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Royal Commission on Trade Unions

Royal Commission on Trade Unions

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After the Sheffield Outrages in 1867 the head of the Conservative government, Earl of Derby, decided to set up a Royal Commission on Trade Unions. No trade unionists were appointed but Robert Applegarth was chosen as a union observer of the proceedings. Applegarth worked hard checking the various accusations of the employers and providing information to the two pro-union members of the Royal Commission, Frederic Harrison and Thomas Hughes. Applegarth also appeared as a witness and it was generally accepted that he was the most impressive of all the trade unionists who gave evidence before the commission.

Frederic Harrison, Thomas Hughes and the Earl of Lichfield refused to sign the Majority Report that was hostile to trade unions and instead produced a Minority Report where he argued that trade unions should be given privileged legal status. Harrison suggested several changes to the law: (1) Persons combining should not be liable for indictment for conspiracy unless their actions would be criminal if committed by a single person; (2) The common law doctrine of restraint of trade in its application to trade associations should be repealed; (3) That all legislation dealing with specifically with the activities of employers or workmen should be repealed; (4) That all trade unions should receive full and positive protection for their funds and other property.

Applegarth led the campaign to have the Minority Report accepted by the new Liberal government headed by William Gladstone. He was successful and the 1871 Trade Union Act was based largely on the Minority Report.

History of labour law in the United Kingdom

The History of labour law in the United Kingdom concerns the development of UK labour law, from its roots in Roman and medieval times in the British Isles up to the present. Before the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of mechanised manufacture, regulation of workplace relations was based on status, rather than contract or mediation through a system of trade unions. Serfdom was the prevailing status of the mass of people, except where artisans in towns could gain a measure of self-regulation through guilds. In 1740 save for the fly-shuttle the loom was as it had been since weaving had begun. The law of the land was, under the Act of Apprentices 1563, that wages in each district should be assessed by Justices of the Peace. From the middle of the 19th century, through Acts such as the Master and Servant Act 1867 and the Employers and Workmen Act 1875, there became growing recognition that greater protection was needed to promote the health and safety of workers, as well as preventing unfair practices in wage contracts.

1. Stoljar confronts Shorten over failure to declare campaign director payment

Counsel assisting the royal commission Jeremy Stoljar kicked off the first day of testimony with a new revelation - that labour hire company Unibilt donated a campaign director to Shorten first by employing him and then paying for the AWU to employ him to work on Shorten's 2007 parliamentary election campaign.

The key moment was Shorten's revelation he only declared the contribution to the Australian Electoral Commission on Monday (July 6), eight years after the election and just days before the Royal Commission hearing. Stoljar got Shorten to admit he knew "maybe months" before of this error. But Shorten got through it because many politicians amend these declarations and Stoljar could not show he had waited until he knew the matter would come up in the Royal Commission before he came clean.

Working-Class History

Hamilton's Knights of Labor parading down King Street during the 1880s (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-103086). Vancouver, BC, in the 1930s (courtesy Vancouver Public Library). Marchers in support of Winnipeg Strike leaders leaving Market Square, passing City Hall, fall 1919 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-34022). Near the Lachine Canal in Montréal, 1896. During the late 19th century, working-class families began crowding into neighbourhoods located close to factories (courtesy Notman Photographic Archives, McCord Museum/2942). Sewer construction on Stachan Ave, Toronto, 1912 (courtesy City of Toronto Archives). The Industrial Workers of the World tried to organize the diverse and migratory unskilled workers into an effective union. With a steam hammer around the year 1910 in Toronto (courtesy City of Toronto Archives). O'Donoghue was elected to the Ontario legislature in 1874 as an independent workingman. One of the strike leaders, R.E. Bray, speaking to demonstrators during the Winnipeg Strike, June 1919. Workers regularly complained about wretched conditions in overcrowded, unsanitary work camps. This daguerrotype of a carpenter was taken around 1850 (courtesy National Gallery of Canada). Women workers sorting copper ore in Bolton, Québec, 1867 (courtesy McCord Museum).

Working-class history is the story of the changing conditions and actions of all working people. Most adult Canadians today earn their living in the form of wages and salaries and thus share the conditions of dependent employment associated with the definition of "working class." The Canadian worker has been a neglected figure in Canadian history and, although Canadians have always worked, working-class history has received little attention. Until recently, the most common form of working-class history has been the study of the trade union, or labour, movement (unions are organizations formed by workers in order to strengthen their position in dealing with employers and sometimes with governments).

Although the development of organized labour provides a convenient focus for the discussion of working-class history, it is important to remember that most working people, past and present, have not belonged to unions: in 1996 only 33.9% of all nonagricultural paid workers in Canada belonged to unions. However, because unions have often pursued goals designed to benefit all workers, the labour movement has won a place in Canadian society.

Canadian workers have contributed in many ways to the development of Canadian society, but the history of working people, in their families, communities and work places, is only gradually becoming part of our view of the Canadian past. Canadian historians have often studied the various Canadian cultural and regional identities, but the working-class experience is now proving to be one of the unifying themes in Canadian history (see Work).

English Canada

The working class emerged during the 19th century in English Canada as a result of the spread of industrial capitalism in British North America. At the time, it was common for many Canadians to support themselves as independent farmers, fishermen and craftworkers. Entire families contributed to the production of goods (see History of Childhood). The growing differentiation between rich and poor in the countryside, the expansion of resource industries (see Resource Use), the construction of canals and railways, the growth of cities and the rise of manufacturing all helped create a new kind of work force in which the relationship between employer and employee was governed by a capitalist labour market and where women and children no longer participated to as great an extent.

Company towns, based on the production of a single resource such as coal, emerged during the colonial period and provided a reserve of skilled labour for the company and a certain degree of stability for the workers. When violence erupted, the companies' responses varied from closing the company-owned store to calling in the militia. Domestic service (servants, housekeepers, etc) emerged as the primary paid employment for women.

Child labour reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, supplemented by immigrant children brought from Britain by various children's aid societies. The workers were often cruelly exploited, and for any worker, job security and assistance in the event of illness, injury or death were almost nonexistent.

For most of the 19th century, unions were usually small, local organizations. Often they were illegal: in 1816 the Nova Scotia government prohibited workers from bargaining for better hours or wages and provided prison terms as a penalty. Nevertheless, workers protested their conditions, with or without unions, and sometimes violently. Huge, violent strikes took place on the Welland and Lachine canals in the 1840s. Despite an atmosphere of hostility, by the end of the 1850s local unions had become established in many Canadian centres, particularly among skilled workers such as printers, shoemakers, moulders, tailors, coopers, bakers and other tradesmen.

The labour movement gained cohesiveness when unions created local assemblies and forged ties with British and American unions in their trade. In 1872 workers in Ontario industrial towns and in Montréal rallied behind the Nine-Hour Movement, which sought to reduce the working day from up to 12 hrs to 9 hrs. Hamilton's James Ryan, Toronto's John Hewitt and Montréal's James Black led the workers. Toronto printers struck against employer George Brown, and in Hamilton, on 15 May 1872, 1500 workers paraded through the streets.

The ambitiously titled Canadian Labor Union, formed in 1873, spoke for unions mainly in southern Ontario. It was succeeded in 1883 by the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada, which became a lasting forum for Canadian labour. In Nova Scotia the Provincial Workmen's Association (1879) emerged as the voice of the coal miners and later spoke for other Maritime workers.

The most important organization of this era was the Knights of Labor, which organized more than 450 assemblies with more than 20 000 members across the country. The Knights were an industrial union which brought together workers regardless of craft, race (excepting Chinese) or sex. Strongest in Ontario, Québec and BC, the Knights were firm believers in economic and social democracy, and were often critical of the developing industrial, capitalist society. Key Knights included A.W. Wright, Thomas Phillips Thompson and Daniel J. O'Donoghue.

By the late 19th century the "labour question" had gained recognition. The Toronto printers' strike of 1872 led PM Sir John A. Macdonald to introduce the Trade Unions Act, which stated that unions were not to be regarded as illegal conspiracies. The Royal Commission on the Relations of Labour and Capital, which reported in 1889, documented the sweeping impact of industrialization in Canada, and the commissioners strongly defended unions as a suitable form of organization for workers: "The man who sells labor should, in selling it, be on an equality with the man who buys it." Another sign of recognition came in 1894 when the federal government officially adopted Labour Day as a national holiday falling on the first Monday in September.

The consolidation of Canadian capitalism in the early 20th century accelerated the growth of the working class. From the countryside, and from Britain and Europe, hundreds of thousands of people moved to Canada's booming cities and tramped through Canada's industrial frontiers (see Bunkhouse Men). Most workers remained poor, their lives dominated by a struggle for the economic security of food, clothing and shelter by the 1920s most workers were in no better financial position than their counterparts had been a generation earlier.

Not surprisingly, most strikes of this time concerned wages, but workers also went on strike to protest working conditions, unpopular supervisors and new rules, and to defend workers who were being fired. Skilled workers were particularly alarmed that new machinery and new ideas of management were depriving them of some traditional forms of workplace authority.

Despite growing membership, divisions appeared between unions, and this limited their effectiveness. The most aggressive organizers were the craft unions, whose membership was generally restricted to the more skilled workers. Industrial unions were less common, though some, such as the United Mine Workers, were important. The American Federation of Labor (founded 1886, see AFL-CIO) unified American craft unions and, under Canadian organizer John Flett, chartered more than 700 locals in Canada between 1898 and 1902 most were affiliated with the TLC. At the TLC meetings in 1902 the AFL craft unions voted to expel any Canadian unions, including the Knights of Labor, in jurisdictional conflict with the American unions, a step which deepened union divisions in Canada.

The attitudes of government were also a source of weakness. Though unions were legal, they had few rights under the law. Employers could fire union members at will, and there was no law requiring employers to recognize a union chosen by their workers. In strikes employers could ask governments to call out the troops and militia in the name of law and order, as happened on more than 30 occasions before 1914 (see, for example, Fort William Freight Handlers Strike).

With the creation of the Department of Labour in 1900, the federal government became increasingly involved in dispute settlement. The Industrial Disputes Investigation Act (1907), the brainchild of William Lyon Mackenzie King, required that some important groups of workers, including miners and railwaymen, must go through a period of conciliation before they could engage in "legal" strikes. Since employers were still free to ignore the unions, dismiss employees, bring in strikebreakers and call for military aid, unions came to oppose this legislation.

One of the most important developments in the prewar labour movement was the rise of revolutionary industrial unionism, an international movement which favoured the unification of all workers into one labour body to overthrow the capitalist system and place workers in control of political and economic life. The Industrial Workers of the World, founded in Chicago in 1905, rapidly gained support among workers in western Canada such as navvies, fishermen, loggers and railway workers. The "Wobblies" attracted nationwide attention in 1912 when 7000 ill-treated immigrant railway workers in the Fraser Canyon struck against the Canadian Norther Railway. A number of factors, including government suppression, hastened its demise during the war.

WWI had an important influence on the labour movement. While workers bore the weight of the war effort at home and paid a bloody price on the battlefield, many employers prospered. Labour was excluded from wartime planning and protested against Conscription and other wartime measures. Many workers joined unions for the first time and union membership grew rapidly, reaching 378 000 in 1919. At the end of the war strike activity increased across the country: there were more than 400 strikes in 1919, most of them in Ontario and Québec.

Three general strikes also took place that year, in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Toronto and Winnipeg. In Winnipeg the arrest of the strike leaders and the violent defeat of the strike demonstrated that in a labour conflict of this magnitude the government would not remain neutral (see Winnipeg General Strike). In 1919 as well, the radical One Big Union was founded in Calgary, raised from the ashes of the IWW. It soon claimed 50 000 members in the forestry, mining, transportation and construction industries.

Despite the formation of the OBU and the Communist Party of Canada, the 1920s remained a period of retreat for organized labour. The exception was the coal miners and steelworkers of Cape Breton Island, who, led by J.B. McLachlan, rebelled repeatedly against one of the country's largest corporations (see Cape Breton Strikes, 1920s).

The 1930s marked an important turning point for workers. The biggest problem of the decade was unemployment. In the depths of the Great Depression more than one million Canadians were out of work, about one in 4 workers. Emergency relief was inadequate and was often provided under humiliating conditions (see Unemployment Relief Camps). Unemployed workers' associations fought evictions and gathered support for employment insurance, a reform finally achieved in 1940.

One dramatic protest was the On to Ottawa Trek of 1935, led by the former Wobbly Arthur "Slim" Evans, an organizer for the National Unemployed Workers' Association. The Depression demonstrated the need for workers' organizations, and by 1949 union membership exceeded one million workers. Much of the growth in union organization came in the new mass-production industries among workers neglected by craft unions: rubber, electrical, steel, auto and packinghouse workers.

The communist-supported Workers Unity League (1929-36) had pioneered industrial unionism in many of these industries. The Oshawa Strike (8-23 August 1937), when 4000 workers struck against General Motors, was among the most significant in establishing the new industrial unionism in Canada. Linked to the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the US, many of the new unions were expelled by the TLC and formed the Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL) in 1940.

Early in WWII the federal government attempted to limit the power of unions through wage controls and restrictions on the right to strike (see Wartime Prices and Trade Board National War Labour Board), but many workers refused to wait until the war was over to win better wages and union recognition. Strikes such as that of the Kirkland Lake gold miners in 1941 persuaded the government to change its policies. In January 1944 an emergency order-in-council, PC 1003, protected the workers' right to join a union and required employers to recognize unions chosen by their employees. This long-awaited reform became the cornerstone of Canadian industrial relations after the war, in the Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigation Act (1948) and in provincial legislation.

At the end of the war a wave of strikes swept across the country. Workers achieved major improvements in wages and hours, and many contracts incorporated grievance procedures and innovations such as vacation pay. Some industry-wide strikes attempted to challenge regional disparities in wages. The Ford strike in Windsor, Ontario, between September 12 and 29 December 1945, began when 17 000 workers walked off the job. The lengthy, bitter strike resulted in the landmark decision by Justice Ivan C. Rand, which granted a compulsory check-off of union dues (see Rand Formula Windsor Strike). The check-off helped give unions financial security, though some critics worried that unions might become more bureaucratic as a result.

By the end of the war Canadian workers also had become more active politically. The labour movement had become involved in politics after 1872 when the first workingman (Hamilton's Henry Buckingham Witton) was elected to Parliament as a Conservative candidate, as was A.T. Lépine, a Montréal leader of the Knights of Labor in 1888. In 1874 Ottawa printer D.J. O'Donoghue was elected to the Ontario legislature as an independent labour candidate. Labour candidates and workers' parties were often backed by local unions. In 1900 A.W. Puttee, a Labour Party founder, and Ralph Smith TLC president, were elected to Parliament. The Socialist Party of Canada appealed to the radical element and elected members in Alberta and BC. During the war, policies such as conscription encouraged unions to increase their political activity at the provincial and federal levels. In the 1921 federal election, labour candidates contested seats in all 9 provinces OBU general secretary R.B. Russell was defeated, as was Cape Breton's J.B. McLachlan, but Winnipeg's J.S. Woodsworth and Calgary's William Irvine were elected.

The social catastrophe of the Great Depression increased the appeal of radical politics Communist Party support increased, and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation was founded. During the 1940s the CCF became the official opposition in BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia, and in 1944 the first CCF government was elected in Saskatchewan. By the late 1940s the CCF and the Communist Party had a combined membership of 50 000.

The new rights of labour and the rise of the welfare state were the decisive achievements of the 1930s and 1940s, promising to protect Canadian working people against major economic misfortunes. The position of labour in Canadian society was strengthened by the formation of the Canadian Labour Congress (1956), which united the AFL and the Canadian Congress of Labour and absorbed the OBU. The CLC was active in the founding of the New Democratic Party, and, despite the emergence of rival union centrals such as the Confederation of Canadian Unions (1975) and the Canadian Federation of Labour (1982), it continues to represent more than 60% of union members.

Steady growth in government employment during this period meant that by the 1970s one in 5 workers was a public employee. With the exception of Saskatchewan, which gave provincial employees union rights in 1944, it was not until the mid-1960s, following an illegal national strike by postal workers (see Postal Strikes, CUPW), that public employees gained collective bargaining rights similar to those of other workers. In 1996, 3 of the 6 largest unions in Canada were public-service unions , whose growth has increased the prominence of Canadian over American-based unions in Canada, more than 60% of whose members belong to Canadian-based unions. Several major industrial unions, including the Canadian Auto Workers, reinforced this trend by separating from their American parent unions.

Another significant change has been the rise in the number of female workers. By 1996, the female labour force participation rate was over 59%. Women made up 45% of the labour force and more than 40% of union membership. The change was reflected in the growing prominence of women union leaders and in concern over issues such as maternity leave, child care, sexual harrassment and equal pay to women workers for work of equal value.

Despite the achievements of organized labour, the sources of conflict between employers and employees have persisted. Determined employers have been able to resist unions by using strikebreakers and by refusing to reach agreement on first contracts. Workers have continued to exert little direct influence over the investment decisions that govern the distribution of economic activity across the country. In collective agreements such issues as health, safety and technological change have received greater attention, but the employer's right to manage property has predominated over the workers' right to control the conditions and purposes of their work.

Governments have often acted to restrict union rights: on occasion, as in the 1959 Newfoundland Loggers' Strike, individual unions have been outlawed, and since the 1960s and 1970s governments have turned with increasing frequency to the use of legislated settlements, especially in disputes with their own employees. Despite the intervention of the welfare state, many workers have continued to suffer economic insecurity and poverty.

The capitalist labour market has failed to provide full employment for Canadian workers, and since the 1980s more than one million Canadians are regularly reported unemployed especially in underdeveloped regions such as Atlantic Canada, many workers have continued to depend on part-time, seasonal work and to provide a reserve pool of labour for the national economy. Most working people today are more secure than their counterparts were in the 19th century, but many workers feel threatened today by pressures arising from the globalization of the economy and new employer strategies to reduce labour costs.


As in other parts of Canada, the history of working-class Québec has only recently received serious study, and research has concentrated on the trade-union phenomenon. Before the industrialization of Québec(about 1870-80), most businesses were small and crafts-oriented. In 1851 there were only 37 companies employing more than 25 workers. Salaried employees were rare, although there were some in the timber trade, construction, and canal and railway earthworks.

Québec trade unionism began in the early decades of the 19th century when skilled craftsmen established weak, localized and ephemeral organizations. Montréal craft unions united 3 times in larger associations: in 1834, to win a 10-hour day in 1867, to form the Grand Association and in 1872, to win a 9-hour day. But each lasted only a few months and few unions withstood the 1873 economic crisis. Québec workers gave other signs of their presence as well. There were at least 137 strikes from 1815 to 1880. The co-operative movement, through life and health mutual-assurance funds, expanded rapidly after 1850 among the working class. These early signs of worker consciousness demonstrate the workers' desire to create alliances in response to the insecurities of factory work and urban life, and also the workers' rejection of the capitalist labour market in which they were treated as commodities.

Manufacturing activities overtook commerce around 1880 and the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie framed the state policies. Montreal's population doubled between 1871 and 1891, as the city became Canada's industrial and financial capital. As the number of workers increased, more solid craft unions grew under the leadership of international unions coming from the US. These unions brought the system of collective bargaining whereby wages, workload, hours of work and the rules of apprenticeships were negotiated with employers and recorded in a written document. In the 1880s a very different American influence, the Knights of Labor, made inroads among both skilled and unskilled workers. Unlike international unions which stressed the economic betterment of members through collective bargaining, they proposed a total reform of industrial society, including the abolition of wage-earning and the introduction of co-operatives and small-scale ownership.

Their activities helped in the formation of central workers' councils in Montréal (1886) and Québec City (1890). They channeled union demands to city councils as the TLC, which Québec unions affiliated from 1886, directed legislative reforms to federal and provincial governments. These organizations gave workers a political voice which, in the period 1886-1930, called for electoral reform, free and compulsory education, social programs and the nationalization of public utilities. Their demands expressed a labourist "projet de société" envisaging the reform rather than the abolition of capitalism.

The international unions grew quickly at the beginning of the century and they wiped out the Knights of Labor. They had over 100 locals in 1902 with a membership of about 6000. But their dominance was not unchallenged. First national unions hoped to establish a truly Canadian movement and expanded throughout Canada, but they failed to attract many workers. The greatest challenge for international unions came from the Catholic unions set up by the clergy from 1907. The socialist and anticlerical leanings of the international unions were feared. The Catholic unions established a central in 1921 (Canadian and Catholic Confederation of Labour) and gradually adopted many of the methods and principles of international unionism. But they failed to attract more than a quarter of unionists in Québec, the bulk of the movement remaining loyal to international unions (see Social Doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church Confederation of National Trade Unions).

In 1931, with a total membership of approximately 72 000, the union density in the province was about 10%, a percentage comparable to Ontario. They were mainly skilled workers in railways, building and some manufacturing industries. During WWII Québec was hit by a wave of unionization of semi-skilled and unskilled workers in mass production industries. Catholic unions had already unionized some of these workers but the main inroad came from international unions affiliated with the CIO. They provided a strong stimulus to union density that rose to 20.7% in 1941 and to 26.5% in 1951. Unionization was also bolstered by job shortages during the war and a new legal framework. Inspired by the American Wagner Act, the Labor Relations Act of 1944 became the cornerstone of private labour relations in Québec. It protects and favours the right of workers to collective bargaining.

Unions played a large role as critics of the conservative Duplessis government in the 1950s. Not only did they fight numerous pieces of legislation to restrict their activities, but they promoted in the population an active role for the Québec government. In this way they were among the main architects of the Quiet Revolution. In the 1950s international unions accounted for about 50% of union membership and about 30% for Catholic unions. The Catholic central changed its title in 1960 to the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTU).

The mid-1960s saw the expansion of unionism in the public sector (federal, provincial and municipal) and the para-public sector (teachers, health care workers). People were unhappy with their wages and working conditions, which were falling far behind the private sector, and were touched by the general climate of social change aroused by the Quiet Revolution. Their illegal strikes in 1963 and 1964 led the Québec government to grant the right to bargain and the right to strike to all civil servants, teachers and hospital workers. Their unionization gave a boost to union density that grew from 30.5% in 1961 to 37.6% in 1971.

Their influx transformed the union movement, which radicalized in the 1960s and 1970s. The province became the region with the highest rate of strikes in Canada, and the three main union centrals developed harsh criticism of the capitalist system. From 1972, all employees in the public and para-public sectors negotiated jointly every four years with the provincial government in "Common Front." This strategy, punctuated sometimes by general or sector strikes, improved the union bargaining power and working conditions of these employees.

The union movement suffered from the deep economic recession of 1981-82 and the high unemployment that followed. It underwent a dramatic change in rhetoric and strategy, giving up its global condemnation of the capitalist system and promoting "conflicting concertation" with management. The level of strikes, the highest in Canada during the 1970s, fell gradually in the next decade to below the Canadian average of working days lost per employee. The public and para-public employees who were at the forefront of union militancy lost their strength under the threat of repressive legislation. Nevertheless, union density remained high, around the 40% mark. Finally, the nationalism of the three union centrals evolved toward a clear support for the political independence of Québec, particularly after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1989. They were the main social group behind the "yes" side in the tight Quebec referendum of 1995.


Each period in the recording of Canadian labour history paralleled specific concerns that grew out of the practical struggles of the time. In 19th- and early 20th-century Canada, workers were not prominent subjects of scholarly production. Royal commissions provided copious evidence of the conditions of work and of labour's attempts to organize, and a few advocates of the working class offered their evaluations of Canadian workers' emergence as a social and political force. But concern with workers was a pragmatic one with explicit political purposes, and when studies were commissioned, as with, for example, R.H. Coats's 1915 examination of the cost of living, they were related directly to the perceived needs of the moment.

Between 1929 and 1945 in Britain and the US the study of labour history was channelled into examinations of political activity, the growth and consolidation of unions, and the gradual winning of collective bargaining rights, improved wages and better conditions. In Canada, individuals associated with an emerging social-democratic milieu had similar concerns and were advocates of public ownership, an active state and the preservation of civil liberties.

Leading this moderate socialist contingent was historian Frank Underhill, and associated with him were social scientists, economists and researchers at both McGill University and the University of Toronto, including Frank Scott, Eugene Forsey and Stuart Jamieson. Forsey eventually produced Trade Unions in Canada 1812-1902 (1982), an important overview of the institutional development of Canadian unionism in the 19th century, and Jamieson published Times of Trouble (1968), a government-commissioned monograph on strike activity over the period 1900-66. But in the 1930s and 1940s such figures played a more political role, sustaining the League for Social Reconstruction and helping the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.

Often it seemed as though the academic advocates of socialism regarded workers as the passive recipients of the social reform intellectuals sought to stimulate. Those associated with social-democratic thought eased labour into scholarly discourse and defined the character of working-class studies. They regarded the labour movement as one of the forces upon which they could rely for support, but they had little intrinsic interest in labour as a class. The study of labour thus encompassed concern with unions, with labour's political activity, and with extolling the appropriate and humane leadership and reforms that only the CCF could offer.

After WWII labour history first began to be written in Canadian universities. Often, especially among professional historians, it was a by-product of other concerns. "George Brown, Sir John Macdonald, and the 'Workingman' " in the Canadian Historical Review (1943), by Donald Creighton, indicated how concerns with central political figures might provide a footnote to labour's as-yet untold story. D.C. Masters's The Winnipeg General Strike (1950) was purportedly part of a projected exploration of Social Credit in Alberta. J.I. Cooper published "The Social Structure of Montréal in the 1850s" in the Canadian Historical Association's Annual Report (1956), which took a preliminary step toward the exploration of workers' everyday lives.

Most studies of Canadian workers were not actually done by historians. Political scientist Bernard Ostry wrote on labour and politics of the 1870s and 1880s. The most innovative work came from economist and economic historian H.C. Pentland (Labour and Capital in Canada (1650-1860), 1981), whose studies challenged conventional wisdom, and from literary critic Frank Watt. They argued that labour had posed a fundamental criticism, through physical struggles and journalistic attacks on monopoly and political corruption, of 19th- and early 20th-century Canadian society well before the upheaval at Winnipeg and the appearance of the Social Gospel and the CCF.

Such studies probably had less force in the universities than among historically minded associates of the Communist Party such as Bill Bennett and Stanley Ryerson, who penned histories of early Canada and Canadian workers. Within the established circles of professional historians Kenneth McNaught exerted a far greater influence. McNaught was a product of the social-democratic movement of the 1940s, and attained significance not so much for what he wrote - which, in labour history, was rather limited - but because he taught a number of graduate students who pushed labour history into prominence in the 1970s.

McNaught's work stressed the importance of leadership in the experience of Canadian workers, and he was drawn to the institutional approach of labour-economist Harold Logan. Logan had been active in teaching and writing labour economics since the 1920s, and he produced the first adequate overview of Canadian trade-union development in Trade Unions in Canada (1948). His writing in the 1930s and 1940s emphasized the struggle within the Canadian labour movement between CCF followers and associates of the Communist Party.

Logan's arguments against communism, together with the practical confrontations of the period, molded social-democratic intellectuals in specific ways: for example, anti-Marxism (equated with opposition to the Stalinist Communist Party) was forever embedded in their approach to Canadian labour. Their horizons seemed bounded by the study of institutions, social reform and the question of proper leadership of the progressive movement and labour itself. McNaught's A Prophet in Politics (1959), which was a biography of J.S. Woodsworth, father of Canadian social democracy and a central figure in the history of radicalism, was the exemplary study in this genre.

In 1965 Stanley Mealing published "The Concept of Social Class in the Interpretation of Canadian History" (Canadian Historical Review, 1965). He concluded that little historical work in Canada had been directed toward workers' experience and that the main interpretive contours of our history would not be dramatically altered by attention to class. Important studies of the Communist Party, the CCF-NDP, early radicalism and labour's general political orientation soon appeared.

By the early 1970s studies of such major working-class developments as the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the consolidation of the AFL before WWI, western labour radicalism and the Winnipeg General Strike were underway or had appeared in print. They were followed by examinations of the One Big Union, the government response to immigrant radicalism, and conditions of life and labour in early 20th-century Montréal.

Leading figures in this proliferation of working-class studies were Irving Abella, David Bercuson, Robert Babcock, Ross McCormack and Donald Avery. Their work, in conjunction with labour studies undertaken by social scientists such as Paul Phillips, Martin Robin, Leo Zakuta, Gad Horowitz and Walter Young, as well as historians Desmond Morton and Gerald Caplan, served to establish labour history as a legitimate realm of professional historical inquiry. Their labour histories were written, perhaps unconsciously, out of the social-democratic concerns of the 1940s: leadership, decisive events, conditions demanding reform, the nature of ideology and the evolution of particular kinds of unions. Labour-history courses were taught for the first time, a committee of the Canadian Historical Association was created, and a journal, Labour/Le Travailleur, was launched in 1976. In 1980 Desmond Morton and Terry Copp published Working People, an illustrated history of Canadian workers. The 1970s and 1980s also saw a growing number of popular histories of unions.

After 1975 a new group of historians emerged, influenced less by the social democracy of the 1940s and more by the Marxism of the late 1960s and early 1970s. These historians were first struck with the general importance of theory, and looked to a series of debates within Western Marxism after 1917 for the nature of class structure and the character of subordination of the working class in capitalist societies.

Second, many drew inspiration from American and British studies (by E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, David Montgomery and Herbert Gutman) that appeared in the 1960s and heralded a break with earlier histories of labour. Finally, the emergence of women's history provided a third and complementary influence, which forced consideration of the process through which labour was reproduced in the family and was socialized into a particular relationship to structures of authority and work.

Generally speaking, those who were fashioning labour history in the early 1980s were united in their commitment to write the social history of the working class. If labour's institutions, political activities and material conditions of life were of essential importance in this broad social history, so too were hitherto unexplored aspects of the workers' experience: family life, leisure activities, community associations, and work processes and forms of managerial domination affecting both the evolution of unions and the lives of unorganized workers.

In all of this work there is a concern with working-class history as an analysis of the place of class in Canadian society. Class was conceived as a reciprocal, if unequal, relationship between those who sell their labour and those who purchase it. Some studies have concentrated on the structural, largely impersonal, dimensions of class experience (the size of working-class families, the numbers of workers associated with particular sectors of the labour market, the rates of wages and levels of unemployment), whereas other works unearthed the cultural activities of workers and the conflicts they have waged at the work place or in the community. Finally, this group was generally less willing to immediately dismiss the radicalism associated with Communist and socialist union activists.

Some published works by this generation of historians - including Joy Parr's Labouring Children (1980), an examination of the labouring experiences of pauper immigrant children Bryan Palmer's A Culture in Conflict (1979), a discussion of skilled labour in Hamilton in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Gregory Kealey's Toronto Workers Respond to Industrial Capitalism 1867-1892 (1980), a similar study of Toronto workers and "Dreaming of What Might Be" (1982), an examination of the Knights of Labor in Ontario, 1880-1900, by Kealey and Palmer - attempt detailed explorations of working-class experience.

A host of articles and postgraduate theses attest to the treatment of subjects that a previous labour history never envisaged: ritualistic forms of resistance, patterns of craft inheritance among shoemakers, the place of the family economy in Montréal in the 1870s and 1880s, the riotous behaviour of early canallers, the significance of the life cycle among Québec cotton workers, 1910-50, the effects of mechanization and skill-dilution upon metalworkers in the WWI era, the nature of life in coal communities, or the role of literacy, housing, tavern life and the oral tradition among specific groups of workers. While those defending the traditional institutional approaches saw the new emphasis on culture as leading away from politics, this was not the intention of writers drawing from social history. Rather, they believed that working-class culture, however imprecise an idea initially, was intimately connected to other vital areas of labouring life such as unions and parliamentary politics.

With an increasing number of graduate students and professional historians taking up these subjects, the labour history of the late 1980s and early 1990s both revisited familiar themes and charted new directions. Detailed statistical research charting the major waves of workplace conflict has proceeded alongside explorations into the histories of the labour movement in many urban areas. Bushworkers and Bosses (1987), Ian Radforth's study of loggers and technological change in Northern Ontario, The New Day Recalled (1988), Veronica Strong-Boag's account of women between the wars, and Working in Steel (1988), Craig Heron's examination of steelworkers, have filled in notable gaps in the historical record, as has research on miners across Canada, the Depression-era relief camp workers, and many articles and monographs on skilled artisans. This work has contributed to the record of union growth and economic change, in particular with the transformation of labour processes in the workplace. Inquiries into the particular dilemmas of immigrant workers - Eastern Europeans, Italians, Jews - have also advanced our understanding of workers' social and cultural worlds. Two such studies are Franca Iacovetta's Such Hardworking People (1992) and Ruth Frager's Sweatshop Strife (1992).

An important part of the "new" working-class history takes issue with the regional stereotypes that figured so prominently in earlier studies. In particular, "western exceptionalism" - the idea that western Canadian workers were more radical than their eastern counterparts - has been challenged through research into the activities of socialists, syndicalists and Communists in central and Atlantic Canada. Recent studies by Mark Leier, entitled Red Flags and Red Tape (1995), and Robert McDonald, with Making Vancouver (1996), have also begun to question the extent and nature of radicalism in the west, instead pointing to the diversity of political beliefs among both skilled craftsmen in urban centres and unskilled workers in resource-based company towns. In short, a great deal more is known about the various political tendencies supported by workers and how conflicts between conservatives and radicals were central in shaping the path of the labour movements.

Much of this debate has developed around contrasting interpretations of the 1919 general strike wave and the One Big Unions with the early work of scholars like McNaught and Bercuson being rethought in numerous books, articles and theses. Commentaries such as The New Democracy (1991) by James Naylor and Larry Peterson's "Revolutionary Socialism and the Industrial Unrest in the Era of the Winnipeg General Strike" (Labour/Le Travail, 1984) sought to combine attention to local particularities with an eye on national trends and international politics. With the forthcoming volume on working-class activism during 1919, edited by Craig Heron, the debate is not likely to end soon.

Nor have disagreements within working-class history been confined to questions of culture and radicalism, as labour's relationship with the state has also been the subject of interpretive controversy. In broad terms, social-democratic historians have welcomed the creation of the reform-oriented welfare state and the enshrining of collective bargaining rights in law, while Marxists and others such as Bob Russell, in Back to Work? (1990), and Jeremy Webber, with "The Malaise of Compulsory Conciliation" (Character of Class Struggle, 1985) present a more critical view, emphasizing how industrial legality limited the potential of what unions could achieve by channelling struggles into an arena in which the related forces of governing and employing authority would always be more powerful than workers.

The latter group of scholars has analyzed coercive elements in Canadian state formation, piecing together the creation of the surveillance state during WWI and the use of the RCMP and deportation procedures to break strikes and expel socialists. Such methods were intensified during the Cold War purges of Communists from many industrial unions. Rarely the neutral arbiter of industrial relations, the Canadian government, at all levels, has tended historically to intervene in disputes in ways which reinforced the rights of capital, as with the complex, often ironic, impact of minimum wage laws, workers' compensation acts and other labour legislation. Also important are conflicts within the state for example, as Gillian Creese observes in "Exclusion or Solidarity?" (BC Studies, 1988), the federal government's control over immigration policy was repeatedly challenged by provincial and municipal politicians and conservative white unionists eager to prevent the importation of workers seen as racially inferior such as Asians. These disputes contributed to the maintenance of a racially segmented labour force, as detailed by Alicia Muszynski in Cheap Wage Labour (1996).

The most productive area of new research has been that of labour's gendered past, as many of the central concerns of working-class history, whether new or old, have been revisited in light of feminist scholarship challenging the male-centred framework of writing about the Canadian past. The experiences of women working in the needle trades and clerical positions, for telephone companies and auto makers, have all shed light on the historically shifting composition of the sexual division of labour as well as struggles against the sexism of male bosses and unionists. Rather than a natural phenomenon, women's place in the occupational structure has been analysed as the product of conflicts over gendered notions of proper behaviour for women and men. In particular, the family wage - the idea that husbands were the legitimate breadwinner while wives were to be supported while doing the domestic labour - placed strong constraints on women's ability to find well-paying jobs. Nor were women working for "pin money" instead, most entered wage labour in a context of economic need, trying to support themselves and their families in spite of the family wage ideal.

In a similar vein, the activities of women radicals have been unearthed by Linda Kealey, "No Special Protection - No Sympathy" (Class, Community and the Labour Movement, 1989), and Janice Newton, The Feminist Challenge to the Canadian Left (1995), for socialists in the period leading up to the 1919 labour revolt, and Joan Sangster, in a comparative study of women in the Communist Party and the CCF entitled Dreams of Equality (1989), all of which trace the often conflictual relationship between feminism and socialism. Moving beyond the world of work, scholarship by Bettina Bradbury entitled Working Families (1993) has revealed the importance of the family as both a resource in labour disputes and a site of antagonism around issues of economic responsibilities and entitlements.

Historians such as Steven Maynard and Mark Rosenfeld have focused attention on the gender identities of working men, revealing how class divisions and notions of solidarity and skill were often mapped in terms of popular understandings about masculinity. Joy Parr's The Gender of Breadwinners (1990), a study of working men and women in two small Ontario towns, is notable for its attempt to synthesize many of these historiographical trends, particularly in her exploration of the importance of both male and female gender identities for their experience at work and in the home.

In closing, it is worth noting that in Carl Berger's edited collection, Contemporary Approaches to Canadian History (1987), working-class history is the only area of inquiry where the editor felt obliged to present two conflicting assessments of the historiography, one representative of an older, institutional-oriented approach and another indicative of newer efforts to root the history of Canadian workers in broader processes of class formation. In 1996, BC Studies published a critical essay by Mark Leier with responses from Robert McDonald, Bryan Palmer and Veronica Strong-Boag, which resulted in a thought-provoking exchange on the direction of working-class studies, an issue explored in the overview presented in the second edition of Palmer's Working-Class Experience (1992). From its beginnings the history of Canadian labour has been contested terrain. It remains so to this day.

History of the Trade Union Movement in Britain Part 3

This radical history of the trade union movement in Britain runs from 1964 to 1992. You can read Part 1 here, which describes the British trade union movement from the 1700s to 1918. Read part 2 here, 1918 to 1964. The summary is based on “In Cause of Labour: History of British Trade Unionism” by Rob Sewell, which you can read here.

In Place of Strife 1964-1970

The election of a new Labour government after 13 years of Tory rule was met with enthusiasm and optimism. Prime Minter Wilson talked of using the scientific revolution to transform people’s lives and this caught the imagination of the large amounts of the population, especially the youth. Popular ideas included rational planning model, automation and more leisure time, modern technology to end the monotony of work, nuclear energy to meet all energy needs for generations to come.

Sewell describes the problems Wilson had straight away when he was told by the Governor of the Bank of England that there would need to be a cut in government spending as the country could not afford Labour’s programme. That if Wilson did implement the programme it would lead to financial ruin and a strike of capital. Sewell explains that this is the problem of working inside capitalism. Sewell quotes Wilson from his memoirs and it’s worth including:

“I asked him if this meant that it was impossible for any government, whatever its party label, whatever its manifesto or the policies on which it fought an election, to continue unless it immediately reverted to full-scale Tory policies… We had now reached the situation where a newly elected government was being told by international speculators that the policy on which we had fought the election could not be implemented: that the government was to be forced into adoption of Tory policies to which it was fundamentally opposed… The Queen’s First Minister was being asked to bring down the curtain on parliamentary democracy by accepting the doctrine that an election in Britain was a farce, that the British people could not make a choice between policies.”

The Labour Party response was to keep the working class in the dark and give into the bankers and City of London. “To restore the flagging competitiveness of British Industry, old policies were dusted down and presented as something new.” The new government has inherited a serious balance of payments crisis from the Tories so reduced spending through public spending cuts and a Prices and Incomes policy to reduce inflation. Workers were told to work harder to increase productivity and unofficial strikes were discouraged. In 1965, the government established a Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations to investigate industrial relations to bring in ‘reforms’, “in other words, changes more suitable to the needs of capitalism.”

The National Board of Prices and Incomes was created in 1965 and started by bringing in voluntary wage restraint. The trade unions membership were convinced by a promise of a planned growth in wages. A national economic plan was announced but it failed as Sewell describes because “it is not possible to plan within the anarchy of capitalist production, where the blind forces of the market decide, underpinned by the profit motive. Under capitalism, it is not the government that decides economic policy, but the boardrooms of the major monopolies.”

The TUC backed the voluntary wage restraint and the Prices and Incomes policy. Sewell explains that this only boosted the capitalist profits at the expense of wages.

At this point, Labour had a small majority so Wilson called another (1966) General Election and won a big majority. In response, the trade union leaders backed the Prices and Income policy. Employers increased their pressure on workers to increase productivity and therefore profitability. Wilson introduced a six-month wage freeze in the second half of 1966 that wasn’t popular. “Wilson remained within the parameters of capitalism and in effect attempted to run the system better than the Tories.”

There was a seafarers’ strike in 1966 against poor wages and conditions. Wilson came out against it and called a state of emergency. The seafarers were successful in reducing their weekly hours from 56 to 42 and getting a wage rise increase, higher than normal. The Labour government reorganised the docks so there were fewer companies, better job security and conditions but a smaller workforce. There were several unsuccessful strikes.

Sewell makes the important point that workers are not against all modernisation. “New methods should be used to shorten hours, lighten the burden of work, and improve working conditions. But under capitalism, new techniques are used to make fewer workers work harder, while the remainder are thrown on the scrap heap. Modernisation under capitalism is used not to ease work, but to maximise profits.”

The docker’s strike was followed by the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) coming out in oppositions to the government’s pay policy. There was also a significant strike at Robert Arundel in Stockport over union recognition that ended with the company going bankrupt.

There was a shift in the union memberships to the left. In 1967 the Amalgamated Engineering Workers’ Union replaced its right-wing President, with a left-winger. The following year, the same thing happened in the TGWU.

The Wilson government nationalised the steel industry in 1967, Sewell explains how this was not for socialist reasons but to support big business with cheap steel. The former owners were of course well compensated. It met little resistance from the capitalist class as they were happy to be bailed out by the state in difficult times. The new British Steel Corporation faced heavy competition from abroad and the lack of investment in new infrastructure resulted in large job losses. Sewell describes how little was done by the steel unions to resist the lay-offs.

Sewell explains that a general problem in British capitalism was the lack of investment in industry to modernise. This lead to a drop in Britain’s share of world exports to 14 per cent by 1964. In 1967 the Wilson government devalued the pound. In response, British capitalists increased their prices, resulting in Britains share of world exports falling to 10 per cent in 1970. Profits increased but the profit margins decreased. Imports also increased. Wilson responded to the declining profits by effectively attacking workers’ living standards. Several cuts and counter-reforms were introduced: “free school milk for secondary pupils was abolished, prescription charges were reintroduced, National Assistance rules were tightened up, and wage restraint introduced.”

Sewell describes the opposition to Wilson’s support for America’s war in Vietnam and the 1968 General Strike in France, here.

In June 1968, the Donovan Commission delivered its Report on British trade unions. It stated the main problems were unofficial strikes, which had made up 90 per cent of strikes from 1960-68. To reduce this, the report recommended that the semi-official shop stewards’ movement, estimated to be 175,000, would be fully integrated into the trade union bureaucracy. The Commission wanted to trade union leadership to control its rank-and-file membership. The Commission did not call for legal sanctions on the trade unions, the capitalist press was not happy. The Tory Party issued its report on industrial relations called ‘Fair Deal at Work’, arguing for the introduction of anti-union laws.

In 1969, the Labour government announced a White Paper called ‘In Place of Strife‘ that went a lot further than the Commission report. It recommended “the creation of a Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations and the setting up of Industrial Courts. It envisaged ‘cooling-off’ periods and fines on trade unions. According to the government the legislation would ‘enable the Secretary of State by order to require those involved to desist for up to 28 days from a strike or lockout which is unconstitutional…’ And further, ‘The Board will have the power to impose financial penalties on an employer, union or individual striker as it found appropriate’.”

The prospect of a Labour government introducing anti-union legislation caused a large protest in the Labour movement and Labour Party. There were actual protests at Labour Party headquarters in London and there were threats by union groups to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. The Communist Party responded by setting up the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions (LCDTU), which received a wide level of support from across the Labour movement. It called a national day of action in December 1969 and over a million workers went on strike for the day. The pressure continued and by 1970 the government had to back down. This radicalised the Labour movement and prepared it for the coming Tory anti-union legislation.

The switch from coal to oil as a power source and the mechanisation of the coal pits resulted in a large number of pits closing and the workforce halving to 365,000. Miners had the option of taking redundancy or being transferred to another pit, to then be moved on again. The National Union of Miners had a right-wing leadership so did little to resist these changes.

1969 saw a national coal miners strike. It started in Yorkshire over a demand to reduce hours. The unofficial strike resulted in all pits in Yorkshire stopping work and spread to Scotland, South Wales, Derbyshire, Kent, Nottingham and the Midlands, involving over 130,000 miners. The National Coal Board (NCB) refused to reduce hours but did increase wages. In response, the government Commission recommended the creating of the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR) to control the unions. Sewell describes it as “a vehicle for class collaboration and harmony under capitalism, a means of glueing together the interests of employers, union officials and shop stewards.”

1968 saw a strike by women machinists at Ford Motor Company over equal pay, most were on lower pay bands for no other reason than their gender. This led to Ford worker striking over wages in 1969. The same year, dustbin men went on strike over wages. 1970 had more strike days than any year since 1926. Sewell describes in some detail the bitter unsuccessful Pilkington Glass Factory in St Helens strike.

The Wilson government called a General Election in 1970 and was defeated by the Tories led by Edward Heath. For Sewell “The period of counter-reform under Labour had disillusioned its supporters, resulting in large Labour abstentions in the July 1970 general election. The coming to power of the Tory government’ constituted a sharp change in the political situation, opening up a tidal wave of struggle not seen since the 1920s.”

Close the Gates!” 1970-1972

Sewell describes how the new Health Tory government was pro-big business and “was determined to reverse the decline of British capitalism, set out to tame the trade unions and carry through a programme of deep cuts in living standards.” Between 1945 – 1970 British industrial productivity grew much slower than in the USA, Germany and Japan. Industry machinery investment and profits were also much lower. This resulted in Britain’s share of world manufacturing exports dropping from 25 per cent to 10 per cent. Sewell explains that these problems were created by the failure of the British capitalists to reinvest their profits, extracted from the working-class, in the re-equipping industry. “The ruling class, which blamed the ‘lazy British worker’ and the ‘restrictive practises’ of the unions for all its ills, attempted to resolve this problem by reducing ‘costs’ at the expense of the working class.”

Within a month of the election, there was a national dock strike over pay. The government threatened the use of the army but the Person Inquiry recommended a wage increase which was accepted by the dockers. Later in 1970, 250,000 local authority workers went on strike over wages. Again the government threatened to bring in the army but another inquiry agreed to most of the striking workers’ demands.

Sewell describes several other setbacks for the Tories: “An unofficial miners’ strike secured a £3 a week raise. Electricity supply workers gained around 15 per cent after a state of emergency was declared and the Queen in Buckingham Palace was forced to “take tea by candlelight”. In the private sector Ford workers won an £8 a week raise over two years. The only success for the government was the defeat of the seven-week old postal workers’ strike over pay, led by the extremely moderate Tom Jackson. During the dispute, he threatened to sell every brick of the union’s headquarters before giving in. But he ended up selling out the workers instead. The government was less successful in disputes affecting electricity supply, railworkers and refuse collectors.”

In response, the Health government brought in the Industrial Relations Act in 1971 to weaken the power of the trade unions. The union rank-and-file pressure on the trade union leadership was moving the Labour movement to the left. The new Tory legislation aimed to force the union leaders to police their membership by threatening them with legal penalties. Read the details of the legislation here.

The legislation became known as ‘the scabs charter’ in the Labour movement. A campaign was organised to defeat it including the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions (LCDTU), Labour Party and TUC. In December 1970 the LCDTU organised an unofficial strike of 600,000 workers. This was followed in January by 500,000 workers taking part in a day of protest against the government. Then in February, 300,000 trade unionists demonstrated in London to ‘Kill the Bill’ followed by a series of one-day strikes and protests around the country involving 2 million workers.

The TUC organised a special conference in March, during which 3 million workers went on strike, the biggest since the 1926 General Strike. The conference advised a boycott of the legislation and motions were passed instructing unions to not register with the government, which most unions went along with.

Sewell describes how “Between July 1970 and July 1974, more than three million days were lost in political protest strikes against the Industrial Relations Act, more than one million against the NIRC and 1.6 million against the government’s incomes policy. It was a historic show of militancy, and the high point of working-class confidence not seen for generations.”

The nationalised Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) was facing closure, even after a 30 per cent reduction in the workforce and 85 per cent increase in productivity. It was sold off to Yarrow for a £1 plus a £4.5 million loan. The Health government refused a second loan so was to be closed with the loss of 6,000 jobs. The workers organised a ‘work-in‘ that received huge support around the country. Sewell blames the UCS leaders who were in the Communist Party for not pushing the strike beyond a ‘work-in’ or to attempt to spread the strike beyond UCS to force the government to nationalise shipbuilding. In the end, the four sites were sold off to two private companies that received ongoing government support. 2,000 jobs were still lost.

The 1971 recession had resulted in a significant increase in unemployment, the highest since 1939. Workers facing factory closures responded by a wave of factory occupations and sit-ins across the country, a least 200 over the following few years.

The 1972 national miners’ strike had 280,000 miners taking action over wages. Flying pickets were used effectively to spread the strike to other coal pits. The miners were supported by trade unionists in other industries to halt the movement of coal as well. The was also broad public support from millions of ordinary people. The Health government considered using the army but there were serious concerns this would push the conflict somewhere unpredictable, possible another General Strike.

The strike spread to other industries including the engineering industry in Birmingham. The striking miners targetted the Saltley Gasworks in Birmingham, the last large fuel depot still not closed due to the strike in the area. In early February 1972, the number of pickets at the gate increased. Midland car delivery drivers joined first. The next day the government declared a state of emergency. The following day “a meeting of about 200 shop stewards in the Midlands’ engineering industry called for solidarity action from the 40,000 engineering workers and a mass march on the Saltley depot to close the plant.”

Nearly all of Birmingham’s 40,000 engineering workers went on strike with 10,000 marching to Saltley Gate to join the 2,000 miners there. The 1,000 police were overwhelmed and were forced to close the Saltley depot gates. By mid-February, fuel supplies were so low that many industries were forced into a three-day week. The government considered sending in the army to take control but decided it would have resulted in a disaster. The government set up an inquiry to settle the dispute. It very quickly recommended that the miners were to be treated as a special case and they got a 21 per cent pay rise and several other concessions. Read more details from Sewell here.

Sewell explains how this was a significant defeat for the government. “Although a significant victory for the miners, if the strike had continued the union could have achieved its full claim. Nevertheless, the miners fought with courage and determination after 20-odd years of broken promises from governments and union leaders. After the 1972 strike, the policy of hard-faced Toryism was in ruins. They had completely miscalculated the determination of the miners and the solidarity of the rest of the working class. The victory was an inspiration to other sections of workers, who were also being pushed to the forefront to defend their conditions.

The miners had revived a fighting tradition that was to set the tone in forthcoming industrial disputes. The mass picketing, above all of the power stations, was an important feature of the miners’ victory. It was an example that other sections would emulate. For many workers, and especially the miners, the 1972 strike was a historic turning point and proved a just reward for the humiliating defeat of 1926.”

The Road to Pentonville 1972-1974

Sewell describes that following the miners’ strike of 1972 the ruling class was very concerned about the levels of militancy in the Labour movement. They were viewed as more left-wing than at any time before. The idea of unions using ‘direct action’ for political objectives was popular again after 50 years since the General Strike. The Civil Contingencies Unit (CCU) was created in 1972 to deal with any potential disorder and kept secret. ‘The Times’ newspaper revealed, “by early 1973 ministers had detailed estimates of 16 key industries, their capacity for disruption, their importance to the country’s well-being and the possibility of using alternative military labour in the event of strikes.”

The Tory government were keen to end the National Dock Labour Scheme as it protected dockers from being ‘casual labour’. They decided against it as they knew that union officials were having trouble keeping control of their militant union membership.

The situation changed when two haulage companies took legal action against the TGWU for allowing their members to unofficially boycott their businesses to limited their use of containers. It went to the National Industrial Relations Court (NIRC). The TGWU was heavily fined and threatened with the sequestration of all its funds if the union did not lift the boycott. The TGWU decided to consult the TUC. Sewell is very critical here, arguing that if the union had called a national strike and given the size of the TGWU and the likely level of support across the Labour movement it would have resulted in a General Strike. The TUC stated to pay the fines and the TGWU executive committee voted in favour of this by a very small majority. Sewell describes how “despite the wobbling of the leadership, the dock shop stewards remained defiant and refused to lift the boycott of the haulage companies.”

The Tory Cabinet met to deal with the situation, expecting the worst. The unofficial shop stewards committee was believed to have a lot of support from moderate minded dockers that feared losing their jobs. The government considered several options “a state of emergency, rationing of essential food, and the requisitioning of vehicles to transport food around the country.”

Several haulage companies container depots were being blockaded by trade unionists. The owners attempted to get court orders to have them removed with mixed success. The Midland Cold Storage Company got a court injunction but the blockade continued. Private investigators identified five shop stewards as behind the blockade and they were arrested for contempt of court, they are known as the ‘Pentonville Five’.

In response, 44,000 dockers and 130,000 other workers went on strike. Docks came to a standstill in London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Swansea, Glasgow, Bristol, Felixstowe, Leith, Chatham, Ipswich, Middlesborough and even King’s Lynn. The workers recognised that this wasn’t a dockers strike but a strike in defence of trade union rights against the Industrial Relations Act. The TUC was under pressure to act and called a one-day General Strike. The government reinterpreted the law so that the courts would hold the unions, instead of the individual pickets responsible for their actions. The government wanted to avoid a one-day strike as it might continue. The Pentonville Five were released and the strike was called off. Read more details by Sewell here.

A few days later the dockers were on strike again over job security. The government called a state of emergency. They considered sending in the army but the Civil Contingencies Unit advised that this might cause the strike to spread to other sectors such as lorry drivers. The docker’s national shop stewards committee “stepped up their campaign by closing all ports using unregistered labour.” A few weeks later the government was forced to agree to a deal to end the action.

At the end of 1972, the engineering union AUEW was fined £55,000 for refusing membership to James Goad, a scab. The union refused to pay and the money was sequestrated by the court. The AUEW also had to give Goad membership. In response, 750,000 workers struck unofficially but the AUEW limited itself to verbal protests.

There was also a large building workers’ strike in 1972. Several building workers’ unions had merged in 1971 into the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT). They ran a 13-week strike over wages and conditions. Flying pickets were used to move between construction sites and kept the strike going. The Tory government decided to target the leaders of the strike, arresting 24, known as the ‘Shrewsbury 24‘. They hoped this would stop the militant workers and deter others. The courts found a number guilty of unlawful assembly, affray and conspiracy, with some getting short prison sentences.

The old traditions of militancy had returned with 1972 seeing nearly 24 million days lost to strike action and only 1919 had a higher number. This impacted the Labour Party, with its National Executive Committee (NEC) moving to the left. A left grouping also emerged on the TUC’s General Council. Sewell describes how the right-wing on the TUC wanted to avoid a confrontation with the government and did everything they could to dampen the growing militancy. He describes how the Lefts on the TUC did not have a strategy for the movement so failed to prepare and mobilise the workers to bring down the government. The Lefts ended up giving in to the right-wing and believed it was possible to influence the government through discussion.

Sewell explains that by the end of 1972 and the two years of epic struggles, there was a drop in activity because the movement could not sustain its activities to the same level. This lull lasted most of 1973, where days lost of strikes dropped to 8 million. But the number of shop stewards increased to 300,000 and trade union members was continuing to grow especially with white-collar and professional workers. Confidence was high in the Labour movement and given the provocative behaviour by the Tory government a General Strike seemed likely.

By the end of 1973, the third phase of the Tories income policy was announced. This would result in a cut in living standards. This was combined with a war in the Middle East resulting in a quadrupling of oil prices, resulting in a global economic recession, the first since the 1930s. This reduced availability of oil gave the miners an advantage and increased their bargaining power. The miners ran a national campaign to ban overtime across all coal mines. In January 1974, in response, the Health government announced a state of emergency and a three-day working week to save energy. By mid-January, over a million workers had lost their jobs. A national ballot in early February had very strong support for strike action at the start of March. In response, Heath called a snap General Election on February 28 th . The media ran a campaign against the miners but many were fed up with the Tories and were looking to the Labour Party, which had moved to the left. The Labour Party 1973 conference had voted in support of nationalising the top 25 monopolies. Sewell describes how the Labour Party right-wing watered down the manifesto but it was still relatively radical.

The snap 1974 election gamble backfired with the Labour Party winning 301 seats and the Tories’ 296. The Liberals had 14 seats and held the balance of power. Heath tried to hold onto power but failed and resigned. Sewell describes how this was a historic dispute, the first time a strike had resulted in a General Election and then the demise of a government.

The Labour government came to power in early March and a few days later the miners returned to work with major concessions. In the Tory Party leadership election, Margaret Thatcher defeated Health.

The Turning Point 1970-1979

1974 had a world recession that was the biggest since 1929. The post-war 25-year economic boom had come to an end, with a 10 per cent drop in industrial production in the advanced capitalist countries in 1974/75. This brought in a new period of political, social and industrial upheaval with the ruling class unsure about the future of their system.

Sewell describes 1974 as a year of revolution: “Portugal was rocked by a revolutionary movement of workers, soldiers, sailors and peasants, which succeeded in sweeping away the hated dictatorship of Caetano. In Southern Africa, the events in Portugal resulted in profound revolutionary changes in Angola, Guinea Bissau and Mozambique. In Ethiopia, the removal of emperor Haile Selassie ended up in the nationalisation of the economy. In Spain, the dying Franco regime was met with an explosion of opposition and mass strikes. The overthrow of the Greek Junta produced a pre-revolutionary crisis in the country.”

Sewell describes how the ruling class and military across Western Europe were making plans to neutralise left-wing government. In Britain there was much talk of a military ‘solution’ to the problems of capitalism and if there was another General Strike. Leading Tory MPs were also publicly writing about the “theoretical justification for doing away with democracy if it ever posed a threat to the capitalist system”. This can be interpreted that if a left Labour government threatened capitalism then it would face a “conspiracy and overthrow by reactionary forces” even if it had been legally elected through a General Election. Sewell gives an example of this: the overthrow of the Allende socialist government in Chile in 1973 in a coup by General Pinochet back by British and US Capitalism.

In 1974 there was “a ‘general strike’ in the North of Ireland, called by the sectarian Ulster Workers’ Council against the “power-sharing” Executive established by the Sunningdale Agreement. Even though this was a reactionary sectarian strike, involving threats and physical intimidation by Protestant paramilitary groups, it nevertheless showed the power of the organised working class. Workplace after workplace was shut down and the government was impotent to do anything about it. Faced with a strike of power engineers and technicians, the military tried to employ naval technicians to run the power stations, but they were completely baffled by the voluminous instruction manuals! “The army, therefore, concluded they could do nothing to maintain the power system in Northern Ireland, and by inference anywhere else in the United Kingdom”, stated Robert Fisk in his book The Point of No Return. After a fortnight of trying to use troops to break the strike, the Tories were forced to back down, demonstrating how ineffective military intervention was in any large-scale industrial stoppage.”

Senior military officers were making public statements that the army might be needed to deal with the social disorder from strikes that the police couldn’t handle.The Chief of the Defence Staff at the time, Lord Carver, made a personal intervention stating that no one was to go around saying these things. The problem was not with the idea but not publicly expresses these views as they were counterproductive and highly provocative to the Labour movement.

Sewell describes the successes that the industrial struggles of the early 1970s – “Real take-home pay increased by 3.5 per cent a year between 1970 and 1973, four times the rate achieved under the 1964-70 Labour government.” The miner’s strike had given the workers increased self-confidence that had outmanoeuvred the ruling class. He is also critical of the “semi-syndicalist mood amongst certain sections of union militants – who regarded the trade union struggle alone as sufficient in dealing with the Tories and the employers. The fall of the Heath government certainly tended to reinforce this outlook.”

The new minority Wilson Labour government was still right-wing. There were several left-wingers in the cabinet and many of the new Labour MPs were on the left. The first task was to resolve the miners’ strike, they were given wage increases ranging from 22-32 per cent and within a week of the election the country was back to a 5-day week. The Labour government then introduced several reforms: “it raised old age pensions, increased food and rent subsidies, cut the rate of VAT, and encouraged the building of council houses. To the great relief of the Labour movement, the government repealed the hated Industrial Relations Act, abolished the Pay Board and scrapped Heath’s statutory incomes policy. The Housing Finance Act was also repealed and a rent freeze was introduced. As promised, the Labour government introduced gift and wealth taxes, although not as much as to make the rich squeak too loudly. The granting of these reforms produced a honeymoon period for the Wilson government, which appeared at long last to be carrying out a radical programme.”

The Labour government was under huge pressure from both the working class and the capitalist class. The reforms appeased the workers, who were willing to give the government a chance. The reforms were disliked by the capitalists but they had to bide their time to act. Wilson called another General Election at the end of 1974 to gain a working majority in Parliament. Labour did win a small majority of 3 so was still vulnerable.

Sewell discusses the world recession that took place in the mid-1970s. He explains here that the main cause was the overproduction of goods in the boom/slump capitalist economic cycle. The quadrupling of oil prices aggravated the crisis. The boom/slump cycle had been hidden since the 1930s by the Second World War and then the postwar economic boom.

In Britain this caused inflation to increase by 20 per cent, which quickly eroded living standards. The combination of a slump and inflations was called ‘slumpflation’. Capitalist business was seeing declining profits so put pressure on the Labour government to cut public spending, not increase wages and stop all state interventions in the market. The Wilson government had a choice between taking on the powerful capitalist forces or go along with them. The government chose to submit to the capitalists and proposed an income policy call the ‘Social Contract’. The left-wing of the TUC and Labour movement had the same choice and decided to back Wilson’s policies. The TUC accepted the ‘Social Contract’ and the government put pressure on the trade unions leaders to get the union membership to support it.

At the end of 1974, the Labour Chancellor announced several measures to increase profitability: “reduction of corporation tax, less stringent price controls, and state handouts for industry. Healey also announced restrictions on public expenditure for the duration of the government. As in the past, this signalled a continuation of orthodox economic policies, and as usual the working class was being asked to pay for the crisis of capitalism.”

Sewell describes how going into 1975 inflation was causing real-take-home pay to decline by about 10 per cent. The mainstream economists that the Labour government were listening to stated that inflation was caused by rising wages so pay increases had to stop. Sewell explains that inflation was caused by speculative capital that was injected into the system after decades of Keynesian public spending. Blaming inflation on rising wages was an excuse so that a wage restriction could boost profits. The Wilson government proposed a voluntary incomes policy to happen in co-operation with the TUC that the TUC accepted. The trade union members trusted their leaders so went along with it. Between 1974-77, this resulted in the largest drop in real wages in Britain.

In early 1976 Wilson resigned as Prime Minister and James Callaghan replaced him. Not long after this Britain faced a balance of payments or ‘sterling crisis‘ and had to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan. The IMF would only grant the loan if £3 billion was cut from public spending over the following 2 years. This was accepted by the Callaghan Cabinet.

This caused many at the time to argue that this was the end of the Keynesianism approach of cutting taxes and increasing government spending to increase employment and spend your way out of a crisis. In 1977 the Labour government had lost its small majority due to by-election defeats so formed Lib-Lab Pact.

The Grunwick dispute took place between 1976-78 over trade union recognition at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in London. It also attempted to gain the reinstatement of sacked women, mainly Asian workers. There was broad support from the Labour movement and violence and arrests on the picket line. The dispute end with:

“The incumbent Labour government commissioned the Scarman Inquiry, chaired by Lord Scarman, which recommended both union recognition and re-instatement of the workers, but the employer, backed by the right-wing National Association For Freedom (NAFF) and the Conservative Party, rejected the recommendations. The TUC subsequently withdrew their support and the workers’ strike committee announced the end of the dispute in June 1978. The repercussions of the strike for British industrial relations were far-reaching, significantly weakening the British trades union movement. The Conservative Party and other members of the right wing saw this as a major political and ideological victory, preparing the ground for Conservative success in the 1979 general election and their subsequent curbing of the unions’ power in the 1980s.” [1]

Sewell describes how there was serious concerns at the IMF, World Bank, US and UK ruling class that the Labour movement and Labour party were moving to the left and this would threaten capitalism. It was seen as the job of the right-wing trade union leaders to stop this from happening. In 1977, phase three of the Labour governments income policy was introduced, which was a 10 per cent limit on wage increases. This was very unpopular in the Labour movement and the TUC was forced to reject it. At the end of the year, 80,000 lobbied parliament against the government’s policies. The Callaghan government attempted to force a wage limit on the public sector and this pushed ‘moderate’ trade unionists into industrial action.

At the end of 1977, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) went on strike for a 30 per cent pay rise and a small reduction in hours. This was the first fire brigade strike in British history. They were attacked in the media and the army was called in by the strike held for two months. There was public support for the strike but the TUC refused to support it. In early 1978 a special FBU conference was called and voted to accept a 10 per cent pay rise.

In 1978 the Callaghan government announced another round of wage restraint but workers were no longer willing to accept this and it was rejected by the 1978 TUC conference. This lead to the ‘Winter of Discontent’. [2] Between 1978 and March 1979 10 million working days were lost due to industrial action. There was a seven-week strike at the Ford Motor Company that resulted in a 17 per cent wage increase. At the 1978 Labour Party conference, there was a vote against the Labour government’s new 5 per cent pay policy. This was a huge blow to the government and was caused by a shift to the left in the Labour party and movement.

Local authority manual workers on very low wages had a large one-day strike in January 1979. Talks broke down by the end of January so a million workers went on strike in the first week of February. They were attacked by the media and managed to hold out until the end of the month and got a 9 per cent wage increase.

185,000 TGWU lorry drivers won their first national strike in 50 years by effectively picketing: “Strike committees were established to run the strike, which vetted transport needs, permitting emergency and essential deliveries, but stopping all others. It was once again a demonstration of the potential power of the workers, and an echo of the Councils of Action of the 1920s. These committees constituted elements of “dual power” in the strike, as they challenged the prerogatives of employers and the state. Thatcher, who was horrified at this display of union strength”

Badly paid Ambulance workers threatened to go on strike and got a 9 per cent increase so the strike was called off. Poorly paid workers, many women, joined trade unions in huge numbers. Total trade union membership in 1979 was 13.3 million, which was 55 per cent of the workforce – an incredible figure and the historic high point of trade union strength.

In March 1979 Callaghan lost a vote of confidence in the House of Commons and was forced to dissolve parliament and call a General Election for May. The Tory Party led by Margaret Thatcher won the election. Sewell describes how the media argued that it was worker militancy that resulted in Thatcher winning but it was disillusion with the Callaghan government resulting in abstention by Labour voters that let the Tories win. That the Callaghan government was completely out of touch with popular feelings, similar to 1970.

Preparing the Class War 1979-1984

Sewell describes how Thatcherism attacked and crushed the trade unions, with membership going from 13.3 million in 1979 to 9 million in the mid-1990s, only 7 million of which were affiliated to the TUC:

“The closed shop had been outlawed and the basic right to strike had been severely curtailed. The large elements of workers’ control in the factories and workplaces – control of hiring and firing, the speed of the job, and other restrictions on the prerogatives of management – were completely undermined by the employers’ offensive. The balance of forces within the workplaces swung dramatically in favour of the employers, who, in turn, had no hesitation about putting the boot in. For them, it was retribution for the great unrest of organised labour during much of the 1970s.”

British capitalism was struggling and Thatcher’s approach to resolving this was an all-out class war. This meant an attack on workers wages and conditions. The was also a world recession in 1979-81, resulting in high levels of unemployment as millions of workers, many in manufacturing lost their jobs.

Sewell describes the switch in economic policy from Keynesianism to Monetarism, based on Milton Friedman’s theories – a reinstatement of classical capitalist economics. He explains that these policies made the economic crisis worse, resulting in the destruction of about 20 per cent of the manufacturing industry between 1979 and 1981.

The new Thatcher government starting making plans to weaken the unions. They identified three sectors vulnerable to strikes: “(a) sewerage, water, electricity, gas and the health service is the most vulnerable group (b) railways, docks, coal and dustmen in an intermediate group and (c) other public transport, education, the postal service and telephones, air transport and steel in the least vulnerable group.”

Strikes in the most vulnerable sectors could not be fought directly, the government needed to isolate each group and pick them off one at a time. Start with the weakest sections and be prepared to do whatever is necessary. This included “rigging of profit figures in the nationalised industries to put them on the defensive”. A large and mobile group of well equipped and prepared police was necessary to ‘uphold the law’ against violent picketing. They also need to recruit non-union drivers to cross picket lines with police protection. This union-busting strategy was implemented in the following years resulting in the biggest industrial conflict since 1926. There was no such preparation by the trade union leaders.

The next step was to replace those dealing with the unions in the nationalised industries with those willing to attack the unions. He gives examples of how the unions were beaten at British Leyland and in the British steel industry, read here.

In response to the new political situation in 1980, there was a TUC mass ‘Day of Action’ and a 150,000 demonstration in Liverpool against unemployment. The Labour Party moved to the left and there were greater controls over election manifestos and the election of the Party Leader and Deputy Leader. A new Electoral College was established in the party, unions getting 40 per cent, constituency parties getting 30 per cent and the Parliamentary Labour Party getting 30 per cent. There was unsuccessful resistance from right-wing trade unionists. Soft-left Michael Foot was elected Leader of the Labour Party. The right-wing Denis Healey narrowly beat left-wing Tony Benn to the Deputy Leadership. Several Labour MPs broke away from the party to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

In 1981 the Thatcher government was very unpopular following its attacks on the welfare state and local government. In February 1981, the Tory government announced the closure of 50 coal pits, 23 immediately. Miners went on strike in South Wales, Kent, Scotland, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. The government were unprepared for this response so backed down.

In 1982 the left-winger Arthur Scargill was elected President of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). This left leadership had several setbacks. They lost three votes for strike action over national pay claims and the planned closure of pits. This was a knock to the left in NUM and showed the dominance of the right-wing at this point. Sewell explains that a strike in such a hostile political environment needs to be well prepared to reach every worker and build unity from below.

Sewell describes the anti-trade union legislation that the Tory government brought in to weaken the unions: “The Trade Union Act of 1980 provided finance for secret ballots, limited picketing to six people, outlawed secondary picketing and removed the immunity for certain types of secondary actions. The 1982 Act exposed union funds to damages for ‘unlawful acts’ (unless explicitly repudiated) and removed trade union immunity from political strikes. This legislation placed restrictions on the closed shop.”

Under pressure from the grassroots, the TUC Congresses of 1982/83 passed a motion against these laws and to ‘mobilise the movement in the event of any legal attacks’. The trade union leaders wanted to avoid any conflict with the Tory government and preferred dialogue.

Sewell describes how by 1982 the left advance in the Labour movement had come to an end. The recession and mass unemployment of 3 million resulted in the loss of industrial militancy. There were still several bitter strikes: “civil servants, oil tanker drivers, water workers, carworkers, printworkers, teachers, bank workers, prison officers, bakers, civil servants, ambulance workers, seafarers, miners, railworkers, and steelworkers.”

The defeat of the train drivers in 1982 related to ‘flexible rostering’ fed into the declining militancy. Sewell describes this in some details here. Sewell also describes the witch-hunt against supporters of the Trotskyist Militant Tendency in the Labour Party, which moved the Labour Party to the right and was supported by the right-wing trade union leaders.

Sewell describes the 1982 Falkland War between Britain and Argentina in some detail here. Up until that point, the Thatcher government was very unpopular and looked likely to lose the coming General Election. Thatcher used the war to gain support by calling for ‘national unity’ against ‘foreign aggression’ and it worked. The Tories achieved a landslide victory at the 1983 General Election. This was not helped by the SDP splitting the Labour vote. 1983 saw the lowest number of days lost through strikes as the lowest since the Second World War.

Neil Kinnock was elected Leader of the Labour Party and the party moved to the right. At the 1983 TUC conference, the right-wing union leaders announced the new policy of ‘New Realism’. This was a move away from militant resistance to Thatcherism. Instead to accept Thatcherism’s new dominance and be open to negotiating and talks with employers and the government. They also wanted to move away from the Labour Party. The trade union leaders were put under a huge amount of pressure in the media by the ruling class, to be mediators between the government and union membership.

Sewell describes that during the 1980s there was a large drop in union membership. Many lost their jobs so left the unions. For those that kept their jobs, the levels of exploitation increased but so did their wages so they experienced a rise in real wages and living standards: “The increased intensity and pressure of work meant that most workers had less time to participate in the union organisations. In any case, what was the point of participating when the unions were not offering anything? Therefore, participation in the trade unions and Labour Party fell away as the result of both objective and subjective reasons. This, in turn, served to intensify the pressures of capitalism on the trade union and Labour leadership, pushing them further to the right.”

Sewell explains how the economic boom of the 1980s, which started in 1982 formed the ‘material basis’ for the general shift to the right. This was combined with a series of industrial strike defeats that eroded the confidence of the working class.

In December 1983, a dispute in Warrington started between the print union (NGA) and the Stockport Messenger. The owner was anti-union Thatcherite and was backed by other media owners and the Tory party. The right was keen to break the print unions agreements to bring in new technology, which would result in job losses. Sewell describes the new police tactics such as blocking roads to stop pickets getting to the newspaper plant and extremely violent riot police attacks on picket lines. When mass picketing started, the newspaper owner was given a court injunction against the union for breaking the 1982 Employment Act. The union ignored the ever-increasing fines until the High Court ordered the sequestration of all the NGA union’s assets. The NGA appealed to the TUC, with the General Council giving its support but this was sabotaged by the right-wing in the TUC. Sewell describes how this began the start of the defeat of the print unions and the protection of workers resulting in workforce ‘flexibility’ and ‘efficiency’.

The Enemy Within 1984-85

This is a long chapter with a lot of details that you can read here.

Sewell describes the Miners’ strike of 1984-5 as the “bitterest class war since the 1926 General Strike”. :

“The Tory government of Margaret Thatcher mobilised the entire strength of the state to crush the National Union of Mineworkers. Paramilitary riot police placed mining communities under total siege. The welfare state was manipulated to starve miners back to work. A scab workforce was organised to break the strike, and billions were spent to keep the power stations running without coal. The full weight of the courts was used to sequestrate the funds of the miners’ union and break its resolve. The capitalist press churned out a Niagara of lies against the miners. As with all great events, it exposed the class relations of society. All the forces of the old society combined in order to crush the miners. For twelve months, the miners and their families held out against this unprecedented onslaught. Their heroism, determination and courage astonished the world and inspired millions. They demonstrated their unconquerable will to fight.”

The Tory government wanted to take revenge on the miners for the miners’ victories in the 1970s. It was also important for the government to crush the miners because they were the most militant workers and needed to be defeated to dominate the rest of the working class and change the ‘balance of class forces’.

“Thatcher imagined that Great Britain could only become great once more on the backs of an oppressed and exploited working class. Wages had to be driven down to the lowest levels possible. In effect, the programme of Thatcherism meant an attempt to return to Victorian times. A humiliating defeat of the NUM would represent a decisive blow to the morale of the British workers, and open up a new stage of capitalist domination.”

In preparation for the conflict, the government built up coal stocks, ensured new anti-union laws were in place, centralised the command of the police force and trained thousands of extra riot police. In March 1984, announcements were made about large-scale pit closures. Many were predicting that the miners no longer had the fighting abilities of the 1970s. In response to the pit closure announcement, there were “spontaneous walkouts across the coalfields”. And flying pickets went out to “bring all pits to a standstill” – very quickly 171 pits were no longer operating. Sewell describes how the miners union (NUM) made a mistake of not calling a national ballot on national strike action and instead the executive endorsed the strike through the rulebook. This gave the power to the Areas to hold ballots in their regions to decide to go on strike or not. Swell explains that had a national ballot been called, it very likely to of passed. For Sewell, it showed a lack of confidence in the miners. He argues that a successful ballot and a united union would have resulted in victory in four months. That this decision played into the hands of the Tories as it allowed them to make the cause in the media that the strike was not a democratic decision by the miners when it was completely within the NMU rules to operate as they had.

Several Areas voted against going on strike – Nottingham, Lancashire, Midlands and North Derbyshire. Sewell puts these defeats down to a lack of a serious campaign rather than these areas being right-wing as they had supported previous strikes. The Tory government decided the way to break the NMU was to keep these pits operation, especially Nottingham to create disunity in the working class. They were heavily protected by 20,000 police that prevented the flying pickets by isolating them and if that didn’t work, then violence was used, with riot police attacking the pickets.

The miners had an unprecedented attack by the media and courts. 10,000 striking miners were arrested, many on charges that hadn’t been used in British courts of generations. Two were killed on pickets lines with thousands injured.

The Tory government had expected a quick victory. To avoid other groups of workers joining the strike they had given them significant concessions. Sewell describes how

“as time wore on, they became more and more alarmed by the situation. The miners stubbornly refused to give up. The Tories were taken aback by the enormous will power, solidarity, imagination, and organising abilities of the miners, their families and supporters. The strategy of the government was beginning to run into difficulties.

To the utter astonishment of the ruling class, the resolve of the miners hardened. This was particularly the case after the experience of police violence, roadblocks and the besieging of mining communities. In many instances, miners and their families were beginning to draw revolutionary conclusions from their own experiences. It was like a miniature revolution, in which the masses were in direct struggle against the state, which appeared before them as an instrument of repression in the hands of the ruling class.

Through their experiences, the miners and their families clearly understood the class struggle, the role of the capitalist state, and the rottenness of capitalism that was intent on destroying their livelihoods. Some of the Tory “wets”, such as Heath and Francis Pym could see what was happening and were openly worried that the strike was “damaging the fabric of British society.” Their concern was not for the miners or their communities, but for the long-term interests and survival of capitalism. They understood that even if the government won, nothing would ever be the same again. The “consensus” built up in the post-war years would be completely undermined, if not destroyed altogether.”

In June 1984, there was ongoing police violence against pickets at the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham, Sheffield. Many were injured and arrested after repeated mounted police and riot police attacks. The media blamed the violence and disorder on the NMU. This ended mass picketing at Orgreave.

Following this, the scab moving of coal by road was increased. The miners needed support from unions in other sectors. Some railway workers refused to move coal and the printworkers at ‘The Sun’ stopped the paper from being printed twice in solidarity. There was not much support for this strike from the Labour Party or any of the union leaders. There were two national dock strikes in the summary of 1984 over pay and conditions but they failed to unite registered and unregistered dockers. This resulted in the strikes not being maintained, starting with Dover and spreading. The second unsuccessful dockers’ strike was from August to September.

In July 1984, two transport companies took the South Wales NUM to court and the union received fines. It refused to pay them so they were sequestered. Scargill, leader of the NMU asked the TUC for support but was refused. Sewell describes how a 24-hour general strike could have transformed the situation. That the TUC “were paralysed by their fear of militant action and of breaking Tory laws. They decided that rather than support the miners, and get themselves into a hole later, it would be far better and simpler not to support them in the first place!”

In August, the pit deputies and overseers’ union NACODS, who was responsible for the safety in the pits, voted in favour of going on strike. It was over a disagreement with the National Coal Board over the continued payment of NACODS members if they refused to cross picket lines. This scared the Tory government and the strike was called off at the last minute with a deal, where the disputed issues were going to be looked at by an independent body. Sewell describes how if the NACODS leaders had held firm, then they could have defeated the government and transformed the situation. In the end, NACODS members lost their jobs when Thatcher decimated the industry.

The September TUC Congress backed the miners’ strike but did not give any concrete proposals. Sewell describes the important role of miners’ wives in the mining communities and keeping the striking going: “At critical times, when the men’s resolve weakened, they provided the backbone for continuing the strike. They were in the forefront of defending their families, communities, and their very way of life. Nothing could destroy this resolve. The role of the women in the miners’ strike mirrored the growing militancy of women workers in general.”

Sewell describes a propaganda offensive against the miners. The Tory government put pressure on the Labour Party and trade union leaderships. Scargill and the NUM as Marxist communists controlled by Russia. In July 1984, Thatcher made her famous ‘enemy within’ speech. At the Tory Party conference, she stated the miners want a revolution and aimed for a breakdown in law and order and the destruction of democratic Parliamentary government. In her November Guildhall speech, she equated the miners’ actions with terrorism.

In October 1984, the High Court sequestered all of the NUM funds. The TUC could still not be brought into the struggle. There were calls from the left of the Labour Party for a General Strike. Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock made very public statements arguing against this. Sewell explains that with the TUC’s refusal to call a General Strike, then the NUM could have called one themselves directed at the rank and files of unions across different sectors. The miners had a lot of support so it would have put a lot of pressure on the TUC leaders to back it. Sadly, the NUM did not do this. By early 1985, the strike began to crumble with a slow drift back to work. The Central Electricity Generation Board had managed to avoid power cuts but running nuclear and oil-fired power stations flat out.

I’ll quote a lengthy conclusion by Sewell in full as it’s a very useful analysis:

“The miners’ strike represented a watershed. The Tories tried everything to break the miners as a means of breaking the spirit of the working class. The dispute had cost the country an estimated £3.75 billion. The strikers and their families had to be crushed, and seen to be crushed. But the Tories had underestimated the support, resilience, stamina and courage of the miners and their communities. They threw everything at them: the police, the laws, mass media, etc. But it was the divisions within the miners, played up and cultivated by the Tories and the press that fatally undermined the strike. This led to the formation of the scab Union of Democratic Miners (UDM) led by the renegade Roy Link. The UDM naturally had the full support of Thatcher, MacGregor and the rest of the capitalist Establishment, as did the Spencer union after 1926.

The NUM leaders made a number of tactical mistakes throughout the year-long strike, but the decisive factor in the defeat of the miners was the failure of the TUC and Labour leaders to organise effective solidarity action. The mood existed in society to help the miners, despite the orchestrated propaganda campaign by the government. The magnificent work of the miners’ support groups, which collected hundreds of thousands of pounds outside factories, offices and shopping centres, demonstrated this fact. When the miners and their families faced Christmas 1984 penniless, the workers of Britain and other countries sent them food parcels and presents, organised Christmas dinners, parties. The miners will never forget this tremendous working class solidarity, just as they will never forget how Thatcher or the Tories destroyed their communities.

The strike continued until March 1985, twelve months since the announcement of the closure of Cortonwood. On 3 March the special delegate conference of the NUM held in Congress House, the headquarters of the TUC that had let them down so badly, voted 98 to 91 to return to work with no agreement, no reprieve for the threatened pits and no amnesty for the sacked miners. Faced with the coalfield’s extinction, only Kent opposed ending the strike. By this time some 718 miners had been sacked.

The end result of this Herculean struggle was a defeat. Not like the abject humiliation of 1926, but a bitter defeat nonetheless. The return to work was a shattering disappointment to most activists. True, the proud and dignified nature of the return to work behind colliery bands and banners robbed Thatcher of the “total” victory she and her class sought. Nevertheless, the Tory government subsequently closed over 100 pits and more than 100,000 were made redundant. The pit closure programme was carried through remorselessly. It tore the guts out of the industry and out of the mining communities. In the immediate aftermath, the miners staged a whole series of guerrilla struggles in the pits, but these failed to prevent the destruction of the industry. As a final measure, privatisation was now brought forward to pick over the carcass of whatever was left.

The defeat of the miners had an enormous impact on the whole movement. Along with the extension of the economic boom, it accelerated the shift to the right amongst the Labour and trade union leaders. It further strengthened the ideas of “New Realism”, widespread in the trade union bureaucracy. The mining industry was decimated. In 1926 there were over one million miners. At the time of the 1984-85 strike there were still 181,000. By 1990, numbers had fallen to 65,000.”

Aftermath of Defeat 1985-1992

The defeat of the miners was a big blow to the Labour movement and many trade unionists left the unions or looked to their careers. This resulted in a further shift to the right that had started in the early 1980s, of ‘New Realism’ or class collaborations. The Right were on the ascendancy with Britain’s victory in the Falwasds’ war, the 1983 General Election victory and an economic boom. Arthur Scargill was attacked in the media and by Labour Party leader Kinnock. Sewell describes how it was common to hear the message that ‘militancy never pays’.

This situation reduced class struggle, which was made worse by high unemployment so workers were afraid of losing their jobs. At the end of 1985, unemployment was officially near 3.2 million or 13.2 per cent. The real figure was over 4 million.

The Tories boasted that they were having the most strike free year in 50 years. Sewell describes that following the defeat and the TUC weakness, employers were using the courts to get injunctions against strikes, such as at Shell, against the National Union of Journalists during a dispute at the printers of Dimbleby’s newspapers, and at Austin Rover. Sewell describes a survey that found: “a total of 70 cases had been brought before the courts by August 1985, the vast majority under the 1980 and 1982 Employment Acts. By 1985, a third of the cases emanated from employers in printing and publishing.” He also describes how “between 1979 and 1987, 29 trade unions, comprising more than 80 per cent of the TUC’s affiliated membership, had appeared before the courts for breaking the Tories’ anti-union laws.”

The Tory government’s plan to make British capitalism profitable again was to roll back the reforms the working class has gained in the past. This was done by attacking local government and local authority spending, through new rent-capping legislation, that resulting in cuts. In 1984, most Labour councils took a policy of ‘non-compliance’ but after a year only two councils were holding firm – Liverpool and Lambeth. Labour Party leader failed to support these councils and at the 1985 Labour Party conference attacked Liverpool city council and its Militant tendency leadership. The Liverpool city councillors had the support of the working class but were removed by “unelected Tory judges”. The following year, they were expelled from the Labour Party.

The owner of the Wapping newspaper plant, Rupert Murdoch, organised a pre-planned showdown with the print unions to break them. The union-busting strategy was to use electricians to work at the Wapping plant based on completely flexible contracts, new technology and industrial action was forbidden. Non-union staff were secretly moved onto the site. In January 1985, 6,000 printworkers were dismissed. It resulted in a bitter confrontation with around the clock pickets, the union demanding full reinstatement of their members. Police presence was in the hundreds, then as the strike continued thousands, with the police violently attacking and arresting pickets. It is estimated to have cost 5.3 million by December 1986 with over 1300 arrested by February 1987. The TUC failed to support the strike and it was defeated by February 1987.

There was also a P&O shipping line dispute, with P&O wanting to break the union and make conditions harsher to improve profitability. Sewell describes how the National Union of Seamen (NUS) had a choice between calling a national strike or giving in. He explains that the NUS lacked the necessary determination and were not supported by the TUC so capitulated

Sewell describes how these defeats resulted in a general spiral of capitulation, with the right-wing dominating the trade union leaderships. In 1987, the electricians union EETPU made several single-union deals with the companies Yuasa, Thorn-EMI and Orion. The TUC ordered the EETPU to withdraw from these as it “was infringing the rights of other TUC affiliates”. Under pressure from the trade union rank-and-file over the electricians union strikebreaking role at Wapping, the TUC was forced to suspend and then expel the EETPU. The EETPU had 225,000 members so this was the biggest split in the history of the TUC. There was then a split in the EETPU, with the left faction forming the small EPIU. Sewell argues that this was a mistake as it resulted in the EETPU right-wing leadership, even more firming in control. He explains how the EETPU merged with the AEEU in 1992 which eventually resulted in the defeat of the right-wing so if the EPIU grouping had waited things would have improved. The EPIU ended up merging with the TGWU.

At the 1987 General Election, the Tories under Thatcher got 43 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 32 per cent. The Labour Party’s move to the right under Kinnock hadn’t worked and was under pressure to move further to the right. The TUC also moved further to the right, with the mineworkers union losing its seat on the TUC General Council for the first time.

From 1987, the Tory government focused on defeating the dockworkers. In 1989, it brought in a bill to abolish the Dock Labour Scheme. Tilbury and Liverpool docks went on strike in protest. The TGWU national dock committees vote to ballot its members for a strike but this was blocked by the national executive committee, to the disgust of the rank-and-file. The employers refused a new national agreement and threatened court action and sequestration of TGWU funds if they went on strike. In the end, the executive committee called a ballot of the 9,000 members. There was strong support for industrial action to protect the Dock Labour Scheme. Sewell describes how the High Court in collusion with the government and bosses granted an injunction stopping the TGWU from taking action. Several docks went on strike but the leader of the union called for a return to work, which took the momentum out of the strike resulting in a drift back to work. The TGWU appeal at the high court was successful so another ballot for strike action was called, which was supported. By this point, the Dock Labour Scheme had already been abolished. The dock owners responded by sacking leading shop stewards and the strike was called off after 3 weeks. Sewell explains that the TGWU had the size and strength to defeat the government if it chose to use it but didn’t. The union was derecognised on the docks and there were redundancies. Casual labour returned to the 12,000 dockworkers nationally. The Tory government had isolated and defeat another section of the working class after the miners.

Strike figures had dropped to an all-time low by the end of the 1980s. It was not a good time for the Labour movement: “employers took advantage of mass unemployment and the compliance of the union leaders to relentlessly push through drastic changes in working practices, terms and conditions. Compulsory Competitive Tendering was introduced into local authorities, forcing down established conditions and wage levels. Personal contracts, part-time working and short-term contracts were also brought in across the board. Thus, the economic boom from 1982 onwards, was a boom at the expense of the working class. Under these conditions, workers had their heads down, hoping to survive, many hoping to see the election of a Labour government as a solution to their problems.”

Sewell description of the anti-trade union laws is worth quoting:

“The earlier Tory anti-union laws of 1980 and 1982 introduced a battery of changes to industrial relations. It limited picketing, banned secondary action, effectively outlawed the closed shop, watered down unfair dismissal procedures, repealed the 1975 Employment Protection Act, provided money for union postal ballots, and removed the legal immunity covering unions. The Tories introduced further anti-union legislation in 1984, 1988, 1989, 1990, and then later in 1993. These forced unions to hold regular secret ballots for union posts, ballots for political funds, secret ballots for strikes, abolished the post-entry closed shop, union officials were forced to repudiate unofficial strikes, the check-off system was undermined, the Bridlington Agreement was effectively scraped as workers were allowed to join a union of their choice, rules governing pre-strike ballots were further tightened, wages councils were abolished, and employers were allowed to offer workers financial inducements to leave their trade unions.

Over a fifteen-year period from 1980, seven separate pieces of Tory legislation were introduced to break the back of the trade unions and undermine collective bargaining. The restrictions governing strikes were so strict that the effective right to strike, with the necessary solidarity (“secondary action”), was largely undermined. As with much of the nineteenth century, after the repeal of the Combination Acts, legal trade unions existed but with either one or both hands tied behind their backs. These laws all added up to a “counter-revolution” against the trade union movement. They constituted the most important challenge to trade unionism for more than a century.”

Sewell is highly critical of the TUC leaders for their refusal to challenge the Tories and break the law. For Sewell, they were far too comfortable so preferred to have a dialogue with the government and therefore not risk trade union funds being sequestered. Sewell explains that the main motivation behind these new anti-union laws was for the ruling and capitalist class to reduce costs. He notes that revenge for previous defeats would have also played a small part.

Thatcher was forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1990 following a mass revolt against a new poll tax. John Major replaced Thatcher as Tory Party leader and Prime Minister. The Tories were very unpopular by this point but still managed to win the 1992 election. Kinnock resigned and was replaced by “the new Labour leader John Smith was a barrister and traditional Old Labour right-winger.”

Royal Commission on Trade Unions - History

Throughout the 1930s there were disturbances in the British territories in the Caribbean. As a result, the British Government appointed the West Indian Royal Commission on 5 August 1938 to investigate and to make recommendations on the social and economic conditions in the various territories. The Commission was led by Lord Moyne (the former Walter Edward Guinness) and among its members was Sir Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress.

The Royal Commission, popularly referred to as the Moyne Commission, visited Guyana during the period 27 January to 20 February, 1939, and it was in session at the time of the Leonora disturbances. Among the organisations presenting opinions to the Commissions were the nine registered trade unions, the Civil Service Association and the Sugar Producers' Association. A number of individuals, including sugar workers, also gave evidence at meetings of the Commission. Workers who appeared before the Commission complained of fear and victimisation at their workplaces. A total of 43 persons presented evidence at sittings before the Commission.

Even though the Commission completed its report in 1940, the British Government did not release it to the public until July 1945 after World War II ended. Despite this, some of its recommendations were acted upon immediately after the report was submitted to the British Government.

It was felt that because of the Commission's sharp criticisms of colonial policy in the Caribbean, the British Government thought that if the report was released, the German Government would have used it for war propaganda.

The Moyne Commission exposed the horrible conditions under which people of the British Caribbean lived. It pointed to the deficiencies in the education system, and economic and social problems of unemployment and juvenile delinquency. It also sharply criticised the poor health conditions and expressed concern over the high infant mortality rate.

It was especially critical of the plight of sugar workers and small farmers, and condemned unsafe conditions at workplaces. It was also very concerned over the use of child labour and the discrimination against women at workplaces, especially since they worked long hours for less pay than men received. It found, too, that the interests of the workers were virtually unprotected since there were no collective labour agreements, while only the employers decided on what wages should be.

About drainage and irrigation, the Commission stated that almost all the well drained land was owned by the sugar producers. It noted: "The areas devoted to rice and pastures are badly drained and abound in large swampy areas where almost amphibious cattle, sheep and pigs eke out an unusual existence."

The Commission also looked at the political system operating in all the territories. It recommended the expansion of the franchise, and extending the opportunities for people other than the financially influential to stand for election. To do this, it recommended the reduction of the margin between the qualifications for registration as a voter and those for membership of the Legislative Council. This eventually led to the establishment of a Franchise Commission which in 1944 recommended the lowering of qualifications voting and for membership of the Legislative Council. These qualifications were in the areas of land ownership, value of land owned, property occupation, income, and literacy in any language.

Overall, the Commission felt that the root of the disturbances was a demand for better living conditions by the people.

Many of its recommendations were aimed at alleviating the conditions affecting workers. It felt that there should be compulsory registration of trade unions and audit of their funds. With regard to the fixing of wages, it stated that in each territory a wages board should be established to carry out this process. The Commission also proposed the establishment of unemployment insurance and adequate and regular factory inspections to reduce accidents. Its recommendation for the establishment of a Labour Department was acted upon in 1942 and a Commissioner of Labour was appointed.

Another very important proposal was for the Government to consult with the sugar producers for the imposition of a welfare levy on every ton of sugar produced. This recommendation resulted in the establishment in 1947 of a Labour Welfare Fund and money paid into this fund was allocated generally for the building of housing schemes for sugar workers.

Royal Commission on Trade Unions - History

The Poor Law Commission was the body established to administer poor relief after the passing of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act . The entire organisation comprised three Poor Law Commissioners (the "Bashaws of Somerset House"), their secretary and nine clerks. Assistant Commissioners were responsible for local inspections. The Commission lasted from 1834 to 1847. Between 1847 and 1871 it became the Poor Law Board: for this, the Chief Executive Officer was a civil servant who was the Permanent Secretary to the Poor Law Board. The President of the Board was an MP. In practise, the "Poor Law Board" did not exist as an organisation.

The Poor Law Commission was based at Somerset House in London even before the legislation had passed, men were canvassing for the post of Commissioner. William Day was one of the first applicants Francis Place was another but he was ignored because he was a tailor by trade and the government wanted to appoint men of rank and station to the posts. Edwin Chadwick — who had been influential in writing the Report of the Royal Commission and in framing the legislation — had the strongest hope and expectation of being appointed but he was ignored by ministers as well. Lord Althorp saw Chadwick as a doctrinaire, abrasive Benthamite who was likely to create mistrust and resentment. The three men appointed were

They were each paid a salary of £2,000 per annum. Chadwick grudgingly accepted the post of Secretary to the Board, at an annual salary of £1,200.

On 23 August 1834 the three Commissioners took the oath of office and began work, the volume of which increased rapidly. At that point, the problems of rising unemployment that invariably occurred in wintertime had not yet been encountered. However, it was decided that Assistant Commissioners should be appointed to carry out the work of establishing 'unions'. They were to be paid £700 a year plus expenses. Patronage was used in the making of the appointments and a military background was seen as an 'excellent qualification'. Four of the original appointees were former officers in the armed forces but as landed gentlemen, they were able to speak with local dignitaries as equals. The nine men who were appointed initially were:

  • Major Francis Bond Head (who held his appointment for a year)
  • Charles Ashe A'Court (who resigned in 1842)
  • Danile Goodson Adey (who resigned in 1840)
  • Edward Gulson (who served until 1868)
  • Charles Mott
  • Henry Pilkington
  • WHT Hawley (who served until 1874)
  • WJ Gilbert

In January 1835 a further three Assistant Commissioners were appointed to ease the burden of work. The appointment of more Assistant Commissioners meant that Chadwick no longer dominated the Poor Law Commission because the Assistant Commissioners took over the tasks of dealing with local officials and sending reports to Somerset House.

The Assistant Commissioners were sent out to form the new Poor Law Unions. They used the existing local govenment areas of hundreds and boroughs they called meetings of the local landowners, magistrates, squires and other important men. The Assistant Commissioners suggested the boundaries of the Unions and then fixed them, having taken into consideration existing Gilbert's Act unions and any incorporations that had been made under local Acts. It was intended that Unions would be about equal in size, based on the market town but this idea was abandoned in the face of local opposition. The landowners had a great deal of influence in their own areas and so Unions were formed to suit their interests, leading to some oddly-shaped Unions.

The Assistant Commissioners worked from the south of England to the north, forming Unions. It was necessary for all the Unions to be established so they could act as units for the implementation of the 1837 Registration Act. Other duties of an Assistant Commissioner included:

  • making detailed inspections of his district and sending back full reports on poor relief in various parishes. This involved a great deal of travelling and attending many meetings
  • deciding which parishes should compose a Union: the Assistant Commissioner called meetings to do this
  • the inspection of parish books
  • drawing up tables of poor rates and setting the contribution of each parish to the Union
  • organising the election of Poor Law Guardians and workhouse officials and ensuring that an appropriate workhouse was built, if necessary
  • attending the first meeting of the Poor Law Guardians
  • maintaining communication with the new Unions
  • returning periodically to make further inspections of the Union

The Poor Law Commissioners edited the reports of the Assistant Commissioners so the reports presented to parliament do not reflect actual conditions 'on the ground', since they wanted to give a positive image of their work. For example,

  • the Poor Law Commissioners and inspectors said that
    • they had achieved the end of allowances
    • they had produced independent labourers
    • increased employment ended the problem of surplus labour in the countryside

    What they did not report on was the opposition to the creation of Unions and implementation of the Act. The Reports did not detail "abuses" where the Poor Law Guardians exercised their wide discretionary powers to give outdoor relief to the able-bodied in contravention of the law. Also, the intended central supersivion of local Poor Law Boards was ineffectial because it was limited to the biannual visit of the Poor Law inspector and regular returns — accounts - to Somerset House of paupers and expenditure.


    The condition of Leicester's staple industry in 1835 was one of almost complete stagnation. (fn. 1) 'The stockinger and the manufacturer generally seemed to have been left in the backwash of industrial progress.' (fn. 2) The causes of this condition were many, and it should be remembered that not all parts of the industry would be equally affected by them at the same time. While the framework-knitters who used the machine which produced only one stocking at a time had been in a pitiable condition for years, those who used the multiple machines were rather better off, and it was generally accepted that the glove branch, probably owing to the efforts of its union, provided better wages than any other. (fn. 3) Periodically in the 1820's and 1830's some temporary stimulus would restore one section of the industry to a reasonable state for a short while. (fn. 4)

    Leicester was the most important centre of the hosiery trade. William Felkin's estimates of the numbers of frames in the various centres of the industry in 1844 show 18,494 frames working in Leicester, compared with 14,595 in Nottingham, the chief centre of the cotton branch. Leicester specialized in woollen hosiery, although 6,446 frames were making cotton stockings, compared with 11,457 in the woollen branch. (fn. 5)

    When in 1845 R. M. Muggeridge completed his report on the condition of the framework-knitters, he formulated nine resolutions and conclusions about the industry, which together formed, in his view, the reason for its low state. (fn. 6) This report was the result of nearly two years' work in the centres of the industry after his appointment as a commissioner to inquire into it. The order for the inquiry followed the presentation of a frameworkers' petition to Parliament in 1843 and their demand for legislative action to restore the fortunes of their trade. (fn. 7) The characteristics of the framework-knitting industry had been for a generation reacting unfavourably against its expansion or progress, and wages were becoming less and less adequate.

    Muggeridge's first conclusion about the industry was that in spite of the Truck Act of 1831, trucking was still extensively practised. Evidence was given to the commissioner by Thomas Bell, the secretary of the Leicester Anti-Truck Society. (fn. 8) This had been formed in 1844 for the purpose of putting down trucking in the borough, where it existed especially among small hosiers and middlemen. It was estimated, how accurately cannot be known, that trucking affected one-fifth of the town workers and four-fifths of those in the county. The members of the society, who were with one exception manufacturers, gave a reward of £1 to anyone securing a conviction under the Truck Act, and some of them undertook to find work for men who lost their positions as the result of giving evidence against a truck master. Between 1844 and 1846, twenty cases had been brought before the magistrates, and convictions were secured in all but one of these. The method of trucking practised was an indirect one, whereby a shop was owned, not by the employer but by his wife or son, who would be on hand on Saturday nights when wages were paid to collect what was owing for goods provided on credit earlier in the week. It was generally felt that frame rents were not to be regarded as trucking, but it was said that workmen were frequently forced to take work at a low rate of wages because they were already in debt to their masters, who were truck masters. Middlemen were apparently more inclined towards the trucking system than were manufacturers. (fn. 9)

    Percentage of Employees in Different Wage-groups

    (According to the conflicting evidence of masters and employees)

    Wage Employees' evidence Masters' evidence
    Net wage Gross wage Net wage
    Under 10s. 73 42.3 45.3
    10s.–15s. 23 25 21.6
    15s.–20s. 4 25 19.5
    20s.–25s. 3.8 10.6
    25s.–30s. 3.8 2.7

    The commissioner's second conclusion was that the hosiery industry was depressed because of low earnings. Evidence about wages was given by fiftytwo employees in Leicester, and by the masters. The evidence of the two groups is conflicting (see table): from that of the employees it was found that 67 per cent. earned less than 15s. gross, and 96 per cent. less than 15s. net (i.e. when all charges had been deducted) from the masters' evidence 67 per cent. earned less than 15s. net. Although with one exception the masters provided no lists of the weekly wages of the lower-paid workers, other evidence and the comments of the leading masters themselves and of other observers indicate that the workmen were nearer the truth about wages than were their masters. Joseph Biggs, one of the most important local manufacturers, said that wages varied between 9s. and 25s. a week, and could exceptionally be as much as 35s. a week, but that such wages were for a 48-hour week and the average working week was considerably less than 48 hours. (fn. 10) Nearly all the witnesses, masters and men alike, agreed that wages had declined since 1815, the year of the war-time peak of production. In 1841 William Biggs had estimated average earnings to be 6s. or 7s. a week, and, after the various deductions had been made, not half of what they had been in 1815. Wages paid for one type of stocking had fallen from 7s. 6d. a dozen in 1815 to 4s. 6d. in 1841, (fn. 11) those for another type from 15s. a dozen to 7s. 3d. (fn. 12) In 1843 it was estimated that a man working on a wide frame could make 11s. or 12s. a week, and one working a narrow frame only 7s. (fn. 13) Poor wages were widely attributed by the workmen to the introduction of 'spurious' hosiery, 'cut-up goods', or 'straight-down hose', which, instead of being fashioned, were knitted straight and shaped on a legging machine. These could be produced more cheaply than fashioned goods. (fn. 14)

    However, in spite of the overwhelming impression given in the report that wages in 1845 were half what they had been 30 years earlier, it does not seem that the reduction can have been anything like as great as the witnesses to the commission claimed. Rather it seems that wages had remained stationary for the whole of the period, and Cobbett in 1821 refused to believe that the level of wages could possibly be so low—if it were true the framework-knitters should 'all have been dead long ago'. (fn. 15) Rather the situation seems to have been that although wages themselves had not fallen, the standard of living of the framework-knitters had deteriorated excessively. There seems to have been no longer any incentive to preserve the outward decencies of cleanliness or dress, and the frameworking families of Leicester were generally shabby in appearance, ill fed, and ill housed. A doctor from Nottingham declared that he could always tell a stockinger by his appearance: 'there is a paleness and a certain degree of emaciation and thinness about them'. (fn. 16) Muggeridge's report contains example after example of the poverty and wretchedness of the stockingers of Leicester.

    Their misery was increased by the irregularity of their employment, and the workers in the glove trade suffered apparently more from this than those in other branches. Thomas Toone, a worker in the glove branch, stated: 'I have been out as much as five or six weeks together and never earned a farthing. Some years, I have known the time when I have been out six months and never earned a halfpenny other years, I have been employed or partially employed the year round.' (fn. 17)

    Irregularity of work was intensely aggravated by the overcrowding of the industry. 'For a series of years past', remarked Muggeridge, 'the supply of Frame-work Knitters has almost invariably exceeded the demand for them and hence the value of their labour has been progressively, if not constantly, diminishing, except in a very few of the fancy branches of the trade where considerable skill is required, and in which, consequently, the number of competitors for employment has been proportionately lessened.' (fn. 18) Allied closely with the problems of low wages and overcrowding was the extensive employment of women in the industry, which, it was claimed, reduced wages even further. Almost all the children of framework-knitters and many whose parents were not in the industry were employed in some branch or other of the hosiery trade. (fn. 19) There were many jobs, such as winding, seaming, and stitching, which required little skill and which it was necessary to have done as cheaply as possible. Both women and children were employed at this sort of work, the children usually at winding, the women at sewing. Children were early put to the frames and a large number of women worked frames. In 1845 children generally began winding or sewing between the ages of five and seven and graduated to the frames at about ten or eleven. Children occasionally began stitching as soon as they could be taught to hold a needle. By this date children probably no longer began work at the frames at seven or eight, as they had once done, having the seats and treadles raised for them. The main reason for their no longer doing so was the introduction of the heavy wide frames, which made several stockings at once, and which required more strength on the part of the operative. (fn. 20)

    If a child was engaged in seaming, he was bound to no set times of work, but if he did winding, he must be at work while the frame operative was working, although he might begin and leave off half an hour before the others. It usually took one winder to keep three or four frames supplied and he might work anything between twelve and sixteen hours a day, sometimes more. The wages of the winder were paid by the frame operative, whether the work was done in a frame shop or in the operative's own home. If the knitter worked in a shop, the winder was paid from a deduction made by the middleman from the wages of the operative. This usually amounted to about 4½d. or 6d. from each knitter, so that the winder might earn between 1s. and 1s. 6d. a week. (fn. 21)

    In the 1840's apprenticeship, if it can be said to have existed at all, did so in a very much debased form. A witness in 1843 described a system whereby boys were apprenticed at twelve or fourteen until they were twenty-one. They were usually boarded and lodged by their masters and were required to earn a certain amount for them before they began to earn anything for themselves. (fn. 22) The Mayor of Leicester, trying a case in 1836 of a frameworkknitter's apprentice charged with neglecting his work, described the system as 'legalised slavery': the boy was required to earn 13s. a week for his master before he got anything for himself, which was as much as any grown man could make by working overtime. (fn. 23) This system was exceptional, however, and apprenticeship, for all practical purposes, was extinct by 1840.

    The most characteristic feature of the hosiery industry as revealed in the report was the system of frame renting, which arose from the fact that a declining number of frames belonged to the men and women who worked them. The fact, in itself, that the manufacturer charged a rent for the hire of his machine is not remarkable, and had that been all, it is certain that deductions from wages would not have been such an object of complaint as they were in 1845. The frame rent was not the only deduction which was made from the gross wages of the framework-knitter, who complained to the commissioner at least as much of the 'charges' as of the frame rent. The petitioners of 1843 asked for an inquiry into 'the enormous exactions of frame rent and other oppressive charges' to which they were subject. (fn. 24) When the framework-knitter worked in his own cottage, the charges upon his wages were not unduly great, although even then there were complaints of abuses. When the frame shop was the work-place, then the charges were particularly oppressive and very much more liable to abuse. The evidence of masters and workmen from Leicester often gave the amounts of the various charges. Of the 30 witnesses who stated the amount of their frame rent, 8 paid 1s. a week and 8 paid 2s. and the average of the 30 was 1s. 10d. Forty-five Leicester men gave the sum of their charges. Here the average was 3s. 10d. a week, and the individual sums ranged from 2s. to 5s. 3d. (fn. 25) Twenty-three of the men were within a penny or two of the average. These charges were for winding, standing in the shop, taking in and putting out, and seaming. Additional charges could include sums for needles, lighting, and heating. One witness stated that 'the hands complain that they have to work, on an average, two full days for the charges, before they begin to earn one penny for themselves, or the support of their families'. (fn. 26) A list, published by the Leicester Board of Guardians in 1847, showing the nominal earnings of 500 framework-knitters, showed that they earned in one week £194, from which the deductions were £77, leaving £117, or 4s. 8d. as the average weekly earnings of each man. (fn. 27) The commissioner thought that the amount of this deduction was 'regulated by no fixed rule or principle whatever that it is not dependent on the value of the frame upon the amount of money earned in it or on the extent of the work made that it has differed in amount at different times, and now does so at different places that the youthful learner, or apprentice, pays the same rent from his scanty earnings as the most expert and skilful workman'. (fn. 28)

    Two abuses arose from the system of frame renting. The first was from the sub-letting of frames, whereby the hosier charged the middleman a weekly rent for the frames, and the latter reimbursed himself by charging the hands in some cases the same, in others an increased rent. This system of sub-letting became almost invariably associated with the practice of 'spreading the work'. That is to say that the manufacturer gave out to the middleman sufficient work to keep occupied the frames which the middleman rented from him, while the middleman spread the work over the manufacturer's frames and those which he either owned himself or rented from someone else. These were known as 'independent frames'. The practice of spreading the work became even more profitable as a result of the second abuse of frame renting, which was the deduction of full rent and charges even when full employment was not given. The middleman would spread the work over more frames than he had work for, while charging full rents from all those who were thus partially employed, and very often from those who were not employed at all. In the main, the Leicester manufacturers who gave evidence at the commission denied charging full rent in times when work was scarce, but the case against the middlemen is quite clear. According to the knitters, too, it was generally not customary to reduce the rent at times when the frame was being altered to produce a different type of hosiery or even when it was being repaired. John Curtis, a Leicester knitter, said: 'I have worked at different places where I have actually been brought in debt for altering frames that is, I have taken a frame which has been quite out of working order, and I have been getting the frame to work to the best of my knowledge, and I have been at it till Saturday night, dark hour and I have gone in [to the warehouse] not with the expectation of the master taking full charges, but he has begun to set it down without my having earned a halfpenny, so that, in fact, I have paid for setting his machinery going.' (fn. 29) Some manufacturers even argued that frame renting was a means of securing constant employment, as the employer, needing the frame rent, would have to give work out. Muggeridge observed that this principle seemed 'unsound', as the overwhelming evidence showed that it was by no means observed. (fn. 30)

    Investment in hand frames was a profitable way of employing spare capital in the hosiery districts, and many individuals, otherwise unconnected with the trade, were led to invest in them. Charles Cox, a hosiery middleman, told the commission that he rented frames from a builder named Cook, a 'letter of independent frames', but otherwise unconcerned with the hosiery trade. (fn. 31) The greatest difficulty for the man who wished to invest in frames was that of finding work for them himself or finding someone else who could provide it. That was by no means easy, as many knitters who owned their own frames discovered they were glad to pay the half-rent which the hosiers asked of them simply in order to get some work. But for anyone who could find the initial capital and was prepared to take the risk, investment in hand frames could be very profitable. Outstanding examples of quick profits are those of an undermaster who made £250 from the rent and charges on 30 frames, and another who gained £500 in a year from 60 glove frames which he had bought for £500. (fn. 32) The charges which the framework-knitters paid were, for the most part, charges which the middleman himself had to meet, although it was apparently the habit to pay the winding boys less than the charge taken from the knitter to cover winding, and undoubtedly, in a large number of cases, the middleman did not pay to the knitters the prices for their work which he received from the warehouse. (fn. 33) If the business was carried on as fairly as the manufacturers would have us believe, such startling profits as are described by Felkin would never have been possible.

    Felkin also showed the commission that the rent of the frames was generally high in comparison with their cost. (fn. 34) A new frame might cost anything up to £20 or more, but the value of a frame would depend upon its age, type, and condition, and upon the state of the industry at the time. In times of slack trade, a frame might be picked up for a very small sum at an auction. It was not unusual to find a frame being bought for a few shillings which, when trade revived, could be rented for 2s. or more a week. A frame used by James Shaw in 1845 had been bought for £11 and he had been using it for the last four years at a weekly rent of 2s. 9d. (fn. 35) Another man in Leicester had worked the same frame for 30 years, during which time he had been paying a weekly rent of 9d. He estimated that only about £6 or £7 had been spent on it in repairs in all that time. (fn. 36) A framesmith of Leicester was prepared to admit to making 9 or 10 per cent. profit yearly on the capital cost of his frames, after paying for the repairs. (fn. 37) The commissioner said that the largest owners of frame property estimated that the rents paid an interest of about 7½ per cent. on the capital invested. He personally regarded this as a very low estimate, 'but assuming it to be correct, it nevertheless is an amount which falls extremely heavy upon the workpeople, by whom it is exclusively paid'. (fn. 38)

    After giving these reasons for the stagnant state of the hosiery industry in 1845, Muggeridge made three recommendations. He said that the numbers of workers must be reduced if the hosiery industry was ever to be replaced upon an economic footing: alternatively, the scale of manufacture should be so expanded as greatly to increase the amount of employment available. He also suggested that more tastefully designed and better made hosiery would probably revive trade, and emphasized that improved quality was bound to be insisted upon by the consumer. (fn. 39)

    His report, for all its size, does not really give a very complete picture of the hosiery industry. By 1845 two of its most characteristic features were combining with the system of frame rents to cripple production almost completely. These were that the industry was still largely a domestic one and that it was organized by the middlemen.

    In one important respect the industry of 1835 differed from that of the late 18th century: the middleman had appeared. In 1845 a witness before the commission, speaking of the period of the Napoleonic Wars, said: 'every stocking-maker who was a householder took his own work in, and fetched his own work out from the warehouses. I have no recollection of any such man working under another man. They finished it, and took it back to the warehouse themselves . . . in fact I do not recollect there being any middlemen at all.' (fn. 40) The general feeling reflected in the evidence was that the middlemen had appeared about 1812–16 and that they became numerous about 1819 and 1820. The middlemen undoubtedly brought advantages to both sides, but from the knitters' point of view the success of the change was not unqualified, and it was in answer to complaints made to the commissioner that William Biggs set out to him the advantages brought by the middlemen: If every workman had a separate account with the warehouse as they would like to have, they would lose some time on Monday and some on Saturday in bringing in and taking out their work, and they would necessarily lose other time in preparing it and superintending its finish, for all of which services they do not make proper allowances in fact it would be relinquishing all the advantages of the division of labour. Beyond that, if it were to be adopted, and every workman were to come to the warehouse, the detail of it would be so irksome and infinite that no amount of business could be carried on. In giving out orders it would be excessively teasing and annoying to have to subdivide a large order among 100 or 150 hands, and to give a hundred directions, not half of which would be appreciated. (fn. 41)

    There was in addition less chance of the material being embezzled or otherwise lost, which a manufacturer showed was still a problem in 1845. (fn. 42) The position of the middleman varied a good deal in individual cases, both in his relations with the manufacturer and with the knitter, and 'in many ways the putting out system favoured the undertaker class and enabled persons who were able but not over-scrupulous to rise to positions of some importance in the industry'. (fn. 43) In spite of the advantages claimed by Biggs for the system of middlemen, the habits of the stockingers died hard, and the traditions of not working on Mondays or Saturdays persisted even though the operatives no longer had to spend those days waiting at the warehouse to give in or take out their work.

    At this time the work of the framework-knitter was carried on either in his own home or in shops containing several frames, and when the hosiery manufacturer spoke of the factory system, he meant this concentration of frames into shops. Felkin estimated that in 1844 the average number of frames under one roof was rather more than three. (fn. 44) Of the knitters from the town who worked in shops and gave evidence before the commissioner, 19 per cent. worked in shops of 10 frames or less, 35 per cent. in shops of 11 to 20 frames, 28 per cent. in shops of 21 to 40 frames, and 18 per cent. in shops of 41 frames or over. The firm of John Biggs & Sons, one of the largest in the town, employed in 1845 900 to 1,000 frames, divided among 90 or 100 middlemen, some of whom had as many as 30, 40, or 50 frames, although the majority rented between 3 and 10. (fn. 45) There was apparently a tendency for these frame shops to increase in size: twenty years earlier by far the greater number of frame shops had only three or four frames. In 1845 Thomas Collins had 120 frames, 55 in his own shop, and the rest in various small shops (fn. 46) Rawson & Fields had 500 frames, the largest number in any shop being 8 (fn. 47) W. H. Walker's firm had 400 to 500, chiefly in small shops, although their largest held 60. (fn. 48) In spite of the tendency for these shops to grow slightly, the general appearance of the hosiery industry at this time is one of a domestic industry. Although the frame shop existed, it was organized on the same principles as the cottage.

    The reasons for the survival of the domestic system, at a time when most other textile industries in this country had gone over to factory production, are obvious. The hand frame had remained virtually unaltered for over 100 years and had been quite unaffected by the development of steam power. The manufacturers seem to have been satisfied enough with the old system and had little or no encouragement to give to the principles of factory organization, although those of them who had a large concentration of frames seem to have made a great success of this way of working. But for the most part the hosiery workers themselves disliked the factory system with its discipline of regular hours. (fn. 49)

    One of the reasons which was given by the manufacturers in 1845 for the decline in their industry was that their foreign trade in hosiery had been so much reduced in recent years. William Biggs said that in 1845 about 10 per cent. of the hosiery produced in Leicester went for export, as against 30 per cent. about twenty years previously. (fn. 50) The report quotes a letter from a hosiery agent in New York, written in 1843, which stated that within the previous few years the market there for Leicester hosiery had almost disappeared, partly because of a deterioration in quality, partly because of undercutting by German cotton hose. (fn. 51) A manufacturer spoke to William Biggs to the same effect, and added that he had imported German gloves and hose into Britain and had sold them profitably in spite of the import duty upon them. (fn. 52) Biggs considered that foreign competition in overseas markets, and to an increasing extent in Britain, was the cause of the hosiery industry's depressed state. (fn. 53)

    The attitude of the manufacturers seems to be one of helpless self-justification, and from other sources it seems clear enough that hosiery exports between 1814, when the decline was said to have begun, and 1843 did not really decline at all, except in the case of silk hosiery, the production of which was negligible in Leicester. A decline in the value of the goods exported is noticeable, but this does not necessarily indicate that the manufacturers were any less prosperous, as it was largely accounted for by the decrease in the cost of raw materials. On the other hand, although there seem to be no grounds for accepting the idea of a general decline in the export of cotton and woollen goods, yet equally there was no sign of any expansion in the sale of hosiery either at home or abroad, and no prospect that any such expansion would take place. (fn. 54)

    The acute depression of the industry in the 1840's was summed up a little later in the century in these words:

    Provisions were exceedingly dear, work was scarce and wages were so low that it hardly paid to be at work at all. . . . Misery and want were stamped on all their [the stockingers'] careworn and anxious features, and the wretchedness was too severe to be portrayed, and too extensive to be relieved there never was any previous distress like it. Thousands were starving and hundreds worked at stone breaking at 4d. and a loaf a day, and it was no uncommon occurrence for a number of stockingers to act the part of a team of horses, and draw a load of coals from the colliery pits. (fn. 55)

    The manufacturer's view of the depression was expressed by William Biggs: 'Within the three years prior to 1841, ten manufacturers had declined business in Leicester on account of its unprofitable character—while 16 other firms had been overtaken with insolvency and bankruptcy within the same period . . . . In one year, 1840, there was fully onethird of the frames unemployed in Leicestershire.' (fn. 56)

    The depression seems to have been at its worst in 1839–41, with especially dreadful conditions in 1840. (fn. 57) In 1841 a meeting was held at Derby of masters representing the hosiery trade of the three Midland counties. At this meeting William Biggs moved a motion calling for parliamentary measures to save the industry from complete ruin. (fn. 58) The depression continued very sharply until about 1844. In 1843 a petition, signed by over 25,000 frameworkknitters in three counties, was presented to Parliament, asking for the appointment of a commission to regulate disputes between masters and employees, to fix wage-rates, and to make general rules for the guidance of those engaged in the industry. The result of this petition was Muggeridge's commission, but it was clear that the framework-knitters could expect no help from Parliament. (fn. 59)

    Their own trade unions were ill organized and were only local. There was one in Leicester in the 1830's. The Sock Branch Union was formed in 1830 on the occasion of a strike by the Leicester sock hands for higher wages. This was successful, in spite of the fact that the strikers had no funds at that time, although contributions were made by members after the strike had ended. (fn. 60) In 1838 an unsuccessful attempt was made to form a joint union of masters and employees in Leicester on the same principles as that at Hinckley. It is clear that there was little incentive for the masters, in the prevailing conditions of trade, to take part in any organization which was trying to raise wages. (fn. 61) The only benevolent movements in which the masters took part were the allotment societies, of which there was one in Leicester. (fn. 62) Until considerable mechanical improvements were made, it was very plain that there could be little improvement in the general condition of the industry.

    The machines in use in the first half of the 19th century differed only in detail from the machine as invented by William Lee at the end of the 16th. The hand frame was the rule and the power-operated frame still a curiosity. There were, it is true, special difficulties in the application of steam power to framework-knitting, as Muggeridge remarked. (fn. 63) By 1845 some at least of these difficulties had been overcome. Throughout the first half of the century attempts were being made to improve the frame, and Felkin speaks with praise of the work of John Heathcote of Loughborough and his partner Cordell, who devised the rotary frame and invented a way of narrowing the web by machine instead of by hand. (fn. 64) This invention was closely followed by Brunel's 'tricoteur', 'the forerunner of the type on which the bulk of hosiery is now made'. (fn. 65) Brunel's machine was never put into general use, for it produced an unfashioned tube of fabric, which had to be cut up, sewn, and then steamed into shape. There was a very considerable amount of prejudice against this practice, especially among the knitters themselves. (fn. 66) By the middle of the century several attempts had been made to drive a hosiery machine by steam power. The first known attempt was made by Warners of Loughborough in 1829, but this was not successful and experiments there were abandoned. (fn. 67) After 1844 Pagets of Loughborough introduced the steamdriven 'round' frames, which made knitted socks requiring only to be cut, shaped, and sewn into stockings by women and children. A larger machine was afterwards added, the steam-driven 'rotary', which worked much more quickly and which made the output of cheap knitted articles very much greater. (fn. 68) Until some method of fashioning the stockings by machine could be successfully devised, it was still clear, in spite of these early attempts, that the hosiery industry would be a hand one.

    Such, then, was the state of Leicester's staple industry in the middle of the 19th century—antiquated and overcrowded, showing all the abuses of the domestic industry, and one in which the manufacturers were fast losing control. As Muggeridge pointed out, there was a great contrast between the hosiery industry's stagnation, and the rapid growth during the 19th century of the other British textile industries, and this despite the fact that the application of steam power to hosiery manufacture was certainly practicable. (fn. 69) Thomas Collins of Leicester was a pioneer of the development of hosiery machinery. When the commissioner asked him whether he thought that it would be easy to apply steam power to the working of his frames, he replied, 'Oh quite easy', and continued that it was so much easier to work one of his frames than a hand frame: 'A child of three years of age could work one of my machines a day through in respect of strength.' (fn. 70) The prevailing view of the manufacturers was expressed as usual by William Biggs: 'Some attempts have been made to introduce power, but to a very small extent and I think it is not likely to succeed.' (fn. 71) The commissioner also suggested that the gathering together of frames into factories was essential if the industry was not to decline further. (fn. 72) Felkin later reported that although the manufacturers had been led to this suggestion with great care, owing to the decisive nature of Muggeridge's remarks, they did not favour the adoption of the factory system. (fn. 73)

    After the year 1845 certain forces were at work which made for changes in the organization of the industry. First, a general improvement took place in the types of the available machines, and there was an ever-increasing desire to see whether steam power could really be utilized to drive the stocking frame. The lead given by Pagets was followed by Matthew Townshend of Leicester, who patented a circular rib frame in 1847 and 1856, and invented the latchneedle in 1847. (fn. 74) The most striking advances were made by William Cotton, a Leicestershire man, who started in the factory of Cartwright & Warner at Loughborough and later set up his own factory there. His first success came in 1864, and the machine which then appeared has become known throughout the hosiery works as 'Cotton's Patent'. It provided the solution to the main difficulty in the way of the development of power-driven machinery for the hosiery trade, the automatic decrease in the numbers of stitches in the knitting courses. (fn. 75)

    A second influence upon the hosiery industry was that the fifties and sixties of the last century were a time of general prosperity for the country as a whole, which was reflected in the increased standard of living, leading to an increased demand for hosiery in which the Leicester trade shared. Felkin could write in 1866: 'The demand for goods has been for some years beyond the power to supply them. This has partly arisen from the increased consumption. But it has been a consequence also of the well known fact in manufactures that as wages increase, less work is done especially, when the time devoted to labour is simply controlled by the will of the workman. This consideration may at an early period become one of such importance as to bear strongly on factory, as contrasted with domestic employment of machinery.' (fn. 76)

    But the movement into factories and larger workshops was none too rapid. The new machines could not be produced with any great speed, and the cost of re-equipping the industry was too great to be undertaken by any but the largest manufacturers, to whom their frame rents were none the less a source of income not lightly to be given up. (fn. 77) The hosiery workers succeeded in 1854 in getting a parliamentary committee of inquiry into frame rents and other deductions, but in spite of the unequivocal opinion of the committee that frame rents were undesirable, no Act was passed to abolish them, although it is certain that if this had been done, the transition to factory organization would have been greatly speeded up. (fn. 78) A large rotary frame cost £200 or more and smaller ones more than £100. But probably the greatest obstacle to change was the attitude of the framework-knitters themselves, whose spirit had been nearly annihilated by generations of extreme poverty, but who nevertheless clung to their independence and irregular habits of work. 'It was this obstinate clinging to liberty in working conditions that kept the hosiery worker in his squalid domestic workshop.' (fn. 79) Few real changes in fact took place between the commission of 1845 and the Children's Employment Commission of 1862. The opinion of one manufacturer in 1862 shows how slow was the change to factory production: 'I think that frames will gradually be still more concentrated in larger shops, and to some extent, though not for some kinds of goods, in factories, and also in or near towns. Many however will probably remain in villages on main lines of railway which have rapid communication with towns, which is now of more importance.' (fn. 80) As late as 1866 Felkin thought that there had been little reduction in the number of hand frames in use. (fn. 81) William Biggs in 1862, cautious as ever, doubted whether the whole industry would ever be concentrated in factories, and thought that highquality goods would continue to be made by hand. (fn. 82)

    A gradual improvement was taking place in the conditions of places of work. In 1863 a witness before the Children's Employment Commission stated: 'The small shops in most cases adjoin to small houses, but do not form the living rooms as is the case in poor places. Still there is a general deficiency of ventilation here, and there is more attention paid to these things in new buildings but of the others there are not many over 7 ft. high, and in a shop of that height and 30 ft. long by 17 ft. broad there would be perhaps 20 people. There is no ventilation and the gas makes the air very hot and unhealthy in the evening.' (fn. 83) At the same time the Leicester Medical Officer of Health said: 'In the course of my duty I am constantly in the stocking makers' shops in the town. The oldest of these are almost invariably low, and their ventilation in every way imperfect, but the newly built are better in these respects and larger.' (fn. 84) By 1892 a witness before the Royal Commission on Labour could say of the Leicester factories that their sanitary conditions were excellent. When a new factory was put up, the plans had to be submitted for the approval of the local authority. (fn. 85)

    Prejudice against working in the factories existed for long after they were becoming more common. It was expressed very strongly in Leicester in the 1850's. Even despite better conditions and higher earnings, the Leicester stockingers were loth to enter the factories themselves or to send their children. After twenty years of factory legislation the feeling persisted, and even in 1870 manufacturers complained of the difficulties of attracting work-people into the factories. (fn. 86)

    From their beginnings, conditions in the factories and large workshops compared most favourably with those in the small shops and in the frameworkknitters' houses. As a result of the Factory Acts, the conditions of employment, especially the employment of children, were regulated, and there were never the abuses of child labour in the hosiery industry from which industries converted to factory organization at an earlier date had suffered. No child under the age of 10 years could be employed in a factory, and the hours of women and young persons were fixed at from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in winter, with 1½ hours for meals, leaving a legal maximum working day of 10½ hours. (fn. 87) For those children who were not employed in factories conditions remained very much the same as they had been in 1843, when it was estimated that out of 28,000 persons employed in the county of Leicester, 12,924 were under the age of 18. (fn. 88) In 1863 children working on frames in private houses would start at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. on Tuesday mornings and work each evening until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., often later on Fridays. (fn. 89) One employer did say, however, that he had noticed 'a great improvement as to the ages at which the young begin to wind and work in frames'. Better wages were also paid, the winding boys making as much as 3s. or 4s. a week. (fn. 90)

    Attempts were made in the middle of the century, especially in Leicester, to improve styles and patterns in the products of the industry. (fn. 91) Biggs had said in 1845 that there were 1,300 frames in Leicester already employed in the 'fancy' trade. (fn. 92)

    After 1870 the change to factory production became more rapid. The solution of the technical problem of the adapting of steam to hosiery machinery coincided with several other factors all having an influence on the change. The Factories and Workshops Act of 1867 subjected small workshops to the control of the factory inspectors. (fn. 93) This was generally welcomed by the better employers, who were usually those already subject to the Acts, and had for long felt that it was wrong that one side of the industry should be controlled while the other was entirely free. The practical application of the Act to these small shops was by no means easy, especially at first, when there were not enough inspectors. The actual problem of finding small shops was a difficult one, tucked away as they were in the back streets and alleys of the town. (fn. 94) No statistics of the number of workshops in Leicester are available, but the number in the district was estimated at 5,000, of which twothirds were devoted to the manufacture of handmade boots and hosiery. (fn. 95)

    Just as important was the passing of the Education Act of 1870 and its sequel of 1876, which made attendance at school compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 14, with provision for partial exemption only after the age of 12. (fn. 96) This deprived the framework-knitters of the services of their winders and seamers and led to an increase in the cost of production in the small shops, as compared with the factories, where the winding and much of the sewing could now be done by machinery.

    Perhaps the most important factor in speeding up the transition to a factory economy was the abolition of frame rents by Parliament in 1875. This Act removed the main feature of the antiquated system of production, the foundation on which the hosiery industry had been built. Frame rents were held to be in contravention of the Truck Act of 1831 and therefore illegal as early as 1844, but a decision to this effect which had been made at Leicester Assizes was reversed in the Court of Appeal. (fn. 97) A bill to abolish frame rents was again proposed in 1853, but was rejected. (fn. 98) The agitation against rents persisted in spite of this discouragement throughout the 1860's, and frame rents were the subject of new investigation by the Royal Commission on Truck of 1871. At first no workers could be found in Leicester to testify against their masters, sufficient indication of the importance attached by the owners of frames to their rents. From the report of the commission, it appears that during the 1860's some Leicester masters had abolished frame rents and other charges, and that others had abolished rents only, taking a certain proportion of the wages of their employees instead. Many had established a system of fines, which, it was said, formed an excellent substitute for the old one and could with equal facility be turned into an abuse. Frame rents were not now usually charged for frames set up in the manufacturer's own premises, in which wages were adjusted to compensate the manufacturer for this. (fn. 99) Where they were still paid, frame rents had not increased in the recent past, and although the figures given are not so full as those for 1845, there had been some change since then. The employers who still charged frame rents argued that, if they were abolished, prices would rise and the industry as a whole would suffer. Some masters were accused by their workmen of the old practice of charging full rents when full employment was not given, and one man said of a master: 'If a man were ill for a month, he would charge the whole frame rent, and the gas which was never lit, and the winding too, though there was never any winding done.' (fn. 100) Charges were still connected with the practice of 'spreading the work', when times were bad, and this, together with apathy during years of prosperity, had neutralized any incentive which there might have been for redundant workers to leave the industry. (fn. 101)

    Frame rents still apparently provided a handsome return on capital. Samuel Odams, a leading Leicester hosier, told the commission on truck that he had made profits of up to £1,200 a year on frame rents in the three years before 1871. He admitted that he charged frame rents even when his operatives were ill, for he claimed that they would make illness their excuse if they knew no rent would be charged on the frequent occasions when they had been drinking. (fn. 102) Apart from frame rents and the other charges, there seems to be little evidence of ordinary trucking in Leicester in 1871, although it was then said to have been very prevalent 'some years ago'. Even after the abolition of frame rents, complaints of one sort and another about charges did not disappear altogether. As late as 1892 there were masters who tacitly took charges from their workers, who were in the habit of leaving money on the table when the week's wages were being paid. (fn. 103) Fines were sometimes paid for such offences as being late at work. (fn. 104) Even in 1897 the Webbs mentioned the hopes of the Leicester workers to abolish 'insidious forms of "truck"'. (fn. 105)

    Increasing prosperity and developing factory organization accelerated the development of the trade unions. Strikes became more frequent in the industry, notably at Nottingham in the period 1850–70, and there was a growing demand for the setting up of a joint body to regulate wages. One of those most vociferous in his demands for such an organization was William Felkin, who organized meetings in the hosiery districts to press for it. In 1860 the Board of Arbitration and Conciliation was set up in Nottingham under the chairmanship of A. J. Mundella, and played an important part in the adjustment of wage-rates necessitated by the trade depression which was the result of the American Civil War. (fn. 106) A similar board was set up in Leicester in 1866, (fn. 107) but the Leicester workers held themselves aloof from the scheme of setting up a national union to be known as the United Framework Knitters' Society, which was advocated in the same year. Only one delegate from the borough was among the 35 who attended the inaugural meeting. (fn. 108)

    By 1890 something like 95 per cent. of the output of the industry was coming from power-operated machines. Ever since hosiery was first produced by steam, the employers had said that only the cheaper forms of hosiery would ever be able to be manufactured in this way, and that those articles which did not need to rely upon cheapness for their sale would have to be made by hand. They still asserted in 1890 that there was not so much elasticity in the power-made goods and that they were much less strong, but by 1890 they were employing hand frames very irregularly. With the exception of operatives still working to War Office specifications, only the very highest class of goods were still made by hand. There were an estimated 5,000 hand frameknitters in the Midland counties, of whom less than half belonged to the Hand Framework Knitters' Federation. (fn. 109) The officials of this organization still thought it possible that the industry might be revived and that 'if the genuine hand-made article were properly put before the public' and the public understood the worth of what it was buying, it would be willing to pay a little more for better workmanship. (fn. 110)

    Whatever its apologists may have thought of the prospects of the hand trade in 1890, very few hand frames were being made, and those mostly for the glove branch rather than for stockings, while many hand frames were being given away or sold for a few shillings. Osmond Tabberer, of the well-known hosiery firm of Pool, Lorimer & Tabberer, stated before the Royal Commission on Labour that, while his firm preferred the factory system, some home work was allowed, for the benefit of such people as the old women he mentioned who, though too old to go out to work, wanted to go on using their hand frames, and the firm was prepared to use their services. (fn. 111) Another firm used about 50 or 60 hand frames for special kinds of work. (fn. 112)

    The transition to factory organization affected trade conditions in many ways. The difference between the wages of a domestic worker and one working in a factory had been noticed as early as 1845, when it was estimated at something between 2s. and 3s. a week. (fn. 113) Factory wages went up as those of operatives working in their own homes dropped, and in 1862 it was estimated that a girl working two frames in a factory could earn about 9s. a week and a man between 12s. and 15s. (fn. 114) Men's wages showed considerable variations according to the ability of the worker and probably also according to the type of frame, and the sums named ranged between 7s. and over £1. (fn. 115) In many cases wage-rates had doubled since 1845. In the next twenty years they nearly doubled again. In 1890 a man working a machine which was more than twenty years old could earn from 15s. to 18s. a week, a man on a new rotary frame from 20s. to 30s., and one on a Cotton's Patent or Rib Machine from 25s. to 30s. (fn. 116) Between 1886 and 1891 it was estimated that of a chosen average sample of hosiery workers, no man earned less than 15s. a week, 75.3 per cent. earned between 15s. and 30s., and 24.7 per cent. over 30s., the average being 25s. 4d. The average wages for women were 11s. 6d., for boys 9s. 6d., and for girls 8s. 3d. (fn. 117) The wages of those who worked in the warehouses were slightly higher than those of the actual operatives, and the men and women in the warehouses were generally of a better class. (fn. 118) Wages were regulated according to trade conditions by the employers, and every so often an employer would issue a new list. A widespread strike took place at Leicester in 1886, when mobs threw stones and did damage to many of the hosiery factories in the town. The subject of dispute was a new wage list which had been issued by the employers, who were forced to agree to concessions. (fn. 119)

    There was a very obvious irregularity in wagerates between one worker and another, and this was the subject of most of the disagreements in the industry at the end of the last century, especially as the wage-rates agreed upon by most employers would not be paid by all. A symptom of the unsettled state of the industry was the appearance of a new type of middleman, who farmed out work from the manufacturers and relied upon low labour costs for his profit. (fn. 120) The breakdown of the Board of Arbitration shows to how small an extent collective bargaining was possible. (fn. 121) To some extent these variations in the wage-rates were fair enough, as it was reasonable that a man whose machine was capable of producing more should be paid less per dozen than one who was working one of the slower, older machines. Even so, they were not adjusted to be fair. In 1892 women working obsolescent sewing machines could earn no more than 9s. to 10s. a week, yet the average for this kind of work was over 14s. (fn. 122) In 1908 women who were given as much as 1s. 3d. a dozen were earning about 7s. a week less than others on new machines who were only paid 3d. a dozen. (fn. 123) Most women then earned less than half what a man could earn. There was never any suggestion that wages should be paid on a time basis, and presumably the old independence of the industry remained in this preference for piecework. This explains the indifference of the hosiery industry to the issue of the Normal Day. (fn. 124)

    The period between 1860 and 1880 saw a decrease in the hours of work, and by 1890 the 54- or 56½hour week was usual in factories and workshops within the city. The hours were usually from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in winter and 6 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. in the summer, although there were differences between individual firms. The Saturday half-holiday operated almost universally and had been usual in some factories since the 1850's. Corah's works had given a half-holiday since before 1863. (fn. 125) A witness in 1863 said that there had been a noticeable shortening of hours in the last few years, as the result of a change made by the railways: 'Carriers would wait for goods any time, up to 12 at night, and even up till the morning, and it was general then for warehouses to be open late. Now goods are usually sent from a warehouse at 5.30 p.m. and for London or anywhere else they must leave not later than 8. This prevents late work and people work harder during the day.' (fn. 126) There had for long been a movement towards the standardization of working hours, which drew an interesting comment from the commissioner on Children's Employment: 'The obvious and acknowledged objection to the practice of ending the day's work at varying hours is that it renders attendance at evening school almost impossible and exposes the young to greater temptations by necessitating their absence from home at late and indefinite hours.' (fn. 127)

    In Leicester, we are told, there was a good deal of overtime work, especially on expensive machinery at certain seasons of the year. One speaker in 1892 opined that overtime should be abolished. (fn. 128) The buyers were encouraged to send in their orders as late as possible, knowing that the men would work overtime to fulfil them. Irregularity of employment was increased by this habit, and many workers felt that some check on hours would be an advantage. (fn. 129)

    The introduction of power-driven machinery was not equally advantageous to everyone. One of its first effects was to throw many of the older men out of employment altogether. Some were kept on as winders and odd-job men, and in 1890 about fourteen or fifteen old stockingers were selling firewood, by which they earned between 10s. and 12s. a week, preferring this frugal existence to the workhouse. Some employers had lent them capital to begin their business. (fn. 130) The numbers employed in the industry were about the same in 1891 as in 1851, although the output was so much greater. (fn. 131)

    While the growth of factories made work rather more regular for those in them, since the owners of expensive machinery would clearly try to employ it to full capacity, the seasonal variations in the trade did not disappear: indeed many observers thought them more pronounced. The Leicester manufacture was still mainly in wool and worsted, and was thus in greater demand in winter. The busiest time was therefore in the second half of the year. This was followed by the Australian season which was expanding with the Australian colonies, and in spring and summer came the Canadian. In addition to the loss of the balancing markets in the United States, work was made rather more irregular in the 1860's by the fact that 'manufacturers now work much more to order instead of to stock, and in some cases will not work at all unless they have orders. This is now universally the case with all the branches that depend upon fashion, and where fancy goods, etc. are manufactured.' (fn. 132)

    Any irregularities of employment in the hosiery industry would, whenever possible, be suffered primarily by the domestic workers, since the employers incurred no overhead charges in respect of them. Even in 1892 work had not become any more regular, for it could be said by a prominent Leicester employer that 'after the winter trade is over, and the spring orders are dealt with, there is slack time until the orders come in for the following winter'. (fn. 133) Three months' short time was apparently common in the 1890's. (fn. 134) In March 1895 the Leicester and Leicestershire Amalgamated Hosiery Union said that in Leicester there were 10 per cent. unemployed and not more than 10 per cent. on full time. (fn. 135) For many years it remained true that rather than dismiss employees in the slack season the matters, sometimes by arrangement with the unions, preferred to work short time. This was the general practice until the outbreak of the Second World War.

    One of the most prominent features of the modern hosiery industry which emerged during the latter part of the 19th century is the employment of large numbers of women. There was a place for them in the old domestic system, but until the development of proper factories few women worked on frames. Their jobs were mainly sewing and, in some cases, winding. Thomas Collins employed women in his shop in 1845, mostly between the ages of 13 and 17, and had more applications than he could fill. They earned between 9s. and 16s. a week. (fn. 136) Frames at this time were much more usually worked by men. In 1851 4,188 men and 1,979 women were employed in the industry in Leicester. (fn. 137) By 1871 the effect of the increasing factory system had been to reduce the number to 2,867 and 1,870 respectively. The number of children employed had also dropped considerably from 382 boys and 493 girls between the ages of 5 and 10 years in 1851 to 35 boys and 73 girls in 1871. (fn. 138) From this time women gradually came to outnumber men more and more in the industry. From the first, complaints were made that the presence of women in the industry brought down the wage-rates. This argument was first expressed in 1845, although then more in the country districts, (fn. 139) but as the century progressed it was heard more frequently. The Webbs described a typical dispute over the employment of men and women. In 1888 men working circular rib frames found that they were being put out of work by women who could do the work as well and who were being paid less. When protests were made the women said they would be dismissed if they asked for their wages to be made the same as those of the men. Even when it was decided that the women should work for ¼d. a dozen less than the men, many male workers were dismissed from the firm. (fn. 140) A witness complained in 1892 that women were in competition both in and out of the factory: 'The opinion of the workpeople in Leicester is that work should be done in the factories instead of at the people's homes.' He knew of numerous cases in which women worked in their houses for wages far below the 'statement price' (the price agreed upon between unions and employers and which operated in most of the factories), 'the tendency of which is to reduce wages gradually in the factories next, it has a tendency to turn the home into anything but a home, and has a demoralizing influence on the people. . . . It is simply another aspect of sweating. They do the work in such quiet out of the way places that you cannot get to know what they are doing, nor the price they are getting.' He further advocated restrictions upon the employment of married women in factories, on the grounds that they competed with single women, that they could generally afford to accept reductions in wages, and that 'the girls were driven to immorality to eke out their wages'. (fn. 141) During the period between 1881 and 1891 the total number of hosiery workers in the country rose by 21.6 per cent., while the number of women rose during the same period by 44 per cent. and the number of men declined. By 1891 women outnumbered men by a ratio of 190 to 100. (fn. 142) It was estimated that in 1905–6 there were 9,107 women employed in the industry in Leicester as against only 3,282 men, and the women were then earning between 13s. and 19s. (fn. 143) Women were by then beginning to work frames, but most of the women employed in factories were still doing the sewing and making-up processes that they had always done. An interesting comment upon this was made in 1911:

    The seaming and putting together of hosiery of late years has been almost entirely done by sewing machines. Formerly this was done by women in their own homes, and very largely in the country villages, but now there is very little hand seaming what remains is done at a very low price, as it has to compete with sewing machines. The manufacturer prefers to seam the goods in his own factory, but out of consideration for, and at the strong request of the home worker, he still sends out a portion, for which he pays more than it would cost him in his factory. As a reward for his consideration he is stigmatized by the title of 'sweater' by those who do not understand the position of affairs. (fn. 144)

    The last quarter of the 19th century was a difficult time for the hosiery industry. Apart from the internal difficulties caused by the change to factory production, the 1880's saw an increase in the amount of competition from Germany, which was now producing 'fancy' hosiery as well as the more common articles. What was left of the United States market was being further restricted by increased tariffs. (fn. 145) At home the depression in trade and industry hit the hosiery manufacturers hard, as the clothing industries are always among the first to feel the effects of a fall in purchasing power. Within the industry itself the greatly extended competition which had been encouraged in the years of prosperity became uncontrollable, and many of the new firms which had been set up were forced to go out of business. Dividends were generally small and losses frequent. (fn. 146) As time went on, these unsettled conditions led to the decline of the Board of Arbitration, since 'No institution that existed to make regulations in the common interest could flourish in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, where none could be sure that his neighbour would adhere to the terms of an agreement.' (fn. 147) A Leicester witness before the Royal Commission on Labour of 1892, when asked whether his industry had a Board of Arbitration, said that there was one and that periodical meetings were held up to 1884, but no dispute had been referred to it since 1886 'and then it was in such a state of decomposition as to be useless'. He went on to say that at the time they had no board but 'if any dispute arises there is no difficulty whatever in the two sides meeting and adjusting the differences before a strike takes place'. (fn. 148)

    Although the trade unions were trying to deal with these problems, they had a difficult task, increased by their own administrative difficulties and by apathy within the industry itself. (fn. 149) One of their major problems was that of the country worker. After 1890 decentralizing forces were at work in the hosiery industry, caused by increasingly efficient methods of communication and the practice of selling goods from samples instead of directly from large stocks, and their main manifestation was the spread of the industry into the county. (fn. 150) The competition of the country worker became considerable as the necessity of having a factory within the trading centre became less and less compelling, and this was increased because the country workers could be and were paid less than their more highly organized fellows in the towns. The unions had great difficulties in extending their power into the country districts, and the result was a good deal of rate cutting, which was practised by the smaller town manufacturers as well as those in the country. About nine-tenths of the disputes in the industry were caused by irregularity in prices. The chief local union was the Leicester and Leicestershire Amalgamated Hosiery Union, which was formed in 1885 and followed in 1889 by the National Hosiery Federation, with which it was associated. (fn. 151) As the industry became less centralized, the union had to become all-embracing and the separation within it of the skilled and the unskilled worker had to disappear to provide a more unified control. Membership of the union was not then, and has not since become, great in proportion to the total numbers of operatives in the industry. On the whole, relations with the employers were fairly friendly, and negotiations took place on a somewhat informal basis. In 1903 the union had only 1,600 members. (fn. 152) The Midland Counties' Hosiery Manufacturers' Association was formed in 1899. (fn. 153)

    One of the most important developments in Leicester in the last century was the start of technical education for the hosiery trade. (fn. 154) In 1885 the Chamber of Commerce was responsible for the beginning of classes in hosiery, science, and art, science and art being provided by Wyggeston Boys' School. The hosiery classes were the first of their kind in the county. In 1892 these were taken over by the borough council and from that time have been a most important part of the work of the College of Art and Technology. The college now (1955) runs full-and part-time day classes and evening classes in hosiery manufacture and design, and from the first the local manufacturers have welcomed the opportunities thus offered to their hands.

    The hosiery industry in the present century has for the most part been peaceful and prosperous. There has been no strike of hosiery workers in the borough for over 40 years and good relations exist between management and employees. (fn. 155) The First World War saw the end of steam power as the usual method of driving frames, and hosiery, as a light industry, was one which benefited most from the development of electric power, as well as of other methods of transport than the railways. (fn. 156)

    Until the end of the last century, Leicester's hosiery was primarily of wool. The silk industry had died out in the 1860's, (fn. 157) but was revived after the First World War, especially as skirts became shorter and there was more incentive to buy silk stockings which could be seen. Silk itself was in turn superseded by nylon and other synthetic fabrics, and Leicester's previous specialization in one material for hosiery came to an end. Higher standards of living were reflected after 1918 by increasing clothesconsciousness and by reduced patching and darning, and the greater demand which resulted brought down the costs of production.

    In 1911 there were over 100 hosiery manufacturers in the town, and a total of 15,727 employees, of whom 12,117 were women. (fn. 158) The war made great demands upon the industry and many new firms were founded at the end of it. (fn. 159) By 1921 there were over 200 hosiery firms in Leicester, and in 1923 25,490 insured persons were employed in them. (fn. 160) Employment figures rose steadily in the years before the Second World War. In 1937 there were 30,950 insured hosiery employees in Leicester and in 1939 33,310. (fn. 161) In 1937 the Leicester and Leicestershire Amalgamated Hosiery Union had only 5,100 members out of the total labour force of city and county. (fn. 162)

    In spite of the end of its specialization Leicester remained one of the two main centres of the hosiery industry in England. Out of fourteen new factories opened in 1933, eight were in Leicester. (fn. 163) The Second World War brought new prosperity to the industry, but also great difficulties. Several firms found themselves working together under one roof, and 50 per cent. of hosiery operatives were doing other work or were in the forces. (fn. 164) Production remained at a high level. In 1943 71 million articles of hosiery, excluding stockings, were produced in the country and 240 million pairs of stockings and socks. Actual figures for Leicester's part of this total are not available, but it was probably about 25 per cent. (fn. 165)

    After the war, some of the difficulties remained. There was in the first place a shortage of labour, which continued in 1955, chiefly because the war brought new industries to Leicester which made a permanent home in the town. (fn. 166) This labour shortage forced employers to move once more out into the county and small new factories have appeared at several places. (fn. 167) In addition, some homework has again begun. In 1946 it could still be said: 'The domestic system of production still exists to some extent. In some districts the employer sends out wool and small knitting-machines to people working in their own homes. A fair amount of glove production is still carried on in the operatives' homes. Outworkers are also employed in certain finishing processes.' (fn. 168) The government working party in the same year (fn. 169) stated that there was a shortage of factory space for the machinery necessary for increased output. It was then estimated that of the new factory space that the industry would require in 1946–51 for producing fully fashioned stockings, 11 per cent. would be needed in Leicester. In 1946, however, Leicester produced 23 per cent. by value of the total British exports of hosiery, £3½ million out of a total of £15¾ million, and the total value of Leicester hosiery sold altogether in that year was £24 million. In the following year the total sale value had risen to £32 million, 30 per cent. of the total value sold in the whole country hosiery goods to the value of £6 million, or 28 per cent. by value of the town's total, were exported. (fn. 170)

    The Mafia on the Rise

    By the later part of the 19th century in Sicily, Italy, criminal gangs who had become known as the Mafia flourished by using violence and intimidation to extract protection money from landowners and merchants. By the 1920s, the Sicilian Mafia was facing a challenge from Prime Minister Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), who came to power in 1922. Mussolini viewed the Mafia as a threat to his Fascist regime and launched a brutal crackdown in which more than a thousand suspected Mafiosi were convicted and thrown in prison. (Some Italian mobsters escaped to the United States, where they became involved in the bootleg liquor business and the burgeoning American Mafia.) Following World War II, the Mafia rose again as mob-backed building companies worked to dominate the 1950s construction boom in Sicily.

    Did you know? Al Capone, head of organized crime in Chicago in the 1920s and involved in everything from illegal gambling to murder, was ultimately brought down by a 1931 conviction for income-tax evasion. Capone emerged from prison in 1939, too sick to return to his criminal life. He died in 1947 at age 48.

    In the United States, the Mafia developed as a separate entity during the Prohibition era of the 1920s, as Italian-American neighborhood gangs morphed into sophisticated criminal enterprises through their success in the illicit liquor trade. In 1931, mobster Lucky Luciano (1897-1962) masterminded the establishment of the Commission, which would serve as a central governing body for the more than 20 Italian-American crime groups, or families, then operating in the United States.

    After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the American Mafia moved beyond bootlegging and entrenched itself in a range of illegal ventures, from drug trafficking to loan-sharking, while also infiltrating labor unions and legitimate businesses such as construction, waterfront commerce and the New York garment industry. By the mid-20th century, there were 24 known crime families operating in cities across the country, comprised of some 5,000 “made,” or inducted, members and thousands of associates. America’s capital of organized crime was New York City, which had five major Mafia families. Even though the illegal activities of these crime families were known to law-enforcement agencies, they were ineffectual at stopping the Mafia’s growth, in part because mobsters frequently paid off public officials and business leaders and bribed or intimidated witnesses and juries.

    Margaret Thatcher’s Fall From Power and Death

    After Thatcher was elected to a third term in 1987, her government lowered income tax rates to a postwar low. It also pushed through an unpopular 𠇌ommunity charge” that was met with street protests and high levels of nonpayment. On November 14, 1990, former Defense Minister Michael Heseltine challenged her for leadership of the party, partly due to differences of opinion on the European Union. 

    Thatcher won the first ballot but by too small of a margin for outright victory. That night, her cabinet members visited her one by one and urged her to resign. She officially stepped down on November 28 after helping to assure that John Major and not Heseltine would replace her.

    Thatcher remained in parliament until 1992, at which time she entered the largely ceremonial House of Lords and began to write her memoirs. Though she stopped appearing in public after suffering a series of small strokes in the early 2000s, her influence remained strong. In 2011, the former prime minister was the subject of an award-winning (and controversial) biographical film, “The Iron Lady,” which depicted her political rise and fall. 

    Watch the video: Trade Union Royal Commission Webcast (August 2022).