The Trade Disputes Act 1906

Submitted by treena on Fri, 01/04/2005 - 14:11

By Jim Mortimer

Published in April 2005

The 1906 Trade Disputes Act was a watershed in trade union history. It came at a time when trade unions were under attack from employers and the courts and when previously gained rights were being lost.

The Act provided a statutory right to peaceful picketing and repealed the precedent set by the Taff Vale railwaymen case, (1900) which made trade unions liable for damages caused during a strike. It also restored the principle of immunity against ‘civil conspiracy’ – a legal concept used to prevent workers taking collective action.

In short the 1906 Act put the sting back in the tail of the labour movement. As Jim Mortimer says the Act was both a landmark and an achievement in the history of British trade unionism and compares very favourably with what exists today.

So what can we learn from the Act? Though the backdrop may be different, there are marked comparisons between the situation in the early twentieth century and present day employment law, with its Conservative legacies.

Today the labour movement continues to fight against Conservative inspired anti-trade union legislation. Just like in the 1900s, workers in the UK are denied the fundamental right to picket and to support others in action – despite such rights being enshrined in international law since 1948.

So as we move towards the 100th anniversary of the Trade Disputes Act, the Institute of Employment Rights is raising the question – do we need a new Trade Disputes Act for 2006?

In an effort to answer that question, the Institute asked Jim Mortimer to remind us of the content and context of the 1906 Act. As John Hendy says in the Foreword, Jim’s contribution is a simply told analysis of events nearly one hundred years ago with a striking insight for today’s trade unionists.

This is an excellent publication which we hope will inspire others to join us in celebrating and learning from this landmark in trade union history.

A5; 20pp; ISBN 0 89547562 2 3;

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