The History of Trade Unionism/Preface and Introduction


THE HISTORY OF TRADE UNIONISM


THE HISTORY OF TRADE UNIONISM: BY SIDNEY AND BEATRICE WEBB (REVISED EDITION, EXTENDED TO 1920).


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LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.

FOURTH AVENUE & 30 STREET, NEW YORK

39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON

BOMBAY, CALCUTTA, AND MADRAS

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INTRODUCTION TO THE EDITION OF 1920Edit

THE thirty years that have elapsed since 1890, down to which date we brought the first edition of this book, have been momentous in the history of British Trade Unionism. The Trade Union Movement, which then included scarcely 20 per cent of the adult male manual-working wage-earners, now includes over 60 per cent. Its legal and constitutional status, which was then indefinite and precarious, has now been explicitly defined and embodied in precise and abso- lutely expressed statutes. Its internal organisation has been, in many cases, officially adopted as part of the machinery of public administration. Most important of all, it has equipped itself with an entirely new political organisation, extending throughout the whole of Great Britain, inspired by large ideas embodied in a comprehensive programme of Social Reconstruction, which has already achieved the position of " His Majesty's Opposition," and now makes a bid for that of " His Majesty's Government." So great an advance within a single generation makes the historical account of Trade Union development down to 1920 equivalent to a new book.

We have taken the opportunity to revise, and at some points to amplify, our description of the origin and early struggles of Trade Unionism in this country. We have naturally examined the new material that has been made accessible during the past quarter of a century, in order to


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incorporate in our work whatever has thus been added to public knowledge. But we have not found it necessary to make any but trifling changes in our original interpre- tation of the historical development. The Home Office papers are now available in the Public Record Office for the troubled period at the beginning of the nineteenth century ; and these, together with the researches of Pro- fessor George Unwin, Mr. and Mrs. Hammond, Professor Graham Wallas, Mr. Mark Hovell, and Mr. M. Beer, have enabled us both to verify and to amplify our statements at certain points. For the recent history of Trade Unionism we have found most useful the collections and knowledge of the Labour Research Department, established in 1913 ; and we gratefully acknowledge the assistance in facts, suggestions, and criticisms that we have had from Mr. G. D. H. Cole and Mr. R. Page Arnot. We owe thanks, also, to Miss Ivy Schmidt for unwearied assistance in research.

^The reader must not expect to find, in this historical volume, either an analysis of Trade Union organisation, policy, and methods, or any judgement upon the validity of its assumptions, its economic achievements, or its limitations./ On these things we have written at great length, and very explicitly, in our Industrial Democracy, and in other books described in the pages at the end of this volume, to which we must refer those desirous of knowing whether the Trade Unionism of which we now write merely the story is a good or a bad element in industry and in the State.


SIDNEY AND BEATRICE WEBB.


41 GROSVENOR ROAD, WESTMINSTER, January 1920.


PREFACE TO THE ORIGINAL EDITION OF 1894Edit

IT is not our intention to delay the reader here by a con- ventional preface. As every one knows, the preface is never written until the story is finished ; and this story will not be finished in our time, or for many generations after us. A word or two as to our method of work and its results is all that we need say before getting to our main business.

Though we undertook the study of the Trade Union movement, not to prove any proposition of our own, but to discover what problems it had to present to us, our minds were not so blank on the subject that we had no preconception of the character of these problems. We thought they would almost certainly be economic, pointing a common economic moral ; and that expectation still seems to us so natural, that if it had been fulfilled we should have accepted its fulfilment without comment. But it was not so. Our researches were no sooner fairly in hand than we began to discover that the effects of Trade Unionism upon the conditions of labour, and upon industrial organ- isation and progress, are so governed by the infinite technical variety of our productive processes, that they vary from industry to industry and even from trade to trade ; and the economic moral varies with them. Where we expected to find an economic thread for a treatise, we found a spider's web ; and from that moment we recognised that what


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we had first to write was not a treatise, but a history. And we saw that even a history would be impossible to follow unless we separated the general history of the whole movement from the particular histories of thousands of trade societies, some of which have maintained a continuous existence from the last century, whilst others have cropped up, run their brief course, and disappeared. Thus, when we had finished our labour of investigating the records of practically every important trade society from one end of the kingdom to the other, and accumulated piles of extracts, classified under endless trades and subdivisions of trades, we found that we must exclude from the first volume all but a small selection from those documents which appeared to us most significant with regard to the development of the general movement. Many famous strikes and lock-outs, many interesting trade disputes, many sensational prosecu- tions, and some furious outbursts of riot and crime, together with many drier matters relating to particular trades, have had either to be altogether omitted from our narrative, or else accorded a strictly subordinate reference in their rela- tion to the history of Trade Unionism as a whole. All analysis of the economic effects of Trade Union action we reserve for a subsequent volume on the Problems of Trade Unionism, for which we shall draw more fully from the annals of the separate unions. And in that volume the most exacting seeker for economic morals will be more than satisfied ; for there will be almost as many economic morals drawn as societies described.

That history of the general movement, to which we have confined ourselves here, will be found to be part of the political history of England. In spite of all the pleas of modern historians for less history of the actions of govern- ments, and more descriptions of the manners and customs of the governed, it remains true that history, however it may relieve and enliven itself with descriptions of the manners and morals of the people, must, if it is to be history at all, follow the course of continuous organisations. The


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history of a perfectly democratic State would be at once the history of a government and' of a people. The history of Trade Unionism is the history of a State within our State, and one so jealously democratic that to know it well is to know the English working man as no reader of middle- class histories can know him. From the early years of the eighteenth century down to the present day, Democracy, Freedom of Association, Laisser-faire, Regulation of the Hours and Wages of Labour, Co-operative Production, Free Trade, Protection, and many other distinct and often contradictory political ideals, have from time to time seized the imagination of the organised wage-earners and made their mark on the course of the Trade Union move- ment. And, since 1867 at least, wherever the ideals have left their mark on Trade Unionism, Trade Unionism has left its mark on politics. We shall be able to show that some of those overthrows of our party governments which have caused most surprise in the middle and upper classes, and for which the most far-fetched reasons have been given by them and their journalists and historians after the event, carry their explanation on the surface for any one who knows what the Trade Unionists of the period were thinking. Such demonstrations, however, will be purely incidental, as we have written throughout of Trade Unionism for its own sake, and not for that of the innumerable sidelights which it throws on party politics.

In our concluding chapter, which we should perhaps offer as an appendix rather than as part of the regular plan of the volume, we have attempted to give a bird's-eye view of the Trade Union world of to-day, with its unequal distribution, its strong sectional organisation and defective political machinery, its new governing class of trade officials above all, its present state of transition in methods, aims, and policy, in the face of the multitude of unsettled constitutional, economic, and political problems with which it stands confronted.

A few words upon the work of collecting materials for


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our work may prove useful to those who may hereafter come to reap in the same field. In the absence of any exhaustive treatment of any period of Trade Union history we have to rely mainly upon our own investigations. But every student of the subject must acknowledge the value of Dr. Brentano's fertile researches into English working- class history, and of Mr. George HowelTs thoroughly prac- tical exposition of the Trade Unionism of his own school and his own time. Perhaps the most important published material on the subject is the Report on Trade Societies and Strikes issued by the Social Science Association in 1860, a compact storehouse of carefully sifted facts which compares favourably with the enormous bulk of scrappy and unverified information collected by the five historic official inquiries into Trade Unionism between 1824 and 1894. We have, more- over, found a great many miscellaneous facts about Trade Unions in periodical literature and ephemeral pamphlets in the various public libraries all over the country. To facilitate the work of future students we append to this volume a complete list of such published materials as we have been able to discover. For the early history of com- binations we have had to rely upon the public records, old newspapers, and miscellaneous contemporary pamphlets. Thus, our first two chapters are principally based upon the journals of the House of Commons, the minutes of the Privy Council, the publications of the Record Office, and the innumerable broadsheet petitions to Parliament and old tracts relating to Trade which have been preserved in the British Museum, the Guildhall Library, and the in- valuable collection of economic literature made by Professor H. S. Foxwell, St. John's College, Cambridge. 1 Most im- portant of all, for the period prior to 1835, are the many volumes of manuscript commentaries, newspaper cuttings, rules, reports, pamphlets, etc., left by Francis Place, and now in the British Museum. This unique collection, formed by the busiest politician of his time, is indispensable, not

1 Now in the Goldsmiths' Library at the University of London.


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only to the student of working-class movements, but also to any historian of English political or social life during the first forty years of the century. 1

But the greater part of our material, especially that relating to the present century, has come from the Trade Unionists themselves. The offices of the older unions contain interesting archives, sometimes reaching back to the eighteenth century minute-books in which generations of diligent, if unlettered, secretaries, the true historians of 'a great movement, have struggled to record the doings of their committees, and files of Trade Union periodicals, ignored even by the British Museum, through which the plans and aspirations of ardent working-class politicians and administrators have been expounded month by month to the scattered branches of their organisations. We were assured at the outset of our investigation that no outsider would be allowed access to the inner history of some of the old-fashioned societies. But we have found this prevalent impression as to the jealous secrecy of the Trade Unions without justification. The secretaries of old branches or ancient local societies have rummaged for us their archaic chests with three locks, dating from the eighteenth century. The surviving leaders of a bygone Trade Unionism have ransacked their drawers to find for our use the rules and minutes of their long - forgotten societies. In many a working man's home in London and Liverpool, Newcastle and Dublin above all, in Glasgow and Manchester the descendants of the old skilled handicraftsmen have un- earthed " grandfather's indentures," or " father's old card," or a tattered set of rules, to help forward the investigation of a stranger whom they dimly recognised as striving to record the annals of their class. The whole of the docu-

1 Place's Letter Books, together with an unpublished autobiography, preserved by his family, are now in the custody of Mr. Graham Wallas, who is preparing a critical biography of this great reformer, which will throw much new light on all the social and political events of English history between 1798 and 1840 [published, ist edition, r8q8; and edition, 1918].


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ments in the offices of the great National and County Unions have been most generously placed at our disposal, from the printed reports and sets of rules to the private cash accounts and executive minute-books. In only one case has a General Secretary refused us access to the old books of his society, and then simply on the ground that he was himself proposing to write its history, and regarded us as rivals in the literary field.

Nor has this generous confidence been confined to the musty records of the past. In the long sojourns at the' various industrial centres which this examination of local archives has necessitated, every facility has been afforded to us for studying the actual working of the Trade Union organisation of to-day. We have attended the sittings of the Trades Councils in most of the large towns ; we have sat through numerous branch and members' meetings all over the country ; and one of us has even enjoyed the exceptional privilege of being present at the private delibera- tions of the Executive Committees of various national societies, as well as at the special delegate meetings sum- moned by the great federal Unions of Cotton-spinners, Cotton-weavers, and Coalminers for the settlement of momentous issues of trade policy, and at the six weeks' sessions in 1892 in which sixty chosen delegates of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers overhauled the trade policy and internal administration of that world-wide organisation.

We have naturally not confined ourselves to the work- men's side of the case. In almost every industrial centre we have sought out representative employers in the different industries. From them we have received many useful hints and criticisms. But, as might have been expected, the great captains of industry are, for the most part, ab- sorbed in the commercial side of their business, and are seldom accurately acquainted with the details of the past, or even of the present, organisation of their workmen. Of more assistance in our task have been the secretaries of the


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various employers' associations. Especially in the ship- building ports have these gentlemen placed at our disposal their experience in collective negotiation with the different sections of labour, and the private statistics compiled by their associations. But of all the employing class we have found the working managers and foremen, who have them- selves often been workmen, the best informed and most suggestive critics of Trade Union organisation and methods. We have often regretted that precisely this class is the most difficult of access to the investigator of industrial problems, and the least often called as witnesses before Royal Commissions.

The difficulty of welding into narrative form the innumer- able details of the thousands of distinct organisations, and of constructing out of their separate chronicles anything like a history of the general movement, has, we need hardly say, been very great. We are painfully aware of the shortcomings of our work, both from a literary and from a historical point of view. We have been encouraged in our task by the conviction strengthened as our investigation proceeded that the Trade Union records contain material of the utmost value to the future historian of industrial and political organisation, and that these records are fast disappearing. Many of the older archives are in the pos- session of individual workmen, who are insensible of their historical value. Among the larger societies it is not uncommon to find only one complete set of rules, reports, circulars, etc., in existence. A fire, a removal to new premises, or the death of an old secretary frequently results in the disappearance of everything not actually in daily office use. The keen investigator or collector will appreciate the extremity of the vexation with which we have learnt on arriving at an ancient Trade Union centre that the " old rubbish " of the office had been " cleared out " six months before. The local public libraries, and even the British Museum, seldom contain any of the internal Trade Union records new or old. We have therefore not only


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collected every Trade Union document that we could acquire, but we have made lengthy extracts from, and abstracts of, the piles of minute-books, reports, rules, circulars, pamphlets, working-class newspapers, etc., which have been lent to us.

This collection of material, and, indeed, the wide scope of the investigation itself, would have been impossible if we had not had the good fortune to secure the help of a colleague exceptionally well qualified for the work. In Mr. F. W. Galton we have found a devoted assistant, to whose unwearied labours we owe the, extensive range of our material and our statistics. Himself a skilled handi- craftsman, and for some time secretary to his Trade Union ; he has brought to the task not only keen intelligence and unremitting industry, but also a personal acquaintance with the details of Trade Union life and organisation which has rendered his co-operation of inestimable value. We have incorporated in our last chapter a graphic sketch from his pen of the inner life of a Trade Union.

We have, moreover, received the most cordial assistance from all quarters. If we were to acknowledge by name all those to whom our thanks are due, we should set forth a list of nearly all the Trade Union officials in the kingdom. Individual acknowledgement is in their case the less neces- sary, in that many of them are our valued personal friends. Only second to this is our indebtedness to many of the great " captains of industry," notably to Mr. Hugh Bell, of Middlesboro', and Colonel Dyer, of Elswick, and the secretaries of employers' associations, whose time has been freely placed at our disposal. To Professor H. S. Foxwell, Mr. Frederic Harrison, Professor E. S. Beesly, Mr. Robert Applegarth, and Mr. John Burns, M.P., we are especially indebted for the loan of many scarce pamphlets and working- class journals, whilst Mr. John Burnett and Mr. Henry Crompton have been good enough to go through one or more of our chapters in proof, and to improve them by numerous suggestions. And there are two dear comrades


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and friends to whose repeated revision of every line of our manuscript the volume owes whatever approach to literary merit it may possess.

The bibliography has been prepared from our material by Mr. R. A. Peddie, to whom, as well as to Miss Apple- yard for the laborious task of verifying nearly all the quota- tions, our thanks are due.

SIDNEY AND BEATRICE WEBB.

41 GROSVENOR ROAD,

WESTMINSTER,

April i 94.


THE HISTORY

OF

TRADE UNIONISM