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In 1824 the Combination Acts were repealed and trades unions emerged as a powerful force in industrial areas. After about 1830, employers began to use "The Document" as a means of controlling their employees' union activities. William Longston gave an account of how "The Document" operated.
We, the undersigned Spinners and Power-loom manufacturers of Hyde, Staley Bridge, Dukinfield, and the neighbourhood, having observed with regret the self-inflicted and continuing distress of the operatives of Stockport, instigated by evil-designing persons to turn out against their masters, and being informed that this distress is prolonged by assistance being rendered by our work-people to the turn-outs in that town, do hereby agree to abate ten per cent every fortnight from the wages of our piece-work hands who shall refuse to sign a declaration that they will not become members of any combination interfering with the free exercise of individual labour; or directly or indirectly contribute to the support of any turn-outs, on pain of forfeiting a fortnight's wages, should they be found so doing.
Immediately afterwards, as is seen by that placard on the walls of Stockport, a written requirement, called an agreement was offered by the masters for the operatives to sign, which was a sine qua non of employment; the operatives were to sign the following words, or not be employed; and thousands of them did so, and were obliged to do so.
[The following document was then put in, and read:]
'We, the undersigned, agree with Messrs. ----- that we will work for them on the following terms;
We declare that we do not belong to the society called the 'Union', or any other society for the support of turn-outs, or which has for its object any interference with the rules laid down for the government of mills or manufactories.
We agree with our said masters, that we will not become members of, or be connected with, any such society, while we remain in our present employ.
That we will not, directly, or indirectly, subscribe or contribute to any such society, or to any turn-out hands whatsoever.
That we will give a fortnight's notice previous to leaving our employ' and we will observe all the other rules of this mill, and all special agreements that we may enter into with our masters.
And if we are discovered to act contrary to the above agreement, each of us so offending will forfeit a sum equal to a fortnight's wages; and our masters shall have power to deduct the same from our wages, or discharge us from their employ without any notice, at their own option.'
I may observe, that by the wording of this document, they say they would not directly or indirectly support any turn-out hands whatsoever; that they were liable to the penalty here announced, in case they supported a son, or even gave any thing, directly or indirectly to a starving daughter or other relative.
Evidence of William Longston before the Committee on the Bill to regulate the labour of children in the mills and factories of the United Kingdom, 1832. Parliamentary Papers, 1831-2, XV, pp. 428-430.
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