1834 Tolpuddle Martyrs
Major changes in working conditions during the industrial revolution led workers to form unions to demand better conditions and wages. Employers disliked unions, and in the 1790s Parliament outlawed them under the Combination Acts. Those laws were changed. However, when George Loveless, a Methodist lay preacher from Tolpuddle, Dorset, formed a ‘friendly society' of agricultural workers in the 1830s to campaign peacefully for better wages, six members – the Tolpuddle Martyrs – were prosecuted in 1834 under a law previously directed at subversive secret societies and were sentenced to seven years' transportation to Australia. After a public outcry they were eventually pardoned.
Unions remained on an uneasy legal footing until 1871, when they were
recognised in law. Since then, Parliament has passed laws to help protect
workers' legal rights, including the right to strike, laws on contracts, sick
pay, redundancy pay, equal pay for equal work, and the minimum wage.