IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Curse or Cure? Why Was the Enactment of Britain's 1909 Trade Boards Act so Controversial?

Listed author(s):
  • Sheila C. Blackburn
Registered author(s):

    The Trade Boards Act of 1909 was introduced in Britain to counteract sweating. Associated with long hours, insanitary work conditions and inadequate pay - with the accent falling on low wages - sweating probably afflicted some 30 per cent of Edwardian Britain's labour force. Trade boards supporters as diverse as Winston Churchill and R. H. Tawney heralded the legislation as marking a significant break in economic and social thought. Opponents declared that the enactment of the legislation would be ruinous for Britain. The future Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, and his wife denounced trade boards as pallid reformism and campaigned for the licensing of home workshops. On the other hand, proponents of a subsistence minimum wage, such as Sidney and Beatrice Webb, were disappointed that the legislation did not go further. Initially, it encompassed less than a quarter of a million workers. The rates set were not based on the cost of living but on what the individual trade could bear. On their own, trade boards were insufficient to eradicate Britain's long and historical tradition of being a low-paying economy. Trade boards (and their successors, wages councils) were trapped in their collective laissez-faire origins. However, despite its sanctioning of a statutory national minimum wage in 1998, the British state is still far from being interventionist in the labour market. If Britain is to break with the past, she must also implement a comprehensive framework of minimum rights. Otherwise, the principle of collective laissez-faire will still remain triumphant over the Webbs' alternative conception of a comprehensive labour code. Copyright (c) Blackwell Publishing Ltd/London School of Economics 2009.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    File Function: link to full text
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Article provided by London School of Economics in its journal British Journal of Industrial Relations.

    Volume (Year): 47 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 2 (06)
    Pages: 214-239

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:bla:brjirl:v:47:y:2009:i:2:p:214-239
    Contact details of provider: Postal:
    Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE

    Phone: +44 (020) 7405 7686
    Web page:

    More information through EDIRC

    Order Information: Web:

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bla:brjirl:v:47:y:2009:i:2:p:214-239. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Wiley-Blackwell Digital Licensing)

    or (Christopher F. Baum)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.