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The History of Trade Unionism - (Revised edition, extended to 1920)
It is not our intention to delay the reader here by a conventional preface. As every one knows, the preface is never written until the story is finished; and this story will not be finished in our time, or for many generations after us. A word or two as to our method of work and its results is all that we need say before getting to our main business. Though we undertook the study of the Trade Union movement, not to prove any proposition of our own, but to discover what problems it had to present to us, our minds were not so blank on the subject that we had no preconception of the character of these problems. We thought they would almost certainly be economic, pointing a common economic moral; and that expectation still seems to us so natural, that if it had been fulfilled we should have accepted its fulfilment without comment. But it was not so. Our researches were no sooner fairly in hand than we began to discover that the effects of Trade Unionism upon the conditions of labour, and upon industrial organisation and progress, are so governed by the infinite technical variety of our productive processes, that they vary from industry to industry and even from trade to trade; and the economic moral varies with them. Where we expected to find an economic thread for a treatise, we found a spiders web; and from that moment we recognised that what [Pg viii] we had first to write was not a treatise, but a history. And we saw that even a history would be impossible to follow unless we separated the general history of the whole movement from the particular histories of thousands of trade societies, some of which have maintained a continuous existence from the last century, whilst others have cropped up, run their brief course, and disappeared. Thus, when we had finished our labour of investigating the records of practically every important trade society from one end of the kingdom to the other, and accumulated piles of extracts, classified under endless trades and subdivisions of trades, we found that we must exclude from the first volume all but a small selection from those documents which appeared to us most significant with regard to the development of the general movement. Many famous strikes and lock-outs, many interesting trade disputes, many sensational prosecutions, and some furious outbursts of riot and crime, together with many drier matters relating to particular trades, have had either to be altogether omitted from our narrative, or else accorded a strictly subordinate reference in their relation to the history of Trade Unionism as a whole. All analysis of the economic effects of Trade Union action we reserve for a subsequent volume on the Problems of Trade Unionism, for which we shall draw more fully from the annals of the separate unions. And in that volume the most exacting seeker for economic morals will be more than satisfied; for there will be almost as many economic morals drawn as societies described. That history of the general movement, to which we have confined ourselves here, will be found to be part of the political history of England. In spite of all the pleas of modern historians for less history of the actions of governments, and more descriptions of the manners and customs of the governed, it remains true that history, however it may relieve and enliven itself with descriptions of the manners and morals of the people, must, if it is to be history at all, follow the course of continuous organisations. The [Pg ix] history of a perfectly democratic State would be at once the history of a government and of a people. The history of Trade Unionism is the history of a State within our State, and one so jealously democratic that to know it well is to know the English working man as no reader of middle-class histories can know him. From the early years of the eighteenth century down to the present day, Democracy, Freedom of Association, Laisser-faire, Regulation of the Hours and Wages of Labour, Co-operative Production, Free Trade, Protection, and many other distinct and often contradictory political ideals, have from time to time seized the imagination of the organised wage-earners and made their mark on the course of the Trade Union movement. And, since 1867 at least, wherever the ideals have left their mark on Trade Unionism, Trade Unionism has left its mark on politics. We shall be able to show that some of those overthrows of our party governments which have caused most surprise in the middle and upper classes, and for which the most far-fetched reasons have been given by them and their journalists and historians after the event, carry their explanation on the surface for any one who knows what the Trade Unionists of the period were thinking. Such demonstrations, however, will be purely incidental, as we have written throughout of Trade Unionism for its own sake, and not for that of the innumerable sidelights which it throws on party politics. ......Buy Now (To Read More)
Ebook Number: 66887
Author: Webb, Beatrice
Release Date: Dec 6, 2021
Contributor (Author): Webb, Sidney, 1859-1947
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