By W. Hamish Fraser
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Additional info for A History of British Trade Unionism, 1700-1998
In most cases such attempts were short-lived. The obstacles to their success were great: the casual nature of much of the work; the ease with which new workers could be trained to a particular task; the pressure on jobs from displaced rural workers; the lack of education and organising skill; the low level of earnings. But one can find examples of general labourers’ unions as early as the 1830s. In the 1850s Clydeside had a Harbour Labourers’ Society. During the London building lock-out of 1859 there was a Builders’ Labourers’ Union.
The large spinning areas of Bolton and Oldham refused to associate with the attempted amalgamation of cotton spinners in 1853. The weavers opted for district associations following the Blackburn 85198c02 28 10/13/98, 9:10 AM The Rise of National Unions, 1850–80 29 Weavers’ Association in 1854, one based in Padiham in 1856, Darwen in 1857, Accrington, Preston and Haslingden in 1858. It took 30 years to pull such associations together into an effective county-wide organisation. In mining, there were only traces of trade unionism in some of the most important coalfields, like Northumberland and Durham, appearing at times of industrial unrest.
Newton was the inspirer and publicist, Allan the organiser and administrator. Both had been working towards amalgamation for half a decade or more; both had a fairly clear conception of what they wanted the new organisation to achieve. Like other unions of craftsmen before them, their concern was to devise a union which would regulate entry into the trade and ensure that the various engineering crafts were not flooded by poorly skilled, low-paid new workers whose presence would push down the level of wages.