The Growth of Trade Union Power

  • J. R. Hicks


Since the publication of Mr. and Mrs. Webb’s great history in 1894, much has been written on the development of the English Trade Unions. But it is the social and political aspects of this evolution which have been most thoroughly examined; the economic aspects have been much less adequately treated. The economist, seeking an answer to the most fundamental economic problems of Union development, can get little help from the historical literature, and is largely left to his own devices. To him the most important question is not any of those which have been so exhaustively studied, but rather the determination of the extent to which, at different periods, the Trade Unions have been able to affect wages. And to this economic historians, with their eyes fixed on the qualitative rather than quantitative differences between competitive and collective wage-fixing, have rarely attempted to give an answer.


Trade Union Collective Bargaining Wage Structure Union Strength Export Trade 
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  1. There is an interesting passage in Marshall’s account of Trade Unionism (Economics of Industry, 1907, pp. 383–384) where he suggests that the “bracing influence of foreign competition,” by preventing the unions in export trades from making great gains by aggressive action, and aggravating the losses caused to the industry by strikes, leads them to develop a conciliatory policy. “Those union officials who most fully realise the fundamental solidarity between employers and employed, and who oppose all demands which would needlessly hamper production or inflict loss on the employers are those whose advice is found to bear the test of experience best; their influence increases, and their character spreads itself over the union.” Postwar experience moderates this optimism; but even with respect to earlier history, it may be questioned whether Marshall was not unduly impressed by the very remarkable cases of Cotton and Iron and Steel, which must surely have been in his mind when he wrote these words. Coal is also an export industry, and the history of Industrial Relations there is very different. Personally I doubt if, in the pre-war situation, the difference between sheltered and unsheltered trades was as significant, as Marshall thought.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© J. R. Hicks 1963

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. R. Hicks
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OxfordUK

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