chapter  XVII
FACTORY SLAVERY—COBBETT AND THE TRADE UNIONS
Pages 15

THE Combination Law of r8oo, enacted part1y as a measure of political repression and partly in order to prevent strikes in the factories, just passing through the worst savageries of the Industrial Revolution, remained in force until 1824. For twenty-five years all forms of trade union action were completely prohibited by law, and workmen were liable to be imprisoned for the mere act of forming, or belonging to, a trade union. This, however, as we have seen, did not mean that trade unions did not exist. The Act of r8oo was never completely enforced. The combinations formed by the workers in the new factory areas and by the miners were indeed repeatedly broken up, and their leaders sent to jail ; but many combinations, especia11y in the older crafts in the towns, were suffered to exist, and even carried on collective bargaining with the employers throughout the period of prohibition. The Combination Law could always be invoked by the masters, and it was always dangerous to occupy any prominent position in a trade union. But the policy was rather that of inflicting exemplary punishments on obnoxious leaders than of enforcing, save in a few of the most distressed factory areas, an absolute prohibition of trade unions.