The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12
Iron Trades' Short-Time Movement
Iron Trades' Short-Time Movement.
At a series of Conferences which were held in February, 1872, between Representatives of the Clyde Shipbuilders' and Engineers' Association and Representatives of the West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short-Time League, it was agreed to reduce the hours of labour from 57 per week, as they then stood, to 54, in March, the month immediately following; and, after the expiry of eight months, to reduce the hours still further to 51 on the 1st of November. It was a part of the arrangement, that while the hours were reduced there should be no reduction in the wages of the workmen, and when the first reduction was made in March that condition was faithfully fulfilled. From the earliest stage of the movement there was an understanding among the workmen that when the full reduction of the hours to 51 should take effect, the working day should extend from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., the time being divided by the meal hours into three equal portions. A few days previous to the 1st of November, the employers posted up in their establishments notices stating that from the 1st of November to the 1st of March the working hours would be from 6.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., without any alteration in the meal hours. For reasons which, from what took place at previous conferences, as well as from what is contained in the following Report, are clearly apparent, the workmen declined to coincide with the employers' arrangement of the hours; and as a number of the employers refused to adopt the workmen's arrangement of the hours, and as it also transpired in the course of interviews between the parties, that the employers intended to deduct the three hours' pay from the week's wages, their workmen struck work. After this state of matters had continued for a week, the representatives of the workmen deemed it expedient to make the public acquainted with the actual condition of affairs, and for that purpose they addressed, on the 9th November, the first of the following communications to the editors of the Glasgow daily papers:—
Sir,—The dispute that has led the workmen in nine of the principal engineering works on the Clyde to strike work has arisen from the employers having refused to implement the agreement came to at the joint meeting of representatives of employers and workmen held in the month of February with reference to the 51 hours' question. On the 20th January, a circular, containing resolutions adopted by the trade, was sent to the employers, among which was the following—" That, in the opinion of this meeting of the iron trades of Glasgow, the immense increase of scientific power and labour saving machinery justifies us in seeking to participate in their advantages by the reduction of our hours of labour. We, therefore, solicit our employers to consider the propriety of reducing them to 51 hours per week, and that in future the wages be rated by the hour, with an advance on the present rate sufficient to compensate the deficiency caused by the reduction in time." It was expected the reduction would have been got by the 1st of March, as was requested; but the employers, having called a conference with the men's representatives, explained that it would be unreasonable if the workmen persisted in their claim without allowing them a sufficient time to complete contracts which were based upon the long hour system, and would entail upon them heavy loss. They offered the page 4 men a reduction to 54 hours, with an advance of 5 per cent, on the pay they were receiving if they would abandon the 51 hours, but the men preferred the reduction in time to the advance in pay, and so adhered to the 51 hours. In consideration, however, of the loss which the employers alleged they would sustain if the men were immediately to press the entire reduction, they agreed to continue working the 54 hours for eight months, waiving their claim to the 5 per cent, offered, and at the end of that time to get the 51 hours. These eight months expired on the 1st of November, and the terms now offered by the employers are "that 51 hours be a week's work, with a proportionate reduction in pay; the working hours to be from 6.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m." The men object to have the hours so arranged, as it deprives them of every social and intellectual advantage they would otherwise obtain, and is contrary to the principle for which the reduction was sought. And they also object to the reduction of the wages, as they hold that it was most indisputably fixed at the conference that no reduction should be made. Thus, in two particulars, the arrangement has not been carried out. It is on this account the men have struck work; and they are determined to maintain their position until the terms are honourably implemented. No attempt has been made to show the men, by reason, that they are wrong; but notice has been given of a general lock-out on Friday, if the men on strike do not return to work on or before Wednesday, 13th instant. The decision above referred to, it is necessary to observe, does not apply to all the employers, as there are several of them who have in every respect fulfilled their promise. But, concerning those who have endeavoured to alter the terms in the manner stated, we, the undersigned, as the representatives of the workmen at the conferences, feel it our duty, in the interests of all concerned, to declare that they have failed to implement the terms mutually agreed upon, and are solely responsible for the strike that has taken place. We would ask, How can these employers ever again expect their men to rely on their word if they do not honourably fulfil their promise on this occasion?—We are, &c.,
Thos. Turnbull, President.
John Marshall, Fitter.
John Barrowman, Vice-President.
Hugh Watson, Fitter.
John Simpson, Boilermaker.
Robt. Stephens, Fitter.
John Crichton, Blacksmith.
Thos. R. Elrick, Secretary.
James Allison, Finisher.
page 567 Renfield Street, Glasgow, 11th November, 1872.
Sir,—Letters have appeared in the newspapers from the workmen's delegates and from the Secretary of the West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short-Time League reflecting on the conduct of the employers in regard to the strikes that have recently taken place in some of the principal engineering works. In reference to the letter from the Secretary, complaining that strikes and lock-outs should take place without inviting a conference to settle difficulties, I am instructed to say that no employer, so far as known, has yet refused to meet his workmen in conference. In the present instance, the men struck work in some shops without the employers having the most distant idea of any intention to do so. In reference to the letter of the delegates, several of themselves proposed that when the 51 hours came into operation the wages should be the same as they then were (viz., in February last). It was urged by the delegates that a reduction in the hours of labour was their principal object rather than a rise in wages. At the same time, the condition expressed by the delegates has been fully complied with. The amount of wages paid at present for 51 hours' work is greater than what was paid for 57 hours' work in February last. The dispute as to the hours of opening and closing works was quite unexpected on the part of the employers. From 6.30 a.m. till 5.30 p.m. for four months in winter was adopted as, in the opinion of the employers, most suitable for both parties. This was the point on which the workmen first struck work. The question of wages has been imported into the dispute since. Employers consider that they have faithfully carried out the understanding come to at the conferences in February last, and that the workmen are entirely responsible for the present strikes. They regret that the injudicious and precipitate action on the part of the workmen should be the means of causing much injury to trade and to the welfare of many families.—I am, &c.,
J. V. Smith,Secretary to the Clyde Shipbuilders and Engineers' Association.
West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short-Time League, Glasgow, 182 Trongate, 12th November, 1872.Sir,—The letter of the Secretary of the Employers' Association, which you publish to-day, requires a reply; and I will be obliged if you will grant me the privilege. In reference to former letters I have written on the subject of this strike, and also the letter of the delegates to which the Secretary has alluded, it is my painful duty to announce that there is not a statement they contain, however much it may reflect on the conduct of certain employers, that we are not at any moment prepared to prove. I have to-night asked the delegates of the shops now on strike to rehearse what took place between them and their employers previous to their coming out, that I may be fully informed as to the facts of the case. The accounts received have reference to the following workshops:—
David Rowan & Co. A. & J. Inglis. Muir & Caldwell. J. & G. Thomson. Addison, Hamilton, & Barrie. -Stephens, Linthouse. James Howden & Co. N. B. Railway Shops, Cowlairs. John Napier. Glen & Ross. John Elder & Co. (also Fairfield Department). A. & W. Smith.
The Secretary has stated that in "some shops the men struck work without the employers having the most distant idea of any intention to do so." The only instance in which that statement agrees with the men's account is in the case of J. & G. Thomson's, where one half their number came out without acquainting their employers of their intention, as soon as the notice appeared on the gate that the time was to be arranged in a manner contrary to their expectations and the principle on which the short hours was based, viz., from 6.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., to admit of self-improvement. The other half remained at work till met by a fiat refusal from their employers either to alter the time, or give the terms without reducing the pay. In every other instance the shops on strike, previous to coining out, through the agency of deputations, held frequent interviews with the employers, and tried to persuade them to see the justness of their cause; but not till the last ray of hope of having a peaceful settlement effected did they resort to a strike. The point by which the employers seek to justify themselves is that concerning wages, very ably put by the Secretary in his letter, as follows:—
"In reference to the letter of the delegates, several of themselves proposed that when the 51 hours came into operation the wages should be the same as they then were (viz., in February last). It was urged by the delegates that a reduction in the hours of labour was their principal object rather than a rise in wages. At the same time the condition expressed by the delegates has been fully complied with. The amount of wages paid at present for 51 hours' work is greater than what was paid for 57 hours' work in February last."
The following explanation will show how this point is viewed by the workmen. They regard the whole question as one quite apart from a wages question altogether. The employers themselves held it so. As, for example, the following extract of a remark of Mr. Inglis during the discussion at the conference may be quoted:—"Mr. Inglis.—The boilermakers are the men that deserve to be well paid; but I would not listen to any discussion about wages." This remark was elicited by Mr. Turnbull, on behalf of the labourer, who had introduced the wages question to the meeting. "My opinion is," says Mr. Inglis, "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." In this the men fully concurred. The whole question before the meeting at that time was, When were the hours to be reduced from 57 to 51 without a reduction of pay? So that it is difficult to see how the Secretary endeavours to mix the wages with the hour question; unless it be that, from the present prosperous state of trade, he finds that sort of argument militates towards the interests of the parties he represents. How, let me inquire, would he have done had the condition of trade been the reverse of the present, and the workmen's wages now several shillings less per week than they were when the settlement was made in February? Would he recommend the employers to turn over their books and give to every man and boy an advance equivalent to what they were in the month of February receiving? No, no. If the men had in a body taken page 6 advantage of the situation, and compelled the employers to give an advance in the interval, the argument would have had weight, but this has not been the case. If the pay is now better, and men receiving more than they were in February, it is simply due to the inexorable law of supply and demand; and who can prevent it or question its right? If another employer should think he would be more advantaged by my service, and offers me 2s. more per week, what employer has the right to step in to prevent it? Or if I should communicate to the employer I serve that another desires my services, and offers me higher remuneration to go, and to prevent my leaving he should offer me the terms that I have been led to expect, is there anything wrong in my accepting it? Now, in either case, if this had taken place with me during the interval that has elapsed since the 1st of March, would my employer be at all justified in turning me back to my previous pay now while the state of trade does not "warrant it? The workmen fully understand their situation, and hold themselves justified in the position they have taken up; nor can they see wherein the blame which the Employers' Secretary seeks to attach to them for the present strike is applicable to them.—I am, &c.,
Thos. R. Elrick, Secretary.
Clyde Shipbuilders and Engineers' Association, 67 Renfield Street, Glasgow, 13th Nov., 1872.
Sir,—The employers regret that the present dispute should have arisen from a misunderstanding of what took place at the conferences in February last; and I am instructed to say that they are willing to submit the matter in dispute to some man of eminence, whose decision shall be binding on both parties. I shall be glad to learn if the workmen are agreeable to this proposal.—Yours truly,
J. P. Smith.Mr. Thos. Elrick, Secretary to the "West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short-Time League, 182 Trongate.
page 7Engineers' Committee Rooms, 182 Trongate, Glasgow, 13th November, 1872.
J. P. Smith, Esq., Secretary to the Clyde Shipbuilders and Engineers' Association, 67 Renfield Street, Glasgow.
Sir,—In reference to your letter of this date, containing a proposal of the employers that the matter in dispute be submitted to some man of eminence, whose decision shall be binding on both parties, I have been instructed to reply that the General Committee of the Iron Trades' League regret very much that the employers cannot see it their duty, in accordance with the terms of agreement, came to in February, in reference to the 51 hours' question, at once to put an end to the dispute by giving a reduction of the hours without reducing the pay, and that they should have thought it necessary to call in extraneous aid to dispose of a misunderstanding that they think should never have occurred. The delegates, or General Committee, disapprove of the proposal, because they cannot admit the reasonableness of the misunderstanding which the employers appear to have formed; and also because, if they acquiesce in it, they would actually be admitting the impossibility of settling such disputes by friendly conference between employer and employed. I am, however, instructed to inform you that the delegates, at their meeting to-night, resolved to refer the matter to their constituents in the different shops, and that they will hold themselves bound by their decision. With the terms of that decision I shall take the earliest opportunity of acquainting you.—I remain, yours truly,
Thos. R. Elrick,Secretary West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short-Time League.
Engineers' Committee Rooms, 182 Trongate, Glasgow, 14th November, 1872.
J. P. Smith, Esq., Secretary to the Clyde Shipbuilders and Engineers' Association.
Sir,—In accordance with the resolution communicated to you by my letter of last night, the proposal of arbitration was laid before the various meetings held to-day of the workmen on strike, and I have now to inform you that their unanimous decision, with respect to that proposal, is that it is not necessary, and would be injurious in its tendency if adopted. It is clear, from the letter you inserted in the Herald and Mail of the 12th inst., that there is a perfect understanding in everything connected with the alteration of the hours to 51 per week, with the exception of the arrangement in which the hours are to be worked, and whether those who have received an advance of wages since the mouth of February are not entitled to the same pay when the reduction to 51 hours is made. Now, it appears to us that this is a matter that can only be satisfactorily settled by a friendly conference between the parties immediately interested; and I have to inform you that the General Committee are prepared, if this suggestion is favourably received, to appoint several of their number to confer with an equal number of the employers on the subject.—I am, &c.,
Thos. R. Elrick, Secretary, West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short-Time League.
Clyde Shipbuilders and Engineers' Association, 67 Renfield Street, Glasgow, 15th November, 1872. Mr. Thomas R. Elrick, Secretary of the West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short-Time League, 182 Trongate.
Sir,—In reply to your letter of yesterday, objecting to have the dispute settled by reference to a neutral party, and proposing a conference, allow me to point out that in the letter signed by the workmen's delegates, and published and posted throughout the city, it is stated that the employers have "failed to implement the terms mutually agreed upon, and are solely responsible for the strike that has taken place;" and it is asked, "How can these employers ever again expect their men to rely on their word, if they do not honourably fulfil their promise on this occasion?" The employers have to regret that your delegates should have so expressed themselves, while they (the employers) were acting in good faith, according to their interpretation of the negotiations in February last. The matter in dispute is most suitable for reference to a neutral party, and does not admit of easy adjustment by a conference. It is stated by the workmen, in the letter referred to, "that terms were mutually agreed upon." If this be so, there is no proper subject for conference; but there is a fitting case for reference, to decide whether the workmen or the employers are right. The employers are, however, quite prepared to meet the workmen's delegates; and if the conference should not result in an adjustment of the matter in dispute, that it shall then be referred to a neutral man, whose decision shall be binding on both parties.—I am, &c.,
J. P. Smith.
Engineers' Committee Rooms, 182 Trongate, Glasgow, 15th November, 1872. J. P. Smith, Esq., Secretary to the Clyde Shipbuilders and Engineers' Association 67 Renfield Street Glasgow.
Sir,—At a meeting of delegates held to-night, your letter of this date, informing the General Committee of the employers' readiness to meet the men in conference, and suggesting that if the conference should not result in an adjustment of the matter in dispute, that it shall then be referred to a neutral man, whose decision shall be binding on both parties, was considered; and it was agreed to inform the employers that they (the delegates) were prepared to make arrangements with them for a meeting at any suitable time.page 8
In reference to the extracts from the letters of the delegates upon the position the employers have taken up in this dispute, it is considered they may best be replied to when the meeting takes place.
Feeling assured that there is on both sides sufficient ability to discuss and decide the matter by means of the conference, the delegates in the meantime decline to entertain the suggestion of referring the case to arbitration.—I am, &c.,
Thos. R. Elrick,Secretary, West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short-Time League.
Clyde Shipbuilders and Engineers' Association, 67 Renfield Street, Glasgow, Nov. 18, 1872. Mr. Thos. R. Elrick, Secretary, The West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short-Time League 182 Trongate.
Sir,—Your letter of the 15th inst. was laid before a general meeting of this Association, held to-day, and I am instructed to inform you that a committee of six of the employers will be glad to meet an equal number of the representatives of the workmen, at the Religious Institution Rooms, to-morrow (Tuesday), the 19th instant, at three o'clock p.m.
If you agree to this arrangement, kindly let me know early.—Yours truly,
Pro J. P. Smith, Secy., C.B.F.
Engineers' Committee Rooms, 182 Trongate, Glasgow, November 18, 1872.
J. P. Smith, Esq., Secretary to the Clyde Shipbuilders and Engineers' Association, 67 Renfield Street, Glasgow.
Sir,—In reply to your letter of this date, I have to inform you that the delegates representing the workmen will be glad to meet the employers in conference to-morrow, at the hour specified.—I remain, yours truly,
Thos. R. Elrick,Secretary, West of Scotland Iron Trades' Short-Time League.