By W. Hamish Fraser
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Additional resources for A History of British Trade Unionism, 1700-1998
In most cases such attempts were short-lived. The obstacles to their success were great: the casual nature of much of the work; the ease with which new workers could be trained to a particular task; the pressure on jobs from displaced rural workers; the lack of education and organising skill; the low level of earnings. But one can find examples of general labourers’ unions as early as the 1830s. In the 1850s Clydeside had a Harbour Labourers’ Society. During the London building lock-out of 1859 there was a Builders’ Labourers’ Union.
Maurice, then the Positivists, such as Frederic Harrison and E. S. 15 Trade unions had long faced a hostile press and this continued in the 1850s and 1860s. 16 It was claimed that they intimidated workmen and employers by violence and were against the spirit of the age by trying to maintain a protective system at a time when, it was agreed, market forces should have free rein. They were valueless since they sought to flout the laws of political economy when they tried to alter wages which only supply and demand could really affect.
The hewers had an element of control over who could come into the work gang and in older collieries they tried to recruit from within the family and community. They could not do this in the new pits in South Wales and elsewhere where largely new communities were being created. They had to find other means of trying to maintain their earnings, usually by trying to restrict production in order to keep up the price of coal. Variations in the traditions and markets of different coalfields meant that miners generally stuck to county organisations.
A History of British Trade Unionism, 1700-1998 by W. Hamish Fraser