Join the union while you may, don’t wait till your dying day, for that may not be far away

“For unskilled and unorganized labour, working conditions matched the slums. At the Shawfield Chemical Works in Glasgow in 1897, year of the Diamond Jubilee, workmen received 3d. or 4d. an hour for a twelve-hour day, seven days a week, spent amid poisonous vapors without a lunch-hour rest. They ate lunch standing at the furnaces and if they took Sunday off were fined the next day’s wages. Lord Overtoun, owner of the Works, a philanthropist who gave ℒ 10,000 a year to charity, was a leading member of the Sunday Observance and Sunday Rest Societies. In other industries workers could be arrested for taking a day off without permission. If they applied for it, the request could be refused; if they took it anyway they could be, and often were, hauled off to a day in gaol. Skilled workers organized in England’s craft unions, the oldest in Europe, were better off. Numbering about one-fifth of all adult male workers, a larger proportion than in any other country, they had their own insurance and pension systems backed by large funds and they benefited from lower prices in their own cooperatives. Nevertheless, vis-à-vis capital, they were still on the defensive and the dark persistent presence of unemployment at their backs made them vulnerable.” – Barbara Tuchman, The Proud Tower

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