By Mary Davis
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Additional info for Comrade or Brother?: A History of the British Labour Movement
There was protest against the introduction of the power loom in the 1820s and in Lancashire spinning jennies over a certain size were wrecked in 1778–80. Compared to the earlier purposes of machine-wrecking as part of the collective bargaining process, these later examples pale into insignificance. Understandably, workers were reluctant to leave any written accounts of these well but secretly planned operations, so most of it, including the more conventional strike activity, remains shrouded in mystery.
One was a general election brought about by the death of George IV; the other was news of the revolution in France resulting in the downfall of the hated Charles X. A wave of revolt spread across Europe, Britain included. The reform societies were organised mainly on class lines. The middle class joined the Political Unions, the various working-class groups eventually cohered around the National Union of the Working Classes formed in 1830. The 1830 election produced the first Whig government for about 50 years.
Communitarianism (the establishment of model communities run along socialist lines in which all property was held in common) and co-operation were just two examples in the 1820s of the efforts of radical thinkers to find solutions for the oppressed in a rapidly changing society, the workings of which they had not yet fully understood. The failure of these experiments led to an awareness of the need for a much more direct form of workers’ organisation – trade unionism. Owen recognised this and played a leading role in attempts at general unionism in the early 1830s.