Although there were associations of journeymen under the medieval system of guilds, labor unions were essentially the product of the Industrial Revolution. In Great Britain after the French Revolution, fear of uprisings by the working classes led to passage of the Combination Acts, declaring unions illegal. Although those acts were repealed (1824), little progress was made in union growth until the organization of miners and textile workers in the 1860s, after which the struggle for legal recognition was waged with vigor. After the Trade Union Act of 1871, British labor unions were guaranteed legal recognition, although it required the laws of 1913 and 1915 to assure their status. In the latter part of the 19th cent. the socialist movement made headway among trade unionists, and James Keir Hardie induced (1893) the trade unions to join forces with the socialists in the Independent Labour party (see Labour party). The central organization of the British trade unions, the Trades Union Congress was formed in 1868 to coordinate and formulate policy on behalf of the whole labor movement.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.