The Working Class Movement
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The Anti-Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 did not succeed in preventing the spread of trade unionism. Workmen continued to combine in unions and to further their aims by strike action; employers, often in fear of retaliation, neglected or refused to prosecute trade unionists; magistrates, though in many instances overtly sympathetic to employers rather than workers, preferred on the whole to stand aside from industrial conflict; and the Government, which had acquiesced in the acts of 1799 and 1800 under pressure from employers, tended normally to confine its action to the preservation of law and order, a task which extended its limited resources to the utmost. Thus there were few prosecutions under these acts: the great majority of successful prosecutions of trade unionists during the first quarter of the nineteenth century were instituted under common law. As the following letter indicates, trade unionism flourished in spite of the Anti-Combination laws. Colquhoun was Lord Advocate of Scotland in 1812, and Lord Sidmouth Home Secretary in the new Liverpool ministry.
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