TU History

175 Years of Chartism – Why The Vote Matters More Than Ever.

Now I bet you’re wondering what’s Chartism? Well if you know the answer already the give yourself a pat on the back, if not well let me explain.

It has been just over 175 years since the Chartist movement swept the country as millions of working people attempted to gain greater political influence and called for wide ranging political reform in the form of a six point ‘People’s Charter’.

Chartists Banner

The Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, London in 1848. 300,000 in attendance.

The charter called for the vote for every man of sound mind aged 21 or over, secret ballots, an end to Members of Parliament having to hold property to qualify as an MP, payment for MP’s allowing men from all walks of life to earn a living as an MP, equal sized constituencies and annual parliamentary elections to prevent bribery of MP’s.

Now looking back this may appear to be just another chapter in social history along the path to what we now take for granted. That is true to a certain extent but it’s important to remember that what we have today is borne out of the struggles of the past. The struggles of our ancestors who in the face of not only political opposition but also military opposition at the time came together united in a common cause despite the very real prospect of unjust imprisonment, transportation or even death.

Life for millions in early Victorian Britain was tough, damn tough. The industrial revolution era was in full swing, cities were growing rapidly a small proportion of the population were growing rich, super rich in fact whilst the majority of the nation’s citizens lived in abject poverty, squalor and deprivation (sounds familiar doesn’t it?).

victorian squalor

Squalor & poverty a typical Victorian reality.

No wonder people had had enough and wanted drastic change. As I’ve already said many were willing to put their life in their hands in order to gain what we take for granted today and for one particular Leek man, Josiah Heapy a 19 year old shoemaker that’s exactly what happened.

On the 16th August 1842 some 2,000- 4,000 marchers mainly from Leek and Congleton who had remained at Leek the previous night set off for the Potteries. En-route they were met by a troop of dragoon guards who had already been called out to deal with looting in Burslem and a magistrate receiving news of the approach of the Leek and Congleton men read out the Riot Act. The marchers continued on and began to stone the dragoons who in response opened fire. Several people were wounded and Josiah Heapy was killed. The dragoons then charged the crowd and dispersed it. A truly heavy price to pay trying to gain the vote.

So fast forward now to 2016 a year that sees two important votes. Firstly the Police Crime Commissioner election in May followed by the European referendum in June. We take for granted the fact that we are able to exercise our democratic right to vote or even not to vote, that’s democracy for you! What’s important to remember is that your democratic freedoms and the right to vote have only come about through the struggles of others. Young men just like Josiah Heapy who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy what we have come to expect as a right today.

ted today and for one particular Leek man, Josiah Heapy a 19 year old shoemaker that’s exactly what happened.

Squalor & poverty a typical Victorian reality.

On the 16th August 1842 some 2 to 4,000 marchers mainly from Leek and Congleton who had remained at Leek the previous night set off for the Potteries. En-route they were met by a troop of dragoon guards had already been called out to deal with looting in Burslem and a magistrate receiving news of the approach of the Leek and Congleton men read out the Riot Act. The marchers continued on and began to stone the dragoons who in response opened fire. Several people were wounded, and Josiah Heapy was killed. The dragoons then charged the crowd and dispersed it. A truly heavy price to pay trying to gain the vote.

So fast forward now to 2016 a year that sees two important votes. Firstly the Police Crime Commissioner election in May followed by the European referendum in June. We take for granted the fact that we are able to exercise our democratic right to vote or even not to vote, that’s democracy for you! What’s important to remember is that your democratic freedoms and the right to vote have only come about through the struggles of others. Young men just like Josiah Heapy who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy what we have come to expect as a right today.

Martyrs To The Cause

 

Martryrs To Cause

30,000 people marched on Whitehall in 1834 to protest against the imprisonment of the Tolpuddle martyrs (Mary Evans Picture Library)

 Next time you ask for a pay rise, be glad you aren’t living in the 1830s when it was a criminal offence. We tell the story of the pioneers who fought for our working rights.You’re miles away from home, friends and family; the sun is beating down on your blistered back, your shoulders throb and the only other people in sight are brutal criminals or prison officers; the view will be the same for the next seven years.

 

Your crime? Organising a union?  No, this is not an alternative 2005 where the Tory party have just won a general election, but the fate of six brave pioneers from the 1830s called the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Workers in 21st-century Britain enjoy many rights, including the right to come together in trade unions to defend their interests. And since 2000 there has been a legal right to have those unions recognised so they can bargain collectively and represent members when problems arise at work. For this, you can thank the men from the Dorset village of Tolpuddle who were transported to Australia in the early 19th century for daring to form a union to protect their wages.

George Loveless, James Loveless, James Brine, James Hammett, John Standfield and Thomas Standfield were agricultural labourers. In 1830, their work attracted a wage of nine shillings a week. But agriculture was in a state of depression and landowners increasingly offered less money for the same work. By 1833, the weekly wage had dropped to seven shillings. Worried the situation was spiralling out of control towards poverty, the Tolpuddle men founded a Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, which grew rapidly through the winter of 1833-4. So when spring 1834 came around, bringing with it the start of a new working year on Dorset’s farms, they decided to make a stand.

Faced with attempts by landowners to cut the weekly wage still further to just six shillings, the men agreed they would not accept any work for less than 10 shillings a week. But this was the 1830s. Trade unions were a new concept, and a dangerous one as far as the employers were concerned. The six were arrested and charged with administering an illegal oath – under an 18th-century Act designed to quash mutinies in the navy. Tried by a jury of landowners in 1834, the six men were found guilty – even though the youngest, James Hammett hadn’t even been at the meeting where the oath was sworn – and sentenced to seven years hard labour in Australia. This harsh injustice had the opposite effect from what was intended and caused an immediate outcry – the public was up in arms and England’s fledgling union movement galvanised.

On 21 April, one month after the trial, a procession of 30,000 people – including members of 35 unions – marched to Whitehall  to present Home Secretary Lord Melbourne with a huge 200,000 signature petition calling for the men to be pardoned and the sentences to be quashed. He refused. But a year later the campaign had grown in support and power. Lord Melbourne became prime minister following the election of a new government, and, eventually, was obliged to sanction the move he had previously shirked.

In March 1836, two years after the trial, the new home secretary, Lord John Russell granted free pardons to all six men. That was not the end of the matter, though. There was a further delay before the government offered the men free passage back to Britain.

George Loveless arrived back in the country in the summer of 1837. James Loveless, James Brine and Thomas and John Stanfield came home the following spring and James Hammett arrived in August 1839. The Loveless family then became involved in the Chartist campaign for democracy, but the men found it difficult to settle back in society and, in 1844, all of them emigrated to Canada, except Hammett who stayed in Dorset till his death in 1891, and is buried in Tolpuddle churchyard.

The tale of the Tolpuddle Martyrs is a cautionary one: their treatment at the hands of the landowners and courts showed the risks of standing alone against powerful forces. But it is also an inspiring one. The public outcry and solidarity that saw their sentences overturned shows us what can be achieved when we are united.

The History Of International Women’s Day

On March 8th 1857, in the Lower East Side of New York city, thousands of women garment workers demonstrated in the streets against their intolerable working conditions, starvation wages and 12 hour working day.

As the demonstrators headed towards the wealthy areas of New York, the police charged it, trampling several women under their horses’ hooves and arresting others.

Three years later the women won the right to organise trade unions for the garment workers. Fifty-one years later, on March 8th 1908 history repeated itself.  The women garment workers in New York once again rose up to protest against their working conditions. A fire in a garment factory had killed 146 workers and it was this that brought the women onto the streets again. Thousands of women textile workers also joined the strikes and demonstrations. Two new demands were added to those of 1857 – an end to child labour and the right to vote.

On March 8th 1910 at the congress of the Second International in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin, one of the leaders of the German Socialist Party proposed that March 8th every year by proclaimed International Women’s Day to commemorate the struggle of the women garment workers.

In 1917,  in Russia, women textile workers at Petrograd chose March 8th to declare a strike to protest against working conditions, hunger and the long queues to buy bread. Other workers demonstrated in solidarity with the women, and the women’s protest grew into the general strike which precipitated the October Revolution.

The rise of the women’s movement internationally gave the celebration of International Women’s Day a new dimension and now the day is an annual opportunity for women to declare their solidarity in women’s struggle against oppression, in all it’s forms.

Source: ACTS Newsletter Spring 2005

Whatdidbanner What did The Trade Unions Ever Do For Us?

The Eight Hour Working Day

The origins of May Day as an international celebration of working life lie not in communism but in Chicago, where four anarchists were executed for “incitement” following nationwide strikes for an eight hour day on 1 May 1886.  At the time, 12 hour and even longer shifts were commonplace in the US, as they remain today in many parts of the world. In France and Germany some trade unions now want to restrict the working week still further so that employment can be more evenly shared – and a less dominant feature of daily life.

A Living Wage 

In 1888 the activist Annie Besant wrote a newspaper article called “White Slavery in London” about the dreadful pay and dangerous conditions suffered by young women working at the Bryant and May match factory. Three girls suspected of giving her information were sacked – and 1,500 women walked out in sympathy.  The firm capitulated. Many countries now have a legal minimum wage – a formal, if minimal, recognition of union demands for human dignity.

Unite & Resist 

Such benefits have only been won by workers acting together through unions, and in alliance with other social movements or political parties, for the common good. In recent years, many rights have been lost or restricted – and inequality has spiralled to historically unprecedented levels as a result.

The Vote

Such benefits have only been won by workers acting together through unions, and in alliance with other social movements or political parties, for the common good. In recent years, many rights have been lost or restricted – and inequality has spiralled to historically unprecedented levels as a result.

To Each According To Their Needs

The idea that essential services, like healthcare and education, should be “public” and “free” to all at the point of delivery was first advanced by trade unions. Their members still provide many of these services, which have been starved of public funding. The sense of public service – every bit as much as self-interest – is reflected in union resistant to “structural adjustment” and privatization.

Democracy At Work 

Experience in Scandinavia, Germany and Japan suggests that democratic engagement at the work place promotes, rather than restricts, rewarding work. Union members have always insisted on having some influence over the decisions of management, and they have helped to generate alternative forms of ownership and control, including co-operatives and mutual societies.

Thanks to Andy Bentley for the information on this article published in the second issue of Stoke Unison International Review and also to the New Internationalist, December 01 edition.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s