The History of Trade Unionism/I. The origins of trade unionism

CHAPTER I THE ORIGINS OF TRADE UNIONISMEdit

A TRADE UNION, as we understand the term, is a continuous association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives. 1 This form of association has, as we shall see, existed in England for over two centuries, and cannot be supposed to have sprung at once fully developed into existence. But although we shall briefly discuss the institutions which have some- times been described as the forerunners of Trade Unionism, our narrative will commence only from the latter part of the seventeenth century, before which date we have been unable to discover the existence in the British Isles of anything falling within our definition. Moreover, although it is suggested that analogous associations may have existed during the Middle Ages in various parts of the Continent of Europe, we have no reason to suppose that such institutions

1 In the first edition we said " of their employment." This has been objected to as implying that Trade Unions have always contemplated a perpetual continuance of the capitalist or wage-system. No such implica- tion was intended. Trade Unions have, at various dates during the past century at any rate, frequently had aspirations towards a revolutionary change in social and economic relations.

B


2 The Origins of Trade Unionism

exercised any influence whatever upon the rise and develop- ment of the Trade Union Movement in this country. We feel ourselves, therefore, warranted, as we are indeed com- pelled, to limit our history exclusively to the Trade Unions of the United Kingdom,

We have, by our definition, expressly excluded from our history any account of the innumerable instances in which the manual workers have formed ephemeral combina- tions against their social superiors. Strikes are as old as history itself. The ingenious seeker of historical parallels might, for instance, find in the revolt, 1490 B.C., of the Hebrew brickmakers in Egypt against being required to make bricks without straw, a curious precedent for the strike of the Stalybridge cotton-spinners, A.D. 1892, against the supply of bad material for their work. But we cannot seriously regard, as in any way analogous to the Trade Union Movement of to-day, the innumerable rebellions of subject races, the slave insurrections, and the semi-servile peasant revolts of which the annals of history are full. These forms of the " labour war " fall outside our subject, not only because they in no case resulted in permanent asso- ciations, but because the " strikers " were not seeking to improve the conditions of a contract of service into which they voluntarily entered.

When, however, we pass from the annals of slavery or serfdom to those of the nominally free citizenship of the mediaeval town, we are on more debatable ground. We make no pretence to a thorough knowledge of English town-life in the Middle Ages. But it is clear that there were at times, alongside of the independent master crafts- men, a number of hired journeymen and labourers, who are known to have occasionally combined against their rulers and governors. These combinations are stated sometimes to have lasted for months, and even for years. As early as 1383 we find the Corporation of the City of London prohibiting all " congregations, covins, and conspiracies of workmen." In 1387 the serving-men of the London cord-


Journeymen Fraternities 3

wainers, in rebellion against the " overseers of the trade," l are reported to be aiming at making a permanent fraternity. Nine years later the serving-men of the saddlers, " called yeomen/' assert that they have had a fraternity of their own, " time out of mind," with a livery and appointed governors. The masters declared, however, that the association was only thirteen years old, and that its object was to raise wages. 2 In 1417 the tailors' " serving men and journeymen " in London have to be forbidden to dwell apart from their masters as they hold assemblies and have formed a kind of association. 3 Nor were these fraternities confined to London. In 1538 the Bishop of Ely reports to Cromwell that twenty -one journeymen shoemakers of Wisbech have assembled on a hill without the town, and sent three of their number to summon all the master shoe- makers to meet them, in order to insist upon an advance in their wages, threatening that " there shall none come into the town to serve for that wages within a twelve month and a day, but we woll have an harme or "a legge of hym, except they woll take an othe as we have doon." 4

These instances derived from the very fragmentary materials as yet printed, suggest that a more complete examination of the unpublished archives might possibly disclose a whole series of journeymen fraternities, and enable us to determine the exact constitution of these associations. It is, for instance, by no means clear whether the instances cited were strikes against employers, or revolts against the authority of the gild. Our impression is that the case of the Wisbech shoemakers, and possibly some of

1 Riley's Memorials of London and London Life in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries (1888), p. 495 (partly cited in Trade Unions, by William Trant, 1884).

2 Ibid. pp. 542-3-

8 Ibid. p. 609 ; Clode's Early History of the Merchant Taylors' Com- pany, vol. i. p. 63.

4 Calendars of State Papers : Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII. vol. xiii. part i., 1538, No. 1454, p. 537. Compare the ephemeral combinations cited by Fagniez, Etudes sur I'industrie et la classe industrielle d Paris (Paris, 1877), pp. 76, 82, etc.


4 The Origins of Trade Unionism

the others, represent the embryo stage of a Trade Union. Supposing, therefore, that further investigation were to prove that such ephemeral combinations by hired journey- men against their employers did actually pass into durable associations of like character, we should be constrained to begin our history with the fourteenth or fifteenth century. But, after detailed consideration of every published instance of a journeyman's fraternity in England, we are fully convinced that there is as yet no evidence of the existence of any such durable and independent combination of wage- earners against their employers during the Middle Ages.

There are certain other cases in which associations during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which are sometimes assumed to have been composed of journeymen, 1 maintained

1 It has been assumed that, in the company of " Bachelors " or " Yeomen Tailors " connected with the Merchant Taylors' Company of London between 1446 and 1661, we have " for the first time revealed to us the existence, and something of the constitution, of a journeyman's society which -succeeded in maintaining itself for a prolonged period." More careful examination of the materials from which this vivid picture of this supposed journeyman's society has been drawn leads us to believe that it was not composed of journeymen at all, but of masters. This might, in the first place, have been inferred from the fact that in the ranks of the supposed journeymen were to be found opulent leaders like Richard Hilles, the friend of Cranmer and Bullinger, who " became a Bachelor in Budge of the Yeoman Company " in 1535 (Clode, Early History of the Merchant Taylors' Company, vol. ii. p. 64), and Sir Leonard Halliday, afterwards Lord Mayor, who was in the Bachelors' Company from 1572 to 1594, when " he was elected a member of the higher hierarchy of the Corporation " (ibid. p. 237). The Bachelors' Company, indeed, far from being composed of needy wage-earners, bore the greater part of the expense of the pageant in connection with the mayoralty, and managed the whole proceedings. The Bachelors " in Foynes " and those " in Budge " are all named as marching in the procession in " gownes to be welted with velvet, and there jackyttes, cassockes, and doublettes to be either of satten damaske, taffataye " (ibid. pp. 262-6). And when, in 1609, the Company was assessed to cc/ntribute to the Plantation of Ulster, the Bachelors contributed nearly as much as the merchants (^155, 103. from ten members as compared with 187, ics. from nine members (ibid. vol. i. pp. 327-9)). Whether the Bachelors' Company ever included any large proportion of hired journeymen appears extremely doubtful, though its object was clearly the regulation of the trade. The members, according to the Ordinance of 1613, paid a contribution of 2s. 2d. a quarter " for the poor of the fraternity." This may be contrasted with the quarterage of 8d. a year or 2d. per quarter, levied, according to order of August 1578, on every servant or journeyman free of the City. The


Bachelors' Companies 5

a continuous existence. But in all these cases, so far as we have been able to investigate them, the " Bachelors' Com- pany," presumed to be a journeymen's fraternity, formed a subordinate department of the masters' gild, by the rulers of which it was governed. It will be obvious that associa- tions in which the employers dispensed the funds and appointed the officers can bear no analogy to modern Trade Unions. Moreover, these " yeoman " organisations or

funds of the two companies were kept distinct, but frequent donations were made from one to the other, and not only from the inferior to the superior (ibid. vol. i. pp. 67-9). That the Bachelors' Company was by no means confined to journeymen is clear. Sir Leonard Halliday, for instance, became a freeman in April 1564 on completing his apprentice- ship, and at once set up in business for himself, obtaining a charitable loan for the purpose. Yet, although he prospered in business, " in 1572 we find him assessed as in the Bachelors' Company," and he was not elected to the superior company until 1594 (ibid. vol. ii. p. 237). And in the Ordinance of 1507, " for all those persons that shall be abled by the maister and Wardeins to holde hous or shop open," it is provided that the person desiring to set up shop shall not only pay a licence fee, but also " for his incomyng to the bachelors' Company and to be broder with theym iij 8 iii d " (Clode, Memorials of the Merchant Taylors' Company, p. 209). Nor do the instances of its action imply that it had at heart the interest of the wage-earners, as distinguished from that of the em- ployers. The hostility to foreigners, the desire to secure government clothing contracts, and the preference for a limitation of apprentices to two for each employer are all consistent with the theory that the Bachelors' Company was, like its superior, composed of masters, probably less opulent than the governing clique, and perhaps occupied in tailoring rather than in the business of a clothier or merchant. It is not until 1675 and 1682 that can be traced in the MS. records of the Clothworkers' Company the existence of distinctively journeymen's combinations (Industrial Organisa- tion in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, by George Unwin, 1904, p. 199). The other instances of identification of " Bachelors' Companies " or " Yeomen " organisation with journeymen's societies are no more convincing than that of the Merchant Taylors. That the " valets," serving-men, or journeymen in many trades possessed some kind of " almsbox," or charitable funds of their own is indeed clear, but that this was ever used in trade disputes, or was independent of the masters' control, must at present be regarded as highly improbable. The strongest instance of independence is that of the Oxford cordwainers (Selections from the Records of the City of Oxford, by William H. Turner, Oxford, 1880). See, on the whole subject, the chapter on " Mediaeval Journeymen's Clubs," in Sir William Ashley's Surveys : Historic and Economic, 1900 ; Industrial Organisation in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, by Professor George Unwin, 1904 ; and an article on "The Origin of Trade Unionism," by Mr. W. A. S. He wins, in the Economic Review, April 1895 (vol. v.).


6 The Origins of Trade Unionism

" Bachelors' Companies " do not appear to have long sur- vived the sixteenth century.

The explanation of the tardy growth of stable independ- ent combination among hired journeymen is, we believe, to be found in the prospects of economic advancement Which the skilled handicraftsman still possessed. We do not wish to suggest the existence of any Golden Age in which each skilled workman was his own master, and the wage system was unknown. The earliest records of English town history imply the presence of hired journeymen, who were not always contented with their wages. But the apprenticed journeyman in the skilled handicrafts belonged, until com- paratively modern times, to the same social grade as his employer, and was indeed usually the son of a master in the same or an analogous trade. So long as industry was carried on mainly by small masters, each employing but one or two journeymen, the period of any energetic man's service as a hired wage-earner cannot normally have exceeded a few years, and the industrious apprentice might reasonably hope, if not always to marry his master's daughter, at any rate to set up in business for himself. Any incipient organ- isation would always be losing its oldest and most capable members, and would of necessity be confined, like the Coventry journeymen's Gild of St. George, to " the young people," 1 or like the ephemeral fraternity of journeymen tailors of 1415-17, to " a race at once youthful and un- stable," 2 from whose inexperienced ranks it would be hard to draw a supply of good Trade Union leaders. We are therefore able to understand how it is that, whilst industrial oppression belongs to all ages, it is not until the changing conditions of industry had reduced to an infinitesimal chance the journeyman's prospect of becoming himself a master, that we find the passage of ephemeral combinations into permanent trade societies. This inference is supported by

1 Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656), p. 125.

  • Riley's Memorials, p. 653 ; Clode, Early History of Merchant Taylors'

Company, vol. i. p. 63.


Piecers' Associations 7

the experience of an analogous case in the Lancashire of to-day. The " piecers," who assist at the " mules," are employed and paid by the operative cotton-spinners under whom they work. The " big piecer " is often an adult man, quite as skilled as the spinner himself, from whom, how- ever, he receives very inferior wages. But although the cotton operatives display a remarkable aptitude for Trade Unionism, attempts to form an independent organisation among the piecers have invariably failed. The energetic and competent piecer is always looking forward to becoming a spinner, interested rather in reducing than in raising piecers' wages. The leaders of any incipient movement among the piecers have necessarily fallen away from it on becoming themselves employers of the class from which they have been promoted. But though the Lancashire piecers have always failed to form an independent Trade Union, they are not without their associations, in the constitution of which we may find some hint of the relation between the gild of the master craftsmen and the Bachelors' Company or other subordinate association in which journeymen may possibly have been included. The spinners have, for their own purposes, brigaded the piecers into piecers' associations. These associations, membership of which is usually compul- sory, form a subordinate part of the spinners' Trade Union, the officers of which fix and collect the contributions, draw up the rules, dispense the funds, and in every way manage the affairs, without in the slightest degree consulting the piecers themselves. It is not difficult to understand that the master craftsmen who formed the court of a mediaeval gild might, in a similar way, have found it convenient to brigade the journeymen or other inferior members of the trade into a subordinate fraternity, for which they fixed the quarterly dues, appointed the "wardens" or "wardens' substitutes," adminis- tered the funds, and in every way controlled the affairs, with- out admitting the journeymen to any voice in the proceedings. 1

1 Compare Fagniez, Etudes sur I'industrie et la classe industrielle A Paris (Paris, 1877), p. 123.


8 The Origins of Trade Unionism

If further proof were needed that it was the prospect of economic advancement that hindered the formation of per- manent combinations among the hired journeymen of the Middle Ages, we might adduce the fact that certain classes of skilled manual workers, who had no chance of becoming employers, do appear to have succeeded in establishing long-lived combinations which had to be put down by law. The masons, for instance, had long had their " yearly con- gregations and confederacies made in their general chapiters assembled," which were expressly prohibited by Act of Parliament in 1425. 1 And the tilers of Worcester are ordered by the Corporation in 1467 to " sett no parliament amonge them." 2 It appears probable, indeed, that the masons, wandering over the country from one job to another, were united, not in any local gild, but in a trade fraternity of national extent. Such an association may, if further re- searches throw light upon its constitution and working, not improbably be found to possess some points of resemblance to the Friendly Society of Operative Stonemasons of the present day, which was established in 1832. But, unlike the operative in the modern building trades, the mason of the Middle Ages served, not a master entrepreneur, but the customer himself, who provided the materials, supervised the work, and engaged, at specified daily rates, both the skilled mechanics and their labourers or apprentices. 3 In contrast with the handicraftsmen of the towns, the masons, tilers, etc., remained, from the completion of their apprentice- ship to the end of their working lives, in one and the same economic position, a position which appears to have been intermediate between those of the master craftsman and the journeyman of the other trades. Like the jobbing carpenter of the country village of to-day, they were in- dependent producers, each controlling the processes of his

1 3 Henry VI. c. i ; see also 34 Edward III. c. 9.

" Ordinances of Worcester," Art. Ivii. in Toulmin Smith's English Gilds, p. 399.

3 Compare the analogous instances given by Fagniez, Etudes sur I'induslrie et la classe industrielle A Paris, p. 203 (Paris, 1877).


Mediceval Building Trades 9

own craft, and dealing directly with the customer. But unlike the typical master craftsman of the handicraft trades they sold nothing but labour, and their own labour only, at regulated customary rates, and were unconcerned, there- fore, with the making of profit, whether upon the purchase and sale of materials or upon the hiring of subordinate workers. 1 The stability of their combinations was accord- ingly not prevented by those influences which, as we have suggested, proved fatal in England to the corresponding attempts of the hired journeymen of the handicrafts.

But if the example of the building trades in the Middle Ages supports our inference as to the cause of the tardy growth of combination among the journeymen in other trades, the " yearly congregations and confederacies " of the masons might themselves demand our attention as instances of early Trade Unionism. Of the constitution, function, or ultimate development of these mediaeval asso- ciations in the building trades we know unfortunately next to nothing. 2 It is remarkable that there is, so far as we are aware, no trace of their existence in Great Britain later than the fifteenth century. During the eighteenth century there is, as we shall see, no lack of information as to com- binations of workmen in nearly every other skilled trade. The employers appear to have been perpetually running to Parliament to complain of the misdeeds of their workmen. But of combinations in the building trades we have found scarcely a trace until the very end of that century. If, therefore, adhering strictly to the letter of our definition, we accepted the masons' confederacy as a Trade Union, we should be compelled to regard the building trades as presenting the unique instance of. an industry which had

1 Dr. Brentano has noticed (p. 81) that the great majority of the legal regulations of wages in the Middle Ages relate (if not to agriculture) to the building trades ; and it may be that these were, like modern cab- fare regulations, intended more for the protection of the customer than for that of the capitalist.

See " Notes on the Organisation of the Mason's Craft in England," by Dr. William Cunningham (British Academy Proceedings).

B 2


io The Origins of Trade Unionism

a period of Trade Unionism in the fifteenth century, then passed for several centuries into a condition in which Trade Unionism was impossible, and finally changed once more to a state in which Trade Unions flourished. Our own impression is however that the " congregations and con- federacies " of the masons are more justly to be considered the embryonic stage of a gild of master craftsmen than of a Trade Union. There appears to us to be a subtle dis- tinction between the economic position of workers who hire themselves out to the individual consumer direct, and those who, like the typical Trade Unionist of to-day, serve an employer who stands between them and the actual consumers, and who hires their labour in order to make out of it such a profit as will provide him with his interest on capital and " wages of management." We suggest that, with the growing elaboration of domestic architecture, the superior craftsmen tended more and more to become employers, and any organisations of such craftsmen to pass insensibly into the ordinary type of masters' gild. 1 Under such a system of industry the journeymen would possess the same prospects of economic advancement that hindered the growth of stable combinations in the ordinary handi- crafts, and in this fact may lie the explanation of the striking absence of evidence of any Trade Unionism in the building trades right down to the eighteenth century. 2 When, how-

1 Such a master craftsmen's society we see in the Masons' " Lodge of Atchison's Haven," which, on December 27, 1735, passed the following resolution : " The Company of Atchison's Haven being mett together, have found Andrew Kinghorn guilty of a most atrocious crime against the whole Trade of Masonry, and he not submitting himself to the Com- pany for taking his work so cheap that no man could have his bread of it. Therefore in not submitting himself he has excluded himself from the said Company ; and therefore the Company doth hereby enact that no man, neither fellow craft nor enter'd prentice after this shall work as journeyman under the said Andrew Kinghorn, under the penalty of being cut off as well as he. Likewise if any man shall follow the example of the said Andrew Kinghorn in taking work at eight pounds Scots per rood the walls being twenty feet high, and rebates at eighteen pennies Scots per foot, that they shall be cut off in the same manner " (Sketch of the In- corporation of Masons, by James Cruikshank, Glasgow, 1879, pp. 131. 132).

  • Thorold Rogers points out that the Merton College bell-tower was


Watermen's Societies n

ever, the capitalist builder or contractor began to supersede the master mason, master plasterer, etc., and this class of small entrepreneurs had again to give place to a hierarchy of hired workers, Trade Unions, in the modern sense, began, as we shall see, to arise. " Just as we found the small master in the sixteenth century struggling to adapt and appropriate the traditions of the superseded handicraft organisation, so we shall find the journeyman at the close of the seventeenth century [in some trades and at the close of the eighteenth century in others] endeavouring to build up a new status out of the ruins of the small master." 1

We have dwelt at some length upon these ephemeral associations of wage-earners and on the journeymen frater- nities of the Middle Ages, because it might plausibly be argued that they were in some sense the predecessors of the Trade Union. But strangely enough it is not in these institutions that the origin of Trade Unionism has usually been sought. For the predecessor of the modern Trade

built in 1448-50 by direct employment at wages. The new quadrangle, early in the seventeenth century, was put out to contract with a master mason and a master carpenter respectively, but the college still supplied all the material (History of Agriculture and Prices, vol. i. pp. 258-60 ; iii. pp. 720-37 ; v. pp. 478, 503, 629).

1 Industrial Organisation in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, by George Unwin, 1904, p. 201. In this connection may be mentioned the London watermen, who have always dealt directly with their customers, and who possess a tradition of having been continuously organised since 1350. Power to regulate the trade of watermen was, in 1555, conferred by Act of Parliament upon the then incorporated Thames Watermen and Lightermen's Company, the administration of which appears to have been, from the first, entirely in the hands of the master lightermen. The watermen, who had no masters, were compelled to take out the freedom of this Company, and the existing Trade Union, the Amalgamated Society of Watermen and Lightermen, was established in 1872 for the express purpose of obtaining some representation of the working watermen and the journeymen lightermen on the Court of the Company. Previous associations of working watermen for trade purposes seem to have been, in existence in 1789 (a Rotherhithe Society of Watermen) and in 1799 (Friendly Society of Watermen usually plying at the Hermitage Stairs, in the parish of St. John, Wapping) ; and Mayhew describes, in 1850, local " turn way societies," regulating the sharing of custom, and a Water- men's Protective Society, to resist non-freemen (London Labour and the London Poor, 1851).


12 The Origins of Trade Unionism

Union, men have turned, not to the mediaeval associations of the wage-earners, but to those of their employers that is to say, the Craft Gilds. 1 The outward resemblance of the Trade Union to the Craft Gild had long attracted the attention, both of the friends and the enemies of Trade Unionism ; but it was the publication in 1870 of Professor Brentano's brilliant study on the " Origin of Trades Unions " that gave form to the popular idea. 2 Without in the least implying that any connection could be traced between the mediaeval gild and the modern Trade Union, Dr. Brentano suggested that the one was in so far the successor of the other, that both institutions had arisen " under the breaking up of an old system, and among the men suffering from this disorganisation, in order that they might maintain independence and order." 8 And when George Ho well

1 Schanz, however, in his Zur Geschichte der deutschen Gesellenver- bdnde (Leipzig, 1877), suggests that the associations of journeymen which flourished in Germany side by side with the Craft Gilds prior to the Thirty Years' War (1618) were, in fact, virtually Trade Unions. Compare Schmoller's Strassburger Tucker- und Weber zunft (Strassburg, 1879). Pro- fessor G. Des Marez, the learned archivist of Brussels, supplies evidence of the persistence of journeymen's organisations in Belgium, resembling those of Germany, down to the beginning of the sixteenth century ; and of the rise of new ones towards the end of the seventeenth century, without trace of continuity (in Le Compagnonnage des chapeliers bruxellois, Brussels, 1909. See Professor Un win's article in English Historical Review (October 1910) ; and compare Les Compagnonnages des arts et metiers d Dijon aux xvii 6 et xviii* siecles, by H. House, 1909, and Enquetes sur les associations professionnelles d'artisans et ouvriers en Belgique, by E. Vandervelde, 1891.

2 Dr. Brentano's essay was originally prefixed to Toulmin Smith's English Gilds, published by the Early English Text Society in 1870. It was republished separately as The History and Development of Gilds and the Origin of Trades Unions (135 pp., 1870), and it is to this edition that we refer. Dr. Brentano's larger work, Die Arbeitergilden der Gegenwart (Leipzig, 2 vols., 1871-72), includes this essay, and also his article in the North British Review for October 1870 on " The Growth of a Trades Union." It is only fair to say that in this, the ablest study of English Trade Union history down to that time, Dr. Brentano lent no support to the popular idea of any actual descent of the Trade Unions from the gilds. The Cobden Club Essays (1872) contain a good article on Trade Unions, by Joseph Gostick, in which it is argued that these associations were, in England, unknown before the eighteenth century, and had no connection with the gilds.

3 Page 102.


No direct affiliation 13

prefixed to his history of Trade Unionism a paraphrase of Dr. Brentano's account of the gilds, it became commonly accepted that the Trade Union had, in some undefined way, really originated from the Craft Gild. 1 We are therefore under the obligation of digressing to examine the relation between the mediaeval gild and the modern Trade Union. If it could be shown that the Trade Unions were, in any way, the descendants of the old gilds, it would clearly be the origin of thef latter that we should have to trace.

The supposed descent in this country of the Trade Unions from the mediaeval Craft Gilds rests, as far as we have been able to discover, upon no evidence whatsoever. The historical proof is all the other way. In London, for instance, more than one Trade Union has preserved an unbroken existence from the eighteenth century. The Craft Gilds still exist in the City Companies, and at no point in their history do we find the slightest evidence of the branching off from them of independent journeymen's societies. By the eighteenth century the London journey- men had in nearly all cases lost whatever participation they may possibly once have possessed in the Companies,

1 The first hundred pages of George Ho well's Conflicts of Capital and Labour (first edition, 1877 ; second edition, 1890) are a close paraphrase of Dr. Brentano's essay, practically the whole of which appears, often in the same words, as Howell's own. But already in 1871 Dr. Brentano, in his Arbeitergilden der Gegenwart (vol. i. ch. iii. p. 83), expressly connected the Trade Unions, like Schanz, not with the gilds, but with the Journey- men Fraternities, which he suggests may have " awaked under changed circumstances to new strength and life, and to a new policy." We gather that Sir William Ashley inclines to this view. " My own impression," he says, " is that we shall by and by find that, like the usages of the German journeymen in the eighteenth century that centred into Herbergen, the trade clubs of eighteenth century England were broken-down survivals from an earlier period, undergoing, with the advent of the married journeyman and other causes, the slow transformation from which they emerged in the nineteenth century as the nuclei of the modern Trade Union." Sir William Ashley does not assert that any con- tinuity of organisation can be proved. " What is suggested is only that the habit of acting together in certain ways, which we find to characterise the journeymen of the eighteenth century, had been formed in a much earlier period" (Surveys: Historic and Economic, by Sir William Ashley, 1900).


14 The Origins of Trade Unionism

which had for the most part already ceased to have any connection with the trades of which they bore the names. 1 It is sometimes suggested that the London Companies have had an exceptional history, and that in towns in which the gilds underwent a more normal development they may have given rise to the modern trade society. So far as Great Britain is concerned we have satisfied ourselves that this suggestion rests on no better foundation than the other. Neither in Bristol nor in Preston, neither in Newcastle nor in Glasgow, have we been able to trace the slightest con- nection between the slowly dying gilds and the upstarting Trade Unions. At Sheffield J. M. Ludlow, basing himself on an account by Frank Hill, once expressly declared 2 that direct affiliation could be proved. Diligent inquiry into the character and history of the still flourishing Cutlers' Company demonstrates that this exclusively masters' association at no time originated or engendered any of the numerous Trade Unions with which Sheffield abounds. There remains the case of Dublin, where some of the older unions themselves claim descent from the gilds. Here, too, careful search reveals, not only the absence of any affiliation or direct descent, but also the impossibility of any organic connection between the exclusively Protestant gilds which were not abolished until 1842, and the mainly Roman Catholic Trade Unions which attained their greatest influence many years before. 3 --We assert, indeed, with some confidence, that in no case did any Trade Union in the United Kingdom arise, either directly or indirectly, by descent, from a Craft Gild./

1 So long as the Companies continued to exercise any jurisdiction over their trades, we find them (as in the cases of the London Frame- work-knitters and the Dublin Silkweavers) supported by any workmen's combinations that existed. In exceptional instances, such as the London Brushmakers, Basketmakers, and Watermen, we find this alliance for the exclusion of " illegal men " continuing into the nineteenth century, and (as regards the Watermen) down to the present time.

2 Macmillan's Magazine (February 1861), relying on the Social Science Report on Trade Societies and Strikes (1860), p. 521.

3 See Appendix 'On the A ssumed Connection between the Trade Unions and the Gilds in Dublin.


Craft Gilds 15

It is often taken for granted that the Trade Union, whatever may have been its origin, represents the same elements, and plays the same part in the industrial system of the nineteenth century, as the Craft Gild did in that of the Middle Ages. A brief analysis of what is known of the gilds will be sufficient to show that these organisations were even in their purest days essentially different, both in structure and function, from the modern trade society.

For the purpose of this comparison it will be unnecessary for us to discuss the rival theories of historians as to the nature and origin of the Craft Gilds. We may agree, on the one hand, with Dr. Brentano 1 in maintaining that the free craftsmen associated in order to stop the deteri- oration of their condition and encroachments on their earnings, and to protect themselves against " the abuse of power on the part of the lords of the town, who tried to reduce the free to the dependence of the unfree." On the other hand, we may believe with Dr. Cunningham 2 that the Craft Gilds were " called into being, not out of antagonism to existing authorities, but as new institutions, to which special parts of their own duties were delegated by the burgh officers or the local Gild Merchant," as a kind of " police system," in fact, by which the community controlled the local industries in the interest of the con- sumer. Or again, we may accept the middle view advanced by Sir William Ashley, 3 that the gilds were self-governing bodies of craftsmen, initiating their own trade regulations, the magistrates or town council having a real, if some- what vague, authority to sanction or veto these ordinances for the good of the citizens. Each of these three views is supported by numerous instances, and to determine which theory represents the rule and which the exception would involve a statistical knowledge of Craft Gilds for which

1 Gilds and Trade Unions (1870), p. 54.

2 History of Industry and Commerce, vol. i. p. 310. Dr. Gross, in his Gild Merchant, apparently takes a similar view.

3 See his Introduction to Economic History and Theory, vol. i. (1891); vol. ii. (1893) ; see also his Surveys: Historic and Economic (1900)


16 The Origins of Trade Unionism

the material has not yet been collected. It will be evident that, if Dr. Cunningham's theory of the Craft Gild is the correct one, there can be no essential resemblance between these semi-municipal bodies and the Trade Unions of to- day. Dr. Brentano, however, produces ample evidence that, in some cases at any rate, the gilds acted, not with any view to the protection of the consumer, but, like the Trade Unions, for the furtherance of the interests of their own members that is, of one class of producers. Accepting for the moment the view that the Craft Gild, like the Trade Union, or the Employers' Association, belonged to the genus of " associations of producers," let us examine briefly how far the gild was similar to modern combinations of wage-earners.

Now, the central figure of the gild organisation, in all instances, and at all periods of its development, was the master craftsman, owning the instruments of production, and selling the product. Opinions may differ as to the position of the journeymen in the gild or to the extent of the prevalence of subordinate or semi-servile labour outside it. Different views may be entertained as to the -reality of that regard for the interests of the consumer which forms the ostensible object of many gild ordinances. But through- out the whole range of gild history the master craftsman, controlling the processes and selling the products of the labour of his little industrial group, was the practical ad- ministrator of, and the dominant influence in, the gild system. 1 In short, the typical gild member was not wholly, or even chiefly, a manual worker. From the first he supplied not only whatever capital was. needed in his industry, but also that knowledge of the markets for both raw material and

1 Dr. Brentano himself makes this clear. " We must not forget that these gilds were not unions of labourers in the present sense of the word, but of persons who, with the help of some stock, carried on their craft on their own account. The gild contests were, consequently, not contests for acquiring political equality for labour and property, but for the re- cognition of political equality of trade stock and real property in the towns " (Gilds and Trade Unions, p. 73).


Employers' Associations 17

product, and that direction and control which are the special functions of the entrepreneur. The economic functions and political authority of the gild rested, not upon its assumed inclusion of practically the whole body of manual workers, but upon the presence within it of the real directors of industry of the time. In the modern Trade Union, on the contrary, we find, not an association of entrepreneurs, themselves controlling the processes of their industry, and selling its products, but a combination of hired wage- workers, serving under the direction of industrial captains who are outside the organisation. The separation into distinct social classes of the capitalist and the brain worker on the one hand, and the manual workers on the other the sub- stitution, in fact, of a horizontal for a vertical cleavage of society vitiates any treatment of the Trade Union as the analogue of the Craft Gild.

On the other hand, to regard the typical Craft Gild as the predecessor of the modern Employers' Association or capitalist syndicate would, in our opinion, be as great a mistake as to believe, with George Howell, that it was the " early prototype " of the Trade Union. Dr. Brent ano himself laid stress on the fact, afterwards brought into special prominence by Dr. Cunningham, that the Craft Gild was looked upon as the representative of the interests, not of any one class alone, but of the three distinct and somewhat antagonistic elements of modern society, the capitalist entrepreneur, the manual worker, and the con- sumer at large. We do not need to discuss the soundness of the mediaeval lack of faith in unfettered competition as a guarantee of the genuineness and good quality of wares. Nor are we concerned with their assumption of the identity of interest between all classes of the community. It seemed a matter of course to the statesman, no less than to the public, that the leading master craftsmen of the town should be entrusted with the power and the duty of seeing that neither themselves nor their competitors were per- mitted to lower the standard of production. " The


i8 The Origins of Trade Unionism

Fundamental Ground," says the petition of the Carpenters' Company in 1681, " of Incorporating Handicraft Trades and Manual Occupations into distinct Companies was to the end that all Persons using such Trades should be brought into one Uniform Government and Corrected and Regulated by Expert and Skilful Governors, under certain Rules and Ordinances appointed to that purpose." * The leading men of the gild became, in effect, officers of the munici- pality, charged with the protection of the public from adulteration and fraud. When, therefore, we remember that the Craft Gild was assumed to represent, not only all the grades of producers in a particular industry, but also the consumers of the product, and the community at large, the impossibility of finding, in modern society, any single inheritor of its multifarious functions will become apparent. The powers and duties of the mediaeval gild have, in fact, been broken up and dispersed. The friendly society and

1 J U PP* S History of the Carpenters' Company, p. 313, second edition, 1848. In certain cases we see the workmen seeking incorporation as a gild or company, in order that they might themselves lawfully regulate their trades. Thus, in 1670 the wage-earning woodsawyers of the City of London, who were employed by the members of the Carpenters', Joiners' and Shipwrights' Companies, formally applied to the Corporation to be made a Company. Their employers strongly objected, alleging that they had already by combination raised their wages during the past quarter of a century from 55. to nearly los. per load ; that they were only day labourers who worked on material provided by their employers, and consequently not entitled to rank as masters ; and that if their com- bination were recognised by incorporation they would be able to bring the whole building trade to a standstill, as experience had already de- monstrated even without incorporation. Moreover, their main object, it was alleged, was to exclude from employment " all that sort of labourers who daily resort to the City of London and parts adjacent, and by that means keep the wages and prices of these sorts of labourers at an equal and indifferent rate ; and then success would be an evil precedent, all other labourers, the masons, bricklayers, plasterers, etc., having the same reason to allege for incorporation" (Ibid. p. 307). The London coal- porters in 1699 unsuccessfully petitioned the House of Commons that a Bill might be passed to establish them as " a Fellowship in such govern- ment and rules as shall be thought meet " (House of Commons Journals, vol. xiii. p. 69). Professor Unwin suggests that it was "by its failure along these traditional lines " that " the wage-earning class was driven into secrei combinations, from the obscurity of which the Trade Union did not emerge till the igth century " (Industrial Organisation in the i6th and I'jth Centuries, 1904).


Common Features 19

the Trade Union, the capitalist syndicate and the employers' association, the factory inspector and the Poor Law relieving officer, the School Attendance officer, and the municipal officers who look after adulteration and inspect our weights and measures all these persons and institutions might, with equal justice, be put forward as the successors of the Craft Gild. 1

Although there is an essential difference in the com- position of the two organisations, the popular theory of their resemblance is easily accounted for. First, there are the picturesque likenesses which Dr. Brentano discovered the regulations for admission, the box with its three locks, the common meal, the titles of the officers, and so forth. But these are to be found in all kinds of associa- tion in England. The Trade Union organisations share them with the local friendly societies, or sick clubs, which have existed all over England for the last two centuries. Whether these features were originally derived from the Craft Gilds or not, it is practically certain that the early Trade Unions took them, in the vast majority of cases, not from the traditions of any fifteenth-century organisa- tion, but from the existing little friendly societies around them. In some cases the parentage of these forms and ceremonies might be ascribed with as much justice to the mystic rites of the Freemasons as to the ordinances of the Craft Gilds. The fantastic ritual peculiar to the Trade Unionism of 1829-34, which we shall describe in a subse- quent chapter, was, as we shall see, taken from the cere- monies of the Friendly Society of Oddfellows. But we are informed that it bears traces of being an illiterate copy of a masonic ritual. In our own times the " Free

1 " The Trade Union of to-day is often spoken of as the lineal De- scendant of the ancient Craft Gilds. There is, however, no direct or indirect connection between the ancient and modern forms of trade combination. Beyond the fact that they each had for their objects the establishment of certain trade regulations, and the provision of certain similar benefits, they had nothing in common." " Trade Unions as a Means of Improving the Conditions of Labour," by John Burnett ; pub- lished in The Claims of Labour (Edinburgh, 1886).


2O The Origins of Trade Unionism

Colliers of Scotland," an early attempt at a national miners' union, were organised into " Lodges " under a " Grand Master," with much of the terminology and some of the characteristic forms of Freemasonry. No one would, however, assert any essential resemblance between the village sick club and the trade society, still less between Freemasonry and Trade Unionism. The only common feature between all these is the spirit of association, clothing itself in more or less similar picturesque forms.

But other resemblances between the gild and the union brought out by Dr. Brent ano are more to the point. The fundamental purpose of the Trade Union is the protection of the Standard of Life that is to say, the organised resistance to any innovation likely to tend to the degrada- tion of the wage-earners as a class. That some social organisation for the protection of the Standard of Life was necessary was a leading principle of the Craft Gild, as it was, in fact, of the whole mediaeval order. " Our forefathers," wrote the Emperor Sigismund in 1434, " have not been fools. The crafts have been devised for this purpose : that everybody by them should earn his daily bread, and nobody shall interfere with the craft of another. By this the world gets rid of its misery, and every one may find his livelihood." l But in this respect the Trade Union does not so much resemble the Craft Gild, as reassert what was once the accepted principle of mediaeval society, of which the gild policy was only one manifestation. We do not wish, in our historical survey of the Trade Union Move- ment, to enter into the far-reaching controversy as to the political validity either of the mediaeval theory of the com-


" To attempt to find an immediate connection between the Gild and the 1 Trade Union is like attempting to derive the English House of Commons from the Saxon Witanagemot. In the one case as in the other the two institutions were separated by centuries of development, and the earlier one was dead before the later one was born " (Industrial Organisation in the i6th and I'jth Centuries, by Professor George Unwin, 1904, p. 8).

1 Goldasti's Constitutiones Imperiales, torn. iv. p. 189, quoted by Dr. Brentano, p. 60.


Beginnings of Trade Unionism 21

pulsory maintenance of the Standard of Life, or of such analogous modern expedients as Collective Bargaining on the one hand, or Factory Legislation on the other. Nor do we wish to imply that the mediaeval theory was at any time so effectively and so sincerely carried out as really to secure to every manual worker a comfortable maintenance. We are concerned only with the historical fact that, as we shall see, the artisans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries sought to perpetuate those legal or customary regulations of their trade which, as they believed, protected their own interests. When these regulations fell into disuse the workers combined to secure their enforcement. When legal redress was denied, the operatives, in many instances, took the matter into their own hands, and endeavoured to maintain, by Trade Union regulations, what had once been prescribed by law. In this respect, and practically in this re- spect only, do we find any trace of the gild in the Trade Union. Let us now turn from the hypothetical origin of Trade Unionism to the recorded facts. We have failed to discover in the manuscript records of companies or municipal cor- porations, in the innumerable trade pamphlets and broad- sheets of the time, or in the Journals of the House of Commons, any evidence of the existence, prior to the latter half of the seventeenth century, 1 or indeed much before

1 A pamphlet of 1669 contains what appears at first sight to be a mention of Trade Unionism. " The general conspiracy amongst artificers and labourers is so apparent that within these twenty-five years the wages of joiners, bricklayers, carpenters, etc., are increased, I mean within 40 miles of London (against all reason and good government), from eighteen and twenty pence a day, to 2/6 and 3/-, and mere labourers from 10 and 12 pence a day unto 16 and 20 pence, and this not since the dreadful fire of London only, but some time before. A journeyman shoemaker has now in London (and proportionately in the country) 14 pence for making that pair of shoes, which within these 12 years he made for 10 pence. . . . Nor has the increase of wages amongst us been occasioned by quickness of trade and want of hands (as some do suppose) which are indeed justifiable reasons, but through an exacting humour and evil disposition in our people (like our Gravesend watermen, who by some temporary and mean pretences of the late Dutch war, have raised their ferry double to what it was, and finding the sweet thereof, keep it up still), that so they may live the better above their station, and work so much the fewer days by how much the more they exact in their wages "


22 The Origins of Trade Unionism

the very close of that century, of continuous associations of wage-earners for maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives. And when we remember that during the latter decades of the seventeenth century the employers of labour, and especially the industrial " companies " or corporations, memorialised the House of Commons on every conceivable grievance which affected their particular trade, the absence of all complaints of workmen's combinations suggests to us that few, if any, such combinations existed. 1 We do, however, discover in the latter half of the seventeenth century various traces of sporadic combinations and associa- tions, some of which appear to have maintained in obscurity a continuous existence. In the early years of the eighteenth century we find isolated complaints of combinations " lately entered into " by the skilled workers in certain trades. As the century progresses we watch the gradual multiplication of these complaints, met by counter-accusations presented by organised bodies of workmen. From the middle of the century the Journals of the House of Commons abound in petitions and counter-petitions revealing the existence of journeymen's associations in most of the skilled trades. And finally, we may infer the wide extension of the move- ment from the steady multiplication of the Acts against combinations in particular industries, and their culmination in the comprehensive statute of 1799 forbidding all com- binations whatsoever.

If we examine the evidence of the rise of combinations in particular trades^ we see the Trade Union springing,

(Usury At Six Per Cent. Examined, by Thomas Manley, London, 1669). But we cannot infer from this unique and ambiguous passage anything more than the possibility of ephemeral combinations. It is significant that Defoe, with all his detailed description of English industry in 1724, does not mention any combinations of workmen.

1 In an able pamphlet dated 1681, entitled The Trade of England Revived, it is stated that " we cannot make our English cloth so cheap as they do in other countries, because of the strange idleness and stubborn- ness of our poor," who insist on excessive wages. But the author attri- butes this state of things, not to the existence of combinations, of which he seems never to have heard, but to the Poor Law and the prevalence of almsgiving.


The House of Call 23

not from any particular institution, but from every oppor- tunity for the meeting together of wage-earners of the same occupation. Adam Smith remarked that " people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." 1 , And there is actual evidence of the rise of one of the oldest \ of the existing Trade Unions out of a gathering of the > journeymen " to take a social pint of porter together." 2 j More often it is a tumultuous strike, out of which grows a permanent organisation. Elsewhere, as we shall see, the workers meet to petition the House of Commons, and reassemble from time to time to carry on their agitation for the enactment of some new regulation, or the enforce- ment of an existing law. In other instances we shall find the journeymen' of a particular trade frequenting certain public-houses, at which they hear of situations vacant, and the " house of call " becomes thus the nucleus of an organisa - tion. Or we watch the journeymen in a particular trade declaring that " it has been an ancient custom in the kingdom of Great Britain for divers Artists to meet together and

1 Wealth of Nations, bk. i. ch. x. p. 59 of McCulloch's edition, 1863. In an operative's description, dated 1809, of the gatherings of the Paisley weavers, we see the Trade Union in the making. ' ' The Paisley operatives are of a free, communicative disposition. They are fond to inform one another in anything respecting trade, and in order to receive information in a collective capacity they have, for a long course of years, associated in a friendly manner in societies denominated clubs. . . . When met the first hour is devoted to reading the daily newspapers out aloud. . . . At nine o'clock the chairman calls silence ; then the report of trade is heard. The chairman reports first what he knows or what he has heard of such a manufacturing house or houses, as wishing to engage operatives for such fabric or fabrics ; likewise the price, the number of the yarn, etc. Then each reports as he is seated ; so in the period of an hour not only the state of the trade is known, but any difference that has taken place between manufacturers and operatives " (An Answer to Mr. Carlile's Sketches of Paisley, by William Taylor, Paisley, 1809, pp. 15-17).

2 See Dunning's account of the origin of the Consolidated Society of Bookbinders in 1779-80, in the Social Science Association's Report on Trade Societies, 1860, p. 93 ; also Workers on their Industries, edited by F. W. Galton, 1895 ; Women in the Printing Trades, edited by J. R. MacDonald, 1904, p. 30.


24 The Origins of Trade Unionism

unite themselves in societies to promote Amity and true Christian Charity," and establishing a sick and funeral club, which invariably proceeds to discuss the rates of wages offered by the employers, and insensibly passes into a Trade Union with friendly benefits. 1 And if the trade is one in which the journeymen frequently travel in search of work, we note the slow elaboration of systematic arrange- ments for the relief of these " tramps " by their fellow- workers in each town through which they pass, and the

1 Articles of Agreement made and confirmed by a Society of Taylors, begun March 25, 1760 (London, 1812). In 1790 Francis Place joined the Breeches Makers' Benefit Society " for the support of the members when sick and their burial when dead " its real object being to support the members "in a strike for wages " (Life of Francis Place, by Professor Graham Wallas, new edition, 1918). Local friendly societies giving sick pay and providing for funeral expenses had sprung up all over England during the eighteenth century. Towards its close their number seems to have rapidly increased until, in some parts at any rate, every village ale-house became ,a centre for one or more of these humble and spontane- ous organisations. The rules of upwards of a hundred of these societies, dating between 1750 and 1820, and all centred round Newcastle-on-Tyne, are preserved in the British Museum. At Nottingham, in 1794, fifty-six of these clubs joined in the annual procession (Nottingham Journal, June 14, 1794). So long as they were composed indiscriminately of men of all trades, it is probable that no distinctively Trade Union action could arise from their meetings. But in some cases, for various reasons, such as high contributions, migratory habits, or the danger of the calling, the sick and burial club was confined to men of a particular trade. This kind of friendly society frequently became a Trade Union. Some societies of this type can trace their existence for nearly a century and a half. The Glasgow coopers, for instance, have had a local trade friendly society, confined to journeymen coopers, ever since 1752. The London Sailmakers Burial Society dates from 1740. The Newcastle shoemakers established a similar society as early as 1719 (Observations upon the Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the laws respecting Friendly Societies, by the Rev. J. T. Becher, Prebendary of Southwell, 1826). On the occurrence of any dispute with the employers their funds, as this contemporary observer in another pamphlet deplores, " have also too frequently been converted into engines of abuse by paying weekly sums to artisans out of work, and have thereby encouraged combinations among workmen not less injurious to the misguided members than to the Public Weal" (Observations on the Rise and Progress of Friendly Societies, 1824, p. 55). Similar friendly societies among workmen of particular trades appear to have existed in the Netherlands in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, where they perhaps bridged the gap between the mediaeval fraternities and the modern Trade Unions (see review in the English His- torical Review, October 1918, of P. J. Blok's Geschiedenes einer Hollandischen Stad).


Tramping Societies 25

inevitable passage of this far-extending tramping society into a national Trade Union. 1

All these, however, are but opportunities for the meeting of journeymen of the same trade. They do not explain the establishment of continuous organisations of the wage- earners in the seventeenth and eighteenth rather than in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. / The essential cause of the growth of durable associations of wage-earners must lie in something peculiar to the later centuries. This fundamental condition of Trade Unionism we discover in the economic resolution through which certain industries were passing. /In all cases in which Trade Unions arose,

j

1 Schanz (Gesellenverbdnde, p. 25) follows Brentano (p. 94) in attribut- ing the formation of journeymen's fraternities in the Middle Ages mainly to a desire to provide for the wandering craftsmen. The connection between the " Herbergen " or " Schenken," designed to find lodging and employment, with the journeymen's associations was certainly close. (See Dr. Bruno Schoenlank's article in 1894, quoted in Sir William Ashley's Surveys: Historic and Economic, 1900.) It may be suggested that the contrast between the absence or scanty existence of such fraternities in England and their spread in Germany is, perhaps, to be ascribed in some measure to the fact that English journeymen seem never to have adopted the German custom of " Wanderjahre," or regular habit of spending, on completing their apprenticeship, a few years in travelling about the country to complete their training. When the local privileges of the old gilds had fallen somewhat into abeyance, the restrictions of the successive Settlement Acts must in England, to some extent, have checked the mobility of labour. But, from the beginning of the eighteenth century at any rate, we find it customary for journeymen of certain trades it is to be noticed that these are relatively new trades in England to " tramp " from town to town in search of work, and the description, subsequently quoted, of the organisations of the wool-combers and worsted weavers in 1741, shows that the relief of these travelling journeymen was a prominent object of the early unions. The hatters in the middle of the eighteenth century had a regular arrangement for such relief. The compositors at the very beginning of the nineteenth century had already covered the country with a network of local clubs, the chief function of which appears to have been the facilitation of this wandering in search of work. And the calico-printers had a systematic way of issuing a ticket which entitled the tramp to collect from each journeyman, in any " print-field " that he visited, at first a voluntary contribution, and latterly a fixed relief of a halfpenny per head in England, and a penny per head in Scotland (Minutes of evidence taken before the Committee to whom the petition of the several journeymen Calico printers and others working in that trade, etc., was referred, July 4, 1804, and the Report from that Committee, July 17, 1806).


26 The Origins of Trade Unionism

the great bulk of the workers had ceased to be independent producers, themselves controlling the processes, and owning the materials and the product of their labour, and had passed into the condition of lifelong wage-earners, possessing neither the instruments of production nor the commodity in its finished state./^' From the moment that to establish a given business more capital is required than a journeyman can easily accumulate within a few years, gild mastership the mastership of the masterpiece becomes little more than a name. . . . Skill alone is valueless, and is soon compelled to hire itself out to capital. . . . Now begins the opposition of interest between employers and employed, now the latter begin to group themselves together ; now rises the trade society." x Or, to express this Industrial Revolution in more abstract terms, we may say, in the words of Dr. Ingram, that " the whole modern organisation of labour in its advanced forms rests on a fundamental fact which has spontaneously and increasingly developed itself namely, the definite separation between the functions of the capitalist and the workman, or, in other words, between the direction of industrial operations and their execution in detail." 2

It is often assumed that the divorce of the manual worker from the ownership of the means of production resulted from the introduction of machinery, the use of power, and the factory system. Had this been the case we should not, upon our hypothesis, have expected to find Trade Unions at an earlier date than factories, or in in- dustries untransformed by machinery. The fact that the earliest durable combinations of wage-earners in England precede the factory system by a whole century, and occur in trades carried on exclusively by hand labour, reminds us that the creation of a class of lifelong wage-servants came about in more than one way.

1 J. M. Ludlow, in article in Macmillan's Magazine, February 1861.

2 Work and the Workman, by Dr. J. K. Ingram (Address to the Trades Union Congress at Dublin, 1880).


The Printers Chapel 27

We may note, to begin with, the very old institution of the printers' "chapel," with its "father" and "clerk," an informal association among the compositors of a par- ticular establishment for the discussion and regulation, not only of their own workshop conditions, but also of their relations with the employer, who must, in early days, have been a man of superior education, with an outlook much wider than that of his journeymen.

The " chapel " may possibly be nearly as old as the introduction of printing into this country. 1 We have no evidence as to the date at which the " chapels " of different printing offices entered into communication with each other in London, so as to form a Trade Union. But already in 1666 we have The Case and Proposals of the Free Journeymen Printers in and about London, in which they complain of the multiplication of apprentices and the prevalence of " turn- overs " grievances which vexed every compositors' Trade Union throughout the nineteenth century. 2 Whether the " Free Journeymen Printers " managed to continue in existence as a Trade Union is uncertain. We have found no actual evidence of any other combination among com-

1 Benjamin Franklin mentions the " chapel " and its regulations in 1725. A copy, dated 1734, of the Rules and Orders to be observed by the Members of this Chapel : by Compositors, by Pressmen, by Both, is pre- served in the Place MSS. 27799 88.

8 This petition (in the British Museum) is printed in Brentano's Gilds and Trade Unions, p. 97. Benjamin Franklin, who worked in London printing offices in 1725, makes no mention of Trade Unionism. The Stationers' Company continued, so far as the City of London was con- cerned, to regulate apprenticeship; and we see it, in 1775, taking steps to prevent employers having an undue number. Regulations agreed to by the employers and the compositors, as to the rates of pay for different kinds of work, can be traced back to 1785, at least. A copy of the rules of " The Phoenix, or Society of Compositors " meeting at " The Hole in the Wall " tavern, Fleet Street, shows that this organisation was " in- stituted March I2th, 1792." In 1798 five members of the " Pressmen's Friendly Society " were indicted for conspiracy in meeting for the purpose of restricting the number of apprentices (they sought to limit them to three for seven presses). Although the secretary to the " Society of Master Printers " had requested these men to attend the meeting, in order to get settled the pending dispute, they were convicted and sen- tenced to two years' imprisonment (Conflicts of Capital and Labour, by George Howell, 1890, p. 92).


28 The Origins of Trade Unionism

positors than the " chapel " earlier than the eighteenth century.

One of the earliest proven cases of continuous associa- tion among journeymen is that of the hatters (or feltmakers), whose combination now the Journeymen Hatters' Trade Union of Great Britain and Ireland may perhaps claim to trace its ancestry from 1667, the very year in which the Feltmakers' Company, consisting of their employers, obtained a charter from Charles II. Within a few months the jour- neymen in the various London workshops each of which had apparently a workshop organisation somewhat resem- bling the printers' " chapel " had combined to present a petition to the Court of Aldermen against the Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Company. The Court of Aldermen decided that, in order " that the journeymen may not by combination or otherwise excessively at their pleasure raise their wages/' a piecework list is to be annually settled and presented for enactment by the Court of Alder- men. The journeymen seem to have co-operated with the employers in presenting this list, and in preventing the employment of non-freemen. The rates fixed did not, how- ever, always satisfy the journeymen, especially when the employers were successful in getting them lowered ; and in 1696 we read of a deputation appearing before the Court to declare that they had resolved among themselves not to accept any less wages than they had formerly received, and to ask for a revision of the order. They had, according to the masters' statement, not confined themselves to peaceful resolutions, but had made an example of a journeyman who had remained at work at the reduced rates. " They stirred up the apprentices to seize upon him as he was working, to tie him in a wheelbarrow, and in a tumultuous and riotous manner to drive him through all the consider- able places in London and Southwark." It was alleged that the men were organised in " clubs," which " raised several sums of money for the abetting and supporting such of them who should desert their masters' service." In 1697


The Hatters 29

the employers introduced the " character note " or " leaving certificate," the Company enacting that no master should employ a journeyman who did not bring with him a certifi- cate from his previous employer. Successive prosecutions of journeymen took place for refusing to work at the lawful rates, but the workmen seem to have had good legal advice, and to have defended themselves with skill. On one occasion they pleaded guilty, and promised amendment and the abandonment of their combination, whereupon the prosecu- tion was withdrawn. On another occasion they got the case removed by writ of certiorari from the Lord Mayor's session to the Assizes, where Lord Chief Justice Holt re- ferred the dispute to arbitration. The award of June i6qg was a virtual victoy_fpj^die_jj^

years 7 struggle^ as it gave them aiLJnC-rase_oijates. with a stoppage" of all legal proceedings.. 1 That the London Trade CIuEsoFthe journeymen hatters, or at any rate their several workshop organisations, maintained a continuous existence we need not doubt ; though we do not hear of them again until 1771, when they seem to have established a national federation of the local trade clubs existing in more than a dozen provincial towns with those of Southwark and the West End of London, very largely for the purpose of main- taining and enforcing the statutory limitation of apprentices. In 1775 this federation appears to have been strong enough, not only to obtain increased rates of wages, but also the exclusive employment of " clubmen." There were " con- gresses " of the hatters in 1772, 1775, and 1777, held in London for the adoption of " byelaws " for the whole trade ; but we believe that these " congresses " were attended by delegates from the ^workshops in and near London only.

1 For this interesting case we are indebted to Professor George Unwin's researches in the records of the Feltmakers' Company, whose, " Court Book " contains the record. See Industrial Organisation in the i6th and ijth Centuries, by George Unwin, 1904 ; "A Seventeenth -Century Trade Union," by the same, in Economic Journal, 1910, pp. 394-403; the chapter " Mediaeval Journeymen's Clubs " in Sir William Ashley's Surveys. Historic and Economic, 1900.


3O The Origins of Trade Unionism

It is clear that similar organisations existed in the other towns in which the trade was carried on. The members who were unemployed " tramped " from town to town, and regula- tions for their relief were framed. A weekly contribution of 2d. appears to have been paid by each member. The employers successfully petitioned Parliament in 1777 for a repeal of the old limitation of apprentices and a renewed prohibition of combination. 1

More definite evidence is afforded by the development of the tailoring trade. In tailoring for rich customers the master craftsmen appear at the very beginning of the eighteenth century to have been recruited from the comparatively small number of journeymen who acquired the specially skilled part of the business namely, the cutting-out. 2 " The tailor," says an eighteenth-century manual for the young tradesman, " ought to have a quick eye to steal the cut of a sleeve, the pattern of a flap, or the shape of a good trimming at a glance, . . in the passing of a chariot, or in the space between the door and a coach." There grew up accordingly a class of mere sewers, " not one in ten " knowing " how to cut out a pair of breeches : they are employed only to sew the seam, to cast the buttonholes, and prepare the work for the finisher. . . . Generally as poor as rats, the House of Call runs away with all their earnings, and keeps them constantly in debt and want." 3

1 House of Commons Journals, vol. xxxvi. ; 8 Eliz. c. n ; i James I. c. 14; and 17 George III. 0.55; Place MSS. 27799 68; Committee on Artisans and Machinery, 1824 ; Industrial Democracy, p. n ; "A Seven- teenth Century Trade Union," by Professor George Unwin, in Economic Journal, 1910, pp. 394-403 ; Conflicts of Capital and Labour, by G. Howell, 1890, p. 83. The organisation evidently continued in existence, at least in its local form ; but the existing national " journeymen Hatters' Trade Union of Great Britain and Ireland" claims tWdate only from 1798. In 1806 the Macclesfield hatters were indicted for conspiracy in striking for higher wages, and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment. Particulars of this organisation will be found in The Trial of W. Davenport . . . Hatters of Macclesfield for a Conspiracy against their Masters . . . by Thomas Mulineaux, 1806.

2 For the whole history of this industry, see The Tailoring Trade, by F. W. Galton, 1896.

8 The London Tradesman, by Campbell, 1747, p. 192.


The Capitalist Employers 31

This differentiation was promoted by the increasing need of capital for successfully beginning business in the better quarters of the metropolis. Already in 1681 the " shop- keeping tailor " was deplored as a new and objectionable feature, " for many remember when there were no new garments sold in London (in shops) as now there are." l The " accustomed tailor," or working craftsman, making up the customer's own cloth, objected to " taylers being sales- men," paying high rents for shops in fashionable neigh- bourhoods, giving long credit to their aristocratic clients, and each employing, in his own workshops, dozens or even scores of journeymen, who were recruited from the houses of call in times of pressure, and ruthlessly turned adrift when the season was over. And although it remained pos- sible in the reign of King William the Third, as it still is in that of King George the Fifth, to start business in a back street as an independent master tailor with no more capital or skill than the average journeyman could command, yet the making of the fine clothes worn by the Court and the gentry demanded, then as now, a capital and a skill which put this extensive and lucrative trade altogether out of the reach of the thousands of journeymen whom it employed. Thus we find that at the very beginning of the eighteenth century the typical journeyman tailor in London and West- minster had become a lifelong wage-earner. It is not sur- prising, therefore, that one of the earliest instances of permanent Trade Unionism that we have been able to dis- cover occurs in this trade. The master^ tailors in 1720 complain to Parliament that " the Journeymen Taylors in and about the Cities of London and Westminster, to the number of seven thousand and upwards, have lately entered into a combination to raise their wages and leave off working an hour sooner than they used to do ; and for the better carrying on their design have subscribed their respective names in books prepared for that purpose, at the several houses of call or resort (being publick-houses in and about

1 The Trade of England Revived, 1681, p. 36,


32 The Origins of Trade Unionism

London and Westminster) which they use ; and collect several considerable sums of money to defend any prosecu- tions against them." 1 Parliament listened to the masters' complaint, and passed the Act 7, Geo. I. st. i, c. 13, restraining both the giving and the taking of wages in excess of a stated maximum, all combinations being prohibited. From that time forth the journeymen tailors of London and Westminster have remained in effective though sometimes informal combination, the organisation centring round the fifteen or twenty " houses of call," being the public-houses to which it was customary for the workmen to resort, and at which the employers sought any additional men whom they wished to engage. In 1744 the Privy Council was set in motion against their refusal to obey the Act of 1720.2 In 1750-51 they invoked the assistance of the Middlesex Justices, and obtained an order requiring the masters to pay certain rates. In 1767 further legislation was, in spite of their eloquent protests, obtained against them. 3 In 1810 a master declared before a Select Com- mittee that their combination had existed for over a century. 4

An equally early instance of permanent trade combina- tion is the woollen manufacture of the West of England.

1 House of Commons Journals, vol. xix. pp. 416, 424, 481 ; The Case of the Master Taylors residing within the Cities of London and Westminster, in relation to the great abuses committed by their journeymen ; An Abstract of the Master Taylors' Bill before the Honourable House of Commons, with the Journeymen's Observation on each clause of the said Bill ; The Case of the Journeymen Taylors residing in the Cities of London and Westminster (all 1720). These and other documents relating to combinations in this trade have now been published in a useful volume (The Tailoring Trade, by F. W. Galton, 1896), with an elaborate bibliography.

2 London, by David Hughson (1821), pp. 392-3 ; House of Commons Journals, vol. xxiv. Place MSS. 27799, pp. 4, 5. The Case of the Journeymen Taylors in and about the Cities of London and Westminster (January 7, 1745).

  • Gentlemen's Magazine, 1750, 1768.

4 Place MSS. 27799 10 ; see The Life of Francis Place, 1771-1854, by Professor Graham Wallas, 1898 ; second edition, 1918. There is evidence of very similar organisation in other towns. At Birmingham, for instance, there was a systematically organised strike in 1777 against a reduction of wages, which lasted for some months (Langford's Century of Birmingham Life, pp. 225, etc. ; The Tailoring Trade, by F. W. Galton, 1896).


The Clothiers 33

Here the rise of a class of lifelong wage-earners took a form altogether different from that in the London tailoring trade, but it produced the same result of combinations among the workers. The " wealthy clothiers " of Somerset, Glouces- tershire, and Devon, who during the sixteenth century had " mightily increased in fame and riches, their houses fre- quented like kings' courts," 1 provided and owned the material of the industry throughout the whole manufacturing process, but employed a separate class of operatives at each stage. Buying the wool at one of the market towns, the capitalist clothier gave this to one set of hand-workers to be carded and spun into yarn in the village households. The yarn was passed on to another set the hand-loom weavers to be made into cloth in their cottages. The cloth was then " fulled " at the capitalist's own mill (usually a water-mill) and again given out to be " dressed " by a new set of hand- workers, after which it was ready to be packed in the warehouse, and dispatched to Bristol or London for shipment or sale. In this case, as in that of the tailors, the operatives still retained the ownership of the tools of their particular processes, but it was practically impossible for them to acquire either the capital or the commercial knowledge necessary for the success of so highly organised an industry, and we accordingly find them enter- ing into extensive combinations from the closing years of the seventeenth century. Already in 1675 the journey- men clothworkers of London combined to petition the Court of the Clothworkers' Company against the engagement of workmen from the country. In 1682 we hear of them taking advantage of an extensive shipping order to refuse,

1 A Declaration of the Estate of Clothing now used within this Realme of England, by John May, Deputy Alnager (1613, 51 pp., in B.M. 712, g. 16), a volume which contains many interesting pamphlets on the woollen manu- facture between 1613 and 1753. Already in 1622, a year of depression of trade, we he.ar of numerous riots and tumults among the weavers of the West of England, notably those of certain Devonshire towns, who paraded the streets demanding work or food (Quarter Sessions from Elizabeth to Anne, by A. H. A. Hamilton, 1878, pp. 95-6). But there is as yet no evidence of durable combinations at so early a date.

C


34 The Origins of Trade Unionism

in concert, to work under 12s. per week. But it is not clear whether any lasting association then resulted. 1 In the West of England the ephemeral revolts of the early part of the seventeenth century seem to have developed into lasting combinations by the end of that century. We hear of them at Tiverton as early as I7oo. 2 In 1717 the Journals of the House of Commons contain evidence of the existence of a widespread combination of the woollen-workers in Devonshire and Somerset. The Mayor and Corporation of Bradninch complain " that for some years past the wool- combers and weavers in those parts have been confederat- ing how to incorporate themselves into a club : and have to the number of some thousands in this county, in a very riotous and tumultuous manner, exacted tribute from many." 3 The House of Commons apparently thought the evil could be met by Royal Authority and requested the King to issue a Proclamation. Accordingly on February 4, 1718, a Royal Proclamation was issued against these " law- less clubs and societies which had illegally presumed to use a common seal, and to act as Bodies Corporate, by making and unlawfully conspiring to execute certain By-laws or Orders, whereby they pretend to determine who had a right to the Trade, what and how many Apprentices and Journey- men each man should keep at once, together with the prices of all their manufactures, and the manner and materials of which they should be wrought." 4 This kingly fulmination, which was read at the Royal Exchange, failed to effect its purpose, for the Journals of the House of Commons for 1723 and 1725 contain frequent complaints of the con- tinuance of the combinations, 5 which are constantly heard

1 MS. Minutes, Court Book of the Cloth workers' Company, December 10, 1675 ; August 1 6, 1682 ; Industrial Organisation of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, by George Unwin, 1904, p. 199.

2 History of Tiverton, by Martin Dunsford (Exeter, 1790).

3 House of Commons Journals, vol. xviii. p. 715, February 5, 1717. Tiverton and Exeter petition to the same effect.

4 Hughson's London, p. 337. The proclamation was reprinted in Notes and Queries, September 21,1 867, from a copy preserved by the Sun Fire Office.

6 See the petitions from Exeter and Dartmouth, February 24, 1723,


The Domestic System 35

of throughout the whole of the eighteenth century, dying away only on the supersession of the male by the female weaver at the beginning of the nineteenth century, not to be effectively revived until the beginning of the twentieth.

This early development of trade combinations in the West of England stands in striking contrast with their absence in the same industry where pursued, as in York- shire, on the so-called " Domestic System." The Yorkshire weaver was a small master craftsman of the old type, him- self buying and owning the raw material, and once or twice a week selling his cloth in the markets of Leeds or Wakefield, to which, we are told by Defoe in 1724, " few clothiers bring more than one piece." " Almost at every house," he writes of the country near Halifax, " there was a Tenter, and almost on every Tenter a piece of cloth, or kersey, or shalloon, ... at every considerable house was a manu- factory ; . . . then, as every clothier must keep a horse, perhaps two, to fetch and carry for the use of his manu- facture, viz., to fetch home his wool and his provisions from the market, to carry his yarn to the spinners, his manu- facture to the fulling mill, and when finished, to the market to be sold, and the like ; so every manufacturer generally keeps a cow or two or more, for his family, and this employs the two or three or four pieces of enclosed land about his house, for they scarce sow corn enough for their cocks and hens." 1 Not until the Yorkshire cloth

vol. xx. pp. 268-9 ; and those from Taunton, Tiverton, Exeter, and Bristol, March 3 and 7, 1725, vol. xx. pp. 598, 602, 648. In 1729 the Bristol weavers, " while the corporation was at church," riotously attacked the house of an obnoxious employer, and had to be repulsed by the troops (History of Bristol, p. 261, by J. Evans ; Bristol, 1824). In 1738 they forced the clothiers to sign a bond that they would " for ever forward " give fifteen pence a yard for weaving, under penalty of 1000 (Gentlemen's Magazine, 1738, p. 658 ; see also " An Essay on Riots, their Causes and Cure," published in the Gloucester Journal, and reprinted in the Gentlemen's Magazine, 1739, pp. 7-10). In 1756 there was an extensive and serious uprising (see A State of the Case and Narrative of Facts relating to the late Commotion and Rising of the Weavers in the County of Gloucester, in the Gough Collection, Bodleian Library).

1 Defoe's Tour, vol. iii. pp. 97-101, 116 (1724). John Bright mentions


36 The Origins of Trade Unionism

dealers began, about 1794, to establish factories on a large scale do we find any Trade Unions, and then journeymen and small masters struggled with one accord to resist the new form of capitalist industry which was beginning to deprive them of their control over the product of their labour.

The worsted industry appears everywhere to have been carried on rather like the woollen manufactures of the West of England than the same industry in Yorkshire. The woolcomber frequently owned the inexpensive hand- combs and pots with which he worked. But the wool- combers, like the weavers of the West of England, formed but one of several classes of workers for whose employ- ment both capital and commercial knowledge was indis- pensable. We hear, already in 1674, of an attempt by the Leicester woolcombers to " form a company," * though with what success we know not. In 1741 it was remarked that the woolcombers had "for a number of years past erected themselves into a sort of corporation (though without a charter) ; their first pretence was to take care of their poor brethren that should fall sick, or be out of work ; and this was done by meeting once or twice a week, and each of them contributing 2d. or 3d. towards the box to make a bank, and when they became a little formidable they gave laws to their masters, as also to themselves viz., That no man should comb wool under 2s. per dozen ; that no master should employ any comber that was not of their club : if he did they agreed one and all not to work for him ; and if he had employed twenty they all of them turned out, and oftentimes were not satisfied with that, but would abuse the honest man that would labour, and in

his father's apprenticeship, about 1789, to " a most worthy man who had a few acres of ground, a very small farm, and three or four looms in hi3 house" (speech reported in Beehive, February 2, 1867). For a less optimistic account of the Yorkshire clothiers, who were, even in the seven- teenth century, often mere wage-earners, see Cartwright's Chapters of Yorkshire History.

1 History of Leicester, by James Thompson, 1849, pp. 431-2.


Woolcombers' Clubs 37

a riotous manner beat him, break his comb-pots, and destroy his working tools ; they further support one another in so much that they are become one society throughout the kingdom. And that they may keep up their price to encourage idleness rather than labour, if any one of their club is out of work, they give him a ticket and money to seek for work at the next town where a box club is, where he is also subsisted, suffered to live a certain time with them, and then used as before ; by which means he can travel the kingdom round, be caressed at each club, and not spend a farthing of his own or strike one stroke of work. This hath been imitated by the weavers also, though not carried through the kingdom, but confined to the places where they work/' x The surviving members of the Old Amicable Society of Woolstaplers retain a tradition of local trade clubs dating from the very beginning of the eighteenth century, and of their forming a federal union in 1785. Old members of the United Journeymen Curriers' Society have seen circulars and tramping cards, showing that a similar .tramping federation existed in their trade from the middle of the century. 2

In other cases the expensive nature of the raw material or the tools aided the creation of a separate class. The Spitalfields silk-weavers, whom we find forming a permanent organisation in 1773, could never have owned the costly silks they wove. 3 The gold-beaters, whose union dates at any rate from 1777, were similarly debarred from owning the material.

1 A Short Essay upon Trade-in General, by " A Lover of his Country," 1741, quoted in James' History of the Worsted Manufacture in England, p. 232.

  • See, in corroboration, Leicester Herald, August 24, 1793 ; Morning

Chronicle, October 13, 1824 ; Place MSS., 27801 246, 247.

8 The Dublin silk-weavers, owing perhaps to their having been largely Huguenot refugees in a Roman Catholic town, appear to have been associ- ated from the early part of the eighteenth century ; see, for instance, The Case of the Silk and Worsted Weavers in a Letter to a Member of Parliament (Dublin, 1749, 8 pp.). Compare A Short Historical Account of the Silk Manufacture in England, by Samuel Sholl, 1811, and Industrial Dublin since 1698 and the Silk Industry in Dublin, by J. J. Webb, 1913.


38 The Origins of Trade Unionism

Another remarkable instance of combination prior to the introduction of mechanical power and the factory system is that of the " stockingers," the hosiery workers, or framework knitters, described by Dr. Brentano. From the very beginning of the use of the stocking-frame, in the early part of the seventeenth century, servants appear to have been set to- work upon frames owned by capitalists, though the bulk of the trade was in the hands of men who worked upon their own frames as independent producers. The competition of these embryo factories was severely felt by the domestic framework knitter, and on the final breakdown, in 1753, of the legal limitation of apprentices, it became disastrous. There grew up a " ruinous practice of parishes giving premiums to manufacturers for employing their poor," and this flooding of the labour market with subsidised child labour reduced the typical framework knicter to a state of destitution. Though he continued to work in his cottage, he rapidly lost the ownership of his frame, and a system arose under which the frames were hired at a rent, either from a small capitalist frame-owner, or from the manufacturer by whom the work was given out. The operative was thus deprived, not only of the ownership of the product, but also of the instruments of his labour. Hence, although from the very beginning of the eighteenth century there were ephemeral combinations among the framework knitters, in which masters and men often joined, it was not until 1780, when the renting of frames had become general, that a durable Trade Union of wage-earners arose. 1

The development of the industrial organisation of the

1 The condition of the framework knitters may be gathered from the elaborate Parliamentary Inquiry, the proceedings of which fill fifteen pages of the Journals of the House of Commons, vol. xxvi., April 19, 1753. See also vols. xxxvi. and xxxvii., and the Report from the Committee on Framework Knitters' Petitions, 1812 ; and Conflicts of Capital and Labour, by G. Howell, 1890. Felkin's History of the Machine-wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufactures, 1867, contains an exhaustive account of the trade, founded on Gravener Henson's History of the Framework Knitters, 1831, now a scarce work, of which only one volume was published.


The Shipwrights 39

cutlery trades affords another example of this evolution. At the date of the establishment in Sheffield of the Cutlers' Company (1624) the typical craftsman was himself the owner of his " wheel " and other instruments, and a strict limitation of apprentices was maintained. By 1791, when the masters obtained from Parliament a formal ratification of the pre- valent relaxation in the customary restrictions as to appren- tices, we find this system largely replaced by something very like the present order of things, in which the typical Sheffield operative works with material given out by the manufacturer, upon wheels rented either from the latter or from a landlord supplying power. It is no mere coincidence that in the year 1790 the Sheffield employers found them- selves obliged to take concerted action against the " scissor- grinders and other workmen who have entered into un- lawful combinations to raise the price of labour." *

The shipwrights of Liverpool, and probably those of other shipbuilding ports, were combined in trade benefit clubs early in the eighteenth century. At Liverpool, where this society had very successfully maintained the customary limitation of apprentices, the members were all freemen of the municipal corporation, and as such entitled to the Parliamentary franchise. As a result the shipwrights' organisation became intensely political, by which was meant chiefly the negotiation of the sale of its members' votes. At the election of 1790, when Whigs and Tories compromised in order to avoid the expense of a contest, it was the Shipwrights' Society, then at the zenith of its power, which insisted on forcing a contest by nominat- ing its own candidate, and, in the end, actually put him at the head of the poll. The society, which had a contribu- tion in 1824 of fifteen pence per month, and had built alms- houses for its old members, is reputed to have been at one

1 Sheffield Iris, August 7 and September 9, 1790. The Scissorsmiths' Friendly Society, cited by Dr. Brentano, was established in April 1791. Other trade friendly societies in Sheffield appear to date from a much earlier period.


40 The Origins of Trade Unionism

time so powerful that any employer who refused to obey its rules found his business absolutely brought to a stand- still. 1

But the cardinal example of the conception of Trade Unionism with the divorce of the worker from the instru- ments of production is seen in the rapid rise of trade com- binations on the introduction of the factory system. We have already noticed that Trade Unions in Yorkshire began with the erection of factories and the use of power. When, in 1794, the clothiers of the West Riding failed to prevent the Leeds merchants from establishing large factories, " wherein it is intended to employ a great number of persons now working at their own homes," the journeymen took the matter into their own hands, and founded " the Clothiers' Community," or " Brief Institution," professedly to gather " briefs " or levies for the relief of the sick, and to carry on a Parliamentary agitation for hampering the factory owners by a legal limitation of apprentices. " It appears," reports the Parliamentary Committee of 1806, " that there has existed for some time an institution or society among the woollen manufacturers, consisting chiefly of clothworkers. In each of the principal manufacturing towns there appears to be a society, composed of deputies chosen from the several shops of workmen, from each of which town societies one or more deputies are chosen to form what is called the central committee, which meets, as occasion requires, at some place suitable to the local convenience of all parties. The powers of the central committee appear to pervade the whole institution ; and any determination or measure which it may adopt may be communicated with ease through- out the whole body of manufacturers. Every workman, on his becoming a member of the society, receives a certain card or ticket, on which is an emblematical engraving the

1 Sir J. A. Picton's Memorials of Liverpool, 1875; A Digest of the Evidence before the Committee on Artizans and Machinery, by George White, 1824, p. 233 ; Conflicts of Labour and Capital, by G. Ho well, 1890, pp. 82-3.


The Cotton-spinners 41

same, the Committee are assured, both in the North and the West of England that by producing his ticket he may at once show he belongs to the society. The same rules and regulations appear to be in force throughout the whole district, and there is the utmost reason to believe that no clothworker would be suffered to carry on his trade, other- wise than in solitude, who should refuse to submit to the obligations and rules of the society." x The transformation of cotton-spinning into a factory industry, which may be said to have taken place round about the year 1780, was equally accompanied by the growth of Trade Unionism. The so-called benefit clubs of the Oldham operatives, which we know to have existed from 1792, and those of Stockport, of which we hear in 1796, were the forerunners of that network of spinners' societies throughout the northern counties and Scotland which rose into notoriety in the great strikes of the next thirty years. 2

It is easy to understand how the massing together in factories of regiments of men all engaged in the same trade facilitated and promoted the formation of journeymen's rade societies. But with the cotton-spinners, as with the ailors, the rise of permanent trade combinations is to be iscribed, in a final analysis, to the definite separation >etween the functions of the capitalist entrepreneur and the nanual worker between, that is to say, the direction of ndustrial opefations and their execution. It has, indeed, >ecome a commonplace of modern Trade Unionism that >nly in those industries in which the worker has ceased to oe concerned in the profits of buying and selling that nseparable characteristic of the ownership and management

the means of production can effective and stable trade >rganisations be established.

The positive proofs of this historical dependence of Trade Unionism upon the divorce of the worker from the

1 Report of Committee on the Woollen Manufacture, 1806, p. 16 ; see also Conflicts of Labour and Capital, by G. Howell, 1890.

2 See Chapter III.

C2


42 The Origins of Trade Unionism

ownership of the means of production are complemented by the absence of any permanent trade combinations in industries in which the divorce had not taken place. The degradation of the Standard of Life of the skilled manual worker on the break-up of the mediaeval system occurred in all sorts of trades, whether the operative retained his ownership of the means of production or not, but Trade Unionism followed only where the change took the form of a divorce between capital and labour. The Corporation of Pinmakers of London are found petitioning Parliament towards the end of the seventeenth century or beginning of the eighteenth, as follows :

" This company consists for the most part of poor and indigent people, who have neither credit nor mony to pur- chase wyre of the merchant at the best hand, but are forced for want thereof to buy only small parcels of the second or third buyer as they have occasion to use it, and to sell off the pins they make of the same from week to week, as soon as they are made, for ready money to feed them- selves, their wives and children, whom they are constrained to imploy to go up and down every Saturday night from shop to shop to offer their pins to sale, otherwise cannot have money to buy bread. And these are daily so exceed- ingly multiplyed and encreased by reason of the unlimited number of apprentices that some few covetous-minded members of the company (who have considerable stocks) do constantly imploy and keep. . . . The persons that buy the pins from the maker to sell again to other retailing shopkeepers, taking advantage of this necessity of the poor workmen (who are always forced to sell for ready mony, or otherwise cannot subsist), have by degrees so beaten down the price of pins that the workman is not able to live of his work, . . . and betake themselves to be porters, tankard bearers, and other day labourers, . . . and many of their children do daily become parish charges." l

1 In volume entitled Tracts Relating to Trade, in British Museum, 816, m. 13. Tankard -bearers were water carriers.


The Glovers 43

And the glovers complain at the same period that " they are generally so poor that they are supplied with leather upon credit, not being able to pay for that or their work- folk's wages till they have sold the gloves/' x

Now, although these pinmakers and glovers, and other trades in like condition, fully recognised the need for some protection of their Standard of Life, we do not find any trace of Trade Unionism among them. Selling as they did, not their labour alone, but also its product, their only resource was legislative protection of the price of their wares. 8 In short, in those industries in which the cleavage between capitalist and artisan, manager and manual labourer, was not yet complete, the old gild policy of com- mercial monopoly was resorted to as the only expedient for protecting the Standard of Life of the producer.

We do not contend that the divorce supplies, in itself, a complete explanation of the origin of Trade Unions. At all times in the history of English industry there have existed large classes of workers as much debarred from becoming the directors of their own industry as the eighteenth-century tailor or woolcomber, or as the modern cotton-spinner or miner. Besides the semi-servile workers on the land or in the mines, it is certain that there were in the towns a considerable class of unskilled labourers, excluded, through lack of apprenticeship, from any participa- tion in the gild. 3 By the eighteenth century, at any rate,

1 Reasons against the designed leather impositions on gloves, B.M. 816, m. 13.

2 We shall have occasion later to refer to the absence of effective Trade Unionism in those trades which are still carried on by small working masters.

8 The assumption frequently made that the Craft Gilds, at their best period, included practically the whole working population, appears to us unfounded. The gild system at no time extended to any but the skilled handicraftsmen, alongside of whom must always have worked a large number of unapprenticed labourers, who received less than half the wages of the craftsmen. We venture to suggest that it is doubtful whether the Craft Gilds at any time numbered as large a proportion of the working population as the Trade Unions of the present day. See Industrial Democracy, p. 480.


I/


44 The Origins of Trade Unionism

he numbers of this class must have been largely swollen, by the increased demand for common labour involved in the growth of the transport trade, the extensive building operations, etc. But it is not among the farm servants, miners, or general labourers, ill-paid and ill-treated as these often were, that the early Trade Unions arose. We do not even hear of ephemeral combinations among them, and only very occasionally of transient strikes. 1 The formation of independent associations to resist the will of employers requires the possession of a certain degree of personal independence and strength of character. Thus we find the earliest Trade Unions arising among journeymen whose skill and Standard of Life had been for centuries' encouraged and protected by legal or customary regulations as to apprenticeship, and by the limitation of their numbers which the high premiums and other conditions must have involved. , It is often assumed that Trade Unionism arose as a protest against intolerable industrial oppression. This was not so. The first half of the eighteenth century was certainly not a period of exceptional distress/ For fifty years from 1710 there was an almost constant succession of good harvests, the price of wheat remaining unusually low. The tailors of London and Westminster united, at the very beginning of the eighteenth century, not to resist ..any reduction of their customary earnings, but to wring from their employers better wages and shorter hours of labour. The few survivors of the hand woolcombers still cherish the tradition of the eighteenth century, when they styled themselves " gentlemen woolcombers," refused to

1 " Tumults," or strikes, among the coal-miners are occasionally men- tioned during the eighteenth century, but no lasting combinations. See, for those in Somerset, Carmarthenshire, etc., in 1757, Gentlemen's Magazine, 1757, pp. 90, 185, 285, etc. In 1765 there was a prolonged strike against the " yearly bond "by the Durham miners (Calendar of Home Office Papers, 1765 ; Sykes' Local Records, vol. i, p. 254). The Keelmen, who loaded coals on the Tyne, "mutinied" in 1654 and 1671 "for the increase of wages " ; and there were fierce strikes in 1710, 1744, 1750, 1771, and 1794. We have, however, no particulars as to their associations, which were probably ephemeral (Sykes' Local Records ; Richardson's Local Historian's Table Book ; Gentlemen's Magazine, 1750).


Trade Clubs 45


drink with other operatives, and were strong enough, we have seen, to give " laws to their masters." l The very superior millwrights, whose exclusive trade clubs preceded any general organisation of the engineering trade, had for " their everyday garb " a " long frock coat and tall hat/' 2 And the curriers, hatters, woolstaplers, shipwrights, brush- makers, basketmakers, and calico-printers, who furnish prominent instances of eighteenth-century Trade Unionism, all earned relatively high wages, and long maintained a very effectual resistance to the encroachments of their employers. It appears to us from these facts that Trade Unionism would have been a feature of English industry, even with- out the steam-engine and the factory system. Whether the association of superior workmen which arose in the early part of the century would, in such an event, ever have developed into a Trade Union Movement is another .X matter. The typical " trade club " of the town artisan of this time was an isolated " ring " of highly skilled journey- men, who were even more decisively' marked off from the mass of the manual workers than from the small class of capitalist employers. The customary enforcement of the apprenticeship prescribed by the Elizabethan statutes, and the high premiums often exacted from parents not belonging to the trade, long maintained a virtual monopoly of the better-paid handicrafts in the hands of an almost hereditary caste of " tradesmen " in whose ranks the employers them- , selves had for the most part served their apprenticeship. 1 Enjoying, as they did, this legal or customary protection, they found their trade clubs of use mainly for the provision of friendly benefits, and for " higgling " with their masters for better terms. We find little trace among such trade clubs of that sense of solidarity between the manual workers


1 Many instances of insolence and aggression by the woolcombers are on record ; the employers' advertisements in the Nottingham Journal, August 31, 1795, and the Leicester Herald of June 1792, are only two out of many similar recitals.

z Jubilee Souvenir History of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers,

I9OI, p. 12.




46 The Origins of Trade Unionism

of different trades which afterwards became so marked a feature of the Trade Union Movement. Their occasional disputes with their employers resembled rather family differences than conflicts between distinct social classes. They exhibit more tendency to " stand in " with their masters against the community, or to back them against rivals or interlopers, than to join their fellow- workers of other trades in an attack upon the capitalist class. In short, we have industrial society still divided vertically trade by trade, instead of horizontally between employers and wage- earners. This latter cleavage it is which has transformed the Trade Unionism of petty groups of skilled workmen into the modern Trade Union Movement. 1

The pioneers of the Trade Union Movement were not the trade clubs of the town artisans, but the extensive combinations of the West of England woollen-workers and the Midland framework knitters. It was these associa- tions that initiated what afterwards became the common 'purpose of nearly all eighteenth-century combinations the lappeal to the Government and the House of Commons to , | save the wage-earners from the new policy of buying labour, like the raw material of manufacture, in the cheapest

1 That such clubs were common in the handicraft trades in London as early as 1720 appears from the following extract from The Case of the Master Taylors residing within the Cities of London and Westminster, a petition which led to the Act of 1720 : " This combination of the Journeymen Taylors ... is of very ill example to Journeymen in all other trades ; as is sufficiently seen in the Journeymen Curriers, Smiths, Farriers, Sail- makers, Coachmakers, and artificers of divers other arts and mysteries, who have actually entered into Confederacies of the like nature ; and the Journeymen Carpenters, Bricklayers, and Joyners have taken some steps for that purpose, and only wait to see the event of others." And the Journeymen Tailors in their petition of 1745 allude to the large number of "Monthly Clubs" among the London handicraftsmen. With regard to the curriers at this date, see Place MSS, 27801 246, 247.

It may be conveniently noticed here that, although strikes are, as we have seen, as old as the fourteenth century at least, -the word " strike " was not commonly used in this sense until the latter part of the eighteenth century. The Oxford Dictionary gives the first instance of its use as in 1768, when the Annual Register refers to the hatters having " struck " for a rise in wages. The derivation appears to be from the sailors' term of " striking " the mast, thus bringing the movement to a stop.


The Industrial Revolution 47

market. The rapidly changing processes and widening markets of English industry seemed to demand the sweeping away of all restrictions on the supply and employment of labour, a process which involved the levelling of all classes of wage-earners to their " natural wages." The first to teel the encroachment on their customary earnings were the woollen-workers employed by the capitalist clothiers of the Western counties. As the century advances we find trade after trade taking up the agitation against the new conditions, and such old-established clubs as the hatters and the woolcombers joining the general movement as soon as their own industries are menaced. To the skilled craftsman in the towns the new policy was brought home by the repeal of the regulations which protected his trade against an influx of pauper labour. His defence was to ask for the , enforcement of the law relating to apprenticeship. 1 This would not have helped the operative in the staple textile ' industries. To him the new order took the form of constantly declining piecework rates. What he demanded, therefore, was the fixing of the " convenient proportion of wages " contemplated by Elizabethan legislation. But, whether craftsmen or factory operatives, the wage-earners turned, for the maintenance of their Standard of Life, to / that protection by the law upon which they had been \ taught to rely. So long as each section of workers believed > in the intention of the governing class to protect their trade from the results of unrestricted competition no community ^ of interest arose. It was a change of industrial policy on the part of the Government that brought all trades into line, and for the first time produced what can properly be called a Trade Union Movement. In order, therefore, to make this movement fully intelligible, we must now retrace our steps, and follow the political history of industry in the eighteenth century.

1 So much is this the case that Dr. Brentano asserts that " Trade Unions originated with the non-observance of " the Elizabethan Statute of Apprentices (p. 104), and that their primary object was, in all cases, the enforcement of the law on the subject.


48 The Origins of Trade Unionism

The dominant industrial policy of the sixteenth century was the establishment of some regulating authority to perform, for the trade of the time, the services formerly rendered by the Craft Gilds. When, for instance, in the middle of the century the weavers found their customary earnings dwindling, they managed so far to combine as to make their voice heard at Westminster. In 1555 we find them complaining " that the rich and wealthy clothiers do many ways oppress them " by putting unapprenticed men to work on the capitalists' own looms, by letting out looms at rents, and " some also by giving much less wages and hire for the weaving and workmanship of clothes than in times past they did." x To the Parliament of these days it seemed right and natural that the oppressed wage-earners should turn to the legislature to protect them against the cutting down of their earnings by the competing capitalists. The statutes of 1552 and 1555 forbid the use of the gig-mill, restrict the number of looms that one person may own to two in towns and one in the country, and absolutely pro- hibit the letting-out of looms for hire or rent. In 1563, indeed, Parliament expressly charged itself with securing to all wage-earners a " convenient " livelihood. The old laws fixing a maximum wage could not, in face of the enormous rise of prices, be put in force " without the great grief and burden of the poor labourer and hired man." Circumstances were changing too fast for any rigid rule. But by the celebrated " Statute of Apprentices " the statesmen of the time contrived arrangements which would, as they hoped, " yield unto the hired person, both in the time of scarcity and in the time of plenty, a convenient proportion of wages/' Every year the justices of each locality were to meet, " and calling unto them such discreet and grave persons ... as they shall think meet, and conferring together respecting the plenty or scarcity of the

1 Preamble to " An Act touching Weavers " (2 and 3 Philip and Mary, c. xi.) ; see Froude's History of England, vol. i. pp. 57-9 ; and W. C. Taylor's Modern Factory System, pp. 53-5.


The Act of Elizabeth' 49

time," were to fix the wages of practically every kind of labour, 1 their decisions being enforceable by heavy penalties. Stringent regulations as to the necessity of apprenticeship, j the length of its term, and the number of apprentices to be j taken by each employer, received the confirmation of law. : The typical ordinances of the mediaeval gild were, in fact, I enacted in minute detail in a comprehensive general statute ' applying to the greater part of the industry of the period.

We need not discuss the very debatable question whether this celebrated law was or was not advantageous to the labouring folk of the time, or whether and to what extent its provisions were actually put in force. 2 But codifying and enacting as it did the fundamental principles of the mediaeval social order, we can scarcely be surprised that its adoption by Parliament confirmed the working man in the once universal belief in the essential justice and good policy securing by appropriate legislation " the getting of a com- petent livelihood " by all those concerned in industry. 3 Exactly the same view prevailed at the beginning of the eighteenth century. We again find the newly established associations of the operatives appealing to the King, to the House of Commons, or to Quarter Sessions against the beating down of their wages by their employers. For the first half of the century the governing classes continued to act on the assumption that the industrious mechanic had a right to the customary earnings of his trade. Thus in 1726 the weavers of Wilts and Somerset combine to petition

1 As expanded by i James I. c. 6 and 16 Car. I. c. 4 ; see R. v. Justices of Kent, 14 East, 395.

2 See on these points, Dr. Cunningham's History of English Industry and Commerce, Mr. Hewins' English Trade and Finance chiefly in the ijth Century, and Thorold Rogers' History of Agriculture and Prices, vol. v. pp. 625-6, etc. Adam Smith observes that the fixing of wages had, in 1776, " gone entirely into disuse " (Wealth of Nations, bk. i. ch. x. p. 65), a statement broadly true, although formal determinations of wages are found in the MS. Minutes of Quarter Sessions for another half century.

3 This forms the constant refrain of the numerous broadsheets or Tracts relating to Trade of 1688-1750, which are preserved in the British Museum, the Guildhall Library, and in the Goldsmith Company's Library at the University of London.


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5O The Origins of Trade Unionism

the King against the harshness and fraud of their employers the clothiers, with the result that a Committee of the Privy Council investigates their grievances, and draws up " Articles of Agreement " for the settlement of the matters in dispute, 1 admonishing the weavers " for the future " not to attempt to help themselves by unlawful combinations, but always " to lay their grievances in a regular way before His Majesty, who would be always ready to grant them relief suitable to the justice of their case." 2 More often the operatives appealed to the House of Commons. In 1719 the " broad and narrow weavers " of Stroud and places round, petitioned Parliament to put down the tyrannical capitalist clothiers by enforcing the " Act touching Weavers " of 1555. 3 In 1728 the Gloucestershire operatives appealed to the local justices of the peace, and induced them, in spite of protests from the master clothiers, and apparently for the first time, to fix a liberal scale of wages for the weavers of the country. 4 Twenty years later the operatives obtained from Parliament a special prohibition of truck. 5 Finally, in 1756 they persuaded the House of Commons to pass an Act 6 pro- viding for the fixing of piecework prices by the justices, in order that the practice of cutting down rates and under- selling might be stopped. " A Table or Scheme for Rates of Wages " was accordingly settled at Quarter Sessions, November 6, 1756, with which the operatives were fairly contented. 7

The next few years saw a revolutionary change in the industrial policy of the legislature which must have utterly

1 Privy Council Minutes of 1726, p. 310 (unpublished) ; see also House of Commons Journals, vol. xx. p. 745 (February 20, 1726). 8 Privy Council Minutes, February 4, 1726.

3 House of Commons Journals, vol. xix. p. 181 (December 5, 1719).

4 Petition of " Several weavers of Woollen Broadcloth on behalf of themselves and several thousands of the Fraternity of Woollen Broadcloth Weavers " (House of Commons Journals, vol. xxvii. p. 503 ; see also pp. 730-2).

6 22 Geo. II. c. 27.

  • 29 Geo. II. c. 33.

7 Report of Committee on Petitions of West of England Clothiers, House of Commons Journals, vol. xxvii. pp. 730-2.


Laisser-faire 51

bewildered the operatives. Within a generation the House * . of Commons exchanged its policy of mediaeval protection ' for one of " Administrative Nihilism." The Woollen Cloth Weavers' Act of 1756 had not been one year in force when , Parliament was assailed by numerous petitions and counter petitions. The employers declared that the rates fixed by j the justices were, in face of the growing competition of Yorkshire, absolutely impracticable. The operatives, on the other hand, asked that the Act might be strengthened in their favour. The clothiers asserted the advantages of free- dom of contract and unrestrained competition. The weavers received the support of the landowners and gentry in claim- ing the maintenance by law of their customary earnings. The perplexed House of Commons wavered between the two. At first a Bill was ordered to be drawn strengthening the existing law ; but ultimately the clothiers were held to ^ have proved their case. 1 The Act of 1756 was, in 1757, unconditionally repealed ; and Parliament was now heading straight for laisser-faire.

The struggle over this Woollen Cloth Weavers' Act of 1756 marks the passage from the old ideas to the new. When, in 1776, the weavers, spinners, scribblers, and other woollen operatives of Somerset petitioned against the evil that was being done to their accustomed livelihood by the introduction of the spinning- jenny into Shepton Mallet, the House of Commons, which had two centuries before abso- lutely prohibited the gig-mill, refused even to allow the petition to be received. 2

The change of policy had already affected another trade. The London Framework Knitters' Company, which had ( been incorporated in 1663 for the express purpose of regu- lating the trade, found itself during the first half of the eighteenth century in continual conflict with recalcitrant masters who set its bye-laws at defiance. This long struggle, in which the journeymen took vigorous action in support of

1 For all these proceedings, see House of Commons Journals, vol. xxvii. 8 House of Commons Journals, vol. xxxvi. p. 7 (November i, 1776).


52 The Origins of Trade Unionism

the Company, was brought to an end in 1753 by an ex- haustive Parliamentary inquiry. The bye-laws of the Com- pany, upon the enforcement of which the journeymen had rested all their hopes, were solemnly declared to be " in- jurious and vexatious to the manufacturers," whilst the Company's authority was pronounced to be " hurtful to the trade." l The total abandonment of all legal regulation of the trade led, after numerous transitory revolts, to the establishment in 1778 of " The Stocking Makers' Associa- tion for the Mutual Protection in the Midland Counties of England," having for its objects the limitation of apprentices, and the enactment of a fixed rate of wages. Dr. Brentano has summarised the various attempts made by the operatives during the next two years to secure the protection of the legislature. 2 Through the influence of their Union a sym- pathetic member was returned for the borough of Notting- ham. Investigation by a committee brought to light a degree of " sweating " scarcely paralleled even by the worst modern instances. A Bill for the fixing of wages had actu- ally passed its second reading when the employers, whipping up all their friends in the House, defeated it on the third reading a rebuff to the workmen which led to serious riots at Nottingham, and thrust the unfortunate framework knitters back into despairing poverty. 3

By this time the town craftsmen were also beginning to be menaced by the revolutionary proposals of their em- ployers. The hatters, for example, whose early combina- tion we have already mentioned, had hitherto been pro- tected by the strict limitation of the number of apprentices prescribed by the Acts of 1566 and 1603, and enforced by the Feltmakers' Company. We gather from the employers' complaints that the journeymen's organisation, which by

1 House of Commons Journals, April 13 and 19, 1753, vol. xxvi. pp. 764, 779 ; Felkin's History of the Machine-wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufac- ture, p. 80 ; Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times, 1903, vol. i. p. 663.

2 Gilds and Trade Unions, pp. 115-21.

8 House of Commons Journals, vols. xxxvi. and xxxvii.


The Commons Perplexity 53

this time extended to most of the provincial towns in which hats were made, was aiming at a strict enforcement of the law limiting the number of apprentices which each master might take. This caused the leading master hatters to promote, in 1777, a Bill to remove the limitation. Against * them was marshalled the whole strength of the journeymen's organisation. Petitions poured in from London, Burton, Bristol, Chester, Liverpool, Hexham, Derby, and other places, the " piecemaster hat or feltmakers and finishers " usually joining with the journeymen against the demand of the capitalist employers. The men asserted that, even with the limitation, " except at brisk times many hundreds are obliged to go travelling up and down the kingdom in search of employ." But the House was impressed with the evidence / and arguments of the large employers, and their Bill passed into law. 1

The action of the House of Commons on occasions like . these was not as yet influenced by any conscious theory of freedom of contract. What happened was that, as each trade in turn felt the effect of the new capitalist competi- ^ tion, the journeymen, and often also the smaller employers, would petition for redress, usually demanding the prohibi- tion of the new machines, the enforcement of a seven years' apprenticeship, or the maintenance of the old limitation of the number of boys to be taught by each employer. The House would as a rule appoint a Committee to investigate the complaint, with the full intention of redressing the alleged grievance. But the large employers would produce ^ before that Committee an overwhelming array of evidence proving that without the new machinery the growing export " trade must be arrested ; that the new processes could be learnt in a few months instead of seven years ; and that the restriction of the old master-craftsmen to two or three ' apprentices apiece was out of the question with the new buyers of labour on a large scale. Confronted with such a

1 House of Commons Journals, vol. xxxvi. pp. 192, 240, 268, 287, 1777; Act 17 Geo. III. c. 55, repealing 8 Eliz. c. n, and i Jac. i.


f


54 The Origins of Trade Unionism

case as this for the masters even the most sympathetic committee seldom found it possible to endorse the proposals of the artisans. In fact, these proposals were impossible. The artisans had a grievance perhaps the worst that any class can have the degradation of their standard of liveli- hood by circumstances which enormously increased the pro- ductivity of their labour. But they mistook the remedy ; and Parliament, though it saw the mistake, could devise nothing better. Common sense forced the Government to take the easy and obvious step of abolishing the mediaeval regulations which industry had outgrown. But the problem of protecting the workers' Standard of Life under the new conditions was neither easy nor obvious, and it remained unsolved until the nineteenth century discovered the ex- pedients of Collective Bargaining and Factory Legislation, developing, in the twentieth century, into the fixing by law ^ of a Minimum Wage. In the meantime the workers were left to shift for themselves, the attitude of Parliament to- wards them being for the first years one of pure perplexity, quite untouched by the doctrine of freedom of contract.

That the House of Commons remained innocent of any general theory against legislative interference long after it had begun the work of sweeping away the mediaeval regula- tions is proved by the famous case of the Spitalfields silk- weavers, in which the old policy of industrial regulation was reverted to. In 1765 the Spitalfields weavers protested that they were without employment, owing to the importa- tion of foreign silk. Assembling in crowds, they marched in processions to Westminster, headed by bands and banners, and demanded the prohibition of the import of the foreign product. Riots occurred sufficiently serious to induce Par- liament to pass an Act in the terms desired ; x but this experiment in Protection failed to maintain wages, and the riots were renewed in 1769. Finally Sir John Fielding, the well-known London police magistrate, suggested to the

1 5 Geo. III. c. 48 ; see Annual Register, 1765, p. 41 ; Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times, 1903, pp. 519, 796.


The Spitalfields Acts 55

London silkweavers that they should secure their earnings by an Act. 1 Under the pressure of another outbreak of rioting in 1773, Parliament adopted this proposal, and em- powered the justices to fix the rates of wages and to enforce their maintenance. The effect of this enactment upon the men's combination is significant. " A great man " had told the weavers, as one of them relates, that the governing class " made laws, and we, the people, must make legs to them." 2 The ephemeral combination to obtain the Act became accordingly a permanent union to enforce it. From this time forth we hear no more of strikes or riots among the Spitalfields weavers. Instead, we see arising a permanent machinery, designated the " Union/' for the representation, before the justices, of both masters and men, upon whose evidence the complicated lists of piecework rates are period- ; ically settled. Clearly the Parliaments which passed the Spitalfields Acts of 1765 and 1773 had no conception of the political philosophy of Adam Smith, whose Wealth of Nations, afterwards to be accepted as the English gospel of freedom of contract and " natural liberty," was pub- lished in 1776. At the same time, so exceptional had such acts become, that when Adam Smith's masterpiece came into the hands of the statesmen of the time, it must have seemed not so much a novel view of industrial economics as the explicit generalisation of practical conclusions to which experience had already repeatedly driven them.

Towards the end of the century the governing classes, who had found in the new industrial policy a source of enormous pecuniary profit, eagerly seized on the new economic theory as an intellectual and moral justification * of that policy. The abandonment of the operatives by the law, previously resorted to under pressure of circumstances, and, as we gather, not without some remorse, was now carried out on principle, with unflinching determination. '

1 Act 13 Geo. III. c. 68 ; see A Short Historical Account of the Silk Manufacture in England, by Samuel Sholl, 1811

2 Ibid. p. 4.


56 The Origins of Trade Unionism

When the handloom-weavers, earning little more than a third of the livelihood they had gained ten years beiore, and unable to realise that the factory system would be deliberately allowed to ruin them, made themselves heard in the House of Commons in 1808, a Committee reported against their proposal to fix a minimum rate of wages on the ground that it was " wholly inadmissible in principle, incapable of being reduced to practice by any means which can possibly be devised, and, if practicable, would be pro- ductive of the most fatal consequences " ; and " that the proposition relative to the limiting the number of apprentices is also entirely inadmissible, and would, if adopted by the House, be attended with the greatest injustice to the manu- facturer as well as to the labourer." 1 Here we have laisser- faire fully established in Parliament as an authoritative industrial doctrine of political economy, able to overcome the great bulk of the evidence given before this Committee, which was decidedly in favour of the minimum wage. The House of Commons had no lack of opportunities for educat- ing itself on the question. The special misery caused by bad harvests and the prolonged war between 1793 and 1815 2 brought a rush of appeals, especially from the newly established associations of cotton operatives. In the early years of the present century petition after petition poured in from Lancashire and Glasgow, showing that the rates for weaving had steadily declined, and reiterating the old demands for a legally fixed scale of piecework rates and the limitation of apprentices. In 1795, and again in 1800, and once more in 1808, Bills fixing a minimum rate were intro- duced into the House of Commons, sometimes meeting with considerable favour. The report of the Committee of 1808, which took voluminous evidence on the subject, has already been quoted., Petitions from the calico-printers for a legal

1 Reports on Petitions oj Cotton Weavers, i8og and 1811.

8 " The period between 1795 and 1815 was characterised by dearths which on several occasions became well-nigh famines " (Thorold Rogers, History of Agriculture and Prices, vol. i. p. 692).


The Appeal to the Law 57

limitation of the number of apprentices, although warmly supported by the Select Committee to which they were re- ferred, met with the same fate. Sheridan, indeed, was not convinced, and brought in a Bill proposing, among other things, to limit the number of apprentices. But Sir Robert Peel (the elder), whose own factories swarmed with boys, opposed it in the name of industrial freedom, and carried the House of Commons with him. 1

Meanwhile the despairing operatives, baffled in their attempts to procure fresh legislation, turned for aid to the existing law. Unrepealed statutes still enabled the justices in some trades to fix the rate of wages, limited in others the number of apprentices ; in others, again, prohibited certain kinds of machinery, and forbade any but apprenticed men to exercise the trade. So completely had these statutes fallen into disuse that their very existence was in many instances unknown to the artisans. The West of England weavers, however, combined with those of Yorkshire in 1802 to employ an attorney, who took proceedings against employers for infringing the old laws. The result was that Parliament hastily passed an Act suspending these statutes, in order to put a stop to the prosecutions. 2 " At a numerous meeting of the cordwainers of the City of New Sarum in 1784," says an old circular that we have seen, " it was unanimously resolved . . . that a subscription be entered into for putting the law in force against infringements on the Trade," but apparently without result. 3 The Edinburgh

1 Minutes of Evidence and Report of the Committee on the Petition of the Journeymen Calico-printers, July 4, 1804, July 17, 1806. See also Sheridan's speech reported in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, vol. ix. pp. 534-8.

2 43 Geo. III. c. 136, continued in successive years until the definite repeal, in 1 809, of most of the laws regulating the woollen manufacture by 49 Geo. III. c. 109 ; see Cunningham, 1903, vol. ii. p. 659.

8 It was reprinted in the I2ist Quarterly Report of the Amalgamated Society of Boot and Shoemakers. The proceedings were taken by the Friendly Society of Cordwainers of England, " instituted the i5th of November 1784." Particulars of the London Bootmakers' Society, which was in correspondence with seventy or eighty provincial societies, are given in A Digest of the Evidence before the Committee on Artizans and Machinery, by George White, 1824, p. 97.


58 The Origins of Trade Unionism

compositors were more successful ; on being refused an advance of wages, to correspond with the rise in the cost of living, they presented, February 28, 1804, a memorial to the Court of Session, and obtained the celebrated " Inter- locutor " of 1805, which fixed a scale of piecework prices for the Edinburgh printing trade. 1 But the chief event of this campaign for the enforcement of the old laws began in Glasgow. The cotton-weavers of that city, after four or five years of Parliamentary agitation for additional legisla- tion, resorted to the law empowering the justices to fix the rates of wages. After an unsuccessful attempt to fix a standard rate by agreement with a committee of employers, the men's association which now extended throughout the whole of the cotton-weaving districts in the United King- dom commenced legal proceedings at the Lanarkshire Quarter Sessions. The employers in 1812 disputed the competence of the magistrates, and appealed to the Court of Sessions at Edinburgh. The Court held that the magis- trates were competent to fix a scale of wages, and a table of piecework rates was accordingly drawn up. The em- ployers immediately withdrew from the proceedings ; but the operatives were nevertheless compelled, at great ex- pense, to produce witnesses to testify to every one of the numerous rates proposed. After one hundred and thirty witnesses had been heard, the magistrates at length declared the rates to be reasonable, but made no actual order en- forcing them. The employers, with few exceptions, refused to accept the table, which it had cost the operatives 3000 to obtain. The result was the most extensive strike the trade has ever known. From Carlisle to Aberdeen every loom stopped, forty thousand weavers ceasing work almost simultaneously. After three weeks' strike the employers

1 Professor Foxwell kindly placed at our disposal a unique series of pamphlets relating to these proceedings, which are now in the Goldsmiths Company's Library at the University of London, including the Memorials of the journeymen and the employers, the Report in the Process by Robert Bell, and the Scale of Prices as settled by the Court. A full account of the proceedings is given in the Scottish Typographical Circular, June 1858.


" Illegal Men " 59

were preparing to meet the operatives, when the whole Strike Committee was suddenly arrested by the police, and held to bail under the common law for the crime of com- bination, of which the authorities, in that revolutionary period, were very jealous on purely political grounds. The five leaders were sentenced to terms of imprisonment vary- ing from four to eighteen months ; and this blow broke up the combination, defeated the strike, and put an end to the struggles of the operatives against the progressive degradation of their wages. 1

The London artisans, though they were not put down by prosecution and imprisonment, met with no greater success than their Glasgow brethren. Between 1810 and 1812 a number of trade societies combined to engage the services of a solicitor, who prosecuted masters for employing " illegal men," that is to say, men who had not by apprentice- ship gained a right to follow the trade. The original " case " which the journeymen curriers submitted to counsel in 1810 (fee two guineas), with a view to putting in force the Statute of Apprentices, was in our possession, together with the somewhat hesitating opinion of the legal adviser. 2 n a few cases proceedings were even taken against employers Dr having set up in trades to which they had not themselves 5rved their time. Convictions were obtained in some istances ; but no costs were allowed to the prosecutors, rho were, on the other hand, condemned to pay heavy osts when they failed. Lord Ellenborough, moreover, held n appeal that new trades, such as those of engineer and '- )ckmaker, were not included within the Elizabethan Act. Jv

n 1811 certain journeymen millers of Kent petitioned the $ stices to fix a rate of wages under the Elizabethan Act. Vhen the justices refused to hear the petition a writ of

1 See, for these proceedings, the two Reports of the Committee on the ^etitions of the Cotton Weavers, April 12, 1808, and March 29, 1809; and ichmond's evidence before the Committee on Artisans and Machinery, 824, Second Report, pp. 59-64.

  • It is now in the British Library of Political Science at the London

chool of Economics.


J


60 The Origins of Trade Unionism

mandamus was applied for. Lord Ellenborough granted the writ to compel them to hear the petition, but said they were to exercise their own discretion as to whether they would fix any rate. The justices, on this hint, declined to fix the wages. 1 It soon became apparent that legal pro- ceedings under these obsolete statutes were, in face of the adverse bias of the courts, as futile as they were costly. There was nothing for it then but either to abandon the line of attack or to petition Parliament to make effective the still unrepealed laws. This they accordingly did, with the unexpected result that the " pernicious " law empowering justices to fix wages was in 1813 peremptorily repealed. 2

The law thus swept away was but one section of the' great Elizabethan statute, and its repeal left the other clauses untouched. A Select Committee had already, in 1811, reported that " no interference of the legislature with the freedom of trade, or with the perfect liberty of every individual to dispose of his time and of his labour in the way and on the terms which he may judge most conducive to his own interest, can take place without violating general principles of the first importance to the prosperity and happiness of the community ; without establishing the most pernicious precedent, or even without aggravating, after a very short time, the pressure of the general distress, and imposing obstacles against that distress being ever removed." The repeal of the wages clauses of the statute made this emphatic declaration of the new doctrine law as far as the fixing of wages was concerned; but there remained the apprenticeship clauses. Petitions for the enforcement of these, and their extension to the new trades, kept pouring in. They were finally referred to a large and influential committee which included Canning, Huskisson, Sir Robert Peel, and Sir James Graham among its members. The witnesses examined were strongly in


-, Kent, 14 East, 395 ; see F. D. Longe's Inquiry into

the Law"5]^~Strtkg^,~TS^o~ pp. 10, n. 2 53 Geo. III. c. 40 (1813).


Repeal of the Statute 61

avour of the retention of the laws, with amendments ringing them up to date. The chairman (George Rose) ras apparently converted to the view of the operatives y the evidence. The committee, which had undoubtedly >een appointed to formulate the complete abolition of the pprenticeship clauses, found itself unable to fulfil its virtual landate. Not venturing, in the teeth of the manufacturers nd economists, to recommend the House to comply with he operatives' demands, it got out of the difficulty by laking no recommendation at all. Hundreds of petitions i favour of the laws continued to pour in from all parts of he country, 300,000 signatures being for retention against ooo for repeal, masters often joining in the journeymen's rayer. A public meeting of the " Master Manufacturers and Tadesmen of the Cities of London and Westminster," t the Freemasons' Tavern, passed resolutions strongly upporting the amendment and enforcement of the existing iw. On the other hand, a committee on which the master ngineers Maudsley and Galloway were prominent members, ( rgued forcibly in favour of freedom and against " the * lonstrous and alarming but misguided association." In 14 Mr. Serjeant Onslow, who had not served on the com- ttee of the previous session, introduced a Bill to repeal e whole apprenticeship law. The " Masters and Journey- in of Westminster " were heard by counsel against this iasure, but the House had made up its mind in favour of e manufacturers, and by the Act of 54 Geo. III. c. 96 swept ray the apprenticeship clauses of the statute, and with em practically the last remnant of that legislative pro- *

tion of the Standard of Life which survived from the

ddle Ages. 1 The triumphant manufacturers presented rjeant Onslow with several pieces of plate for his champion- Lp of commercial liberty. 2

1 The Spitalfields Acts, relating to the silkweavers, were, however, not >ealed until 1824 ; and the last sections of 5 Eliz. c. 4 were not formally >ealed until 1875.

8 White's Digest of all the laws at present in existence respecting Mastert Workpeople, 1824, p. 59. Place wrote to Wakefield, January 2, 1814 :


62 The Origins of Trade Unionism

So thoroughly had the new doctrine by this time driven out the very recollection of the old ideals from the mind of the governing class that it was now the operatives who were regarded as innovators, and we are hardly surprised to find another committee gravely declaring that " the right of every man to employ the capital he inherits, or has acquired, according to his own discretion, without molesta- tion or obstruction, so long as he does not infringe on the rights or property of others, is one of those privileges which the free and happy constitution of this country has long accustomed every Briton to consider as his birthright." 1 But it must be added that the governing class was by no means impartial in the application of its new doctrine. Mediaeval regulation acted not only in restriction of free competition in the labour market to the pecuniary loss of the employers, but also in restriction of free contract to the loss of the employees, who could only obtain the best terms for their labour by collective instead of individual bargaining. Consequently the operatives, if they had clearly understood the situation, would have been as anxious

" The affair of Serjeant Onslow partly originated with me, but I had no suspicion it would be taken up and pushed as vigorously as it has been and is likely to be " (Life of Francis Place, by Prof. Graham Wallas, p. 159).

The proceedings in this matter can be best traced in the House of Commons Journals for 1813 and 1814, vols. Ixviii. and Ixix. ; and in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, vols. xxv. and xxvii. The master's case is given in a pamphlet, The Origin, Object, and Operation of the Appren- tice Laws, 1814, 26 pp., preserved in the Pamphleteer, vol. iii. The Resolu- tions of the Master Manufacturers and Tradesmen of the Cities of London and Westminster on the Statute j* Eliz. c. 4, 1814, 4 pp., gives the contrary view (B.M. 1882, d. 2). The contemporary argument for freedom is expressed in An Estimate of the Comparative Strength of Great Britain, by G. Chalmers, 1810 ; see Cunningham, 1903, vol. ii. p. 660. The Nottingham Library possesses a unique copy of the Articles and General Regulations of a Society for obtaining Parliamentary Relief, and the Encouragement of Mechanics in the Improvement of Mechanism, printed at Nottingham in 1813. This appears to have been a federation of framework knitters' societies, and possibly others, for Parliamentary action, as well as trade protection ; and its establishment in 1813 was perhaps connected with the movement for the revival of the Apprenticeship Laws.

1 Report of the Committee on the State of the Woollen Manufacture in England, July 4, 1806, p. 12.


Repression 63

to abolish the laws against combination as to maintain lose fixing wages and limiting apprenticeship ; just as le capitalists, better informed, were no less resolute in laintaining the anti-combination laws than in repealing le others. We shall presently see how slow the workers rere to realise this, in spite of the fact that the laws against ombinations of workmen were maintained in force, and ven increased in severity. Strikes, and any organised esistance to the employers' demands, were put down with high hand. The first twenty years of the nineteenth entury witnessed a legal persecution of Trade Unionists as ebels and revolutionists. This persecution, thwarting the ealthy growth of the Unions, and driving their members ito violence and sedition, but finally leading to the repeal

the Combination Laws and the birth of the modern Trade

Jhion Movement, will be the subject of the next chapter.