How important were developments in trade unionism 1800-1850


How important were t

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  • Over these 50 years, Union activity had grown and there were larger-scale organisations
  • The types of activity were more diverse in 1850 than in 1800 and there was more political awareness among members
  • There had been attempts to establish regional and national organisations with membership drawn from different trades
  • Some Union activity had been legalised and Unions were not seen purely in terms of conspiracies and secrets oaths


  • Unions had not caught up with economic change and were still essentially associations of skilled men as much opposed to unskilled labour as to employers
  • Most workers were not in trade unions and union membership was still relatively small
  • Unions had not maintained the privelidged economic status of the skilled worker against the growth of technology and new industrial organisation.
  • The skilled worker had become politically aware but few had gained more political rights
  • What unions could legitimately do to persuade workers to support strikes was still unclear. Both judges and MPs were unsympathetic to union activity
  • Employers developed some effective strategies to counter union restrictions
  • Innovation depended on dedicated individuals such as Robert Owen
  • Other organisations such as Chartists, friendly societies, co-operatives and religious groups like Primitive Methodists, also attracted working-class support and competed with unions for the time and loyalty of skilled workers


A severe lack of unity and small numbers of membership, prevented trade unions from making sufficient progress to label the period as successful. Arguably however, these early unions provided a basis for the future and allowed skilled workers to see the flaws in the system and progressivly work to change it, seen in the improvements from the Grand General Union of Operatove Cotton Spinners to the GNCTU


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