Open main menu

Wikipedia β

Taff Vale Rly Co v Amalgamated Society of Rly Servants

  (Redirected from Taff Vale Case)

Taff Vale Railway Co v Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants [1901] UKHL 1, commonly known as the Taff Vale case, is a formative case in UK labour law. It held that, at common law, unions could be liable for loss of profits to employers that were caused by taking strike action.

Taff Vale Railway Co v Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants
Cardiff Central mosaic.jpg
Court House of Lords
Decided 22 July 1901
Citation(s) [1901] UKHL 1, [1901] AC 426
Case history
Prior action(s) [1901] 1 KB 170 (CA) and
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Earl of Halsbury LC, Lord Macnaghten, Lord Shand, Lord Brampton and Lord Lindley
Right to strike, economic tort, conspiracy

The labour movement reacted to Taff Vale with outrage; the case gave impetus to the establishment of the UK Labour Party and was soon reversed by the Trade Disputes Act 1906. It was reversed at common law in Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co Ltd v Veitch [1942].[1]



A trade union, called the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, went on strike to protest against the company's treatment of John Ewington, who had been refused higher pay and was punished for his repeated requests by being moved to a different station. When the Taff Vale Railway Company employed replacement staff, the strikers engaged in a sabotage campaign, greasing the rails and uncoupling the carriages. The Taff Vale Railway Company thus decided to engage with the union for the purpose of collective bargaining and the workers returned to work. The Railway Company, however, decided to sue the union for damages and won.

Previously it had been thought that trade unions could not be sued, because they were unincorporated entities, under the law of trusts.

Judge George Farwell held in favour of the company. His decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal, but restored on further appeal to the House of Lords.


The House of Lords ruled that, if a union is capable of owning property, and capable of inflicting harm on others, then it is liable in tort for the damage it causes. Here, the damage was said to be the economic loss caused to the company when the employees broke their contracts of employment to go on strike. So the Taff Vale Railway Co was successful in suing for damages. It was awarded £23,000[2] plus court costs, reaching a total of £42,000.[3] This set the precedent that unions could be held liable for damages resulting from actions by its officials. The Earl of Halsbury LC began.

Lord MacNaughten delivered the leading judgment.

Lord Shand's judgment was read as followed.

Lord Brampton concurred.

Lord Lindley, an expert on partnership law concurred.


Balfour's Conservative government later set up a Royal Commission, a decision that was unpopular among trade unionists. The decision was a turning point for the newly formed Labour Representation Committee. Affiliation from trade unions to the LRC stood at 350,000 in 1901 but rose to 450,000 in 1902 and 850,000 in 1903. Five more joined this cause in through the formation of the 'League Chat'. A mass movement was being formed that led to the creation of the modern British Labour Party.[11] Subsequently the Labour party was elected in a significant minority of the seats in Parliament and, in partnership with the Liberal government, passed the Trade Disputes Act 1906. This overrode the ruling in Taff Vale and provided the foundation for the law on the right to strike in the UK, that no cause of action could be brought against a trade union for economic loss, if a strike was "in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute". Although, English law does not provide a 'right' to strike in the strict sense, it is better seen as providing immunity from tortious liability should certain substantive and procedural requirements be met.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ [1942] AC 435
  2. ^ about £1,700,000 at 2007 prices
  3. ^ about £3,104,000 at 2007 prices
  4. ^ Eleventh and Final Report, 1869, Dissent (III.), Statement, p. lxi.
  5. ^ P. xxxi
  6. ^ [1893] 1 Q. B. 435
  7. ^ (1818) 2 Sw. 277
  8. ^ Commissioners of Sewers v Gellatly, (1876) 3 Ch. D. 615
  9. ^ [1893] 1 Q. B. 435
  10. ^ Ante, p. 1.
  11. ^ Wright T. & Carter M,(1997) "The People's Party" Thames & Hudson, ISBN 0-500-27956-X
  12. ^ See the remarks of Maurice Kay LJ in Metrobus Limited v Unite the Union [2009] IRLR 851.


  • G Lockwood, ‘Taff Vale and the Trade Disputes Act 1906’ in KD Ewing The Right to Strike, Institute of Employment Rights (2006) 11-30