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The rise of general unionism

With much of the criminal law neutralised, and with trade unions gaining an element of legality by the passage of the Trade Union Act 1871, unskilled workers were free to initiate organising activity unfettered by the law. As a response to this new legal climate and to the conditions of a vibrant economy, unions for gas workers, dockers, railway workers and agricultural labourers all emerged in the latter part of the 19th century. These organisations also benefited from changing public attitudes to trade unions, as a consequence of a greater understanding of the often appalling conditions the unskilled workers were expected to tolerate, publicised by the work of numerous social reformers.