Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Industrial Struggle

Here is another extract from Norman Le Brocq's history of the working class in Jersey. It is the post-war era, and the workers were not prepared to lose sight of the "land fit for heroes" that had been the promise of politicians during the war time struggle. Working islanders who had fought in the trenches were no longer prepared to be so readily cowed by their employers.

The Franchise Act had increased the vote, but 20% still had no vote. As a rough guide, with the figures below, the weekly wage of 36 shillings translates to £61.30 (on the basis of RPI), and that of 50 shillings to £85.20.

It is interesting to note that the police were banned from joining a union. This was very much in like with the times. In the UK, there had been police strikes in 1918 and 1919 which resulted in the British government under Lloyd George putting before Parliament its proposals for a Police Act, which established the "Police Federation of England and Wales" as the representative body for the police, rather than any Union formed from the police themselves. The Act also barred police from belonging to a trade union or affiliating with any other trade union body. Part of the fear was that if the police belonged to a union, their loyalties might be divided in any strikes between supporting the authorities or the workers.

It is clear that the same fears were present in Jersey, and a compromise was reached, with the police who had been summarily dismissed being reinstated, but only on the grounds that, as in the UK, the police stayed out of the Union.

The Industrial Struggle

Leaving the Union's political activities for the moment, we turn to the industrial struggle.
At the second quarterly meeting of the Union, held on March 28, 1919, a report was heard giving details of that quarter's work. The report recorded victory after victory, commencing: "Our first encounter and victory of this quarter was with Bashfords Ltd. The Union has secured from there an average rise of 8/- per- head per - week. The Storemen, Coopers and Carters employed by the Potato Merchants Association have had their  wages increased, in some cases by 7/-, in others 5/- per week.
"The cranemen, a rise of 7/6 per week, and their overtime paid at the rate of 1/3 per hour. All Sunday and holiday time in future is to be paid at the rate of 1/6 per hour.
"Several coal merchants have agreed to pay the same wages as the P.M.A. The Veneer Basket Co. has also agreed to pay the same wages as other stores.
"Jobbing ship carpenters in the employ of Watton, South Pier, have had a substantial increase of pay through the efforts of our Union, their rates now ranging from 36/- to 50/- per week.
"Then we come to those members of our Union who are employed by the Local Government. We have approached the States Committee of Piers and Harbours as regards to carpenters, storemen, pier-head watchmen, the crew of the tug " Duke," and also the pier sweepers, and have succeeded in each case in obtaining a satisfactory rise in wages.
"We have also approached the Mayor of St. Helier on behalf of the destructor firemen and the quarrymen employed by the Parish. These men have also benefited by our Union, and we have by our efforts raised the wages of the firemen by 6/- and the quarrymen by 5/- per week.
" I might also mention here that our Union has been successful with regard to the plumbers in getting their wages raised by 1d per hour.
"In concluding the above list, we must not forget that in addition to a substantial rise in wages, your Union has obtained in every case a weekly half-holiday, which we regard as very important to all workers.
" We are proud to state that our total membership to date is 2,203, which is an increase on last quarter of 997."
Not a bad record for three months' work! Apart from all this, too, it must be remembered that organisational work had been heavy, dealing with the large influx of new members. Branches had been set up for: Dockers and General Workers,. Masons and Plasterers, Carpenters, Painters, Plumbers; Coopers, Carters, Cranemen, Gasworkers, Coachbuilders, Shop Assistants, Women Workers, and Agricultural Workers. The activities of the branches were co-ordinated in a District Committee comprising the Chairman of each branch and the District Chairman and Secretary.
At this time there were still no paid officials; though soon after the need was felt for a full-time paid secretary.
The next time that the Union hit the headlines was in May. On Monday, May 19, it having come to the ears of the Constable of St. Helier that a number of policemen had joined the D.W.R. & G.W.U., a parade was called and P.C. Osmond, who was a known Unionist, was dismissed and two others, Walters and Poingdestre, were suspended pending inquiries.
On the Tuesday morning a lightning strike of dockers and pier carters was called. This was effective by 9 o'clock, pickets being placed on the quays and the men discussing the situation. It was felt by most that the Police should have formed a branch of the English Police Union, but in any case the dismissals would be fought by the Union. At noon a meeting was held between Union officials and the Police and Pier authorities. This meeting came to an end at 1.30 p.m., Moignard going direct to the pier and addressing the strikers. He told them to resume work for one day pending an inquiry. This was done.
At the inquiry on the following day it was decided to reinstate the policemen on the understanding that the Police Force remained outside the Union. This was accepted by all concerned.
The popularity of the Union at this time can be judged by the number present at the West Park Pavilion on May 23. Over 2,000 people were present at this mass meeting held under Union auspices. It was noted that there were then 3,000-odd Union members.
Thus did Jersey fall in line with the feeling of revolt that swept the workers of Europe. And more was to follow.

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