Obviously this interpretation was aimed against all classes of lawbreakers not just striking journeymen. But from the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Webbs maintain, organized workers were subjected to even worse treatment through hostile court interpretations of both common and statute law, and especially of a notorious act of 1799 which had been followed by an amending act of 1800.
Now the actual effect of these two acts was simply to make more explicit what had indeed been the law during four centuries or more. But nearly all writers on this topic, the Webbs being most influential, have represented the “Combination Acts” as the legislative outcome of a sort of conspiracy among “employers” or “capitalists.” Actually the reverse is the truth. The 1799 Act came to be passed almost by accident. Indeed, so casually were both acts enacted that, in Sir James Fitzjames Stephen’s History of the Criminal Law, we are told that “there is no account of any debate on these Acts, nor are they referred to in the ‘Annual Register’ for these years.”29 What actually happened in 1799 was that a bill, more or less in the form of the 40 or so other anticombination statutes already applying to particular trades, was introduced in Parliament. The original aim in 1799 was simply to forbid “conspiracy” on the part of millwrights. During the proceedings Wilberforce (the famous antislavery champion) suddenly and unexpectedly moved for an amendment to make the principle apply to all industries and occupations. There seemed to be no good reason for opposing this amendment and the bill became law with little opposition. No one spoke against the Act on principle, although some thought that too much power was being given to the lower courts. Some unimportant changes were introduced the following year in the amending Act.30
The important point to remember is that the new combination laws did not make any activities illegal which had not already been criminal offenses for centuries. They were, writes Donald Dewey, “thought to incorporate no new legal principle but were rather designed to improve the cumbersome enforcement procedure which largely nullified the usefulness of a conspiracy prosecution.”31 Yet they are described as “severe,” as inaugurating “a new and momentous departure,” “a far-reaching change of policy,” an era of “legal persecution” of would-be strikers or strikers. These are descriptions of the acts by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, in a seriously slanted work characterized at times by meticulous scholarship—a work which has had an enormous influence in spreading the myth.32 The truth is, however, that the “Combination Acts” were just as leniently, almost half-heartedly, enforced as the common law against conspiracy (and the various special statutes forbidding conspiracy or combination in particular industries) had previously been.
Although the costs of proceedings against strikes or against observed preparations for strikes had probably been cheapened by the 1799 Act, the law retained much uncertainty. In the case of convictions by JPs, appeals to the upper courts became almost habitual; and the judges, as is not unknown today, seemed to enjoy showing their authority and superior grasp of the law by upsetting the decisions of their inferiors. The penalties which could be imposed in the lower courts were much lighter than in the upper courts, but whether the likelihood of convictions when the law had been broken was increased (with a consequent rise in respect for the law) is problematical. The Parliamentary agent who drafted the 1824 Act which repealed these laws (who claimed with good reason that this branch of law had been “his particular study for twenty years”) maintained that the effects of the combination laws had been “negligible”—a “dead letter.”33 Very few prosecutions had been made under them, he said, but many under the clause of the Statute of Artificers, which forbade any worker to leave his job before the completion of certain specified kinds of work, like a ship or a bridge. Otherwise, such prosecutions of strikers as occurred tended rather to be based on the charge of “conspiracy” under the common law.
The truth seems to be that the masters and the authorities did almost everything within their power to avoid prosecutions. A strike of linen weavers in 1823 lasted 28 weeks before the masters drew the attention of the strikers to the provisions of the 1800 Act. We must remember that masters could also be prosecuted under the combination laws, just as they could for conspiracy under the common law; and there was nothing to prevent the workers’ leaders from drawing the attention of the magistrates to alleged transgression by the masters.
Some of the facts which point to the leniency in administering the law, both previously and subsequently to the Combination Acts, are mentioned by the Webbs.34 Nevertheless, they manage to leave the impression that an era of unparalleled harshness followed during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Other “historians” have reinforced this impression. J. L. and Barbara Hammond write that during this age, “the workpeople were at the mercy of their masters.”35 The Webbs’ inconsistency on the point is monumental. They admit that the representation of the period 1799-1824 as one of “unmitigated persecution” involving continuous repression of the trade-union movement is a “romantic legend” and “semi-mythical,” yet claim at the same time that “the legend is not without a basis of fact.’36 Combinations with the simple aim of insuring enforcement of the law in labor’s favor had been tolerated before 1799, they assert, but were suddenly outlawed afterward. The Webbs contend that before the nineteenth century, unions had not always been prosecuted, even if they were “technically within the definitions of combination and conspiracy,” but between 1800 and 1824, they were. I find no evidence of this whatsoever in secondary authorities. They allege that from 1800 to 1824 the “combination acts” drove union members “into violence and sedition.”37 The truth is that sabotage, violence and intimidation of nonstrikers, managers and owners had been normal concomitants of such strikes as did occur long before the enactment of the new “Combination Acts,” as Adam Smith testified in 1776 (see p. 36). And, after the repeal of these acts in 1824, a year of exceptional disorders accompanied widespread strike activity. It is significant that subsequent history records how, as unions gradually won immunities and privileges before the law, their reliance upon intimidation and violence tended, on the whole, to increase (see Chapter 4). It is not only in the present age that steps taken to achieve peace and protect life and property have been represented as acts of aggression which can thereby themselves be charged with engendering war and violence.
Enforcement of the law against conspiracies seems, then, to have been just as lax, lenient, or reluctant after 1799 as before.38 And it remained true that when there was no clear evidence of illegal conspiracy, associations of workers continued to be looked upon without disfavor. That is, unless they were observed to be arranging in concert not to accept less than an agreed wage rate39 (which as Mansfield’s judgment made clear,40 alone constituted the ancient crime of “conspiracy” or “combination”), no action against them is recorded, even in the Webbs’ great book; and just as had happened in the eighteenth century, “when masters complained, the magistrates were more inclined to seek a reconciliation than inflict penalties.”41
There is no evidence whatsoever that law enforcement initiatives and judgments in common law or statutory conspiracy cases between 1800-1824 diverged from the long-established principles enunciated with the clarity of simplicity by Mansfield. And discussions by unions with managements about wage rates and conditions of work had never been frowned upon, provided they did not lead to anything resembling the strike threat, or to obvious preparations for a strike (as the Webbs themselves indirectly admit.)42 On occasion, when such discussions appeared likely to be angry, the magistrates would even be invited to be present as conciliators. Apparently, it was regarded as quite legal for a union in one district to correspond with a union in the same trade in another district about wages and conditions of service.
Many cases in the early 1800s concerned organizations of artisans that, faced with the gradual dissolution of their privileges or the competition of labor-economizing machines, fought to preserve their position with every available legal means. Generally speaking, they were unsuccessful and often had to admit increasing numbers of poorer workers into their protected trades as interlopers and, according to the Webbs, suffer “the progressive degradation of their wages.”43 However, the union leaders were free to petition Parliament and use normal channels of propaganda and peaceful agitation. Some asked that their position be protected by restraint on entry through the application of the wage-fixing clauses of the archaic and ineffective Elizabethan Statute of Artificers, or through its restrictive apprenticeship clauses.44 Even such large-scale collusive activities occurred as the organization of a petition with 300,000 signatures asking for the Statute of Artificers to be made effective, and the organizers were in no danger whatsoever of arrest or prosecution. On exceptional occasions, the unions were successful in such requests, presumably because they were not regarded as “combinations” in the legal sense of “conspiracies,” or because they agreed to abandon such organization machinery as could be used for strike-threat pressures.
From the researches of scholars such as T. S. Ashton (who have dug into the correspondence of industrial firms during the period we are considering), we know today what was not known at the time by the law-enforcement authorities. There were indeed secret discussions among industrialists relating to wages. As such, the discussions may have been “conspiracies”—infringements (by “employers”) of the 1800 Combination Act. Yet there were “few, if any prosecutions.45 It is understandable, therefore, that knowledgeable humanitarians of the day should have felt that gross injustice to the workers was involved. But for reasons to be discussed in Chapters 8 and 9, it is highly doubtful whether the early industrial concerns could ever have wielded effective monopsonistic power. The real purpose of the apparent collusion the researches mentioned have disclosed was, I am inclined to think, defense. We know that many trade unions were being formed during the 1800-1826 period, despite the illegality of “combination.” It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that representatives of the investors should have felt it essential to cooperate, not to exploit labor monopsonistically, but in order to resist wage-rate concessions wrung from managements confronted with the strike-threat “in detail.” (See p. 47.)
It was, however, the laxity of enforcement of the anticonspiracy law, not any harshness or savagery with which the law was administered, which puzzles the student who is trying to get to the truth. The findings of the Webbs themselves suggest that the police seldom took any initiative unless requested specifically by “employers”; and that “employers” then, as now, would do almost anything in their power to avoid the staff disharmony and the lasting bitterness which, they knew, followed a defeated strike. Far from being belligerent, managements wanted industrial peace, almost at any cost.
It is possible indeed that the widespread tolerance of illegal strike-threat action encouraged the unions to believe that, if they played their cards correctly, particularly their political cards, they were beyond the law. Already members of Parliament whose constituencies included union members had recognized that they constituted a serious voting bloc. For instance, the Webbs themselves mention how both the Whig and Tory members for Liverpool thought it expedient to take up the unions’ case against the 1799 Act. Of course, laxity in the law’s administration may have created an impression of harshness when prosecutions were brought. Prosecutions may have come to be so unexpected and capricious as to be regarded as outrages. But far from enforcement having been carried out in a spirit of repression, the authorities were obviously “reluctant to interfere in such disputes unless the public peace was thought to be endangered,”46 and even so, in less-dangerous situations, the courts appear to have preferred simply to insist upon the dissolution of the unlawful organizations rather than apply the legislatively authorized sanctions. They tried as far as possible to achieve obedience of the law without the imposition of fines or imprisonment.
In part, what seems to have been happening during the first quarter of the nineteenth century was that, because the machinery of enforcement was still inadequate, unions could, by proceeding with careful strategy, often rely upon no action being taken against them. They were advised by such shrewd friends as Francis Place—probably the most successful political intriguer of history47—and numerous politicians who had perceived the vote-swinging power of the unions.
As an example of the alleged “repression” which occurred after 1799, we can consider the case of the cotton weavers. They were permitted to organize openly and agitate for legislation which would permit the justices to fix wage rates for them in accordance with the provisions of the outmoded Statute of Artificers. After several years of costly activities, it at last became clear that their efforts had been fruitless. They saw their privileges evaporating as a great increase in the numbers who found their most remunerative outlets in cotton weaving occurred. A huge strike (for those days) was then organized. But no “savage” suppression of these incontrovertibly illegal activities followed. On the contrary, authorities allowed the strike to last for three weeks before calling the police. Then, “the whole strike committee was arrested by the police.” They were found guilty and sentenced to from 4 to 18 months imprisonment.48 There was neither injustice nor savagery in the sentences.
As additional evidence of an almost unbelievable leniency in enforcing the combination laws between 1800 and 1824, we can consider the calico printers. Unable to get any effective protection from the law, a calico manufacturer expressed his grievances in a pamphlet in 1815. Addressing the union, he charged
We have by turns conceded what we all ought manfully to have resisted; and you, elated with success, have been led on from one extravagant demand to another, till the burden is become too intolerable to be borne. You fix the number of our apprentices, and oftentimes even the number of our journeymen. You dismiss certain proportions of our hands, and you will not allow others to come in their stead. You stop all surface machines, and to the length even to destroy the rollers before our face. You restrict the cylinder machine, and even dictate the kind of pattern it is to print…You dismiss our overlookers when they don’t suit you; and force obnoxious servants into our employ. Lastly, you set all subordination and good order at defiance, and instead of showing deference and respect to your employers, treat them with personal insult and contempt.49
It seems obvious that, in all the cases of which we know brought under the Combination Acts between 1800 and 1824, those charged with breaking the law (1) knew they were doing so, (2) had often organized in secret, and (3) knew the prescribed penalties which they were risking. But action in concert by the unions to insure the enforcement of the law (when it favored their members), seems to have been just as common and uninhibited during this period as it had been during previous centuries.
Nor is there evidence of further changes in judicial interpretation of the common law disadvantageous to labor after 1800, as the Webbs suggest in the phrase, “the common law doctrine… as subsequently interpreted by the judges, of itself made illegal all combinations whatsoever of journeymen to regulate the conditions of their work.”50 For “combination” in the sense attached to that word at the time (namely, “conspiracy”) had been illegal since the Middle Ages. There was nothing new in that. Are not the Webbs’ words, “to regulate the conditions of their work,” a euphemism for “unlawful activities deliberately undertaken”?
The objects of the acts of 1799 and 1800 were simply (1) to make more specific (not so much to lawyers as to the community) the illegality of collusion to force up the prices of output (including labor’s contribution to output), and (2) (a doubtfully successful object) to render the enforcement of the law less costly and less time-consuming. But what is most surprising is that, despite a certain improvement in the law’s explicitness, the apparently quite general acquiescence in collusive action which marked the eighteenth century persisted during the nineteenth. Far from enforcement having become more severe, it seems to have remained disconcertingly mild.
The passing of the generalized Combination Acts may perhaps have been a greater deterrent to strikes. It is rather difficult to judge because, despite the mildness of law enforcement, anything resembling conspicuous concerted action by the workers to fix wage rates had been relatively rare—although increasing and, before 1799, apparently becoming more and more violent. Adam Smith remarked in 1776, as though it were an unassailable fact, that workmen’s combinations “have always recourse to the loudest clamour, and sometimes to the most shocking violence and outrages.”51 In circumstances which so sober an observer as Adam Smith could describe in terms like that, was it really surprising that there should have been occasional recourse to the courts to check the spread of intimidation, disorder, and sabotage? And were not demands for special and general legislation to assist that process wholly reasonable?
The offense of “conspiracy” was not in itself, as we have seen, concerned with the use of physical force, although intimidation and bodily violence often did in practice supplement the coercive power of “peaceful” concerted action. Nevertheless, the principal purpose of some of the special Combination Acts applying to particular trades (for example, one of 1727 applying to weavers, woolcombers, and framework knitters) had been to suppress more effectively kinds of illegality which were independent of the crime of “conspiracy” (for example, assaulting or threatening masters, breaking into their houses, destroying work, etc).
The Webbs admit that “some combinations of journeymen were at all times recognized by the law” and that “many others were only spasmodically interfered with”; yet they allege that organizers (or would-be) organizers of strikes were subject to “legal persecution . . . as rebels and revolutionaries.”52 This assertion cannot be substantiated unless the leaders could be charged with “conspiracy” or organizing violence.
The case which the books most often cite to show the oppressive nature of subsequent policy in the application of the law against conspiracy is that of the “Tolpuddle martyrs.” This case involved farm workers who were trying to form an organization to force up their wage rates. They had established the “Friendly Society of Agricultural Laborers” for their village. Now as a friendly society, such an association was encouraged rather than discouraged by the law.53 But as a cloak for illegal activities (including “conspiracy”), it was not immune from prosecution. In the Tolpuddle case, however, the alleged crime was not conspiracy, but “unlawful oaths.” The society, which had an elaborate ritual and rather frightening paraphernalia—for example, a picture of Death, “painted six feet high”—was demanding loyalty through the administration of oaths. Naturally alarmed, the local farmers pointed out what was happening—preparations for strikes or violence—to the local justices, who were perhaps traditionally sympathetic to farmers (as they were not to the new industrialists). Nevertheless the justices were reluctant to get a prosecution going. They thought it preferable first to warn those concerned of the penalties which had to be imposed under the relevant law—seven years transportation. But apparently the activities of the society continued, and the authorities then felt bound to intervene. It was proved that illegal oaths had been administered—in view of the explicit warning, it seems quite recklessly and defiantly. Five ringleaders (the only members charged54) were found guilty under the “Unlawful Oaths Offenses Act” of 1797 (an act inspired by the atrocities of the French Revolution), and not under the combination laws or the common law. Under the 1797 act, the original sentence had been the death penalty; but this penalty had been reduced to seven years transportation shortly before the Tolpuddle case (a fact which in all probability had encouraged the leaders’ defiance). The law (wise or unwise) was clear-cut. The offenses were proven. The court had no option.55 Yet the Webbs describe the conviction of the Tolpuddle offenders as a “scandalous perversion of the law;”56 and because the sentence to transportation was confirmed by the Home Secretary, the Webbs refer to his “policy of repression.’57
The question remains, were the judges and J.Ps (magistrates) personally prejudiced against the “working class organizations”? I have found no evidence which might suggest bias in favor of industrialists, although in cases involving farmers, both judges and justices may have tended to feel special sympathy for the classes from which they were mostly drawn—the country gentry—or toward whom they might feel a special sense of obligation, that is, the squires and great landowners. Except for J. P.s in the newly developed industrial towns who might have known and understood the problems of the factory owners, any bias would almost certainly have been against the industrialists whose wealth and status had been built up mostly by their own thrift and acumen (i.e., not acquired in the honorable way of inheritance); whose culture differed markedly from that of an aristocratic tradition; and whose competition for labor was resented (because it was attracting labor to the urban areas and forcing up agricultural wage rates).
We must remember two things about what the Webbs describe as the “savagery” of law enforcement between 1799 and 1824, as well as later. Firstly, the criminal law at that time imposed what we today would regard as ferocious penalties for offenses in all spheres. Secondly, the attitudes of governments and responsible judges were influenced by the shock caused when the murders and other atrocities of the French Revolution became known. No one in England could imagine how the French Government could have been so short-sighted, weak, and ineffective as to allow a group of fanatics to gain control.
But the common law tradition which frowned on “conspiracy” or “restraint of trade” in both Britain and the United States had been throughout protective of the rights of the ordinary man, of the unprivileged, and of the poor. And the destruction of that tradition over the years was a victory for the privileged, not for the exploited or “oppressed.”
I have discussed the position of “organized labor” before the law during what is usually believed to have been the blackest period in British social history—the economic dark age of the Industrial Revolution—mainly in order to illustrate how, in studies of industrial relations, the most preposterous myths can gain widespread acceptance and perpetuation. But similarly distorted accounts of experience in this century—new fables relating to “labor’s bitter struggle”—are becoming part of supposedly unchallengeable history. They condition public opinion everywhere. Even the most courageous and independent critics of the strike-threat regime are today apt to refer to the miserable conditions of former times (say, before the Wagner Act in the United States) when workers were intolerably treated. With such critics, this may perhaps be because of the tactics of exposition; for the argument typically goes on to suggest that today the position has been reversed. Unions, they say, no longer fight injustices, they inflict them. But this has been true, I suggest, of strike threat activity in all ages.
1. Tibor Scitovsky, “A Survey of Some Theories of Income Distribution,” in National Bureau of Economic Research, The Behavior of Income Shares:Selected Theoretical and Empirical Issues. Studies in Income and Wealth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964), 27: 15-16.
2. An apparent phenomenal decline during the last half century in the efficiency of school teaching in respect of literacy and arithmetic, combined with compulsory prolonged schooling, must have braked this tendency.
3. Albert Rees, The Economics of Trade Unions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 80.
4. For evidence supporting this assertion, see pp. 245-247.
5. Arthur A. Shenfield, “The Businessman and the Politician,” Modern Age 15 (1971): 149.
6. The symposium, Capitalism and the Historians, edited by F. A. Hayek (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954) is of the greatest importance in this field. See also W. H. Hutt, “The Poor Who Were With Us,” Encounter, November 1972; and a most important, recently published symposium, The Long Debate on Poverty, ed., A. Seldon (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1973).
7. In Britain, for various reasons, the abolition of child labor in those industries in which their tasks were relatively light, preceded the abandonment of child labor in trades such as dyeing, or in mining, or in agriculture, in which children continued for some time to work under more exacting and even less healthy conditions (on the whole).
8. Except for wars and revolutions and their aftermaths.
9. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The History of Trade Unionism (London: Longmans Green and Co., 1956).46.
10. Where color prejudice has been powerfully present, as in the United States, South Africa and, of recent years, Britain, the unions have been the chief protagonists of the less obvious (and hence the most effective) color bars.
11. Ibid., p. 45.
12. Enforced fixed proportions in the remuneration of different “grades” of labor. (See Chapter 8).
13. Indeed, as I have shown elsewhere, in South Africa the enforcement of “the rate for the job” has throughout created a color bar in relation to which all other restraints, such as “job reservation,” are of almost negligible importance. See W. H. Hutt, The Economics of the Colour Bar: A Study of the Economic Origins and Consequences of Racial Segregation in Africa (London: Andre Deutsch Ltd., 1964), pp. 72-86.
14. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, ed. Edwin Cannan (New York: Random House, The Modern Library, 1937), p. 66. The law did prohibit masters from combining to raise prices. (See p. 17, note 4, above and p. 31.)
15. Ibid., p. 67.
16. But see p. 34.
17. George J. Stigler, “The Economist and the State,” American Economic Review 55 (1965): 14.
18. S. and B. Webb, op. cit., p. 46 (my italics). On the whole, Parliament sided with the craft guilds until the middle of the eighteenth century (by which time their effectiveness was rapidly weakening); but with the spread of laissez-faire ideas in the latter part of the century, Parliament was less inclined to protect craft privileges.
19. So effectively has the myth I am here exposing been propagated that even in Amien A. Alchiàn and William R. Allen’s University Economics (2nd ed.; Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1967), which contains by all odds the most satisfactory elementary discussion of the labor union issue to be found in any currently used textbook, the student is told that the British anticonspiracy laws tried to abolish “the right to form a union—which is a very different thing from a strike.” Associations of working people were encouraged rather than frowned upon provided they did not resort to anything resembling the strike. Nor is this textbook quite correct in saying that “the threat of violence via the strike was basically what anticonspiracy laws aimed to stop. . . .“ (p. 406). This was true only of certain of the special statutes, referred to on pp. 29-30. The gist of any “conspiracy” offense was concerted action to agree upon a price or wage rate. (See p. 31.) Violence was always a separate transgression.
20. The London carpenters were charged with trying to keep “foreigners” (i.e., workmen from outside London) from accepting less than sixpence a day.
21. Wyclif was attacking the masons employed in church building. The quotation is A. H. Gardner, Outline of English Architecture (New York: Scribners, 1946). 24.
22. Quoted in M. D. George, "The Combination Laws Reconsidered", cited in Economic Journal History Supplement, 1927, p. 215.
23. Important instances were in the woolen, cotton, linen, silk, hemp, fustian, hatters, dyers, pressers and the iron industries.
24. This is surely indicated in the very name of an early general statute: Act of Conspiracies of Victuallers and Craftsmen, 1549. Consumers’ interests were paramount.
25. I say “apparent” because the evidence of growing union activity is mainly indicated in the increasing number of court cases involving unions; and this may have been correlated with rising industrial outputs or due to more vigorous law enforcement.
26. One very defensible practice of those days (which survived into the nineteenth century) was the subsidization of craftsmen in the form of what were called “traveling” or “tramping” benefits if they were prepared to leave an area in which there was unemployment. This could have led to an improved allocation of labor over area—greater geographical mobility.
27. Smith, op. cit., p. 126.
28. The King v. Eccles, quoted in Donald Dewey, Monopoly in Economics and Law (Chicago: Rand McNally and Company, 1959), p. 120n.
29. Quoted in Webb, op. cit., p. 70n.
30. The amendments concerned provision for arbitration.
31. Dewey, op. cit., p. 117.
32. Webb, op. cit., pp. 72 and 81.
33. George, op. cit., pp. 214-15.
34. Webb, op. cit., pp. 64-70.
35. J. L. and Barbara Hammond, The Town Labourer, 1760-1832:The New Civilisation (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1917), p. 129.
36. S. and B. Webb, op. cit., p. 64.
37. Ibid., p. 63.
38. See the Minutes of Evidence of the Select Committee on Artisans and Machinery (1824) and George, op. cit. Mrs. George’s judgment (which coincides with my own on this issue) is all the more powerful because her obvious bias is against the masters. For instance, one of the examples she gives of the lax enforcement of the law against strikes is of the stocking weavers whose union had organized strikes with impunity in 1817, 1819, and 1821. Only after the third strike was there a prosecution and four members of the workers’ committee convicted, but released after successful appeal to the sessions. “The prosecution was a monstrous one,” says Mrs. George (op. cit., p. 216). But the strike was unquestionably a criminal act, and Mrs. George (normally an exemplary historian) does not disclose the grounds for her caustic adjective.
39. Or other conditions of work.
40. Seep. 31.
41. Dewey, op. cit., p. l88n.
42. Webb, op. cit., pp. 74-5.
43. Ibid., p. 59, In the Webbs’ account, there is no hint that, at the time, increasing numbers were raising their earnings by finding better-paid employment in the spheres in which the supposed “degradation of wages” was occurring.
44. Whether, on the whole, this statute facilitated the exploitation of labor through monopsony or whether, through response to workers’ pressures, it conferred labor privilege is uncertain. It had long been of no clear effect when its wage-fixing clauses were repealed in 1813. The statute as a whole was repealed in 1824.
45. T. S. Ashton, The Industrial Revolution (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 93.
46. Dewey, op. cit., p. 119.
47. See Graham Wallas’s great and fascinating biography, The Life of Francis Place, 1771-1854 (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1898; New York: Knopf, 1918). Wallas was a frank admirer of that extraordinary man.
48. Webb, op. cit., pp. 58-59.
49. Quoted in Ibid., pp. 75-6.
50. Ibid., pp. 58-59. My italics.
51. Smith, op. cit., p. 67.
52. Webb, op. cit., p. 64. My italics.
53. An Act of 1793 was intended to foster concerted working-class initiative to establish friendly societies.
54. Every member of the society could have been charged according to the Act.
55. Those who condemn the Tolpuddle sentences point out that the only evidence given about meetings of the friendly society (which had administered the illegal oaths) was that they had been orderly. At that stage, however, the meetings would naturally have been orderly. But where the authorities had not been so alert, organization of the kind which in this case was anticipated and prevented, had brought arson and murder. In certain other localities, haystacks and farms had been destroyed.
56. Ibid., p. 146.
57. Ibid., p. 146. Five years of the seven-year transportation sentences were subsequently remitted, although, through someone’s blunder, it was two years later before four of the five returned to Britain. It was quite common to remit sentences or quash convictions in “conspiracy” cases also, once illegal activities had been abandoned.
Professor Hutt writes about The Strike-Threat System:
•“The strike-threat system is an intolerable abuse of economic freedom. The strike is a type of warfare under which privileged groups can gain at the expense of the unprivileged.” •“I shall argue that while taxation can have limited effects in bringing about property and income transfers from rich to poor, the strike threat cannot. Forcing up the price of labor in different firms, occupations or industries does not effect an income redistribution from investors in general to workers in general.” •“I must make it clear that I do not dismiss the more positive side of union functions. The union framework has become an indispensable part of the institutional apparatus of this age. But the private use of coercive power in determining the price of labor is not a necessary concomitant of unionism, although it is its overriding purpose at present.” •“The strike-threat system must accept main responsibility for the political expediency of inflation in modern societies.” •“I want the reader to consider whether the survival of the democratic system may not be dependent upon a general recognition of the illegitimacy of privately motivated coercion in all forms.”