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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12

Fourth Conference

Fourth Conference,

The Delegates of the Employers and Workmen met in the Religious Institution. Rooms on the afternoon of Wednesday, the 28th February. The Masters' Association was represented by:—
  • Bailie Hamilton (who presided);
  • Mr Jamieson;
  • Mr Anthony Inglts;
  • Mr Lawrie, Whiteinch;
  • Mr Paton;
  • Mr Blackmore;
  • Mr Connor; with
  • Mr J. P. Smith, Secretary.
The West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short Time League was represented by:—
  • Mr Turnbull;
  • Mr Alison;
  • Mr Marshall;
  • Mr Stephens;
  • Mr Simpson;
  • Mr Crichton;
  • Mr Watson; with
  • Mr Elrick, Secretary.

Bailie Hamilton—The reason I am in the position of Chairman to-day is that Mr Ure has been travelling all night, and is very much fatigued, so that he will, not be present. Before the commencement of the business, I may state that we had a meeting this afternoon at two o'clock, at which we expected to have received a statement from you as to the time you propose to allow before the commencement of the 51 hours. That was our understanding when we parted at last conference. But since we have got no intimation of the time, but merely that you had received full powers to arrange the matter in a way that would be advantageous to the workmen, we are now ready to hear what proposal you have to make.

Mr Turnbull—I hope you are ready to meet us in the same spirit as we are prepared to meet you. We have to propose to you, on behalf of the workmen, the 1st of September as affording the employers a reasonable time to complete their contracts.

page 44

Mr Connor—That is scarcely splitting the difference.

Mr Turnbull—It is—between our first offer, which was June, and your date, which is January.

The Chairman—I don't remember June being spoken of, but I remember distinctly that at the first Conference I asked Mr Simpson to name a time, and he said, Perhaps the 1st of August. Is that so, Mr Simpson? Of course, I understood you to say that on your own responsibility.

Mr Turnbull—It was I that stated the 1st of August. What I said, I think, was, Would you not mention a time—say the 1st of August?

Mr Alison—I don't know whether the Chairman was present at the second Conference, but I think I then suggested June as an intermediate position. We stretched two months, and we believed the men would agree to that. When we stated June, we went as far as we thought we could go; but practically we took those two months on our own responsibility.

Mr Jamieson—I perfectly understood at the last conference that the workmen's date was after the Fair Holidays. I met the argument in this way. I said that if you had come to the conclusion to give us a fair and reasonable time, the basis of your arrangement was a week of 57 hours. We were giving you three hours for a certain period, and we wanted you to give us three hours for a certain period, and that period, when the two were put together, was to be a fair and reasonable time when the 51 hours should commence. We talked of the Fair Holidays, and why, in the name of goodness and fair and honourable treatment, go back to June now? This is certainly not a fair thing to do; it is unreasonable this, men. You have done enough of harm with this question already, without going further into it. You have practically damned the trade in this quarter for a time, and why now come before us——

The Chairman—You must be moderate, gentlemen.

Mr Alison—Mr Chairman, had Mr Ure been in the position you are in just now, he would have remembered that at the end of the last conference it was distinctly stated that June was our starting-point. Mr Jamieson is clearly in error. He was not present at the time, and I can assure him that there is nothing dishonourable in our conduct. There is no other wish on the part of any one of us than to settle the matter in a fair and honourable way. What Mr Jamieson may have said at the last conference at which he was present I do not remember, but the understanding come to at the meeting was clearly understood.

Mr Connor—I also understood at the last conference that the point of settlement was to be between the Fair holidays and the New-Year holidays. That was, I think, the understanding arrived at by all of us here.

Mr Simpson—I don't at all wonder that difficulties of this kind should crop up. If we had had the same individuals here at every subsequent Conference as there were present at the first one, these difficulties would not have occurred. When we went the length of August we went further than our constituents authorised us, in an earnest desire to come to an arrangement. But why don't you make an offer now I we are quite willing to meet you. Let us hear how far you can go.

Mr Connor—That the 51 hours begin on the 1st of November, or the whole filing be referred to arbitration. That is a clear ultimatum, and if you don't agree to that, you are bound to arbitration by your own offer.

Mr Anthony Inglis—Before you go further in proposing the 1st of November, let me say that is a point I would not accede to at all. My impression is that we have made a very fair offer already, and one that we should stick by. Suppose you get parties to agree to a compromise, the time will be got by compulsion. If you are going to settle it in this way, would it not do to allow those contractors who have small contracts to arrange upon the 1st of June if they are inclined. But I don't see it is right that you should seek to coerce my men or any other body's men. Can these delegates bind the men, or can we bind the men? Suppose I make a proposal to give a man so much pay for so much work, is that man bound to me until January? Certainly not. If any other employer offer him more wages, I cannot keep him back. If this Short-Time League were to get the men to sign a paper to agree to the same wages until the 1st of January, we might change page 45 our minds. My contracts will perhaps take, not to January next, but to Glasgow Fair, 1873, before they are completed; and if I say that I have gone as far as I can go, you are bound to believe that I am telling the truth. Mr Connor has come farther than any person here would have come, and that is telling you honestly. I don't think you have done what you might in this matter, because I have that confidence in the men to believe that they are not unreasonable if you state a matter clearly to them. I think that to come here now, after all we have done, and propose the 1st of June——

The Chairman—I think you do not clearly understand the position of matters, Mr Inglis, through not having been in the room at the commencement of the meeting. The workmen's delegates have proposed the 1st of September, and June was mentioned as the time from which they had advanced.

Mr Anthony Inglis—Oh, I thought it was June they were proposing to-day. If Mr Connor's proposal is put before the meeting, and agreed to by the employers, I do not think it would be worth while to ask an arbiter to come in between us for the purpose of settling a difference of two months. There is no man would spend his time in doing it.

Mr Blackmore—As a representative from Greenock, on the part of myself and Mr Paton, I may state that, although we are part and parcel of the association, and have been nominated to meet with you to-day, we do not oblige ourselves, as Greenockians, to agree to the 51 hours at all. Our men have given a decided expression of opinion against it, and we cannot come to any conclusion. The chances are that if we were to offer our men the 51 hours at all, they will strike against it. I know that the representatives of the Short-Time League were refused a hearing in Greenock. The engineers of Messrs Caird & Co. did not wait to allow him to do what I did in order to ascertain their views. His men have actually insisted upon an interview with Mr Caird, and have represented exactly the same thing that our men did—that they would have nothing to do with the 51 hours.

Mr Alison—Mr Blackmore has stated that the Greenockians are opposed to the 51 hours, and that his own men are opposed to it. It so happens that I saw two of his own men in Glasgow on Saturday, who came up for the purpose of giving us a very different statement from the one Mr Blackmore gave us.

Mr Blackmore—Could you give me the names of those men?

Mr Alison—I could, but I would not. These men told me that not a single man out of Mr Blackinore's engine shop attended the meeting which he told us decided against the 51 hours.

Mr Blackmore—It is a decided untruth.

Mr Alison—That is what they told us.

The Chairman—Mr Alison was quite justified in stating to us what they told him.

Mr Simpson—We are wandering away from the subject. We are here for a purpose to-day, and we should try to accomplish it. If November is your ultimatum, I have no doubt that our Chairman (Mr Turnbull) will reply to it.

The Chairman—Well, we must make all allowances. You look at this question from one point of view, and we look at it from another.

Mr Paton—I don't exactly agree with Mr Simpson that there is no use for this discussion. At two o'clock on Friday last, when I was with you, the men asked a meeting with Mr Caird at their engine works, and the following morning Mr Caird told me that they did not want the 51 hours at all. They were quite willing to work the 54 hours. At the same time, Mr Caird is a member of the association, and we will act along with it. Whatever any men may tell you, I can assure you that there is no agitation in Greenock in favour of the 51 hours.

Mr Simpson—I may state that the only notice we have got of any agitation in Greenock was the notice in the Herald about three weeks ago, which stated that a meeting of the workmen were unanimously in favour of the 51 hours.

Mr Blackmore—I am here to state that there were dozens of the men at the meeting of our works, and that the only engineer who held up his hands in favour of the 51 hours has been wandering about the streets ever since.

The Chairman—Perhaps it is right for me to state, for the benefit of the gentlemen present, that the proposal made by Mr Connor was our ultimatum. We, page 46 perhaps like you, were inclined at first to fight a little shy, and come first to December and then to November; but Mr Connor, in his usual open way, rushed, into the thing at once. I wish you to understand that this is a point beyond which we cannot go.

Mr Connor—Only let it be understood that the arbitration will be between. July and January.

Mr Turnbull—There will be no need for arbitration, I think.

Mr Crichton—Are we to understand that the proposal the employers have made is agreed to by the whole of them?

The Chairman—I may say that Mr Inglis was not present when we came to our ultimatum; but I have no doubt Mr Inglis would be disposed to go the same length if his men wished it.

Mr Simpson—Really who would insist upon men working only 51 hours, if they were wanting to work 54? (A voice—"That's all right.")

Mr Turnbull—I have consulted my colleagues, and find that they are quite willing to accept your offer of the 1st of November. We were looking to October, and as there is not much difference between us we thought it better to get rid of it. But, in going the length of November there is one point that I should like to put before you. Mr Jamieson, at the last Conference, quoted the wages of the lower paid men at 4s 6d, but there are men below that sum per day. I forgot to inform you that we have a large number of hammermen in our League, and we will not be acting well if we don't get the penny of allowance for the men paid below £1. I think it would be but reasonable that those men should receive that.

Mr A. Inglis—That is bringing up a different subject, which I don't think the Short-Time League has anything to do with. My opinion is that this is a matter that will very much adjust itself, and that you are putting yourselves to a great deal of extra trouble in speaking for the hammermen. I consider the hammermen just about the easiest wrought men in the shop. The boilermakers are the men that deserve to be well paid, but I would not listen to any discussion about wages.

Mr Simpson—In most of the shops the low paid men are not allowed time-and-a-quarter just now, but they have so much allowance. What Mr Turnbull is anxious to know is, in the event of those men being deprived of the allowance, how will they be compensated?

The Chairman—They are to get time-and-a-half.

Mr Simpson—Are we to understand that the labouring man is to get time-and-a-half?

Mr A. Inglis—Decidedly; everbody is to get it.

Mr Jamieson—I am very glad the men have accepted the time we proposed, because really the irritation the dispute has caused me and many men connected, with it you will never know. I hope it may do good. I give you all credit for having your only object as that of ameliorating the condition of the working classes. At the present, though, I must decidedly say it is doing the very opposite. I have large contracts that will not be completed until far into next year. The shipbuilding and marine engineering in this part of the country have, I fear, sustained a shock that it will be long before they can recover it. Now, for God's sake, go back to your shops, and don't let us be disturbed again until things right themselves, and try if you can preserve amongst us that great energy that has kept industrial prosperity in this part of the country for a long time, and not give it to other parts of the country with greater facilities than we possess.

The Chairman—Well, gentlemen, you have had a lecture from our side of the house, and it is quite right that yon should give us a lecture from the other side.

Mr Alison—I don't think that we will seek to bestow a lecture upon you. I am persuaded, sir, that the land of James Watt has nothing to fear from any competition whatever, and I am also persuaded that this movement will not retard the progress that has attended it since his day until now. There is one thing, however, to which I must again allude, and that is to the subject of the weekly pays, which is engaging the attention of the workmen to a very large extent, more than any of you are, perhaps, aware of. Weekly pays are now the rule in England, and there is a strong feeling all over this country in favour of getting them introduced. The whole of our men are appealing in favour of weekly pays.

page 47

The Chairman—I should just say in reply to this, that it was mentioned at last Conference that this was a question for each work to decide for itself. I have no doubt that if any large majority of men, in any shop, were to make the request, it would be granted; although it would cause a great deal of extra trouble. Our time-keeper has to keep an exact account of the time at the different jobs. If he had nothing to do but take 500 or 000 men and calculate their wages, putting down the amount to one job, it would be comparatively an easy matter. But when he has to connect the different men's names with the different jobs, and calculate so many days and so many hours, and then calculate that at so much an hour, it comes to be a very difficult job. I have no doubt, however, that the employers would be willing to meet the men in this matter.

Mr Simpson—After the last Conference, we laid the matter before the delegates, that it was to be left to the different shops. We had a delegate meeting again on Monday night, and there was a strong representation that the question should be urged to a settlement. There is some force in the arguments you have stated, Mr Chairman; but a great deal can be said on the other side of the question. It might be well, perhaps, to leave it to a majority of the men in the different shops.

Mr A. Inglis—Men that are hard pressed have nothing to do but to come to the cashier and get advances. It is quite an easy matter to advance money to men who are in difficulties, but it is a different matter to make up our books; and then you would have two lying days. I hope the case of the engineers is very different from that of common labourers, and that they don't need their pay so frequently. Engineers are a superior class of men—(laughter)—and instead of the pays being weekly, they should get monthly pays introduced. Mr Ure was at a place where they were paid every quarter of an hour.

Mr Lawrie—Where was that?

Mr A. Inglis—It was in India. For every basket they carried they got a sweetie kind of thing from a man that stood there for the purpose—(laughter)—and they presented them all at the end of the week, and got their money. I don't see that the men should insist upon the weekly pays. We do not get our pay nearly so often as they do now, and if we were to go to our employers and ask for it, they would not give it. (Laughter.)

The Chairman—There is one thing that has perhaps been overlooked. However good may be the arrangements you can make, it takes a little time to pay the men, and suppose it takes only half an hour, they would lose half an hour every week. Perhaps, then, there would be a demand for payment for that half hour. (Laughter.)

Mr A. Inglis—Perhaps for time-and-a-half; and quite just too. (Renewed laughter.)

Mr Paton—Having come to the conclusion of the 51 hours, we have come a long way, and I think it would be imprudent, as well as impolitic, to press other matters upon us at the present time. Besides, it is my impression that it would not be a benefit at all to the workmen.

Mr Watson—I have a formal request to make to the employers. Disastrous results seem to have been anticipated from this movement. Well, might we not ask them, at some future time, when this system has had a fair trial, to communicate to us, for our satisfaction, whether the unfavourable results that were anticipated to accrue from this movement have taken place. It would be a relief to myself personally to know that such had not been the case.

The Chairman—I think the best answer you can get to that is, that if the trade continues prosperous, you may conclude that the evil results have not been experienced.

Mr Simpson—Let me say that in the Truck Act in the House of Commons there is a clause to make weekly pays compulsory, and Mr Winterbotham has introduced a special Bill for the purpose.

The Chairman—Perhaps we will be included amongst others.

Mr Turnbull—I have wrought in shops where subsist money was taken, and it was taken in most cases for drink.

page 48

Mr Paton—I can assure you that, during an experience of thirty years, I have found that many workmen would have been in very serious straits but for the subsist money. In times of sickness or death in their families, they are very glad to get it, and I do not think that any employer would give it for any other purpose but simply to relieve the men.

Mr Turnbull—I should never think of saying so.

The Chairman—There is another thing you must bear in mind. There are some parties who have set there faces against subsist, and supposing weekly pays -were made compulsory, they would very likely give no subsist. Now, I think that in some cases at least that would be a misfortune. I have seen men come into the office at night and say they had not tasted food that day, and it would surely be wrong to turn these men away.

Mr Turnbull—That touches upon one reason why we introduced the matter. Parties who come into the town seeking employment, after getting it, have sometimes to wait three weeks before getting any pay.

The Chairman—We have only a day of lying-time.

Mr Turnbull—It is a week in the place where I am.

The Chairman—Yours is an exceptional case.

Mr Jamieson—Would you allow me to propose a sincere vote of thanks to the workmen who have been sent by the various workshops to take part in this conference. There is nobody who has seen and heard them but must admire the way in which they have acted in the whole matter. They are most capital representatives of a body of high-class workmen.

Mr Connor—I beg to second the motion.

Mr Simpson—We are happy to receive your vote of thanks, and I think we would not know our duty if we did not return it. I beg to move a hearty vote of thanks to the employers' reprepresentatives. I think it says a great deal both for the employers and men in the Iron Trades that they can meet in this way and settle their differences without a resort to force. I hope this will be an example to others for the time to come.

Mr Alison—I beg to second the motion of a vote of thanks to the masters' representatives. Our present Chairman has failed in nothing to-day, but I wish specially to call attention to the courtesy with which Mr Ure always treated us.

Mr Blackmore (addressing Mr Alison)—Do not for one moment think that I am calling in question what you said about the men from Greenock. If you come to Greenock I. will call the men together, and ask them to repeat what the two men you speak of did to you, if they can. I can assure you that every fitter and turner who was in the shop was called in to the meeting.

Mr Alison—I am sorry Mr Blackmore has alluded to this matter again. I think he will remember that I said at the last Conference, at which he was present, that I never doubted his word. I simply repeated the statement I received from the men from Greenock.

Mr Turnbull—There is an agreement that has to be drawn up between us containing the arrangements come to, and to be signed by both sides.

Mr Simpson—That was Mr Ure's proposal.

Mr Lawrie—The agreement is this—that if the arrangements are not implemented on both sides, there will be a strike or a lock-out.

Mr Paton—You will get the minutes of the Conference, and you can hold them as a guarantee that we will not resile from our engagements.

The Conference separated.

Reported by Wm. Ogilvie Asher.

Printed at "the Star" Office, 13 Turner's Court, Argyle Street, by, Essrs. Scott & Jeans.