Page images
PDF
EPUB

thus for the first time established. (This act was repealed by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1871.)

[ocr errors]

1859. The dissatisfaction arising from the interpretation which the courts put upon the act of 1825, namely, that labor combinations were unlawful, under the common law, on the ground that they were in restraint of trade, — provoked an agitation extending over a long period of years and finally resulted, in 1859, in the passage of an act (22 Vict., Chap. 34) amending the law by providing that workingmen were not to be held guilty of "molestation" or "obstruction" under the act of 1825 simply for entering into agreements to fix the rate of wages, or the hours of labor, or to endeavor peaceably to persuade others to cease or abstain from work to produce the same results. (This law was also repealed by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1871.)

1871. The courts in their decision of cases arising out of the act of 1859 were scarcely more friendly than they had been in their interpretation of the original act of 1825, and a fresh agitation to more firmly secure for workingmen the right to organize arose. In 1867 a commission was therefore appointed to inquire into the subject, and its report resulted in the passage of two important acts:

This act pro

1. The Trade Union Act (34 and 35 Vict., Chap. 31). vided that "the purposes of any trade union shall not, by reason merely that they are in restraint of trade, be deemed to be unlawful, so as to render any member of such trade union liable to criminal prosecution for conspiracy or otherwise. The purposes of any trade union shall not, by reason merely that they are in restraint of trade, be unlawful so as to render void or voidable any agreement or trust." (The text of the act is given in full on pages 192-201 of this report.)

2. The Criminal Law Amendment Act (34 and 35 Viet., Chap. 32). This act, while making stringent provisions against coercion, violence, threats, following, molestation, and obstruction, contained no prohibition against doing or conspiring to do an act on the ground that it was in restraint of trade unless it came within the scope of the enumerated prohibitions. (The text of the act is given in full on pages 202-206 of this report. It was amended by the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act of 1875.)

1875. It was generally assumed, after the legislation of 1871, that strikes as ordinarily conducted were not illegal.

But in 1872 certain gas stokers being on strike were indicted for conspiracy, the defendants brought to trial and sentenced to a year's imprisonment, the court holding that "a threat of simultaneous breach of contract by the men was conduct which the jury ought to regard as a conspiracy to prevent the gas company carrying on its business." The sentence, however, was quite generally regarded as severe, and so vigorous was the agitation provoked by it that a remission of eight months of the penalty originally meted out was secured for the men. But a more important result was that once more dissatisfaction with a court ruling led to the appointment of a commission of inquiry, which in turn reported recommendations for still further alterations in the law. So, in 1875, the Home Secretary introduced a bill which received the royal assent on August 13 of that year, (38 and 39 Vict., Chap. 86), and is known as the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875. The new law did not repeal the provisions relating to picketing in the law of 1871 but it contained this important provision:

An agreement or combination by two or more persons to do or procure to be done any act in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute between employers and workmen shall not be indictable as a conspiracy if such act committed by one person would not be punishable as a crime.

(In force, but amplified by the Trade Disputes Act, 1906. The text is given in full on pages 206–215 of this report.)

1876. The Trade Union Amendment Act, 1876 (39 and 40 Vict., Chap. 22) amended the act of 1871, but did not repeal it. It gave a new definition, however, of a trade union in its last section, as follows: —

The term "trade union" means any combination, whether temporary or permanent, for regulating the relations between workmen and masters, or between workmen and workmen, or between masters and masters, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, whether such combination would or would not, if the principal Act had not been passed, have been deemed to have been an unlawful combination by reason of some one or more of its purposes being in restraint of trade.

(The text of the act is given in full on pages 215–219 of this report. It was amended and revised by the Trade Disputes Act, 1906.)

1900. THE TAFF VALE DECISION. For a quarter of a century after the passage of the legislation of 1875 and 1876 reinforcing the acts of 1871, British workmen believed they were acting well within the limits of law in their defensive and offensive operations against their employers. Then came another court decree which, more sweeping than any yet made, had a stunning effect on the trade unions. This was the famous Taff Vale case, the final decision of which by the House of Lords completely upset the legal traditions of a generation relative to the legal status of trade unionism.

In June, 1900, the men employed by the Taff Vale Railway Company, in Wales, were urged to strike, by one James Holmes, a local organizer of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, for an advance in wages and to make certain other demands upon the company. The General Secretary of this organization, Richard Bell, whose headquarters were in London, promptly wrote Holmes, declaring that he was exceeding his authority in urging the men to strike. Holmes, nevertheless, continued obdurate, and in addresses to the men at their meetings deliberately encouraged them to strike.

The situation was aggravated by an attempt on the part of the company to transfer a signal man who had been 20 years in the service to a remote part of the system. The signal man was confined to his bed at the time, and was physically unable to make the transfer. Upon his recovery, he was informed that the vacancy had been filled and also that his old position had been filled. The Company offered him another position at a lower rate of pay which he refused to accept and demanded that he be restored to his former place. The Company refused this demand. The men interpreted this as an arbitrary exercise of power on the part of the company and in the nature of a challenge, and they immediately determined to strike. unless the employee in question was at once restored to his former position. Bell, the General Secretary, continued to counsel prudence and patience on the part of the men and

again called Holmes' attention to the fact that the movement had not yet received the sanction of the central executive committee and that for the men to strike without its sanction would be in clear violation of the rules of the union. On August 19 the executive committee of the society adopted a resolution censuring the men for having proceeded without its consent, while at the same time condemning the railway company for the removal of the employee referred to. The committee, however, agreed to give financial assistance to the strikers, and Secretary Bell went to Cardiff and took personal command of the strike, which formally began on August 20. The strike itself was of short duration and was settled in ten days by a compromise being effected.

Meantime, however, the Taff Vale Railway Company had determined to test its rights under the law and had brought suit, immediately the men went on strike, against over 200 of their former employees for breach of contract, on the ground that the men had left the company's services without notice or on an insufficient notice. Sixty of the men were fined in the

police court £4 each and costs.

The company next applied for an injunction to restrain the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, its officers, and members generally from committing certain acts alleged to be illegal, including picketing, intimidation, and in general interfering with and obstructing the conduct of the company's business. Damages were claimed in the sum of £24,626 ($119,842) for injury done to plaintiffs by loss of business and extra expense arising out of the alleged unlawful and malicious conspiracy of the defendants.

A temporary injunction and restraining order was issued, the writ being made returnable on August 30. Justice Farwell granted an interim injunction and, on September 5, made two orders, one refusing to strike the name of the society out of the action, and the other granting an interim injunction against the society. In so doing, he held, contrary to the contention of the organization, that the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants might be sued as a trade union. The defense set up by the society was that, under the Acts of 1871 and 1876, a trade union being neither a corporation, nor an individual, nor

a limited liability company, was not collectively, as a union, liable for the acts of its members or responsible civilly or criminally for their acts. But Justice Farwell ruled for the plaintiff, deciding that the union, as a union, was an entity which might be reached by process of law, in these words:

Although a corporation and an individual, or individuals may be the only entities known to the common law who can sue or be sued, it is competent to the legislature to give to an association of individuals, which is neither a corporation nor a partnership nor an individual, a capacity for owning property and acting by agents; and such capacity, in the absence of express enactment to the contrary, involves the necessary correlative of liability, to the extent of such property, for the acts and defaults of such agents-in other words, the liability of being sued in its registered name.

If this decision could hold it was by no means a barren victory for the Taff Vale Railway Company, for although many trade unions had no substantial funds which could be attached for damages in the event of a suit going against them, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants was one of the most prosperous trade unions in the United Kingdom. It had $1,500,000 in its treasury, and it naturally proposed to fight the case to the end. It therefore took an appeal, and the hearing was held in the Court of Appeals November 12, 1900, the question at issue being a simple one as to whether Mr. Justice Farwell had erred in deciding that trade unions could be sued. The court reversed Justice Farwell's decision, holding that if the Legislature had intended to provide in the Trade Union Acts that unions could sue or be sued, "the Legislature well knew how in plain terms to bring about such a result." In conclusion the Master of the Rolls said:

As there is no statute empowering this action to be brought against the union in its registered name, it is not maintainable against the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, eo nomine, and these defendants must therefore be struck out, the injunction against them must be dissolved, and the appeal as regards these defendants must be allowed with costs here and below.

It was now the turn of the railway company to appeal again, which it promptly proceeded to do, taking the case to the highest

« EelmineJätka »