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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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The Gas Stokers’ Case and the Freedom to Strike

The Gas Stokers’ Case and the Freedom to Strike

(p.166) 7 The Gas Stokers’ Case and the Freedom to Strike
Governments, Labour, and the Law in Mid-Victorian Britain


Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the ruling issued by Sir William Brett in R v Bunn and Others (the gas stokers' case) and its implications for Britain's trade unions and their freedom to strike. Whatever its basis, Brett's ruling has been described as one of the most momentous English court decisions of the nineteenth century. Strikers, whether trade unionists or not, found that a completely unexpected judicial intervention had ‘turned the whole flank of the Criminal Law Amendment Act (CLAA) of 1871’. A number of new issues were raised by the case: the judge's handling of the trial and his sentence on the gas stokers; the revival of the law of conspiracy in labour cases; the limits of the freedom to strike where the safety of the public was endangered; and the inequality of the Master and Servant Act, whose alteration was now added to repeal of the CLAA in the Trades Union Congress's programme, agreed at Leeds in January 1873.

Keywords:   freedom to strike, Britain, trade unions, William Brett, gas stokers, Criminal Law Amendment Act, law of conspiracy, Master and Servant Act

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