As Sidney and Beatrice Webb declared in their great History of Trade Unionism (1894), ‘Strikes are as old as history itself’, and wherever a situation existed in which an employer employed more than one worker there was the possibility of these workers combining to exert pressure on their employer. Such early organisations had but a brief existence, and it is not until the eighteenth century that substantial evidence of the existence of permanent organisations of journeymen is to be found. However, even ephemeral unions were a cause of concern to the authorities, and as early as 1381 the corporation of the City of London decreed ‘that no person should make congregations, alliances, or covins of the people, privily or openly’, particularly ‘those belonging to the trades’. Action was taken against journeymen’s organisations, but evidence of continued activity is plentiful in court records. In 1387 a group of journeymen cordwainers was charged with making ‘congregations, or unions, or sects’, and in 1396 a group of saddlers was accused of using its semi-religious fraternity for trade purposes (1).
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.