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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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‘Under Sufferance’: Unions Outside the Law, 1825–1866

‘Under Sufferance’: Unions Outside the Law, 1825–1866

(p.45) 2 ‘Under Sufferance’: Unions Outside the Law, 1825–1866
Governments, Labour, and the Law in Mid-Victorian Britain


Oxford University Press

Legitimate combinations in Britain were conceived of in 1825 as occasional meetings of workmen to decide the level of wages for which they were willing to sell their labour. During the 1850s official opinion, based on a theory of an unregulated labour market, more readily acknowledged and accepted — though it regretted — the fact of strikes, than it did trade unionism. Whether the Liberal-Tory ministers intended it or not, trade unions after 1825 enjoyed in practice a form of legal toleration. This chapter considers the legal status of trade unions in Britain as institutions during the period 1825-1866, along with various interpretations of unionism and the position of trade unions with respect to legalisation.

Keywords:   Britain, trade unions, legitimate combinations, strikes, legalisation, unionism

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