Friday, 6 June 2008

Birth of a Labour Movement

Much of the history that we are taught in school, or that we learn about from the media is the history of prominent individuals, or events. More recently, the media and some historians, for the purposes of book sales, have promoted the “What If” school of history i.e. what if Hitler had been assassinated etc. All too easily history can be seen merely as simply a sequence of such events rather than as a process developing according to certain identifiable laws of motion; all too often it can be viewed as the acts of prominent individuals rather than these individuals merely being representatives of social forces; all too readily the real actors on the historical stage – the masses of ordinary people – are ignored and forgotten.

This piece is a much abridged extract of a history I began writing 20 years ago, of the Labour Movement in North Staffordshire, but which I broke off due to political and hten domestic commitments. A considerable amount of the data relating to the Pottery Union is taken from the excellent book by Burchill and Ross, and I apologise for any material taken from there not directly attributed - it has been more than 20 years, and I was working here quickly off notes made at the time. It attempts to reclaim some of that real history for the ordinary working people. Inevitably, it highlights the specific role played by certain individuals, but it also tries to locate that role in the material foundation of social processes, and the movements and influences behind these individuals. It tries to rescue the history of the working people of North Staffordshire in another way too. This history tries to show the immense richness of the political struggles conducted by the working class of North Staffordshire. The history of those struggles has been hidden to the modern working class of the area under a smog created out of the mythological moderacy and apathy of the North Staffs proletariat.

In writing this history I have attempted to utilise the Marxist method. I begin by examining the existence of radical ideas at the time of the Civil War, and to examine how these were to be picked up or rejected by the working class, which was to develop later. In examining the development of this working class, and its Labour Movement I have tried to move from the general to the particular, and have tried to show how particular political ideas developed out of existing doctrines, and the interaction with new material conditions, and how, in turn, these ideas changed as material conditions changed.

The Civil War

The Civil War was a political revolution waged by the nascent bourgeoisie against the power and privilege of the old feudal ruling class. Given the small size of the bourgeoisie against the power of the aristocracy and its retainers it was forced to rely on the support of other classes of society – the peasantry and the small but emerging working class. In order to mobilise the support of these other classes it was forced to bring forth ideas which went way beyond what was required for its own emancipation, and interests. But once let loose these ideas were taken up by representatives of these other classes people such as the Levellers, Diggers, 5th Monarchists, and 7th day Adventists whose ideas went way beyond the limited concerns of the bourgeois.

Staffordshire at the beginning of the Civil War had tried to remain neutral, but as Ronald Hutton points out in his book, “The Royalist War Effort 1642-46” this was impossible. Staffordshire became a military crossroads. As Hutton puts it, “this unfortunate county” became “the centre of a highly complicated and deadly game of chess, with the mastership of England as the prize.” In addition to its strategic position as a route from Oxford to Wales and from Coventry to Manchester the County suffered considerable plunder by Royalist forces. Hutton concludes that it was local communities not Parliament that defeated Charles I, “not from hatred of his cause but from hatred of the war itself.”
A son of a butcher, Richard Harrison, who became Mayor of Newcastle under Lyme, entered into this maelstrom as one of Cromwell’s most trusted soldiers. Major General Thomas Harrison, was one of the regicides, and the first to be tried on the return of Charles II. Harrison was a 5th Monarchist, and was to become in later years an increasing critic of the Protectorate, leading Cromwell to withdraw his Commission.

See: Harrison

”The proletariat goes through various stages of development. With its birth begins its struggle with the bourgeoisie. At first, the contest is carried on by individual labourers, then by the workpeople of a factory, then by the operatives of one trade, in one locality, against the individual bourgeois who directly exploits them. They direct their attacks not against the bourgeois conditions of production, but against the instruments of production themselves; they destroy imported wares that compete with their labour, they smash to pieces machinery, they set factories ablaze, they seek to restore by force the vanished status of the workman of the Middle Ages.
At this stage the labourers still form an incoherent mass scattered over the whole country, and broken up by their mutual competition. If anywhere they unite to form more compact bodies, this is not yet the consequence of their own active union, but of the union of the bourgeoisie, which class, in order to attain its own political ends, is compelled to set the whole proletariat in motion, and is moreover yet, for a time, able to do so. At this stage, therefore, the proletarians do not fight their enemies, but the enemies of their enemies, the remnants of absolute monarchy, the landowners, the non-industrial bourgeois, the petty bourgeoisie. Thus the whole historical movement is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie; every victory so obtained is a victory for the bourgeoisie.”

Marx and Engels – “The Communist Manifesto” pp 53-4.

In the middle of the 17th century, life was essentially rural. In 1666 Burslem, centre of the embryo pottery industry had 40 houses, Hanley had a population of about 80. Yeoman farmers made pots on a domestic scale. By the early 18th century some were involved in coal mining. Life was hard and the small relatively isolated communities ensured that a worker toiled for his master on a personal level, and socially the two lives overlapped. By the middle of the 18th century improved transport and production methods heralded a revolution in the pottery and other industries which was to drive a wedge between master and workman.

Harsh realities of bad harvests and wars abroad, and a struggling economy were only keenly felt by the working people. As early Trade Unions were run as underground organisations evidence of their existence in this early period is difficult to uncover. However, in 1757 hungry potters and colliers marched from Trent Hay Farm, between Stoke and Hanley, to Congleton demanding cheaper Corn. It was a clear example of effective organised working class protest.

North Staffordshire was built on three basic industries Pottery, Coal and Iron. All three had in common a paternalistic system, and all three demonstrate some similarities in the way the Trade Unions developed. The dominant industry, and influence on the Labour Movement has, however, quite clearly been the Pottery industry.

The Pottery Industry
Date Number Employed
1710 – 15 500
1785 15,000
1835 20,000
1841 20,000 – 23,000
1850 25,000
1861 30,000
1871 34,651

“….. the National Union of Operative Potters was said in 1833 to have a membership of 8,000, probably a larger percentage of the workers eligible than any subsequent union before 1914.”

(R.H. Tawney. Introduction to Warburton’s “The History of Trade Union Organisation in the North Staffordshire Potteries” 1939.)

The union did not emerge from a vacuum. North Staffordshire had not been unaffected by the political outbursts of the late 18th century or between the passing of the Combination Acts and there repeal. It was said of Newcastle under Lyme in 1792 that Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man” was in almost every hand, particularly the journeymen potters –

“more than two-thirds of this populous neighbourhood are ripe for a Revolt especially the lower class of inhabitants.”

(J. Massey 22nd November 1792 H.O. 42.22; F. Knight “The Strange Case of Thomas Walker”, as quoted in E.P. Thompson, “The Making of the English Working Class”.

A dispute in fact occurred in 1791 at Spode’s and an exchange of leaflets took place. Some workers had been imprisoned as a result of action by the employers, and the workers sought financial support from other workers in the area. Leaflets were produced, “To Our fellow Workmen, to the Public.” During this early period political events and movements played an important role. The Parliamentary Reform Movement (1816-19), which had substantial working class support, made itself felt in the Potteries. On 7th February 1817, Joseph Johnson, the Manchester leader, gave a lecture at Lane End, and, on the 10th, addressed 5,000 – 6,000 people in Hanley. He was later driven from the stage by what was described as “an organised ejection by the bourgeois”. Leaflets were distributed copies of which are in Hanley Museum.

On 1st November 1819, there was a large meeting in Hanley chaired by William Ridgway, a leading pottery manufacturer, to protest against the use of troops against a peaceful crowd in St. Peter’s Fields, Manchester – The Peterloo Massacre.

What was interesting about the Pottery industry was its typical size. Because of the lack of mechanisation surplus value could only be increased by the extensive use of labour. As a result factories were large and employed child and female labour in appalling conditions. As early as 1769 Wedgwood’s Etruria factory had been built and contained all the disciplines of factory life. (There are numerous websites with useful information on Wedgwood’s factory and also Wedgwood’s politics, he was a Unitarian, supported Universal Male Suffrage and Annual Parliaments, opposed slavery etc.) Wedgwood introduced, what was to become known as, the division of labour at the Etruria factory, and he introduced a Watt steam engine there even before they were introduced into the Lancashire textile mills. Siting the factory where he did was also determined by the fact that he knew it lay on the course of the proposed Trent and Mersey Canal.

Date Number of Firms Number Employed Average
1762 150 (Burslem) 7,000 47
1836 130 20,100 155
1841 130
Source: Burchill and Ross p23.

In 1841 according to Burchill and Ross “A History of the Potters Union” (1977), most potters were employed in factories containing 250-300 workers. Some factories were much bigger.

Davenports 1400
Thomas Mayer 500
Adams 650
Ridgways (Shelton factory) 500

By 1833, Enoch Wood’s factory was recorded as having over 1,000 employees. In the early 1840’s, Copeland and Garrett employed 1,000 in a factory covering nearly 11 acres. By 1871 there were seven potbanks employing each between 500 – 1,000 workers. The national average factory size at the time was 84.

Source: Burchill and Ross.

Age 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45
Males 327 3043 2765 2219 1733 1713 1141 1420 782
Females 161 1879 2358 1683 963 624 444 327 235
Age 50 55 60 65 70 75 80 85
Males 102 305 231 118 67 32 13 3
Females 138 86 42 25 23 8 2 -

Source: Burchill & Ross

Engels in “The Condition of the Working Class in England” gives an account of the atrocious condition of the Potters. Marx also in Capital quotes a Health Inspectors Report on the District.

“Each successive generation of potters is more dwarfed and less robust than the preceding one.”

And another doctor says,

“Since he began to practice amongst the potters 25 years ago he had observed a marked degeneration especially shown in diminution of stature and breadth.”
According to Dr. Arledge, senior physician at the North Staffs Infirmary.

“The potters as a class both men and women represent a degenerated population both physically and morally. They are as a rule stunted in growth, ill shaped, and frequently ill-formed in the chest; they become prematurely old, and are certainly short lived; they are phlegmatic and bloodless, and exhibit their debility of constitution by obstinate attacks of dyspepsia, and disorders of the liver and kidneys and by rheumatism. But of all the diseases they are especially prone to chest disease, to pneumonia, phthisis, bronchitis and asthma. One form would appear peculiar to them and is known as potter’s asthma, or potter’s consumption. Scrofula attacking the glands or bones or other parts of the body, is a disease of two-thirds or more of the potters….That the degenerescence of the population of this district is not even greater than it is, is due to the constant recruiting from the adjacent country, and intermarriages with more healthy races.”

(Children’s Employment Commission First report p24. Quoted in Karl Marx Capital Vol. I p235 Lawrence and Wishart Ed. 1977)

“But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalized, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labor, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon, the workers begin to form combinations (trade unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots. “

“The Communist Manifesto” pp 54-5

The First Potters Union

The first Potters Union whose existence can be proven was the Journeymen Potters Union founded in 1824. Like most early unions the Potters Union was a craft union. It was amongst the skilled artisans whose education and wages allowed them to read and become acquainted with radical ideas that the Union first took root. The history of radical ideas, previously mentioned, would, therefore, have played an important part in determining the politics of the early potters’ union.
There are a number of reasons why the Potters Union grew rapidly during the first part of the 19th Century. For one thing there was the terrible conditions in the potbanks that have been described. Secondly, there was the history of radical ideas in the area, which were readily taken up by the journeymen potters. But there were also factors concerning the way the factory was organised that encouraged Trade Union organisation. Reference has already been made to the size of the factories. Bringing large numbers of workers together thus ensured that the workers would discuss these radical ideas, be aware of their common condition, and more easily determine their interests as a class against the employers.

Additionally, there was a large amount of scope for clashes between the workers and employers.

”Piecework was the dominant method of payment for the journeyman. As in other industries the relationship between piecework and a wide variety of products helped to focus the attention of the operative on the determination of wages. Wages were high and the pottery journeymen have historically been generally classified as belonging to the ‘aristocracy of labour’”

Burchill & Ross p.4

”.. the system of wage determination in the pottery industry had its own complications. Manufacturers issued price lists for the production of ware covering a phenomenal variety of products of all sizes at a large number of different stages of production. The nature of the production process and the variety of products opened up a whole range of areas of conflict as a focus for discontent.”
”The homogeneity of the area’s populace and industry made it easy for workers to come together when necessary. Potmaking dominated the life of the community and made formal trade union organisation easy when demanded.”

Burchill & Ross p.6

The Journeymen Potters Union began in 1824. In August 1825, a strike started involving “oven-men, slip makers, turners of the wheel, treaders of the lathe, triangle makers and painters”. (Burchill & Ross p.58) The employers responded with a lock-out. With winter and a trade depression, the strike failed and the union disintegrated, bringing unemployment and victimisation in its wake. The rank and file were not very sympathetic to their leaders. President of the union, Joseph Thomas, was “Dismissed by the unionists – and insultingly told to ‘go to work’”.

In February 1830 a meeting was held in Hanley to discuss the Truck Acts, and one of the main speakers was Joseph Peake, one of the old leaders of the Journeymen Potters Union. At the end of the meeting a speaker from John Doherty’s National Association for the Protection of Labour (NAPL) stood up to advertise a meeting to be held at Wolstanton marsh. On 15th November a large meeting was organised by the NAPL. A potter chaired the meeting, and the main speaker was John Doherty himself. Out of the meeting a Trade Union branch – the China and Earthenware Turners Society was formed. This branch was the forerunner of a more general union of all the pottery trades, and by early 1832 the organisation of the potters was called simply the National Union of Operative Potters.

The union held its second Annual Delegate Meeting. It lasted four days and had delegates from Bristol, Swansea, Newcastle on Tyne, Worcestershire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. From this point, the Union obtained its national reputation. Its membership stood at about 8,000, of which 6,000 were in North Staffordshire. This represented about a third of the total workforce – a very high rate of unionisation. The Union’s reputation was boosted by the involvement and praise of Robert Owen. He visited the Potteries twice in 1833 to meet the Union leaders and also corresponded with them. At the 1833 Co-operative Congress, Owen publicly praised the Potters Union. “There is no section of the country, where the march of the intellect is making more rapid strides than this, and I will make public this solid proof of the disposition and ability of the people to look after their own interest.”Throughout 1833, selective strikes took place, to force a levelling up of prices by the lower paying bosses. In September of 1833, a Committee of pottery manufacturers put forward a new list of piece rate prices. Their proposals were rejected by the Union, and a new committee of seven masters and six operatives established to draw up a new agreed list. The strikes of 1833 cost the union £6,223, but the union won new rates. However, the bosses soon began to break the new agreement. In July 1834, three employers, in Tunstall, decided to stop paying the agreed rates, on the basis that they had not been universally applied. With the large number of small employers, it was impossible to make the rates universal. The dispute with the employers continued beyond the normal setting on date of Martinmas. In January 1835, the employers established another committee to revise piece rate prices. The union rejected their proposals and put forward a proposal for a committee made up of an equal number of workers and employers. The bosses rejected this proposal and in doing so expressed their dislike for unions. “….this meeting feels bound to declare its persuasion, that the steps which have been taken to adjust matters between the said Manufacturers and their Workmen, would have been successful, and the List of prices been accepted, but for the influence of a System now in operation, which, under the pretence of defending the rights of workmen, destroys their free agency, keeps them in conflict with their masters, and imposes upon them suffering, when the causes thereof have ceased to exist.”

The dispute dragged on, with the employers gradually breaking, until, in early Match, nearly all were back at work. Again the union had won a victory, but the bosses had sounded a warning of their willingness to fight. The big test of strength, between the Union and the employers, was to come in 1836.

The 1836 dispute centred on the two main issues of contention between the Union and employers – Annual Hiring and the practice of “Good from Oven”. Good from Oven was a system of piece work payment whereby only pieces which were alright after they had been through the initial firing were counted for payment. The system did not affect all workers. It mainly affected the hollow ware pressers and flat pressers. That is to say those who produced the cups, teapots etc. (hollow ware) and the plates (flat ware) in the initial unfired state. There were a whole series of reasons as to why the ware might emerge from firing faulty, from faulty mixture, improper firing to carelessness in carrying the moulds to the oven.

The main focus of attention, however, was the question of the Annual Hiring. Every Martinmas workers were hired under a contract of employment. These contracts made the workers into virtual serfs, because the contract tied them to the employer. Workers who left an employer during the term of a contract were fined or imprisoned. The system was extremely useful for the employers to break strikes, and to exploit the workers.

In the Summer of 1836 the Union drew up its own model agreement and set about enforcing it. They used the same tactics they had used in the previous years – select a factory, withdraw key workers and ensure these could not be replaced, then encourage the laid off workers to bring legal actions against the employers. The employers responded by creating the Chamber of Commerce, and to use the lock-out once contracts had run out, and try to insert a clause into contracts allowing them to lay workers off in the event of a strike.

At first the Union was successful. They won at Adams’, and followed this by calling workers out at 14 factories in Burslem and Tunstall – bringing out 3,500 workers. The Chamber of Commerce responded with a lock-out and promise of financial support to the 14 factories. They wanted to last out until 5th September when negotiations for new contracts would begin, and when all the members of the Chamber of Commerce would join the lock-out. The union began to weaken suggesting that some workers go back. The employers refused to allow them back. The union had classified employers in terms of which they thought would crack first. None, they thought, would last more than a month.

In September, the Chamber of Commerce refused to negotiate with the Union. Sixty-four factories closed at Martinmas, throwing 20,000 workers out. No open negotiations took place until December, although there were behind the scenes attempts to resolve the strike. Lord Lieutenant of the County of Staffordshire, Lord Talbot, in a letter to the Home Secretary wrote,

“The Trades Unions have already begun to collect contributions from the shopkeepers and the people who attend the market either by enforcing a system of long credit or by direct cash payments, and they have sent delegates to the several great manufacturing towns and to the General Trades Union for funds…”

Burchill & Ross (p.67)

”Home Office reports show that movements of troops took place between November and December. On 14th November Colonel Thorn reported that a detachment of Fusiliers had been marched from Stafford to Newcastle. On 19th November the ‘Staffordshire Mercury’ reported that 400 men had been sworn in as special constables…..By mid November the locked out workers were confronted by determined employers backed by troops and special constables.”

Burchill & Ross (p. 67)

Feargus O’Connor the Chartist leader spoke all around the country in support of the potters. Workers, hired under new contracts, paid 5 shillings a week to support those on strike and locked out. Strike pay, in December, was 5 shillings for single workers and 6 shillings for married ones. At the end of December, a meeting of non-unionists, financed by the employers, was held at Betley, calling themselves “Independent Workmen”. They produced propaganda aimed at dividing the workers. At the same time, however, a meeting was held at the Saracen’s Head in Hanley comprised of Trade Unionists from all over the country. This meeting called on the Potters to reject the bosses’ offer, and promised continued financial support. But the union was gradually losing the battle. Although, individual agreements were being secured, with various employers, the Chamber of Commerce insisted on maintaining the lock-out, until all employers had secured a return to work on their terms. The lock-out officially ended, on 27th January 1837. The combined strike and lock-out had lasted 20 weeks. Many Potters had suffered terribly, and the Union was irreparably weakened. A trade depression followed with many potters failing to regain employment. Union leaders were victimised and the union collapsed in miserable defeat.

With the union defeated, the way was open for the employers to attack the workers. Conditions, for the workers, became noticeably worse. With the union defeated, the workers hostility turned to political solutions to their condition, in place of merely Trade Union struggle. In one sense, this was positive. It reflected a growing class-consciousness – an awareness that the political system must be changed to improve their condition. In another sense, though, it was a step backward. The workers took up the cause of Chartism, and seemed to believe that obtaining the suffrage would be the answer to all their problems. Experience since the working class has obtained the vote shows this to be false, and that although a fight on the political level, the creation of a workers party etc. is important, this needs to be based on the self-activity of the working class organised in strong Trade Unions.


The early political influences on the North Staffs Labour Movement have already been mentioned, first the radical ideas emerging out of the Civil War, which in turn gave way to the petit-bourgeois radicalism of Tom Paine, and then with the transformation of the population from being yeoman farmers, peasant producers of pottery and mining (North Staffordshire is absolutely peppered with old mine workings most of which are not even recorded because they were dug by individual families. When houses were built on a field behind my house a few years ago six mine shafts were discovered within a fairly short space of each other, and that is true of the entire area.) into an industrial working class, new ideas began to emerge, reflecting the interests of a new working class – Owenism and Chartism. Although Owen made a number of visits to the area, and, as has been said, praised the Potters Union, his influence with the local workers, in the first half of the 19th century, was not that great. the local workers, in the first half of the 19th century, was not that great.The Potters did not. for example. join Owen’s Grand National Consolidated Trade Union. In addition to Owenism and Chartism. there was another influence on the political development of the North Staffs. Labour Movement. That influence was from Methodism, which although not a political influence per se did play an important political role. Its influence was clear in the beginning of the 20th Century in the development of the Labour Party.

But after the defeat of 1837 the most important political influence was unquestionably that of Chartism. Despite the defeat of 1837. it was Chartism which became the outlet for the militant struggles of the North Staffs. workers.

Chartism in North Staffordshire


The People’s Charter was first published in May 1838. At about the same time the idea was put forward of a National Convention in support of a Petition for the Charter. The North Staffordshire Mercury of 11th August 1838 reports a meeting at the Sea Lion Inn, Hanley addressed by the Chartist leaders Feargus O’Connor in support of the petition. There were delegates at the meeting from Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. The Mercury stated that, “Considering the suddenness and altogether unexpectedness of it, attendance was numerous and respectable.”
A few months later the Chartist paper, the Northern Star, reported a demonstration in Hanley of 20,000 people. “On Wednesday morning last, the town of Hanley presented a heart stirring scene to the lover of liberty. Early in the morning, the drum and fife were heard, announcing the day had arrived, when the voice of the Potters was to join that of their brethren in the demand for freedom.” (Northern Star 17th November 1838). The demonstration was all that more impressive given the defeat of the 1837 strike.

At the rally afterwards the local Chartist leader, John “Daddy” Richards was elected as the delegate to the National Convention. Daddy Richards also moved the first resolution at the rally. He said, “the great general grievance under which they laboured was class legislation. Men who represented boroughs were required to have £300 a year, and men who represented Counties $500. It was not then wonderful that those class legislators should represent themselves at the expense of the people. The power which this system gave them had enabled them to tax all the articles of their produce and the duty went into the pockets of the idlers. By universal suffrage alone could this great and crying evil be checked.” (ibid)

The same report quotes Feargus O’Connor. “A thought strikes me that you are poor and I’ll tell you the reason why, and why poor laws are necessary – because you have about 130 master potters who annually share about one million’s worth of your labour. Now £250,000 would be more than ample for risk and speculation, and the remaining £750,000 would make you independent of the three devil kings of Somerset House.” (A reference to the 3 Poor Law Commissioners.)

The Chartists were split between the “physical force” Chartists, and those who opposed violence. It is clear that most of the North Staffs Chartists were “physical force” men and women from the many documented cases of arms distribution in the area. In March 1839. a local Justice of the Peace, H.H. Williamson wrote to Lord Talbot the Lord lieutenant of the County stating,

”My Lord, sometime since I heard it rumoured that the Chartists in the potteries were arming – yesterday I saw a very respectable person (in whom I can place confidence) and he assured me that some of the Chartists in the Potteries had purchased guns at ten shillings each which he understood came from Sheffield.”
And, a week later, John Richards, in his report to the National Convention, on 22nd March, stated, “If something be not speedily done to give a greater plenty to the working man, something of a very fearful import must follow. Nor will it be possible for me, let me do my utmost, to keep that peace you know I so much long to be kept by the operatives of England. I shall have to visit those place ere I see you. Shall impress on them the motto Peace, Law, Order, but I fear all will be of no avail, this being the language used in those places – better to die by the sword than perish with hunger.”

A month late, at a meeting of about 300 people, in Burslem, Thomas Capper, a Chartist from Tunstall, called on supporters of the petition to adopt the same means of defence as those engaged in rebuilding the walls of the Holy City “a trowel in one hand, and a sword in the other.”

The violence was of course not all one way, and when the Chartists spoke of defence that often was what it was. The dragoons of the militia more than once were sent in on horseback to quell demonstrations. At one meeting in Burslem a mill worker from Leek was decapitated by the lash from a bull-whip. The culprit had to flee the area for fear of his own life.

The establishment of a new Police force began a series of demonstrations. The North Staffordshire Mercury with a headline “Disturbance at Lane End: Military Called Out” reported on 11th May.

”During the week the inhabitants of Lane End have been in a state of fearful apprehension and excitement from the disorderly conduct of a number of persons in the lower ranks of society. We have been at considerable trouble to obtain accurate information as to the causes of the tumult and find that the principal one is the extreme aversion and hatred entertained by the parties towards the new Police force lately established in that neighbourhood.

”Some of the respectable inhabitants of the town ascribe the violent conduct of the mob to the speeches delivered at a Chartist meeting on Monday last, on which occasion the people were encouraged in their hostility to the police; while others are of the opinion that the badly disposed only waited for any sort of pretext to avenge what they feel to be a check upon their lawless ness.”

The following letters which can be found in “Chartism in North Staffordshire” – a study book produced by Staffordshire Education Department – also demonstrate the readiness to resort to arms both by the local Chartists and the local State Authorities. (See pages 12-15 of the above book.)

The extent of support amongst the pottery workers themselves for Chartism is demonstrated by the nominations to the Chartist General Council from the Potteries. The Northern Star of 10th April 1841 listed them as:
G.B. Mart China Painter
John Clay Enamel Fireman
Joseph Colclough Potter
Charles Hackney China Potter
Henry Sharp China Painter
Joseph Heath China Potter
Moses Simpson Cordwainer

The support for Chartism was the first clear sign of a political class consciousness amongst the North Staffs workers, a recognition that a political solution, as opposed to just a Trade Union solution, was needed for their problems, and that solution would only be forthcoming from their own organisation rather than from support for the two bourgeois parties – the Tories and Whigs.

As time passed, the idea, that the Charter could be granted as a result of petitions, became less and less credible. The demand for industrial action – A General Strike or Workers Holiday, as it was termed, began to win more and more support. The North Staffs. Chartists were quick to take up the demand. Although a formal resolution, to strike until the demands of the Charter were met, was not carried until August 1842, miners in North Staffordshire had been on strike since the beginning of July. The strike was not started in support of the Charter, but in support of miners, employed by a coal owner, named Sparrow, from Longton, who was attempting to cut wages. However, at the meeting, called to organise support for the miners, the main speakers were Chartists, and the ideals of the Charter were clearly expounded, along with a call for a local General Strike in support of the miners. The strike spread and had a serious effect on other industries. Contact was made with other areas and the miners saw their strike in a national context rather than just local. When North Staffordshire was experiencing a severe crisis of depression, strike and political action, news arrived that at Manchester the Trades Conference there had called for a general strike for the Charter and asked other towns to do the same. On Monday 15th August 1842, Chartists and miners combined, declared that "all labour cease until the People's Charter becomes the law of the land." This was followed by turning out those at work in the potteries and pits in and around Hanley and an increasingly inflamed situation.

Organising such an effective General Strike, throughout North Staffordshire, was a tremendous achievement, so soon after the defeat of 1837, but it was more so given the trade depression occurring at the time, and the ferocity of the response from the State.

” Strikes and protest meetings were suppressed in many parts, though the events in the Potteries were "the most destructive riots, resulting in the largest number of prisoners being arrested, imprisoned and transported of all the disturbances in Britain throughout the Chartist period." (R Anderson & R Fyson, The Chartists &, Rioters).

All in all 222 people were put on trial, 49 of these were transported whilst 116 were imprisoned often with hard labour. It was the greatest number ever arrested and tried during the movement’s history.

Utopian Socialism, Owenism, Emigration Societies.

Following the defeat, suffered by the working class in the Chartist riots of 1842, the movement, in North Staffordshire, was set back dramatically. Although Chartism was not completely dead, the political head of the movement, which the Chartist leaders represented, had been cut off. Defeated and demoralised the Labour Movement began to look for alternatives. Inevitably after such a defeat the search for alternatives concentrated on avoiding conflict. It was in these circumstances that Owenite utopianism was taken up. Such a turn was a terribly regressive step.

”The significance of critical-utopian socialism and communism bears an inverse relation to historical development. In proportion as the modern class struggle develops and takes definite shape, this fantastic standing apart from the contest, these fantastic attacks on it, lose all practical value and all theoretical justifications. Therefore, although the originators of these systems were, in many respects, revolutionary, their disciples have, in every case, formed mere reactionary sects. They hold fast by the original views of their masters, in opposition to the progressive historical development of the proletariat. They, therefore, endeavor, and that consistently, to deaden the class struggle and to reconcile the class antagonisms. They still dream of experimental realization of their social utopias, of founding isolated phalansteres, of establishing "Home Colonies", or setting up a "Little Icaria" [8] -- pocket editions of the New Jerusalem -- and to realize all these castles in the air, they are compelled to appeal to the feelings and purses of the bourgeois. By degrees, they sink into the category of the reactionary conservative socialists depicted above, differing from these only by more systematic pedantry, and by their fanatical and superstitious belief in the miraculous effects of their social science.

They, therefore, violently oppose all political action on the part of the working class; such action, according to them, can only result from blind unbelief in the new gospel. The Owenites in England, and the Fourierists in France, respectively, oppose the Chartists and the Reformistes.”

“Communist Manifesto”. Pages 92 and 93

Its important to make a distinction here, though. Marx himnself distinguished between Owen, and his followers. Marx’s objection was not to Owen’s proposal for Co-operatives per se, on the contrary, it was to the idea that Co-operatives, or Little Icara, islands of socialism could be developed on their own as an alternative to the class struggle. The Owenites pursued this latter course, just as was done by the followers of Proudhon in France. In fact, for Marx, and this is a point totally missed by modern Marxists, and Leninists in particular, co-operatives were central to class struggle, they were the emans for Marx by which the transformation from Capitalist economy to socialist economy was to be accomplished, they were the material basis on which the class conscioussness of workers was to be raised.

“The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour. They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage. Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit system arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises. into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale. The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.” (emphasis added)

He goes on,

“The two characteristics immanent in the credit system are, on the one hand, to develop the incentive of capitalist production, enrichment through exploitation of the labour of others, to the purest and most colossal form of gambling and swindling, and to reduce more and more the number of the few who exploit the social wealth; on the other hand, to constitute the form of transition to a new mode of production. It is this ambiguous nature, which endows the principal spokesmen of credit from Law to Isaac Pereire with the pleasant character mixture of swindler and prophet.”

(Capital Vol III pp441-2)

And in the Critique of the Gotha Programme criticising the statist policies of the Lassaleans, whose modern equivalent is the demand for nationalisation, Marx comments,

“That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.”

Part III

He objects to the demand for State aid, saying,

“Instead of arising from the revolutionary process of transformation of society, the "socialist organization of the total labour" "arises" from the "state aid" that the state gives to the producers' co-operative societies and which the state, not the workers, "calls into being". It is worthy of Lassalle's imagination that with state loans one can build a new society just as well as a new railway!”

If the socialists agreed to such a policy,

“shows that its socialist ideas are not even skin-deep; in that, instead of treating existing society (and this holds good for any future one) as the basis of the existing state (or of the future state in the case of future society), it treats the state rather as an independent entity that possesses its own intellectual, ethical, and libertarian bases.”


“through these demands that it puts to the state, expresses its full consciousness that it neither rules nor is ripe for ruling! ….”

He echoes the same idea in his Address to the Congress of the First International,

"Hence the Ten Hours’ Bill was not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class.

But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labor over the political economy of property. We speak of the co-operative movement, especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold “hands”. The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labor need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the laboring man himself; and that, like slave labor, like serf labor, hired labor is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart. In England, the seeds of the co-operative system were sown by Robert Owen; the workingmen’s experiments tried on the Continent were, in fact, the practical upshot of the theories, not invented, but loudly proclaimed, in 1848.

At the same time the experience of the period from 1848 to 1864 has proved beyond doubt that, however, excellent in principle and however useful in practice, co-operative labor, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries. It is perhaps for this very reason that plausible noblemen, philanthropic middle-class spouters, and even keep political economists have all at once turned nauseously complimentary to the very co-operative labor system they had vainly tried to nip in the bud by deriding it as the utopia of the dreamer, or stigmatizing it as the sacrilege of the socialist. To save the industrious masses, co-operative labor ought to be developed to national dimensions, and, consequently, to be fostered by national means. Yet the lords of the land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defense and perpetuation of their economic monopolies. So far from promoting, they will continue to lay every possible impediment in the way of the emancipation of labor. Remember the sneer with which, last session, Lord Palmerston put down the advocated of the Irish Tenants’ Right Bill. The House of Commons, cried he, is a house of landed proprietors. To conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working classes. They seem to have comprehended this, for in England, Germany, Italy, and France, there have taken place simultaneous revivals, and simultaneous efforts are being made at the political organization of the workingmen’s party."
(As an aside I have calculated that the funds held in workers pension Funds today amount to around £500 billion. This is enough to buy outright more than half the companies in the FTSE 100. Imagine if workers demanded the simple democratic right to have democratic and collective control over these funds that are now controlled by the same financiers that run the bosses systems against the interests of workers, and used that right to transform these companies into workers co-operatives, let alone if this was combined with the power of the Co-op Bank and other Co-operative institutions!)

And so it was in North Staffordshire. The movement was divided between the new Owenite leaders of the pottery workers like William Evans, on the one hand, and the remnants of Chartism, made up of those leaders, like Capper, who had not been deported and had been released from gaol, on the other. The division is instructive from another sense. Evans became the leader of the new pottery union UBOP, and his position was secured not by mass support, but by the support of a tightly knit group of loyal supporters able to dominate the union in the face of demoralisation and lack of political leadership amongst the rank and file. The Chartists, however, appear to have drawn their support from the rank and file of the Labour Movement.
For instance, over 500 workers turned out to cheer Capper on his return to Hanley after he was released from gaol. Shortly after, the Chartists held a meeting in Longton, with the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor speaking. Only about 50 turned up, but given the scale of the defeat that had been suffered, this was still a sign of the strength Chartism retained amongst the working class. Another sign was the opposition within the UBOP to the policies of Evans.

UBOP had been formed on 6th September 1843. Its emergence was almost certainly due to a resurgence of confidence, amongst the pottery workers, as a result of the improvement in trade, stimulated by growth in the American Market. On 2nd December 1843, the union launched its own newspaper “The Potter’s Examiner and Workman’s Advocate”. William Evans was its editor. Evans politics were easily discernible, from this statement in the first issue.

“This publication is the organ of a Trade Society and as that society is composed of individuals of every grade of political opinion, it would be the height of folly, under these circumstances, to mix up politics with the advocacy of the rights of labour.”

Evans had been influenced by the British Temperance Emigration Society, which was established in 1842. In May 1844, the Hanley Operative Potters Emigration Society and Savings Fund was established, with Evans as its agent. The aim of the society was to buy land in Wisconsin in the USA, and to organise emigration from the Potteries to this territory. For someone with Evans’ politics, such a scheme was very attractive. On the face of it nothing could be more logical than to organise emigration of workers in order to reduce unemployment, and by doing so strengthen the position of the remaining workforce who would thus be able to push up their wages without the need for industrial action. The idea of moving to a land of plenty must also have seemed attractive to many workers as an alternative to industrial struggle, after the defeats of 1837 and 1842. Certainly, the Examiner carried many stories from those who had emigrated about the much higher standard of living to be found in the US, though these stories were to turn out to be not what they seemed.

According to Burchill and Ross, “The Potters Examiner” did not depend on socialist arguments – except rarely and opportunistically. "No attempt was made to analyse an alternative political system as possibly a feature of life in America – unless one infers an anarchic system of free, contiguous, but separate landowners, enjoying the health of the land, each his own boss and free from the oppression of the factory and its Master and presumably self sufficient.”

I think this is debatable. Certainly the Examiner concentrated on the simple economic argument rather than trying to convey lofty ideals, but the basic ideas conveyed did, themselves, represent a distinct political current. That current could be variously described as “Economic Romanticism” as Marx described the ideas of Sismondi, “Utopian Socialism”, as he described the ideas of Owen and Fourier, or Narodism as it was to become in Russia. Probably, Narodism is the closes comparison. The Russian Narodniks believed that the peasant communes of 19th century Russia were the basis of Russian socialism, and that these communes would be the means by which socialism could be established in Russia without the need to pass through a stage of capitalist development. This is very like the “anarchic system of free, contiguous but separate landowners, enjoying the health of the land” that Burchill and Ross describe.

Moreover, it is clear that Evans and the Emigration Society did have definite ideas about the administration of their New Jerusalem. This is demonstrated by the fact that they intended to print their own symbolic money – dollar notes issued on the security of the Townships of the Emigration Society.

The idea of the Emigration Society was to raise subscriptions, so as to buy land in Wisconsin, and, periodically, hold draws to determine who would emigrate to America. In fact, less than 100 people did emigrate, and many of those were not potters. The scheme was opposed by some members of UBOP from the beginning. This opposition demonstrated the continuing support for Chartism. Evans linking of the activities of UBOP to emigration was a source of repeated conflict between him and the Chartists. This conflict could be seen openly in the pages of Evans’ Examiner on the one hand, and the Northern Star on the other. In 1846, the Hollow ware Pressers Lodge (Branch) of UBOP decided to allocate half of each union subscription to the funds of the Emigration Society. This brought matters to a head. A split occurred and a new Market Tavern Lodge of Hollow Ware pressers was formed after its members had pulled out of the old Branch and Central Committee. The influence of Chartism on this development can be seen from the fact that these “seceders” as Evans described them published a letter in the Northern Star headed “The Emigration Humbug of the Potteries”.

The first ballot of the Society was reported in the Staffordshire Advertiser on 29th May 1847. Two more ballots took place shortly afterwards. But the number of people emigrating was small, and on 28th May 1848 the Advertiser announced that the potters had decided the previous Monday to open up the scheme to other trades. By the end of the year, to prevent the scheme from collapse, it had been opened up nationally. Thomas Twigg was hired as estate manager.

In 1847 the potters were forced to accept wage cuts. The union was in disarray, and during 1848 the Examiner collapsed. All of this made the problems of the Emigration Society much worse, but it managed to survive for another three years. Indeed, in 1849 Evans appears to have staged a comeback. The Examiner returned under the title of the ‘Potters Examiner and Emigrants Advocate ‘. A report in the Advertiser in January 1849 told of a tea party at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester addressed by Evans and attended by 2,000 people. The Emigration Society was reported as having branches in several parts of the country, and at the tea party ballots were conducted for six allotments. In the middle of 1849 the Emigration Society was separated from the Union Constitution, but several branches formed their own clubs attached to the Society.

In September, another meeting of about 2,000 people took place this time in Hanley. According to Evans, the Society now had 1,600 acres in Pottersville, and another 50,000 acres in Fox River. The Society was reported as having 105 branches. However, the fact that only one ballot took place at this meeting shows that things were not going as well for the Society as Evans made out. The crunch for the Society came the following year. First a letter appeared in the Advertiser from an emigrant, Philip Pointon, which was extremely critical. Then the Northern Star printed the full text of a memorial published in the United States press, which attacked the Society, and demanded an inquiry into its operations. Over the following months Evans was accused of withholding critical letters, and of bribing settlers to write glowing reports of life in the USA. IN the United States, land was seized by the Authorities in payment of debt, whilst Twigg was accused of misappropriation of funds. On 1st March 1850 the Advertiser announced the demise of the Society.

This wasn’t quite the end of Evans and Emigration. On 11th January 1851 a new paper the Potters Press and Miners Advocate had appeared with Evans as editor. The paper contained an advertisement under the heading “Evans Emigration Office, 104 Dale Street, Liverpool” which advertised passages to all parts of the world at reasonable cost. As Burchill and Ross point out, “An indication of the final outcome of the rivalry was the involvement of the miners in the 1851 newspapers. Chartism was discussed in this paper with some respect and approval – something which never happened in the Examiner.” (p97)

Evans advocacy of Emigration took the potters and miners of North Staffordshire in totally the wrong direction, after the defeats of 1837 and 1842. Instead of starting to rebuild the union organisation, the union’s resources were drained into Emigration. Instead of learning the lessons of defeat, in order to secure victory in the next battle, Evans advocacy of Emigration channelled the Potters into avoiding struggle; it led them away from drawing political conclusions and into looking for an easy way out. As Burchill and Ross put it “…it must be concluded that Evans’ leadership was a disaster and contributed to the ultimately insular and isolated posture of the pottery workers in the second half of the 19th Century."

See Also: 1905 Reform and Revolution

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