ABSTRACT

Labour disputes formed one of the most frequent causes of popular disturbances in eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century England. The graphic phrase ‘collective bargaining by riot’ has been used to describe the conduct of many early trade disputes and a degree of violence was often associated with bargaining between masters and men and between different groups of workmen. In the years before the growth of strong and legal trade unions, workmen frequently resorted to violence as a means of bringing pressure to bear on employers or local authorities. This could range from tumultuous assemblies, parades, and lobbying of employers and local authorities to the destruction of tools, material, and machinery and the intimidation of strike-breakers or blacklegs. Violence for early trade unions formed not only a mode of bargaining to be used in place of or in conjunction with more peaceful negotiations, but also a crucial means of enforcing a degress of solidarity on fellow workmen. 1