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Combination Laws

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COMBINATION LAWS. The laws known by this name were repealed in 1824. Till then any combination of any two or more masters, or of any two or more workmen, to lower or raise wages, or to increase or diminish the number of hours of work, or quantity of work to be done, was punishable at common law as a misdemeanor : and there were also thirty-five statutes in existence, most of them applying to particular trades, prohibiting combinations of workmen against masters. The act passed in 1824 (5 Geo. I V. C. 95) repealed all the statute and common law against combinations of masters and of workmen, provided a sum mary mode of conviction, and a punish ment not exceeding two mouths' imprison ment for violent interference with work men or masters, and for combinations fbr violent interference ; and contained a pro viso with regard to combinations for vio lent interference, that no law in fbrce with regard to them should be altered or affected by the act. But all the common law against combinations being repealed by the act, this proviso was considered as of no force ; and the act also went beyond the intentions of the framers in legalizing combinations unattended with violence for the purpose of controlling masters in the mode of carrying on their trades and manufactures, as well as peaceable com binations to procure advance of wages or reduction of hours of work. The act was passed after an inquiry into the subject by a committee presided over by Mr. Hume, which reported to the house the following among other resolutions :— " That the masters have often united and combined to lower the rates of their workmen's wages, as well as to resist a demand for an increase, and to regulate their hours of working, and sometimes to discharge their workmen who would not consent to the conditions offered to them ; which have been followed by suspension of work, riotous proceedings, and acts of violence.

" That prosecutions have frequently been carried on under the statute and the common law against the workmen, and many of them have suffered different periods of imprisonment for combining and conspiring to raise their wages, or to resist their reduction, and to regulate their hours of working.

" That several instances have been stated to the committee of prosecutions against masters for combining to lower wages, and to regulate the hours of work ing ; but no instance has been adduced of any master having been punished for that offence.

" That it is the opinion of this commit tee that masters and workmen should be freed from such restrictions as regard the rate of wages and the hours of work ing, and be left at perfect liberty to make such agreements as they may mutually think proper.

" That therefore the statute laws which interfere in these particulars between masters and workmen should be repealed ; and also that the common law, under which a peaceable meeting of masters or workmen may be prosecuted as a conspi racy, should be altered." Immediately after the passing of this act a number of widely organized and formidable combinations arose in various trades and manufactures for the purpose of controlling the masters as to the way in which they should conduct their busi ness ; and the extent to which the act had repealed the common law being doubtful, and the act having clearly gone beyond the resolutions on which it was grounded in legalizing combinations, Mr. Huskisson, then President of the Board of Trade, moved early in the session of 1825 for a committee to consider the effects of the act 5 Geo. IV. c. 95; and a committee was appointed with Mr. (afterwards Lord) Wallace, then Vice President of the and of Trade, for its chairman. This committee recommended the repeal of the act of the previous session, and the enactment of another ; and in consequence of their recommenda tion the 6 Geo. IV. c. 129, was passed, which is the act now in force relative to combinations.

This act repealed the 5 Geo. IV. c. 95, and all the statutes which that act had repealed. It relieved from all prosecution and punishment persons meeting solely to consult upon rate of wages or hours of work, or. entering into any agreement, verbal or written, on these points. And it provided a punishment of not more than three months' imprisonment, with or with out hard labour, for any one using vio lence or threats to make a workman leave his hiring, or return work unfinished, or refuse to accept work, or belong to any club, or contribute to any common fund, or pay any fine for not belonging to a club, or contributing to a common fund, or refusing to conform to any rules made for advance of wages or lessening of the hours of work, or regulations of the mode of carrying on any business, and for any one using violence to make any master alter his mode of carrying on his business, By the act 6 Geo. IV. c. 129, there fore, combinations of masters and work men to settle as to rate of wages and hours of labour are made legal and freed from all punishment ; but the common law remains as it was as to combinations for otherwise controlling masters.

By 9 Geo. IV. c. 31, assaults in pur suance of a combination to raise the rate of wages are made punishable by imprison ment and hard labour.

A committee of the House of Commons sat in 1838, presided over by Sir Henry Parnell, to consider the effect of combina tions of workmen ; but nothing followed from this committee.