Issue date
12 Mar 2001

The TUC's first victories

IN THE FULLNESS of time, the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Trade Unions was delivered of two Reports. The Majority Report proposed that certain steps should be taken to legalise the position of trade unions in certain limited respects. The Minority Report, signed by Hughes, Harrison and Lord Lichfield, simply recommended the complete legalisation of trade unions, and called for the total repeal of the restrictions of the 1825 Act.

In the event, the Government legislation which followed consisted of two contradictory measures. The Trade Union Act of 1871 legalised the status of trade unions and accorded protection to their funds. But the clauses on picketing and intimidation of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which was part of the same year's package, left trade unionists as vulnerable to criminal prosecution as they had been before.

The Government of the day may have assumed that they had now made a final solution of the prickly trade union problem. But, as Henry Crompton pointed out in a document called "Digest of Labour Laws", which he wrote with Frederic Harrison, and which was issued by the TUC's Parliamentary Committee in 1875:

"the Judges declared that the only effect of the legislation of 1871 was to make the trade object of the strike not illegal. A strike was perfectly legal; but, if the means employed were calculated to coerce the employer, they were illegal means; and a combination to do a legal act by illegal means was a criminal conspiracy. In other words, a strike was lawful, but anything done in pursuance of a strike was criminal. Thus the judges tore up the remedial statute, and each fresh decision went further and developed new dangers."

So . . . the Trades Union Congress organised itself and the members it represented to remedy that "remedial statute". And the campaign which resulted, in 1875, in the Repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act proved to be by far the most important of the comparatively few effective operations which the TUC was able to initiate in the whole period 1868-1900.

 

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