TRADES-UNIONS, in their character of benefit and sick societies, do not fall within the range of this article. We have principally to consider them as associations of work men against employers for the purpose of gaining, either in time or money, a larger share of the profits of their trade. A brief historical sketch of the growth of the princi ple of combination may fitly introduce the subject.
In one form or other combination has always existed ever since the employed and employing classes became distinguishable from each other. For a long time after the conquest the inhabitants of England were of two classes, freemen and slaves. These relations not permitting work for wages, there could be then no combination in the modern sense. About the middle of the 13th c. we find that wages Thad begun to be paid, so that for 600 years there have been laborers receiving a money price for their services, competing far employment, and arranging terms with employers. The power of legislation wae, however, with men who believed their interests antagonistic to those of the workmen, and its complexion was always favorable to masters. When, after the great pestilence of 13.19, the reduced number of laborers demanded better pay, it was enacted that carters, plowmen, and agricultural servants generally should be content with their previous rate of liveries and wages; they were to continue to be paid in kind where pay ment in kind had been customary; they were forbidden to hire themselves for the day, but must take service for a year or other fixed period ; a rate of wages was fixed for weeders, haymakers, mowers, and reapers; and their hiring for the future was to be in public. A little later. in 1863. the diet and clothing of artificers and servants were fixed by act of parliament, and clothiers were required to make, and tradesmen to sell, cloth of a regulated quality at a regulated price. The rate at which labor should be purchased was fixed after this fashion for almost two centuries, and the practice declined solely because of the impossibility of preserving it. But even within the last 150 years a relic of the old superstition revived, so characteristic as to be worth notice. A tariff of wages, drawn up in 1725 by the Manchester justices, declares that any workman conspiring to obtain more than the rate thereby fixed, should for the third offense stand in the pillory and lose an ear. Economical error, it will be seen, is by no means the monopoly of the poor.
One of the earliest forms assumed by combination is shown by the statutes, passed about 1400 A.D., which excluded from city labor all who had been trained to the plow up to the age of 12 years. The evasion of these acts was the subject of bitter complaints from the city inhabitants, whose practical union against agriculturists was defeated by the sending of country children into towns as apprentices before they reached that age.
For generations this jealousy of corporation against corporation continued with more or less intensity.
In the more ancient forms of associated labor, such as guilds and chartered com panies, combinations such as those which now prevail could not exist. There were no masters and workmen as separate and opposed classes. Producers were united as against the community, and they had no reason, so long as the guild was prosperous, for internal dissension. When, by the abuse of their power in prosperity, they incurred hostile legislation, they became disintegrated; workmen were employed who had never been apprentices; and ultimately tho owners of capital and the owners of labor became distinct and often opposing camps. Instead of a guild or trade being any longer a com pact monopolist body, acting for itself against the community, the tendency was thence forward for combination of one against the other.
Trades-unions, organized for purposes such as those which contemporary unions contend for, have existed for more than three centuries. So early as 1548 a statute of Edward VI. is directed, among other culprits, against certain "artificers, handicrafts men, and laborers," who had " sworn mutual oaths" to do only certain kinds of work, to regulate how much work should be done in a clay, and what hours and times they should work. The usual penalties of fines, pillory, and loss of ears were to follow 2, breach of its enactments. Add the regulation of wars to the objects enumerated in this statute, and we have in effect the trades-unions of the present clay. Many fruitless acts were afterward passed to prevent combinations for raising wages. So long as a tacit bond existed, and unquestionably one did and does exist, among employers, repris als on the part of workmen were certain, and the only question was, whether the right of combination should be recognized by the law, or whether the parties who had recourse to it should be driven into secrecy and illegality. But it was not till 1S24 that the legis lature had sufficient wisdom to repeal the numerous and vexatious acts of parliament by it had been sought to prevent the union either of masters or workmen. By the. celebrated act of that year the combination of either workmen or capitalists was legal ized, so long as the unions refrained from violent interference with persons who might refuse to join them. This act was supplemented by another, passed in 1825, which in effect declared legal all combinations to settle rates of wages or hours of work, and illegal all such as aimed at other methods of controlling employers in the use of capital, or in processes of manufacture. The latest legislation (see CommxmoN) goes further still, declaring combinations legal even when acting (peaceably) in restraint of trade.