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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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Union Funds, Free Labour, and the Franchise

Union Funds, Free Labour, and the Franchise

(p.65) 3 Union Funds, Free Labour, and the Franchise
Governments, Labour, and the Law in Mid-Victorian Britain


Oxford University Press

When an outrage widely attributed to trade unionists coincided with the parliamentary reform crisis, the Home Office in Britain could no longer avoid dealing with their anomalous legal position. The detonation of a canister of gunpowder in October 1866 in the house of a former member of the Saw Grinders' Union in Hereford Street, Sheffield, led the Home Office to create a royal commission chaired by a recently retired judge, Sir William Erle. The Erle commission was appointed during a crisis in relations between employers and organised workmen in the iron industry. The anomalous status of trade unions was formally exposed when the Court of Queen's Bench delivered its judgment in the famous case of Hornby v Close on January 16, 1867. Contrary to what was frequently stated at the time, and repeated since, the court did not decide that trade union funds could be plundered without redress. This chapter also looks at court interpretations of free labour.

Keywords:   trade unions, trade union funds, free labour, Britain, Home Office, Erle commission

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