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BRITISH LABOUR AND THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON TRADE UNIONS, 1867-9 H. W. MCCREADY T HE Royal Commission on British trade unions, 1867-9, was brought to life by two events, either of which alone might well have proved fatal to unionism. The decision of the court of Queen's Bench in Hornby v. Close had questioned the very legality of trade unions, had declared them to be against public policy, and had removed their funds from the protection of the law.' In addition to this, the renewal of outrages and murder by the Saw-Grinders of Sheffield had produced a whirlwind of anti-unionism in public opinion? It was the Sheffield employers led by their bitterly anti-unionist M.P., J. A. Roebuck, who first demanded an investigation by the national government , and when the request, seconded though it was by the unioniststhey had no alternative-was conceded by the cabinet the workers naturally felt that "Labour on Trial" was the keynote of the hour.· Outrages and murder, an apparently class-conscious court of Queen's Bench, employers in full cry against unions and a press almost unanimous in denunciation of them-all created the background for a Royal Commission to which workmen could scarcely look forward with pleasure. The shock-wave these events produced in the labour movement at large can be seen in all directions. It is apparent in the pages of the BeeHive and the Commonwealth, the leading labour papers of the day; in the tense meetings of the Conference of Amalgamated Trades, and their despatch of George Odger, a union official, to Sheffield to make an investigation; in the adding of rewards to those already offered by the employers and the government for information leading to the arrest of the "Sheffield Fenians"; and so on. The scare was general.< IFor discussion of this decision see F. Harrison, "The Illegality of Unionism," BeeHive, Jan. 26, 1867, 4d- f; R. Y. Hedges and A. Winterbottom, Legal History 0/ Trade Unionism (London, 1930), 53-4. 2See Commonwealth, Oct. 27, 1866, 4a; BeeHive, May 25, 1867, 4b; E. S. Beedy, "The Trades Union Commission," Fortnightly Review, July. 1867, 1- 2. aFar the steps leading to

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 390-409
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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