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History 2

By John Lovell

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The victory of the match girls gave a tremendous fillip to the organisation of the less skilled workers. Helped by a change in the economic climate which was now more favourable, with trade booming and unemployment falling sharply, John Burns, Tom Mann and Will Thorne set about organising a Gas Workers and General Labourers' union. The new union succeeded in securing a reduction in the working day of gas stokers from twelve hours to eight hours almost without a struggle. This swift success stimulated the dock labourers to join the union that Ben Tillett had organised in 1887.

The Federation in fact provided a platform for rightist elements in the movement, and was unwilling to lose its role in representing the movement internationally. At the 1918 Congress the quarrel between the two bodies was to some extent patched up. It was agreed that in future both organisations should be represented jointly on any delegation sent to an international labour conference. The Parliamentary Committee had, however, firmly established its interest in international affairs, and indeed Congress agreed to its setting up an International Department.

Nevertheless the 191 I Congress made clear that the unions were not willing to give up their right to engage in political activities in exchange for parliamentary salaries. Continued pressure on the Government eventually persuaded it to introduce a Bill that would remedy the decision of Courts in the Osborne case. The employers also brought a good deal of pressure to bear on the Government and sought to have the unions made liable for damages for procuring a breach of contract. The Trade Union Act which was eventually passed in 1913 was not entirely to the liking of the unions, since it compelled them to secure the approval of a majority of their members before they could establish a political fund.

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