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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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Reconciling Unions and the Law

Reconciling Unions and the Law

(p.89) 4 Reconciling Unions and the Law
Governments, Labour, and the Law in Mid-Victorian Britain


Oxford University Press

Trade unions in Britain were denied legal recognition because their aims and practices were regarded as detrimental to the community at large and ultimately also to union members themselves. One view held that unions should be allowed a more or less unconditional form of legalisation. The contrary view insisted that the law was right to subject unions to disabilities if their objectives conflicted with prevailing notions of public policy, especially those drawn from the maxims of political economy. Legalization should therefore be on restrictive terms, purging union rulebooks of those provisions which the courts had held to be illegal, and enforcing changes to the way unions conducted their affairs. This chapter examines issues related to settling of labour disputes through arbitration and conciliation, debates concerning the separation of trade from the unions' funds for welfare benefits, and the Erle commission's report on the freedom to combine.

Keywords:   Britain, labour law, trade unions, political economy, Erle commission, welfare benefits, freedom to combine

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