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63 FLEET STREET, E.C.

1 8 9 0.

HD 6664 .855

LONDON:

PRINTED BY CHARLES BRADLAUGH AND ANNIE BESANT,

63 FLEET STREET, E.C.

G.L. Dir

Harding

3. 14.55 92038

THE TRADES UNION MOVEMENT.

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It is now well-nigh a truism to say that to understand the phænomena of the present we must trace them to their roots in the past. Institutions which surround us to-day, complicated and seeming-unreasonable in much, become easy of comprehension as we study their origin and trace their growth ; puzzling and apparently meaningless excrescences then take their place as rudimentary organs ; provoking absurdities are seen in their true light as inevitable expedients to meet pressing difficulties; startling anachronisms are recognised as survivals from a past condition, and become luminous landmarks instead of aggravating stupidities. In the light of historical evolution all institutions justify their existence, and, with systems as with individuals, to understand all is to pardon all.

Regarded from this standpoint, the Trades Union movement is but a part, and a small part, of that vast onward movement of Labor which begins in Slavery and will end in the transformation of Class Society into a Brotherhood of equal Workers. At its noblest, it shows that willingness to subordinate the one to the all, to use strength for mutual support and not for mutual destruction, which is the keynote of the higher social morality : at its worst, it shows the brutality which is the reverse side of oppression, the class-feeling which is the negation of brotherhood, the narrowness which is born of ignorance and limited outlook upon life. Trades Unionism can point, for its justification, to a long list of benefits to Labor wrested from reluctant Parliaments and from oppressive capitalists;

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it can claim to have demonstrated the value of combination, the force of united action, the strength of self-reliance where the self is a union of many selves; and if sometimes it has forgotten that the cause of Labor is greater than Unionism, signs are not awanting that it is rising to a sense of the larger responsibilities which it should accept as the natural leader of the armies of skilled and unskilled labor, and is preparing its weapons for the final struggle between Industry and Capital, a struggle during which the present social system will go down and the New Order will be evolved.

As the workers, after countless centuries of slavery and serfage, began slowly to claim their rights as men and women, they found themselves fettered with a network of restrictive legislation which checked every movement, much as Gulliver, awaking from his slumber, found his limbs rendered incapable of motion by the countless cords. wreathed round them by the inhabitants of Lilliput.

When the lords of the manor began to accept a money payment from their tenants in lieu of the rent paid in labor, it became necessary for them, in turn, to hire laborers to perform the duties erstwhile discharged by the bodily service of their tenantry. Hence arose wages in agricultural industry; and from the reign of Edward II onwards, this practice of hiring labor became more. general. When famines and plagues reduced the population, wages rose in a way that naturally annoyed the employing class, accustomed to exact bodily service to an extent measured by its own needs, and not by the comfort of those by whom it was rendered. And when the Black Death, in the reign of Edward III, swept away one third of the population, the ruling classes betook themselves to law to restrict the rising of wage. The struggle began by a royal mandate, forbidding the payment of wages higher than the customary; and this was followed by the Statute of Laborers (25 Edwd. III), fixing wage at the rate paid in 1347, and punishing those who paid and those who received a higher wage.

In this statute we find the first legal recognition of the germ of the future Trades Unionism of England, under the uncomplimentary title of “the malice of servants in husbandry”; these malicious

1 “Work and Wages.” By J. E. Thorold Rogers. Small reprint, p. 4, ed. 1885.

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servants combined to take higher wages than those set out in the royal proclamation, and succeeded generally, by hook or by crook, in obtaining more for their labor than the customary wage.

This inchoate Trades Union, working in harmony with economic laws, scored its first success despite the Statute of Laborers.

This statute, re-inforced and strengthened by various Parliaments, remained in force until the fifth year of Elizabeth, when it was formally repealed. Of this and similar enactments Hallam justly remarks :

“Such an enhancement in the price of labor, though founded on exactly the same principles as regulate the value of any other commodity, is too frequently treated as a sort of crime by law-givers, who seem to grudge the poor that transient amelioration of their lot, which the progress of population, or other analogous circumstances, will, without any interference, very rapidly take away.'

The Statute of Laborers, of course, affected wages of all kinds, those of artizans as those of laborers; but the artizans were in a stronger position than their agricultural brethren. Without entering on the vexed question of the origin of Gilds, we may observe that from the time of Edward II, all traders, merchants, and master-workmen belonged to their respective Trade Gilds; but from these Gilds craftsmen were gradually excluded, and consequently began to form Crafts Gilds of their own. At one time the trader and the craftsman were united in one person; thus “the London tailors in the time of Edward III were the importers of the woollen cloth which they made up.

With the increase of wealth and of population there also came a greater division of labor; the richer carried on trade, the poorer became craftsmen."2 Into some Gilds men were only admissible when they had “foresworn their trade for a year and a day"; and inevitably, under these circumstances, the Craft Gild arose in opposition to the Trade Gild. It is within the Craft Gild that is to arise the Trade Union of the future.

These Craft Gilds were recognised by the law, and every craftsman was compelled to belong to a Gild; "the punish

1 “Europe during the Middle Ages." By Henry Hallam, p. 566, Ed. 1869.

2 “The Conflicts of Capital and Labor.” By George Howell, p. 25. Ed. 1878.

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