By W. Hamish Fraser
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Extra resources for A History of British Trade Unionism, 1700-1998
First, they were intended to be the focus for co-ordinating support in major disputes, both local and elsewhere. They were the means by which delegates from striking workers from different parts of the country collecting financial support could be 85198c02 37 10/13/98, 9:10 AM 38 A History of British Trade Unionism, 1700–1998 checked out and put in touch with local societies. Secondly, they all saw themselves as having the task of trying to create a public opinion that was more sympathetic to trade unionism.
Hobsbawm and John Foster both accepted Friedrich Engels’s argument that factory workers protected by the Factory Acts and the large unions had created ‘an aristocracy among the working class’. While Hobsbawm, in a seminal essay on ‘The Concept of a Labour Aristocracy’, added many nuances to the concept, he went along with the view that ‘the boundaries of the aristocracy and of trade unionism were normally . . 7 For those who rejected a Marxist analysis, the concept of a labour aristocracy was a deus ex machina to explain something which did not require explanation, the lack of a revolutionary class consciousness among workers.
Raymond Postgate, writing thirty years after the Webbs on The Building Trades, entitled his chapter on the mid-century 85198c02 33 10/13/98, 9:10 AM 34 A History of British Trade Unionism, 1700–1998 decades, ‘The Servile Generation’. The implication was that not only had the new structures and new leaders of the 1850s and 1860s reflected changes in working-class attitudes and the demise of revolutionary attitudes, but had in fact helped to create these attitudes by means of bureaucratic restraints on worker militancy, by an obsessive caution over the use of funds, and by a greater concern for maintaining friendly-society benefits than pushing for advances on the industrial side.