ROBERT OWEN and the' Grand National' H. L. BEALES (Reader in Economic History at the London School of Economics)
THIS EVENING'S TALK has the same purpose as the dramatic interlude last week ; both being designed to show that some kind of trade unionism in England not only was justified, but was an imperative necessity a hundred years ago.
However difficult may have been the depression that followed the Napoleonic Wars, if the ruling class, as a whole, of that day had had imagination or compassion or intelligence, there would have been no Tolpuddle martyrs, no Chartist Riots, and a great deal less suffering.
But the selfish had their dinners without caring that others went without. They controlled the laws that protected them. The English landowners were asked for mercy, and insisted on sacrifice. By their obstinacy reform was delayed and delayed. They had in the end to be compelled. But then, that has been the history of the world.
It is all the more noteworthy that the greatest reformer of his time was himself an employer. In 1815, single-handed, Robert Owen agitated for factory reform. In 1833 to 1834 he formed his Grand National Consolidated Trades Union. It was killed by the opposition of employers and the repression of the Government, and workers turned to the Chartist movement, which grew to revolutionary proportions in ten years and eventually lapsed. But the ideas it had fought for were by then generally accepted. Owen had not lived for nothing. Trade Unionism was to come i nto its own.
The talk by Mr. H. L. Beales this evening will be followed by a second dramatic interlude next Thursday.
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