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Who Came up with the idea of Union organizing?

The Magna Carta is the foundation of individual rights and freedoms in Anglo-American Law.
opinion editorial

Blame The English Nobility
The Magna Carta and Anglo-American Jurisprudence

A few weeks ago our disgruntled neighbours to the south – not Assiniboia but the United States – formed a Senate Committee to questioned business people about Union Organizing. Committee Chair Senator Bernie Sanders challenged a ‘coffee mogul’ about the organizing practices at his businesses. The ‘organizing’ controversy is at least 900 years old.

1066 and William the Conqueror – A Brief History

William the Conqueror, a Frenchman from Normandy, got a bunch of buddies together and invaded England in 1066. They killed English King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings and took over. William’s French speaking buddies had their own private armies. After success at Hastings the Noble Dudes spent a few years killing and plundering and taking over most of England.

In exchange for their support William the Conqueror gave the Barons and Noblemen huge tracts of land farmed by Surfs. These Surfs farmed the Noblemen’s land and in exchange for their work the Nobleman gave the Surfs part of the crop but kept most for himself.

The Noblemen always had a big share of the crop so he sold some and lived high on the hog. The Surfs just plodded along. The Surfs were treated okay because, if Nobles didn’t have Surfs they didn’t have anyone to farm their land. It was a working relationship.

To be a Nobleman you had to be born into a Noble family and inherit the estate and farm. To be a Surf you just had to be the child of Surfs.

The Nobility power arrangement went well until the greedy little King John (1199 to 1216) took over from his brother, King Richard I. King John believed he had ultimate power and would deal with each Nobleman one on one. Since King John’s army was bigger than any single Nobleman’s army, he could bully the Nobility.

The Barons (Noblemen) did not like being bullied. They realized, “There is safety in numbers.”

The Noblemen and the ‘well-to-do’ church leaders organized. The Noblemen’s combined armies were bigger than the King’s and they threatened Civil War. They told King John they’d kick his butt back across the English Channel (Not really – I made this up) if he didn’t quit bullying them and agree to their demands to share power and control over their lives and estates.

The Noblemen wrote a list of their demands, called ‘Articles’ and called it the Magna Carta, Latin for the ‘great charter’. Rather than get his butt kicked, King John agreed to sign the Magna Carta and did so on June 15, 1215.

Of significance, the Magna Carta stipulated the King, the Sovereign, and his/her heirs were subject to the rule of law and certain ‘liberties and rights’ were granted to ‘free men’.

Of course ‘free men’ were the Barons (Nobles) and church leaders. The Surfs were not included and went back farming the land.

There you have it! English Nobility organized the first Union – the coming together of people for the same purpose. They wanted to control the power of the king. And they did.

Sovereigns had a history of not keeping their word. The Noblemen knew this from experience so they insisted 25 of their representatives “serve as a form of security” to make sure the Sovereign did not go back on his/her word. (Clause 61)


The Magna Carta is the foundation of individual rights and freedoms in Anglo-American Law.

As you’d expect, lawyers have argued about the meaning of each Clause ever since.

King John rolled up in the Magna Carta

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.  

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