Thursday, January 6, 2011

Regulations: Habit or "Theory"?

From The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century by Paul Mantoux
One of the objects which the workers who combined most consistently pursued, and which they thought was one of the best means to better their condition, was the maintainance and extension of old regulations. All the more, therefore, when they were forbidden to combine for the purpose of protecting their common interests did they appeal to the protection, real or illusory, which these regulations afforded them against economic oppression.

"These regulations had a double origin. On the one hand there were legal regulations under the Statute of Artificers of 1563 -- a regular code of all the ancient municipal and guild regulations, the continued existence of which brought the economic system of the Middle Ages up to the threshold of our own times. On the other hand, there were guild regulations peculiar to certain towns or certain trades in which they held the force of law.

Assuming that the protection afforded by the old regulations was illusory, does it follow that the appeal to it was driven by some sort of fallacious "theory" on the part of the workers? Or might it be more plausible to suggest that the workers were simply falling back on tradition for relief from economic oppression?

Sydney J. Chapman says of the cotton spinners trade unions that formed in the 19th century, "was but to follow custom -- in some cases even to follow habit, since no doubt many of the new spinners had been members of the weavers'societies. And it was equally natural that the spinners should follow the policy of the weavers."

"Character, Object and Effects of Trades' Unions" Edward Carlton Tufnell, 1834:


From "Character, Object and Effects of Trades' Unions":

The Union calculated, that had the Ten-hour Bill passed, and all the present factories worked one-sixth less time, one-sixth more mills would have been built to supply the deficient production. The effect of this, as they fancied, would have been to cause a fresh demand for workmen ; and hence, those out of employ would have been prevented from draining the pockets of those now in work, which would render their wages really as well as nominally high. Here we have the secret source of ninetenths of the clamour for the Ten-hour Factory Bill, and we assert, with the most unlimited confidence in the accuracy of our statement, that the advocacy of that Bill amongst the workmen, was neither more nor less than a trick to raise wages—a trick, too, of the clumsiest description ; since it is quite plain, that no legislative enactment, whether of ten or any other number of hours could possibly save it from signal failure.

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