Trade Unionism as a national movement was a product of the Industrial Revolution. But long before this, combinations of the employed had become a familiar feature of English life. Sporadic, and usually short-lived, combinations had appeared from an early date, some even in the Middle Ages; and by the eighteenth century they were becoming more numerous, stable, and effective, at any rate among the skilled artisans in a number of urban crafts. As yet, only a small section were capable of organising themselves. The vast mass who earned their living on the land, the many thousands in the personal service of the rich, and the unskilled ‘mobs’ of the cities — these together formed a much larger section of the wage-earning classes than to-day, and there could be no prospect of organisation among them, though there might be rioting, especially in periods of exceptional scarcity. Moreover, some wage-earners, at any rate in market-towns and villages, had subsidiary occupations — perhaps a plot of land to supplement what they earned by following a trade; and some could still reasonably expect to become masters or at any rate semi-independent producers. The ‘labouring poor’ formed a very heterogeneous class; there were among them, however, life-long wage-earners, skilled craftsmen who were building up Trade Unions with a continuous existence.
KeywordsMinimum Wage Trade Union Collective Bargaining Skilled Artisan Friendly Society
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