By A. E. Musson
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Extra info for British Trade Unions, 1800–1875
The history of trade unionism in the later 1830s and early 1840s has been inadequately investigated, but there is abundant evidence in the Report of the Select Committee on Combinations in 1838, and also in local newspapers and surviving, though scrappy, trade-union records, to indicate that a large number of societies remained in existence after 1834. They had to face great difficulties between 1836 and 1842 because of serious trade depression: the burden of unemployment, wage reductions and loss of membership may have caused some societies to collapse, but most of them appear to 34 have survived.
But they were active again in the boom of the mid-1830s, as evidenced by the great 41 Preston strike of 1836. The weavers, moreover, did generally fight defensively in depressions, though they were also active in the boom of 1824-5; after 1830, however, they were too weak to support much trade-union action and turned to politics. , during booms, when conditions were favourable, the latter tending to strike against reductions during economic depressions, rather than for advances in better times.
Moreover, though disillusionment with the Reform Bill may have combined with trade recovery to stimulate trade unionism in 1833-4, culminating in the 'Grand National', the movement broke before the boom reached its height in 1835-6. After that date, the facts fit the trade cycle theory much better: slump in the late 18308 and early 18408 caused trade union- 40 ism to decline, while social distress was the main force behind Chartism; trade recovery in the mid-1840s brought tradeunion revival and a decline of Chartism; the situation was reversed again after the economic crisis of 1846-7.
British Trade Unions, 1800–1875 by A. E. Musson