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Trade Unionism in England.
[Exclusive Correspondence of AMERICAN FEDERATIONIST.]
LONDON, May 29, 1912. HE last week in May found the London transport workers' strike in full operation and business almost entirely suspended in the great London docks. A year ago the previous transport workers' strike in London was a great success. Dockers, carters, and other men associated with the work of loading and unloading ships and conveying imported produce away from the docks, secured increases in wages, shortened hours, and better conditions in most cases. As a result of that previous strike, which in the end became national, all the unions canvassing for men engaged at and about the docks secured tremendous increases in membership and large strides were taken towards complete organization of all those workers. Even that most difficult section of men known as shipping clerks organized and almost 2,000 of them joined the National Union of Clerks, raising the union membership from. 3,000 to over 5,000. This is mentioned because anything which brings trade unionism to the class of men engaged in bookkeeping has done a very wonderful thing so far as this country is concerned. Next to the retail clerks they have been the hardest section of any section of workers to unionize and these men, poorly paid as they are, suffer from "respectability" in its most snobbish form. Their conditions of work are perhaps rather better at the docks, so far as pay is concerned, than elsewhere in the mercantile community, but it is there that they have most frequently been used as blacklegs in cases of dockers and other ship workers striking. The dockers, lightermen, stevedores, tug-boat men, enginemen, and the rest also found their unions enormously strengthened numerically and financially as a result of last year's strikes.
With these victories behind them the men have not been inclined to rest upon their oars, and it has taken their union leaders all their time until now to prevent further outbreaks. Last year unionism came out as a fighting force of a greater strength than ever before known in the United Kingdom and now has come a further test of its strength. The capitalist press here would have us believe in the present strike that trade unionists have broken agreements, have made war upon the people of London through the holding up of the food supplies, and have entered upon the fight with a most puerile pretext. That is all rubbish. It is true that the spark that has "set the forest on fire" is a small one, but the inflammability of the materials has been increased excessively by the masters' earlier actions. And it wanted very little to set things ablaze. That very little from the point of view of the general public, however, means a great deal for the trade unionist.
The Thames lightermen and watermen, who are the workers on the lighters or open barges used in loading and unloading ships in the river, are almost entirely a union class. An ex-foreman lighterman of 61 years of age had been put down by his employers, owing to his age, to be merely a watch
man. The men claim that lightermen's watchmen I should hold union tickets. The ex-foreman declared that he was still a member of the foremen's society which is not regarded by the lightermen as a union at all and he refused to take out a lighterman's card. This refusal, in the end, led to a strike of the other lightermen working for the same employer which in turn was met by a series of dismissals by the employer. That is all. Thereupon the whole of the lightermen to the number of between 7,000 and 8,000 struck.
Attempts to divert the work to other classes of dock laborers was met with wholesale refusals to handle the diverted traffic and to more dismissals and then to a meeting of the Transport Workers' Federation, with which the whole of the dock unions are affiliated. On May 24 a strike of the whole of the London transport workers was ordered, and within a few days over 100,000 were out, including a large number of carmen, as we style the men who drive the goods wagons (freight).
Just as was the case last year, all the unions must stand or fall together, and no section of men will return to work until all have secured their demands, which are scheduled us follows:
The day pay for dockers, lightermen, stevedores, and all ship workers to be raised from the present rate to a uniform rate of 20 cents per hour. Overtime rate to be 28 cents per hour.
Day conditions of working to be from 7 a. m. till 5 p. m., instead of from 7 a. m. to 6 p. m. Overtime rates to commence at 5 p. m. and to run on till 7 a. m.
Double time for all work done on Sundays and on statutory holidays.
Double time to be paid for work which has to be done during meal times.
No man after being called on, to be paid off with less than four hours, day or night. All men working after 12 midnight to receive a full night's pay.
All transport workers to be taken on outside the docks.
Full recognition by the employers of the Transport Workers' Federation and the federation card.
For carmen a reduction of the hours of work to 60 per week was demanded. Last year the hours were reduced to 72 per week, although many employers have broken this agreement since. Prior to last summer London carmen worked 80, 90, and 100 hours per week.
The position with regard to the London lightermen is not clear at the moment. The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, which controls them, does not desire at the moment to enter into a fight. Twenty thousand carmen are members of that union and it is difficult to see how they can be isolated from the dispute. The strike has been well organized and permits are being issued by the strike leaders, Ben Tillett and Harry Gosling, allowing hospital and certain other necessities to be moved from the docks. All other merchandise is blocked. Some stuff is being got out under
police protection, the loading and driving being done by outsiders especially engaged for the work and by the employers themselves. Twelve hundred police were drafted into the dock area on May 27 and regiments of troops are being held in readiness at Aldershot for further "strike-breakers' " protection if necessary.
At the moment of writing the strike is spreading into areas hitherto untouched and may be extended over the whole country unless a speedy settlement is brought about. The solidarity and willingness of the workers has been exemplified in a striking manner and substantial gains both in better conditions and in further increased union memberships should be the result.
At Whitsuntide numerous labor conventions are always held. This year one of the most important has been a conference of delegates of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, who, it should be noted, are not the men who drive locomotives but the men engaged in making the machines here. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers has over 100,000 members who were represented by about forty delegates at the convention, which opened in Manchester on May 27. The business, which is expected to last for about six weeks, will, it is understood, include a decision whether the organization shall continue its present methods or adopt a more militant policy. The members have forced the meeting for this year against the advice of the executive council, who would have waited until the Insurance Act had been put into operation. The membership, too, it is proposed to make of wider application. Other resolutions are concerned with Parliamentary representation and the abolition of the working agreement with the Engineering Employers' Federation.
The National Union of Clerks referred to above, also opened its convention on May 27, one of the first successful resolutions being that the executive council be instructed to take steps to "disaffiliate" from the Parliamentary Labor Party in the House of Commons in view of its reactionary policy. The Labor Party, the mover of the resolution declared, was a reactionary wing of the Liberal Party.
Retail clerks, employed in the grocery trade, have also held their convention, at which the average wage of $6 to $8 per week paid to such retail clerks was denounced and the executive council was instructed to take the necessary steps to secure a minimum wage in the grocery, provision, oil and color, and allied trades.
These two examples of a stronger fighting feeling in a class of men very hard to organize should be noted as an instance of the way the union spirit is developing in unexpected quarters and it can safely be said that trade unionism in this country was never before so virile as it is now.
The coming into operation of the Insurance Act is not regarded on the whole as an unmixed blessing by our trade unionists although most of the unions are becoming approved societies under the act and will take charge of their own members' dues and benefits under the act. There are some critics of the new measure who see in it a Liberal Government scheme to dish the unions, tie up their funds, and render them financially much weaker for fighting strikes and lockouts. The
matter is too large to be dealt with at all in detail here but the above view should be noted. Legislative enactments coming from the Liberal Government in the House of Commons are rarely of much benefit to British workers, the Labor Exchange Act being the last great case.
British coal miners are profoundly discontented in most districts with the way the Minimum Wage Act is working out. They were led to believe by the Government when the last strike was called off, that whatever awards were made by the various boards set up under the act, no miner would be asked to work for less than $1.25 per day. Many of the awards are below this figure. A special convention of representatives of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain was held in London on May 21, at which a strong protest was made and the executive committee of the federation was directed to ask for a special and immediate interview with the Government.
The strike of London tailors is now well on its way to settlement. Of the 50,000 men and women that came out originally, probably half are back at work now with their demands granted.
The Daily Herald, the first and only daily labor newspaper ever established in this country, is already proving of value to the trade union movement. It stands for direct trade union action and whilst announcing that it is prepared to support political action by an independent labor party in the House of Commons, it can not see that that party has done much in the last six years; whilst on the other hand, strikes and direct negotiations on the part of the workers have secured within the last twelve months incredible benefits. To take one case alone, sailors and firemen on ships for the last twelve months have been enjoying an increase in their monthly wages of from $2.50 to $6. Multiplying these individual raises by 80,000 monthly, gives a tremendous total advance. Dockers in the same way have been getting 2 to 4 cents an hour more all the time as well.
Another labor daily is promised for the fall. This will be published in Manchester and will be definitely an official organ of the Labor Party in Parliament, having Ramsay Macdonald as its chief guide. It will stand, therefore, in the main for political action on the part of the workers rather than as an organ of trade unionism.
A very typical expression of Parliamentary Labor Party opinion on the modern labor unrest is given in an article by Philip Snowden, a member of the Labor Party in Parliament, in the Daily Mail, of May 24. There he said: "The futility of the strike as a means of realizing the higher aims of labor has not yet been brought home to all the working classes by the recent strikes. We shall probably have a continuation of strikes for some time longer. But the miners' strike should have convinced every workman that there is reserve power in the community which makes it absolute folly to think that a general strike can ever take the place of political action." Your correspondent makes no comment on this, but simply gives it as an indication of Parliamentary Labor Party sentiment and of what will be the tone of the second daily labor paper. In the face of the enormous gains of the last twelve months from strikes, the statement certainly seems remarkable.
*For the features of the Insurance Act read the article by Mr. Dowd in this issue of the AMERICAN FEDERATIONIST,-ED,
WHAT OUR ORGANIZERS ARE DOING.
FROM THE ATLANTIC TO THE PACIFIC.
In this department is presented a comprehensive review of industrial conditions throughout the country. This includes:
A statement by American Federation of Labor general and local organizers of labor conditions in their vicinity.
Increases in wages, reduction of hours, or improved conditions gained without strikes.
Work done for union labels.
Unions organized during the last month.
City ordinances or state laws passed favorable to labor.
Strikes or lockouts; causes, results.
A report of this sort is rather a formidable task when it is remembered that nearly 1,000 of the organizers are volunteers, doing the organizing work and writing their reports after the day's toil is finished in factory, mill, or mine.
The matter herewith presented is valuable to all who take an intelligent interest in the industrial development of the country. It is accurate, varied, and comprehensive. The information comes from those familiar with the conditions of which they write.
These organizers are themselves wage-workers. They participate in the struggles of the people for better conditions, help to win the victories, aid in securing legislation-in short, do the thousand and one things that go to round out the practical labor movement.
Through an exchange of views in this department the wage-workers in various sections of the country and the manifold branches of trade are kept in close touch with each other.
Taken in connection with the reports from secretaries of international unions, this department gives a luminous vision of industrial advancement throughout the country.
cent more wages than the unorganized. Hope to organize a union of painters during the month. Workingmen's Compensation Act is effective July 1, 1912.
Holyoke.-Thos. J. Durnin:
Organized labor in good shape and steadily employed. Papermakers have secured advance in wages and shorter workday without strike. Waiters organized during the month and cooks are coming in line.
Malden -John G. Cogill:
All trades are in fair shape and steadily employed. Good work is done for the union labels in this city. Carpenters at Reading are organizing. Plumbers obtained Saturday half-holiday.
Manchester.-Geo. J. Norie:
The building trades are well organized; in fact, every man employed in building operations belongs to a trade organization. Unorganized workers work the nine hour day for $1.75 per day. Work is quite steady.
Middleboro.-W. S. Anderson:
Employment is steady. Condition of organized labor is good. The boot and shoe workers in connection with the central labor union are booming the union labels.
Norwood.-John J. Fitzhenry:
Organized plasterers have a forty-four-hour week and the unorganized plasterers are now asking for it. Work is steady in all industries.
Readville.-John J. Gallagher:
Conditions on unorganized railroads are very poor; wages low. The unorganized car-shop men receive 6 cents per hour less than the union scale. Southern Railroad and allied lines granted increase of from 1 to 21⁄2 cents per hour to all workers under the jurisdiction of the system federation.
Union men are busily employed at good wages, while those not members of any union in many cases are not receiving a living wage based on the the cost of daily necessities. Textile workers at Chicopee Falls have organized. Have another union of textile workers under way.
Winchester.-E. A. Goggin:
Organized trades in good shape and busily employed. Union men work eight hours per day while unorganized men work nine-hour day. One contractor, after opposing trade organizations for five years, has signed up agreement. Painters and electrical workers are forming unions.
Kalamazoo.-Ross R. Warner:
Organized trades are much in advance of the unorganized, as regards wages and conditions. Horseshoers and tinners have secured shorter hours and better wages and painters have increased wages and obtained the eight-hour day. Patternmakers and metal polishers are organizing.
Minneapolis.-E. G. Hall:
A general revival has taken place. The Labor Forward Movement has been a great success here. Coopers formed union during the month. Have two new unions under way. In Duluth the
Labor Forward Movement closed after three weeks. Many meetings were attended both by the local representatives as well as national representatives. Among the national representatives that have been in Duluth, are Collis Lovely, of the Boot and Shoe Workers; W. S. Best, of the Cigarmakers' International Union; Abe Gordon, of the United Garment Workers; A. McAndrew, of the Label Department, American Federation of Labor; Thos. Baylus, of the Painters and Decorators; C. M. Feider, of the Journeymen Barbers' International Union; John Walquist, of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, and E. G. Hall, President of the Minnesota State Federation of Labor. Six mass meetings were held in different parts of the city, and open meetings were held by the local Barbers' Union, the Teamsters' and Cigarmakers' Unions. The following unions visited in regular meeting: Typographical, horseshoers, longshoremen, tailors, carpenters, painters, brewers and maltsters, lathers, shoe repairers, bar bers, musicians, trades assembly, and the building trades council. At nearly all of these meetings there was a good attendance, and the aims and objects of the American labor movement were outlined, together with its past history. The members were appealed to for more activity on their part, which would insure a better and stronger organization, tending towards a greater interest among the unorganized workers, as well those who are in sympathy with us. Evidence is already to hand that much good has been accomplished. The Minnesota State Federation of Labor convenes in Brainerd during the month.
Red Wing.-Loui Hallenberger:
Union men are steadily employed. Good demand for all union labels here.
Union men are generally well employed, but the unorganized have haphazard employment. The organized workers maintain wages despite poor conditions in the district. Brewery workmen obtained increases ranging from $1 to $3 per week. President of their local union reported that all employers have signed up. A resolution was adopted by the city council giving all street laborers of the city increase of 25 cents per day. We have two stores which have put in full line of union-made collars and shirts. Joplin is very quiet in organi. zation lines. Organizer Karl Quist, of Tailors' International Union, spent several days doing much needed work in the city. Members of engineers' unions are asking assistance in building up their locals. Street-car men have succeeded in settling by arbitration several existing misunderstandings. Electric Park opened with strictly union force throughout. Lakeside Park has union band and orchestra for season. Stage hands all urrion in this district. Work slow in building trades. Quiet in printing trades.
Kansas City. -John T. Smith:
All union men steadily employed. All trades working in the breweries received increase after four days' strike. Bakers and bakery salesmen obtained increase without strike. Bottle sorters obtained eight-hour day. Engineers and firemen in breweries, water works, city hall, and county
Billings.-H. W. Nelson:
Through the efforts of the Trades and Labor Assembly, the men working on repairing street railway road have been granted the eight-hour day at $3 per day where they formerly worked ten hours for $2.40 per day. Organized trades here in fair shape.
Bozeman.-John W. Davis:
Cement workers have formed union during the month. Employment is not steady at this time. We constantly urge the demand of the union labels. Helena.-C. A. Sheldon:
Condition of organized labor is far superior to the unorganized. Painters and decorators won strike gaining $5 per day instead of $4.50. They were out but a few days. Three men have been arrested for violations of the eight-hour law. City council has agreed to enforce the union wage scale on all public work. Federal labor union was reorganized recently. Clerks and butchers are organizing.
All building trades are very busy. State of employment was never better than at the present time. The city government has provided an extra building inspector for the inspection of new buildings and repair. Splendid work is done for the union labels.
Auburn.-Jas. E. Carroll:
Organized labor is rapidly gaining in membership. Shorter hours and higher wages have been secured by the unions in this city. Painters and plumbers secured the forty-four-hour week. Meat cutters have reduced hours and now work from 7 in the morning until 6 in the evening on week days and until 9 in the evening on Saturdays. Foundry workers, plumbers, and teamsters have formed unions during the month. Have unions of blacksmiths and stationary firemen under way.
Organized labor in good shape and gaining steadily. Central body has been formed here. We are booming all union labels.
Oneida.-W. R. Ferguson:
Organized trades in fair shape. Employment generally steady. Hodcarriers were successful in strike for increase in wages and eight-hour day. Rochester.-C. E. Dowd:
Condition of organized labor good. Boilermakers obtained increase of 50 cents per day. Horseshoers are on strike for 50 cents per day increase and prospects are good for an early settlement. Carpenters secured 25 cents per day increase and Saturday half-holiday the year around. Painters obtained 50 cents per day increase. Produce dealers, wagon drivers, and jewelry workers have organized unions during the month. Novelty workers and soft drink employes are about to form unions.
Schenectady.-John J. Henley:
Organized trades making steady progress. Employment fairly steady. Ice handlers and teamsters are organizing and boilermakers and helpers are reorganizing. All union labels are demanded.