Christopher FrankFeb 5, 2020
Workers, Unions and Payments in Kind
The Fight for Real Wages in Britain, 1820-1914
The passage of the 1831 Truck Act was intended to end throughout the United Kingdom the practice of paying employees in truck, or goods, rather than in money. As Christopher Frank reveals in Workers, Unions and Payments in Kind: The Fight for Real Wages in Britain, 1820-1914 (Routledge, 2019), though, this merely redefined a struggle that continued through the Victorian era into the early 20th century. As Frank demonstrates, employers soon developed ways to work around the ban in the law, which proved difficult to enforce. While as early as the 1850s governments considered new legislation to clamp down further on truck, efforts to do so ran into both laissez-faire and paternalistic arguments that together successfully frustrated passage of new measures. It was only with the increasing influence of the New Model Unions and the growing enfranchisement of workers from the 1860s onward that the issue became more of an electoral priority. While this pressure led to new legislation in 1887 and again in 1896 that improved enforcement of the ban on truck as well as introducing restrictions on fines and other pay deductions, concerns about wage theft persisted for workers up to the start of the First World War, when Britain’s entry into the conflict disrupted further pursuit of legislative amelioration.