34. THE LABOR MOVEMENT IN POLITICS. Thegreatest politician of the last century, W. E. Gladstone, writing in 1892, expressed the opinion that "The labor question may be said to have come into public view simultaneously with the repeal of the Combina tion Laws?— that is about 1825.
Accepting this authority, we may divide the 90 years that have since elapsed into three periods, dominated not as might be expected by three but by two ideas. From 1825 to about 1850 labor, when it fought at all, fought under its own flag, and disdained alliance with any other party. From 1850 to 1900, partly owing to the dominating personality of Mr. Gladstone, political labor for the most part joined hands with Liberalism. In 1900 the banner of inde pendence was raised once more, and has al ready attracted the greater part of the political forces of the proletariat.
The First Period of to 1832 the Government of England was an irregular oligrachy rather than a democracy. The House of Commons, which then as now exercised su preme control, was elected in a haphazard fash ion. A few members represented large demo cratic constituencies; many were elected by some scores or hundreds of voters; many others were practically nominees of individual land owners or of the Crownn. Labor scarcely as
pired to political rights; all it asked was relief coercive legislation and excessive taxa tion. The populace, of course, supported the reformers of 1820-32, and it was fear of revolu tion which forced the House of Lords to con sent to the passage of the Reform Bill.
Nearly the first work of the reformed Par liament of 1832 was the amendment of the old Poor Law, which had reduced the agri cultural laborers of southern England almost to the condition of serfs, owned not by individuals, but by their parishes. The abolition in 1834 of the system of indiscriminate outrelief was intensely unpopular, and this, combined with the memories of the recent reform agitation, and with the teachings of Robert Owen (q.v.), who had promulgated many of the doctrines of modern Socialism, led to the Chartist move ment, the first distinctively working class polit ical agitation in modern England. See