The History of Trade Unionism/III. The Revolutionary period 1829-1842

CHAPTER III THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD [1829-1842]Edit

So far we have been mainly concerned with societies formed in particular trades, nearly always confined to particular localities, and known as institutions, associations, trade clubs, trade societies, unions, and union societies. We have by anticipation applied the term Trade Union to them in its modern sense; but in no case that we have discovered did they call themselves so. It is in the leading articles of the newspapers of 1830-4 that we first come upon references to some great Power of Darkness vaguely described as " the Trades Union." We find, moreover, that there was in that day, as there has been repeatedly since, an Old Unionism and a New Unionism, and that " the Trades Union " repre- sented the New Unionism, and the trade club, or Trade Union, as we have called it, the Old. The distinction be- tween a Trade Union and a Trades Union is exactly that which the names imply. A Trade Union is a combination of the members of one trade; a Trades Union is a combina- tion of different trades. " The Trades Union," the bug- bear of the Times in 1834, means the ideal at which the Trades Unionists aimed : that is, a complete union of all the workers in the country in a single national Trades Union. The peculiar significance of Trades Union as dis- tinguished from Trade Union must be carefully borne, in

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H4 The Revolutionary Period

mind throughout this chapter, as it has passed out of use and occurs now only as a literary blunder. Our present unions of workers in different though related trades are usually called Amalgamations or Federations. But both Amalgamations and Federations, being definitely limited to similar or related and interdependent trades, are in idea essentially Trade Unions. The distinctive connotation of the term Trades Union was the ideal of complete solidarity of all wage- workers in " One Big Union " that is to say, a single " universal " organisation. It is the attempt, on the part of the Trade Union leaders, to form not only national societies of particular trades, but also to include all manual workers in one comprehensive organisation, that constitutes the New Unionism of 1829-34. x

We are not altogether without information as to the genesis of the idea. The first attempt at a General Trades Union of which we have any record is that of the " Phil- anthropic Society " or " Philanthropic Hercules " of 1818. This we hear of almost simultaneously in Manchester, the Potteries and London, though it seems to have originated in the first-named town. A meeting of workmen of various trades, rleld at Manchester in August 1818, convinced of the impotence of isolated Trade Clubs, sought to establish a society on a federal basis, each constituent trade raising its own funds and separately moving for advances or resisting reductions; but pledged first to consult the com-

1 In a manuscript essay on the different forms of association, entitled " Trades Unions condemned, Trade Clubs justified," Place gives us the distinction between the two. " A trade society," he says, " that is, a club consisting of the journeymen in any one trade which does not form part of a union of several trades, which does not appoint delegates to meet other delegates, is a very different thing from a Trades Union, even though it may call itself a union. Trades Unions are those in which several trades, or portions of several trades, in the same line of business or in different callings, are confederated by means of delegates." Place often refers to this distinction between the Trade Clubs, which were, according to his view, " very valuable institutions," and the " Trades Unions," or " associations of several or many trades in one combination,' which he regarded as " very mischievous associations." William Lovett, too, watching the same transformation, makes, in a letter published in the Poor Man's Guardian of August 30, 1834, exactly the same distinction.


" One Big Union " 115

mittee and the other trades, and promised the support of all, both in approved trade movements and in case of legal prosecution or oppression. A committee of eleven was to be chosen by ballot, one-third retiring monthly by rotation; and was to be assisted by a similar local organi- sation in each town. 1 How far the " General Union," as the " Philanthropic Society " seems also to have been called, got under way in Lancashire or Staffordshire remains uncertain; but in London the idea was taken up by one of the ablest Trade Unionists of the time the shipwright John Gast, whom we have already mentioned as an ally of Francis Place, who became president and called upon " the general body of mechanics " to subscribe a penny per week to a central fund for the defence of their common interests. 2

Whether anything came of the attempts at a General Union in 1818-19 we have not discovered, but in all proba- bility the project immediately failed. Seven years later a similar effort met with no greater success. " In 1826," as we incidentally learn from a subsequent Labour journal, 3 " a Trades Union was formed in Manchester, which extended slightly to some of the surrounding districts, and embraced several- trades in each; but it expired before it was so much as known to a large majority of the operatives in the neigh- bourhood."

What was aimed at is clear enough. It was being recommended to the workmen by some of their intellectual advisers. An able pamphlet of 1827 tells them that " Against the competition of the underpaid of surrounding trades, the ready remedy is a central union of all the general

1 See the reports to the Home Secretary (Home Office Papers, 42 179, 180, 181, 182); The Town Labourer (by J. L. and B. Hammond, 1917), pp. 306-11.

  • See the " Articles of the Philanthropic Hercules, for the Mutual

Support of the Labouring Mechanics," dated December 24, 1818, which Gast contributed to the Gorgon. Cast's preliminary address appears in the issue for December 5, 1818, and in that of January 29, 1819, the society is described as established (Place MSS. 27899 143).

8 The Herald of the Rights of Industry (Manchester, April 5, 1834).


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unions of all the trades of the country. The remuneration of all the different branches of artisans and mechanics in the country might then be fixed at those rates which would leave such an equalised remuneration to all as would take away any temptation from those in one branch to transfer their skill in order to undersell the labour of the well- remunerated in another branch : the Central Union fund being always ready to assist the unemployed in any par- ticular branch, when their own local and general funds were exhausted; provided always their claims to support were by the Central Union deemed to be just." 1

Experience seems to show that national organisation of particular trades must precede the formation of any General Trades Union; and it was in this way that the project now took form. In 1829 we see renewed attempts at national organisation, in which the Lancashire and Yorkshire textile and building operatives were pioneers. The year 1829, closing the long depression of trade which began in the autumn of 1825, after the repeal of the Com- bination Laws, witnessed the establishment of important national Unions in both industries, but that of the Cotton- spinners claims precedence in respect of its more rapic development.

The Cotton-spinners' trade clubs of Lancashire dal apparently from 1792, and they spread, within a gene tion, to thirty or forty towns, remaining always strictl] local organisations. In the early years of the nineteentl century attempts had been made by the Glasgow spinnc to unite the Lancashire and Scottish organisations in national association; but these attempts had not resulte in more than temporary alliances in particular emergence The rapid improvement of spinning machinery, and tl enterprise of the Lancashire millowners, were, at the dal of the repeal of the Combination Laws, shifting the centi

1 Labour Rewarded : The Claims of Labour and Capital : How to secure Labour the Whole Product of its Exertions, by One of the Idle Classes [Williai Thompson], 1827; see The Irish Labour Movement, by W. P. Ryan.


John Doherty 117

of the trade from Glasgow to Manchester; and it was the Lancashire Cotton-spinners who now took the lead in trade matters. The failure of a disastrous six months' strike in 1829 at Hyde, near Manchester, led to the conviction that no local Union could succeed against a combination of employers; and the spinners' societies of England, Scotland, and Ireland were therefore invited to send delegates to a conference to be held at Ramsay, in the Isle of Man, in the month of December 1829.

This delegate meeting, of which there is an excellent report, 1 lasted for nearly a week. The proceedings were of a remarkably temperate character, the discussions turning chiefly on the relative advantages of one supreme executive to be established at Manchester, and three co-equal national executives for England, Scotland, and Ireland. No secrecy was attempted. John Doherty, 2 secretary and leader of

1 A Report of the Proceedings of the Meeting of Cotton-spinners at Ramsay, etc. (Manchester, 1829, 56 pages); Copy of Resolutions of the Delegates from the Operative Cotton- spinners who met at the Isle of Man (Manchester, 1830), in Home Office Papers, 40 27.

  • John Doherty, described by Place as a somewhat hot-headed Roman

Catholic really one of the acutest thinkers and stoutest leaders among the workmen of his time was born in Ireland in 1799, and went to work in a cotton-mill at Larne, Co. Antrim, at the age of ten. In 1816 he migrated to Manchester, where he quickly became one of the leading Trade Unionists, and secretary to the local Cotton-spinners' Society. We find him, for instance, taking a prominent part in the agitation against the proposed re-enactment of the Combination Laws in 1825. Whether he was concerned in the Philanthropic Society or General Union of 1818 or 1826 we do not know. In 1829 he organised the great strike of the Hyde spinners against a reduction of rates, and became, as described in the text, successively General Secretary to the Federation of Spinners' Societies, and to the National Association for the Protection of Labour, in which office he is reported, probably inaccurately, to have received the then enormous salary of ^600 a year. We naturally find him the object of great suspicion by the Government, but no charge seems ever to have been brought against him (Home Office Papers, 40 26, 27). The articles in the Voice of the People and the Poor Man's Advocate, which are evidently from his pen, show him to have been a man of wide informa- tion, great natural shrewdness, and far-reaching aims. His idea was that all the local and district Unions were to be federated in a national organisa- tion for the sole purpose of dealing with trade matters, and that they should ./ also be federated in a National Association for obtaining political reforms. In 1832, during the Reform crisis, Place describes him as advising the working classes to use the occasion for a social revolution. He sub-


n8 The Revolutionary Period

the Manchester Cotton-spinners, advocated a central execu- tive; while Thomas Foster (a man of independent means who attended the conference at his own expense) favoured a scheme of home rule. Eventually a " Grand General Union of the United Kingdom " was established, subject to an annual delegate meeting and three national com- mittees. The union was to include all male spinners and piecers, the women and girls being urged to form separate organisations, which were to receive all the aid of the whole confederation in supporting them to obtain " men's prices." The union was to promote local action for a further legis- lative restriction of the hours of labour, to apply to all persons under 21 years of age. Its income consisted of a contribution of a penny per week per member, to be levied in addition to the contribution to the local society. Doherty was general secretary, and Foster and a certain Patrick McGowan were appointed to organise the spinners through- out the United Kingdom.

The Boroughreeve and Constables of Manchester, 01 May 26, 1830, wrote in alarm to Sir Robert Peel : " Th( combination of workmen, long acknowledged a great evil, and one most difficult to counteract, has recently assume so formidable and systematic a shape in this district we feel it our duty to lay before you some of its most alarming features. ... A committee of delegates from the operative spinners of the three Kingdoms have established an annual assembly in the Isle of Man to direct the proceedings of the general body towards their employers, the orders for which they promulgate to their respective districts and sub- committees. To these orders the most implicit deference


sequently acted as secretary to an association of operatives and masters established to enforce the Factory Acts, and was one of Lord Shaftesbury's most strenuous supporters. In 1838, when he had become a printer and bookseller in Manchester, he gave evidence before the Select Commitl on Combinations of Workmen, in which he described the spinners' < tions and strikes. There is a pamphlet by him in the Goldsmiths' '. at the University of London, entitled A Letter to the Members of the Natic Association for the Protection of Labour (Manchester, 1831).


The Cotton-spinners 119

is shown; and a weekly levy or rent of one penny per head on each operative is cheerfully paid. This produces a large sum, and is a powerful engine, and principally to support those who have turned out against their employers, agreeable to the orders of the committee, at the rate of ten shillings per week for each person. The plan of a general turnout having been found to be impolitic, they have employed it in detail, against particular individuals or districts, who, attacked thus singly, are frequently compelled to submit to their terms rather than to the ruin which would ensue to many by allowing their machinery (in which their whole capital is invested) to stand idle/' 1

Whether this Cotton-spinners' Federation, as we should call it, became really representative of the three kingdoms does not appear. A second general delegate meeting was held at Manchester in December 1830, which intervened in the great spinners' strike then in progress at Ashton- under-Lyne. At this conference the constitution of 1829 was re-enacted with some alterations. The three national executives were apparently replaced by an executive council of three members elected by the Manchester Society, to be reinforced at its monthly meetings by two delegates chosen in turn by each of the neighbouring districts. A general delegate meeting seems also to have been held, attended by one delegate from each of the couple of scores of towns in which there were local clubs. 2 Foster was appointed general secretary; and a committee was ordered to draw up a general list of prices, for which purpose one member in each mill was directed to send up a copy of the list by which he was paid. Although another delegate meeting of this " Grand General Union " was fixed for Whit Monday 1831 at Liverpool, no further record of its existence can be traced. It is probable that the attempt to include Scotland and Ireland proved a failure, and that the union had dwindled

1 Home Office Papers, 40 27. 1 Ibid., December 3, 1830, 40 26.


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into a federation of Lancashire societies, mainly preoccu- pied in securing a legislative restriction of the hours of labour. 1

But the National Union of Cotton-spinners prepared the way for the more ambitious project of the Trades Union. Doherty, who seems to have resigned his official connection with the Cotton-spinners' Union, conceived the idea of a National Association, not of one trade alone, but of all classes of wage-earners. Already in May 1829 we find him, as Secretary of the Manchester Cotton-spinners, writing to acknowledge a gift of ten pounds from the Liver- pool Sailmakers, and expressing " a hope that our joint efforts may eventually lead to a Grand General Union of all trades throughout the United Kingdom." 2 At his instigation a meeting of delegates from twenty organised trades was held at Manchester in February 1830, which ended in the establishment, five months later, of the National Association for the Protection of Labour. The express object of this society was to resist reductions, but not to strike for advances. In an eloquent address to working men of all trades, the new Association appealed to them to unite for their own protection and in order to maintain " the harmony of society " which is destroyed by their subjection. How is it, the Association asks, that whilst everything else increases knowledge, wealth, civil and religious liberty, churches, madhouses, and prisons the circumstances of the working man become ever worse? " He, the sole producer of food and raiment, is, it appears, destined to sink whilst others rise." To prevent this evil

1 Foster died in 1831, and McGowan settled at Glasgow. " Almost every spinning district," writes the Poor Man's Advocate of June 23, 1832, " of any consequence, was enrolled in the Union. The power of the Union, of course, increased with its members, and a number of the worst- paying employers were compelled to advance the wages of the spinners to something like the standard rate. . . . The Union, however, which Mr. McGowan had mainly contributed to mature, has since, from distrust or weariness, sunk into comparative insignificance."

2 The letter is preserved in the MS. " Contribution Book " of the Liverpool Sailmakers' Friendly Association, established 1817.


The National Association 121

the Association is formed. 1 Its constitution appears to have been largely borrowed from that of the contemporary Cotton-spinners, which it resembled in being a combination, not of directly enlisted individuals, but of existing separate societies, each of which paid an entrance fee of a pound, together with a shilling for each of its members, and con- tributed at the rate of a penny per week per head of its membership. Doherty was the first secretary, and the Association appears very soon to have enrolled about 150 separate Unions, mostly in Lancashire, Cheshire, Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester. The trades which joined were mainly connected with the various textile industries the cotton-spinners, hosiery-workers, calico-printers, and silk- weavers taking a leading part. The Association also included numerous societies of mechanics, moulders, black- smiths, and many miscellaneous trades. The building trades were scarcely represented a fact to be accounted for by the contemporary existence of the Builders' Union hereafter described. The list 2 of the receipts of the Associa- tion for the first nine months of its existence includes pay- ments amounting to 1866, a sum which indicates a member- ship of between 10,000 and 20,000, spread over the five counties already mentioned. A vigorous propaganda was carried on throughout the northern and midland counties by its officials, who succeeded in establishing a weekly paper, the United Trades Co-operative Journal, which was presently brought to an end by the intervention of the Commissioners of Stamps, who insisted on each number bearing a fourpenny stamp. 3 Undeterred by this failure, the committee undertook the more serious task of starting a sevenpenny stamped weekly, and requested Francis Place

1 Address of the National Association for the Protection of Labour to the Workmen of the United Kingdom (4 pp. 1830), in Home Office Papers, 4027.

2 Given as Appendix to the pamphlet On Combination of Trades (1830). Compare Wade's History of the Middle and Working Classes (1834), p. 277.

8 Thirty-one numbers, extending from March 6 to October 2, 1830, are in the Manchester Public Library (620 B).


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to become the treasurer of an accumulated fund. " The subscription," writes Place to John Cam Hobhouse, Decem- ber 5, 1830, " extends from Birmingham to the Clyde; the committee sits at Manchester; and the money collected amounts to about 3000, and will, they tell me, shortly be as much as 5000, with which sum, when raised, they pro- pose to commence a weekly newspaper to be called the Voice of the People." Accordingly in January 1831 appeared the first number of what proved to be an excellent weekly journal, the object of which was declared to be " to unite the productive classes of the community in one common bond of union." Besides full weekly reports of the com- mittee meetings of the National Association at Manchester and Nottingham, this newspaper, ably edited by John Doherty, gave great attention to Radical politics, including the Repeal of the Union with Ireland, and the progress of revolution on the Continent. 1

From the reports published in the Voice of the People we gather that the first important action of the Association was in connection with the almost continuous strikes of the cotton-spinners at Ashton-under-Lyne, which flamed up into a sustained conflict on a large scale, during which Ashton, a young millowner, was murdered by some unknown person in the winter of 1830-31, in resistance to a new list of prices arbitrarily imposed by the Association of Master Spinners in Ashton, Dukinfield, and Stalybridge. 2 Con- siderable sums were raised by way of levy for the support of the strike, the Nottingham trades subscribing liberally. But the Association soon experienced a check. In Feb- ruary 1831 a new secretary decamped with 100. This led a delegate meeting at Nottingham, in April 1831, to decree that each Union should retain in hand the money contributed by its own members. But the usual failings of unions of various trades quickly showed themselves.

1 The numbers from January to September 1831 are in the British Museum. See Place's letter in Westminster Review (1831), p. 243. a Home Office Papers, 40 26, 27.


The Voice of the People 123

The refusal of the Lancashire branches to support the great Nottingham strike which immediately ensued led to the defection of the Nottingham members. Neverthe- less the Association was spreading over new ground. We hear of delegates from Lancashire inducing thousands of colliers in Derbyshire to join, whilst other trades, and even the agricultural labourers, were talking about it. 1 At the end of April a delegate meeting at Bolton, representing nine thousand coalminers of Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Cheshire, and Wales, resolved to join. The Belfast trades applied for affiliation. In Leeds nine thousand members were enrolled, chiefly among the woollen-workers. Missionaries were sent to organise the Staffordshire potters; and a National Potters' Union, extending throughout the country, was established and affiliated. All this activity lends a certain credibility to the assertion, made in various quarters, that the Association numbered one hundred thousand members, and that the Voice of the People, published at 7d. weekly, enjoyed the then enormous circulation of thirty thousand.

Here at last we have substance given to the formidable idea of " the Trades Union." It was soon worked up by the newspapers to a pitch at which it alarmed the employers, dismally excited the imaginations of the middle class, and compelled the attention of the Government. But there was no cause for apprehension. Lack of funds made the Association little more than a name. Practically no trade action is reported in such numbers of its organ as are still extant. The business of the Manchester Committee seems to have been confined to the promotion of the " Short Time Bill." On April 23, 1831, at the general meeting of the Association, then designated the Lancashire Trades Unions, it was resolved to prepare petitions in favour of extending this measure to all trades and all classes of workers. Active support was given in the meantime to Mr. Sadler's Factory Bill. Towards the end of the year we suddenly lose all

1 Home Office Papers. April 8, 1831, 44 25.


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trace of the National Association for the Protection of Labour, as far as Manchester is concerned. " After it had extended about a hundred miles round this town," writes a working-class newspaper of 1832, " a fatality came upon it that almost threatened its extinction. . . . But though it declined in Manchester it spread and flourished in other places; and we rejoice to say that the resolute example set by Yorkshire and other places is likely once more to revive the drooping energies of those trades who had the honour of originating and establishing the Association." *

What the fatality was that extinguished the Association in Manchester is not stated; but Doherty, to whose organising ability its initial success had been due, evidently quarrelled with the executive committee, and the Voice of the People ceased to appear. In its place we find Doherty issuing, from January 1832, the Poor Man's Advocate, and vainly striving, in face of the " spirit " of " jealousy and faction," to build up the Yorkshire branches of the Association into a national organisation, with its headquarters in London. After the middle of 1832 we hear no more, either of the Association itself or of Doherty 's more ambitious projects concerning it. 2

The place of the National Association was soon filled by other contemporary general trade societies, of which the first and most important was the Builders' Union, or

1 Union Pilot and Co-operative Intelligencer t March 24, 1832 (Man- chester Public Library, 640 E).

8 Meanwhile the coalminers of Northumberland and Durham, under the leadership of " Tommy Hepburn," an organiser of remarkable ability, had formed their first strong Union in 1830, which for two years kept the two counties in a state of excitement. Strikes and riotings in 1831 and 1832 caused the troops to be called out : marines were sent from Portsmouth, and squadrons of cavalry scoured the country. After six months' struggle in 1832 the Union collapsed, and the men submitted. See Home Office Papers for these years, 40 31, 32, &c.; Sykes' Locat Records of Northumberland, &c., vol. ii. pp. 293, 353; Fynes' Miners of Northumberland and Durham (Blyth, 1873), chaps, iv. v. vi.; An Earnest A ddress and Urgent Appeal to the People of England in behalf of the Oppressed and Suffering Pitmen of the Counties of Northumberland and Durham (by W. Scott, Newcastle, 1831); History and Description of Fossil Fuel, etc. (by John Holland, 1835), pp. 298-304.


The Builders Union 125

the General Trades Union, as it was sometimes termed. It consisted of the separate organisations of the seven building trades, viz, joiners, masons, bricklayers, plasterers, plumbers, painters, and builders' labourers, and is, so far as we know, the solitary example, prior to the present century, in the history of those trades of a federal union embracing all classes of building operatives, and purporting to extend over the whole country. 1

The Grand Rules of the Builders' Union set forth an elaborate constitution in which it was attempted to com- bine a local and trade autonomy of separate lodges with a centralised authority for defensive and aggressive purposes. The rules inform us that " the object of this society shall be to advance and equalise the price of labour in every branch of the trade we admit into this society." Each lodge shall be " governed by its own password and sign, masons to themselves, and joiners to themselves, and so on; " and it is ordered that " no lodge be opened by any

1 It is not clear whether this scheme was initiated by carpenters or masons. The carpenters and joiners are distinguished among the build- ing trades for the antiquity of their local trade clubs, which are known to have existed in London as far back as 1799. A national organisation was established in London in July 1827, called the Friendly Society of Operative Carpenters and Joiners, which still survives under the title of the " General Union." MS. records in the office of the latter show that this federation had 938 members in 1832, rising to 3691 in 1833, and to 6774 in 1834, a total not paralleled until 1865. This rapid increase marks the general upheaval of these years. But this Society did not throw in its lot with the Builders' Union until 1833. On the other hand, the existing Operative Stonemasons' Friendly Society, which dates its separate existence from 1834, but which certainly existed in some form from 1832, has among its archives what appear to be the original MS. rules and initiation rites of its predecessor, the Builders' Union; and in these documents the masons figure as the foremost members. Moreover, these rules and rites closely resemble those of contemporary unions among the Yorkshire woollen-workers; and an independent tradition fixes the parent lodge of the Masons' Society at the great woollen centre of Hudders- field, whereas the Friendly Society of Carpenters and Joiners, founded in London, had its headquarters at Leicester. But however this may be, the constitution and ceremonies described in these documents owe their significance to the fact that they are nearly identical with those adopted by many of the national Unions of the period, and were largely adopted by the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union of 1834.


126 The Revolutionary Period

other lodge that is not the same trade of that lodge that opens them, that masons open masons, and joiners open joiners, and so on; " moreover, " no other member [is] to visit a lodge that is not the same trade unless he is par- ticularly requested." Each trade had its own bye-laws; but these were subject to the general rules adopted at an annual delegate meeting. This annual conference of the " Grand Lodge Delegates/' better known as the " Builders' Parliament," consisted of one representative of each lodge, and was the supreme legislative authority, altering rules, deciding on general questions of policy, and electing the pre- sident and other officials. The local lodges, though directly represented at the annual meetings, had had apparently little connection in the interim with the seat of govern- ment. The society was divided into geographical dis- tricts, the lodges in each district sending delegates to quarterly district meetings, which elected a grand master, deputy grand master, and corresponding secretary for the district, and decided which should be the " divisional lodge," or district executive centre. These divisional lodges or provincial centres were, according to the rules, to serve in turn as the grand lodge or executive centre for the whole society. Whether the members of the general committee were chosen by the general lodge or by the whole society is not clear; but they formed, with the president and general corresponding secretary, the national execu- tive. The expenses of this executive and of the annual delegate meeting were levied on the whole society, each lodge sending monthly returns of its members and a summary of its finances to the general secretary. The main business of the national executive was to determine the trade policy of the Associations, and to grant or with- hold permission to strike. As no mention is made of friendly benefits, we may conclude that the Builders' Union, like most of the national or general Unions of this militant time, confined itself exclusively to defending its members against their employers.


Trade Union Ritual 127

The operative builders did not rest content with an elaborate constitution and code. There was also a ritual. The Stonemasons' Society has preserved among its records a MS. copy of a " Making Parts Book," ordered to be used by all lodges of the Builders' Union on the admission of members. Under the Combination Laws oaths of secrecy and obedience were customary in the more secret and turbulent Trade Unions, notably that of the Glasgow Cotton-spinners and the Northumberland Miners. The custom survived the repeal; and admission to the Builders' Union involved a lengthy ceremony conducted by the officers of the lodge the " outside and inside tylers," the " warden," the " president," " secretary," and " prin- cipal conductor " and taken part in by the candidates and the members of the lodge. Besides the opening prayer, and religious hymns sung at intervals, these " initiation parts " consisted of questions and responses by the dramatis persona in quaint doggerel, and were brought to a close by the new members taking a solemn oath of loyalty and secrecy. Officers clothed in surplices, inner chambers into which the candidates were admitted blindfolded, a skeleton, drawn sword, battle-axes, and other mystic " properties " enhanced the sensational solemnity of this fantastic performance. 1 Ceremonies of this kind, including

1 A similar ritual is printed in Character, Objects, and Effects of Trades Unions (1834), as used by the Woolcombers' Union. Probably the Builders' Union copied their ritual from some union of woollen- workers. The Stonemasons' MS. contains, like the copy printed in this pamphlet, a solemn reference to " King Edward the Third," who was regarded as the great benefactor of the English wool trade, but whose connection with the building trade is not obvious. In a later printed edition of The Initiating Parts of the Friendly Society of Operative Masons, dated Birming- ham, 1834, his name is omitted, and that of Solomon substituted, ap- parently in memory of the Freemasons' assumed origin at the building of the Temple at Jerusalem.

The actual origin of this initiation ceremony is not certainly known. John Tester, who had been a leader of the Bradford Woolcombers in 1825, afterwards turned against the Unions, and published, in the Leeds Mercury of June and July 1834, a series of letters denouncing the Leeds Clothiers' Union. In these he states that " the mode of initiation was the same as practised for years before by the flannel-weavers of Rochdale, with a party of whom the thing, in the shape it then wore, had at first


128 The Revolutionary Period

what were described to the Home Office as " oaths ef a most execrable nature," 1 were adopted by all the national and general Unions of the time : thus we find items for " washing surplices " appearing in the accounts of various lodges of contemporary societies. Although in the majority of cases the ritual was no doubt as harmless as that of the Freemasons or the Oddfellows, yet the excitement and sensation of the proceedings may have predisposed light- headed fanatical members, in times of industrial conflict, to violent acts in the interest of the Association. At all events, the references to its mock terrors in the capitalist press seem to have effectually scared the governing classes. The first years of the Builders' Union, apparently, were devoted to organisation. During 1832 it rapidly spread through the Lancashire and Midland towns; and at the beginning of the following year a combined attack was made upon the Liverpool employers. The ostensible grievance of the men was the interference of the " con- tractor," who, supplanting the master mason, master carpenter, etc., undertook the management of all building operations. A placard issued by the Liverpool Painters announces that they have joined " the General Union of the Artisans employed in the process of building," in order to put down " that baneful, unjust, and ruinous system j

originated. ... A great part of the ceremony, . . . particularly the death j scene, was taken from the ceremonial of one division of the Oddfellows, | . . . who were flannel-weavers at Rochdale, in Lancashire; and all that j could be well turned from the rules and lectures of one society into the regulations of the others was so turned, with some trifling verbal altera- tions." In another letter he says that the writer of the " lecture book " was one Mark Warde. Tester is not implicitly to be believed, but it seems probable that the regalia, doggerel rhymes, and mystic rites of the unions of this time were copied from. those of an Oddfellows' Lodge, with some recollections of Freemasonry. In his Mutual Thrift (1891), the Rev. J. Frome Wilkinson describes (p. 14) the initiation ceremony of the " Patriotic Oddfellows," a society which merged in the present " Grand United Order of Oddfellows " before the close of the century. The cere- mony so described corresponds in many characteristic details with that of the Trades Unions. All the older friendly society " Orders " imposed an oath, and were consequently unlawful.

1 Home Office Papers, December 29, 1832, 40 31.


Union Demands 129

of monopolising the hard-earned profits of another man's business, called ' contracting.' ' Naturally, the little masters were not friendly to the contracting system; and most of them agreed with the men's demand that its introduction should be resisted. Encouraged by this support, the several branches of the building trade in Liverpool simultaneously sent in identical claims for a uniform rate of wages for each class of operatives, a limi- tation of apprentices, the prohibition of machinery and piecework, and other requirements special to each branch of the trade. These demands were communicated to the employers in letters couched in dictatorial and even insult- ing terms, and were coupled with a claim to be paid wages for any time they might lose by striking to enforce their orders. " We consider," said one of these letters, " that

as you have not treated our rules with that deference you

ought to have done, we consider you highly culpable and deserving of being severely chastised." And " further," says another, " that each and every one in such strike shall be paid by you the sum of four shillings per day for jevery day you refuse to comply." l

1 At Birmingham, when the builders' strike presently extended to jbhat town, the following was the manifesto drawn up for adoption by the (Builders' Union, for presentation to the leading building contractor who fiad just undertaken to erect the new grammar-school. (No record of Its adoption and presentation has been found.) " We, the delegates of the several Lodges of the Building Trades, elected for the purpose of Correcting the abuses which have crept into the modes of undertaking transacting business, do hereby give you notice that you will receive 10 assistance from the workingmen in any of our bodies to enable you to ulfil an engagement which we understand you have entered into with

he Governors of the Free Grammar School to erect a new school in New

itreet, unless you comply with the following conditions :

" Aware that it is our labour alone that can carry into effect what 'ou have undertaken, we cannot but view ourselves as parties to your ngagement, if that engagement is ever fulfilled; and as you had no uthority from us to make such an engagement, nor had you any legiti- nate right to barter our labour at prices fixed by yourself, we call upon 'ou to exhibit to our several bodies your detailed estimates of quantities nd prices at which you have taken the work; and we call upon you to rrange with us a fixed percentage of profit for your own services in jonducting the building, and in finding the material on which our labour to be applied.

"Should we find upon examination that you have fixed equitable

F


130 The Revolutionary Period

This sort of language brought the employers of all classes into line. At a meeting held in June 1833 they decided not only to refuse all the men's demands, but to make a deliberate attempt to extinguish the Union. For this purpose they publicly declared that henceforth no man need apply for work unless he was prepared to sign a formal renunciation of the Trades Union and all its works. The insistence on this formal renunciation, henceforth to be famous in Trade Union records as the " presentation of the document/' exasperated the Builders' Union. The Liverpool demands were repeated in Manchester, where the employers adopted the same tactics as at Liverpool. 1

In the very heat of the battle (September 1833) the Builders' Union held its annual delegate meeting at Man- chester. It lasted six days; cost, it is said, over 3000; and was attended by two hundred and seventy delegates, representing thirty thousand operatives. This session of the " Builders' Parliament " attracted universal attention.! Robert Owen addressed the Conference at great length,! confiding to it his " great secret " " that labour is the source of all wealth," and that wealth can be retained in the hands of the producers by a universal compact amor the productive classes. It was decided, perhaps under influence, to build central offices at Birmingham, whi< should also serve as an educational establishment, design for this " Builders' Gild Hall/' as it was tei was made by Hansom, an architect who, as an enthusiast disciple of Owen, threw himself heartily into the stril

prices which will not only remunerate you for your superintendence us for our toil, we have no objections upon a clear understanding to bec( partners to the contract, and will see you through it, after your entered yourself a member of our body, and after your having been di elected to occupy the office you have assumed " (Robert Owen : A Bi graphy, by Frank Podmore, 1906, vol. ii. p. 442-4).

1 An Impartial Statement of the Proceedings of the Members of the Tn Union Societies, and of the Steps taken in consequence by the Master Trac of Liverpool (Liverpool, 1833); Remarks on the Nature and Pro Termination of the Struggle now existing between the Master and Jow man Builders (Manchester, 1833); Times, June 27, 1833.


The Gild of Builders 131

hat was proceeding also in this town. It included, on

>aper, a lecture-hall and various schoolrooms for the chil- dren of members. The foundation-stone was laid with great ceremony on December 5, 1833, when the Birmingham

rades marched in procession to the site, and enthusiastic

speeches were made. 1

We learn from the Pioneer, or Trades Union Magazine an unstamped penny weekly newspaper published at first at Birmingham, at that time the organ of the Builders' Jnion 2 ), the ardent faith and the vast pretensions of these Slew Unionists. " A union founded on right and just )rinciples," wrote the editor in the first number, " is all rhat is now required to put poverty and the fear of it for ever out of society." " The vaunted power of capital will now be put to the test : we shall soon discover its worthless- ness when deprived of your labour. Labour prolific of wealth Will readily command the purchase of the soil; and at a very early period we shall find the idle possessor compelled to ask of you to release him from his worthless holding." Elaborate plans were propounded for the undertaking of pll the building of the country by a Grand National Gild of Builders : each lodge to elect a foreman; and the foremen ito elect a general superintendent. The disappointment of these high hopes was rude and rapid. The Lancashire societies demurred to the centralisation which had been looted by the delegate meeting in September at the instiga- tion of the Midland societies. Two great strikes at Liver- pool and Manchester ended towards the close of the year

n total failure. The Builders' Gild Hall was abandoned; 3

md the Pioneer moved to London, where it became the brgan of another body, the Grand National Consolidated

I l Pioneer, December 7, 1833; History of Birmingham, by W. Hutton Birmingham, 1835), p. 87.

8 It was edited by James Morrison, an enthusiastic Owenite, who

ied, worn out, in 1835 (Beer's History of British Socialism, 1919, p.

28).


8 It was eventually finished by the landlord, and still exists as a ictal warehouse in Shadwell Street.


132 The Revolutionary Period

J Trades Union, with which the south country and metro- politan branches of the building trade had already pre- ferred to affiliate themselves. Nevertheless the Builders' Union retained its hold upon the northern counties during the early months of 1834, and held another " parliament " at Birmingham in April, at which Scotch and Irish repre- sentatives were present. 1

The aggressive activity and rapid growth of the Builders' Union during 1832-33 had been only a part of a general upheaval in labour organisation. The Cotton- spinners had recovered from the failure of the Ashton strike (1830-31) by the autumn of 1833, when we find Doherty prosecuting with his usual vigour the agitation for an eight hours day which had been set on foot by his Society for National Regeneration. " The plan is," writes J. Fielden (M.P. for Oldham) to William Cobbett, "that about the ist March next, the day the said Bill (now Act)| limits the time of work for children under eleven years of| age to eight hours a day, those above that age, both gro\vn| persons and adults, should insist on eight hours a being the maximum of time for them to labour; and th< present weekly wages for sixty-nine hours a week to be tl minimum weekly wages for forty-eight hours a week aft( that time "; and he proceeds to explain that the Cott< spinners had adopted this idea of securing shorter hoi by a strike rather than by legislation on Lord Althoi suggestion that they should " make a short-time bill fc themselves." 2 Fielden and Robert Owen served, Doherty, on the committee of this society, which inch a few employers. The Lancashire textile trades follow* the lead of the Cotton-spinners, and prepared for a " ui

1 In May 1834 an informer offered to supply the Home Secret with full particulars of its organisation, leading members and the activities, for two sums of ^50 each (Home Office Papers, 40 32).

8 Letters to Cobbett 's Weekly Register, reprinted in the Pioneel December 21, 1833. See also Home Office Papers, 40 32; and trj Crisis for November and December 1833. The Voice of the West Riding an unstamped weekly, June and July 1833, was devoted to this agitaticj in the Yorkshire textile industry (see Home Office Papers, 40 31).


The "Manufacturers Bond" 133

versal " strike. Meanwhile their Yorkshire brethren were [already engaged in an embittered struggle with their employers. The Leeds Clothiers* Union, established about 1831, and apparently one of the constituent societies of the National Association for the Protection of Labour, Ibore a striking resemblance to the Builders' Union, not only in ceremonial and constitution, but also in its policy land history. 1 In the spring of 1833 it made a series of attacks on particular establishments with the double aim ! of forcing all the workers to join the Union and of obtaining a uniform scale of prices. These demands were met with i the usual weapon. The employers entered into what was called " the Manufacturers' Bond," by which they bound ithemselves under penalty to refuse employment to all members of the Union. The men indignantly refused to 'abandon the society; and a lock-out ensued which lasted

some months, and was the occasion of repeated leading

larticles in the Times. 21

The Potters' Union (also established by Doherty in 1830) numbered, in the autumn of 1833, eight thousand (members, of whom six thousand belonged to Staffordshire |and the remainder to the lodges at Newcastle-on-Tyne, Derby, Bristol, and Swinton 3 another instance of the iextraordinary growth of Trade Unions during these years.

How far these and other societies were joined together in any federal body is not clear. The panic-stricken [references in the capitalist press to " the Trades Union," |and the vague mention in working-class newspapers of the Affiliation of particular societies to larger organisations,

1 For an unfavourable account of this Union, see the extremely (biassed statement given in the pamphlet Character, Objects, and Effects of Trades Unions (1834). The employers seem to have regarded all the iemands of the men as equally unreasonable, even the request for a list af piecework prices. See Times, October 2, 1833. A printed address To the Flax and Hemp Trade of Great Britain, issued by the flaxworkers of Leeds, November 30, 1832, refers with admiration to the effectiveness of this Union (Home Office Papers, 40 31; see also 41 n).

2 Times, October 28, 1833. 8 Crisis, October 19, 1833.


134 The Revolutionary Period

lead us to believe that during the year 1833 there was more than one attempt to form a " General Union of All Trades/' The Owenite newspapers, towards the end of 1833, are full of references to the formation of a " General Union of the Productive Classes." What manner of association Owen himself contemplated may be learnt from his speech to the Congress of Owenite Societies in London on the 6th of October. " I will now give you," said he, "a short outline of the great changes which are in contemplation, and which shall come suddenly upon society like a thief in the night. . . It is intended that national arrangements shall be formed to include all the working classes in the great organisation, and that each department shall become acquainted with what is goin on in other departments; that all individual competitior is to cease; that all manufactures are to be carried on National Companies. . . . All trades shall first form A tions of lodges to consist of a convenient number for c ing on the business : ... all individuals of the speci craft shall become members." 1 Immediately after this find in existence a " Grand National Consolidated Tr Union," in the establishment and extraordinary growth which the project of " the Trades Union " may be to have culminated. This organisation seems to ha actually started in January 1834. Owen was its chi recruiter and propagandist. During the next few mont his activity was incessant; and lodges were affiliated over the country. Innumerable local trade clubs w

1 Crisis, October 12, 1833. The history of the General Trades Unic from 1832 to 1834 is mainly to be gathered from the files of the Ch press, the Crisis, the Pioneer, and the Herald of the Rights of Indust with frequent ambiguous references in the Home Office Papers for th< years. The Poor Man's Guardian and the Man also contain occasioi references. The Official Gazette, issued by the Grand National Consc dated Trades Union itself in June 1834, has unfortunately not I preserved. We have also been unable to discover any copy of Glasgow Owenite journals, the Tradesman, Trades Advocate, Libert etc., mostly edited or written by Owen's disciple, Alexander Camj the secretary of the local joiners' Trade Union.


The " Grand National " 135

absorbed. Early in February 1834 a special delegate meeting was held at Owen's London Institute in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, at which it was resolved that the new body should take the form of a federation of separate trade lodges, each lodge to be composed usually of members of one trade, but with provision for " miscel- jlaneous lodges " in places where the numbers were small, land even for " female miscellaneous lodges." Each lodge retained its own funds, levies being made throughout jthe whole order for strike purposes. The Conference urged each lodge to provide sick, funeral, and superannua- tion benefits for its own members; and proposals were adopted to lease land on which to employ "turn-outs," ind to set up co-operative workshops. The initiation rites and solemn oath, common to all the Unions of the period, were apparently adopted.

Nothing in the annals of Unionism in this country at ill approached the rapidity of the growth which ensued. 1 Within a few weeks the Union appears to have been joined py at least half a million members, including tens of thousands of farm labourers and women. This must lave been in great measure due to the fact that, as no jliscoverable regular contribution was exacted for central -.xpenses, the affiliation or absorption of existing organisa- ions was very easy. Still, the extension of new lodges in Deviously unorganised trades and districts was enormous. ~umerous missionary delegates, duly equipped with all ic paraphernalia required for the mystic initiation rites, erambulated the country; and a positive mania for rade Unionism set in. In December 1833 we are told lat " scarcely a branch of trade exists in the West of

1 It is interesting to notice how closely this organisation . resembles, its Trade Union features, the well-known " Knights of Labour " of ie United States, established in 1 869, and for some years one of the most owerful labour organisations in the world (" Historical Sketch of the Anights of Labour," by Carroll D. Wright, Quarterly Journal of Economics, anuary, 1887). Its place was taken by the American Federation of abour, with exclusively Trade Union objects.


136 The Revolutionary Period

Scotland that is not now in a state of Union." 1 The Times reports that two delegates who. went to Hull enrolled in one evening a thousand men of various trades. 2 At Exeter the two delegates were seized by the police, and found to be furnished with " two wooden axes, two large cutlasses, two masks, and two white garments or robes, a large figure of Death with the dart and hourglass, a Bible and Testament." 3 Shop-assistants on the one hand, and journeymen chimney-sweeps on the other, were swept into the vortex. The cabinetmakers of Belfast insisted on joining " the Trades Union, or Friendly Society, which had for its object the unity of all cabinetmakers in the three kingdoms." 4 We hear of " Ploughmen's Unions " as far off as Perthshire, 5 and of a " Shearman's Union " at Dundee. And the then rural character of the Metro-; politan suburbs is quaintly brought home to us by the announcement of a union of the " agricultural and oth( labourers " of Kensington, Walham Green, Fulham, Hammersmith. Nor were the women neglected. " Grand Lodge of Operative Bonnet Makers " vies activity with the miscellaneous " Grand Lodge of tl Women of Great Britain and Ireland "; and the " ] of Female Tailors " asks indignantly whether the " Tailoi Order " is really going to prohibit women from maki] waistcoats. Whether the Grand National Consolidat< Trades Union was responsible for the lodges of " Fem< Gardeners " and " Ancient Virgins," who afterwards tinguished themselves in the riotous demand for an e hours day at Oldham, 6 is not clear.

How the business of this colossal federation was actualh


1 Glasgow Argus, quoted in People's Conservative, December 28,

2 May 5, 1834.

3 Times, January 23 and 30, 1834.

4 Kerr's Exposition of Legislative Tyranny and Defence of the Trc Union (Belfast, 1834), vol. 1611 of the Halliday Tracts in the Royal I] Academy, Dublin; see The Irish Labour Movement, by W. P. Ryan, i<j

6 Poor Man's Guardian, July 26, 1834.

  • Times, April 19, 1834.


The "Derby Turn-outs" 137

managed we do not know. 1 Some kind of executive com- mittee sat in London, with four paid officers. The need for statesmanlike administration was certainly great. The avowed policy of the federation was to inaugurate a general expropriatory strike of all wage -earners throughout the country, not " to condition with the master-producers of wealth and knowledge for some paltry advance in the arti- ficial money price in exchange for their labour, health, liberty, natural enjoyment, and life; but to ensure to every one the best cultivation of all their faculties and the most advantageous exercise of all their powers." But from the very beginning of its career it found itself inces- santly involved in sectional disputes for small advances of wages and reduction of hours. The mere joining of j " the Trades Union " was often made the occasion of the i dismissal by the employers of all those who would not isign the " document " abjuring all combinations. Thus the accession of the Leicester Hosiers in November 1833 led to a disastrous dispute, in which over 1300 men had to be supported. In Glasgow a serious strike broke out among the building trades at a time when the Calico- printers, Engineers, and Cabinetmakers were already struggling with their employers. The most costly conflict, however, which the Grand National found on its hands during the winter was that which raged at Derby, where iifteen hundred men, women, and children had been locked >ut by their employers for refusing to abandon the Union. The " Derby turn-outs " were at first supported, like their el] ow- victims elsewhere, by contributions sent from the trade organisations in various parts of the kingdom; but t soon became evident that without systematic aid they

1 The only record of this organisation known to us is a copy of the ules in the Goldsmiths' Library at the University of London, which e print in the Appendix. A "Memorial from the Grand National onsolidated Trades Union of Great Britain and Ireland to the Producers id Non-Producers of Wealth and Knowledge " is printed in the Crisis, ay 17, 1834; another, "to the Shopmen, Clerks, Porters and other dustrious non-producers," in the issue for April 26, 1834.

F 2


138 The Revolutionary Period

would be compelled to give way. A levy of a shilling per member was accordingly decreed by the Grand National Executive in February 1834. Arrangements were made for obtaining premises and machinery upon which to set a few of the strikers to work on their own account. The struggle ended, after four months, in the complete triumph of the employers, and the return of the operatives to work.

The " Derby turn-out " was widely advertised by the newspapers, and brought much odium on the Grand National. But the denunciation of " the Trades Union " greatly increased when part of London was laid in darkness by a strike of the gas-stokers. The men employed by the different! gas companies in the metropolis had been quietly organising! during the winter, with the intention of simultaneously! withdrawing from work if their demands were not acceded! to. The plot was discovered, and the companies succeeded in replacing their Union workmen by others. But weeks) elapsed before the new hands were able completely to form their work, 1 and early in March 1834 Westminsl was for some days in partial darkness. Amid the storm obloquy caused by these disputes the Grand Natioi suddenly found itself in conflict with the law. The c( viction of six Dorchester labourers in March 1834 for tl mere act of administering an oath, and their sentence seven years' transportation, came like a thunderbolt the Trade Union world.

To understand such a barbarous sentence we mi picture to ourselves the effect on the minds of the Govei ment and the propertied classes of the menacing id* of " the Trades Union," brought home by the aggressn policy of the Unions during the last four years. Al in 1830 the formation of national and General Unions excited the attention of the Government. " When we came into office in November last," writes Lord Melboui the Whig Home Secretary, to Sir Herbert Taylor,

1 See the London newspapers for March 1834; a good summary \ given in the Companion to the Newspaper for that month (p. 71).


Nassau Senior 139

Unions of trades in the North of England and in other parts of the country for the purpose of raising wages, etc., and the General Union for the same purpose, were pointed out to me by Sir Robert Peel [the outgoing Tory Home Secretary] in a conversation I had with him upon the then state of the country, as the most formidable difficulty and danger with which we had to contend; and it struck me as well as the rest of His Majesty's servants in the same light."!

To advise the Cabinet in this difficulty Lord Melbourne called in Nassau Senior, who had just completed his first term of five years as Professor of Political Economy at Oxford, and directed him to prepare, in conjunction with a legal expert named Tomlinson, a report on the situation and a plan of remedial legislation. This document throws light both on the state of mind and on the practical judge- ment of the trusted economist. The two commissioners appear to have made no inquiries among workmen, and to have accepted implicitly every statement, including hearsay gossip, offered by employers. The evidence thus collected naturally led to a very unfavourable conclusion. It pro- duced, as the commissioners recite, " upon our minds the conviction that if the innocent and laborious workman and lis family are to be left without protection against the cowardly ferocity by which he is now assailed; if the manufacturer is to employ his capital and the mechanist or chemist his ingenuity, only under the dictation of his short-sighted and rapacious workmen, or his equally ignorant and avaricious rivals; if a few agitators are to be allowed to command a strike which first paralyses the industry of the peculiar class of workpeople over whom they tyrannise,

1 September 26, 1831 : Lord Melbourne's Papers (1889), ch. v. p. 130. The note he left on leaving the Home Office was as follows : "I take the iberty of recommending the whole of this correspondence re the Union

o the immediate and serious consideration of my successor at the Home

Department " (Home Office Papers, 40 27). See also the statements in

he House of Lords debate, Times, April 29, 1834; and the comments in

Labour Legislation, Labour Movements, and Labour Leaders, by George Howell, 1902, p. 23.


140 The Revolutionary Period

and then extends itself in an increasing circle over the many thousands and tens of thousands to whose labour the assistance of that peculiar class of workpeople is essen- tial; that if all this is to be unpunished, and to be almost sanctioned by the repeal of the laws by which it was formerly punishable; it is in vain to hope that we shall long retain the industry, the skill, or the capital on which our manu- facturing superiority, and with that superiority our power and almost our existence as a nation, depends." They accordingly conclude with a series of astounding proposals for the amendment of the law. The Act of 1825 could not conveniently be openly repealed; but its mischievous results were to be counteracted by drastic legislation,' They recommend that a law should be passed clearly recitingj the common law prohibitions of conspiracy and restraint of trade. The law should go on to forbid, under severe penalties, " all attempts or solicitations, combinations subscriptions, and solicitations to combinations " to threater masters, to persuade blacklegs, or even simply to ask wor men to join the Union. 1 Picketing, however peaceful, to be comprehensively forbidden and ruthlessly punish Employers or their assistants were to be authorised the selves to arrest men without summons or warrant, and h them before any justice of the peace. The encouragem of combinations by masters was to be punished by hea pecuniary penalties, to be recovered by any common inform " This," say the commissioners, " is as much as we sho recommend in the first instance. But if it should be pro that the evil of the combination system cannot be subd at a less price, . . . we must recommend the experiment confiscation," confiscation, that is, of the " funds s scribed for purposes of combination and deposited in Savi Banks or otherwise." 2

1 " We recommend that the soliciting of any person to join in binations, or to subscribe to the like purposes, should be punishable summary conviction by imprisonment for a shorter period, say not ceeding two months."

8 The report was never published, and lies in MS. in the H<


Lord Melbourne 141

The Whig Government dared not submit either the report or the proposals to a House of Commons pledged to the doctrines of Philosophic Radicalism. " We con- sidered much ourselves," writes Lord Melbourne, 1 " and we consulted much with others as to whether the arrange- ments of these unions, their meetings, their communica-

Office library. Ten years later, when Nassau Senior was acting as Commissioner to report on the condition of the handloom weavers, he revived a good deal of his 1830 Report, but not the astonishing proposals quoted in the text. The portion thus revived appears in his Historical and Philosophical Essays (1865), vol. ii. We had placed in our hands, through the kindness of Mrs. Simpson, daughter of Nassau Senior, the original answers and letters upon which his report was based. This correspondence .shows that the leading Man Chester manufacturers were not agreed upon the desirability of re-enact- ing the Combination Laws, though they, with one accord, advocated stringent repression of picketing. Nor were they clear that combinations had, on the whole, hindered the introduction of new machinery, one employer even maintaining that the Unions indirectly promoted its adoption. But the most interesting feature of the correspondence is the extent to which the employers complained of the manner in which their rivals incited, and even subsidised, strikes against attempted reductions of rates. The millowner, whose improved processes gave him an advantage in the market, found any* corresponding reduction of piecework rates resisted, not only by his own operatives, but by all the other manu- facturers in the district, who sometimes went so far as to publish a joint declaration that any such reduction was ' highly inexpedient.' The evidence, in fact, from Nassau Senior's point of view, justified his somewhat remarkable proposal to punish employers for conniving at combinations.

1 Lord Melbourne to Sir Herbert Taylor, September 26, 1831 (Papers, chap. v. p. 131). The workmen's combinations began at this time to attract more serious attention from capable students than they had hitherto received. Two able pamphlets, published anonymously there is reason to believe at the instance and at the cost of the Whig Govern- ment On Combinations of Trades (1830), and Character, Objects, and Effects of Trades Unions (1834), set forth the constitution and proceedings of the new unions, and criticise their pretensions in a manner which has not since been surpassed. The second of these was by Edward Carlton Tufnell, one of the factory commissioners, and remains perhaps the best statement of the case against Trades Unionism. Tufnell also wrote a pamphlet, entitled Trades Unionism and Strikes (1834; i2mo); and Harriet Martineau one On the Tendency of Strikes and Sticks to produce Low Wages (Durham, 1834; lamo), neither of which we have seen. A well-informed but hostile article, founded on these materials, appeared in the Edinburgh Review for July 1834. Charles Knight published in the same year a sixpenny pamphlet, Trades Unions and Strikes (1834, 99 pp.). which took the form of a bitter denunciation of the whole move- ment.




142 The Revolutionary Period

tions, or their pecuniary funds could be reached or in any way prevented by any new legal provisions; but it appeared upon the whole impossible to do anything effectual unless we proposed such measures as would have been a serious infringement upon the constitutional liberties of the country, and to which it would have been impossible to have obtained the consent of Parliament."

The King, however, had been greatly alarmed at the meeting of the " Builders' Parliament," and pressed the Cabinet to take strong measures. 1 Rotch, the member for Knaresborough, gave notice in April 1834 f his intention to bring in a Bill designed to make combinations of trades impossible a measure which would have obtained a large amount of support from the manufacturers. 2 The coal-owners and ship-owners, the ironmasters, had al been pressing the Home Secretary for legislation of this kind.

But although Lord Melbourne's prudent caution saved the Unions from drastic prohibitory Jaws, the Government lost no opportunity of showing its hostility to the work- men's combinations. When in August 1833 the Yorkshire! manufacturers presented a memorial on the subject oi " the Trades Union," Lord Melbourne directed the answer to be returned that " he considers it unnecessary to repeal! the strong opinion entertained by His Majesty's Ministers! of the criminal character and the evil effects of the unic described in the Memorial," adding that " no doubt can entertained that combinations for the purposes enumerate are illegal conspiracies, and liable to be prosecuted as sue at common law." 3 The employers scarcely needed tl hint. Although combination for the sole purpose of fixii hours or wages had ceased to be illegal, it was. possil

1 See his letter of March 30, 1 834, in Lord Melbourne's Papers, chap.

2 Leeds Mercury, April 26, 1834. Joseph Hume said he had had ti " greatest difficulty in prevailing upon the Ministers not to bring in bill for putting down the Trades Unions " (Poor Man's Guardian, A/r ~-' 29, 1834).

  • Letter dated September 3, 1833, in Times, September 9, 1833.


Repression . 143

to prosecute the workmen upon various other pretexts. Sometimes, as in the case of some Lancashire miners in 1832, the Trade Unionists were indicted for illegal combination for merely writing to their employers that a strike would take place. 1 Sometimes the " molestation or obstruction " prohibited in the Act of 1825 was made to include the mere intimation of the men's intention to strike against the employment of non-unionists. In a remarkable case at Wolverhampton in August 1835, four potters were imprisoned for intimidation, solely upon evidence by the employers that they had " advanced their prices in consequence of the interference of the defendants, who acted as plenipotentiaries for the men," without, as was admitted, the use of even the mildest threat. 2 Picket- ing, even of the most peaceful kind, was frequently severely punished under this head, as four Southwark shoemakers found in 1832 to their cost. 3 More generally the men on strike were proceeded against under the laws relating to masters and servants, as in the case of seventeen tanners at Bermondsey in February 1834, who were sentenced to imprisonment for the offence of leaving their work unfinished. 4

With the authorities in this temper, their alarm at the growth of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union may be imagined. A new legal weapon was soon discovered. At the time of the mutiny at the Nore in 1797 an Act had been passed (37 Geo. III. c. 123) severely penalising the administering of an oath by an unlawful society. In 1819, when political sedition was rife, a measure prohibiting unlawful oaths had formed one of the notorious " Six Acts." In neither case were trade combinations aimed at, though

1 R. v. Bykerdike, i Moo. and Rob. 179, Lancaster Assizes, 1832. A letter was written to certain coal -owners, " by order of the Board of Directors for the body of coal-miners," stating that unless certain men were discharged the miners would strike. Held to be an illegal com- bination. See Leeds Mercury, May 24, 1834.

  • Times, August 22, 1835.
  • Poor Man's Guardian, September 29, 1832.
  • limes, February 27, 1834.


144 The Revolutionary Period

Lord Ellenborough, in an isolated prosecution in I802, 1 had held that an oath administered by a committee of journey- men shearmen in Wiltshire came within the terms of the earlier statute. It does not seem to have occurred to any one to put the law in force against Trade Unions until the oath-bound confederacy of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union began to make headway even in the rural villages of the South of England.

The story of the trial and transportation of the Dor- chester labourers is the best-known episode of early Trade Union history. 2 The agricultural labourers of the southern counties, oppressed by the tacit combinations of the farmers and by the operation of the Corn Laws, as well as excep- tionally demoralised by the Old Poor Law, had long been in a state of sullen despair. The specially hard times of 1829 had resulted in outbursts of machine-breaking, rick-burning, and hunger riots, which had been put down in 1830 by the movement of troops through the disturbed districts, and the appointment of a Special Commission of Assize to try over 1000 prisoners, several of whom were hung am hundreds transported. The whole wage-earning populatioi of these rural districts was effectually cowed. 3 Wi1 the improvement of trade a general movement for high(

1 R. v. Marks and others, 3 East Rep. 157.

2 Lengthy accounts appeared in the newspapers for March and Api 1834. The indictment is given in full in the House of Commons Retut No. 250, of 1835 (June ist). The legal report is in 6 C. and P. 596 (R. Loveless and others). The Times reported the judge's charge at soi length, March 18, 1834, and the case itself March 20, 1834, giving rules of the projected union. Ap able article in the Law Magazine, vol pp. 460-72, discusses the law of the case. The defendants subsequentl published two statements for popular circulation, viz. Victims of Whigge a statement of the persecution experienced by the Dorchester Labourers, George Loveless (1837), and A narrative of the sufferings of James Li less, etc. (1838), which are in the British Museum. See also Labour Legii lotion, Labour Movements, and Labour Leaders, by G. Howell, 1902, 62-75 I Spencer Walpole's History of England, vol. iii. chap. xiii. 229-31; and Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, vols. xxii. and xxiii.

8 The student is referred to the admirable account of these prc ings in The Village Labourer, by J. L. and B. Hammond, 1912. See, a contemporary account, Swing Unmasked, or the Cause of Rural It cendiarism, by G. C. Wakefield, M.P., 1831.


The Dorchester Labourers 145

wages seems to have been set on foot. In 1832 we find the Duke of Wellington, as Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire, reporting to Lord Melbourne that more than half the labourers in his county were contributing a penny per week to a network of local societies affiliated, as he thought, to some National Union. " The labourers said that they had received directions from the Union not to take less than ten shillings, and that the Union would stand by them." 1 These societies, whatever may have been their constitution, had apparently the effect of raising wages not only in Hampshire, but also in the neighbouring counties. In the village of Tolpuddle, in Dorsetshire, as George Loveless tells us, an agreement was made between the farmers and the men, in the presence of the village parson, that the wages should be those paid in other districts. This involved a rise to ten shillings a week. In the following year the farmers repented of their decision, and successively reduced wages shilling by shilling until they were paying only seven shillings a week. In this strait the men made inquiries about " the Trades Union," and two delegates from the Grand National visited the village. Upon their information the Lovelesses established " the Friendly Society of Agri- cultural Labourers," having its " Grand Lodge " at Tol- puddle. For this village club the elaborate ritual and code of rules of one of the national orders of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union were adopted. No secrecy seems to have been observed, for John Loveless openly ordered of the village painter a figure of " Death painted six feet high for a society of his own," 2 with which to perform the initiation rites. The farmers took alarm, and induced the local magistrates, on February 21, 1834, to issue placards warning the labourers that any one joining

1 Lord Melbourne's Papers, pp. 147-150, letters dated November 3 and 7, 1832. Lord Melbourne seems to have thought, probably quite incorrectly, that these rural organisations were in connection with the political organisation called the National Union of the Working Classes, founded by William Lovett in 1831, to support the Reform Bill.

8 Times, March 20, 1834.


146 The Revolutionary Period

the Union would be sentenced to seven years' transportation. This was no idle threat. Within three days of the publica- tion of the notice the Lovelesses and four other members were arrested and lodged in gaol.

The trial of these unfortunate labourers was a scandalous perversion of the law. The Lovelesses and their friends seem to have been simple-minded Methodists, two of them being itinerant preachers. No accusation was made, and no evidence preferred against them, of anything worse than the playing with oaths, which, as we have seen, formed a part of . the initiation ceremony of the Grand National and other Unions of the time, with evidently no conscious- ness of their statutory illegality. Not only were they guiltless of any intimidation or outrage, but they had not even struck or presented any application for higher wages. Yet the judge (John Williams), who had only recently been raised to the bench, charged the grand jury on the case at portentous length, as if the prisoners had com- mitted murder or treason, and inflicted on them, after the briefest of trials, the monstrous sentence of seven years' transportation.

The action of the Government shows how eagerly the Home Secretary accepted the blunder of an inexperienced judge as part of his policy of repression. Lord Melbourne expressed his opinion that " the law has in this case been most properly applied "; x and the sentence, far froi exciting criticism in the Whig Cabinet, was carried oul with special celerity. The case was tried on March 1834; before the 30 th the prisoners were in the hulks and by the i5th of the next month Lord Ho wick was able to say in the House of Commons that their ship had already sailed for Botany Bay. 2

The Grand National Consolidated Trades Union prove to have a wider influence than the Government expect(

1 Lord Melbourne's Papers, p. 158.

2 Times, March 18, 20, 31; April I, 16, 19, 1834; Leeds Merci April 26, 1834.


The London Demonstration 147

The whole machinery of the organisation was turned to the preparation of petitions and the holding of public meetings, and a wave of sympathy rallied, for a few weeks, the drooping energies of the members. Cordial relations were established with the five great Unions which remained outside the ranks, for the northern counties were mainly organised by the Builders' Union, the Leeds, Huddersfield and Bradford District Union, the Clothiers' Union, the \j Cotton-spinners' Union, and the Potters' Union, which on this occasion sent delegates to London to assist the executive of the Grand National. The agitation culminated in a monster procession of Trade Unionists to the Home Office to present a petition to Lord Melbourne the first of the great " demonstrations " which have since become a regular part of the machinery of London politics. The proposal to hold this procession had excited the utmost alarm, both in friends and to foes. The Times, with the Parisian events of 1830 still in its memory, wrote leader after leader condemning the project, and Lord Melbourne let it be known that he would refuse to receive any deputation or petition from a procession. Special constables were sworn in, and troops brought into London to prevent a rising. At length the great day arrived (April 21, 1834). Owen and his friends managed the occasion with much skill. In order to avoid interference by the new police, the vacant ground at Copenhagen Fields, on which the processionists assembled, was formally hired from the owner. The trades were regularly marshalled behind thirty-three banners, each man decorated by a red ribbon. At the lead of the procession rode, in full canonicals and the scarlet lood of a Doctor of Divinity, the corpulent " chaplain to

he Metropolitan Trades Unions," Dr. Arthur S. Wade. 1

The demonstration, in point of numbers, was undoubtedly a success. We learn, for instance, that the tailors alone paraded from 5000 to 7000 strong, and the master builders

1 A prominent Owenite agitator of the time, incumbent of St. Nicholas, Varwick, who is said to have been inhibited from preaching by his bishop.


148 The Revolutionary Period

subsequently complained that their works had been entirely suspended through their men's participation. Over a quarter of a million signatures had been obtained to the petition, and, even on the admission of the Times, 30,000 persons took part in the procession, representing a pro- portion of the London of that time equivalent to 100,000 to-day. 1

Meanwhile Radicals of all shades hastened to the rescue. A public meeting was held at the Crown and Anchor Tavern at which Roebuck, Colonel Perronet Thompson, and Daniel O'Connell spoke; and a debate took place in the House of Commons in which the ferocious sentence was strongly attacked by Joseph Hume. 2 But the Government, far from remitting the punishment, refused even to recognise that it was excessive; and the unfortunate labourers were allowed to proceed to their penal exile. 3

The Dorchester conviction had the effect of causing the oath to be ostensibly dropped out of Trade Union ceremonies, although in particular trades and districts

1 Times, April 22; Companion to the Newspaper, May and June 1834. Trade Union accounts declare that 100,000 to 200,000 persons were present. A detailed description of the day is given in Somerville's A utobiography of a Working Man (1848), not usually a trustworthy work.

  • Times, April 19, 1834.

8 The agitation for their release was kept up, both in and out Parliament, by the " London Dorchester Committee "; and in 1836 remainder of the sentence was remitted. Through official blundering i1 was two years later (April 1838) before five out of the six prisoners turned home. The sixth, as we learn from a circular of the Committ dated August 20, 1838, had even then not arrived. " Great and lastii honour," writes a well-informed contemporary, " is due to this body workmen (the London Dorchester Committee), about sixteen in numl by whose indefatigable exertions, extending over a period of five year and the valuable assistance of Thomas Wakley, M.P. for Finsbury, same Government who banished the men were compelled to pard( them and bring them home free of expense. From the subscriptio] raised by the working classes during this period, amounting to aboi ^1300, the Committee, on the return of the men, were enabled to pi five of them, with their families, in small farms in Essex, the sixth pt ferring (with his share of the fund) to return to his native place." (Ai in the British Statesman, April 9, 1842, preserved in Place MSS. 2y8 320.) See also House of Commons Return, No. 191 of 1837 (April 12): and Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, vol. xxxii. p. 253.


The Tailors Strike 149

it lingered a few years longer. 1 At their " parliament " in April 1834 t ne Builders' Union formally abolished the oath. The Grand National quickly adopted the same course; and the Leeds and other Unions followed suit. But the judge's sentence was of no avail to check the aggressive policy of the Unions. Immediately after the excitement of the procession had subsided, one of the most important branches of the Grand National precipitated a serious conflict with its employers. The London tailors, hitherto divided among themselves, formed in December 1833 the " First Grand Lodge of Operative Tailors/' and resolved to demand a shortening of the hours of labour. The state of mind of the men is significantly shown by the language of their peremptory notice to the masters. " In order," they write, " to stay the ruinous effects which a destructive commercial competition has so long been inflicting on the trade, they have resolved to introduce certain new regulations of labour into the trade, which regu- lations they intend shall come into force on Monday next." A general strike ensued, in which 20,000 persons are said to have been thrown out of work, the whole burden of their maintenance being cast on the Grand National funds. A levy of eighteenpence per member throughout the country was made in May 1834, which caused some dissatisfaction; and the proceeds were insufficient to prevent the tailors' strike pay falling to four shillings a week. The result was

1 The series of " Initiation Parts," or forms to be observed on admis- sion of new members, which are preserved in the archives of the Stone- masons' Society, reveal the steady tendency to simplification of ritual. We have first the old MS. doggerel already described, dating probably from 1832. The first print of 1834, whilst retaining a good deal of the cere- monial, turns the liturgy into prose and the oath into an almost identical " declaration," invoking the " dire displeasure " of the Society in case of treachery. The second print, which bears no date, is much shorter; and the declaration becomes a mere affirmation of adhesion. The Society's circulars of 1838 record the abolition, by vote of the members, of all initiation ceremonies, in view of the Parliamentary Inquiry about to be held into Trade Unionism. But even the simplified form of 1838 retains, in its reference to the workmen as " the real producers of all wealth," an unmistakable trace of the Owenite spirit of the Builders' Union of 1832.


150 The Revolutionary Period

that the men gradually returned to work on the employers' terms. 1

These disasters, together with innumerable smaller strikes in various parts, all of which were unsuccessful, shook the credit of the Grand National. The executive attempted in vain to stem the torrent of strikes by publish- ing a " Declaration of the Views and Objects of Trades Unions," in which they deprecated disputes and advocated what would now be called Co-operative Production by Associations of Producers. 2 They gave effect to this declaration by refusing to sanction the London shoemakers' demand for increased wages, on the ground that a conflict so soon after the tailors' defeat was inopportune. The result was merely that a general meeting of the London shoemakers voted, by 782 to 506, for secession from the federation, and struck on their own account. 3

An even more serious blow was the lock-out of the London building trades in July 1834. These trades in London had joined the Grand Consolidated rather than the Builders' Union; and in the summer of 1834 an act of petty tyranny on the part of a single firm brought about a general conflict. The workmen employed by Messi Cubitt had resolved not to drink any beer supplied b] Combe, Delafield & Co., in retaliation for the refusal that firm to employ Trade Unionists. Messrs. Cubil thereupon refused to allow any other beer to be drui on their premises, and locked out their workmen, employers throughout London, angered by the Union' resistance to sub-contract and piecework, embraced tl opportunity to insist that all their employees should the hated " document." The heads of the Governmei

1 Times, April 30 to June 10; House of Lords debate, April 28, Globe, May 21, 1834; Home Office Papers, May 10, 1834, 40 32; Tl Tailoring Trade, by F. W. Galton, 1896.

2 Leeds Mercury, May 3, 1834.

3 See the address of the " Grand Master " to the " Operative wainers of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union," June 28, 1834; also Times, May 2, 1834; Home Office Papers, 40 32.


The Builders' Strike 151

departments in which building operatives were employed placed themselves in line with private employers by making the same demands, 1 The struggle dragged on until November 1834, when the document seems to have been tacitly withdrawn, and the men returned to work, accepting the employers' terms on the other points at issue. 2 We learn from the correspondence of the Stonemasons' Society that this defeat for such it virtually was completely broke up the organisation in the London building trade. What was happening to the Builders' Union during these months is not clear. The federal organisation apparently broke up at about this time; and the several trades fell back upon their local clubs and national societies.

Whilst the London builders were thus engaged, similar struggles were going on in the other leading industries At Leeds, for instance, in May 1834 the masters were again presenting the " document "; and the men, after much resistance and angry denunciation, were compelled to abandon the Clothiers' Union. The Cotton-spinners, whom we left preparing to carry out Fielden's idea of a general strike for an eight hours day with undiminished wages for all cotton operatives, resolved to demand the reduction of hours from the 1st of March 1834, the day appointed for the operation of the new Factory Act of 1833 limiting the hours of children to eight per day. The operatives in many mills sent in notices, which were simply ignored by the employers. In this they seem to have estimated the weakness of the men correctly; for the expected general strike was deferred by a delegate meeting until the 2nd of June. That date found the men still un- prepared for action, and the strike was further postponed until the ist of September. After that we hear no more of it.

The Oldham operatives did indeed in April 1834


1 Times, August 21, 1834.

z Statement of the Master Builders of the Metropolis in explanation oj the differences between them and the workmen respecting the Trades Unions, 1834. See also Times, July 27 to November 29, 1834.


152 The Revolutionary Period

an unpremeditated attempt to secure eight hours. It hap- pened that the local constables broke up a Trade Union meeting. A rescue took place, followed by an attack on an obnoxious mill, and the shooting of one of the rioters by a " Knobstick." The affray provoked the Oldham working class into a spasm of insurrection. The workers in all trades, both male and female, ceased work, and held huge meetings on the Moor, where they were addressed by Doherty and others from Manchester, and demanded the eight hours day. Within a week the excitement subsided, and work was resumed. 1

By the end of the summer it was obvious that the ambitious projects of the Grand National Consolidated and other " Trades Unions " had ended in invariable and complete failure. In spite of the rising prosperity of trade, the strikes for better conditions of labour had been uni- formly unsuccessful. In July 1834 the federal organisa- tions all over the country were breaking up. The great association of half a million members had been completely routed by the employers' vigorous presentation of tl " document." Of the actual dissolution of the organisatioi we have no contemporary record, but the impression whic it made on the more sober Trade Unionists may be gathers from the following description, which appeared in a working class journal seven years afterwards. "We were present,' says the editor of the Trades Journal, " at many of tl meetings of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Unioi and have a distinct recollection of the excitement that pre vailed in them of the apparent determination to cai out its principles in opposition to every obstacle of tl enthusiasm exhibited by some of the speakers of tl noisy approbation of the meeting the loud cries of ' h( hear,' ' bravo/ ' hurra,' ' union for ever/ etc. It was

1 The Times honoured these events by long descriptive reports fn its " own correspondent," then an unusual practice; see the issues fn April 17 to 25, 1834. A good account is also to be found in the Let Mercury, April 19 and 26, 1834; see also the History of the Mar en Family (1889), pp. 1036.


The Collapse 153

opinion of many at that time that little real benefit would be effected by this union, as their proceedings were indicative, not of a calm and dispassionate investigation of the causes of existing evils, but of an over-excited state of mind which would speedily evaporate, and leave them in the same condition as before. The event proved that this opinion was not ill-founded. A little mole-hill obstructed their onward progress; and rather than commence the labour of removing so puny an obstacle, they chose to turn back, each taking his own path, regardless of the safety or the interests of his neighbour. It was painful to see the deep mortification of the generals and leaders of this quickly inflated army, when left deserted and alone upon the field." l

A period of general apathy in the Trade Union world ensued. The " London Dorchester Committee " continued with indomitable perseverance to collect subscriptions and present petitions for the return of the six exiled labourers; but " the Trades Union," together with the ideal from which it sprang, vanished in, discredit. The hundreds of thousands of recruits from the new industries or unskilled occupations rapidly reverted to a state of disorganisation. The national " orders " of Tailors and Shoemakers, the extended organisations of Cotton-spinners and Woollen- workers, split up into fragmentary societies. Throughout the country the organised constituents of the Grand National fell back upon their local trade clubs.

The records of the rise and fall of the " New Unionism " of 1830-4 leave us conscious' of a vast enlargement in the ideas of the workers, without any corresponding alteration in their tactics in the field. In council they are idealists, dreaming of a new heaven and a new earth; humanitarians, educationalists, socialists, moralists : in battle they are still the struggling, half -emancipated serfs of 1825, armed only with the rude weapons of the strike and boycott; some-

1 Trades Journal, March i, 1841; probably written by Alexander Hutchinson, general secretary of the Friendly United Smiths of Great Britain and Ireland.


154 The Revolutionary Period

times feared and hated by the propertied classes; sometimes merely despised; always oppressed, and miserably poor. We find, too, that they are actually less successful with the old weapons now that they wield them with new and wider ideas. They get beaten in a rising market instead of, as hitherto, only in a falling one. And we shall soon see that they did not recover their lost advantage until they again con- centrated their efforts on narrower and more manageable aims. But we have first to inquire how they came by the new ideas. j> In the bad times which followed the peace of 1815 the writings of Cobbett had attained an extraordinary influence and authority over the whole of that generation of working men. His trenchant denunciation of the governing classes, and his incessant appeals to the wage-earners to assert their right to the whole administration of affairs, were inspired by the political tyranny of the anti- Jacobin reaction, the high prices and heavy taxes, and the apparent creation by| " the Funding System " of an upstart class of non-producers living on the interest of the.Jiuge debt contracted by the nation during the war evils the least of which was enough to stimulate an eager politician like Cobbett to the utm< exercise of his unrivalled power of invective. But tl working classes were suffering, in addition, from a calamil which no mere politician of that time grasped, in the effe( of the new machine and factory industry, which was blin< crushing out the old methods by the mere brute force competition instead of replacing it, with due order adjustment to the human interests involved. This phenc menon was beyond the comprehension of its victims, of them knew what was happening to himself as an indi) dual; but only one man a manufacturer seems to hai understood what was happening to the entire industry the country. This man was Robert Owen. To hi] therefore, political Democracy, which was all-in-all Cobbett and his readers, appeared quite secondary industrial Democracy, or the co-operative ownership ai control of industry answerable to the economic co-operatic


The Disillusionment 155

in all industrial processes which had been brought about by machinery and factory organisation, and which had removed manufacture irrevocably from the separate fire- sides of independent individual producers. With Cobbett and his followers the first thing to be done was to pass a great Reform Bill, behind which, in their minds, lay only a vague conception of social change. Owen and his more enthusiastic disciples, on the other hand, were persuaded that a universal voluntary association of workers for pro- ductive purposes on his principles would render the political organisation of society of comparatively trivial account.

The disillusionment of the newly emancipated Trade Clubs in the collapse of 1825 left the working-class organisa- tions prepared for these wider gospels. Social reform was in the air. " Concerning the misery and degradation of the bulk of the people of England," writes a contemporary

| observer, " men of every order, as well as every party, unite and speak continually; farmers, parish officers, clergymen, magistrates, judges on the l?ench, members on either side

1 of both Houses of Parliament, the King in his addresses to the nation, moralists, statesmen, philosophers; and finally the poor creatures themselves, whose complaints are loud and incessant/' x Cobbett and the Reformers had the first turn. The chief political organisation of the working classes during the Reform Bill agitation began as a trade club. In 1831 a few carpenters met at their house of call in Argyle Street, Oxford Street, to form a " Metro- politan Trades Union," which was to include all trades, and to undertake, besides its Trade Union functions, a vague scheme of co-operative production and a political agitation for the franchise. 2 But under the influence of

1 England and America : a Comparison of the Social and Political State of both Nations, 1833, 2 vols.

2 Poor Man's Guardian, March 12, 1831; Place MSS. 27791 246,

" There were seven Co-operative Congresses in the years 1830-5 in which the Trade Union and Labour Exchange elements were prominent " (Prof. Foxwell's Introduction to The Right to the Full Produce of Labour, by Anton Menger. 1899).


156 The Revolutionary Period

William Lovett the last object soon thrust aside all the rest. The purely Trade Union aims were dropped; the Owenite aspirations sank into the background; and under / the title of the " National Union of the Working Classes " the humble carpenters' society expanded into a national organisation for obtaining Manhood Suffrage. As such it occupies, during the political turmoil of 1831-2, by far the largest place in the history of working-class organisation, and was largely implicated in the agitation and disturbances connected with the Reform Bill. 1

The Reform Bill came and passed, but no Manhood Suffrage. The effect of this disappointment at the hands of the most advanced political party in the country is thus described by Francis Place, now become an outside observer of the Trade Union Movement. " The year (1833) ended leaving the (National) Union (of the Working Classes) in a state of much depression. The nonsensical doctrines preached by Robert Owen and others respecting communi- ties and goods in common; abundance of everything man ought to desire, and all for four hours' labour out of every twenty-four; the right of every man to his share of the earth in common, and his right to whatever his hands had been employed upon; the power of masters under the 1 present system to give just what wages they pleased; tl right of the labourer to such wages as would maintain hi] and his in comfort for eight or ten hours' labour; the rigl of every man who was unemployed to employment and such an amount of wages as have been indicated- other matters of a similar kind which were contim inculcated by the working men's political unions, by m; small knots of persons, printed in small pamphlets handbills which were sold twelve for a penny and distribut< to a great extent had pushed politics aside . . . amoi the working people. These pamphlets were written alm< wholly by men of talent and of some standing in the worl

1 See the volumes of the Poor Man's Guardian, preserved in British Museum.


The Owenite Ideas 157

professional men, gentlemen, manufacturers, tradesmen, and men called literary. The consequence was that a very large proportion of the working people in England and Scotland became persuaded that they had only to combine, as it was concluded they might easily do, to compel not only a con- siderable advance in wages all round, but employment for every one, man and woman, who needed it, at short hours. This notion induced them to form themselves into Trades Unions in a manner and to an extent never before known." * This jumble of ordinary Trade Union aims and com- munist aspirations, described from the hostile point of view of a fanatical Malthusian and staunch believer in the " Wage Fund," probably fairly represents the character of the Owenite propaganda. It made an ineradicable impression on the working-class leaders of that generation, and inspired the great surge of solidarity which rendered possible the gigantic enlistments of the Grand National, with its unprecedented regiments of agricultural labourers and women. Its enlargement of consciousness of the working class was no doubt a good in itself which no mistakes u in practical policy could wholly cancel. 2 But Owen did

1 Place MSS. 27797 290; see a similar account in the Life of William Lovett, by himself, p. 86. James Mill writes to Lord Brougham on Sep- tember-3, 1832, as follows : " Nothing can be conceived more mischievous than the doctrines which have been preached to the common people. . . . The nonsense to which your lordship alludes about the right of the labourer to the whole produce of the country, wages, profits, and rent all included, is the mad nonsense of our friend Hodgskin, which he has published as a system, and propagates with the zeal of perfect fanaticism. . . . The illicit cheap publications, in which the doctrine of the right of the labouring people, who they say are the only producers, to all that is produced, is very generally preached, ... are superseding the Sunday newspapers and every other channel through which the people might get better information" (Bain's James Mitt, p. 363, 1882). The series of Socialist authors of these years, usually ignored, have been well described by Prof. Foxwell in his Introduction to the English translation of Menger's Right to the Whole Produce of Labour, 1899; and more fully and philosophic- ally in M. Beer's History of British Socialism, 1919, vol. i.

"Owen's chief merit was that he filled the working classes with renewed hope at a time when the pessimism, both of orthodox economists and of their unorthodox opponents, had condemned labour to be an appendage of machinery, a mere commodity whose value, like that of ' all commodities, was determined by the bare cost of keeping up the


158 The Revolutionary Period

mischief as well as good; and as both the evil and the good live after him for nothing that Owen did can yet be said to be interred with his bones it is necessary to examine his Trade Union doctrine in some detail. He was at his best when, as the experienced captain of industry, he denounced with fervent emphasis that lowering of the Standard of Life which was the result of the creed of uni- versal competition. It was to combat this that he advocated Factory Legislation, and promoted combinations "to fix a maximum time and a minimum wages "; and it was by thus attempting to secure the workers' Standard of Life by legislation and Trade Union action that he gained the influential support, not only of philanthropists, but also of certain high-minded manufacturers, with whose aid he formed in December 1833 the " Society for National Regeneration," 1 to which we have already referred. Thej most definite proposal of this society, the shortening of thej hoars of labour to eight per day, was what led to th< suggestion of Fielden's on which the Lancashire cott( operatives acted in their abortive general strike for an eigl hours day. It also produced the long series of " Shoi Time Committees " in the textile towns whose persiste agitation eventually secured the passing of the Ten Hoi Bill, itself only an instalment of our great Factory History has emphatically justified Owen on this side of labour policy.

But there was a Utopian side to it which acted moi


necessary supply. Owen laid stress upon the human side of economic The object of industry was to produce happier and more contented and women " (The Chartist Movement, by Mark Hovell, 1918, p. 45).

1 The prospectus of this Society is in the British Library of Politic Science at the London School of Economics. A copy is given in Morning Chronicle, December 7, 1833. Its Manchester meetings reported in the Crisis for November and December 1833. It seems have had for its organ a penny weekly called The Herald of the Rights Industry, some numbers of which are in the British Museum. Profes Foxwell has kindly drawn our attention to a further reference to it in Life of James Deacon Hume, p. 55. It excited the curiosity of the Hoi Secretary. See Home Office Papers, 40 31.


Impracticable Ideals 159

questionably. The working-class world became, under his influence, inflated with a premature conception and committed to an impracticable working scheme of social organisation. He proved himself an able thinker and seer when he pointed out that the horrible poverty of the time was a new economic phenomenon, the inevitable result of unfettered competition and irresponsible individual ownership of the means of production now that those means had become enormously expensive and yet compact enough to employ hundreds of men under the orders of a few, besides being so prodigiously efficient as to drive the older methods quite out of the market. But from the point of view of the practical statesman, it must be confessed that he also showed himself something of a simpleton in supposing, or at least assuming, that competition could be abolished and ownership socialised by organising voluntary associations to supersede both the millowners and the State. He had tried the experiment in America with the famous community of New Harmony, and its failure had for the time thoroughly disgusted him with communities. But his disgust was not disillusion, for its only practical effect was I to set him to repeat the experiment with the Trade Unions. Under his teaching the Trade Unionists came to believe that it was possible, by a universal non-political compact of the wage-earners, apparently through a universal expropriatory strike, to raise wages and shorten the hours of labour " to an extent," as Place puts it, " which, at no very distant time, would give them the whole proceeds of their labour." The function of the brain-worker as the director of industry was disregarded, possibly because in the cotton industry (in which Owen had made a fortune) it plays but an insigni- ficant part in the actual productive processes, and is mainly concerned with that pursuit of cheap markets to buy in and dear markets to sell in which formed no part of the Utopian commonwealth at which " the Trades Union " aimed. The existing capitalists and managers were there- fore considered as usurpers to be as soon as possible super-




160 The Revolutionary Period

seded by the elected representatives of" voluntary and sectional associations of producers, in which it seems to have been assumed all the brain-working technicians would be included. The modern Socialist proposal to substitute the officials of the Municipality or State was unthinkable at a period when all local governing bodies were notoriously inefficient and corrupt and Parliament practically an oligarchy. Under the system proposed by Owen the instruments of production were to become the property, not of the whole community, but of the particular set of workers who used them. " There is no other alternative," he said, " than National Companies 'for each trade. . . . Thus all those trades which relate to clothing shall form a company such as tailors, shoemakers, hatters, milliners, and mantua-makers; and all the different manufacturers [i.e. operatives] shall be arranged in a similar way; com- munications shall pass from the various departments to the Grand National establishment in London." In fact, the Trade Unions were to be transformed into " national companies " to carry on all the manufactures. 1 The Agri- cultural Union was to take possession of the land, t Miners' Union of the mines, the Textile Unions of the f; tories. Each trade was to be carried on by its particu Trade Union, centralised in one " Grand Lodge."

Of all Owen's attempts to reduce his Socialism practice this was certainly the very worst. For his sho lived communities there was at least this excuse : th within their own area they were to be perfectly horn geneous little Communist States. There were to be conflicting sections; and profit-making and competiti were to be effectually eliminated. But in " the Trad Union," as he conceived it, the mere combination of all workmen in a trade as co-operative producers no mo: abolished commercial competition than a combination

1 See Owen's elaborate speech, reported in the Crisis, October i: 1833; Robert Owen : a Biography, by Frank Podmore, 1906; and Tt Unionism, by C. M. Lloyd, 1915.


" National Companies" 161

all the employers in it as a Joint Stock Company. In effect his Grand Lodges would have been simply the head offices of huge Joint Stock Companies owning the entire means of production in their industry, and subject to no control by the community as a whole. They would therefore have been in a position at any moment to close their ranks and admit fresh generations of workers only as employees at competitive wages instead of as shareholders, thus creating at one stroke a new capitalist class and a new proletariat. Further, the improvident shareholders would soon have begun to sell their shares in order to spend their capital, and thus to drop with their children into the new proletariat; whilst the enterprising and capable shareholders would equally have sold their shares to buy into other and momen- tarily more profitable trades. Thus there would have been not only a capitalist class and proletariat, but a speculative stock market. Finally there would have come a competi- tive struggle between the Joint Stock Unions to supplant one another in the various departments of industry. Thus the shipwrights, making wooden ships, would have found the boilermakers competing for their business by making iron ships, and would have had either to succumb or to trans- form their wooden ship capital into iron ship capital and pnter into competition with the boilermakers as commercial idvals in the same trade. This difficulty was staring Owen .n the face when he entered the Trade Union Movement; or the trades, then as now, were in continual perplexity s to the exact boundaries between them; for example, tie minute-books of the newly formed Joiners' Society in Glasgow (whose secretary was a leading Owenite) show tiat its great difficulty was the demarcation of its trade gainst the cabinetmaker and the engineer-patternmaker, ach of whom claimed certain technical operations as proper o himself alone. In short, the Socialism of Owen led him o propose a practical scheme which was not even socialistic, nd which, if it could possibly have been carried out, would ave simply arbitrarily redistributed the capital of the

, G


162 The Revolutionary Period

country without altering or superseding the capitalist system in the least.

All this will be so obvious to those who comprehend our capitalist system that they will have some difficulty in believing that it could have escaped so clever a man and so experienced and successful a capitalist as Owen. How far he made it a rule to deliberately shut his eyes to the difficulties that met him, from a burning conviction that any change was better than leaving matters entirely alone, cannot even be guessed; but it is quite certain that he acted in perfect good faith, simply not knowing thoroughly what he was about. He had a boundless belief in the power of education to form character; and if any scheme promised just sufficient respite from poverty and degradation to enable him and his disciples to educate one generation of| the country's children, he was ready to leave all economic consequences to be dealt with by " the New Moral World " which that generation's Owenite schooling would have created. Doubtless he thought that " the Trades Union" promised him this much; and besides, he did not foresee its economic consequences. He was disabled by thatj confident sciolism and prejudice which has led generations of Socialists to borrow from Adam Smith and the " classic economists the erroneous theory that labour is by it the creator of value, without going on to master impregnable and more difficult law of economic rent - is the very corner-stone of collectivist economy. He t his economics from his friend William Thompson, 1 who, Hodgskin and Hodgskin's illustrious disciple, Karl ignored the law of rent in his calculations, and taught all exchange values could be measured in terms of " la

1 Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth most ducive to Human Happiness, by William Thompson, 1824; also his La Rewarded, the Claims of Labour and Capital; How to secure to Labour whole Product of its Exertions, by One of the Idle Classes, 1827; see ~ fessor Fox-well's Introduction to The Right to the whole Produce of Lai by Anton Menger, 1899; History of British Socialism, by M. Beer, 19] vol. i.; and The Irish Labour Movement, by W. P. Ryan, 1919, ch. iii.


The Nature of Value 163

ime" alone. Part of the Owenite activity of the time

ictually resulted in the opening of labour bazaars, in which

he prices were fixed in minutes. The fact that it is the

onsumer's demand which gives to the product of labour

my exchange- value at all, and that the extent and elasticity

>f this demand determines how much has to be produced;

tnd the other governing consideration, namely, that the

expenditure of labour required to bring articles of the same

lesirability to market varies enormously according to

latural differences in fertility of soil, distance to be traversed,

>roximity to good highways, waterways, or ports, accessi-

>ility of water-power or steam fuel, and a hundred other

ircumstances, including the organising ability and execu-

ive dexterity of the producer, found themselves left entirely

>ut of account. Owen assumed that the labour of the miner

ind that of the agricultural labourer, whatever the amount

Ind nature of the product of each of them, would spontan-

ously and continuously exchange with each other equitably

t par of hours and minutes when the miners had received a

lonopoly of the bowels of the country, and the agricultural

jibourers of its skin. He did not even foresee that the

ners' Union might be inclined to close its ranks against

wcomers from the farm labourers, or that the Agricultural

lion might refuse to cede sites for the Builders' Union to

rk upon. In short, the difficult economic problem of

e equitable sharing of the advantages of superior sites

d opportunities never so much as occurred to the en-

usiastic Owenite economists of this period.

One question, and that the most immediately important

all, was never seriously faced : How was the transfer

the industries from the capitalists to the Unions to be

ected in the teeth of a hostile and well-armed Govern-

ent? The answer must have been that the overwhelming

mbers of " the Trades Union " would render conflict

possible. His enthusiastic disciple, William Benbow, suc-

5sively a shoemaker, bookseller, and coffee-house keeper,

rented the instrument of the General Strike a sacred


164 The Revolutionary Period

" holiday month " prepared for and participated in by th< entire wage-earning class, the mere " passive resistance " o: which would, without violence or conflict, bring down al existing institutions. Whether this was in Owen's mine in 1834, as it was in 1839, avowedly in those of th< Chartists, is uncertain. 1 At all events, Owen, like the earlj Christians, habitually spoke as if the Day of Judgment o: the existing order of society was at hand. The next sb months, in his view, were always going to see the " Nev Moral World " really established. The change from th< capitalist system to a complete organisation of industn under voluntary associations of producers was to " com- suddenly upon society like a thief in the night." " On! year," comments his disciple, " may disorganise the whol fabric of the old world, and transfer, by a sudden spring the whole political government of the country from th master to the servant." 2 It is impossible not to regre that the first introduction of the English Trade Unionist t Socialism should have been effected by a foredoomed sche which violated every economic principle of Collecti and left the indispensable political preliminaries to pui chance.

It was under the influence of these large plans confident hopes that the Trade Unions were embolden adopt the haughty attitude and contemptuous towards the masters which provoked Manchester Liverpool employers to meet the challenge of the Buil Union by " the Document." The " intolerable tyr of the Unions, so much harped on by contemporary wri represents, to a large extent, nothing more than the ra

1 The pamphlet, entitled The Grand National Holiday and Cc the Productive Classes, by William Benbow, 1831, had an extensive lation. Mark Hovell (The Chartist Movement, 1918, p. 91) thinks he the same William Benbow whom Bamford mentions as a delegate Manchester in 1817 (Life of a Radical, p. 8), and whom Henry describes as of the Manchester Hampden Club, and as having been! ported by a Government spy to be manufacturing pikes in 1816 Green Bag Plot, 1918).

a Leading article in the Crisis, October 12, 1833.


Why the Unions were Insolent 165

bumptious expression of the Trade Unionists' feeling that they were the rightful directors of industry, entitled to choose the processes, and select their fellow-workers, and even their managers and foremen. And it must be remembered that this occurred at a period when class prejudice was so strong that any attempt at a parley made by the workers, however respectfully, was regarded as presumptuous and unbecoming. Hence the working class had always too much reason to believe that civility on their part would be thrown away. It is certain that during the Owenite intoxication the impracticable expectations of national dominion on the part of the wage-earners were met with an equally unreason- able determination by the governing classes to keep the working men in a state not merely of subjection, but of [abject submission. The continued exclusion of the work- |men from the franchise made constitutional action on their | side impossible. The employers, on the other hand, used I their political and magisterial power against the men Iwithout scruple, inciting a willing Government to attack ithe workmen's combinations by every possible perversion jof the law, and partiality in its administration. Regarding 'absolute control over the conduct of their workpeople as a \sine qua non of industrial organisation, even the genuine philanthropists among them insisted on despotic authority n the factory or workshop. Against the abuse of this authority there was practically no guarantee. On the ther side it can be shown that large sections of the wage- earners were not only moderate in their demands, but submissive in their behaviour. As a rule, wherever we find exceptional aggression and violence on the part of the peratives, we discover exceptional tyranny on the side of

he employers. To give an example or two, the continual

mtrages which disgrace the annals of Glasgow Trade Union- sm for the first forty years of this century are accounted or by the reports of the various Parliamentary Inquiries vhich mark out the Glasgow millowners as extraordinarily lutocratic in their views and tyrannous in their conduct.


i66 The Revolutionary Period

Again, the aggressive conduct of certain sections of the building trades is frequently complained of in the capitalist press between 1830-40. But the agreements which the large contractors of that time required " all those to sign who enter into their employ," printed copies of which are still extant, show that the demands of the employers were intolerably arbitrary. 1 Then there is the case of the miners of Great Britain, who were in very ill repute for riotous proceedings from 1837-44. The provocation they received may be judged from a manifesto issued by Lord London- derry in his dual capacity as mine-owner and Lord-Lieu- tenant of Durham County during the great strike of the miners in 1844 for fairer terms of hiring. He not only superintends, as Lord-Lieutenant, the wholesale eviction o: the strikers from their homes, and their supersession by Irishmen specially imported from his Irish estates, but he peremptorily orders the resident traders in " his town oi Seaham," on pain of forfeiting his custom and protection to refuse to supply provisions to the workmen engaged hi what he deems " an unjust and senseless warfare agains\ their proprietors and masters." 2 The same intolerance)

1 A specimen dated 1837 is preserved by the Stonemasons' Society according to which a Liverpool contractor bound all his employees t< serve him at a fixed wage for a long term of years, any time lost by sick| ness or otherwise not to be paid for and to be added to the term; al " lawful commands " to be obeyed; and no present or future club o: other society to be joined without the employer's consent.

2 See his manifestoes reprinted in Northern Star, July 6 and July 1844. " Lord Londonderry again warns all the shopkeepers and ti men in his town of Seaham that if they still give credit to pitmen hold off work, and continue in the Union, such men will be marked his agents and overmen, and will never be employed in his collieries again and the shopkeepers may be assured that they will never have any custon; or dealings with them from Lord Londonderry's large concerns that hi can in any manner prevent.

" Lord Londonderry further informs the traders and shopkeej that having by his measures increased very largely the last year's to Seaham, and if credit is so improperly and so fatally given to unreasonable pitmen, thereby prolonging the injurious strike, it is firm determination to carry back all the outlay of his concerns even Newcastle.

" Because it is neither fair, just, or equitable that the resident in his own town should combine and assist the infatuated workmen


The Close of Owenism 167

marks the magazines and journals of the dominant classes of the period. It seems to have been habitually taken for granted that the workman had not merely to fulfil his contract of service, but to yield implicit obedience in the details of his working life to the will of his master. Com- binations and strikes on the part of the " lower orders " were regarded as futile and disorderly attempts to escape from their natural position of social subservience. In short, the majority of employers, even in this time of negro emancipation, seem to have been unconsciously acting upon the dictum subsequently attributed to J. C. Calhoun, the defender of American slavery, that " the true solution of the contest of all time between labour and capital is that capital should own the labourer whether white or black."

The closing scene of Owen's first and last attempt at " the Trades Union " shows how ephemeral had been his participation in the real life of the Trade Union Movement. In August 1834 ne called together one of his usual mis- cellaneous congresses, consisting of delegates from all kinds of Owenite societies, with a few from the Grand National and other Trade Unions. At this congress the " Grand National Consolidated Trades Union," which was to have

rought to its feet Government, landlords, and employers, was formally converted into the " British and Foreign Consolidated Association of Industry, Humanity, and knowledge," having for its aim the establishment of a

New Moral World " by the reconciliation of all classes. Beyond one or two small and futile experiments in co-operative production, it had attempted nothing to realise Owen's Utopia. Its whole powers had been spent, seemingly with his own consent, in a series of aggressive strikes. For all that, Owen's meteoric appearance in the Trade Union World left a deep impression on the movement. The minute-books and other contemporary records of the Trade Unions of the next decade abound in Owenite


pitmen in prolonging their own miseries by continuing an insane strike, nd an unjust and senseless warfare against their proprietors and masters."


1 68 The Revolutionary Period

phraseology, such as the classification of Society into the " idle " and the " industrious " classes, the latter apparently meaning and being certainly understood to mean only the manual workers. More important is the persistence of

/ the idea that the Trade Unions, as Associations of Producers, should recover control of the instruments of production. From this time forth innumerable attempts were made, by one Trade Union or another, to employ its own members in Productive Co-operation. A long series of industrial disasters, culminating in the great losses of 1874, has, even now, scarcely eradicated the last remnant of this Joint Stock Individualism from the idealists of the Trade Union Move-| ment; or taught them to distinguish accurately between i it and the demonstrably successful Co-operative Production | of the Associations of Consumers which constitute thei Co-operative Movement of to-day. Outside the organised ranks his effect upon general working-class opinion was, as Place remarks, enormous, as we could abundantly showi were we here concerned with the " Union Shops," " Equil able Labour Exchanges," and industrial communitie which may be considered the most direct result of Owenite propaganda, or with the fortunes of the innurru able co-operative associations of producers, whose delegal formed the backbone of the Owenite congresses of th( years. 1

The Trade Union Movement was not absolutely left fc

y dead when^Owen quitted the field. The skilled mechj of the printing and engineering trades had, as we presently see, held aloof from the general movement, their trade clubs were unaffected either by the Owenil boom or its subsequent collapse. In some other trades inflation of 1830-4 spread itself over a few more years. Potters' Union went on increasing in strength, and in 18- gained a notable victory over the employers, when a " Gn Book of Prices " was agreed to, which long remained famoi

1 Some account of these developments will be found in The Co-opera Movement in Great Britain, by Beatrice Potter (Mrs. Sidney Webb).


The Survival of Trade Unionism 169

in the trade. Renewed demands led to the formation by the employers of a Chamber of Commerce to resist the men's iggression. The " yearly bond " was rigidly insisted upon, md a great strike ensued, which ended in 1837 m the somplete collapse of the Union. 1 In 1836 the Scottish

ompositors formed the General Typographical Association

Df Scotland, which for a few years exercised an effective

ontrol over the trade. The same year saw a notable strike

by the Preston Cotton-spinners, from which is dated the general adoption of the self-acting mule. 2 But the most permanent effect is seen in the building trades. The national Unions of Plumbers and Carpenters have preserved m unbroken existence down to the present day, 3 whilst

he Friendly Society of Operative Stonemasons remained

'or nearly another half century one of the most powerful of English Unions. The fortnightly circulars of the English Stonemasons reveal, for a few years, not only a vigorous ife and quick growth, but also many successful short strikes !o secure Working Rules and to maintain Tune Wages, "he Scottish Stonemasons are referred to as being even acre active and influential in trade regulation, and as having ncluded practically all the Scottish masons. There is evi- .ence, too, of informal federal action between the National Jnions of Stonemasons, Carpenters, and Bricklayers. Jnfortunately the absence of such modern machinery of rganisation as Trades Councils, Trade Union Congresses,

1 The collapse was duly reported to the Home Secretary (Home Office apers, 4033, 34, 35).

  • See Ashworth's paper before British Association, 1837; Remarks

bon the Importance of an Inquiry into the Amount and Appropriation of 'ages by the Working Classes, by W. Felkin, 1837; Appeal to the Public om the United Trades of Preston, February 14, 1837 (in Home Office apers, 4035)-

1 The United Society of Operative Plumbers (reorganised 1848) still minates its branch of the trade, and retains traces of the federal con- tution of the Builders' Union. The sister organisation of carpenters ow styled the General Union of Carpenters and Joiners) has been over- ken and overshadowed by the newer Amalgamated Society of Carpenters id Joiners; whilst the Operative Bricklayers' Society has absorbed actically all the older societies in its own branch of the trade.

G2


170 The Revolutionary Period

and standing joint committees prevented the scattered sectional organisations from forming any general movement. This state of things was broken into during the year 1837 by the sensational strikes in Glasgow, the prolonged legal prosecution and severe punishment of their leaders, and the appointment of a Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into the results of the repeal of the Combination Laws.

We do not propose to enter here into the details of the famous trial of the five Glasgow cotton-spinners for con- spiracy, violent intimidation, and for the murder of fellow- workers. But it is one of the " leading cases " of Trade Union history, and the manifestations of feeling which it provoked show to the depths the state of mind of the working classes. 1 The evidence given in court, and repeated before the Select Committee of 1838, leaves no reasonable doubt that the Cotton-Spinners' Union in its corporatej capacity had initiated a reign of terror extending overi twenty years, and that some of the incriminated members had been personally guilty not of instigation alone, but oi actual violence, if not of murder. In spite of this, the whole body of working-class opinion was on their side, and the

1 Glasgow was still the principal centre of the cotton industry, esj ally in weaving. In 1838 there were in the Glasgow area about 36,< handlooms devoted mainly to cotton, with two persons to a loom, wl in all Lancashire there were only 25,000 (Parliamentary Papers, of 1849 and xxiv. of 1840; The Chartist Movement, by Mark Hovell, 191 p. 14). Combination among the cotton operatives of Glasgow was of standing. After the strike of 1812, already referred to, trouble out again in 1820 and 1822, when outrages were committed (Arts Artisans, by J. G. Symons, 1839, p. 137).

Besides securing full reports in the newspapers, the Trade committee conducting the case published at a low price an account the trial in parts, which has not been preserved. Two other exhaustn reports were issued, and may still be consulted, viz. Report of the trial Thomas Hunter and other operative cotton- spinners in Glasgow in 1838, Archibald Swinton (Edinburgh, 1838), and The trial of Thomas Hunter, the Glasgow Cotton-spinners, by James Marshall (Glasgow, 1838). See the Autobiography of Sir Archibald Alison, 1883; the Northern Star 1837-8; the Annual Register for 1838, pp. 206-7; an d the evide before the Select Committee on Combinations, 1838. A summary be found in Howell's Labour Legislation, Labour Movements and Leaders, 1902, pp. 83-4.


The Glasgow Spinners 171

sentence of seven years' transportation was received with as much indignation as that upon the Dorchester labourers [our years before. This was one of the natural effects of the class despotism and scarcely veiled rebellion which we iave already described. The use of violence by working men, either against obnoxious employers or against traitors in their own ranks, was regarded in much the same way is the political offences of a subject race under foreign iominion. Such deeds did not, in fact, necessarily indicate my moral turpitude on the part of the perpetrators. No Dne accused the five Glasgow cotton-spinners of bad private character or conduct, and at least four out of the five were men of acknowledged integrity and devotedness. 1 Their unjust treatment whilst awaiting trial, and still more their sentence to transportation, enlisted the sympathy of the Parliamentary Radicals, and Wakley, the member for iFinsbury, did not hesitate to bring their case before the iftouse of Commons as one of legal persecution and injustice. At this time the trade societies of Dublin and Cork had baused serious complaint by attempting to establish, and lot without violence, an effective monopoly in certain killed industries. Their action had been reproved by Daniel O'Connell, whom they, in their turn, had repudiated .d denounced. O'Connell defeated Wakley's friendly otion for an inquiry into the cotton-spinners' case by serious indictment of Trade Unionism. By a clever nalysis of the rules of the Irish societies, which he made ut to be purely obstructive and selfish, he condemned, in speech of great power, all attempts on the part of trade >mbinations to regulate the conditions of labour. The ell-established methods of modern Trade Unionism, such s the maintenance of a minimum rate, received from him le same condemnation as the unsocial and oppressive

1 The five prisoners were pardoned in 1840, in consequence of their

emplary conduct. There is a joint letter by them in the Trades Journal

r August, 1840, relating to the subscriptions raised for them by a ondon committee.


172 The Revolutionary Period

monopolies for which the Irish trades had long been notorious. The Government met this speech by granting a Select Committee under Sir Henry Parnell to inquire into the whole question; and Trade Unionism accordingly \ found itself once more on its defence as a permanent element

in social organisation. The case of the Glasgow cotton-

spinners and the appointment of this Parliamentary Com- mittee for the moment revived the sentiment of solidarity in the Trade Union world. A joint committee of the Glasgow trades was formed to collect subscriptions for the defence of the prisoners; and communications forj this purpose were made to all the known Trade Unions.! Considerable funds were subscribed, as the trial was repeatedly postponed at great expense to the prisoners;! and when at last, in January, 1838, they were convicted] and sentenced, a combined agitation for some mitigation! of their punishment was begun. By this time it had become 1 known that some kind of inquiry into Trade Unionism wasj in contemplation. The Unions at once set their house order. The Stonemasons, who had already given up administration of oaths, resolved, for greater security illegal practices, " that all forms of regalia, initiation, passwords be dispensed with and entirely abolished." The Dublin Plasterers formally suspended their exclusi) rules, and deferred the issue of a new edition until the inquiry. 2 In Glasgow, the chief seat of the disorc many societies among others, the local Carpent< deliberately burned their minute-books and archives fc the past year. The London societies appointed a mittee, " The London Trades Combination Committee,' to conduct the Unionist case in the Parliamentary inquiry Lovett, then well known as a Radical politician, secretary, and issued a stirring address to the Trade Unioi throughout the country, asking for subscriptions and

1 Stonemasons' Fortnightly Circular, January 19, 1838.

  • Evidence of W. Darcy, the secretary, second report of 1838

mittee, p. 130.


The Parliamentary Inquiry 173

lence. 1 But the Parliamentary Committee proved both >erfunctory and inconclusive. The Government, which iad conceded it merely to rid itself of the importunity of Vakley on the one hand and O'Connell on the other, had vidently no intention of taking any action on the subject; ,nd the Committee, always thinly attended, made no attempt .1^ general inquiry, and confined itself practically to Dublin ,nd Glasgow. O'Connell got the opportunity he desired >f demonstrating, through selected witnesses, the violent jid exclusive spirit which animated the Irish Unions. With egard to Glasgow, the chief witness was Sheriff, afterwards >ir Archibald, Alison, whose vigorous action had quelled he cotton-spinners in that city. It was scarcely necessary o call witnesses on behalf of the Unions; but John Doherty, hen become a master-printer and bookseller, was allowed io describe the Manchester spinners' organisation and the ll-fated associations of 1829-31. The inquiry resulted p nothing but the presentation to the House of two i'olumes of evidence, without even so much as a report, it seems to have been expected that the Committee would pe reappointed to complete its task; but when the next Session came the matter was quietly dropped. 2

The temporary fillip given by the cotton-spinntrs' trial ,nd the Parliamentary Committee did not stoj/the steady |lecline of Trade Unionism throughout the country. Trade, |/hich had been on the wane since 1836, grew suddenly l/orse. The decade closed with three of the leanest years ver known; and widespread distress prevailed. The lembership of the surviving Trade Unions rapidly de- reased. The English Stonemasons, perhaps the strongest

1 Circular dated March i, 1838, in Stonemasons' archives; and An <&frs from the London Trades Committee appointed to watch the Parlia- entary Inquiry into Combinations, 1838.

  • George Howell suggests, we are not sure with what authority, that

assau Senior, whose report on Trade Unionism to the Home Secretary i 1830 we have already described, tendered this to Sir Henry Parnell as ie basis of a report by the Committee of 1838, but the proposal was ot accepted (Labour Legislation, Labour Movements and Labour Leaders, 902, pp. 83-4). See also The Irish Labour Movement, by W. P. Ryan, 1919.


174 The Revolutionary Period

of the contemporary societies, reduced themselves, in 1841, temporarily, to absolute bankruptcy by their disastrous strike against an obnoxious foreman on the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament. The Scottish Stonemasons' Society, of equal or greater strength, collapsed at about the same time, from causes not known to us. The Glasgow trades had been completely disorganised by the disasters! of 1837. The Lancashire textile operatives showed no sign| of life; whilst such growing societies as the Ironfounders, the Journeymen Steam-Engine Makers and Millwrights, and the Boilermakers were crippled by the heavy drafts! made upon their funds by unemployed members. The' state of mind of the working classes was no more propitiousj than the state of trade. Fierce discontent and sullen anger;

  • are the characteristics of this period. Hatred of the New;

L Jfofir Law, of the iniquitous taxes on food, of the general oppression by the dominant classes, blazes out in the Trade) Union records of the time. The agitation for the " Sia[ Points," set on foot by Lovett and others in the Working Men's Association of 1836, became the centre of working-! class aspiration. The Northern Star, started at the encj of 1837, rapidly distanced all other provincial journals ill circulation. The lecturers of the Anti-Corn Law Leagu<| increased the popular discontent, even when their o particular panacea failed to find acceptance. A gen despair of constitutional reform led to the growing su macy of the " Physical Force " section of the Charti and to the insurrectionism of 1839-42.

The political developments of these years are ou the scope of this work. The Chartist Movement pla the most important part in working-class annals 1837 to 1842, and does not quit the stage until I Made respectable by sincerity, devotion, and even heroi in the rank and file, it was disgraced by the fustian many of its orators and the political and economic quack of its pretentious and incompetent leaders whose jealo and intrigues, by successively excluding all the no


The Chartist Strikes 175

elements, finally brought it to nought. An adequate history of it would be of extreme value to our young Democracy. 1 Here it is only necessary to say that whilst the Chartist Movement commanded the support of the vast majority ]of the manual-working wage-earners, outside the ranks of those who were deeply religious, there is no reason to believe that the Trade Unions at any time became part and parcel of the Movement, as they had, during 1833-4, f the Owenite agitation, though some of their members furnished the most jardent supporters of the Charter. Individual trades, such las the shoemakers, seem to have' been thoroughly permeated Iwith Chartism, and were always attempting to rally other

trade societies to the cause. The angry strikes of 1842 in

(Lancashire and the Midlands, fostered, as some said, by the Anti-Corn Law League, were " captured " by the (Chartists, and almost converted into political rebellions. Die delegate meeting of the Lancashire and Yorkshire trade pubs, which was conducting the " general strike " then in progress " for the wages of 1840," resolved in August 1842

o recommend all wage-earners " to cease work until the

Charter becomes the law of the land." 2 For a few weeks, ndeed, it looked as if the Trade Union Movement, such as t was, would become merged in the political current. But

he manifest absurdity of persuading starving men to

remain on strike until the whole political machinery of the

ountry had been altered, must have quickly become

ipparent to the shrewder Trade Unionists. When Chartist

1 A series of subsequent publications has now gone far to fill this gap. ^he Chartist Movement, by R. G. Gammage (republished 1894), may LOW be supplemented by The Life of Francis Place, by Professor Graham Vallas (revised edition, 1918); Le Chartisme, 1830-48, by E. Dolleans, vols. (Paris, 1912-13); The Chartist Movement, by Mark Hovell, 1918; "he Social and Economic Aspects of the Chartist Movement, by F. F. Rosenblatt (New York, 1916); The Decline of the Chartist Movement, by ?. W. Slosson (New York, 1916); Chartism and the Churches, by H. V. Faulkner (New York, 1916); Die Entstehung und die okonomischen Grund- dtze der Chartistenbewegung , by John Tildsley (Jena, 1898); and especi- lly by the two separate volumes on the History of British Socialism, y M. Beer, 1919 and 1920.

8 Northern Star, August 20, 1842.


176 The Revolutionary Period

meetings at Sheffield were calling for a " general strike " to obtain the Charter, the secretaries of seven local Unions /wrote to the newspapers explaining that their trades had nothing to do with the meetings or the resolutions. 1 It must be remembered in this connection that the number of Trade Unionists was, in these years, relatively small probably not so great as a hundred thousand in the whole kingdom so that they could not have formed any appreciable pro- portion of the two, three or four million adherents that the Chartist leaders were in the habit of claiming. And it may be doubted whether in any case a Trade Union itself, as distinguished from particular members who happened to be delegates, made any formal profession of adherence to Chartism. In the contemporary Trade Union records that are still extant, such as those of the Bookbinders, Compositors, Ironfounders, Cotton-spinners, Steam-engine makers, and Stonemasons, there are no traces of Chartist resolutions; although denunciations of the " Notorious New Poor Law oppression " abound in the Fortnightly Circular of the Stonemasons; 2 whilst the Ironfounde Compositors, and Cotton-spinners pass resolutions in favoi of Free Trade. A partial explanation of this reticence the more exciting topic of the Charter is doubtless to found in the frequently adopted rule excluding polil and religion from Trade Union discussions a rule whic was, in 1842, protested against by an enthusiastic Chai delegate from the Bookbinders at the Manchester ference. 3 There must, however, have been something nx than mere obedience to the rule in the unwillingness of trade societies to be mixed up with the Chartist agitatk The rule had not prevented the organised trades of 1831-

1 Sheffield Iris, August 1842.

2 See, for instance, that for October 1839.

8 Northern Star, August 20, 1842. " It is clear that the trade as a whole stood outside the Chartist Movement, though many Trac Unionists were no doubt Chartists too. The societies could not be duced to imperil their funds and existence at the orders of the Cl Convention " (The Chartist Movement, by Mark Hovell, 1918, p. 169).


The Trade Union Refusal 177

from taking a prominent part in the Reform Bill Movement.

The banners of the Edinburgh trade clubs were conspicuous

in the public demonstration on the rejection of the Bill of

1831. When the House of Lords gave way, the Birmingham

Trade Unions themselves organised a triumphal procession,

which was discountenanced by the middle class. 1 The

records of the London Brushmakers show that they even

subscribed from the Union funds to Reform associations.

But we never find the trade societies of 1839-42 contributing

I to Chartist funds, or even collecting money for Chartist

victims. The cases of Frost, Williams, and Jones, the

Newport rebels of 1839, were at least as deserving of the

1 working-class sympathy as those of the Glasgow cotton-

i spinners. But the Trade Unions showed no inclination

to subscribe money or get up petitions in aid of them.

" Never," writes Fergus O'Connor, in 1846, " was there more

i criminal apathy than that manifested by the trades of Great

I Britain to the sufferings of those men; " and he adds, " that

if one half that was done for the Dorchester labourers or

the Glasgow cotton-spinners had been done for Frost,

Williams, and Jones, they would long since have been

restored." 2

Insurrectionism, whether Owenite or Chartist, was, in fact, losing its attraction for the working-class mind. Robert Owen's economic axioms of the extinction of profit and the elimination of the profit-maker were, during these jvery years, passing into the new Co-operative Movement, inaugurated in 1844 by the Rochdale Pioneers. The believers in a " new system of society," to be brought about by universal agreement, were henceforth to be found in the ranks of the commercial-minded Co-operators rather than in those of the militant Trade Unionists. Chartism, meanwhile, had degenerated from Lovett's high ideal of a complete political democracy to an ignoble scramble for the


1 History of Birmingham, by W. Hutton (Birmingham, edition of 1835), P- M9.

  • Northern Star, August 24, 1846.


178 The Revolutionary Period

ownership of small plots of land. The example of the French Revolution of 1848 fanned the dying embers for a few weeks into a new flame; and many of the London trades swung into the somewhat theatrical fete of April 10, 1848, swelling the procession against which the Duke of Wellington had marshalled the London middle class. , But the danger of revolution had passed awajr. A new genera- tion of workmen was growing up, to whom the worst of the old oppression was unknown, and who had imbibed the economic and political philosophy of the middle-class reformers. Bentham, Ricardo, and Grote were read only v by a few; but the activity of such popular educationalists as Lord Brougham and Charles Knight propagated " useful knowledge " to all the members of the Mechanics' Institutes and the readers of the Penny Magazine. The middle-class ideas of " free enterprise " and " unrestricted competition " which were thus diffused received a great impetus from the extraordinary propaganda of the Anti-Corn Law League, and the general progress of Free Trade. Fergus O'Connor and Bronterre O'Brien struggled in vain against the growing dominance of Cobden and Bright as leaders of working- class opinion. And so we find in the Trade Union recoi of 1847-8, that vigorous resistance begins to be made to any movement in support of the old ideals. The Ste* Engine Makers' Society suspended some of their branche for depositing the branch funds in Fergus O'Connor's Lai Bank. When two branches of the Stonemasons' Society propose the same investment, the others indignantly pro- test against it as an absurd political speculation. And it is significant that these protests came, not from the cautioi elders whose enthusiasm had outlived many failures, but from those who had never shared the old faith. When in 1848 the Yorkshire Woolstaplers proposed to take a farm upon which to set to work their unemployed men, it was the younger members, as we are expressly told, who strenuously but vainly resisted this action, which resulted ruinously for the society. v

The End of Insurrectionist, 179

All this makes the close of the " revolutionary " period of the Trade Union Movement. For the next quarter of century we shall watch the development of the new ideas and the gradual building up of the great " amalga- mated " societies of skilled artisans, with their centralised administration, friendly society benefits, and the substitu- tion, wherever possible, of Industrial Diplomacy for the ruder methods of the Class War.