The Historical Legacy

  • Michael Moran
Part of the Studies in Policy Making book series


Although unions existed in embryonic form at least as long ago as the sixteenth century, modern British trade unionism is essentially a creation of the Industrial Revolution. The beginnings may be dated from the development of ‘New Model’ unions, especially the Amalgamated Society of Engineers founded in 1851.1 These early unions had three characteristic features. First, they were occupationally sectarian. They normally organised highly skilled artisans and attempted to protect the interests of their members by restricting the labour supply through, for instance, control of apprenticeship schemes.2 Second, though national organisations and a degree of central financial control marked out the unions as ‘new model’, they were still highly decentralised. They had often been formed from an amalgamation of local or regional organisations, and most substantive bargaining between workers and employers seems still to have taken place at district rather than national level.3 Finally, the national leadership of these unions was constitutionalist in politics and conservative so far as industrial policy was concerned. Strikes were discouraged except under extreme circumstances, and while many leaders were on the radical wing of Liberalism the national leadership acted largely as a pressure group seeking piecemeal, restricted concessions through Parliamentary lobbying.4 As a symbol of this the main TUC body, the Parliamentary Committee, was not replaced by a General Council until 1920.5


Trade Union Collective Bargaining Industrial Relation Historical Legacy Union Leader 
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© Michael Moran 1977

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  • Michael Moran

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