The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

TRADE UNIONS. From the History of Trade Unions

Category: Politics

On February 21, 1868, the president and secretary of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council sent out a letter calling trades councils all over Britain to a congress. This was the birth of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

That first congress represented 118,000 workers. Delegates discussed the “probability of an attempt being made during the present session of Parliament to introduce a measure detrimental to the interests’’ of the unions. Each decade has seen great struggles, advances, retreats. The 1880s with the vast, hard fought strikes saw a phénomenal growth of unions among unorganised workers like the dockers, gas-workers.

The early 1900s were marked by the infamous Taff Vale Judgement making unions liable for “damages’’ to employers from strikes. The judgement was passed on a case which arose out of a local dispute, when in 1900 railway workers employed by the Taff Vale Railway Company in South Wales came out on strike without any authority from their union — the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (A.S.R.S.).

The introduction of blacklegs by the management brought the A.S.R.S. officially into the arena. The socjety, granted strike pay to the strikers and did its best to dissuade the blacklegs from continuing at work. The strikers undertook picketing. The company, besides prosecuting individual employees, took legal action against the A.S.R.S. itself. It brought an action for damages against the society,

The case ultimately reached the House of Lords and in 1901 the Lords upheld the original decision of the court. The trade unions vigorously protested against the decision of the judges. making a practically new law against trades unions and nullifying the settlement of their status made by the legislature in 1871. This anti-union legal move urged on the unions to; set up the Labour Representation Committee — precursor “of the Labour Party in Parliament.

The 1917 Russian Revolution inspired those sections of the movement that saw the need for a complete change in society, for Socialism.

The 1920s witnessed the unity — the miners, transport and railway workers in the Triple Alliance, their militancy in the General Strike, but its betrayal by, the Right Wing, the bitterness of defeat and _ruling-class revenge in the Trades Dispute Act, crippled the movement for 20 years.

The 1930s with the battle against unemployment and lascism, lifted the political level of the trade-union movement, preparing for the war and the postwar Labour Government, with its attendant political problems.

In the postwar years came the battle against Government intervention not only from Tories, but from the Labour Government — the original product of the trade-union movement itself. In 1971 in the mightiest demonstration seen in Britain for generations, 140,000 trade unionists marched through London with the slogan “Kill the Bill!’’ Their banners and placards showed how strong was the feeling that the Trades Union Congress, which organised the demonstration should initigte nation-wide strike action against the Tory union-bashing laws. Every section of workers was fepresented on the three-mile march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. Every marcher was “virtually a delegate’’ from scores of other workers. Their message was loud and clear —“Kill the Bill’’.

They came from all over Wales, the South; West and the Midlands. Workers on the Concorde ‘mifigled “with men from the mines. The march included the banners of trade unions, the political secfions of the Labour movement and thousands marched behind slogans of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League.

Thus the battle goes on — each time on a different level, the potential of the movement growing, facing ever more complex problems — toward the time when the working class shall take the power into its own hands.

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