Religion: Conservative in Impact?

One might think that the religion of the middle class, of individualism and salvation, was not likely to appeal collective organising workers pursuing their united interests in the here and now. Freed of country ties, workers were losing social connections and becoming unchurched. The result was the middle class and so called respectable workers carrying out urban Protestant missions to the workers.
One thing that religion did, according to Marxism, was put out a false consciousness so that people did not organise in the revolutionary way that they might.
According to Marx, the wealth creation of surplus value workers made was in effect taken off them by capital owners. Competition between workers and economic slumps would reduce wages further and lead to class conflict. Yet direct working class action happened only spasmodically only in the early twentieth century. Was this thanks to religion?
The Halevy thesis has it that the dissenting churches, especially the Methodist Church, was able to go out into working communities and pick up converts. Why?
  • Excitable simple Methodist preaching
  • A sense that chapel was not the Church of the powerful
  • Grievances were expressed through these churches
A number of workers, according to this thesis, were absorbed into Methodist clubs and activities like choirs and outings, and so they did not enter into activities of revolutionary change. Wesley, who had set out to reform the remote Church of England, to reach the people by radical alteration of religion, and who found himself expelled, was thus still an agent of social conservatism himself.

The impact of church life on workers was not extensive enough
Churches were still regarded as the opposition: employers encouraged churchgoing and sometimes forced it
There needs to be a moment of real social and economic crisis with labour organisation to get class conflict, so a palliative is not needed
The ruling class responds flexibly - gives and takes
Arguably, in the UK the extension of the franchise after the First World War and since has been the giving a little that still allows capitalism to continue. The General Strike of 1926 was a flashpoint, but the unions caved in. A more sophisticated up to date argument comes later.
The Marxist argument simply did not allow for increasing wages and wage differentials as rewards; it is not simply because of union actions that wages have gone up, but due to the distribution of payment (economic rents) to land, capital and labour. Marx was wrong about capital: capital does its own value adding and gains reward. Religion seems to be only a small even insignificant factor in avoidance of conflict. Missions to the workers were largely failures creating subcultures of workers, not affecting the mass. The Sunday School movement had some impact, allowing parents to have Sunday mornings in bed together, and now even that has gone, along with most middle class churchgoing.