In The Cause of Labour Chapter 5

Chapter 5 of In the Cause of Labour contains the blurb below. What “‘immunities’ for damage” did the trade unions seek? I don’t understand that.

Perhaps you would know @jack_shaw ?

Gladstone’s Acts of 1871 were a classical case of giving with the left hand and taking away with the right. While they served to protect trade union funds, they also served to hamstring the effective operation of the unions in other areas. While employers were free to do as they pleased, any peaceful attempt by workers to persuade others to strike was deemed “coercion” and deemed a criminal offence. Judges simply made it a criminal conspiracy to interfere with an employer’s “freedom of action” and conspiracy in restraint of trade.

The law was simply interpreted by judges to ensure that unions were constantly in breach. Under these conditions, which threatened their ability to operate, the trade unions had no alternative but to launch a determined fight to repeal the laws, and ensure “immunities” for damage. After all, business interests received their “immunities” – in the form of limited liability – in the 1856 Companies Act. So why not the trade unions?


That’s a good question. Let me have a look and see if I can find an answer…

I think it’s in reference to this (or things like it):

TUs and members are protected from legal action in civil law - assuming that they do not do anything that goes into criminal law. So it’s essentially another abstract legal right that expands the democracy for workers on strike, but was incredibly limited at the time since many things including picketing were illegal and therefore you could be charged under criminal law.