the failures of unemployed

When we think of the unemployed, we think Benefits Street. We think of people too lazy to get a job, or we think of criminals. We often forget that many people who are unemployed have either been sacked due to downsizing or companies shutting down outright. This thought has remained the same since the 19th century. However, after the West End riot in 1886, the idea that the unemployed are the same as the generic poor changed, and F G Hatch noted that there was now a separation between them, and it caused them to be recognised by the public.

How did it take until 1886 for people to recognise the difference between the poor who were seen as criminal, and the unemployed?


Before 1886, there were organisations that were for the unemployed, ones that either supported the unemployed and their families financially, or encouraged the government to provide more work for workers. A notable group was the Land and Labour League, a group who advocated for more agricultural work in London. They organised a march from Clerkenwell to Trafalgar Square on Good Friday in 1870 to gain public support as that was a day when the people would not work for religious reasons. However, it was not successful in the slightest. The Daily News called it the ‘most lamentable exhibitions of wildness’, and disregarded it completely.( Few newspapers commented on it, meaning that there was an even more lack of awareness of the organisation and the march. What was the cause of its lack of support? Could it still be the negative connotation of the term ‘unemployed’, as they were 16 years too early? The use of space was there, the walk from Clerkenwell to Trafalgar is a lengthy one and would gain the attention of Londoners. Tonkiss writes that using space as a ‘resource for political mobilisation’ (tonkiss chapter 3), made a bigger statement and was easy to showcase their cause. However, the LaLL did not use the space for political mobilisation, they did not picket or occupy buildings. They did not gather large crowds, but instead had at maximum 2000 supporters. Another failure of theirs is that they did not repeat the Good Friday demonstration (reiss p80), this was due to their failure to gain press support. Perhaps if they did, the LaLL might have gained more support from the public. The National Reformer noted after the event of what the LaLL should have done to make a louder statement. Bradlaugh suggested leading up to thousands of men by continuously, night after night, by starting from a few hundred and then to a thousand the day on, and so on. This would ‘induce the Ministry to think it was more dangerous to starve the poor than to offend their aristocratic friends’ (to correspondents, national reformer, 17 april 1870). This links with Tilly’s W.U.N.C, the use of numbers would influence the impact of the cause and raise awareness.

Irish Land and Labour League poster

Although LaLL failed to make an impact through the lack of following W.U.N.C, it did help to add to the change in idea of unemployment in the long run, with the West End riot in 1886.



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