Marxists Internet Archive: History Archive: British History: The Luddites and the Combination Acts


The Luddites and the Combination Acts

In a panic at rising militancy resulting from rising food prices and the fear in the British ruling class inspired by the French Revolution, the Combination Act was passed in 1799, imposing draconian penalties for any form of association by workers. The Act of 1800 slightly moderated the 1799 Act. The Combination of Workers Act of 1824 repealed both these Acts. After an upsurge of trade union militancy Conspiracy Laws were introduced in 1825 with much the same effect. The 1859 Molestation of Workmen Act allowed peaceful picketing. The 1871 Trades Union Act finally gave trade unions legal recognition.

Especially around 1811-12, at a time when unions were being brutally suppressed and wages were being depressed to starvation levels by the introduction of machinery operated by unskilled labour, weavers led by the mythical General Ned Ludd organised a campaign of smashing machinery. They became known as The Luddites.

Proclamations Respecting Seditious Meetings 1795.

Seditious Assemblies Act 1795.

Treasonable and Seditious Practices Act 1795.

The Combination Laws 1800.

The Weavers; Declaration Ned Ludd, 1812.

The Luddites in the West Riding a Barnsley Weaver, 1812.

Report of Luddite activity in Yorkshire Earl Fitzwilliam, 1812.

Report recommending Repeal of the Combination Act 1824.

Report from the Select Committee on the Combination Act 1825, including Rules of various unions.

The strike wave which broke out after the repeal of the Combination Act was replaced by a new Combination Act in 1825. The new Act narrowly defined the rights of trade unions as meeting to bargain over wages and conditions. Anything outside these limits was liable to prosecution as criminal conspiracy in restraint of trade. Trade unionists were not allowed to "molest," "obstruct," or "intimidate" others.

Declaration of The Yorkshire Woolcombers’ and Weavers’ Union, 1825.

Initiation Ceremony of The Woolcomber’s Union, circa 1834.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs, 1834.