The Gloucester weaver strike of 1825 was part of a national revival of trade-union activity following Parliament's repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824. The strike also occupied a central place in Gloucester's economic history, marking a turning point in the evolution of its woolen trade from a protoindustrial to a factory-based system. For this reason, the strike embodied in its form the transitional state of the industry, combining characteristics of preindustrial “risings” with those of modern industrial disorders. And in this anomaly lay its distinctiveness and its special interest.
Scholars have little appreciated the strike's transitional quality, however, treating it inevitably as a straightforward confrontation between capital and labor. The Hammonds and, more recently, Julia de Lacey Mann have depicted the weavers as a homogeneous social group, their strike movement as autonomous, and their conflict with the clothiers as a unitary, year-long struggle for higher wages. Such treatment, moreover, reflects widely held assumptions about the nature of class and class consciousness in the English Industrial Revolution.
This essays offers a different perspective. The strike was organized and led by master weavers whose interests could differ from those of their journeymen and apprentices. Nor was their movement completely autonomous since the deference they displayed permitted elements within the employing and governing class to manipulate them. Those engaged in such manipulation pursued the interests of their own social group, however sincerely they invoked the values of paternalism. Indeed, the dominant pattern of conflict followed a traditional vertical arrangement; a hint of modern class conflict emerged only in the strike's final phase.