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Trade unionism

Early trade unionism

Skilled workers in Britain began organising themselves into trade unions in the 17th century (preceded by guildsGlossary - opens new window in medieval times). During the 18th century, when the industrial revolution prompted a wave of new trade disputes, the government introduced measures to prevent collective action on the part of workers. The Combination Acts, passed in 1799 and 1800, during the Napoleonic wars, made any sort of strike action illegal - and workmen could receive up to three months' imprisonment or two months' hard labour if they broke these new laws.

Hatmakers' petition, 1777 - opens new window
Hatmakers' petition,1777
Document (187k) |Transcript
Trade union delegation ignored, 1839 - opens new window
Trade union delegation ig