Wednesday, 23 October 2013

1919-1920: The Clash of Unions and Management

This is a further extract from Norman Le Brocq's booklet "Jersey Looks Forward". Previous extracts from the beginning to this point can be seen at:
The booklet is being transcribed and placed on the blog sequentially, and it is intended that the whole text will eventually be available online. It is significant, because Norman Le Brocq's history is very much the social history of the working classes, and there is a scarcity of histories on this. As will be seen, any reports base just on events in the JEP over the struggles of Unions will show a very partial and one-sided view.
Looking back on this history, it is amazing to see how diverse a range of industries there were on Jersey, all supporting the economy: "The smiths and metal workers, the coachbuilders and wheelwrights, the journey-man bakers, the gasworkers, the building and allied trades workers, besides the carters, storemen and coopers." Most of those are types of work which have gone completely or diminished to vanishing point, but they supported the agricultural and tourism industries. And we have unions such as the "Amalgamated Society of Tailors"! Now, very few people get their clothes tailor made.
Part of the disputes in these years arose from the Unions trying to ensure what would become known as a "closed shop."  Without the "closed shop", management could sideline the Unions and hence the workers. It means that all employees will receive greater benefits from collective bargaining performed by a union than would an individual employee. The employees should contribute financially to support the collective bargaining process because they benefit from it.
But the downside was the apparent loss of individual freedom, which could even be used to promote racism as in the Bristol bus boycott in the early 1960s where the Passenger Group (which represented drivers and conductors) of Bristol's Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) passed a resolution that black workers should not be employed as bus crews.
The "closed shop" was certainly necessary in the early days of the Unions, where workers needed collective bargaining, but later it would prove controversial as a means of asserting Union power over members without the need to ballot them before strikes.
In fact Labour made the first attempt to change this in Barbara Castle's white paper "In Place of Strife" which included proposals for fines on trade unions which refused to hold strike ballots but backed down in the face of Union protests. The changes were to come in the 1980s under the Thatcher government. Significantly, Ed Milliband has said that the Conservative government of the 1980s "was right to change the rules on the closed shop, on strikes before ballots. These changes were right, and we were wrong to oppose it at the time"
But the end of the "closed shop" has meant a tipping of the balance between employer and employee in favour of the employer, which could be seen in the recent proposed bus strike, where the management at CT Plus planned to bring in temporary non-Union drivers to keep the wheels turning, and allowing non-Union members as bus drivers. As the Unions weaken, so too collective bargaining tips in favour of management. This can also be seen where the States Employment Board can often seemingly ignore the Unions in setting pay, and there is no independent arbiter to appeal to. The pendulum may have swung too far the other way.
1919-1920: The Clash of Unions and Management
by Norman Le Brocq
July 11, 1919, A strike at Grandin's, Ironmongers and Founders, of Bath Street and Commercial Buildings. Twenty-two men were involved. The reason for this action was an attempt to enforce "union shop" at Grandin's. Five men .refused to join the Union despite the fact that they were drawing Union rates of pay. The remainder of the employees presented A. F. Gallichan, works manager, with an ultimatum that either he refused to employ non-union labour or they would strike. He refused to do anything in the matter. They struck. The Union officials decided to support the men and strike pay was paid out. At a District Committee meeting, held on July 21, to discuss the situation, the following resolution was passed:
"That on and after September 1, 1919, the members of the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Workers' Union will refuse to work with non-unionists (male or female). Furthermore, the dockers absolutely refuse to handle goods consigned to non-union firms on and after that date."
Meanwhile, stalemate at Grandin's. So on July 25 the dockers placed an embargo on the loading and unloading of any goods for Grandin's.
On July 26 a consignment of wire for Grandins Ltd, was placed in the L. & S.W.R. store by the dockers, to remain there till after the dispute had been settled. This was removed by Grandin's non-union labour. That meant trouble. The dockers came out, refusing to touch any goods. On the intervention of Jack Hardman it was decided to resume work for one week pending a ballot re a general strike.
At the beginning of August a demand for £2 .10s. a week was put before the Jersey Produce Merchants' Association. There was still no news of the pending general strike; though Hardman was at English headquarters discussing the matter.
On August 18 the local branch of another Union -the English Amalgamated Society of Tailors-called a strike. This was a wage dispute pure and simple. The tailors demanded 10d. per hour, a rise of 4 1/2d. per hour from what they were getting. Finally the tailors got their 10d.
September 1, 1919. The great day had arrived. "We will. not work with non-unionists," had said the resolution. Grandin's men had stuck to that and were still "out." BUT English headquarters said " No!" The reason for Hardman's visit to England was made plain. The general strike had been called off and the resolution remained a pious hope on paper. Such were the " leaders of men ! "
It is tempting, though unprofitable, to speculate on what would have happened if Union headquarters had backed the men. The local Union was nearing the 4,000   mark and was full of enthusiasm. The employers were distinctly nervous, but hoping that a stern face would frighten off the enemy. It would in' all probability have been the greatest victory that the Jersey worker had experienced. But English headquarters said " No!"
On September 4, 1919, Grandin's men were back at work.
The local Branch of the National Union of Railwaymen were called out during the great N.U.R. strike of September, 1919, and the local dockers supported them by refusing to carry out any work normally done by N.U.R. men.
In December a demand was made on the Building and Allied Trades Federation for a 1 1/2d. per hour increase, with a three months' agreement. The Federation offered 1/2d. per hour increase for a nine month's agreement. After a strike had been threatened, the case was put before a Ministry of Labour Arbitrator, who awarded a 1 1/2d. per hour increase with a nine months' agreement.
Meanwhile trouble in the ranks. Moignard and Hardman were at loggerheads. Moignard walked out of the D.W.R. & G.W.U., and with a small group of supporters formed a local branch of the English General Workers' Union. This, the only one of those dangerous splitting tendencies that Jersey Unionism has undergone, was straightened out happily a year later by both these Unions affiliating to the newly formed Transport and General Workers' Union. The local branches were then merged. By this time Moignard had transferred to the N.U.R.
The next major dispute arose in February, 1920, over a demand by the storemen and carters for 55/- per week instead of the existing  35/-, and a demand from the coopers for a rise from 45/- to  60/-.. In both cases a further demand was made for a 55-hour week. The Evening Post of February 12, in an Editorial headed, " The demand for higher wages - Time to Face the Facts," regarded this as an impossible demand, warning the men that " here in Jersey high wages must mean unemployment," for "we are not a producing community; we live, so to speak, on one another, and if wages get beyond a certain limit our economic system will be completely dislocated and labour will defeat its own ends." ("Near All Sides", JEP 2/3/1920-4/3/1920))
In saying " we are not a producing community" the Evening Post ignored the fact that over half-a-million pounds per annum plowed into the Island in payment of exported potatoes alone. Besides potatoes the Island exported much other agricultural produce. Thus we are definitely a producing community--quite apart from the large amount of money brought to the Island by the tourist traffic. Thus, as in many other cases, the Evening Post falsified the issue by making statements quite contrary to well-established facts. In any case, if Jersey's economic system can only be saved from dislocation at the cost of low wages and
poor working conditions, then it is time that we altered that system.
A number of existing agreements were due to expire in March and a claim for higher pay was put forward by the smiths and metal workers, the coachbuilders and wheelwrights, the journey-man bakers, the gasworkers, the building and allied trades workers, besides the carters, storemen and coopers.
There was some delay in receiving an. answer from the Produce Merchants' Association which, when it did come, merely suggested renewing the old agreement with some trivial alterations. This was regarded by Hardman as a refusal to accept the men's demand. He sent a request for the consideration of the men's demands and asked for an answer to be given by the following day. He was told that as the President and Vice-President were out of the Island, nothing could be done for another week. Meanwhile no replies had been received from either Employers' Federations.
The D.W.R. & G.W.U. decided to hold a mass meeting at West Park Pavilion on March 2. R. Greenwood, National Organiser, would be present. Meanwhile, R. J. Blampied, Secretary of the J.P.M.A., Stanley Guiton, Secretary of the Jersey Employers' Federation, and. Harry Morris, Manager of the Gas Light Co., rushed into print to deny any delay on their part.(JEP 12/2/1920)
At the D.W.R. & G.W.U. meeting, Greenwood made a long and enthusiastically received speech explaining the situation. At the end of this the following resolution was unanimously adopted:
"This Mass' Meeting of Workpeople, representing all sections of employment covered by the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Workers' Union, views with grave concern the continued and repeated attempts of the employers to evade and ignore the principle of Collective Organisation, the inalienable right of the organised working class. It vigorously protests against the continuance of a policy, the object of which is to delay settlements advantageous to the workpeople, and the saving of wage payments long overdue to them."
"The meeting solemnly warns the employers that a continuance of those tactics can have but one result, i.e., the complete withdrawal of all essential labour until such time as they(the employers) give an undertaking to promptly meet the accredited representatives of organised labour, for the a purpose of discussing wage and other claims, with a view to an amicable settlement."
"Further, the meeting unreservedly pledges itself to support t and stand by ANY action which may be deemed necessary to give effect to the principle of Collective Bargaining, and expresses the hope that the employers will adopt a more reasonable attitude, and by a frank recognition of the inevitable, establish conditions that will safeguard both sides against action of an extreme and undesirable character."
On the same evening the newly formed branch of the Workers' Union met and heard M. Giles, Divisional Organiser, say that the worker could do more by approaching the employer in a courteous way, and they must also appreciate the difficulties of the employer."  Such was the difference the difference between the two Union locals.
As far as the Union claim of delay is concerned, it should be noted that the demand for an increase from the J.P.M.A. was sent to that body by the Union on February 5. On February 21 a reply was received saying that the Association wished to renew the old agreement. On this very day that agreement expired. Then, owing to all officials being conveniently    out of the Island or otherwise engaged, the J.P.M.A. refused to place the Union's demands before the merchants before March 8.
When the J.P.M.A. did meet they made a final offer of £2 per week and backed this offer with a threat that if the men did not accept they would be locked out.
At least that is the Union's story. The J.P.M.A. put it rather differently. In a letter to Hardman, Blampied, J.P.M.A. Secretary, said: " if these Agreements (the £2  wage, etc.) between the Employers belonging to the Jersey Produce Merchants' Association and the representatives of the Dock, Wharf, Riverside & General Workers' Union are not signed by both parties before Saturday next, March 20, the said Employers will refuse to employ any persons until they are prepared to work on these terms" (JEP 17/3/1920)
In spite of this plain statement an advertisement was placed in the Evening Post of that same evening saying that "they (the J.P.M.A.) have no intention whatever of locking out their employees. All employees willing to continue work on the new scale are requested to inform their employer."
Ah, there's the catch ! One might ask : When is a lock-out not a lock-out? Evidently when it is allowable for black-leg labour to continue working!
On February 18 the men concerned met and the following resolution was forwarded to the J.P.M.A.:
"That the membership of the carters, coopers and storemen request the District Secretary to write the Jersey Produce Merchants' Association requesting same to withdraw their ultimatum of the 15th inst., which is nothing but a threat, by 4 p.m. on Friday, March 19, 1920, and an early date fixed for the reopening of the negotiations, otherwise the officials of the Union will consider their members locked out on Saturday, March 20, 1920." 
It was also recorded that at some stores individual men had been approached to sign the new J.P.M.A. agreement and on refusing thus to break Union discipline they were given a week's notice.
On the 20th, no answer having been received from the bosses, all Union store employees struck. Pickets were placed on all stores and on the quays to ensure that no carting would be done. A coal ship, the s.s. Mechelin arrived, but could not be unloaded.
At this point F. J. Bois, now local Coal. Controller, called for the men and masters to let bygones be bygones and renew negotiations. Hardman agreed on behalf of the men, but the J.P.M.A. refused.
That this was no local dispute between the store workers and masters is shown by a resolution passed by the Employers Central Advisory Council, composed of representatives from the Jersey Employers Federation, the Building and Allied Trades Federation, the Plumbers Federation, the Jersey Produce Merchants' Association and the Farmers' Union. This resolution stated "that this Council fully endorses the offer which the merchants have made to their employees; moreover, seeing that the merchants have taken steps to explain to officials of the Union their interpretation which is complained of by the employees, the Council is of the opinion that nothing more can now be done by the merchants."
So the gauntlet was thrown down.

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