Taff Vale

Submitted by Anon on 27 April, 2006 - 2:41

The Trade Union Freedom Bill is being proposed to coincide with the repeal of the “Taff Vale Judgement”. What was “Taff Vale”?

Bit by bit, over the 19th century, British workers rolled back the Combination Acts, passed in 1799-1800, which had made trade unionism illegal in the early years of the Industrial Revolution.

But the law was unclear. In 1900 the Taff Vale Railway Company sued the rail union ASRS (forerunner of the RMT) for compensation for the losses caused to the company when its workers struck for union recognition. The company won the initial court case; had the decision reversed on appeal; but then finally won in the House of Lords, in 1901.

The “Taff Vale Judgement” made effective trade-union action legally impossible: if a union organised any action which hurt an employer, the employer could reclaim all the losses from the union.

“Taff Vale” spurred a lot more trade-unionists to back the Labour Representation Committee (forerunner of the Labour Party, set up in 1900). In 1906 a Liberal Government, supported by LRC MPs, passed the Trades Disputes Act to reverse the Taff Vale Judgement and assert that a union could not be sued for losses arising from lawful industrial action.

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