Grappling with Democracy
Chapter 3: The rise of labor in England
The seventeenth to twentieth centuries in the United Kingdom saw the death of the guilds and the rise of journeymen’s associations to provide former guild support and mutual aid, which functions were eventually assumed by trade unions. After a century of legislative persecution of worker combinations as unlawful conspiracies, the Trade Union Act 1871 invoked the technique of immunities facilitating collective action and bargaining. A system of collective laissez-faire was established, with the state setting floors through legislation with respect to work conditions, and the social partners using collective bargaining to flesh out these rights. This non-intervention by the state was however eradicated by Conservative legislation in the period between 1979 and 1997, with ever tighter regulation of trade unions in the conscious attempt to reduce their power. The past thirty years have continued this political legislative battle, with often radical legislative changes depending on the government in power.
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