The History of Trade Unionism/VII. The old unionism and the new 1875-1890

CHAPTER VII THE OLD UNIONISM AND THE NEW [1875-1890]Edit

SINCE 1875 the Trades Union Congress has loomed before the general public with ever-increasing impressiveness as the representative Parliament of the Trade Union world. To the historical student, on the other hand, it has, during the last fifty years, been wanting in significance as an index to the real factors of the Trade Union Movement. Between 1871 and 1875, the period of the struggle for complete legalisation, the Congress concentrated the efforts of the different sections upon the common object they had all at heart. On the accomplishment of that object it became for ten years little more than an annual gathering of Trade Union officials, in which they delivered, with placid unanim- ity, their views on labour legislation and labour politics. 1

1 See the History of the British Trades Union Congress, by W. J. Davis, of which two volumes have been issued by the Parliamentary Committee (1910 and 1916). William John Davis, one of the most successful Trade Union administrators, was born in 1848, at Birmingham. In 1872, when the National Society of Amalgamated Brassworkers was established in a trade hitherto entirely unorganised, he became General Secretary, a post which, except for one short interval, he has ever since retained. Within six months he obtained from the employers the 15 per cent increase which they had refused to the unorganised men, and established branches through- out the kingdom ; and presently he completed the difficult and laborious task of constructing a list of prices for all brasswork, for which he obtained the employers' recognition. He was elected to the Birmingham School Board in 1876, and to the Town Council in 1880. In 1883 he accepted ap- pointment as Factory Inspector, but six years later returned to his former

358


The Trades Union Congress 359

From 1885 to 1890 we shall watch the Congress losing its decorous calm, and gradually becoming the battle-field of contending principles and rival leaders. But throughout its whole career it has, to speak strictly, been representative less of the development of Trade Unionism as such, than of the social and political aspirations of its leading members. The reader of the Congress proceedings between 1875 and 1885 would, for instance, fail to recognise our descrip- tionfof the characteristics of the movement in these years. The predominant feature of the Trade Union world between 1875 and 1885 was, as we have seen, an extreme and complicated sectionalism./ It might therefore have been expected that the annuaf meeting of delegates from different trades would have been made the debating ground for all the moot points and vexed questions of Trade Unionism, not to say the battle-field of opposing interests. But though the Trades Union Congress, like all popular assemblies, had its stormy scenes and hot discussions, from 1875 to 1885 these episodes arose only on personal questions, such as the conduct of individual members of the committee or the bona fides of particular delegates. On all questions of policy or principle before the Congress the delegates were generally unanimous. This was brought about by the de-/. liberate exclusion of all Trade Union problems from the' 1 agenda. The relative merits of collective bargaining and legislative regulation were, during these years, never so much as discussed. The alternative types of benefit club and trade society were not compared. The difficulties of overlap and apportionment of work were not even referred

post at the urgent request of the workmen, whose Union had in his absence sunk almost to nothing, a condition from which he was able quickly to restore it to far more than its highest previous strength ; and to take on, in addition, the secretaryship of the Amalgamated Metal Wire and Tube Makers' Society. He was made a J.P. in 1906. Since 1881 he has been elected twenty-six times to the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress. He is the author, in addition to the History of the British Trades Union Congress, of The Token Coinage of Warwickshire and Nine- teenth-Century Token Coinage (The Life Story of W. J. Davis, by W. B. Dalley, 1914).


360 The Old Unionism and the New

to. No mention was made of Sliding Scales, Wage-Boards, Piecework Lists, or other expedients for avoiding disputes. Piecework itself, when introduced by a delegate in 1876, was dropped as a dangerous topic. The disputes between Union and Union were regarded by the Committee as out- side the proper scope of Congress. 1 In short, the knotty problems of Trade Union organisation, the divergent views as to Trade Union policy, the effect on Trade Unionism of different methods of remuneration all the critical issues of

\ ! industrial strife were expressly excluded from the agenda of

V the Congress.

For the narrow limits thus set to the functions of the Congress there was an historical reason. Arising as it did between 1868 and 1871, when the one absorbing topic was the relation of Trade Unionism to the law, it had retained the character then impressed upon it of an exclusively political body. For many years its chief use was to give weight to the Parliamentary action of the standing com- mittee, whose influence in the lobby of the House of Commons was directly proportionate to the numbers they were believed to represent. Publicity and advertisement, the first requisites of a successful Congress, were worse than useless without unanimity of opinion. The deliberate refusal of the Trade Union leaders to discuss internal problems in public Congress under such circumstances was not surprising. Most men in their position would have hesitated to let the world know that the apparent solidarity of Trade Unionism covered jealous disputes on technical questions, and fundamental differences as to policy. They easily persuaded themselves that a yearly meeting of shifting delegates was fitted neither to debate technical questions nor to serve as a tribunal of appeal. But these difficulties could have been overcome. The quinquennial delegate meeting of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers

1 In 1878, for instance, the Parliamentary Committee resolved that Congress ought not to interfere either between the English and Scottish Tailors' Societies or between the Boilermakers and the Platers' Helpers.


The Drawback of Publicity 361

secures absolute frankness of discussion by the exclusion of reporters ; and the frequent national conferences of miners achieve the same end by supplying the press with their own abstract of the proceedings. The Miners' Conference of 1863, which we have already described, had shown, too, how successfully a large conference of workmen could resolve itself, for special questions, into private com- mittees, the reports being laid before the whole conference at its public sittings a device not yet adopted by the Trades Union Congress. And the London Society of Com- positors, which is governed practically by mass meetings, had, for over half a century, known how to combine detailed investigation of complicated questions with Democratic de- cisions on principles of policy, by appointing special com- mittees to report to the next subsequent members' meeting. The fact that no such expedients were suggested shows that in these years the jealousy of most workmen of outside interference and their apathy about questions unconnected with their immediate trade interests, made their leaders unwilling to trust them with real opportunities for full Democratic discussion.

We shall therefore not attempt to reconstruct the Trade Union Movement from the proceedings of its annual con- gresses. The following brief analysis of their programmes and the achievements of the Parliamentary Committee is meant to show, not the facts as to Trade Union organisation throughout the country, with which we have already dealt, ^ but the political and social ideals that filled the minds of the more thoughtful and better educated working men, and the rapid transformation of these ideals in the course of the last decade. 1

1 The Congress, from 1871, annually elected a Parliamentary Committee of ten members and a secretary. The members of the Committee were always chosen from the officials of the more important Unions, with a strong tendency to re-elect the same men year after year. Between 1875 and 1889 the composition of the Committee was, in fact, scarcely changed,) except through death or the promotion of members to Government appointments. George Potter was secretary from 1869-71 ; George Odger in that year ; and George Howell, afterwards M.P., from 1872-75.

N 2



362 The Old Unionism and the New

The mantle of the Junta of 1867-71 had, by 1875, fallen upon a group of able organisers who, for many years, occupied the foremost place in the Trade Union world. Between 1872 and 1875 Allan and Applegarth were replaced by Henry Broadhurst, John Burnett, J. D. Prior, and George Shipton. 1 These leaders had moulded their met and policy upon those of the able men who preceded It was they, indeed, aided by Alexander Macdonald Thomas Burt, who had actually carried through the final achievement of 1875. Like Allan, Applegarth, and Guile, they belonged either to the iron or the building trades, and were permanent officials of Trade Union organisations. A comparison of the private minutes of the Parliamentary Committee between 1875 and 1885 with those of the Con- ference of Amalgamated Trades of 1867-71 reveals how exactly the new " Front Bench " carried on the traditions of the Junta. We see the same shrewd caution and practical opportunism. We notice the same assiduous lobbying in the House of Commons, and the same recurring deputations to evasive Ministers. For the first few years, at least, we watch the Committee in frequent consultation with the same devoted legal experts and Parliamentary friends. 2 Through

Henry Broadhurst was for fourteen years annually re-elected secretary without a contest, temporarily ceding the post, whilst Under Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1886, to George Shipton. He was succeeded by Charles Fenwick, M.P., from 1890-93; then followed S. Woods, M.P., from 1894-1904; W. C. Steadman, M.P., from 1905-10; and the Right Honourable C. W. Bowennan, M.P., from 1911 onwards.

1 Odger died in 1877, Guile in 1883, and Coulson (who had retired many years before) in 1893.

  • To the counsels of Frederic Harrison, E. S. Beesly, H. Crompton, and

A. J. Mundella was, from 1873, frequently added that of Mr. (afterwards Justice) R. S. Wright, who rendered invaluable service as a draughtsman. Henry Crompton supplied us with the following account of the subsequent separation between the Positivists and the Trade Union leaders :

" In the year 1881 the connection of the Parliamentary Committee with the Positivists was modified. There was not the same occasion for their services as there had been. After 1 883, in which year Mr. F. Harrison and Mr. H. Crompton attended the Congress by invitation, the connection ceased altogether, though there was no breach of friendly relations. Til 1 88 1 there had been entire agreement between them both as to policy and means of action. The policy of the Positivists had been to secure complete


Trade Union Politics


363


skilful guidance and indefatigable activity of Henry Jroadhurst the political machinery of the Trade Union [ovement was maintained and even increased in efficiency, during these years the occupants of the " Front Bench " led to give so decisive a lead to the Labour Movement as predecessors had done, the fault lay, not in the men in the machinery, but rather in the programme which

set themselves to carry out.

This programme, laid before all candidates for the House >f Commons at the General Election of 1874, was based, as >hn Prior subsequently declared, on the principle " that exceptional legislation affecting working men should be swept away, and that they should be placed on precisely


independence for workmen and their legitimate combinations ; to them more respected and more conscious of their own work ; to lift sm to a higher moral level ; that they should become citizens ready and to perform all the duties of citizenship. The means employed was i consolidate and organise the power of the Trades Societies, through the itutions of the annual Congress and its Parliamentary Committee ; to this power, as occasion served, for the general welfare as well as for le interests. That the measures adopted or proposed by the Congress should be thoroughly discussed in the branches, and delegates well posted in the principal questions. To express it shortly organisation of collective labour and political education of individual workmen.

" The condition of this effective force was that, while it was being used in furtherance of political action, it should be kept quite clear and inde- pendent of political parties. The divergence came with the advent of the Gladstonians to office. The Liberal Government began a policy of coercion in Ireland. Combination was to be put down by the very same mechanism which had been invented to repress labour combinations by the law of conspiracy. The very ruling of Baron Bramwell as to the Tailors' strike was employed to concoct a law to convict Mr. Parnell and his coadjutors. As a result law was laid down by the Irish judges as to political combina- tions, which is binding in England, and has still to be resisted or abolished. The Positivists endeavoured to the utmost of their ability to rouse the working classes to a sense of the danger of these proceedings, and to offer an uncompromising resistance to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. The Parliamentary Committee would have none of it. They no doubt believed that the interests of their clients would be best served by a narrower policy, by seeking the help and favour of the eminent statesmen in office. Instead of a compact, powerful force, holding the balance be- tween the parties and the key of the situation, dictating its terms, they preferred to be the tag end of a party. In the end they did not get much, but the Congress was successfully captured and muzzled by the Gladstonian Government."


364 The Old Unionism and the New

the same footing as other classes of the community." 1 Its main items were the repeal of the hated Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1871, and the further legalisation of Trade Unionism. The sweeping triumphs of 1875, and the acceptance by the Conservative Government of the pro- posals of the Junta, denuded the programme for subsequent years of its most striking proposals. There remained over in this department certain minor amendments of law and procedure which occupied the attention of the Committee for the next few years, and were gradually, by their exer- tions, carried into effect. 2

But one great disability still lay upon working men as such. By the common law of England a person is liable for the results, not only of his own negligence, but also for that of his servant, if acting within the scope of his employment. The one exception is that, whereas to a stranger the master is liable for the negligence of any person whom he employs, to his servant he is not liable for the negligence of a fellow-servant in common employment. By this legal refinement, which dates only from 1837, and which successive judicial decisions have engrafted upon the common law, a workman who suffered injury through the negligence of some other person in the same employment was pre- cluded from recovering that compensation from the common employer which a stranger, to whom the same accident had happened, could claim and enforce. 3 If by the error of a signalman a railway train met with an accident, all the

1 Report of Trades Union Congress, Dublin, 1880, p. 15.

1 The working of the Trade Union Act of 1871 revealed some technical defects in the law, which were remedied by an amending Act in 1876 (39 and 40 Vic. c. 22). Rules for the execution of the Employers and Work- men Act were framed by the Lord Chancellor in the same year.

8 This defence of "common employment," which practically deprived the workman in large undertakings of any remedy in case of accidents arising through negligence in the works, was first recognised in the case of Priestly v. Fowler in 1837 (3 Meeson and Welby). Not until 1868 did the House of Lords, as the final Court of Appeal, extend it to Scotland. The growth of colossal industrial undertakings, in which thousands of workmen were, technically, " in common employment," made the occasional harsh- ness of the law still more invidious.


Employers' Liability 365

injured passengers could obtain compensation from the railway company ; but the engine-driver and guard were expressly excluded from any remedy. What the workman demanded was the abolition of the doctrine of " common em- ployment," and the placing of the employee upon exactly the same footing for compensation as any member of the public. By the influence of the Miners' National Union and the Amalgamated Society of the Railway Servants (established in 1872) the removal of this disability was, from the first, placed in the foreground of the Trade Union programme. Year after year Employers' Liability Bills were brought in by the Trade Union representatives in the House of Com- mons, only to be met by stubborn resistance from the capitalists of both parties. Through the pertinacity of Henry Broadhurst a partial reform 1 was obtained from Gladstone's Government in 1880, in spite of the furious opposition of the great employers of labour sitting on both sides of the House. The responsibility of the employer for insuring his workmen against the risks of their calling was, for the first time, clearly recognised by Parliament. The report of the Parliamentary Committee for 1880 claimed that the main battle on the subject had been fought, and that " time and opportunity only were now wanting for the completion of this work." Since then the promotion of claims for compensation for accidents has been one of the most important functions of Trade Unions ; and many of the societies, such as the Bricklayers and Boilermakers, have recovered thousands of pounds for injured members or their relatives. 2 But the doctrine of " common employ-

1 Act 43 and 44 Vic. c. 52 (1880).

2 The annual Parliamentary returns for the next fifteen years showed that between three and four hundred cases came into court every year, the amount of compensation actually awarded reaching between ^7000 and ^8000. But a large number of cases were compromised, or settled without litigation. Meanwhile the relative number of accidents diminished. Whereas in 1877 one railway employee in 95 was more or less injured, in 1889 the proportion was only one in 195. Whereas between 1873 and 1880 one coal-miner in 446 met his death annually, between 1881 and 1890 the proportion was only one in 519; although there was apparently less improvement, if any, as regards non-fatal accidents in the mine.


366 The Old Unionism and the New

ment," modified by this Act, was by no means abolished. Employers, moreover, were allowed to induce their work- people to " contract out " of the provisions of the Act. 1 An Employers' Liability Bill, the last remnant of the demands of the Junta, remained, therefore, from 1872 onward a per- manent item in the Trade Union programme down to 1896.

With the exception of this one proposal the Parliament- ary programme of the Trade Union world was framed, in effect, by the New Front Bench. Curiously devoid of interest or reality, it is important to the political student as showing to what extent the thoughtful and superior workman had, at this time, imbibed the characteristic ideas of middle- class reformers.

The programme of the Parliamentary Committee between 1875 and 1885 falls mainly under three heads. We have first a group of measures the aim of which was the demo- cratisation of the electoral, administrative, and judicial

1 By " contracting out " was meant an arrangement between employer and employed by which the latter relinquish the rights conferred upon them by the Act, and often also their rights under the Common Law. The Act was silent on the subject ; but the judges decided, to the great surprise and dismay of the Trade Union leaders, that contracting out was permis- sible (see Griffiths v. Earl of Dudley, 9, Queen's Bench Division, 35). The usual form of " contracting out " was the establishment of a workman's insurance fund to which the workmen were compelled to subscribe, and to which the employer also contributed. Among the coal-miners, those of Lancashire, Somerset, and some collieries in Wales generally contracted out. The employees of the London and North-Western, and London and Brighton Railway Companies also contracted out. In one or two large undertakings in other industries a similar course was followed. But in the vast majority of cases employers did not resort to this expedient. Particulars are given in the Report and Evidence of the Select Committee on Employers' Liability, 1866 ; the publications of the Royal Commission on Labour, 1891-94; and Miners' Thrift and Employers' Liability, by G. L. Campbell (Wigan, 1891) ; and our Industrial Democracy.

In 1893-94 a further amending Bill passed the House of Commons which swept away the doctrine of common employment, and placed the workman with regard to compensation on the same footing as any other person. A clause making void any agreement by which the workman forewent his right of action, or "contracted out," was rejected by the House of Lords, and the Bill was thereupon abandoned. The question was settled in 1896 by the passage, under the Unionist Government, of the Workmen's Compensation Act, giving compensation in all cases, irrespective of the employers' default.


Law Reform 367

machinery of the State. Another set of reforms had for their end the enabling of the exceptionally thrifty or excep- tionally industrious man to rise out of the wage-earning class. A third group of proposals aimed at the legal regu- lation of the conditions of particular industries.

Complete political Democracy had been for over a century the creed of the superior workmen. It was therefore not unnatural that it should come to the front in the Trades Union Congress. What appears peculiar is the form which this old-standing faith took in the hands of the Front Bench. The Trade Union leaders of 1837-42 had adopted enthusi- astically the " Six Points " of the Charter. Even the sober Junta of 1867-71 had sat with Karl Marx on the committee of the " International," in the programme of which Universal Suffrage was but a preliminary bagatelle. To the Front Bench of 1875-85 Democracy appeared chiefly in the guise of the Codification of the Criminal Law, the Reform of the Jury System, the creation of a Court of Criminal Appeal, and the Regulation of the Summary Jurisdiction of the Magistracy a curious group of law reforms which it is easy to trace to the little knot of barristers who had stood by the Unions in their hour of trial. 1 We do not wish to depreciate the value of these proposals, framed in the interests of all classes of the community ; but they were not, and probably were never intended to be, in any sense a democratisation of our judicial system. 2 When the Con-

1 The legal advisers of the Junta realised that the triumph of 1875, though it resulted in a distinct strengthening of the Trade Union position, was mainly a moral victory. Though Trade Unions were made legal, the law of conspiracy was only partially reformed, whilst that relating to political combinations, unlawful assemblies, sedition, etc., remained, as it still remains, untouched. Expert lawyers knew in how many ways prejudiced tribunals might at any time make the law oppressive. The legal friends of Trade Unionism desired, therefore, to utilise the period of political quiet in simplifying the criminal law, and in removing as much of the obsolete matter as was possible. And though State Trials recom- menced in Ireland in 1881, and criminal prosecutions of Trade Unionists continued in England down to 1891, the interval had been well spent in clearing away some of the grosser evils.

2 In the proposed reform of the Jury laws, for instance, the Parlia- mentary Committee for several years did not venture to ask explicitly for


368 The Old Unionism and the New

gress dealt with electoral reform it got no further than the assimilation of the county and borough franchise already a commonplace of middle-class Liberalism. The student of Continental labour movements will find it difficult to believe that in the representative Congress of the English artisans, amendments in favour of Manhood Suffrage were even as late as 1882 and 1883 rejected by large majorities. 1 Nor did the Parliamentary Committee put even the County Franchise into their own programme until it had become the battle-cry of the Liberal party at the General Election of 1880. The Extension of the Hours of Polling becomes a subject of discussion from 1878 onward, but the Payment of Election Expenses does not come up until 1883, Payment of Members not until 1884.

Scarcely less significant in character were the measures of social reform advocated during these years. The pro- ^minent Trade Unionists had been converted, as we have l already had occasion to point out, to the economic Individ- ualism which at this time dominated the Liberal party. A significant proof of this unconscious conversion is to be found in the unanimity with which a Trades Union Congress could repeatedly press for such " reforms " as Peasant Proprietorship, the purchase by the artisan of his own cottage, the establishment of " self-governing workshops/' the multiplication of patents in the hands of individual workmen, and other changes which would cut at the root of Trade Unionism or any collective control of the means of production. For whatever advantages there might be in turning the agricultural labourer into a tiny freeholder, it is obvious that under such a system no Agricultural Labourers'

that payment of jurymen which alone would enable working men to serve, and contented themselves with suggesting a lowering of the qualification for juryman. In 1876, indeed, John Burnett, then a prominent member of the Committee, strongly opposed the Payment of Jurymen on the ground that it might create a class of professional jurors (Trades Union Congress Report, 1876, p. 14).

1 See, for instance, the report of the 1876 Congress, p. 30 ; that of the 1882 Congress, p. 37 ; that of the 1883 Congress, p. 41 ; and Hisiory of the British Trades Union Congress, by W. J. Davis, vol. i., 1910.


Particularism in Politics 369

Union could exist. However useful it may be to make the town artisan independent of a landlord, it has been proved beyond controversy that wage-earning owners of houses lose that perfect mobility which enables them, through their Trade Union, to boycott the bad employer or desert the low-paying district. And we can imagine the dismay with which the leaders of the Nine Hours Move- ment would have discovered that any considerable propor- tion of the engineering work of Newcastle was being done in workshops owned by artisans whose interests as capitalists or patentees conflicted with the common interests of all the workers.

In no respect, however, does the conversion of the Trade Union leaders to middle-class views stand out more clearly than in their attitude to the clamour from the workers in certain industries for the legal protection of their Standard of Life. From time immemorial one of the leading tenets of Trade Unionism has been the desirability of maintaining by law the minimum Standard of Life of the workers, and it was still steadfastly held by two important sections of the Trade Union world, the Cotton Operatives and the Coal- miners. But to the Parliamentary Committee of 1875-85, as to the Liberal legislators, every demand for securing the conditions of labour by legislation appeared as an invidious exception, only to be justified by the special helplessness or incompetency of the applicants. Nevertheless, many of the trades succeeded in persuading Congress to back up the particular sectional legislation they desired. The Tailors asked, on the one hand, for the extension of the Factory Acts to home workers, and, on the other, for compensation out of public funds when interfered with by the sanitary inspector. The Bakers complained with equal pertinacity of the lack of public inspection of bakehouses, and of the hardships of their regulation by the Smoke Prevention Acts. The London Cabmen sought the aid of Congress, not against their employers, the cab proprietors, but against the public. The men in charge of engines and boilers


370 The Old Unionism and the New

demanded that no one should be allowed to work at their trade without obtaining from the Government a certificate of competency. In the absence of any fixed or consistent idea of the collective interest of the wage-earning class, or of Trade Unionists as such, every proposal that any section demanded for itself was accepted with equanimity by the Congress, and passed on to the Parliamentary Committee to carry out, however inconsistent it might be with the general principles that swayed their minds. 1

It is not difficult to understand why, with such a pro- gramme, the Trade Union world failed, between 1876 and 1885, to exercise any effective influence upon the House of Commons. A few concessions to the wage-earners were, indeed, obtained from the Government. The Employers' Liability Act of 1880, to which we have already referred, represented, in spite of all its deficiencies, a new departure of considerable importance. Useful little clauses protecting the interests of the wage-earners were, through Broadhurst's pertinacity, inserted in Chamberlain's Bankruptcy Act and in his Joint Stock Companies Act. 2 But it was left to Charles Bradlaugh, who had never been a Trade Unionist, to initiate the useful law prohibiting the payment of wages in public-houses, though when it was introduced the Parlia- mentary Committee (observing that it was unnecessary in

1 In this connection may be mentioned the extensive agitation pro- moted by Samuel Plimsoll for further legislation to prevent the loss of life at sea. At the 1873 Trades Union Congress Plimsoll distributed copies of his book, Our Merchant Seamen, and enlisted, during the next three years, practically the whole political force of the Trade Union Movement in support of his Merchant Shipping Acts Amendment Bill. The " Plimsoll and Seamen's Fund Committee," of which George Ho well became secre- tary, received large financial help from the Unions, the South Yorkshire Miners' Association voting, in 1873, a levy of a shilling per member, and contributing over ^1000. The Parliamentary Committee gave Plimsoll's Bill a place in their programme for the General Election of 1874, and this Trade Union support contributed largely to Plimsoll's success in passing a temporary Act in 1875, and permanent legislation in 1876, against the combined efforts of a strong Conservative Government and the shipowners on both sides of the House. (See Labour Legislation, Labour Movements, and Labour Leaders, by G. Howell, 1902.)

  • Congress Reports, 1882 and 1883.


The Parliamentary Committee 371

respect of organised trades) gave it a mild support. Brad- laugh it was, too, who in 1887 got passed the amendment of the law against Truck a subject which the Parliamentary Committee had, in 1877, dismissed from their programme on the ground that they were unable, in the trades of which they had knowledge, to find sufficient evidence of its neces- sity. 1 But the failure of the Parliamentary Committee to induce the Government of the day to legislate for wage- earners as such was naturally most patent in that group of reforms which dealt with the legal regulation of the conditions of labour. To the -great consolidating Factory Bill of 1878 they found only four small amendments to propose ; and of these only one was carried. 2 The " Sweat- ing System " of home work against which the Tailors and Bootmakers were suggesting stringent but, as we venture to think, ill-considered legislation was permitted to expand free from all regulation. The bakehouses, too, were allowed to slip virtually out of inspection. Deputation after depu- tation waited on the Home Secretary to press for an increase in the number of factory inspectors, only to be met with the apparently unanswerable argument that it would cost money which the poor taxpayers could ill spare, until the astute and practical leaders of the Lancashire Cotton Opera- tives grew tired of the monotonous regularity with which their resolutions in favour of further factory inspection and more stringent regulations of the conditions of their trade were passed by Congress, and the little assistance which this endorsement procured for them. A " Northern Counties Factory Act Reform Association " was established in 1886, to do the work which the Trades Union Congress and its Parliamentary Committee had failed to accomplish. We have, in fact, only one important achievement of the Parlia- mentary Committee to record in this department of social reform. For years Congress had passed emphatic resolu-

1 Parliamentary Committee's Report, September 17, 1877.

2 That extending to factory scales and measures the provisions of the Weights and Measures Act relating to inspection, etc.


372 The Old Unionism and the New

tions in favour of the selection of practical working men as Factory Inspectors. Great was the j ubilation at the appoint- ment, in 1882, of J. D. Prior, General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters, and a member of the Parliamentary Committee, to the post of Inspector. 1

In matters of more general interest the Trade Union leaders were not more successful, though the attempt to reform the law and its administration resulted in some minor improvements. The first outcome of the projects for law reform so dear to the Congresses of 1876-80 was the Justices' Clerks Act of 1877, which enabled magistrates to remit costs. The passing of the Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1879, which gave defendants the right to claim trial before a jury whenever the penalty exceeded three months' imprisonment, was, Howell observes, " materially aided by the action of Congress." But it is needless to inform the reader that the Criminal Law never got itself codified. To this day juries continue to be drawn exclusively from the upper and middle classes. The long agitation for the abolition of the unpaid magistracy ended in an anti-climax. The Liberal Government of 1884 left the system unaltered, but, on the nomination of Henry Broadhurst, 2 placed four Trade Union leaders upon the magisterial bench in certain Lancashire boroughs, a precedent since followed by suc- cessive Lord Chancellors.

In one direction the Parliamentary Committee saw their hopes fully accomplished. Their adoption of the particular projects of electoral reform advocated by the Liberal party enabled them to render effective help in the passing of the Acts of 1885, which assimilated the County and the Borough Franchise, effected a redistribution of seats, and made the extended hours of polling universal. But the desire of successive Congresses for effective labour representation

1 The appointment was first offered to Broadhurst, who elected to continue his work as Secretary of the Parliamentary Committee, and who suggested Prior (Henry Broadhurst, the Story of his Life, by himself, 1901).

2 Ibid.'p. 136.


Liberal Trade Unionists 373

continued to be baulked by the extortion from candidates of heavy election expenses, and by the refusal to provide payment for service in Parliament and other public bodies. On the burning question of the land the Parliamentary Committee supported with conscientious fervour Gladstone's Irish policy of creating small freeholds, and enthusiastically endorsed the proposals of Chamberlain for the extension of similar legislation to Great Britain. The same spirit no doubt entered into their support of the provisions of Cham- berlain's Patent Act, designed to facilitate the taking out of patents by poor inventors. To sum up the situation, we may say that the resolutions of the Trades Union Congress on questions of general politics between 1880 and 1884 were successfully pressed on the Legislature only in so far as they happened to coincide with the proposals of the Liberal party. With the one great exception of the Em- ployers' Liability Act, nothing seems really to have called out the full energies of the leaders. The manifestoes and published memoranda of the Parliamentary Committee during these years do not differ either in tone or in sub- stance from the speeches and articles in which Chamberlain and other Radical capitalists were propounding a programme of individualist Radicalism. In fact, the draft " Address to the Workmen of the United Kingdom/' which the Par- liamentary Committee, in anticipation of the General Election, submitted to the Congress of 1885, fell far short of Chamberlain's " Unauthorised Programme." It occurred neither to the Parliamentary Committee nor to the Congress to suggest the obvious answer to Sir William Harcourt's financial objection to increased factory inspection. No trace is to be discovered of any consciousness on the part of the Trade Union leaders of the existence of a very sub- stantial tribute annually levied upon the industrial world under the names of rent and interest. And even Chamber- lain's modest and tentative proposals of these years, re- lating to the payment, by the recipients of that tnbute, of some contribution by way of " ransom," found no echo in


374 The Old Unionism and the New

the official programme of the Trade Union world. Finally, though the Congress had adopted Payment of Election Expenses in 1883, and Payment of Members in 1884, the Parliamentary Committee omitted both these propositions from its draft, and, like Gladstone, could not even bring itself to ask for Free Education. The three latter points were added to the draft by the Congress.

The assimilation of the political creed of the Trade Union leaders with that of the official Liberal party was perfectly sincere. We have already described, in the pre- ceding chapter, how the Junta had begun to be uncon- sciously converted from the traditional position of Trade Unionism to the principle of Administrative Nihilism, then dominant in the middle class. It is unnecessary for us to argue whether this conception of the functions of law and government is or is not an adequate view of social develop- ment. The able and conscientious men who formed the Front Bench of the Trades Union Congress of 1876-85 had grown up without any alternative political theory, and had accordingly erected the objection to legislative interference or Governmental administration into an absolute dogma. 1 _V_ Laisser-faife, then, was the political and social creed of 7 the Trade Union leaders of this time. Up to 1885 they undoubtedly represented the views current among the rank and file. At that date all observers were agreed that the Trade Unions of Great Britain would furnish' an impene- trable barrier against Socialistic projects. \Vithin a decade we find the whole Trade Union world permeated with Collectivist ideas, and, as the Times recorded as early as

1 It may be mentioned that the Trades Union Congress, which at first had welcomed addresses from the middle and upper class friends of Trade Unionism, was, between 1881 and 1883, gradually restricted to Trade Unionists. At the Nottingham Congress in 1883, where Frederic Harrison read a paper on the " History of Trade Unionism," and Henry Crompton one on the " Codification of the Law," when Frederic Harrison proposed to take part in the discussion on the Land Question, he was not permitted to do so ; and this rule has since been rigidly adhered to. At the Aberdeen Congress of 1884 Lord Rosebery was allowed to deliver an address on the " Federalism of the Trades Union Congress," but this was the last time that any one has been invited to read a paper.


The New Ferment 375

1893, the Socialist party supreme in the Trades Union Congress. 1 This revolution in opinion is the chief event off Trade Union history at the close of the nineteenth century ; and we propose to analyse in some detail the various' in- fluences which in our opinion co-operated to bring it about. We shall trace the beginnings of a new intellectual ferment in the Trade Union world. We shall watch this working on minds awakened by an industrial contraction of excep- tional character. We shall see it resulting in the revelation of hideous details of poverty and degradation, for which deepening social compunction imperatively demanded a remedy. We shall describe the recrudescence of a revolu- tionary Utopianism like the Owenism of 1833-34. We shall trace the gradual schooling of the impracticable elements into a sobered and somewhat bureaucratic Collectivism ; and finally, we shall watch the rapid diffusion of this new faith throughout the whole Trade Union world. 2

If we had to assign to any one event the starting of the new current of thought, we should name the wide cir- culation in Great Britain of Henry George's Progress and Poverty during the years 1880-82. The optimist and aggressive tone of the book, in marked contrast with the complacent quietism into which the English working-class movement had sunk, and the force of the popularisation of

1 Times leader on the Congress of Belfast, September n, 1893, which deplores the remarkable " subservience to Mr. John Burns and his friends " manifested by the Congress a subservience marked by the election of Mr. Burns for the Parliamentary Committee at the head of the poll, and by the adoption of a programme which included the nationalisation of the land and other means of production and distribution.

2 The following description of the rise of the "New Unionism" of 1889 is based on minutes and reports of Trade Union organisations, the files of Justice, the Labour Elector, the Trade Unionist, the Cotton Factory Times, the Workman's Times, and other working-class journals. The document- ary evidence has been elucidated and supplemented by the reminiscences of most of the principal actors in the movement, and by the personal recollections of the authors themselves, one of whom, as a member of the Fabian Society, observed the transformation from the Socialist side, whilst the other, as a disciple of Herbert Spencer and a colleague of Charles Booth, was investigating the contemporary changes from an Individualist standpoint.


376 The Old Unionism and the New

the economic Theory of Rent, sounded the dominant note alike of the " New Unionism " and of the British Socialist Movement. Henry George made, it is true, no contribution to the problems of industrial organisation ; nor had he, outside of the " Single Tax " on land values, any intention of promoting a general Collectivist movement. But he succeeded, where previous writers had failed, in widely diffusing among all classes a vivid appreciation of the nature and results of the landlord's appropriation of economic rent. It is, in our judgement, the spread among the town artisans of this conception of rent which has so largely transformed the economic views of the Trade Union world, and which has gone far to shift the lines of politics. The land question in particular has been completely revolutionised. Instead of the Chartist cry of " Back to the Land," still adhered to by rural labourers and belated politicians, the town artisan is thinking of his claim to the unearned incre- ment of urban land values, which he now watches falling into the coffers of the great landlords.

But if Henry George gave the starting push, it was the propaganda of the Socialists that got the new movement under way. The Socialist party, which became reorganised in London between 1881 and 1883, after practically a genera- tion of quiescence, merged the project of Land Nationalisa- tion in the wider conception of an organised Democratic community in which the collective power and the collective income should be consciously directed to the common benefit of all. 1 Whilst Henry George was, almost in his own despite, driving Peasant Proprietorship and Leasehold En- franchisement out of the political field, the impressive description which Karl Marx had given of the effects of the Industrial Revolution was interpreting to the thoughtful workman the svery-day incidents of industrial life. It needed no Socialist to convince the artisan in any of the great industries that his chance of rising to be a successful employer was becoming daily more remote. It required no

1 See Mr. H. M. Hyndman's England for All, 1881.


The Advent of the Socialists 377

agitator to point out that amid an enormous increase in wealth production the wages of the average mechanic re- mained scarcely sufficient to bring up his family in decency and comfort, whilst whole sections of his unskilled fellow- workers received less than the barest family maintenance. Even the skilled mechanic saw himself exposed to panics, commercial crises, and violent industrial dislocations, over which neither he nor his Trade Union had any control, and by which he and his children were often reduced to destitu- tion. But it was the Socialists who supplied the workman with a plausible explanation of these untoward facts. Through the incessant lecturing of H. M. Hyndman, William Morris, and other disciples of Karl Marx, working men were , taught that the impossibility of any large section of the working class becoming their own employers was due, not to lack of self-control, capacity, or thrift, but to the In- dustrial Revolution, with its improvement of mechanical processes, its massing of capital, and the consequent ex- tinction of the small entrepreneur by great industrial estab- lishments. In this light the divorce of the manual workers from the ownership of the means of production was seen to be no passing phase, but an economic development which must, under any system of private control of industry, become steadily more complete. And it was argued that the terrible alterations of over-production and commercial stagnation, the anomaly that a glut of commodities should be a cause of destitution, were the direct result of the management of industry with a view to personal profit, instead of to the satisfaction of public wants.

The economic circumstances of the time supplied the Socialist lecturers with dramatic illustrations of their theory. Theac.ute depression of 1878-79 had been succeeded by only a brief and partial expansion during 1881-83. A period of prolonged though not exceptional contraction followed, during which certain staple trades experienced the most sudden and excessive fluctuations. In the great industry of shipbuilding, for instance, the bad times of 1879 were


378 The Old Unionism and the New

succeeded by a period during which trade expanded by leaps and bounds, more than twice the tonnage being built in 1883 than in 1879. In the very next year this enormous production came suddenly to an end, many shipbuilding yards being closed and whole towns on the north-east coast finding their occupation for the moment destroyed. The total tonnage built fell from 1,250,000 in 1883 to 750,000 in 1884, 540,000 in 1885, and to the still lower total of 473,000 in 1886. Thousands of the most highly skilled and best organised mechanics, who had been brought to Jarrow or Sunderland the year before, found themselves reduced to absolute destitution, not from any failure of their industry, but merely because the exigencies of competitive profit- making had led to the concentration in one year of the normal production of two. " In every shipbuilding port/' says Robert Knight in the Boilermakers' Annual Report for 1886, " there are to be seen thousands of idle men vainly seeking for an honest day's work. The privation that has been endured by them, their wives and children, is terrible to contemplate. Sickness has been very prevalent, whilst the hundreds of pinched and hungry faces have told a tale of suffering and privation which no optimism could minimise or conceal. Hide it cover it up as we may, there is a depth of grief and trouble the full revelations of which, we believe, cannot be indefinitely postponed. The workman may be ignorant of science and the arts, and the sum of his exact knowledge may be only that which he has gained in his closely circumscribed daily toil ; but he is not blind, and his thoughts do not take the shape of daily and hourly thanksgiving that his condition is not worse than it is ; he does not imitate the example of the pious shepherd of Salisbury Plain, who derived supreme contentment from the fact that a kind Providence had vouchsafed him salt to eat with his potatoes. He sees the lavish display of wealth in which he has no part. He sees a large and growing class enjoying inherited abundance. He sees miles of costly residences, each occupied by fewer people than are crowded


James Mawdsley 379

into single rooms of the tenement in which he lives. He cannot fail to reason that there must be something wrong in a system which effects such unequal distribution of the wealth created by labour."

Other skilled trades had, between 1883 and 1887, a similar though less dramatic experience. At the Inter- national Trades Union Congress of 1886, James Mawdsley, the cautious leader of the Lancashire cotton-spinners, speak- ing as a member of the Parliamentary Committee on behalf of the British section, described the state of affairs in Eng- land in the following terms : " Wages had fallen, and there was a great number of unemployed. . . . Flax mills were being closed every day. . . . All the building trades were in a bad position ; . . . ironfoundries were in difficulties, and one-third of the shipwrights were without work. . . . Steam- engine makers were also slack, except those manufacturers who exported to France, Germany, and Austria. With a few rare exceptions, the depression affecting the great lead- ing trades was felt in a thousand-and-one occupations. Seeing that there was a much larger number of unemployed, the question naturally presented itself as to whether there was any chance of improvement. He considered there was no chance of improvement so long as the present state of society continued to exist. ... He did not understand their Socialism ; he had not studied it as perhaps he ought to have done. The workmen of England were not so advanced as the workmen of the Continent. Nevertheless they, at least, possessed one clear conception : they realised that the actual producers did not obtain their share of the wealth they created." 1 We see the same spirit spreading even to the most conservative and exclusive trades. " To our minds," writes the Central Secretary of the powerful Union of Flint Glass Makers, " it is very hard for employers to attempt to force men into systems by which they cannot earn an honourable living. These unjust attempts to

1 Report of the International Trades Union Congress at Paris, 1886, by Adolphe Smith, 1886.


380 The Old Unionism and the New

grind down the working men will not be tolerated much longer, for revolutionary changes are beginning to show themselves, and important matters affecting the industrial classes will speedily come to the front. Why, for example, should Lord Dudley inherit coal-mines and land producing 1000 a day while his colliers have to slave all the week ancLcannot get a living ? " *

^he discontent was fanned by well-intentioned if some- what sentimental philanthropists, who were publishing their experiences in the sweated industries and the slums of the great cities. The Bitter Cry of Outcast London and other gruesome stories were revealing, not only to the middle class, but also to the " aristocracy of labour," whole areas of industrial life which neither Trade Unionism nor Co- operation could hope to reach. With the middle class the compunction thus excited resulted in elaborate investiga- tions issuing in inconclusive reports. A Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor produced nothing more effectual than a slight addition to the existing powers of vestries and Town Councils. Another on the Depression of Trade was absolutely barren. A Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Poor Law failed even to discover the problems to be solved. Another on the Sweating System ended, after years of delay, in an accurate diagnosis of the evil, coupled with a confession of inability to cope with it. In 1885 an Edinburgh philanthropist provided a thousand pounds for a public conference to inquire whether some more equitable system of industrial remuneration could not be suggested : a conference which served only to cast doubt on such philanthropic schemes as profit-sharing and the " self-governing workshop," whilst bringing into prominence the Socialist proposals. 2 And, more important than all these, Charles Booth, a great merchant and shipowner, began in 1886, at his own expense, a systematic statistical inquiry into the actual social condition of the whole popula-

1 Flint Glass Makers' Magazine, November 1884. 2 Report of the Industrial Remuneration Conference, 1885.


Charles Booth 381

tion of London, the impressive results of which eventually reverberated from one end of the kingdom to the other. 1

The outcome of the investigations thus set on foot was i an incalculable impetus to social 'reform. They had, for the most part, been' undertaken in the expectation that a sober and scientific inquiry would prove the exceptional character of the harrowing incidents laid bare by the philan- thropists, and unsparingly quoted by the new agitators. But to the genuine surprise alike of the economists and the Trade Union leaders, the lurid statements of the sensation- f alists and the Socialists were, on the whole, borne out byl the statistics; The stories of unmerited misery were shown to be, not accidental exceptions to a general condition of moderate well-being, but typical instances of the average existence of great masses of the population. The " sweater " turned out to be, not an exceptionally cruel capitalist, but himself the helpless product of a widespread degeneration which extended over whole industries. In the wealthiest and most productive city in the world, Charles Booth, after an exhaustive census, was driven to the conclusion that a million and a quarter persons fell habitually below his " Poverty Line." Thirty-two per cent of the whole popula- tion of London (in some large districts over 60 per cent) were found to be living in a state of chronic poverty, which pre- cluded not only the elementary conditions of civilisation and citizenship, but was incompatible with physical health or industrial efficiency. Moreover, Charles Booth's figures and the report of the House of Lords Committee on Sweating disproved, once for all, the comfortable assumption that all

1 The results of twenty years of patient labour by Charles Booth and his assistants are embodied in the magnificent work, Labour and Life of the People (London, ist edition, 2 vols., 1889-91 ; 2nd edition, 4 vols., 1893), reissued in greatly enlarged form as Life and Labour in London, 18 vols. ; Pauperism and the Endowment of Old Age (London, 1893) ; The Aged Poor (1894) ; Old Age and the Aged Poor (1899) ; Industrial Unrest and Trades Union Policy (1913). In Charles Booth: a Memoir (1918) Mrs. Booth has given a personal biography (1840-1914) of a tireless investigator who, merely by the instrument of social diagnosis, got accomplished reforms of a magnitude that seemed at first wholly impracticable.


382 The Old Unionism and the New

destitution originated in drink or vice. It was impossible, fcTuse the well-known phrase of Burke, to draw an indict- ment against a third of the people of London, or against two-thirds of the East End.

The daily experience of whole sections of the wage- earners during these years of depression, and the statistical inquiries of the middle class, appeared, therefore, to justify the Socialist indictment of the capitalist system. What was perhaps of more effect was the fact that the Socialists /alone seemed inspired by faith in a radical transformation

'of society, and that they alone offered a solution which had not yet been tried and found wanting. Prior to 1867 it had been possible to ascribe the evil state of the wage-earners to the malignant influence of class government and political exclusion. Cobden and Bright had eloquently described the millennium to be reached through untaxed products. For a whole generation the leaders of a consolidated Trade Unionism had demonstrated the advantageous terms that the artisan might, through collective bargaining and a reserve fund, wring from his employers. But in face of a protracted lack of employment, the extended suffrage, Free Trade, and well-administered Trade Unions proved alike helpless. Twenty years of the franchise had left the town artisan still at the mercy of commercial gamblers and exposed to the extortions of the slum landlord. A Liberal Government was actually in power, wielding an enormous majority, but manifesting no keen desire to remedy the results of economic inequality. No attempt was being made to redress even the admitted wrongs of the necessitous tax- payer. The Tea Duty remained untouched ; the Land Tax was left unref ormed ; whilst the larger question of using some of the nation's wealth to provide decent con- ditions of existence for the great bulk of the people was not even mooted. A further Extension of the Franchise,

JFree Trade, and Popular Education were still the only social and economic panaceas that the Liberal party had to offer. But cheapness of commodities was of no use to


The Sick and Burial Club 383

the workman who was thrown out of employment ; and the spread of education served but to increase his discon- tent with existing social conditions and his ability to under- stand the theoretic explanations and practical proposals of the new school of -reformers.

The working man found no more comfort in Trade Unionism than in party politics. The mason, carpenter, or ironfounder saw, for instance, his old and powerful Trade Society reduced to little more than a sick and burial / club, refusing all support to strikes even against reductions of wages and increase of hours, and only maintaining its out-of-work benefit by running heavily into debt to its more prosperous members. 1 As the lean years followed one on another, he saw the benefits reduced, the contribu- tions raised, and numbers of staunch Unionists left high and dry as members " out of benefit." The trade friendly society the " scientific Trade Unionism " of the Front Bench was in fact becoming rapidly discredited. John Burns and Tom Mann, young and energetic members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, were, between 1884 and 1889, vigorously denouncing, up and down the country, the supineness of their great amalgamated Union. " How long, how long," appeals Tom Mann to the Trade Unionists in 1886, 2 " will you be content with the present half-hearted policy of your Unions ? I readily grant that good work has been done in the past by the Unions ; but, in Heaven's name, what good purpose are they serving now ? All of them have large numbers out of employment even when

1 The funds of the Stonemasons had been completely exhausted by the great strike of 1878. In January 1879 the Society determined, on a proposition submitted by the Central Executive, to close all pending disputes (including a general strike at Sheffield against a heavy reduction without due notice); and between that date and March 1885, though many of the branches struggled manfully, and in some cases successfully, against repeated reductions of wages, increases of hours, or infringements of the local bye-laws, no strike whatever was supported from the Society's funds. The case of the Stonemasons is typical of the other great trade friendly societies.

2 What a Compulsory Eight Hours Working Day means to the Workers, by Tom Mann (1886), 16 pp.


384 The Old Unionism and the New

their particular trade is busy. None of the important societies have any policy other than that of endeavouring to keep wages from falling. The true Unionist policy of aggression seems entirely lost sight of : in fact, the average Unionist of to-day is a man with a fossilised intellect, either hopelessly apathetic, or supporting a policy that plays directly into the hands of the capitalist exploiter. . . . I take my share of the work of the Trade Union to which I belong ; but I candidly confess that unless it shows more vigour at the present time (June 1886) I shall be compelled to take the view against my will that to continue to spend time over the ordinary squabble-investigating, do-nothing policy will be an unjustifiable waste of one's energies. I am sure there are thousands of others in my state of mind." 1

1 Mr. Tom Mann, one of the outstanding figures in the New Unionist Movement, was born at Foleshill, Warwickshire, in 1856, and apprenticed in an engineering shop at Birmingham, whence he came to London in 1878, and joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. Eagerly pursuing his self -education, he became acquainted first with the Co-operative Movement, and then with the writings of Henry George. In 1884 he visited the United States, where he worked for six months. On his return he joined the Battersea Branch of the Social Democratic Federation, and quickly became one of its leading speakers. His experience of the evils of overtime made the Eight Hours Day a prominent feature in his lectures, and in 1886 he published his views in the pamphlet, What a Compulsory Eight Hours Working Day means to the Workers (1886, i6pp.), of which several editions have been printed. In the same year he left his trade in order to devote himself to the provincial propaganda of the Social Democratic Federation, spending over two years incessantly lecturing, first about Tyneside, and then in Lancashire. Returning to London early in 1889, he assisted in establishing the Gasworkers' Union and in organising the great dock strike, on the termination of which he was elected President of the Dockers' Union. For three years he applied himself to building up this organisation, deciding to resign in 1892, when he became a candidate for the General Secretary- ship of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. After an exciting contest, during which he addressed meetings of the members in all the great engineering centres, he failed of success only by 951 votes on a poll of 35,992. In the meantime he had been appointed, in 1891, a member of the Royal Commission on Labour, to which he submitted a striking scheme for consolidating the whole dock business of the port of London, by cutting a new channel for the Thames across the Isle of Dogs. On the establish- ment in 1 893 of the London Reform Union he was appointed its secretary, a post which he relinquished in 1894 on being elected secretary of the Independent Labour Party. This he presently relinquished to emigrate to New Zealand ; and there and in Australia he threw himself energetically into Trade Union agitation. Returning to England Jn igu. he became a


John Burns 385

" Constituted as it is," writes John Burns in September I887, 1 " Unionism carries within itself the source of its own dissolution. . . . Their reckless assumption of the duties and responsibilities that only the State or whole community can discharge, in the nature of sick and superannuation benefits, at the instance of the middle class, is crushing out the larger Unions by taxing their members to an unbearable extent. This so cripples them that the fear of being unable to discharge their friendly society liabilities often makes them submit to encroachments by the masters without protest. The result of this is that all of them have ceased to be Unions for maintaining the rights of labour, and have degenerated into mere middle and upper class rate-reducing institutions." 2

fervent advocate of Syndicalism ; and then became an organiser for various General Labour Unions. In 1919 he was elected General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, after an exhaustive ballot of its great membership.

1 Article in Justice, September 3, 1887.

2 Mr. John Burns, in many respects the most striking personality in the Labour Movement, was born at Battersea in 1859, and was apprenticed to a local engineering firm. Already during his apprenticeship he made his voice heard in public, in 1877 being actually arrested for persistently speaking on Clapham Common, and in 1878 braving the " Jingo " mob at a Hyde Park demonstration. As soon as he was out of his time (1879) he joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and became an advocate of shorter hours of labour. An engagement as engineer on the Niger, West Africa, during 1 880-81, gave him leisure to read, which he utilised by mastering Adam Smith and J. S. Mill. Returning to London, he worked side by side with Victor Delahaye, an ex-Communard, who was afterwards one of the French representatives at the Berlin Labour Conference, 1891, and with whom he had many talks on the advancement of labour. In 1883 he joined the Social Democratic Federation, and at once became its leading working-class member, championing its cause, for instance, in an impressive speech at the Industrial Remuneration Conference in 1885. In the same year he was elected by his district of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers as its representative at the quinquennial delegate meeting of the Society, where he found himself the youngest member. At the General Election of 1885 he stood as Socialist candidate for West Nottingham, receiving 598 votes. For the next two years he became known as the leader of the London " unemployed " agitation. His prosecution for sedition in 1886 (with three other prominent members of the Social Demo- cratic Federation) aroused considerable interest, and on his acquittal his speech for the defence, The Man with the Red Flag, had a large sale in pamphlet form (1886; 16 pp.). At the prohibited demonstration at

O


386 The Old Unionism and the New

Here we see the beginning of that agitation against th combination of friendly benefits with trade protection aim which subsequently became, for a short time, one of th characteristics of the " New Unionism." But if the trad' friendly society withered up during these years into a mer benefit club, the purely trade society showed no great e ^/Vitality. The great depression of 1878-79 had swept out o existence hundreds of little local Unions which lacked th cohesion given by the friendly society side. The Lancashir and Midland Miners' organisations, which gave no benefits had either collapsed altogether, or had dissolved int< isolated pit clubs, incapable of combined action. Th Lancashire cotton operatives, the Northumberland am Durham miners, and a few other essentially trade societies held together only by surrendering to the employers on concession after another. With capitalists ready at an; moment to suspend a profitless business, collective bar . gaining proved as powerless to avert reductions as th individual contract. In face of a long-continued depressioi of trade, marked by frequent oscillations in particula industries, both types of Trade Unionism, it seemed, ha< been tried and found wanting.

These were the circumstances under which the dis illusioned working-class politician or Trade Unionist wa reached by the lectures and writings of the Socialists, wh

Trafalgar Square on " Bloody Sunday " (November 13, 1887), in con junction with Mr. Cunninghame Graham, M.P., he broke through the polic line, for which they were both sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment. I January 1889 he was elected for'Battersea to the new London Count Council, on which he became one of the most useful and influential mem bers. His magnificent work in the dock strike and in organising th unskilled labourers is described in the text. At the General Election c 1892 he was chosen, by a large majority, M.P. for Battersea, and at th Trades Union Congress in 1893 he received the largest number of vote for the Parliamentary Committee, of which he accordingly became Chaii man. In 1906 he was appointed President of the Local Governmen Board in Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's Government, with a seat in th Cabinet thus becoming the first working - man Cabinet Minister post which he held until August 1914, when he resigned on the outbreak o war. He retained his seat in Parliament until 1918, when he retired.


The Unemployed 387

offered him not only a sympathetic explanation of the ills from which he suffered, but also a comprehensive scheme of social reform, extending from an Eight Hours Bill to the Nationalisation of the Means of Production. In a "purely historical essay it is unnecessary for us to discuss the validity of the optimistic confidence with which the Socialists of these years declared that under a system of collective ownership the workers would not only be ensured at all times a competent livelihood, but would themselves control the administration of the surplus wealth of the nation. But in tracing the causes of the New Unionism of 1889-90, and the transformation of the Trade Union Movement from an Individualist to a Collectivist influence in the political world, we venture to ascribe a large share to the superior attractiveness of this buoyant faith over anything offered by the almost cynical fatalism of the old school.

The Socialist agitation benefited between 1886 and 1889 by a series of undesigned advertisements. Meetings of " the unemployed " in February 1886 led to unexpected riots, which threw all London into a panic, and were followed by a Government prosecution for sedition. Hyndman, Burns, Champion, and Williams, as the leaders of the Social Demo- cratic Federation, were indicted at the Old Bailey, and their trial, ending in an acquittal, attracted the attention of the whole country to their doctrines. The " Unemployed " gatherings went on with ever-increasing noise until Novem- ber 1887, when the Chief Commissioner of Police issued a proclamation prohibiting meetings in Trafalgar Square, which had for a whole generation served as the forum of the London agitator. This " attack on free speech " by a Conservative Government, coming after several minor attempts to suppress open-air meetings by its Liberal pre- decessor, rallied the forces of London artisan Radicalism to those of the Socialists. A gigantic demonstration on Sunday, November 13, 1887, was held in defiance of the police, only to be repulsed from Trafalgar Square by a free use of the police bludgeon and the calling out of both


388 The Old Unionism and the New

cavalry and infantry. John Burns and Cunninghame Graham, M.P., were imprisoned for their share in this transaction. A similar agitation on a smaller scale was going on in the provinces. On Tyneside and in the Mid- lands numerous emissaries of the Social Democratic Federa- tion and the Socialist League were spreading the revolt

j against the helpless apathy into which the Trade Unions

' had sunk. In every large industrial centre the indefatigable lecturing of branches of Socialist organisations was stirring up a vague but effective unrest in all except the official circle of the Trade Union world.

To the great army of unskilled, or only partially skilled, workmen concentrated in London and other large cities the

\- new crusade came as a gospel of deliverance. The unskilled labourer was getting tired of being referred, as the sole means of bettering his condition, to the " scientific Trade Unionism " alone recognised by the Front Bench. Trade Societies which admitted only workmen earning a high standard rate, which exacted a weekly contribution of not less than a shilling, and which frequently excluded all but regularly apprenticed men, were regarded by the builders' labourer, the gas stoker, or the docker, as aristocratic corpora- tions with which he had as little in common as with the House of Lords. " The great bulk of our labourers," writes

/ John Burns, " are ignored by the skilled workers. It is this selfish, snobbish desertion by the higher grades of the lower that makes success in many disputes impossible. Ostracised by their fellows, a spirit of revenge alone often prompts men to oppose or remain indifferent to Unionism, when if the Unions were wiser and more conciliatory, support would have been forthcoming where now jealousy and dis- content prevails." 1 Even among the skilled workers, the ycunger artisans, if they had joined their Unions at all, were discontented with the exclusive and apathetic policy, of the older members. Thus we find rising up, in such; " aristocratic " Unions as the Amalgamated Society of

1 Address to Trade Unionists in Justice, January 24, 1885.


Adam Weiler 389

Engineers and the London Society of Compositors, a " New Unionist " party of young men, who vigorously objected to the degradation of a Trade Union into a mutual insurance company, who protested against the exclusion of the lowly paid sections from the organisation of the trade, and who advocated the use of the political influence of the Society in the interests of Social-Democracy. By 1888 the Socialists had not only secured the allegiance of large sections of the unskilled labourers in London and some other towns, but had obtained an important body of recruits in the great " Amalgamated " societies.

At this pass nothing short of strangulation could have kept the new spirit out of the Trade Union Congress. It is interesting to notice that the first sign among the delegates is to be ascribed to the direct influence of Karl Marx. At the 1878 Congress at Bristol we find Adam Weiler, an old member of the " International," and a personal friend of the great Socialist, reading a paper in which he advocated legislation to limit the hours of labour. 1 At the next Congress Weiler took exception to the resolution in favour of establishing a Peasant Proprietorship moved on behalf of the Parliamentary Committee. But in that year his amendment in favour of Land Nationalisation did not even find a seconder. Three ' years later the effect of Henry George's propaganda becomes visible. In 1882, when the land question was again raised, the two ideals were sharply

1 Weiler was the delegate of the Alliance Cabinetmakers' Society, and came from London. The Congress Report gives the following account of his paper : " After reviewing the position of the working classes under the present system, and comparing it with the state of things eighty years ago, he contended that the best means of bettering their position was to reduce the hours of toil. The result of this would be, first, to give every worker a better chance of employment, and thus lessen that sort of com- petition which was caused by hunger and want ; secondly, it would give them time and opportunity for rest and amusement, and that cultivation of their minds which would enable them to prepare themselves for the time when the present system of production would collapse, and the time of this collapse was not so distant as some supposed." The paper was received with much applause, and Weiler received the thanks of Congress. No resolution was passed.


390 The Old Unionism and the New

contrasted, and in spite of protests against " communistic principles/' a rider declaring for nationalisation was adopted by 71 votes to 31. The Parliamentary Committee made no change in their attitude on the question, contending that the vote had been taken in the absence of many delegates, and that it did not represent the opinion of the Congress as a whole. This contention was to some extent borne out by the votes of the next five Congresses, at all of which amendments in favour of the principle of nationalisation were rejected, though by decreasing majorities. At length, in 1887, at the Swansea Congress, the tide turned, and a vague addendum in favour of Land Nationalisation was accepted. 1 At the Bradford Congress in 1888 the very idea of Peasant Proprietorship had disappeared. The represent- atives of the agricultural labourers now asked only for individual occupation of publicly owned allotments. Ulti- mately the Congress adopted by 66 votes to 5 a distinct declaration in favour of Land Nationalisation, coupled with an instruction to the Parliamentary Committee to bring the proposal before the House of Commons.

Meanwhile Weiler had made another and more successful attempt to enlist the aid of the Congress in the legal regu- lation of the hours of labour. At the 1883 Congress he moved a resolution which instructed the Parliamentary Committee to obtain the legal limitation to eight hours of the maximum day of all workers in the employment of public authorities, or companies exercising Parliamentary powers. This was seconded by Edward Harford, the General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, and carried, in a thin meeting, by only 33 to 8. In 1885 the movement had so far gained weight that the Parliamentary Committee thought it expedient to tem- porise by promoting an investigation into the amount of overtime worked in Government departments, with the result of demonstrating how completely the practice of

1 History of the British Trades Union Congress, by W. J. Davis, vol. i. p. 133-


The Eight Hours Bill 391

systematic overtime had neutralised the Nine Hours victory. 1 At the 1887 Congress at Swansea the Parliamentary Com- mittee were instructed to take a vote of the Trade Union world upon the whole question, a vote which revealed the unexpected fact that Applegarth's own Union, the Amal- gamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, had been con- verted to an, Eight Hours Bill. 2 A second plebiscite, taken at the instance of the following year's Congress, showed that such old Unions as the Compositors, the Ironfounders, and the Railway Servants were swinging round. 3

In the meantime the growing divergence of policy among the coal-miners, which we foreshadowed in the last chapter, had brought a powerful contingent of organised workmen to the support of the new party. We have already described the conversion of the leaders of the Northumberland and Durham miners to the principle of the Sliding Scale, in- volving, as it did, the dependence of the worker's standard of comfort upon the market price of his product. On another point, too, the two northern counties had broken away from the traditional policy of the Miners' organisation. Already in 1863 we noted that Crawford, one of the ablest of their leaders, was vigorously objecting, at the Leeds Conference, to an Eight Hours Bill for boys, on the ground that in Northumberland and Durham, where the hewers often worked in two shifts, such a restriction would interfere with the men's convenience. This resistance to a particular

1 The Return moved for by George Howell regarding the Woolwich and Enfield engineering works showed that, during 1884 and 1885, more than half the artisans worked overtime, the average per week for each man varying from 9.4 hours in some shops to 17.8 in others.

2 11,966 of its members voted for an Eight Hours Day, and of these 9209 declared in favour of the enforcement of the eight hours limit by law. The total votes given for an Eight Hours Law was 17,267 ; against it, 3819.

8 The votes in favour of an Eight Hours Day were 39,656 ; against it, 67,390, of which 56,541 were cast on behalf of the Cotton-spinners and Weavers. 'In favour of an Eight Hours Law, 28,511 ; against it, 12,283. The votes of the different trades, and a summary of the Congress proceed- ings on this subject, are given in The Eight Hours Day, by Sidney Webb and Harold Cox, 1891 ; see also History of the British Trades Union Congress, by W. J. Davis, vol. ii. pp. 7-8.


392 The Old Unionism and the New

interference with the exceptional circumstances of the local industry gradually developed into a general objection to legal regulation of the hours of adult men. We find, there- fore, the Northumberland and Durham miners from 1875 onwards ranging themselves more and more with the leaders of the iron and building trades, who, as we have seen, had become largely converted to the economic conceptions then current among the middle class. The fact that the Northumberland and Durham Associations, almost alone among Miners' Unions, had successfully weathered the bad times of 1877-79, and the constant presence of one or other of their leaders on the Parliamentary Committee, caused these opinions to be accepted as those of the whole industry.

But the miners elsewhere did not long rest content with the new policy of Durham and Northumberland. In December 1881 the amalgamated South and West York- shire Miners' Associations formally terminated the then existing Sliding Scale, and passed a resolution in favour of the policy of restricting the output. During the following years the Yorkshire employers several times proposed the re-establishment of a scale, but the men insisted on its being accompanied by an agreement for a minimum below which wages should in no event fall a condition to which the coal-owners uniformly refused their assent. The lead given by the Yorkshire miners was quickly followed by other districts, notably by Lancashire. In this county Trade Unionism among the miners had, as we have seen, gone to pieces in the bad years. Reorganisation in local Unions came in 1881 ; and a Lancashire Miners' Federation was successfully established in the following year. At their Conference of 1883 the delegates of the Lancashire miners resolved, " That the time has come when the working miners shall regulate the production of coal ; that no collier or other underground worker shall work more than five days or shifts per week ; and that the hours from bank to bank be eight per shift." Finding it impossible to secure their


Discord among the Miners 393

object by strikes, the Lancashire men turned to that policy of legislative regulation which had marked the proceedings of the Conference of 1863.

With the improvement in trade which began in 1885, the membership and influence of the Lancashire and York- shire organisations rapidly increased, and new federations were started throughout the Midlands. The Scotch miners, too, had in 1886-87 a sn rt outburst of organisation, when a national federation was formed with a membership of 23,000. All these Associations adopted the policy of regu- lating the output, and the Scotch miners, in particular, conducted, in 1887, a vigorous agitation in support of the clause limiting the day's work to eight hours, which two Scottish members endeavoured to insert in the Mines Regu- lation Act of 1887. l But the Executive of the National Union had, since Macdonald's death in 1881, fallen entirely into the hands of the Northumberland and Durham leaders. Under their influence it maintained its adherence to the principle of the Sliding Scale and its hostility to the Eight Hours Bill, thereby alienating, not only the new federations, but also the old-established and powerful Yorkshire Miners' Association. From 1885 to 1888 the battle between the contending doctrines ranged at every miners' conference. 2 During the latter year the combatants withdrew to separate camps. In September 1888 a conference of the representa- tives of non-sliding scale districts was called together in

1 The clause was moved by S. Williamson, Liberal Member for Kil- marnock, and seconded by J. H. C. Hozier, Conservative Member for South Lanarkshire. It received no support from the " Labour Members," and was rejected by 159 to 104. See the Eight Hours Day, by Webb and Cox, 1891, p. 23.

2 The " National Conferences " of the miners are a feature peculiar to the industry. Besides the periodical gatherings of the separate federations, the miners, since 1863, have had frequent conferences of delegates from all the organised districts in the kingdom. These conferences were, until 1889, held under the auspices of the National Union ; subsequently they were summoned by the Miners' Federation. The meetings, from which reporters are now excluded, are consultative only, and their decisions are not authoritative until adopted by the separate organisations. See Die Ordnung des Arbeitsverhdltnisses in den Kohlengruben von Northumberland und Durham, by Dr. Emil Auerbach (Leipzig, 1890, 268 pp.).

02


394 The Old Unionism and the New

Manchester, when arrangements were made for the establish- ment of a new federation, into which no district governed by a sliding scale was to be allowed to enter. From this time forth the old National Union on the one hand, and the new Miners' Federation on the other, became rivals for the allegiance of the various district associations, and some- what unsympathetic critics of each other's policy and actions. The issue was not long doubtful. The National Union gradually shrank up to Northumberland and Durham, whilst the Miners' Federation, with its aggressive policy and its semi-Socialistic principles of a minimum wage and a legal day, grew apace. From 36,000 members in 1888, it rose to 96,000 in 1889, 147,000 in 1891, and over 200,000 in 1893, overshadowing in its growth all existing Trade Union organisations. The Socialist advocates of the legal limita- tion of the hours of labour accordingly enjoyed from 1888 onward, both in the Trade Union Congress and at the polling- booths, the support of a rapidly growing contingent of organised miners, whose solid adhesion has done more than anything else to promote the general movement in favour of an Eight Hours Bill.

It is easy at this distance to recognise, in the altered tone of the rank and file of Congress delegates, a reflection of the wider change of opinion outside. But to the Trade Union Front Bench, as, in fact, to most of the politicians of the time, it was incredible that the new ideas should gain any real footing among the skilled artisans. The Parlia- mentary Committee regarded the innovations with much the same feeling as that with which they had met the pro- posals of a little gang which had, in 1882, vainly attempted to foist the principles of fiscal protection upon the Con- gress. 1 When Congress insisted on passing a resolution with which the Parliamentary Committee found themselves

1 The " Fair Trade " attack had arisen in the following manner. At the Bristol Congress in 1878, certain delegates, who were strongly suspected of being the paid agents of the organisation then agitating for the abolition of the foreign bounties on sugar, attempted to force this question upon the Congress, and made a serious disturbance. These delegates afterwards


The Parliamentary Committee 395

in disagreement, this expression of opinion was sometimes ignored as being nothing more than the fad of particular delegates. It was in vain that the Congress of 1888, after ten years' deliberation, definitely decided in favour of the principles of Land Nationalisation instead of Peasant Pro- prietorship. The Parliamentary Committee contented itself with promising that " a well-considered measure " would be put forward by the Committee. The Eight Hours question could not be treated so cavalierly. Direct resolutions in favour of legislative action were therefore staved off by proposals for inquiry. When a vote of the Trade Union world was decided upon, the Parliamentary Committee, in conjunction with many of the General Secretaries, were able practically to baulk the investigation. The voting paper was loaded with warnings and arguments against legislative action. No attempt was made to ensure a genuine vote of the rank and file. In some cases the Executive Committees were allowed to take upon themselves the responsibility of de- claring the opinions held by the members of their societies, the total membership of which was then reckoned in the voting. In other instances the Executives were permitted without remonstrance simply to burke the question. The

became the paid representatives of the " Fair Trade League," an associa- tion avowedly composed of landlords and capitalists with the object of securing a reimposition of import duties. The Front Bench steadfastly refused to allow the Congress to be used for promotion of this object, and were exposed in return to what the Congress in 1882 declared to be "a cowardly, false, and slanderous attack, . . . an attempt at moral assassina- tion." Instead of fighting the question of Free Trade versus Protection, the emissaries of the Fair Trade League developed an elaborate system of personal defamation, directed against Broadhurst, Howell, Shipton, and other leaders. For instance, Broadhurst's administration of the Gas Stokers' Relief Fund in 1872 was made the pretext for vague insinuations of malversation which were scattered broadcast through the Trade Union world. At the Congress of 1881 the " Fair Trade " delegates were expelled, on it being proved that their expenses were not paid by the Trade Union organisations which they nominally represented. A renewed attack on the Congress of 1882 ended in the triumphant victory of the Parliamentary Committee, the complete exoneration of Broadhurst and his colleagues, and the final discomfiture of the " Fair Trade " delegates. See Henry Broad- hurst : the Story of his Life, by himself, 1901 ; History of the British Trades Union Congress, by W. J. Davis, vol. i., 1910.


396 The Old Unionism and the New

inquiry failed to elicit any trustworthy census of the opinion of the Trade Union world.

An equal lack of sympathy was shown in connection with the growing feeling of the Congress in favour of the participation of British Trade Unionists in International Congresses. At the express command of Congress, the Parliamentary Committee sent delegates to the International gatherings of 1883 and 1886. But though these instructions were complied with, the Parliamentary Committee made it clear, in their annual reports, that far from favouring International action, " the position they assumed was that they were so well organised, so far ahead of foreign work- men, that little could be done until these were more on a level " with the skilled workers of England. 1 The Congress of 1886 nevertheless instructed the Parliamentary Committee to summon an International Conference in London in the following year. Instead of complying with this instruction, the Committee published, in May 1887, a lengthy pamphlet explaining that, owing to the indisposition of foreign work- men to make any pecuniary sacrifices for their Trade Unions, and the consequent lack of any stable working-class organisa- tions, they had decided to refer the whole question again to the forthcoming Trade Union Congress. When the Con- gress met at Swansea in September 1887, it soon became evident that the Parliamentary Committee, on this question as on others, was quite out of touch with its constituents. In spite of the influence of the Front Bench, a resolution in favour of an International Congress was adopted ; and the Committee succeeded only in inducing Congress to impose restrictions which were intended to exclude the delegates of the German Social-Democratic party. The International Congress was held in London in November 1888. Not- withstanding every precaution, a majority of the repre- sentatives proved to be of Socialist views, Mrs. Besant, John Burns, Tom Mann, and Keir Hardie appearing among

1 Report to Congress of 1884. This is another instance of the aban- donment of the more generous views of Applegarth and Odger.


Lack of Leadership 397

the British delegates. The stiff and unsympathetic atti- tude of the Parliamentary Committee led to heated and, at times, unseemly controversies ; and the resolutions passed were treated by the Committee as of no account whatsoever.

The net result of these proceedings was the loss by the Parliamentary Committee of all intellectual leadership of the Trade Union world. They failed either to resist the new ideas or to guide them into practicable channels. The official Trade Union programme from 1885 to 1889 became steadily more colourless, in striking contrast with the rapid march of politics in the country, which was sweeping the Liberal party forward year by year until in 1891 it adopted the so-called " Newcastle Programme." This programme formulated, though very inadequately, the national side of that semi-collectivist policy which under the name of Pro- gressivism had superseded Liberalism in the London County Council. All that the Parliamentary Committee did was to abandon, one by one, the proposals for the democratisation of the civil and judicial administration which the Front Bench had so much at heart, without replacing them by the more robust resolutions which the Congress in these years was passing. The Land Question, on which a vigorous advocacy of the creation of small freeholders had been formerly maintained, dwindled to a meaningless demand for undefined reform of the land laws, and finally disappeared altogether on the adoption by the Congress of the principle of nationalisation. The maintenance of the Nine Hours Day, and the further reduction of the hours of labour by means of voluntary combination (a frequent item in the official agenda from 1875 to 1879) gradually dropped out altogether as the new demand for legal regulation gathered strength. In short, the Parliamentary Committee had per- force to give up those items in their programme which were contrary to the new ideas of Congress, whilst they silently abstained from incorporating the new resolutions with which they were personally not in agreement.


39$ The Old Unionism and the New

It would, however, be unfair to assume that the stock of official Trade Unionism was, during these years, absolutely barren of new developments. To Mr. C. J. Drummond, 1 then Secretary to the London Society of Compositors, and a friend of the Parliamentary Committee, belongs the credit of having taken the first step towards the enforcement, through the Government, of a standard minimum wage. On the revision of the Government printing contract in 1884, Mr. Drummond secured the support of the Parlia- mentary Committee in an attempt to induce the Stationery Office to adopt, as the basis for the contract, the Trade Union rates of the London compositors. This attempt was, in the main, successful ; but the new contract was nevertheless given to a " closed " house, in which no member of the Union could work. The compositors did not let the matter rest. When the President of the Local Government Board (Joseph Chamberlain) issued a circular in January 1886, as to the effects of the depression in trade, Mr. Drum- mond replied by explicitly demanding the Government's recognition of the Standard Wage in all their dealings. The idea spread with great rapidity. A general demand was started that public authorities should present a good example as employers of labour by themselves paying Trade Union rates, and insisting on their contractors doing the same. Candidates for Parliament at the General Election of 1886 found themselves, at the instance of the London Society of Compositors, 2 for the first time " heckled " as to their will- ingness to insist on " Fair Wages " ; and it began slowly to dawn upon election agents that it might be prejudicial for their election literature to bear the imprint of " rat houses/' In October 1886 the action of the London School Board in giving its printing contract to an " unfair " house was bitterly resented by the London compositors, who in-

1 Mr. Drummond, who resigned his secretaryship in 1892, was in the I following year appointed to the staff of the Labour Department of the I Board of Trade, from which he retired in 1918.

2 S.ee its Circular of June 1886.


The " Fair Wage Clause " 399

duced the London Trades Council to go on a vain deputation of protest. When, in November 1888, the London School Board election came round, A. G. Cook, a member of the London Society of Compositors, secured election for Fins- bury, avowedly as a champion of Trade Union wages ; and two members of the Fabian Society, Mrs. Annie Besant and the Rev. Stewart Headlam, won seats as Socialists. By their eloquence and tactical skill these members induced the Board, early in 1889, to declare that it would henceforth insist on the payment of " Fair Wages " by all its contractors, a policy in which the Board was promptly followed by the newly established London County Council. 1 This new de- parture by the leading public bodies in the Metropolis did much to bring about a common understanding between the official Trade Unionists and the new movement. It is needless to describe in this place how, since that date, the principle of " Fair Wages " has developed. By 1894 a hundred and fifty local authorities had adopted some kind of " Fair Wages " resolution. In 1890, and more explicitly still in 1893, successive Governments found it necessary to repudiate the old principle of buying in the cheapest market, in favour of the now widespread feeling that public author- ities as large employers of labour, instead of ignoring the condition of their employees, should use their influence to maintain the Standard Rate of Wages and Standard Hours of Labour recognised and in practice obtained by the Trade Unions concerned.

Though the Front Bench as a whole maintained during these years its policy of contemptuous inactivity, there were, as we have seen, some signs of the permeation of the new ideas. It was under these circumstances a grave misfortune

1 Some isolated protests against the employment of non-Unionists are of earlier date. Thus, the minutes of the Birmingham Trades Council show that, on July 3, 1880, at the instance of a painters' delegate, it passed a resolution protesting against the employment of " non-Union and incompetent men " by the local hospital. And in the same month the Wolverhampton Trades Council had successfully protested against the employment of non-Unionist printers upon a new Liberal newspaper about to be established.


4OO The Old Unionism and the New

that the inevitable criticism on the Parliamentary Committee began by a scurrilous attack upon the personal character and conduct of its leaders. 1 During the years 1887-89 the conscientious adhesion to the Liberal party of most of the Parliamentary Committee was made the occasion for gross charges of personal corruption. The General Secretaries of the great Unions, men who had for a lifetime diligently served their constituents, found their influence undermined, their character attacked, and themselves denounced, by the circulation all over the country of insidious accusations of treachery to the working classes. These charges found a too ready acceptance among, and were repeated by, those young and impatient recruits of the new movement who knew nothing of the history and services of the men they were attacking. In the year 1889 the friction reached its climax. During the summer the attacks upon the personal character of the Front Bench were redoubled. As the date of the Trade Union Congress approached, it became known that a determined attempt would be made by the Socialist delegates to oust the Parliamentary Committee from office. The Congress met at Dundee, and plunged straight into an angry conflict in which the Socialists were completely routed. The regular attenders of the Congress had, as we have seen, been gradually absorbing many of the new ideas, and were not altogether satisfied with the way their resolu- tions had been ignored by the Parliamentary Committee. But all discontent or criticism was swept away by the anger which the character of the attack had excited. A great majority of the delegates came expressly pledged to support Broadhurst and his colleagues, and when the division was taken only n out of a meeting of 188 delegates were found

1 The chief medium for the attack was the Labour Elector, a penny weekly journal published, from September 1888 to April 1890, by Mr. H. H. Champion, an ex-officer of the Royal Artillery, who (prosecuted in 1886, as we have seen, with H. M. Hyndman, J. Burns, and Williams, for sedition) had at one time been a leading member of the Social Democratic Federation, from which he was excluded on a difference of policy. He afterwards emigrated to Melbourne, where he still (1920) resides.


Broadhurst's Victory 401

to vote against him. The Cotton Operatives who had at all times supported factory legislation, the Miners who were demanding an Eight Hours Bill, the Londoners who came from the centre of the Socialist agitation all rallied to defend the Parliamentary Committee. The little knot of assailants were thoroughly discredited ; and the triumph of the " old gang " was complete. 1

The victory of the Parliamentary Committee was hailed with satisfaction by all who were alarmed at the progress of the new ideas. For a moment it looked as if the organised Trade Unions of skilled workers had definitely separated themselves from the new labour movement growing up around them. Such a separation would, in our opinion, have been an almost irreparable disaster. The Trade Union Congress could claim to represent less than 10 per cent of the wage-earners of the country. Many of the old societies were already shrinking up into insignificant minorities of superior workmen, intent mainly on securing their sick and superannuation benefits. Any definite exclusion of wider ideals might easily have reduced the whole Trade Union organisation to nothing more than a somewhat stagnant department of the Friendly Society movement. This danger was averted by a series of dramatic events which brought the new movement once more inside the Trade Union ranks. At the moment that Henry Broad- hurst was triumphing over his enemies at Dundee, the London dock-labourers were marching to that brilliant victory over their employers which changed the whole face of the Trade Union world.

The great dock strike of 1889 was the culmination of an attempt to organise the unskilled workers which had begun in London two or three years before. The priva- tions suffered by the unemployed labourers during the years of depression of trade, and the new spirit of hope- fulness due to the Socialist propaganda, had led to efforts

1 Henry Broadhurst : the Story of his Life, by himself, 1901, pp. 218-24 ; History of the British Trades Union Congress, by W. J. Davis, vol. i., 1910.


4O2 The Old Unionism and the New

being made to bring the vast hordes of unskilled workmen in the Metropolis into some kind of organisation. At first this movement made very little progress. In July 1888, however, the harsh treatment suffered by the women employed in making lucifer matches roused the burning indignation of Mrs. Besant, then editing The Link, a little weekly newspaper which had arisen out of the struggle for Trafalgar Square. A fiery leading article had the unexpected result of causing the match-girls to revolt ; and 672 of them came out on strike. Without funds, without organisation, the struggle seemed hopeless. But by the indefatigable energy of Mrs. Besant and Herbert Burrows public opinion was aroued in a manner never before witnessed ; 400 was subscribed by hundreds of sympathisers in all classes ; and after a fortnight's obstinacy the employers were com- pelled, by sheer pressure of public feeling, to make some concessions to their workers.

The match-girls' victory turned a new leaf in Trade Union annals. Hitherto success had been in almost exact proportion to the workers' strength. It was a new experi-\ ence for the weak to succeed because of their very weakness, I by means of the intervention of_the public. The lesson * was not lost on other classes of workers. The London gas- stokers were being organised by Burns, Mann, and Tillett, aided by William Thorne, himself a gas-worker and a man of sterling integrity and capacity. The Gas-workers and General Labourers' Union, established in May 1889, quickly enrolled many thousands of members, who in the first days of August simultaneously demanded a reduction of their hours of labour from twelve to eight per day. After an interval of acute suspense, during which the directors of the three great London gas companies measured their forces, peaceful counsels prevailed, and the Eight Hours Day, to the general surprise of the men no less than that of the public, was conceded without a struggle, and was even accompanied by a slight increase of the week's wages. 1

1 The men employed by two of the gas companies in London, and


The London Dockers 403

The success of such unorganised and unskilled workers as the Match-makers and the Gas-stokers led to renewed efforts to bring the great army of Dock-labourers into the ranks of Trade Unionism. For two years past the promi- nent London Socialists had journeyed to the dock gates in the early hours of the morning to preach organised revolt to the crowds of casuals struggling for work. Meanwhile Benjamin Tillett, then working as a labourer in the tea warehouses, was spending his strength in the apparently hopeless task of constituting the Tea-workers and General Labourers'^ Union. The membership of this society fluc- tuated between 300 and 2500 members ; it had practically no funoTs ; and its very existence seemed precarious. Suddenly the organisation received a new impulse. An insignificant dispute on the I2th of August 1889 as to the amount of " plus " (or bonus earned over and above the five- pence per hour) on a certain cargo, brought on an impulsive strike of the labourers at the South- West India Dock. The men demanded sixpence an hour, the abolition of sub- contract and piecework, extra pay for overtime, and a minimum engagement of four hours. Tillett called to his aid his friends Tom Mann and John Burns, and appealed to the whole body of dock labourers to take up the fight. The strike spread rapidly to all the docks north of the Thames. Within three days ten thousand labourers had, with one accord, left the precarious and ill-paid work to get which they had, morning after morning, fought at the dock gates. The two powerful Unions of Stevedores (the better-paid, trained workmen who load ships for export) cast in their lot with the dockers, and in the course of the

most of those engaged by provincial municipalities, have retained this boon. But in December 1889 the South Metropolitan Gas Company insisted, after a serious strike, on a return to the twelve hours' shift. A scheme of profit-sharing was used to break up their men's Union and induce them to accept individual engagements inconsistent with Collective Bargaining. This example (which is not unique) confirmed the Trade Unions in their objection to schemes of " Profit-sharing " or " Co-partner- ship."


404 The Old Unionism and the New

next week practically all the river-side labour had joined the strike. Under the magnetic influence of John Burns, who suddenly became famous as a labour leader on both sides of the globe, the traffic of the world's greatest port was, for over four weeks, completely paralysed. An electric spark of sympathy with the poor dockers fired the enthusiasm \l 1 of all classes of the community. Public disapproval hindered ^ the dock companies from obtaining, even for their unskilled labour, sufficient blacklegs to take the strikers' place. A public subscription of 48,736 allowed Burns to organise an elaborate system of strike-pay, which not only maintained the honest docker, but also. bribed every East End loafer to withhold his labour ; and finally the concentrated pressure \ of editors, clergymen, shareholders, ship-owners, and mer- j chants enabled Cardinal Manning and Sydney (afterwards Lord) Buxton, as self-appointed mediators, to compel the Dock Directors to concede practically the whole of the men's demands, a delay of six weeks being granted to allow the new arrangements to be made. As in the case of the match- girls in the previous year, the most remarkable feature of the dockers' strike was the almost universal sympathy with the workers' demands. A practical manifestation of that sympathy was given by the workmen of Australia. The Australian newspapers published telegraphic accounts of the conflict, with descriptions of the dockers' wrongs, which produced an unparalleled and unexpected result. Public subscriptions in aid of the London dockers were opened in all the principal towns on the Australian continent ; and money poured in from all sides. Over 30,000 was remitted to London by telegraph an absolutely unique contribu- tion towards the strike subsidy which went far to win the victory ultimately achieved. 1

1 This strike had the good fortune to find contemporary historians who were themselves concerned in all the phases of the struggle. The Story of the Dockers' Strike, by Mr. (afterwards Sir) Hubert Llewellyn Smith and Vaughan Nash (1890, 190 pp.), gives not only a detailed chronicle of the highly dramatic proceedings, but also a useful description of the organisa- tion of the London Docks.


Organisation of the Labourers 405

The immediate result of the dockers' success was the formation of a large number of Trade Unions among the unskilled labourers. Branches of the Dock, Wharf, and Riverside Labourers' Union (into which Tillett's little society was now transformed) were established at all the principal ports. A rival society of dockers, established at Liverpool, enrolled thousands of members at Glasgow and Belfast. The unskilled labourers in Newcastle joined the Tyneside and National Labour Union, which soon extended to all the neighbouring towns. The Gas-workers' Union enrolled tens of thousands of labourers of all kinds in the provincial cities. Organisation began again among the farm labourers. The National Union of Agricultural Labourers, which had sunk to a few thousand scattered members, suddenly rose in 1890 to over 14,000. New societies arose, which took in general as well as farm labourers ; such as the Eastern Counties Labour Federation, which, by 1892, had 17,000 members ; and the smaller societies centring respectively on Norwich, Devizes, Reading, Hitchin, Ipswich, and Kingsland in Here- fordshire. 1 The General Railway Workers' Union, origin- ally established in 1889 as a rival to the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, took in great numbers of general labourers. The National Amalgamated Sailors and Fire- men's Union, 2 established in 1887, expanded during 1889 to

1 This movement was much assisted by the " Red Van " campaigns of the English Land Restoration League, 1891-94, which coupled Land Nationalisation propaganda with the formation of local unions of the labourers in the Southern and Midland Counties of England. In the agricultural depression of 1894-95, when staffs were further reduced and wages again lowered, nearly all these new Unions sank to next to nothing, or entirely dissolved. Most information as to them is to be gained from The Church Reformer for 1891-95 ; History of the English Agricultural Labourer, by W. Hasbach, 1907 ; and Ernest Selley's Village Trade Unions of Two Centuries, 1919.

2 Short-lived and turbulent combinations among seamen have existed at various periods for the past hundred years, notably between 1810 and 1825, on the north-east coast, where many sailors' benefit clubs were also established. In 1851, again, a widespread national organisation of seamen is said to have existed, having twenty -five branches between Peterhead and London, and numbering 30,000 members. This appears to have been a loose federation of practically autonomous port Unions, which for some years


406 The Old Unionism and the New

a membership of 65,000. Within a year after the dockers' victory probably over 200,000 workers had been added to the Trade Union ranks, recruited from sections of the labour world formerly abandoned as incapable of organisation. All these societies were marked by low contributions and comprehensive membership. They were, at the outset, essentially, if not exclusively, devoted to trade protection, and were largely political in their aims. Their character- istic spirit is aptly expressed by the resolution of the Con- gress of the General Railway Workers' Union on the igth of November 1890 : " That the Union shall remain a fighting one, and shall not be encumbered with any sick or accident fund.'* " We have at present," reports the General Secre- tary of the National Union of Gas-workers and General Labourers in November 1889, " one of the strongest labour Unions in England. It is true we have only one benefit attached, and that is strike pay. I do not believe in having sick pay, out-of-work pay, and a number of other pays. . . . The whole aim and intention of this Union is to reduce the hours of labour and reduce Sunday work." 1

A wave of Trade Unionism, comparable in extent with those of 1833-34 an d I ^73-74> was now spreading into every corner of British industry. Already in 1888 the revival of trade has led to a marked increase in Trade Union member- ship. This normal growth now received a great impulse from the sensational events of the Dock strike. Even the


kept up a vigorous agitation against obnoxious clauses in the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1851-54, and fought the sailors' grievances in the law- courts. In 1879 the existing North of England Sailors and Sea-going Firemen's Friendly Association was established, but failed to maintain itself outside Sunderland. In 1887 its most vigorous member, J. Havelock Wilson, convinced that nothing but a national organisation would be effective, started the National Amalgamated Sailors and Firemen's Union, which his able and pertinacious " lobbying " made, for some years, an effective Parliamentary force.

1 Address to members in First Half -Yearly Report (London, 1889). The spirit of the uprising is well given in The New Trade Unionism, by Tom Mann and Ben Tillett, 1890; on which George Shipton was moved to write A Reply to Messrs. Tom Mann and Ben Tillett's Pamphlet entitled "The New Trade Unionism," 1890.


Trade Union Growth 407

oldest and most aristocratic Unions were affected by the revivalist fervour of the new leaders. The eleven principal societies in the shipbuilding and metal trades, which had been, since 1885, on the decline, increased from 115,000 at the end of 1888 to 130,000 in 1889, 145,000 in 1890, and 155,000 in 1891. The ten largest Unions in the building trades, which between 1885 and 1888 had, in the aggregate, likewise declined in numbers, rose from 57,000 in 1888 to 63,000 in 1889, 80,000 in 1890, and 94,000 in 1891. In certain indivi- dual societies the increase in membership during these years was unparalleled in their history. We have already referred to the rapid rise between 1888 and 1891 of that modern Colossus of Unions, the Miners' Federation. The Operative Society of Bricklayers, established in 1848, grew from a fairly stationary 7000 in 1888, to over 17,000 in 1891. The National Society of Boot and Shoe Operatives, established in 1874, went from 11,000 in 1888 to 30,000 in 1891. And, to turn to quite a different industry, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, a trade friendly society of the old type, established in 1872, rose from 12,000 in 1888 to 30,000 in 1891. Nor was the expansion confined to a mere increase in membership. New Trades Councils sprang up in all directions, whilst those already existing were rejoined by the trades which had left them. Federations of the Unions in kindred trades were set on foot, and competing societies in the same trade sank their rivalry in the formation of local joint committees.

The victory of the London Dockers and the impetus it gave to Trade Unionism throughout the country at last opened the eyes of the Trade Union world to the signifi- cance of the new movement. It was no longer possible for the Parliamentary Committee to denounce the Socialists as a set of outside intriguers, when Burns and Mann, now become the representative working-men Socialists, stood at the head of a body of 200,000 hitherto unorganised workmen. The general secretaries of the older Unions, forming a com- pact official party behind the Front Bench, were veering


408 The Old Unionism and the New

around towards the advanced party. Their constituencies were becoming permeated with Socialism. In many instances the older members now supported the new faith. In other cases they found themselves submerged by the large acces- sions to their membership which, as we have already seen, resulted from the general expansion. The process of con- version was facilitated by the genuine admiration felt by the whole Trade Union world for the great organising power and generalship shown by the leaders of the new movement, and by the cessation of the personal abuse and recrimination which had hitherto marred the controversy. At the Dundee Congress of 1889, as we have seen, Henry Broadhurst, and his colleagues on the Parliamentary Com- mittee, had triumphed all along the line. Within a year the situation had entirely changed. The Stonemasons, Broad- hurst's own society, had decided, by a vote of the members, to support an Eight Hours Bill, and Broadhurst, under these circumstances, had perforce to refuse to act as their repre- sentative. The Executive Council of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers chose Burns and Mann as two out of their five delegates, impressing upon them all a recom- mendation to vote for the legal limitation of the hours of labour. Both the old-established societies jof Carpenters gave a similar mandate. The Miners' Federation this time led the attack on the old Front Bench, and -the resolution in favour of a general Eight Hours Bill was carried, after a heated debate, by 193 to 155. Broadhurst resigned his position as Secretary of the Parliamentary Committee on the ground of ill-health. George Shipton, the secretary of the London Trades Council, publicly declared his conversion to the legal regulation of the hours of labour. The Liverpool Congress was as decisive a victory for the Socialists as that of Dundee had been for the Parliamentary Committee. The delegates passed in all sixty resolutions. I " Out of these sixty resolutions," said John Burns, " forty-five were nothing more or less than direct appeals to the State and Municipalities of this country to do for the workman what


H. M . Hyndman 409

Trade Unionism^ JJHd ' and ' New,' has proved itself incap- able of doing. I Forty-five out of the sixty resolutions were asking for Stttte or Municipal interference on behalf of the weak against the strong. ' Old ' Trade Unionists, from Lancashire, Northumberland, and Birmingham, asked for as many of these resolutions as the delegates from London ; but it is a remarkable and significant fact that 19 out of 20 delegates were in favour of the ' New ' Trades Union ideas of State interferences in all things except reduction of hours, and even on this we secured a majority that certainly entitles us Socialists to be jubilant at our success. "iJ But whilst the new faith was being adopted by the rank and file of Trade Unionists the character of the Socialist propaganda had been undergoing an equal transformation. The foremost representative of the Collectivist views had hitherto been the Social-Democratic Federation, of which Burns and Mann were active members. Under the domi- nant influence of Mr. H. M. Hyndman, this association adopted the economic basis and political organisation of State Socialism. Yet we find, along with these modprn views, a distinct recrudescence of the characteristic projects of the revolutionary Owenism of 1833-34. The student) of the volumes of Justice between 1884 and 1889 will be struck by the unconscious resemblance of many of the ideas and much of the phraseology of its contributors, to those of the Poor Man's Guardian and the Pioneer of 1834. We do not here allude to the revival, in 1885, of the old demand for an Eight Hours Bill, a measure regarded on both occasions as a " mere palliative." Nor need we refer to the constant assumption, made alike by Robert Owen and the Social- Democratic lecturers, that the acceptance of the Labour- value theory would enable the difficulty of the " unem- ployed " to be solved by organising the mutual exchange of their unmarketable products. But both in Justice and the Pioneer we see the same disbelief in separate action by

1 Speech delivered by John Burns on the Liverpool Congress, September

21, 1890 (1890, 32 pp.).


4io The Old Unionism and the New

particular Trade Unions, in contrast to an organisation including " every trade, skilled and unskilled, of every nationality under the sun/' * " The real emancipation of labour," says the official manifesto of the Social-Democratic Federation to the Trade Unions of Great Britain in Sep- tember 1884, " can only be effected by the solemn banding together of millions of human beings in a federation as wide as the civilised world." 2 " The day has gone by," we read in 1887, "for the efforts of isolated trades. . . . Nothing is to be gained for the workers as a class without the complete organisation of labourers of all grades, skilled and unskilled. . . . We appeal therefore earnestly to the skilled artisans of all trades, Unionists and non-Unionists alike, to make common cause with their unskilled brethren, and with us Social-Democrats, so that the workers may themselves take hold of the means of production, and organise a Co-operative Commonwealth for themselves and their children." 3 And if the " scientific Socialists " of 1885 were logically pledged to the administration of industry by the officials of the com- munity at large, none the less do we see constantly cropping up, especially among the working-class members, Owen's diametrically opposite proposal that the workers must " own their own factories and decide by vote who their managers and foremen shall be." 4 Above all we see the same faith in the near and inevitable advent of a sudden revolution, when " it will only need a compact minority to take advantage of some opportune accident that will surely come, to overthrow the present system, and once and for all lift the toilers from the present social degradation." 5 " Noble Robert Owen," says Mr. Hyndman in 1885," seventy years ago perceived ' the utter impossibility of succeeding

1 Justice, November 7, 1885.

2 Printed in Justice, September 6, 1884.

8 " The Decay of Trade Unions," by H. M. Hyndman, Justice, June 18, 1887.

  • " The Trade Union Congress," by John Burns, Justice, September 12,

1885.

6 Justice, July n, 1885.


1834

in permanently improving the condition of our population by any half -measures/ We see the same truth if possible yet more clearly now. But the revolution which in his day was unprepared is now ripe and ready. . . . Nothing short of a revolution which shall place the producers of wealth in control of their own country can possibly change matters for the better. . . . Will it be peaceful ? We hope it may. That does not depend upon us. But, peaceful or violent, the great social revolution of the nineteenth century is at hand, and if fighting should be necessary the workers may at least remember the profound historical truth that ' Force is the midwife of progress delivering the old society pregnant with the new/ and reflect that they are striving for the final overthrow of a tyranny more degrading than the worst chattel slavery of ancient times/' 1 " Let our mission be," he writes in 1887, " to help to band together the workers of the world for the great class struggle against their exploiters. No better date could be chosen for the establishment of such international action on a sound basis than the year 1889, which the classes look forward to with trembling and the masses with hope. I advocate no hasty outbreak, no premature and violent attempt on the part of the people to realise the full Social-Democratic programme. But I do say that from this time .onwards we, as the Social-Demo- cratic Labour Party of Great Britain, should make every effort to bear our part in the celebration by the international proletariat of the First Centenary of the great French Revolution, and thus to prepare for a complete International Social Revolution before the end of the century." 2

The year 1889, instead of ushering in a " complete International Social Revolution " by a universal compact of the workers, turned the current of Socialist propaganda from revolutionary to constitutional channels. The advent

1 Justice, July 18, 1885. The identity of purpose and methods between the two movements is indeed elsewhere directly asserted ; see " Socialism in '34," ibid., April 19, 1884, and the extracts from the Owenite journals in the issue for July 25, 1885.

8 Ibid., August 6, 1887.


412 The Old Unionism and the New

of political Democracy had put out of date the project of " a combined assault by workers of every trade and grade against the murderous monopoly of the minority." 1 For a moment, at the very crisis of the dockers' stru'ggle, the idea of a " General Strike " flickers up, only to be quickly abandoned as impracticable. When the problems of admin- istration had actually to be faced by the new leaders the specially Owenite characteristics of the Socialist propaganda were quietly dropped. In January 1889 John Burns was elected a member of the London County Council, and quickly found himself organising the beginnings of a bureau- cratic municipal Collectivism, as far removed from Owen's " national companies " as from the conceptions of the Manchester School. Tom Mann, as president of the Dockers' Union, could not help discovering how impracticable it was to set to work his unemployed members, accustomed only to general labour, in the production for mutual exchange of the bread and clothing of which they were in need. And whether working in municipal committees, or at the head office of a great Union, both Burns and Mann had perforce to realise the impossibility of bringing about any sudden or simultaneous change in the jsocial or industrial organisa- tion of the whole community/or even of one town or trade. Under these circumstances it is perhaps not surprising that Burns and Mann left the Social Democratic Federa- tion, and found themselves hotly denounced by their old comrades A With the defection of the New Unionists, revolutionary Socialism ceased to grow ; and the rival pro- paganda of constitutional action became the characteristic feature of the British Socialist Movement. Far from abusing or deprecating Trade Unionism or Co-operation, the con- stitutional Collectivists urged it as a primary duty upon

1 Justice, July 25, 1885.

2 From 1889 onwards the columns of Justice abound in abuse and denunciation of the leaders of the New Unionism. We may cite, not so much because it summarises this denunciation and abuse, but because of the details of the movement that it incidentally gives, The Rise and Pro- gress of a Right Honourable, by Joseph Burgess (1911).


Municipal Socialism 413

every working-class Socialist to become a member of his Trade Union, to belong to the local Co-operative Society, and generally to take as active a part as possible in all organisations. Instead of denouncing partial reforms as mischievous attempts to defeat " the Social Revolution," the New Unionist leaders appealed to their followers to put their own representatives on Town Councils, and generally to use their electoral influence to bring about, in a regular and constitutional manner, the particular changes they had at heart. Instead of circulating calumnies against the per- sonal character of Trade Union leaders, they flooded the Trade Union world with Socialist literature, dealing not so much in rhetorical appeals or Utopian aspirations as in economic expositions of the actual grievances of industrial life. The vague resolutions of the Trades Union Congresses were worked out in practical detail, or even embodied in draft bills which the local member of Parliament might be invited to introduce, or driven to support.

The new policy, adopted as it was by such prominent Socialists as Burns, Mann, and Tillett, and Mrs. Besant, appeared, from 1889 onward, increasingly justified by its success. The Collectivist victories on the London School Board and County Council, the steady growth of municipal activity, and the increasing influence exercised by working- men members of representative bodies, went far to persuade both Socialists and Trade Unionists that the only practicable means of securing for the community the ownership and control of the means of production lay in a wide extension of that national and municipal organisation of public services towards which Parliament and the Town Councils had already taken the first steps. In those industries in which neither national nor municipal administration was yet pos- sible, the Socialists demanded such a regulation of the con- ditions of employment as would ensure to every worker a minimum Standard of Life. The extension of the Factory Acts and the more thorough administration of the Sanitary Law accordingly received a new impulse. In another direc-


414 The Old Unionism and the New

tion the drastic taxation of Rent and Interest, pressed for by Land Nationalisers and Socialists alike, was justified as leading eventually to the collective absorption of all unearned incomes. In short, from 1889 onward, the chief efforts of the British Socialist Movement have been directed, not to bringing about any sudden, complete, or simultaneous revolution, but to impregnating all the existing forces of society with Collectivist ideals and Collectivist principles. 1 v With the advent of the " New Unionism " of 1889-90 we close this chapter. We shall see, in subsequent chapters to what extent, and in what way, the Trade Union Move- ment was permanently affected by the new movement. But we append at this point a brief account of what seem to us, first, the ephemeral features and, secondly, the more durable results of an impulse which did not wholly spend its force for a whole decade.

If we were to believe some of the more enthusiastic apostles of the " New Unionism/' we should imagine that the aggressive trade society of unskilled labourers, un- encumbered with friendly benefits, was an unprecedented

1 In this development some share is to be attributed to the work of the Fabian Society, which, established in 1883, began in 1887 to exercise a growing influence on working-class opinion. The publication, in 1889, of Fabian Essays in Socialism, the circulation between 1887 and 1893 of three-quarters of a million copies of its series of " Fabian tracts," and the delivery of several thousand lectures a year in London and other industrial centres, contributed largely to substitute a practical and constitutional policy of Collectivist reform for the earlier revolutionary propaganda. Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, and other Trade Union leaders were, from 1889 onwards, among the members of the parent Fabian Society, whilst the ninety independent local Fabian Societies in the pro- vincial centres usually included many of the delegates to the local Trades Councils. Some account of the Society and its work will be found in Zum socialen Frieden, by Dr. von Schulze Gaevernitz (Leipzig, 1891, 2 vols.) ; in Englische Socialreformer, by Dr. M. Grunwald (Leipzig, 1897) ; in La Societe Fabienne, by Edouard Pfeiffer (Paris, 1911); in Geschichte des Socialismus in England, by M. Beer (Stuttgart, 1913), republished in different English form as History of British Socialism (vol. i., 1918 ; vol. ii., 1920) ; in Socialism, a Critical Analysis, by O. D. Skelton, 1911 ; and in Political Thought in England from Herbert Spencer to the Present Day, by Ernest Barker, 1915. A superficial survey of the development of opinion is given in Socialism in England, by Sidney Webb (ist edition, 1889; 2nd edition, 1893). See History of the Fabian Society, by Edward R. Pease (1915).


The Alternation of Type 415

departure in the history of labour organisation. Those who have followed our history thus far will know better than to entertain such an illusion, itself an old characteristic of Trade Unionist revivals. The purely trade society is as old as Trade Unionism itself. Throughout the whole history of the movement we find two types of societies co-existing. At special crises in the annals of Trade Unionism we see one or other of these types taking the lead, and becoming the " New Unionism " of that particular period. Both trade society and friendly society with trade objects were common \ in the eighteenth century. Legal persecution of trade com- \ bination brought to the front the Union cloaked in the guise of a benefit club ; and it was mainly for organisations of this type that Place and Hume won the emancipation of 1824- 1825. la I 833~34 we -find Place deploring as a mischievous innovation the growth of the new " Trades Unions " without friendly benefits. Twenty years later we see the leadership reverting to the " new model " of an elaborate trade friendly society which, for a whole generation, was vehemently denounced by employers as a fraud on the provident work- man. The " New Unionism " of 1852, described by so friendly a critic as Professor Beesly as a novel departure, became, in its turn, the " Old Unionism " of 1889, when the more progressive spirits again plumed themselves on elimi- nating from their brand-new organisations the enervating influences of friendly benefits.

A closer examination of the facts shows that this almost rhythmical alternation of type has been only apparent. The impartial student will notice that whilst the purely trade society has been persistently adhered to by certain important industries, such as the Coal-miners and the Cotton-spinners, other trades, like the Engineers and the Iron-founders, have remained equally constant to the trade friendly society ; whilst others, again, such as the Compositors and the Carpenters, have passed backwards and forwards from one model to the other. But besides this adaptation of type to the circumstances of particular


416 The Old Unionism and the New

industries, we see also a preference for the purely trade society on no higher ground than its cheapness. The high contributions and levies paid by the Cotton-spinners to their essentially trade society are as far beyond the means of the Agricultural Labourer or the Docker as the weekly pre- miums for superannuation, sick, and other benefits charged to the Amalgamated Engineer. When, as in 1833-34, 1872, and 1889, a wave of enthusiasm sweeps the unskilled labourers into the Trade Union ranks, it is obviously necessary to form, at any rate in the first instance, organisations which make no greater tax upon their miserable earnings than a penny or twopence per week. The apparent rhythm of alternations between the two types of organisation is due, therefore, not to any general abandonment of one for the other, but to the accidental prominence, in certain crises of Trade Union history, of the Unions belonging to particular trades or classes of wage-earners. When, for instance, the cotton-spinners, the builders, and the unskilled labourers of 1834 loomed large to Francis Place as a revolutionary force, the purely trade society appeared to him to be the source of all that was evil in Trade Unionism. When, in 1848-52, the iron trades were conspiring against piecework and over- time, it was especially the illicit combination of trade and friendly society which attracted the attention of the public, and called forth the denunciations of the capitalist class. And when in 1889 the dockers were stopping the trade of London, and the coal-miners and cotton-spinners were pressing upon both political parties their demands for legislative interference, we see George Howell voicing the opposition to exclusively trade societies as dangerously militant bodies. 1

If the purely trade society is no new thing, still less is the extension of Trade Unionism to the unskilled labourer an unprecedented innovation. The enthusiasm which, in 1872, enrolled a hundred thousand agricultural labourers in a few months, produced also numerous small societies

1 Trade Unionism Old and New, 1891, passim.


The New Methods

of town labourers, some of which survived for years before absorption into larger organisations. The London and Counties Labour League, established as the Kent and Sussex Agricultural and General Labourers' Union in 1872, has maintained its existence down to the present day. The expansion of 1852 led to the formation in Glasgow of a Labourers' Society, wjach is reputed to have enrolled thou- sands of members.^ But it is with the enthusiasm of 1833-34-^5^ that the movement of 1889-90 has in this respect the greatest analogy. The almost instantaneous conversion to Trade Unionism after the dock strike of tens of thousands of the unskilled labourers of the towns recalls, indeed, nothing so much as the rapid enrolment of recruits among the poorest wage-earners by the emissaries of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union.

But however strongly the outward features of the wave of 1889-90 may remind the student of those of 1833-34, the characteristics peculiar to the new movement signifi- cantly measure the extent of the advance, both in social theory and social methods, made by the wage-earners in the two intervening generations. Time and experience alone will show how far the empirical Socialism of the Trade Unionist of 1889, with its eclectic opportunism, its preference for municipal collectivism, its cautious adapta- tion of existing social structure, and its modest aspirations to a gradually increasing participation of the workmen in control, may safely be pronounced superior in practicability to the revolutionary and universal Communism of Robert Owen. In truth, the radical distinction between 1833-34 and 1889-90 is not a matter of the particular social theories which inspired the outbursts. To the great majority of the Trade Unionists the theories of the leaders at either date did but embody a vague aspiration after a more equit- able social order. The practical difference the difference reflected in the character and temper of the men attracted to the two movements, and of the attitude of the public towards them is the yeufference of method and immediate

  • P


418 The Old Unionism and the New

action. Robert Owen, as we have seen, despised and re- jected political action, and strove to form a new voluntary organisation which should supersede, almost instantaneously and in some unexplained way, the whole-industrial, political, and social administration of the country,/ In this disdain of all existing organisations, and fEe^uddenness of the complete " social revolution " which it contemplated, the Owenism of 1833-34 found, as we have seen, an echo in much of the Socialist propaganda of 1884-89. The Jeaders of the New Unionists, on the contrary, sought to bring into the ranks of existing organisations the Trade Union, the Municipality, or the State great masses of unorganised workers who had hitherto been either absolutely outside the pale, or inert elements within it. ^ They aimed, not at superseding existing social structures, but at capturing them all in the interests of the wage-earners. Above all, they sought to teach the great masses of undisciplined workers how to apply their newly acquired political power so as to obtain, in a perfectly constitutional manner, whatever changes in legislation or administration they desire^ ^

The difference in method between the " Newtfnionism " of 1833-34 an d that of 1889-90 may, we think, be ascribed in the main to the difference between the circumstances under which the movements arose. To Robert Owen, whose path was blocked on the political line by the dis- franchisement of five out of six of the adult male popula- tion/ open voting under intimidation, corrupt close corpora- tions in the towns and a Whig oligarchy at the centre, the idea of relying on the constitutional instrument of the polling- booth must have appeared no less chimerical than his own programme appears to-day. The New Unionists of 1889-90, on the other hand, found ready for their use an extensive and all-embracing Democratic social structure, which it was impossible to destroy, and would have been foolish to attempt to ignore./ The efforts of two generations of Radical Individualists and " Old Trade Unionists " had placed the legislative power and civil administration of the


The " New Unionism " 419

country in the hands of a hierarchy of popularly elected representative bodies. The great engine of taxation was, for instance, now under the control of the wage-earning voters instead of that of the land-owning class. The Home Secretary and the factory inspector, the relieving-officer and the borough surveyor, could be employed to carry out the behests of the workers instead of those of the capitalists/ And thus it came about that the methods advocated by the New Unionists of 1889-94 resemble, not those of the Owenites of 1833-34, but much more the practical arts of political warfare so successfully pursued by the Junta of 1867-75.

We shall see the change which had come over the English working-class movement in the course of sixty years if we compare the leaders of the two movements which we have been contrasting. To Owen himself we may allow the privilege of his genius, which did not prevent him from being an extravagantly bad captain for a working-class movement. But in his leading disciples ignorance of in- dustrial conditions, contemptuous indifference to facts and figures, and incapacity to measure, even in the smallest actions, the relation between the means and the end, stand in as marked contrast to the sober judgment of men like John Burns as they did to the cautious shrewdness of Allan and Applegarth. It would indeed be easy to find many traits of personal likeness between Burns and Mann on the one hand, and Allan and Applegarth on the other. High personal character, scrupulous integrity, dignity or charm of manner, marked all four alike, and the resemblance of character is heightened by a noticeable resemblance in the nature of their activity. The day's work of Tom Mann at the head office of the Dockers' Union from 1889 to 1892, and that of John Burns in the London County Council and the lobby of the House of Commons from 1892 to 1906, were close reproductions of Allan's activity at the general office of his Engineers, and Applegarth's assiduous attend- ance to Parliamentary Committees and Royal Commissions. In short, the ways and means of the leaders of the " New


42O The Old Unionism and the New

Unionism " remind the student, not of the mystic rites and skeleton mummery of the Owenite movement, but rather of the restless energy and political ingenuity of the Junta or the Trades Union Congress Parliamentary Committee in those early days when the old Trade Unionists were fighting for legislative reforms with a faith which was as wise as it was fervent and sincere.

Some of the secondary characteristics of the New Union- ism of 1889 promptly faded away. The revulsion of feeling against the combination of friendly benefits with Trade Union purposes quickly disappeared, though the difficulty of levying high contributions upon ill-paid workers prevented the complete adoption of the contrary policy. 1 The ex- pansion of trade which began in 1889 proved to be but of brief duration, and with the returning contraction of 1892 many of the advantages gained by the wage-earners were lost. Under the influence of this check the unskilled labourers once more largely fell away from the Trade Union ranks. But just as 1873-74 left behind it a far more permanent structure than 1833-34, so 1889-90 added even more than 1873-74. The older Unions retained a large part, at any rate, of the two hundred thousand members added to their ranks between 1887 and 1891. But this numerical accession was of less importance than what may, without exaggeration, be termed the spiritual rebirth of organisa- tions which were showing signs of decrepitude. The selfish spirit of exclusiveness which often marked the relatively well-paid engineer, carpenter, or boilermaker of 1880-85, gave place to a more generous recognition of the essential solidarity of the wage-earning class.. For example, the whole constitution of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers was, in 1892, revised for the express purpose of opening the

1 Thus the Dock, Wharf, and Riverside Labourers' Union soon gave Funeral Benefit usually the first to be added ; whilst many of the branches started their own sick funds. Some of the branches of the National Union of Gas-workers and General Labourers promptly added local benefit funds, and the addition of Accident Benefit by the whole society was presently adopted.


The New Internationalism 421

ranks of this most aristocratic of Unions to practically all the mechanics in the innumerable branches of the engineer- ing trade. Special facilities, moreover, were offered by this and the other great societies to old men and artisans earn- ing wages insufficient to pay for costly friendly benefits. Nor was this all. The plumber vied with the engineer, the carpenter with the shipwright, in helping to form Unions among the labourers who work with or under them. And the struggling Unions of women workers, which had origin- ally some difficulty in gaining admittance to Trades Councils and the Trade Union Congress, gratefully acknowledged a complete change in the attitude of their male fellow-workers. Not only was every assistance now given to the formation of special Unions among women workers, but women were, in some cases, even welcomed as members by Unions of skilled artisans. A similar widening of sympathies and strengthening of bonds of fellowship was shown in the very general establishment of local joint committees of rival societies in the same trade, as well as of larger federations. Robert Knight's failures to form a federal council represent- ing the different Unions concerned in shipbuilding were retrieved in 1891 by his successful establishment of the Federation of the Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades, which maintained a permanent existence. The increased sense of solidarity among all sections of wage-earners, moreover, led to a greatly increased cordiality in international relations. The Coal-miners, the Glass Bottle Makers, and the Textile Operatives established more or less formal federations with their fellow-workers on the Continent of Europe. At the frequent international Congresses of these trades, as well as at the Socialist Congress of the workers of all countries, the representatives of the British Trade Unions largely laid aside that insular conceit which led the Parliamentary Com- mittee of 1884 to declare that, owing to his superiority, the British Trade Unionist derived no benefit from international relations. All this indicates a widening of the mental horizon, a genuine elevation of the Trade Union Movement.