Ch 14 The Organisation of the Working Class

CH.14-THE ORGANISATION OF THE WORKING CLASS

Hits: 1871

CHAPTER XIV: THE ORGANISATION OF THE WORKING CLASS

SECTION 3: THE  NEW MODEL

 

TRADE UNIONS HAD MOVED BEYOND THE ‘GRAND NATIONAL’ AFTER 1848, WHEN HOPES OF STRIKING POLITICAL VICTORIES VANISHED.

THE NEW MODEL WAS NOT A TRADES UNION BUT A TRADE UNION, MOSTLY MADE UP OF SKILLED ARTISANS.

IN 1835, ‘THE LONDON COMPOSITORS’ LED THE WAY.

WAGES, THE PRICE OF LABOUR POWER, WERE SIMPLY THOUGHT OF IN TERMS OF THE LAWS OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND.

THE FLINT GLASS MAKERS DECLARED IN 1849 THAT "THE SCARCITY OF LABOUR WAS ONE OF THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINICPLES: IT WAS SIMPLY A QUESTION OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND.”

TOMMY RAMSEY OF THE DURHAM MINERS STATED "LADS UNITE AND BETTER YOUR CONDITIONS
WHEN EGGS ARE SCARCE, EGGS ARE DEAR
WHEN MEN ARE SCARCE, MEN ARE DEAR."

THE RESULT WAS TO RESTRICT LABOUR VIA APPRENTICES, DISCOURAGE OVERTIME AND, IN EXTREME CASES, SUBSIDISE EMIGRATION. ALL OF THIS INSTEAD OF STRIKE ACTION.

SUCH WERE THE PRINCIPLES OF THE UNIONS IN THE 1850S, WHICH WERE RIGIDLY EXCLUSIVE AND OFTEN HEREDITARY AND SERVED THE LABOUR ARISTOCRACY.

THEY EVEN BROUGHT BUSINESS METHODS TO THE BRITISH WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT AND MADE UNIONISM PART OF A WORKING MAN’S LIFE.

THE DANGER WAS LAY IN THE UNION BECOMING MORE A FRIENDLY SOCIETY, WHOSE REAL PURPOSE WAS BEING LOST.

ANOTHER LESS DANGEROUS ACTIVITY INVOLVED THE UNION HELPING IN THE SELF EDUCATION OF ITS MEMBERS, INSTEAD OF CAMPAIGNING FOR FREE EDUCATION FOR ALL.

MOST OF THE ORGANISATIONAL WORK HAD BEEN DONE BY VOLUNTEERS IN THEIR SPARE TIME, OR BY THE MIDDLE CLASS, BUT IT WAS QUICKLY REALISED THAT FULL-TIME SPECIALISED OFFICIALS WERE NEEDED FOR NEGOTIATING, ESPECIALLY ON A NATIONAL SCALE.

THE FIRST NEW MODEL UNION WAS THE ‘AMALGAMATED SOCIETY OF ENGINEERS’, FOLLOWED BY CRAFT UNIONS, SUCH AS ‘THE STEAM ENGINE AND MACHINE MAKERS SOCIETY’. THESE UNIONS HAD AN INCOME FROM DUES OF £500 A WEEK. ‘THE IRON FOUNDERS’ AND ‘STONEMASONS’ EACH HAD MEMBERSHIPS OF 4,000 TO 5,000 MEN.

DURING THE NEXT TEN YEARS, THE UNIONS GREW IN STRENGTH.

EMPLOYER BREAKERS TRIED TO SMASH THE UNION BY REFUSING TO EMPLOY WORKERS WHO DID NOT SIGN ‘THE DOCUMENT’ UNDERTAKING NOT TO JOIN A UNION.

WHEREAS THIS TACTIC HAD ACHIEVED SOME SUCCESS BEFORE, IT NOW FAILED, HOWEVER, AND THE TABLES WERE TURNED ON THE EMPLOYERS.

IN 1853, ‘THE LANCASHIRE COTTON OPERATIVES’ WAS FORMED, AND OTHERS WERE DOUBLING THEIR MEMBERSHIPS.

‘THE SOCIETY OF CARPENTERS’ WAS FOUNDED IN 1860 AND SOON BECAME THE SECOND BIGGEST UNION AFTER A SUCCESFUL AND STUBBORN STRIKE IN 1859. IT CONVINCED MEN OF POWER OF THE STRENGTH OF THE ORGANISED UNION.

THE INNER CIRCLE OF UNION CENTRAL LEADERSHIP BECAME KNOWN AS THE ‘JUNTA’, AND IT WAS THERE THAT THE POLITICAL QUESTIONS WERE BEING ASKED. THE FORMATION OF ‘THE LONDON TRADES COUNCIL’ WAS A RADICAL CIRCLE, WHICH ADDRESSED A WIDER PUBLIC.

HOWEVER, WHILE MUCH THE JUNTA INTERESTED ITSELF IN POLITICS, IT WAS NOT THE POLITICS OF THE CHARTISTS. IT HAD NO CONCEPT OF LEADING AN INDEPENDENT CLASS MOVEMENT AND USED ITS INFLUENCE TO EXERT PRESSURE ON EXISTING PARTIES.

IT PARTICIPATED IN THE ‘REFORM’ AGITATION OF 1866-7 AND INVOLVED ITSELF IN THE ABUSES OF MASTER/SERVANT LAW.

IT STOOD TO THE LEFT OF THE LIBERAL PARTY, AND THUS IT WAS POSSIBLE FOR IT TO COLLABORATE WITH THE EUROPEAN REVOLUTIONARIES ON THE EXECUTIVE OF THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL.

ITS INDUSTRIAL POLICY WAS, AS THE WEBBS SAID, “RESTRICTED TO SECURING FOR EVERY WORKMAN THOSE TERMS WHICH THE BEST EMPLOYER WERE WILLING TO VOLUNTARILY GRANT.”

HOWEVER IT REMAINED “POSSESSED WITH A MANIA FOR COMPROMISE AND THIRST FOR RESPECTABILITY.”

BUT IT COMPRISED HONEST AND CAPABLE MEN AND ACHIEVED A GREAT DEAL.

THE JUNTA BECAME THE INFORMAL ‘TUC GENERAL COUNCIL’. ITS FINAL ACHIEVEMENT WAS IN 1871 WHEN IT FOUGHT CONSPIRACY LAWS AND HELPED PUT AN END TO ILLEGAL TRADE UNION ACTIVITY.

IN 1874, THE UNION STOOD IN THE GENERAL ELECTION AS THE ‘RADICALS’, INDEPENDENT OF THE LIBERALS AND THE TORY PARTY.

HOWEVER, THE NEW MODEL WAS BECOMING ANTIQUATED, AND A PHASE AND ‘NEW UNIONISM’ WAS NEEDED TO REPLACE IT.

THE AGE OF MONOPOLY, IN WHICH THESE UNIONS HAD GROWN UP, WAS NEARING ITS CLOSE, AND THE INCREASING MISERY OF MILLIONS, FOR WHOM THEY DID NOT CATER, WAS A PRESSING CONCERN.

THE FIRST DEVELOPMENT CORRESPONDING TO THE NEW MODEL COMPRISED THE ‘COOPERATIVE SOCIETIES’.

THE EARLIEST SERVED TO BREAK THE MONOPOLY OF THE MILLERS AND PROVIDE CHEAP FLOUR.

THEY INCLUDED ‘THE HULL ANTI-MILL SOCIETY’ OF 1795 AND ‘THE DEVONPORT UNION MILL’ OF 1817.

OWENITE UTOPIANISM AND COOPERATIVES WERE HAILED AS THE KEY TO A PEACEFUL SUPERSESSION OF CAPITALISM.

THE BRIGHTON SOCIETY IN 1829 WAS SO DESCRIBED:

“THEY PURCHASED AT WHOLESALE PRICES SUCH ARTICLES AS THEY WERE IN DAILY HABIT OF CONSUMING… ADDING THE DIFFERENCE OR PROFIT TO THE COMMON STOCK - THE FUNDAMENTAL RULE WAS TO ACCUMULATE FUNDS UNTIL SUFFICIENT TO EMPLOY ALL MEMBERS THEREON.”

COMMUNITIES, SUCH AS OWEN’S ORBISTON IN SCOTLAND, WERE ESTABLISHED BUT DISAPPEARED AGAIN IN THE 1830S.

THE NEW MODEL COOPERATIVE OF THE ‘ROCHDALE PIONEERS’ BEGAN IN 1844, PAID DIVIDENDS ON PURCHASES AND BEGAN TO ESTABLISH ITSELF SUCCESSFULLY AND STRICTLY FOR BUSINESS.

IN 1860, THE ‘CWS COOPERATIVE WHOLESALE SOCIETY’ CAME INTO BEING AND BEGAN TO PROCESS FOOD IN ITS OWN FACTORIES THAT WAS PRODUCED ON ITS OWN FARMS.

IN IT, THOUSANDS OF WORKERS LEARNED HOW TO ORGANISE AND ADMINISTER A LARGE SCALE BUSINESS ENTERPRISE AND HAVE SINCE DEMONSTRATED CONCLUSIVELY THAT THE ABILITY TO DO SO IS NOT CONFINED TO THE CAPITALIST CLASS.

NEXT – SOCIALISM AND THE ORGANISATION OF THE UNSKILLED

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