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Arch, Joseph (1826–1919)

Stacy Warner Maddern


Joseph Arch is considered one of the key figures in the development of British trade unionism because of his efforts to help organize England's agricultural laborers. Born in 1826 in Barford, Warwickshire, Arch was the son of a farm laborer who later became a Primitive Methodist preacher. In the early 1870s, when farm laborers in the southern and central areas of England began protesting low wages and harsh working conditions, Arch came to their aid by creating the National Agricultural Labourers' Union (NALU). The NALU came up against a landed aristocracy that wielded a great amount of power and influence. Arch held that the rich were bent upon treating those who worked the land no differently from the animals that grazed it. Citing the position of the rich, the land belonged to the rich man and the poor man had no part nor lot in it. As such, the poor had no sort of claim on society. Arch criticized the rich for censoring the needs of the poor and demoralizing them with a starvation wage. In 1872 the organization had a membership of 86,000 despite immense hostility from the landowners and farmers, who claimed that unions were just another communist challenge of the existing social system. However, by 1874, after a prolonged strike, the NALU suffered from depleted funds and decreasing membership. By the 1880s the NALU was struggling to survive, and morale among workers and their ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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