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Governments, Labour, and the Law in Mid-Victorian BritainThe Trade Union Legislation of the 1870s$
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Mark Curthoys

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780199268894

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199268894.001.0001

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Conclusion: Combination and the Liberal State

Conclusion: Combination and the Liberal State

(p.235) Conclusion: Combination and the Liberal State
Governments, Labour, and the Law in Mid-Victorian Britain


Oxford University Press

For nearly half a century after the repeal of the Combination Acts, the liberty to combine in Britain continued to be restricted, at least in theory. Governments and the courts admitted the impolicy of an outright ban on combination. However, they were unwilling to recognize trade unions or to remove the penalties for strikes, or threats of strikes, in all instances. Empirical evidence indicated that the position which favoured legal restriction conceptualized labour market relations in ways that bore little relation to the actual practice of collective bargaining and its outcomes. The legislation of the 1870s brought about the unrestricted legalisation of unions and the decriminalization of labour law, which for practical purposes protected the freedom to strike. The attack against the persistence of ‘class’ legislation was directed against labour and sought to establish the freedom to combine, in its broadest extent, as one of the foundations of the liberal state in Britain.

Keywords:   Britain, labour law, freedom to strike, strikes, trade unions, Combination Acts, collective bargaining, freedom to combine, liberal state

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