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Characteristics of Trade Unions 1830-50
- They were Utopian and naive. Both leaders and members suffered from democratic
ideals, which they put before reality. They believed that the 'brotherhood
of man' was close
- Founders of TUs followed a policy of setting up all-embracing TUs - mass
- 1818: Philanthropic Society in Lancashire, which was a general union
- 1819: Philanthropic Hercules (London)
- 1829: Cotton spinners at Hyde struck, but returned to work after six
months, convinced that they had failed because of a lack of co-ordination
with other cotton centres. Delegates from all the cotton spinning areas
met in Ramsey, Isle of Man, under the leadership of John Doherty, the
secretary of the Manchester cotton-spinners.
In December the Grand General Union of All the Operative Spinners of the
United Kingdom (usually known as the Spinners' Union) was set up for male
cotton-spinners and piecers. Members paid subscriptions to local societies
plus 1d per week to a central body, which was made up of three national
committees (England, Ireland and Scotland). Its secretary was Doherty.
It had failed by 1830.
- July 1830 the National Association for the Protection of Labour was
launched by Doherty. It was another general union, with its own journal,
the United Trades Co-operative Journal. The entrance fee was £1
plus 1/- for each member of the affilliating society plus 1d per week
per member. Although the contributions were high it was a popular organisation.
At least 150 separate unions joined immediately and by early 1831 membership
was 100,000 and growing. Members included miners, woollen workers, potters,
mechanics and blacksmiths. The N.A.P.L. overshadowed the Spinners Union
but because of quarrels and recriminations about trades refusing to support
others, it had failed as a union in 1832.
- In 1832 the Operative Builders' Union
was formed. It was a federation of the seven building trades. Lodges were
autonomous but each sent representatives to district meetings. The Builders'
Union was influenced by Owen's idea of
co-operative production. It appealed
to builders who could take over from middle-men because there was little
fixed capital involved in the building trade. In 1833 the builders in
Liverpool launched an attack on the contractors; the employers used the
Document so the Builders' Union called its members out on strike.
In Manchester, the strike lasted for sixteen weeks. In September 1833
Owen spoke at the annual Builders' Parliament and outlined a scheme for
a worker take-over. As a result of this, the Grand National Guild of Builders
was formed. This meant that there were two builders' unions: the Operative
Builders' Union (trying to get better conditions under the capitalist
system) and the Grand National Guild of Builders (trying to abolish capitalism).
Both had failed by 1834 because of internal dissent.
Owen believed - as did Doherty - that the ineffectiveness of the working
classes was a result of a lack of co-ordination, and made another effort to
establish one big union, aimed at ending the capitalist system. He intended
that all individual competition would cease and industry would be carried
on by 'national companies'. Owen called on the workers to organise into lodges
and associations of lodges; a grand union of all trades would follow. The
idea spread rapidly and a conference was held in London.
In February 1834 the Grand National Consolidated Trade
Union was founded. The inclusion of all workers, including women, was
ensured. Lodges had their own sick, funeral, superannuation and other benefits
and there were no regular subscriptions to central funds. There was a general
levy of members to acquire land and set up workshops, however. Membership
was said to have reached 1 million within
a few weeks, although there was no accurate record of the membership and it
is believed that there were only 16,000 paid-up subscribers. The aim was syndicalist
government, founded on a pyramid system of representation. The GNCTU was mainly
London-based with a membership predominantly of artisans but branches did
exist in other parts of the country; members were mostly artisans. It failed
- lack of money
- the use of the Document by employers
- its inability to support the Derby workers who had been locked out for
refusing to abandon the Union.
- the fate of the Tolpuddle Martyrs
The GNCTU was the last mass union.
- The working classes lacked education,
know-how, economic and social power so they could be easily beaten by employers,
the law and the government
- Divisions existed between old
and new industries and different trades had different needs. Also different
areas had different needs: the woollen and cotton industries were mutually
hostile because they were in competition with each other; hand and machine
spinners and weavers were mutually hostile for the same reason.
- There was no homogeneous working class as yet.
- The unions lacked money especially in times of economic hardship such as
that found in the 1830s and 1840s. This period saw a vicious spiral of distress
because wages were falling; unemployment was rising; the population
was increasing and increasingly it was an employer's market.
- The unions suffered at the hands of poor administration. TUs had few affordable
means of communication at their disposal and the railways
were only just being built.
- Political factors worked against the unions.
- The Tories did not see the need for
- The Liberal Tories did not see the need for the inclusion of the working
classes in politics or for greater democracy
- The Wellingtonian Tories did not
see the need to give anything to the working classes
- Whig knowledge of economics was poor.
They gave the working classes nothing (apart from workhouses
- The middle classes could not be expected to give the working classes
anything because free trade was
the most important thing for the manufacturers and traders
- Alternatives to work were
- claiming poor relief from the parish
- going on to the streets
- after 1834, going into the workhouse.
- Trade Unions usually could not afford to give strike pay
- Union leaders dissipated their energies in many different movements. For
example,Doherty was involved with the Spinners' Union and the N.A.P.L. and
Robert Owen was involved with
- The Document caused the final collapse of TUs. The trial of the Tolpuddle
Martyrs was a test case in 1834 and the message from the courts and the government
seemed to be "Join a Trade Union and see Australia".
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4 March, 2016