long under

discussion, there comes to be a general consent on a number

of points; either avowedly or tacitly, they are held on

both sides to be established, or at least they cease to be objects

of contention. In the discussions that have taken place on

combinations and strikes, it is remarkable how little there is

that on both sides can be said, as yet, to be admitted or established.

Whether there is a real call and ground for combinations

of workmen, or whether the self-acting rule of supply and

demand would not sufficiently regulate the remuneration of

labour; whether combinations and strikes have had any effect

in increasing wages, or whether wages would not have risen at

least as much without them; whether the mass of working

men go voluntarily into them, or whether they are not coerced

by clever agitators, who love pre-eminence and pay; whether

or not the labourer has a right to know anything about the

profit of the business to which he contributes his share of work

and skill, and to adjust his demands accordingly; whether or

not courts of conciliation would contribute to the peaceful

solution of the differences of masters and men, and if so, how

they should be constituted,—on all such questions as these,

there cannot be said to be anything like agreement between both

parties. Such is the mistiness that envelops the subject, that it

is almost amusing to observe the differences as to plain matters

of fact that sometimes characterize the statements of masters

and men when a dispute occurs. One would think it would

not be very difficult to agree in a statement as to the wages

actually earned by workmen, the rates of pay actually current

in a work. Yet in colliery disputes, for example, there sometimes

occur, or used to occur, so many deviations, or alleged

deviations, from obvious weights or measurements, that very

great diversities arose in the statements of masters and men.

Thus, in the West Yorkshire coal-strike and lock-out of 1858,


Mr. Ludlow alleges that the two statements were irreconcilable,

and he accounts for the fact on the supposition that the employer

reckoned the ton of coal at twenty-one cwt., both for sale

and for wages, while the men asserted that for wages he reckoned

it at twenty-five. This, again, would seem to depend on the

size of the 'corves' filled by the colliers, which they asserted

had grown ' like an oak-tree out of a sapling,' while the master

affirmed that they had undergone no alteration in size during

twenty years.1 Similar differences in fundamental data have

occurred in many other trade disputes. Nor can it be said

that there is much to encourage the hope that the mist which

envelops the whole subject will speedily clear away. The

interests, and therefore the feelings, of both parties have been

so much involved in the warfare, that it has been almost impossible

for them to take that calm and impartial view of the

question which is favourable to a common understanding; and

at the present moment, the battle rages with such heat that we

can hardly hope to secure even a patient hearing. We may,

however, cherish the belief that there are not a few earnest

truth-seekers on both sides, to whom views which have been

formed after much investigation and reflection, and which are

offered not in the spirit of the partisan, but in that of the

mediator, will prove neither unwelcome nor useless.

One thing about trade combinations may be held as sufficiently

established—they are a great fact. Whether they

ought to exist or not may with some be a question; that they

do exist, and have every likelihood to continue to exist,' is

about as certain as that standing armies and navies will continue

ever so long among the institutions of civilized nations.

No one seriously proposes the re-enactment of the Combination

Laws, or fancies that it would be possible to administer them if

they were again placed on the Statute-book. Mr. Edmund

Potter of Manchester, though a decided enemy of unions, admits

that ' strikes, as the action and the almost inevitable result of

commercial bargaining for labour, will always exist.' Mr. T. J.

Dunning, whose pamphlet on trades-unions and strikes is a

very creditable specimen of calm and sober reasoning on the

workman's side, and who deprecates strikes as a state of moral

warfare, and productive of that mutual bitterness which ensues

from all war while it lasts, is notwithstanding clearly of

opinion, ' from long experience of their results to journeymen,

both of success and defeat, that there is no proper alternative, in

certain cases, but the position of a strike.' It were Quixotic,

therefore, to raise the question at present, whether there ought

to be combinations of any kind. The tug of war must be on

their practical administration, the ends they contemplate, and

the means they employ for the attainment of these ends. It is

to these that we propose to devote the remainder of our

article.  In the chain-makers' strike in 1859-60, no agreement could be come to

between the parties either as to what was the average amount of existing

wages, the men putting it at less than 15s. per week, the masters at 30s. ;

or as to the extent of the advance demanded, the masters estimating it from

lOa. to J 2s. for all the higher labourers, the men from 5s. to 8s.

No good can arise from those sweeping and unqualified denunciations


of either side which have been common even in our

higher classed periodical literature. It is easy to set up a

man of straw, and tear him to pieces. It is easy to say that

trade-societies have not the confidence of the working classes,

that they are managed by selfish and interested demagogues,

that their conductors are utterly blind and unreasoning, ignorant

of the most elementary rules of political economy, reckless

of every ulterior consequence, bent only on obtaining the immediate

advantage for which they are contending, and that therefore

such institutions are unmitigated evils. We do not deny that

some facts do give a certain colouring of truth to these charges.

But in dealing with the subject, we are willing to admit that it

is alike unfair and inexpedient thus to characterize the supporters

of combination. We will admit that, with exceptions,

working men are in favour of combinations as being, in their

view, beneficial to their interests; that the delegates whom they

choose generally enjoy their confidence; and that the measures

which they devise are those which they consider best fitted in

the circumstances to promote the welfare of the class. We will

admit that there is some ground, more or less plausible, for each

of the positions which trades-unions maintain in their conflict

with employers ; and we will endeavour to state, as far as possible

in their own terms, and in the most favourable way for

them, the reasons they have for all that they claim.

The avowed object of trades-unions and combinations, then,

is to secure for the workman that share of the profit of production

which is due to labour. That labour in past times has not

obtained its fair share is inferred by the advocates of these

unions from the fact that many employers have made large fortunes,

and that most of them live in a style of comfort that indicates

an abundant profit. It is not actually denied that the law

of supply and demand is that by which the remuneration of

labour ought to be regulated. It is rather maintained that the

different circumstances of capitalists and labourers prevent that

law from operating freely, and from determining equitably what

the one ought to give, and the other to take, for his labour. If

the law of supply and demand is to work fairly, the pressure, so

to speak, on buyer and seller ought to be equal. If one of the

parties be subject to a pressure which the other does not feel,

the fair action of the law will be interfered with. If the one

requires to sell his commodity immediately, but the other does

not require to buy immediately, the advantage is on the side of

the purchaser. The owner of an estate, or of a house, or of a

horse, may sometimes be so situated that he must sell at once,

for whatever the article will fetch. But in such a case he does

not get the proper market value for it. To enable him to do

so, he must be in no greater haste to sell than the other to buy.

To apply this to workmen and capitalists, labour is the commodity

which the one wishes to dispose of to the other. But

it is affirmed that singly labourers are not on an equality in

entering the market. The labourer lives on his earnings from

week to week, and usually supports a family on them, and

therefore cannot wait. The capitalist has other means of living,

and does not require to buy at once. The labourer is thus exposed

to the risk of selling his commodity through necessity for

anything it will fetch at the moment. To remedy this evil he

combines with other labourers. By this means a fund is accumulated

which gives him support if the employer and he differ

as to terms, and he is saved the necessity of parting with his

labour at a sacrifice. By this means, too, he is enabled to frame

other conditions for the disposal of his labour. He believes

that he then, and only then, enters the market on equal terms

with the employer, when he can say, without fear of being

undersold,—' Here is my labour, here is the price at which I

will sell it, and here are the conditions on which I will yield

it.' To place him in this position is the avowed object of trades-

unions. Without either admitting or questioning the soundness of

this reasoning, let us mark one inevitable result of the policy

which it suggests. The individual labourer forms a union with

other labourers, and with such success, we shall suppose, that

the great mass of his fellow-craftsmen agree to support him,

and to support one another in bargaining for the disposal of

their labour, and subscribe large funds for the purpose. How

does this affect the position of the employer ? Very clearly,

when he goes now into the labour-market as an individual, the

tables are completely turned. The pressure of necessity which

formerly was presumed to bear upon the labourer now bears

upon the employer. The labourer can now bide his time. But

the individual employer cannot wait indefinitely. His capital

is limited, and it will soon be wasted, if it be not employed.

Or let us suppose that he has certain contracts in hand. Heavy

penalties are incurred if the contracts are not fulfilled within a

limited time. It is evident that it is he that must now go into

the labour-market at a disadvantage, and buy the labour he

needs at whatever price, and on whatever conditions may be

demanded. Such at least is his position if he act singly, and

without combination with other employers. It is therefore in

self-defence that he tries to form such combination. A union

of masters is regarded as necessary to restore the equilibrium

which the union of workmen has disturbed. If a union of

purchase his labour at a disadvantage. The masters' union is

 the result of the workmen's; and the lock-out is the consequence

of the strike. We are reasoning at present on abstract

principles, and without reference to actual cases, where particular

circumstances may render our logic inapplicable. But

undoubtedly there is a point at which the necessity which urges

the workmen to unite is transferred from them to the employers.

Some employers, however, complicate matters by

combining for the avowed purpose of breaking up the union of

the men. It may be that they are driven to this. But it looks

as if the masters claimed to themselves a right which they

denied to the men. With the intense sensitiveness of the men

as to equal rights, the avowal of such a purpose, sought in such

a manner, must be exasperating. Each party has a right to

combine to obviate the necessity of going into the market at a

disadvantage ; but neither has a right to combine to break up

the combination of the other.



red - historical references or events

blue - proper names and terms

purple - historical footnotes


Statute regulating wages- Following the black death, parliament passed the Statute of Labourers.

This act fixed workers' wages at the rate that existed before the plague.

Great Plague- The members of a Genoese ship carried with them a bacteria-born disease recieved from

the blood of black rats and fleas. Upon docking in the Mediterannean, the crew spent time in various parts of

Europe and the disease quickly spread. It made its way to London in 1848 and Londoners began dying in

waves as a result of the Bubonic, Pneumonic, and Septicemic consequences of the disease. Depending on where

the disease attacked the body, people died anywhere from a day to a week after contracting the illness. Radical beliefs concerning the cause of the outbreak ranged from a Jewish plot to kill Christians, punishment from God, and the alignment of the planets. Terror spread throughout London as it was believed by many that the plague was an apocolypse signaling end of the world. Wages and prices drastically increased, there was a shortage in many professions including the clergy, and most importantly a large section of the population was wiped out. It is estimated that 30-40% of the 5-6 million people in England succumbed to the disease.

Stocks- A wooden device used since medieval times to humiliate and punish minor criminal offenders. The device allows boards to be secured around the legs and wrists of the individual while he is in a sitting position. Many devices used chains and strings to keep the offender in a more uncomfortable position.

Henry VI- England's king from 1422-1461. He took over the throne at nine months of age after his father passed.

He is regarded by many historians as the most inept ruler of England because of his poor mangagement of military matters and people. He suffered a mental collapse in 1453 and died in 1471.

Currency Conversion-

1 pound in 1860 is roughly equivalent to $85 today

100 pound in 1860 is roughly equivalent to $8,500 today

*for other hitorical conversions of English currency visit: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.currency/

Pillory- Similar to the stocks, the pillory was a wooden construction used for punishment. The humiliation and suffering endured by this device is greater than those by the stocks because offenders were in a standing position and powerless over the treatment of those in public who chose to throw things at them. As punishment for severe crimes individuals would often be shaved, whipped,or mutilated during their time in the pillory.

Justices of the Peace- This group of trusted public servants was originally established to

ensure that legal codes were upheld by citizens of England. Although formally established in 1361, this branch of government traces its roots back to 1195 When Richard "the Lionheart"commissioned certain knights to unruly sections of England to ensure the citizens' saftey. At this time the group of knights was known as"Keepers of the Peace." An act was passed in 1327 that extended the responsibilities and authority of this group over a wider range of England;at this time the servants were known as "Conservators of the Peace." The responsibilities of this branch of Monarchy grew over the ensuing centuries all the way until the early part of the 1800's.

Some of these responsibilities included fixing wages, regulating food suplies, building and controlling raods and bridges, and supervising certain services mandated by the king and queen.

Quarter Sessions- These were meetings that took place four times a year in each county of England and Wales. Running from 1388 to 1972 these meetings were held by appointed officials who established laws and acts pertaining to several of the following areas of public life: county rates, police and militia jurisdiction, public houses, road and bridge repair and operation, lunatic asylums, the county gaol, etc. These sessions also served as a court for minor offenders. The four sessions were named Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer, and Michaelmas.

Combinations- A term used to define the forging of together of certain groups of workers in an effort to exert more leverage over their owners when it came time to strike or negotiate for wages.

Adam Smith- A philosopher of economics and individual freedom, Smith wrote An Inquiry into the Nature of the Wealth of Nations in 1766. Best known for this work, Smith examines division of labor, the function of a free market and the ways in which the self-interest of a country dictates its economic decision making. Smith lived from 1723-1790.

Combination Act of 1800- This was an attempt to prohibit trade unions from combining together in an attempt to collectively bargain. The motive for this act stemmed from a fear workers would strike in large numbers, thus forcing owners and the government to accept their demands so production would not come to a halt.

House of Commons- The lower house of the parliament in England. This branch of government came into being at some point during the fourteenth century. Today, the members of the house of commons are voted in through a democratic process similar to that in the U.S. congress or senate.

Joseph Hume (1777-1855)- Hume served in the House of Commons and was instrumental in establishing better working relationships between workers and their employers. He helped set up savings banks, abolish flogging in the army, and end imprisonment for outstanding debt. He was an important voice in the move for universal suffrage.

Vitriol- a form of sulfuric acid

Penny-Post- A system established in 1680 by William Dockwra that allowed all documents under one pound to be delivered from one location in London to another for a penny. Packages could be delivered within 10 miles of London for an additional penny. There were six central sorting offices in London to ensure effective

delivery. This service lasted only three years as a result of the General Post Office of London taking over the Penny-Post's services.

International Congress of Workmen Conference- Labor unions used this congress as a means to inform congress of the working conditions and demands of the working middle class. There were several issues specifically addressed by union representatives. Among these were female and children's labor, relationships

between workers and their employers, and a request to reduce the number of hours in a standard working day. The latter issue revolved around the fight for an eight hour work day. Although there were other items not pertaining to workmen addressed, the conference was seen as a big stepping stone in the active involvement of the government in labor relations.

Strike of the Preston Spinners- Seeking the same wages as cotton spinners in a neighboring town, the Preston spinners were only offered a 10% increase contingent on the dissolution of their union. Seeing this offer as unsatisfactory, 600 spinners went on strike in November of 1836. Individuals in the weaving mills

were put out of work as a result of the strike while the Preston spinners relied on charity from the parish and soup kitchens. They were forced to go back to work three to seven months later without any of their demands met.

Colliery strikes- Strikes by coal miners

Amalgamated Society of Workers- The forging together of different trades (ie spinners, coal miners, engineers, etc.) to strenghten  union  leverage.

Cotton Lockout of 1858- After having their wages reduced by 5%, cotton weavers were joined by other local workers who feared the same reduction of wages in a strike of almost 1,300 workers. Fearing their workers would not come back, owners relented after fourteen weeks and assigned workers back at their original wages. Celebrating their return back to work the employees had a large gathering where drinking alcohol was the main focal point for most.

John Ludlow- Author of two books concerning economics and labor relations. Ludlow was a lawyer and leader of the Christian socialist movement who focused on ensuring that the needs of London's poor were met.

Edmund Potter- Owner of a highly successful printing company (Printworks at Dinting Vale) who tried to reduce heavy taxation for owners.

TJ Dunning- Philosopher, writer, and advocate for the working class, Dunning was a major figure in the nineteenth century struggle for working class rights. He wrote several pamphlets and articles (one is the latter article on the site) that examined the philosophy of strikes and other means of achieving

fair rights that were enacted by labor unions.



(hn1)- There was probably no time in history when workers had leverage over their owners than immediately following the plague of 1350. The issue at hand was labor scarcity as a result of the high numbers of deaths of employess in different factories. Because of such low numbers of available necessary help, laborers took advantage by demanding higher wages. Because factory owners had historically been able to establish hours, wages, and conditions because of the precarious situation in which workers found themselves, most laborers were united in their demands to receive higher wages from their bosses. However, there were a few in the working class who understood the difficult situation for their owners and did not want to make it harder. Although logic dictates that workers would have the upper hand when such a labor shortage develops, government stepped in on the owners' side and bashed the working class for violating the law and

making an already large social epidemic worse because of their selfish actions. People who would not work unless they received higher wages were punished until the message was sent that workers were best off going back to work at their previously existing wages.


(hn2)- Research shows that the Justices of Peace and parliament historically favored the opinion of employers whenever petitions, charters, or new information was brought by labor unions regarding reforms that needed to be made on behalf of the workforce. Although there were small gains made by the working class and their union, their voice was not truly recognized until the International Workmens Conference in Geneva.


(hn3)- One issue addressed at the Workmens Conference was the issue of violence as it pertained to unions and

masters. While usually not occuring, these attempts at violence and destruction on both sides (primarily by unhappy workers toward their masters) were seen as large social problems that needed to be curbed. The Justices of Peace and parliament recognized this issue and attempted to erradicate it.



(hn4)- During periods of strikes many employers sought to hire temporary laborers from other neghboring countries such as Ireland, Netherlands, France, and Belgium. This was not done on a consistent basis, but the times in which masters employed this tactic unions and their workers were incensed. Such action proved beneficial in the long run because it forced both workers and their employers to more closely work together to find solutions to labor strife.




Trades- Unions and Strikes: Their Philosophy and Intention.

T.J. Dunning, Secretary to the London Consolidated Society of Bookbinders. 1860



What, in point of fact, is the policy of trades-unions, when they

try to make their own bargain,—what are the conditions they

impose, or seek to impose, when they offer their labour to

capitalists for sale? The answer to this question may be comprised in some half-

dozen particulars :—1. They seek to establish certain standard

rates of wages, beneath which no employer shall be at liberty

to pay his men. 2. To limit the hours of labour, and especially

to discourage or do away with the practice of working overtime.

3. To discourage or do away with the practice of piecework.

4. To limit the number of apprentices. 5. To prevent the

employment of non-union men along with or in room of unionists.

6. In certain cases, to oppose the introduction of machinery,

or the employment of unskilled labourers in the working of

machinery. Other points may occasionally be insisted on, but,

speaking generally, we may say that these six embrace the chief

demands which trades-unions have been wont to make.

In order to sift thoroughly the character and the tendency of

these, or any other conditions of a similar kind, it will be proper

to inquire—I. Whether or not it be a right thing to trammel

the labour-market with any artificial restrictions, instead of

allowing a perfectly free trade in labour; II. What the precise

merit or demerit is of each of the restrictions contended for,

especially as regards the workman, and whether or not, according

to the recognised laws of political economy, they tend to

secure the end for which they are designed; and III. What

their bearing is on the position of employers—whether or not

they are compatible with that freedom and self-respect, and

with that sense of responsibility for the right conduct of his

undertaking, without which the position of a master is but a

mockery, and the management of business a worry not to be

borne. Nothing, it has often been said, succeeds like success; and

the marvellous success of free-trade, as recently carried out in

this country, has made it necessary for persons who contend

for restrictions in any branch of business to stand on the defensive.

But it does not follow, as a matter of course, that

because free-trade has succeeded in one sphere, it ought to be

applied out and out in every sphere. In the main, free-trade

is a question of expediency. The only principle of a moral or

religious nature applicable to it is, that it is the will of God

that the superabundant products or commodities of one region

should be readily available for the supply of other regions, and

that it is a sin to frustrate this benevolent purpose by artificial

restrictions, designed to promote the interests of a class. Now,

it will hardly be contended that this principle has to do with

the question whether labourers are entitled to place any restrictions

on the sale of their own labour. What remains to be

pleaded in favour of free-trade is, its great expediency—the remarkable

comfort, certainty, quickness, and expansiveness of

commercial transactions untrammelled by restrictions. It is

this expediency that has received such marvellous illustration

in the commercial policy of recent years. But although it is

certainly very desirable that all business be transacted with as

few fetters as possible, it is not imperative that there be no

fetters. In fact, a higher expediency may render the imposition

of some fetters indispensable. The interests of public

health, or of public safety, or even the demands of national

revenue, may be regarded sufficient to justify restrictions in

trade. For such reasons the sale of poisons, of gunpowder, and

of intoxicating drinks, is subjected to somewhat rigid restrictions.

The free-trade expediency is checked by higher expediencies ;

and fetters condemned by the one are restored at the

demand of the other. But perhaps the case of the labour-market itself furnishes

the best illustration of the propriety of occasional restrictions

in the exchange of commodities. For, side by side with the

advance of our free-trade policy, there has been carried out a

policy of limitation in the employment of labour. The Ten

Hours Act is one result of this policy; so is the prohibition of

female labour in certain employments, and of infant labour; so

also is the half-time system; and indeed the whole arrangements

connected with the public inspection of factories and

mines, and the provisions which such inspection is designed to

enforce. This is no doubt true; and, under shelter of such precedents,

trades-unionists sometimes argue that they are entitled

to lay upon the sale of labour the restrictions which they contend

for. But before this conclusion could be justified, they would

require to make out that a higher expediency than that which

calls for free-trade demands such restrictions, and especially

that such restrictions are called for in the interest of the public.

For restrictions in the interest of public health, or public safety,

or public morality, are one thing, and restrictions in the interest

of a section of the community, are another. Restrictions of the

nature of protection, going to constitute a monopoly, contracting

the energies of industry, clipping the wings of enterprise, are

those of which our free-trade experience has made us most

jealous. Trades-unions would require to show that the restrictions

which they propose are not of this character, and they

would need to be the more particular in their proof, from the

circumstance that our past experience of guilds and other protected

industries has not been favourable. Our history shows

that it is not in the old seats of protected industry, not round

the dull and venerable halls where hammersmiths and cord-

wainers have held their lifeless meetings, that our modern

industry has gathered its resources and achieved its matchless

triumphs, but in new, unheard-of places—in Manchester,

Leeds, Rochdale, 'Birmingham by Warwick'(as letters have

been addressed within the present generation); not in Dublin, but

Belfast; not in Edinburgh, but Glasgow; not in the fair city of

Hal' o' the Wynd, but its parvenu neighbour, Dundee. The

onus probandi is thrown upon the advocates of restriction, and

proof must be brought forward that the measures which they

plead for are not calculated to paralyse industry, or to promote

the welfare only of one class. The restrictions themselves

must then be examined individually, and their true character

and bearing ascertained. We proceed, accordingly, to examine in detail the several

restrictions sought to be imposed by trades-unions on the free

sale of labour, and to inquire whether these restrictions are in

themselves justifiable, and whether, according to the laws of

political economy, they tend to secure the end for which they

are designed. In doing so, we shall first endeavour to state, as

fairly as we can, on the one hand, the arguments by which the

several demands are in wont to be enforced by their more tern-

 perate advocates; and on the other, the objections to which they are liable.


1.) In regard to the claim for standard rates of wages, where

the men are paid by time, we find, at the outset, an important

difference in defining the real meaning of this claim. If

we take Mr. Dunning's account of it, it does not mean that all

workmen—good, bad, and indifferent—should be paid alike;

and it is not liable to the objection that it drags down the superior

workman to the level of the inferior. It means that a

certain rate should be fixed as the minimum, below which

wages should not fall, leaving the employer to pay for superior

skill, or working ability, as much more as he pleases, or as the

man can obtain. It excludes a master from employing men at

a lower rate, even though he should judge them, or they should

be admitted to be, decidedly inferior workmen. The reason

alleged for it is, that it is necessary as a barrier against the

introduction of the ' sweating system,' a system that takes advantage

of the urgent necessities of working men, and constrains

them to work at rates that, in their effects, are alike demoralizing

and ruinous. It is admitted that, in point of fact, the standard

rate usually becomes the average rate of payment, and this is justified

on the ground that most men are entitled to it, as being of

average ability, and that the deficiencies of some are made up

by the surplus work of others. Although it is denied that the

regulation is designed to make the abler and more skilled workmen

do less work than they would do under a system of graduated

payment, it is hardly questioned that its tendency is in this

direction. It is hardly to be supposed that when the wages

received are uniform, the quicker and abler workman will do

more work than his slower neighbour. Why should he work

more than the average amount, he asks, when he receives no

more than the average pay ? Would a clever writer in a review

or magazine, capable of doing double the work of another in

the same time, write two sheets for the pay of one, if he were

engaged by time ? And if it be said that the master, by this

system, has no redress against inferior workmen, whose work is

decidedly worth less than their pay, the reply is he can dismiss

them. Whenever a slack time comes, he can weed out the

inferior hands; and the dislike of being dismissed, or of being

superseded, acts as a check against the abuse of the regulation.

However this may be, the general effect of the arrangement,

it is affirmed by masters, is to lessen the daily amount of work.

In certain trades, masters complain bitterly that the work done

in a given time is greatly less than it was twenty years ago.

Employers of masons, for example, complain that the number of strokes

given with the mallet per minute is smaller than it used to be. In a program it

 is ascribed, not so much to the predominance of a lazy habit among

the men, as to the influence of a notion that has taken hold of them,

the men, as to the influence of a notion that has taken hold of them,

that by lessening the amount of work they increase its value.

By creating an artificial scarcity of labour, they believe that

they increase the market value of that labour. This notion we

shall have to examine fully afterwards, for we shall find that it

lies at the foundation of most of the restrictions which the

trades-unions contend for. Meanwhile, we may remark that

the establishment of a standard or uniform rate of wages,

though not relished by masters, does not seem to be one of the

demands against which they are disposed to wage mortal war,

provided the rates proposed are such as they think they can

accept of.

2.) We come then to the second demand—the limitation of

the hours of labour. In favour of such limitation two kinds

of argument are usually employed. In the first place, there is

the consideration of health and morality,—a most valid and

reasonable one within certain limits. Thus, in a petition to

Parliament, the colliers of West Yorkshire have alleged as ' a

well-known fact, that the longer the men are employed, the

more liable are they to become allured by intoxicating drinks,

or other debasing habits.' In any case, the exhaustion caused

by toil requires the use of restoratives, but the restoratives provided

by nature—simple diet, sleep, social intercourse, fresh

air, games, scenery, music, religious services—are for the most

part slow in their operation. Hence, when toil has been protracted

to extra hours, restoratives of more rapid action are

sought after, and intemperance is greatly promoted. At the

discussion on trades-unions in Glasgow in 1860, Mr. Fergus,

who began by saying that he utterly abhorred and detested

strikes, referred to the case of the engineers of Lanarkshire, a

class with whom he had become acquainted some thirteen

years before, and who then spent their evenings most rationally ;

but by competition a system of overtime had been introduced,

which had wrought great damage to their physical and

moral nature. The evil was far greater than was generally

supposed, and it wrought amongst the men physical decay, premature

death, and in some cases insanity.

In so far as workmen seek to reduce the hours of labour to

cession of masons at Edinburgh last autumn, a figure, representing a stone-

hewer, who gave a stroke with his mallet when the bearer pulled a string, was

declared by the masters to be a most faithful symbol of the unionist stonecutter.

The number of strokes per minute was extremely small, corresponding

to what used to be called, in the kingdom of Fife, 'Cupar time,'as

distinguished from ' Auchtermuchty time ;' and the strokes were given just

as the string-puller directed,—the real string-pullers being the heads of the

such limits as the average human frame is adapted to bear, and

desire more leisure for self-improvement, their object must

commend itself to every honest Christian heart. Besides, the

community has selfish reasons, if it would think of them, for

desiring that workmen be not made to labour beyond their

strength. Wherever there is excessive labour, the death-rate

and the poor-rate are increased, and widows and orphans in

large numbers are thrown on the public for support. But probably

there is no class to whom overtime is so hurtful, in a

general point of view, as to employers themselves. When their

men are working overtime, and drawing for that time the extra

wages which are paid for it, they are actually doing less work

for more pay. They are contributing exhausted, or at least

impaired energies, and for that they are receiving more than in

ordinary circumstances they get for the application of energies

fresh and unimpaired. They are tiring themselves for their

ordinary daily work; for a man working hard till eight or ten

o'clock at night is not the same man at six next morning as he

used to be, and not able to work as hard. It is but natural

then that employers should be as much against overtime as

workmen. What they plead, in certain trades, such as that of

engineers is, that the heavy expense of their machinery and

tools, and the peculiar character of the work they produce, render

overtime, piece-work, and irregularity of employment an

unavoidable and certain incident of their calling. '

We cannot, like the spinner, the weaver, or the cloth-worker,

manufacture on speculation, and produce without order, certain that

ultimately the article will be required, and must always be in demand.

We can only produce to order, and we must produce our commodity

when it is ordered. Our customers require all their purchases for a

special purpose, and at a special time. Perhaps they are useless to

them unless supplied when stipulated ; certainly they will cease to employ

us if we fail to finish to our time. There is obviously force and reason in these considerations,

but there are other employments where the men are engaged

under regulations that seem to set every consideration of health

and comfort at defiance. We refer to engine-drivers, stokers,

and other railway employe's, whose hours of labour, at least on

some lines, are one of the most unfathomable of the many

mysteries of railway management. Ever and anon we hear of

men who are not off work for days and nights in succession,

beginning their duty perhaps on a Monday evening, and not

leaving it till the following Wednesday. It is humiliating that

it should be in our new industries that such barbarous instances

of disregard of the laws of nature are commonly found to occur.

The case of railway employe's is a crying scandal, and it is all

the more so that the justification of one company seems usually

to be, that the same practice is prevalent in the rest.

But there is another reason sometimes given for limiting the

hours of labour that is not entitled to equal consideration. In

the request of the Operative Builders to the Masters in London

in 1859, it was alleged that the application of machinery to all pursuits of human industry

had to a great extent rendered the demand for manual labour unnecessary.

In our own trade it already rips the material, ploughs,

mortises, and tenons, and does everything except the bare putting together,

and we are warranted in anticipating further depressive aggressions,

and justified in attempting to provide a barrier against future

distresses by shortening the hours of labour.'

Without entering here on the question (which will be touched

on afterwards), whether the application of machinery does really

lessen the demand for manual labour, we remark that the pith

of the argument lies in this, that the workman is justified in

restricting his day's labour, in order to make room for the employment

of as many of his brother craftsmen as possible. A

certain amount of labour, he reasons, is needed for the work of

the country; we must contrive that as many of us as possible

be employed to do it; in order to this we must get the hours of

labour shortened, and at the same time we must try to secure

that our wages are not diminished. We do not deny that the

argument is well-meant, that it is designed to promote the good

of the brotherhood generally; but unless we are mistaken greatly,

it is just one of those arguments that, if carried to its consequences,

as we shall try to show by-and-by, would paralyse industry,

and drive it, not to some hitherto unknown centre of

activity within the British isles,—some Birmingham, or Leeds, or

New Lanark,—but beyond the outskirts of the United Kingdom,

to colonies alive with youthful enterprise, or to foreign countries,

where, if they would but adopt the Celtic motto, ' Olim

marte, nunc arte,' hundreds of thousands of young fellows, by

beating their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into

pruning-hooks, might so stimulate their national industries,

that most formidable competition would be created to our own.

3.) The argument against piece-work rests largely on a similar

basis. In some occupations no attempt is made to disturb

piece-work; but where it is open to an employer either to engage

by time or by the piece, the feeling of unionists is in favour

of the former. It is felt that when men are paid by piece-work

the stimulus to work more than they ought to work is too great

to be resisted; that work is thus confined to a limited number

of workers ; that those who may be going idle have neither a

fair share nor a fair chance ; that too high a notion is conveyed

of what a day's work ought to be; that the wages earned are apt

to be considered too large, and that encouragement is thus

given to masters to attempt to lower the rate of remuneration.

In the iron-trades, piece-work, like overtime, is peculiarly obnoxious

to the men. On the llth July 1851, the council of

the Amalgamated Society of Engineers issued a circular to all

their branches, annexed to which was a schedule of questions,

which members were asked to fill up. Two of the questions inquired

how many members were in favour of, or against, piecework ;

and how many in favour of, or against, systematic overtime ?

Out of 11,800 members upwards of 9000 voted, and of

these only 16 were in favour of piece-work and systematic

overtime. In arguing with their employers on the subject,

they said, that the same reasons that were applicable to overtime

were capable of being urged against it.

Whatever evils spring from men working longer hours than is consistent

with their health or moral wellbeing spring from piece-work to

the full as much as from overtime. By it men are incited to work as

long as exhausted nature will sustain itself, and in addition, it leads

them to hurry over their work, and leaves it imperfectly finished when

defects may be concealed. On the other hand, it is argued in favour of piece-work, that

it is by far the most likely way of enabling the able workman

to rise to the position of an employer. Many of ourselves,' said the Master Engineers, have traced their

rise from the position of employed to that of employers, to the opportunities

afforded by piece-work, which enabled them to become small

contractors, and thereby to avail themselves of the rewards of their

directing skill. As it is the fairest and least fallible test of the value

of labour, and best enables the master to make his estimates with

security, so it is the line which measures off the expert and industrious

workman from the lazy and unskilful; and above all, it is the lever by

which patient merit and superior intelligence raises itself above the

surrounding level, and enables society to reward, and to profit by,

mechanical genius and energy, as well as by respectability of character.'

There is no doubt that there is much force in these considerations,

and their bearing on the interests of the workmen is

obvious. Very likely, however, workmen would deny that in

general they are allowed to reap the full fruit of the system,

and would be ready to bring forward instances in which mechanics

who had invented some improvement in the mode of

working were deprived of the benefit of their invention. The

main objection to piece-work, however, arises from the tendency

believed to be inherent in it, to lower the general remuneration

of work. This question we reserve for after discussion.

Besides this, it is alleged that it is the function of the journeyman

to instruct the apprentice, and that therefore the former

is entitled to stipulate as to the amount of time and trouble he

will become liable for in doing so. The Amalgamated Engineers,

in one of their documents, when asked whether they did

not acknowledge the right of an employer to engage any industrious

man he pleased, said that they did, but that they did not

acknowledge his right to compel them to instruct an ignorant

workman. In like manner, if the employer would undertake

to teach the apprentices, he might have as many as he liked;

but if they had to instruct him, they begged to be allowed to

say how many they would undertake. The consequence of a

horde of apprentices is affirmed by the Sheffield workmen to be

that they are not properly taught, and therefore not qualified

as efficient or first-class workmen. Such half-taught lads will

be welcome to the manufacturers of cheap goods, who do not

bring into the market a trustworthy manufacture, but are bent

on underselling the respectable dealer. The effect of their admission

is to derange the trade, to perplex if not deceive the

public, and to discourage the first-class producer.

4.) Regarding the employment of apprentices, there are obvious reasons to account for the eager desire prevalent among workmen to limit their number. As a man advances in life, the feeling must gain upon him that he is less eligible than he once was to employers, and that younger men have the advantage. The grey whisker, as some one has said, is the worst letter of recommendation a workman can carry, and it is a letter he cannot suppress or conceal. A flood of youthful labourers pressing round employers is one of the most painful visions that can rise before him. Under the pressure of circumstances he sees that employers as a rule are not in favour of old workmen. In the regulation of many establishments the law of selfishness is predominant without a check; and even those masters who have heart enough to be unwilling to dismiss an old servant, sometimes find convenient excuses for telling him to go. Employers of a certain rank sometimes fall upon contrivances for getting no small amount of work performed by boy-labour; some have even been known to accumulate fortunes rapidly upon savings derived from the employment of children. What workmen chiefly dread, if no limit be placed on the number of apprentices is, that the market shall be flooded by a surplus supply of labourers ; consequently that there will be a general fall in wages, and that the older and feebler workmen will go to the wall.

The limitation of the number of apprentices in a trade would

be of little use, if it were not coupled with a provision that none

but those who have served a regular apprenticeship shall be

eligible for employment as workers in the trade. This demand

is enforced by the consideration that it would be unjust to put

persons who have not served an apprenticeship on the same

level with those who have. Some persons go so far as to argue

that a period of servitude, as it is called, confers something like

a legal right to all the benefits of the craft in which the apprenticeship

has been served. The Railway Spring-makers' Society

address their members thus :

'Considering that the trade whereby we live is our property, bought

by certain years of servitude, which give us a vested right, and that

we have a sole and exclusive claim upon it, as all will have hereafter

who purchase it by the same means, it is evident that it is every man's

duty to protect by all fair and legal means the property whereby he

lives, being always equally careful not to trespass on the rights of


It is surely clear to common sense that when people come to

speak of a ' vested right' in any craft, or of a ' sole and exclusive

claim' upon it, or of having 'purchased' it, or of its being

their ' property,' they have got into the region of wild fanaticism.

As a mode of securiug due instruction to apprentices

themselves, and as affording tolerable security to employers and

to the public for their efficiency, the apprenticeship system may

be very fairly defended. And in professions where the public

can hardly judge of a man's ability to do what he undertakes,

such as that of the law or that of medicine, the security afforded

by his having passed through an apprenticeship, and been

licensed by a competent body, is of considerable, though not

complete or exhaustive value. But on what principle can a man

claim a vested right to an employment, simply because be spent

four, five, or seven years in trying to learn it ? To do this is to

confound the means with the end. The apprenticeship is the

means; efficiency as a workman, or ability to do the work, is the

end. An apprenticeship of ten thousand years would give no

man a vested right, or a right of any sort, to any work, if he

were not able to do it. Acknowledged ability to do the work

is the only valid kind of claim any man can have to a craft, and

that claim is not a vested right. Fancy the absurdity of trying

to exclude any one from writing a newspaper article, or reporting

the proceedings of a meeting, because he had not passed

through a five years' apprenticeship ! In ordinary circumstances,

an apprenticeship affords a presumption that a man is

an efficient workman; but if his efficiency can be demonstrated

otherwise, the absence of the apprenticeship cannot fairly exclude

him. Was George Stephenson trespassing on ' vested

rights' when, without having served an apprenticeship as an

engineer, he set himself to make locomotives ? Was Richard

Arkwright, the barber, committing a robbery when he turned

spinner, or Dr. Cartwright, when he turned weaver, without an

apprenticeship ? Let apprenticeship be defended ever so warmly

as a benefit to the young workman, and as a primd facie evidence

of qualification ; but never let it be seriously upheld as

conferring a vested interest, or an exclusive right to the benefits

of the craft. On the other hand, one can understand the apprehensions of

workmen, that by opening the door to an unlimited number of

apprentices, or by throwing all crafts open to all and sundry,

whether they have served an apprenticeship or not, the skilled

workman would be overwhelmed with the unskilled, and the

market would be overstocked with labourers. On this we remark,

that, as a general rule, those trained to an employment in youth

will always be preferred, and that the evil of an excessive rush

of apprentices to any trade will be sufficiently checked in the

end by the difficulty of finding employment. Besides, the rigid

limitation of the number of apprentices is against the policy of

free trade. And if a rigid limitation is enforced in all trades,

what is to become of the surplus boys ? If they must not learn

a trade, they must go to swell the ranks of the unskilful, or of the

classe dangercuse; they must either become hewers of wood and

drawers of water, or worse. But is not the class of unskilful

labourers in reality that which is most overstocked ? Is it not the

class for whose improvement something has most need to be done ?

Is it not really the most helpless and defenceless of any ? And

is that class to be excluded altogether from the sympathies of the

privileged craftsman ? It is easy to draw a circle round a particular

craft, and say to all but a limited number, ' You shan't

come here.' It is easy to draw fifty such circles, and to say the

same thing in the case of every existing craft. But what becomes

of the excluded ? And is society on the whole the better

for having all its surplus labour thrown into this great proletaire

class, this mixed multitude that dwell in the camp of the chosen

people, but are only of the uncircumcised ? When a battle is

raging, it is not wonderful that each side should maintain an

exclusive regard to its own interests, and refuse to look beyond ;

but on those who are not so engaged, it is incumbent

to embrace a wider field, and endeavour to secure arrangements

which will be for the welfare of the whole population.

5.) The next limitation with which we have to deal is that

which goes to exclude non-unionists from working along with, or

in room of union-men. As this is one of the most prominent of

the usual conditions of trades-unions, and has very much to do in

shaping their policy, it is necessary that we examine it with the

greater care. The issue here between the opponents and the upholders

of the policy of trades-unions is very distinct. We admit

every man's right, say the former, to make a bargain with an employer

for the disposal of his labour. We admit the right of

any number of men to combine for the same purpose. But we

utterly and indignantly deny their right to coerce other workmen,

or to interfere between them and an employer as to the

terms of their engagement. Now, this is the very position

which the champions of trades-unions dispute. They affirm

that they have a right to interfere between employers and workmen

who differ from them, as to the terms on which they will

labour. Their plea is, that they have a general right to prevent

these men from making an arrangement which will be hurtful

to their interests; that is, which will tend to bring down or

keep down the current rate of wages. More particularly, they

urge, that as wages are kept up, and the interests of workmen

generally are promoted by the exertions of the unions, supported

by the contributions of their members, those who do not belong

to the union reap where they have not sown, and ought to be

compelled to contribute to an institution whose benefits they

share:— 'The men,' says Mr. Dunning, ' naturally expect that every man

should pay his quota for an advantage which he enjoys in common

with the rest. ... In fact, whatever is deemed to be the right and

proper course for the welfare of all, by the majority of a community or

body of men, and adopted by it in the aggregate, will be sure to be

considered by that community as the duty of all to adopt and carry

out. In fact, it is its public opinion ; and how potent public opinion

is, need not be repeated. And if that course involves a money-payment,

he who refuses or attempts to shirk that payment will always be,

let him be of what class of society he may, " coerced" by its public

opinion.' This is sufficiently strong; but that it is no over-statement

of the views which have been adopted by the leaders of trades-

unions, and carried out with tremendous energy, will be apparent

if we quote from a leading article in The Beehive newspaper

of November 3, 1866, the recognised organ of the

unionists :— '

A trades-union is a combination of workmen to keep up the price

of their labour, and to keep down the hours of their labour; and to

make the combination effective the members have to expend much

time, trouble, and money. There are thirteen men working in one

shop, twelve of whom are members of the union, and the thirteenth

holds aloof from it, but yet he reaps the benefit by the time and money

expended by the other twelve, in receiving the same high wages, and

working the reduced hours; for, were it not for the combination to

which his twelve fellow-workers belong, he would in all probability be

working at a lower rate of wages, and for a longer number of hours.

He is thus reaping the benefit of a harvest he has not assisted in sowing ;

and we deny that there is any tyranny in the twelve men using

every means, short of violence, to compel the thirteenth to bear his

share of the labour and expense from the increasing of which he obtains

the benefit. The sympathy of these right honourable and right

reverend lecturers is, however, invariably given to the refractory, or

thirteenth man, and they say he has a right to work any number of

hours he pleases, or sell his labour at any rate he thinks proper ; but

we say no ; we say he has no such right if by so doing he is likely to

reduce the price paid to the other twelve men for their labour, or to

cause those men to work longer hours than they desire to do. The

individual in a trade, as the individual in the nation, must forego his

personal liberty for the general good, and has no right to act in such

a manner as to be inimical to the general body of his fellow-workmen.'

With the strongest possible wish to deal fairly and candidly

with trades-unionists, we must own that it is absolutely staggering

to find so loose a statement put forward hy them as

their defence of a position of so great importance, and against

which so many minds instinctively recoil. It is a collection

of assumptions throughout. First of all, there is the absolutely

unqualified and unguarded assumption, that' in a trade, as in the

nation, the individual must forego his personal liberty for the

general good.' Within certain limits this would not be denied;

but the whole question turns on what these limits ought to be.

Secondly, it is assumed that %he opponent of the trades-union

is ' the individual,' being as 1 to 12 to the unionists, which no

doubt may be the case in particular shops, but cannot be

assumed over the country at large, and cannot, therefore, even

on unionist principles, justify the coercion of large bodies of

workmen. Thirdly, it is assumed that the operations of the

union are beneficial to the non-unionist; but this is probably

what the non-unionist would deny and repudiate. It is, at the

very least, not a fact so generally allowed even among workmen

as to be legitimately made the basis of coercive measures.

Fourthly, it is assumed that the case of a trade and the case of

the nation are parallel. But how utterly do they differ! The

nation, in imposing limits on individual freedom, proceeds in

a public and constitutional way; discusses the matter openly in

a representative assembly, allows the use of petition and remonstrance,

and is open to whatever influence of public opinion may

be brought to bear upon it. The non-unionist finds himself called

to surrender his liberty by a body to which he does not belong,

where he is not represented, whose deliberations are close and


secret, whose decisions admit neither of remonstrance nor appeal,

and on which public opinion, beyond its own circle, exerts no

influence whatever! But even granting, for the sake of argument, the legitimacy

of the plea, let us advert to the analogous course which it suggests

for employers, when in defence of their position they are

led to form a union or combination. In their view, the combination

so formed is as much fitted to protect the interests of

their whole body, as is the trades-union in the view of the men.

Hence a measure of ' coercion' would become quite legitimate

in dealing with an employer who did not approve of their

course, and join their ranks. Any employer friendly to the

claims of the men might thus be constrained, contrary

to his judgment and his feelings, to join his brother-

employers against them. Or let us suppose that the employers

came to the conclusion that, for their own interests,

and for the interests of society at large, it was desirable that

their workmen should forego their personal liberty, in so

far as to cease to be members of a trades-union. Suppose

they should coerce their workmen into signing a declaration to

that effect. How would the workmen relish this call to forego

their personal liberty ? It is needless to say that such ' declarations'

have been the cause of the keenest feelings in the contests

between masters and men, and that to the defeated party,

when defeat has come, the necessity of signing them has been

the bitterest of all humiliations. The builders of London

affirmed, that the declaration they were first asked to sign

would rob them of every privilege* of freemen, and reduce them

to the level of serfs. We are not to be held as approving of the

policy of masters in this or in similar cases. We merely indicate

that if the plea in question be applicable to the men, it

must be held, by parity of reasoning, to cover the masters too.

6.) It seems hardly necessary to enter on a separate discussion

of opposition to the introduction of new machinery as one

of the grounds which union men have held in disputes with

masters. That may surely be regarded now as an abandoned

position. Though it be but a very few years since the shoemakers

of Northampton struck, in opposition to the use of the

sewing-machine in boot-closing, their movement need not excite

much criticism; it was but a feeble one, and only partially supported.

The intelligence of the working classes, and their

capacity of patient thought, enable them now to see how vain

the endeavour to oppose useful machinery would be, even if the

theoretical considerations against it were stronger than they

are. No one dreams now of imitating the fury of the Luddites.

No one now drinks to the toast of ' The destroying angel, the

labourer's best friend.' The utter abandonment of such positions

is at least one mark of progress. Yet, in a theoretical

point of view, no one of the six grievances we have discussed

presented a stronger primd facie case against the working man.

Not only did the introduction of the spinning-jenny, the power-

loom, and similar machinery, deprive a host of working people

of the only mode of earning a livelihood which they ever had,

but it seemed likely so to flood the labour-market for the future,

that the few who would get employment would be glad to take

it on any terms. Experience has taught us the contrary. Machinery

has given such an expansion to British industry, that

probably there is no branch of employment where more men

are not employed now than were employed before. The number

of persons employed in letterpress printing is greater than

it was before the steam-press was known. So also, more horses

are needed for the work of the country than were required

before a single locomotive began to snort on our railways.

More wheeled vehicles are made than were made in the palmy

days of the road; more hotels are required, taking all the

country over, than in the times when the traveller had to content

himself with eight miles an hour: so wonderful is the

impulse which improvements in machinery give to industry,

and so rapid is the recovery, in a normal and healthy state of

things, from violent changes and temporary derangements.

Having thus passed under review, one by one, the various

restrictions on the free disposal of labour for which trades-

unions more or less contend, it will be proper that we now

proceed to inquire whether, in accordance with the laws of

political economy, the provisions sought to be enforced tend to

secure the end which their supporters are trying to attain ?

Looked at generally, in their relation to political economy,

these regulations resolve themselves into an endeavour to secure

a better remuneration for labour, by limiting the number of

workers, and the amount of work done by each; in other words,

by causing an artificial scarcity of labour. It is believed that,

by limiting the number of apprentices, by discouraging overtime

and piece-work, by maintaining the exclusive privilege of

tradesmen who have served an apprenticeship, and by securing

a minimum wage for every workman who practises a trade,

an artificial scarcity of>labour may be maintained. A glut in

the labour-market will be prevented; tradesmen well advanced

in life will still have a fair chance of employment; the capitalist

will be obliged to pay higher wages, and, to enable him to

do so, he will have to content himself with smaller profits, or to

charge his customers a higher price for the article. 'We do not

wish it to be thought that this is the only view which the

managers of trades-unions take of the character and hearing

of the measures they recommend. We have expressly stated

that our present object is to view these measures in the light

of the laws of political economy; and the statement we have

now made simply sets forth the state of the question when the

discussion is confined to the arena of economics.

In commenting on this scheme, the first thing that claims

our notice is its artificial character. It is not natural or self-

adjusting, but at almost every point it involves an interference

with the natural order of things. This, of course, does not

necessarily involve its condemnation, although it must cause it

to be looked on with some suspicion. But, for the sake of

argument, let us in the meantime admit the beneficial tendency

of the scheme in raising the remuneration of labour. Let us

admit that a good move has been made on the chess-board

towards the accomplishment of this object. But will no deduction

fall to be made from the sum of benefit in consequence of

the move which the player on the other side may be constrained

to make ? Will the benefit sought to be obtained by the artificial

process we have described not be neutralized by the injury

likely to be inflicted on a natural process that would otherwise

have operated in the workman's favour? To perceive our

meaning, let it be remembered that, when things are going on

in a natural way, that which tends to increase the wages of the

labourer is competition among employers for his services. The

labourer's chance of getting an advance of wages from employer

A. is, that employer B. wishes to get him, and is willing to give

him more than he is receiving at present from A. If by any

means this competition for labourers on the part of employers

should be brought to an end, the labourer would be exposed to

most serious loss. The natural force would collapse which

tends to raise his wages. Suppose, then, that the policy of

trades-unions should lead to a great combination of masters,

and that the masters should act as one man in questions of

wages and other matters, what would become of the influence

of competition for the services of the men ? It would be gone.

B. could not now give to a labourer more than A.


Commentary (Summation and Analysis of the Six Demands)

The following pieces of commentary examine four of the six demands in a critical light by attempting to answer some of the following questions: What is the intent or motive of the demand? How will both laborers and their masters benefit or suffer if the demand is accepted? What are unseen consequences of the demands for both sides? While each demand is not treated in a thorough manner pertaining to its philosophical, moral, social, and economic considerations, the analysis should seek to be an introduction into some of the complex points illustrated by Dunning.


Minimum Wage

Although this may at first glance seem to be the most straightforward and least complex of the laborers demands, it carries with it complications for both employees and their employers. There are obvious advantages for the working class who sought a standard base wage for the work they completed; the most apparent of these is that each worker will be assured of enough income so that he will be able to provide material security for himself and his family. While this is in itself would be a large victory for the workers, it had drawbacks. What about the worker who went above and beyond to ensure that he maximized production and profits for his employer? Theoretically, based on language agreements between workers and masters, this employee would be privy to higher wages from his employer. The reality of the situation was that many shop and mill owners would not provide a higher wage for employees who sought to maximize their time at work. And why should they? From an owner’s perspective the higher production of a few only balances out the lower production of the many. If a fair cross section of the working class is content to put forth a minimum effort because they don’t feel sufficiently rewarded for their high production, owners find themselves in a precarious situation. Excess wages doled out to the best workers essentially creates decreases in profit due to the slow work by many because of age, physical limitations, fatigue, or a refusal to increase the wages of masters. This seems to be a problem relegated only to employers, but its implications are just as pertinent and critical for many in the working class. Increased wages for increased production had long been the means that allowed workers to climb out of their oppressive station in life and acquire material security greater than most in their class. Not only could they provide more for those around them, ambitious workers could also climb out of the laborious, monotonous work which had defined them for the majority of their life. This possibility of attaining a better lot in life through prolonged hard work was the hook of capitalism on which many in this class hung their hope. If masters were unwilling to provide a significant raise for good employment, where were the ambitious and unsettling to find hope? The social and personal ramifications of a loss of opportunity are obvious. This is where the conflict arises for both masters and laborers. Discernable to most is that a fixed minimum wage improved the quality of life for most in the working class. This met the aim of the unions at the time, but it also established the abovementioned problems for each involved party that did not have solutions.


Limitation of the Hours of Labor


This second request of newly established unions was made to ensure two things for its laborers: the first being proper mental and physical health and the second being reduced competition from outlying work forces. The first justification has a simple basis- when overtime and internal competition are commonplace, employees exhaust capacities of the mind and body which not only make them less efficient in the eyes of owners, but also force them to seek harmful means of recuperation that bring about grave consequences for them and their families. The second rationale, a natural consequence of the first, behind this request is a little more complex; it begins by making the assumption that there are only finite supplies of future and present labor. This supposition is connected with the initial rationale of the demand because logic dictates that an overworked work force  incapable of meeting an employer’s economic and productive demands would not be able to fulfill a set requirement of labor. If the existing populous could not meet these needs, work would be sent out to neighboring countries with a working class that was willing to provide necessary labor under the previously existing mandates of owners. Working under this assumption, unions argued that more men would be employable and the current work force would be assured of future work if labor hours were capped at a certain number. Whether or not this conclusion was logical or erroneous and fear-based depended on which side of the fence one’s interests resided. Once again, there were underlying problems with this demand for both employers and those they employed.

Payment by Piece or Time

Little discourse needs to be spent on this third demand because much of the rationale behind it is similar to that embodied in the previous request. Many owners in the eighteenth  and early part of the nineteenth century enacted a move toward paying employees by the number of pieces completed in a work day or week rather than by an hourly wage. This measure was sought to promote competition and therefore increase productivity. This capitalistic idea seems a workable one for both worker and owner, but unions sought again to limit the amount of work that their men completed. They argued that payment by piecework would create a working class that would be “incited to work as long as exhausted nature will sustain itself.” They also believed that such motivated expediency would create a hurried environment that leaves products “imperfectly finished when defects may be concealed.” The predominant question comes to the surface again- what about the able-bodied and intelligent man who can thrive if his performance is assessed by piecework? The fact that 16 out of over 9,000 workers surveyed were not in favor of piecework payment may illustrate that they did not feel they were afforded mobility or added material security even if given the opportunity to demonstrate their collective talents. The disavowal of piecework by laborers can be looked at in two different ways: 1. the financial reward for industriousness given by owners did not come close to matching the extra effort involved in a given work day or 2. workers did not feel that their worth should be measured by their productivity. The latter assertion was the sticking point for owners in England. How can unions assure bosses of a workforce that is productive if it has no motivation for being so? Employers, no doubt, could not reconcile the fact that the working class made demands for employment, but was unwilling to show initiative in their drive to increase production.


 Employment of Apprentices


The fourth demand placed upon the employers is two-fold; the first requirement is that the number of apprentices in the workplace be capped at an agreed upon number; the second part of the request says that only individuals who have served in a ‘ regular apprenticeship’ can be eligible for work in a specific trade. The former requirement was, in most cases, easily agreed upon by both masters and tradesmen. The latter requisite was a major consideration not easily worked out because of it complex ethical, philosophical, and economic underpinnings that greatly affected both the employed and those above them. At the heart of this demand is a reaching and seemingly illogical belief held by laborers: a trade is the respective property of those who have been trained to carry it out. It seems odd that a man should think to be an owner of something just because he was trained in it, but the workers had a practical justification for this type of thinking. Unless their training assured them certain rights, employers would have the ability to hire children at cheap wages and train the unemployed to do the same work for a cheaper price. In addition to these things, owners would not have to worry about getting rid of aging or unproductive workers because they would not need to hire "trained owners of a given trade" as replacements. Masters had logical arguments to oppose such thinking of the unions; if they could only work with those in the pool of trained workers they would be short-changing surplus boys and other young workers who helped provide basic necessities for their families. Limiting the number of apprentices had great social consequences. In terms of trained and skilled workers having a vested right in their trade, owners argued that union were focusing on the means rather than the ends. They made the argument that if union men were able and productive they would naturally be better than untrained workers and would not have to worry about job loss. It seemed that the bottom line concerning productivity was what owners used to oppose this union demand.


Works Cited


1836 Spinners Strike for Better Pay. 16 Feb. 2008



Brand, Earl. Office of Justice of the Peace in England, 1600. 16 Feb. 2008



Cotton Lockout of 1858. 16 Feb. 2008



Dunning, T.J. "Trades-Unions and Strikes: Their Philosophy and Intention." The North British Review 7.84 (1867):13-26


England History. The Luddites and the Combination Acts: The Combination Act of 1800. University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth 16 Feb. 2008



House of Commons. The National Archives Learning Curve. 16 Feb. 2008



Joseph Hume. The National Archives Learning Curve. 16 Feb. 2008



Ludlow, John."Trade Unions in the United Kigdom." The Atlantic Monthly, 78.469 (Nov 1896).


Meadows, P. A Source Book of London History from the Earliest Times to 1800. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1914


Penny Post. Britannica Encyclopedia 16 Feb. 2008



Pillory. 28 Jan. 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 16 Feb. 2008



Potters of Dinting. 16 Feb. 2008




Quarter-Sessions. 8 Jan. 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 16 Feb. 2008



Smith's Law, Free trade, and Free Immigration. 16 Feb. 2008



Stocks. 25 Feb. 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 16 Feb. 2008



"Trades Societies and Strikes. Report of the Committee on Trades-Societies, Appointed by the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science." The North British Review 7.84 (1867): 1-13


Values and Wages. 16 Feb. 2008



Zollverein. 19 Feb. 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 16 Feb. 2008




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