Chronography of Trades Unio0ns and Work Conditions

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Agricultural employment 1960 & 2005, % employed in sector.


Tsar Alexander II (1855-81)It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to await the day when it willbegin to abolish itself from below


30 April 2005, Ron Todd, leader of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) died (born 11 March 1927).

7 September 2000. Fuel shortages began after protestors at high diesel and petrol prices blockaded refineries. Petrol was over 80p a litre, partly because of high crude prices caused by instability in the Middle East but also due to higher fuel taxes.The �Dump the Pump� protests continued until 14 September 2000.

13 February 1990, Over 50,000 demonstrators marched in London in favour of the ambulance workers strike.

For UK coal miners� strike 1984-5 see Great Britain

31 October 1984 ACAS talks between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board broke down again.

3 July 1982, UK Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher, shortly after the Falklands War, made a speechat Cheltenham where she spoke of the �Falklands factor� and linked the threat �to Britain� from �the Argies� to the threat posed by industrial action by the railway Trades Unions NUR and ASLEF.

20 August 1976, The Grunwick Strike, at a film processing company in NW London, began, sparked by te sacking of a young worker. Work conditions at Grunwick were poor, and the strike was led by 43-year-old Jayabeen Desai, a Ugandan Asian who had fled to Britain. 137 of Grunwick�s 490 employees joined the strike. Postal workers refused to deliver mail in sympathy; 84% of Grunwick�s trade was mail-order. The Association of Professional, Executive Clerical and Computer staff, APEX (now part of the GMB trades union), mounted a major picketing action, with some 20.000 turning up on 11 July 1977. Fighting ensued and many were injured. The strike was defeated on 14 July 1978, with Government supporting the company. Arguably the Grunwick Strike paved the way for Mrs Thatcher, elected in 1979, to outlaw secondary picketing. However the Grunwick Strike was also the first time the Trades unions had supported immigrant workers. In 1974 the Transport and General Workers Union had refused to support Asian workers striking for equality with White colleagues at Imperial Typewriters, Leicester.

21 January 1962 The threat of a general strike loomed as trade unions made it clear they intended to oppose the government�s wage restraint policy.

23 June 1946, In the USA, the closed shop, compulsory trades union membership, was banned.

19 February 1946, US workers� rights activist Karen Silkwood was born

13 February 1946, The British Labour Government repealed the Trades Disputes Act (1927). Now, sympathetic strikes were re-legalised and trades unionscould take industrial action to support each other�s pay claims.

5 October 1945, Striking Warner Brother workers rioted at Hollywood, after a 6-month strike, an incident known as Hollywood Black Friday.

15 June 1938, US Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, limiting the working week to 40 hours to be enforced by 1941, and fixing a Minimum Wage of 60 cents an hour.

5 November 1936, A special train took the Jarrow Marchers back home again from London. They received a hero�s welcome, and the news that their unemployment benefit had been cut as they had made themselves unavailable for work.

5 October 1936. The Jarrow March, of 200 unemployed ship workers, started from Jarrow, Tyneside, towards London; their petition had 11,000 signatures.Jarrow had an unemployment rate of 67%. The march was led by Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson. Jarrow had an unemployment rate of 67%. The marchers reached London on 1 November 1936, where Ellen Wilkinson presented a petition of 11,572 signatures so the Government. See 5 November 1936.

12 June 1936, France instituted a 40-hour working week.

5 July 1935. The US Labor Relations Act allowed workers to join unions.

16 July 1934, First General Strike in the USA began in San Francisco. It was called in support of the stevedore�s strike led by Union leader Harry Bridges.

1 November 1932, Police in London clashed with National Hunger Marchers trying to present a petition to Parliament against the Means Test.

30 September 1931. The British Royal Navy mutinied over a 25% pay cut. 12,000 ratings on 15 ships of the Atlantic Fleet at Invergordon were involved.

30 November 1930, Mary Harris Jones, US workers� rights activist, died

11 March 1927, Ron Todd, leader of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) was born (died 30 April 2005).

25 July 1925. The railworkers, transport, and seamens unions supported the mine workers against pay cuts and longer hours. On 31 July 1925 the UK government offered a subsidy to the mine owners to enable them to continue with existing wages. Discussions between the mine owners, mine workers, and a government commission continued until April 1926 (see 30 April 1926)

9 April 1923, The US Supreme Court ruled, in Adkins v Children�s Hospital, ruled that the minimum wage for women and children adopted in the District of Columbia was unconstitutional. This was a blow to organised labour.

19 November 1922, Unemployed hunger marchers demonstrated in Trafalgar Square in London.

10 May 1920, The Jolly George incident. Workers at London�s East India Docks refused to allow a ship carrying munitions to sail for Poland, which was then at war with Soviet Russia.

5 January 1914, Ford Motor Company announced an 8 hour working day and a minimum wage of 5 US$ a day.

3 August 1913, Hop ranch workers in California protested over an attempt to arrest Union leader Blackie Ford. 4 died in the riots.

19 June 1912, The 8-hour workday became the norm in the USA, having been established in Australia and New Zealand in the 1840s and 50s. Previously the US workday had been commonly 10 hours long, sometime sup to 16 hours.

12 January 1912, US workers began a strike against sweatshop conditions and a wages cut sparked by a new law limiting work hours. The strike was to last two months, and provided an opportunity for the militant Industrial Workers of the World trades union to gain a foothold in the north-eastern USA.

31 March 1911. UK shop-workers won the fight for a 60-hour week.

3 February 1908, The US Supreme Court ruled, in Loewe vs Lawlor (The Danbury hatters Case) that a secondary union boycott, a tactic first used from 1902, was an unlawful restraint of trade and that the Sherman anti-trust Act applied to combinations of labour as well as capital. This curbed the growing power of the unions in the USA.

21 December 1906, In Britain, Parliament passed the Trades Disputes Bill, legalising peaceful picketing and exempting Trades Unions from damages caused by illegal acts of its members. This reversed the Taff Vale House of Lords judgement of 1901.

8 September 1905, In Britain, 1,997,000 people now belonged to Trades Unions.

1904, First known usage of the term �closed shop�, for a workplace where only members of a specified Trades Union could be employed. In the USA, workers were now demanding the institution of closed shops.

22 April 1904. Britain passed a Bill legalising peaceful picketing during strikes.

8 September 1903. The TUC in Britain opposed the Government�s tariff policy favouring Empire imports.

21 May 1903. Joseph Chamberlain, the colonial secretary, founded the Tariff League to promote a preferential trading system within the British Empire.

14 January 1902, In Britain, over 300 Trades Unions supported universal state pensions.


Taff Vale railway strike

30 August 1902, Labour MP Kier Hardie protested at the Taff Vale court decision.

4 September 1901. In the Taff Vale Railway case, the House of Lords ruled that Trades Unions were liable for financial losses of companies affected by industrial action. As a result of this case the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants must pay the Taff Vale Railway Company �32,000 in costs and damages. This decision confirmed the ruling of High Court Judge Mr Justice Fairwell, later overturned in the Court of Appeal. A future Labour Government was to reverse this ruling.

31 August 1900. The Taff Vale railway strike, south Wales, ended.


12 August 1901, The British Government was defeated in an effort to limit working hours.

1 May 1901, In Britain, miners threatened to strike unless there was a cut in the coal export tax.

27 April 1894, The Irish Trades Union Congress met for the first time.

1 June 1891, German workers were given the right to form committees to negotiate with employers on terms of employment

1889, The National Union of Elementary Teachers became the NUT (National Union of Teachers)

19 August 1889. In London, a strike by 30,000 dock workers began.The strike ended on 14 September 1889 with victory for the dockers. They had won their claim for a pay rise from 5d to 6d an hour � the dockers� tanner, also 8d an hour for overtime.The strike had major public support, over �50,000 being contributed to the strike fund, whilst dock owners found blackleg labour hard to come by. Even the City supported the strike, being opposed to casualisation of labour which was seen as penalising men who wanted to do an honest day�s work.

8 December 1886, In Ohio, USA, Samuel Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL), an alliance of 13 craft Unions.

8 February 1886, Unemployed people protested in London�s Trafalgar Square; there was looting and rioting in Pall Mall and Oxford Street.

26 July 1877. In the USA, 19 people were killedwhen police and cavalry charged striking railwaymen. There was a national strike by railway workers, angered by a 10% wage cut. They protested that a brakeman earned only US$1.75 for a 12 hour day and that this was the second wage cut in four years. Others were concerned about the import of �Communistic� ideas from abroad.

30 August 1874. In Britain, the Factory Act limited the working week to 56.5 hours.

1872, In Britain the National Agricultural Labourers Union (NALU) was formed. At its peak it had 150,000 members. Initially the NALU succeeded in raising wages and cutting working hours but the landowners fought back and locked out the workers in 1874. The labourers believed they would be necessary during the harvest of 1874; however the landowners utilised machinery, unskilled labour, and women and children to gather the harvest, and locked out workers faced losing their tied cottages. The labourers lost their special harvest payment, �harvest money�, which they would customarily use to buy replacement boots and clothing. The NALU suffered from poor leadership, and by 18981 had just 15,000 members, mainly in Norfolk. Ultimately, the agricultural workforce was shrinking as farm mechanisation proceeded and workers left the fields for industrial work in the towns and cities.

20 August 1866, In the USA the National Labor Union was formed, giving a voice to the workers.

27 January 1850, Samuel Gompers, US trades union leader, was born.


Chartists. Fight to gain right to organise Trades Unions

29 June 1871. In Britain, the Trades Union Act granted legal status to unions.

2 June 1868, The first Trades Union Congress was held in Manchester. It lasted until 6 June 1868.

10 April 1848, A further Chartist petition was rejected (see 28 February 1837).

12/4 � 12 May 1842, The second convention of Chartists: their second petition was rejected by Parliament on 3 May 1842.

4 November 1839, UK Bread prices were at their highest since 1819, leading to unrest amongst the poor.On 194/1839 London Chartist Henry Vincent had given an inflammatory speech in Newport which he concluded with: �Death to the aristocracy! Up with the people, and the government they have established!� The magistrates banned all meetings, leading to riots. On 3 November 1839, 7,000 armed men gathered in three contingents at Pontypool, Blackwood and Ebbw Vale to march on Newport. On the arrival of one section at the mayor�s headquarters at the Westgate Hotel, fighting led to at least 24 dead and over 50 injured as constables fire on the crowd; 21 Chartists, including Frost, were charged with treason and transported to Australia. The Rural (county) Constabulary legislation had only just been enacted, so police forces were thin on the ground. Just 60 soldiers were stationed at Newport. Neither the police nor the military were as practised in crowd dispersal as they would become by 1848.

6 August 1839, The General Strike (see 12 July 1839) was called off.

15 July 1839, There had been 7 days of rioting around the Bull Ring, Birmingham, following rejection of the demands of the Chartist Movement (see 28 February 1837).

12 July 1839, Parliament declined to consider the Chartist demands. The General Convention of the Working Classes, established in London in February 1939, called for a General Strike.

9 July 1839, William Lovett, Chartist leader, was arrested.

14 June 1839. The Chartists presented a further petition to Parliament (see 28 February 1837).

8 May 1838, The Chartists published their People�s Charter (see 28 February 1837).

28 February 1837, The London Working Men�s Association presented a petition to the UK Parliament. They wanted universal adult male suffrage, reform of voting districts to make them equal size (i.e. to get rid of �rotten boroughs), voting by secret ballot, annual parliaments, abolition of property qualifications for MPs, and MPs to be paid a salary.

19 March 1834. The six Tolpuddle Martyrs who fought the decline of agricultural wages were sentenced at Dorchester, Dorset, to seven year�s transportation to Tasmania. This was for setting up a trade union, a branch of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. Public outcry at this heavy sentence had them released after two years.

6 June 1824. A law was passed in Britain recognising the right to strike. The Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 were repealed.

For Luddite Riots see Great Britain

8 February 1819 Rioting and looting followed a protest march by the unemployed in Trafalgar Square.

12 July 1799. Britain passed the Combination Acts, outlawing any association of two or more people for the purpose of obtaining wage increases or better conditions at work. The Act was prompted by fears of revolution after France.


1360, English labourers who demanded wage rates above those set by the Statute of Labourers Act, 1351, which was enacted to prevent a massive rose in wages due to the labour shortages caused by the Black Death, were punished with imprisonment.

1170 BCE, The first recorded strike in history. Labourers on the Necropolis at Thebes, Egypt, downed tools when their pay was delayed during a period of high inflation.


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