Chapter 8: The Self-fulfilling Prophecy
8. The self-fulﬁlling prophecy In the United Kingdom during the last decades of the nineteenth century, government expenditures averaged around ten per cent of the country’s total income. The situation was similar in other Western democracies, where in times of peace, most voters were reluctant to accept the taxes that would be required to exceed this level.1 To date, the extension of voting rights to urban workers had not been followed by income redistribution via government taxes and expenditures. Since the Combination Act of 1825, workers in Britain had been allowed to form trade unions to bargain over working conditions and wages. But because obstruction and intimidation were forbidden, the courts were given considerable leeway to punish those who organized work stoppages. Workers who attempted to arrange a strike could be prosecuted for restrictive trades practices. During the 1830s and 1840s, owing to divisions among the workers, ﬁrst Robert Owen and then the Chartists had failed in organizing large number of laborers. It was not until 1851 that the ﬁrst successful union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, representing steam engine operators, machinists and other skilled mechanical workers, was established. More recently, in 1871, Gladstone’s Liberal government had exempted unions from laws prohibiting the restraint of trade. And in 1875, Disraeli’s Conservative majority had approved the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act allowing unions to organize strikes and to picket peacefully during industrial conﬂicts. As a result, by the 1890s, a number of successful unions had been organized. All...
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