Chapter Eleven

CHAPTER 11 1927-1939

 1 Mond-Turnerism: political and non-political trades unionism
After the General Strike a new spirit, a compromising one, dominated the unions. In a newspaper article, George Hicks of the Bricklayers, the 1927 TUC Chairman, and Citrine, the TUC General Secretary, aired the idea of employers and employees co­operating. The Chairman of ICI, Sir Alfred Mond (later Lord Melchett) took up the suggestion, beginning talks with the General Council which were presided over in 1928 by the new TUC Chairman, Ben Turner of the Wool Textile Workers; hence, the epithet, Mond-Turnerism, or even Mondism for short. This trend of seeking partnership between the two sides of industry contrasted with the mood of trades unionism in the previous period. For the atmosphere of despondency and defeat which trades unionism brought to the relationship ensured that Mondism was no equal partnership. It weakened militancy and enabled production line speed-ups and piece rate cuts and did little to stem the trend to mass unemployment. The TUC leadership consciously flinched from the thought of confrontation as represented by 1926, which arguably was a debacle of their own making. Whilst the leadership of the movement largely supped the meal of Mondism with glee, the diet was not easily swallowed by many trades unionists. Even the normally compliant Workers Union only narrowly defeated a motion, which sought to boycott the Mond-Turner talks, at its last independent conference.
The new spirit was promoted locally by major employers and some key trades unionists, such as the Typographical Society’s Councillor Alan Mycroft and Richard Stokes of the Workers Union, the latter having valiantly argued for such a line all during the militant years. Both supported the National Industrial Alliance, which had a Derby Area Committee. This preached “Industrial Co-operation” and the local chairman was J A Aiton JP, the owner of the main local newspaper and a key engineering plant. Aiton was also a prominent Tory. [1] The strategy of the employers and their political allies was to wean the labour movement away from the radical politics of previous years, by incorporating the unions into the needs of business. A policy of distancing themselves had merely pushed unions away from sectional considerations into a more dangerous class consciousness, which had veered closely to a political, even revolutionary, consciousness at times. Hand in hand with new, anti-trade union laws came a direct attempt to divorce the various wings of the labour movement from each other. The Ripley Co-op Committee actually recommended dis­affiliation from the Co-operative Party in 1927, when “an organised attempt was put into operation to carry the half-yearly meeting by storm”. The particular intervention of Oliver Wright, Labour’s long standing local Parliamentary candidate, successfully prevented the move. [2]
As a counter to Mondism, the left and the Communist Party set up the rank and file alternative of the Minority Movement. Tom Mann, by now a prominent Communist Party member, visited Derby in 1927, to help set up an effective group in the town. Eddie Frow, an AEU apprentice at British Celanese became not only the secretary of Derby’s Minority Movement but also the local branch of the Unemployed Workers Committee. (In later life he would become the noted joint founder of a labour movement library and archive in Manchester.) At the meeting, held in the Temperance Hall, the chairman revealed that this local group had sent circulars to trade union branches, offering speakers to attend their meetings. The local paper believed that the Derby Minority Movement had not been a success, curiously noting that “the majority of the delegates present were from the Women’s’ Sections in the Labour Movement”, as if this somehow diluted the quality of the representation. [3] The truth is that large numbers of women were not unionised and that the growing light engineering and components industries, which were expanding in places like Derby and relied on intensive production methods, were dominated by women. Communist inspired activity designed to unionise women proved a potent force and trade unions only grudgingly moved to organise in such sectors, often at the behest of employers. The spirit of opposition to Mondism was however truly a minority view. A kind of paralysis took over the movement and employers felt that they had the go-ahead for introducing new ideas. Engineering firms in Derby began to introduce the two shift system towards the end of 1928, despite the fact that this was “in direct approach (i.e. contradiction) to the National Agreement”. [4]
The legacy of 1926 was of course sharpest felt in the mining districts. Bitterness between supporters of the official union, which was affiliated to the MFGB, and the Spencerite bosses’ union, the Nottingham and District Miners Industrial Union (NDMIU) was strong. These disputes affected large parts of the eastern edge of Derbyshire and were well known to trades unionists in Derby and Chesterfield, which were then surrounded by working pits. A case arising between two members of the opposing unions came before a local Magistrate’s Court in 1927. Arthur Shrewsbury, an NDMIU collector, got on a crowded bus in Heanor, allegedly to be greeted with the comment from another miner. Here’s one of Spencer’s men who are trying to break up a union that has been going on for a 100 years and Spencer is a man who has made a fortune out of the owners.” The culprit’, a miner by the name of Fred Prince, was fined the considerable sum of £5 for assault, arising out of the fight which followed the altercation. [5]
Conditions in the mining industry were as bad as ever. Workers still started down the pits at the age of fourteen. Some insight into this is given by Jack Pepper, recalling his first day at Mapperley Colliery. “It was a frightening experience ... It was a tough time for miners and very dangerous, as pit roofs were not as secure as they are today ... wooden pit props bent with ‘elbows’ in them under the weight of the roof. There were no safety helmets and no electric lamps.” Pepper complained that the contractor butty system was unfair, the money was rarely shared equally and the butty usually got themselves the best jobs. The 5’ 6” seams had to be hand holed, that is to say “undercut at the bottom by hand”. Conditions were terribly bad; on this, his first day, Pepper saw a fellow worker, in a foot of space, “hacking away at the underside of a seam with a pick and working so hard that he bled from one of his ears”. [6]
Given the evidence of 1926 and the reality of their daily working life, it is not surprising that very strong views were held by the majority of miners on the present state of trades unionism. This was revealed in 1928, when the TUC balloted the miners of the Nottinghamshire coalfield, which spilled over into parts of Derbyshire. The consultation was to determine whether the Spencerite union had any real support. Miners voted nine to one in favour of the old union, for real trades unionism. Spencerism was already on the decline, but there was still much bitterness and it would not be easy to eradicate the NMDIU. The industry began to enter a dramatic slump, which inhibited industrial militancy, especially where the NMDIU voice was to be heard. Nationally, 39 pits employing 1,366 men were abandoned over 1927-9. [7] Over the two years from 1928, it began to be quite usual for pits to work only two or three days a week for payment of 2s 6d a shift. [8]
North Derbyshire miners, outside the area covered by Nottinghamshire Miners Association, the MFGB affiliate, tended to view Mondism critically, the Area Council believing that industrial peace was hardly an immediate objective when “we have men in our own industry still out of work through being victimised” from 1926. [9] But the NDMIU was very strong at Bolsover in Derbyshire, due to its special position as a company union. The Bolsover Company directly financed one of their employees, Horace Cooper, as a recruiting agent for the NDMIU. As the butty system was very strong in the Bolsover area, Spencer received much support from the contractors. Whilst the skilled ‘aristocrats’ of the coalfields, the enginemen and winders, also favoured Spencerism. In 1928, the 2,323 members of the MFGB affiliated Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Midland Counties Colliery Enginemen, Firemen and Motormen’s Union decided to be formally represented on the Wages Board set up by Spencer. [10]
Despite the flirtation with the Liberals and Spencer’s continued membership of Parliament, his union enshrined ‘non-political’ unionism within its rules. The use of any of the NDMIU’s funds for any political purposes at all was prohibited by its constitution. The organisation was not merely content with banning Communists from holding office, as some trade unions did; it went further by declaring them even ineligible for membership of the NDMIU. To be absolutely certain, the rules reserved the right to expel any member advocating revolutionary policies. The hegemony of the NDMIU was eventually challenged after a series of disputes at Harworth colliery in Nottinghamshire, which resulted in a fusion of the NDMIU and the Nottinghamshire Miners Association. The Harworth men were led by Mick Kane, a Scottish Communist who had been victimised in his homeland. Kane had, incidentally, previously worked at Langwith Colliery in Derbyshire for a period in the very early 1 930s. The struggle in Harworth, which led to the marginalisation of Spencerism, was not unnaturally given a great deal of publicity by the Communist Party.
Irrespective of the hostility between the NDMIU and the official movement, strangely the TUC line and the Spencerite position were very similar. George Spencer himself drew comparison between his organisation’s attitude and the TUC’s war on the Communists, as a reason for it to be recognised by the TUC. Mondism and non-political unionism did have strong similarities. But Spencerism was possibly an anachronism, since it was designed to combat the militant unionism of 1920-6. But this had already been surpassed by the passivity which characterised the trade union leaderships from 1927 onwards. However, in the few years between the General Strike and the big slump, the mood of ordinary workers remained spontaneously militant, whatever the leadership may have wanted. Over a hundred dyers, trimmers and others at Lowe and Sons of Derby stopped work over the firm’s action in proposing reducing wages. The agreed Leicester rate had always been paid to Lowe’s employees in Derby, but the company sought to pay the lower, Nottingham rate. Coming out just before Christmas 1927, the strikers were still solid 21 weeks later in May 1928. [11] Elsewhere in Derby, at Macintosh’s Cable, some 800 workers came out on strike in September 1927. In a gesture of some desperation, the Managing Director, Harvey, appealed to the crowded mass of strikers outside the gate to return to work, “pending investigation into the alleged grievance”. [12] The suddenness and ferociousness of the workers’ action saw an immediate and satisfactory settlement.
But, in general, the 1929 general election seemed only to confirm the view of Mondism. Important sections of the labour movement did try to break out of the conformist straight jacket, but these were in a minority. The only major organised grouping capable of responding effectively was the Communist Party, but this was caught up in wild hostility to the Labour Party. Overall, the Communist Party reacted to the debacle of the General Strike, to Mondism and finally to bans and proscriptions in the Labour Party in the sharpest possible way. The party began to view Labour as almost equivalent to the capitalist enemy. While there was some justification for regarding large elements of the leadership with considerable reserve, based upon material conditions within the British experience, what emerged as a theory of Labour being the third capitalist party had its origins in the international Communist movement. The experience of social democracy, or democratic socialism in many European countries had was markedly more negative than in Britain. Moreover, it suited the needs of the increasingly insular Soviet diplomacy to regard Western tendencies with suspicion. The Comintern developed the theory of “Class Against Class” in 1928. A simplistic explanation of this might be that as fascism was a last ditch survival effort by contemporary capitalism in its death throes, there was little difference in essence - if not in form - between bourgeois democracy and fascism. As social democracy saw itself as a partner in bourgeois democracy, it could also be a partner in social fascism. The utilisation of pseudo-socialist ideas, terminology and iconography by fascism seemed to reinforce this notion. The new policy saw the leadership of the socialist parties as no better than the rising fascist movements, many of which had not yet demonstrated the absolute ruthlessness and immorality which became their hallmark in a very few years. The argument went that illusions were created by socialists that parliamentary success within capitalism could transform society. This enabled the system to score victories, as disappointment set in, due to the failure of parliamentary tactics. The experience of the first Labour Governments seemed to confirm this view. But the analysis grossly exaggerated the restraining nature of reformist socialism and underestimated the possibilities for working class unity. Above all, in British conditions, it took little account of the organic links between Labour and the trade unions, set against the mass nature of the British labour movement.
The early years of the Communist Party’s existence had been characterised by mass struggle and socialist unity. While still very tiny, the party had made considerable gains in the late 1920s. Thousands had joined during and after the General Strike in particular and Derbyshire was no exception. However, the major way in which the Party exerted influence within the Labour Party was through the National Left Wing Movement, an alliance of Communists and the Labour left, was to sharply diminish following the adoption of the Comintern line. But the new, seductive - if tortuous - simplicity of Class Against Class enabled the Communist Party to make advances at the expense of other left groups, amongst young people in particular. At the ILP Guild of Youth National Conference in Derby in 1928, a member of the National Committee of the Guild was expelled for divulging private business to the journal of the Young Communist League. The emotional appeal of the Communist Party’s sharp, class conscious policy enabled the party to win over many ILPers. One delegate asked whether the decline in Guild activity and the number of branches was in any way due to “Communist activities”, only to be blankly told by the Guild National Secretary that “We have no information” on this! [13]
If there was no love lost for the Labour Party by the Communist Party, the reverse was doubly true at least in the corridors of power. Beyond this, the Communists’ sectarianism alienated many left wing allies. As Labour’s right wing leadership sought to distance itself from radical socialism, it was able to follow this up by further bans on the activity of individual Communists within the Labour Party and by purges on the left generally. In the summer of 1927, Labour’s NEC disaffiliated as many as 23 local party organisations for their adherence to the National Left Wing Movement. There was also an attack on the Minority Movement. Interestingly, the Derbyshire miners voted against a resolution at the MFGB Conference in 1928 which strongly condemned the Minority Movement. [14]
All this was the cause of intense debate within the trade union movement. The Derby Communist Party had begun the distribution of leaflets to British Celanese workers at Spondon in the summer of 1929, causing some comment on the Workers Union District Committee. Eddie Frow, the apprentice fitter at Celanese who was Derby Minority Movement Secretary, was a student at the Derby Labour College being run by Joe Crispin and Willie Paul. Assuredly, as one of the most active members of the local Communist Party, Frow was behind the leafleting. (Frow left Derby that year to work in the North West, becoming a leading figure in the AEU over many years and the celebrated joint founder of Salford’s excellent Working Class Movement Library.) The biennial conference of the Workers Union had devoted itself obsessively to the activities of the Communists and their rank and file movements. At the WU DC, “Bro Solway thanked Bro Ruff for his splendid report but said it seemed that the Congress was attacking the Communists all the time. Bro Wood said that it was the Communists that did the attacking no matter what a Trade Union official did he was always a traitor to his members that was the idea of the Communists but he could safely say that they always did their best for their members”. [15]
As the direct heir to many of the earlier socialist societies, the Communist Party had been part of the Labour Party and many individual members of the Communist Party were also members of the Labour Party. Only at the Blackpool conference of the Labour Party in 1929 were Communists banned from attending such conferences and then only by a narrow vote. From herein, the spirit of Mondism lived inside the Labour Party, by and large unchallenged. The absence of Communists from the conference was startlingly noticeable from 1930. Even the most capable and influential member of a trade union could not represent his organisation, irrespective of what the union desired.
The general election of May 30th saw the Labour leadership working hard to push their image as a party fit to govern the nation as a whole. The wooing of the ‘middle class’ vote began in earnest and appeared to bring results. But, arguably, this was far from always being a successful vote-catching policy in the long term, as the electorate increasingly pondered what real alternative was on offer. In its proposals for dealing with unemployment, Labour’s 1929 manifesto was less clear and precise than that of the Liberals, containing only generalities about ‘socialism’ as a long term solution. The Tories polled almost 300,000 more votes than Labour, yet the latter found itself the largest single party in Parliament but without a clear majority over the two anti-socialist parties. Due to the oddities of Britain’s electoral system, the seats spilt 288 Labour, 261 Tory and 57 Liberals. The Tories put it down to Baldwin’s stupidity in extending the vote to women over the age of 21, the so called ‘flapper vote’, a contemporary term for a flippant young woman.
With most Derbyshire constituencies returning Labour MPs, the party had quadrupled its 1918 vote in the county. Three entirely new seats were won by Labour. Jack Lees took Belper with an improved vote, although compared with 1924 the divided Tory and Liberal anti-socialist vote helped him in. Another first was the success of the Mickleover based George Benson at Chesterfield. Barnet Kenyon did not stand and Labour romped home with more than twice the number of votes of its nearest rival. The third new seat was in South Derbyshire, where Major David Graham-Pole, a solicitor from a very well to do family, took the seat with an improved vote in a three way fight. Graham-Pole contributed no less than £418 of the total expenditure of £923, with which Labour fought their campaign. For once Labour was able to spend, if not as much as the other parties, at least a comparable sum; the Tories spent £1,543 and the Liberals £811. The success may therefore have been in part due to the relatively affluent campaign fund.
Existing Labour seats were held at Ilkeston, where the former Derby Rolls Royce shop floor worker, G H Oliver, doubled his actual vote. Oliver was considered to “belong to the moderate school of labour” and had achieved respectability by being called to the bar in 1927. [16] Clay Cross was retained by Charles Duncan with 80% of the vote, while Frank Lee similarly took North East Derbyshire. George Bagnall stood in High Peak; a key activist in the Amalgamated Society of Dyers, Bleachers, Finishers and Kindred Trades, he later became its General Secretary. But Labour’s showing there was quite dismal, although Bagnall’s vote was the best yet for the party in that division. In West Derbyshire, it was a similar tale. The Marquis of Hartington took what was almost his heritage, when he claimed the seat for the Tories. Labour’s W Wilkinson, the party’s first ever foray into that Conservative heartland, took a little over one tenth of the vote, the result being much closer between the other two parties.
In Derby, Thomas and Raynes took both seats with half as many votes again as their nearest rival, the Tories. Raynes was at last in Parliament and naturally looked back on the success with pride and pleasure. Certainly, the party had come a long way since 1910. Raynes allowed himself the indulgence of claiming the building of the Labour Party in the county, almost single-handedly. In his unpublished memoirs, he related how for almost two decades he had spent hours each day on his bicycle visiting remote villages, spreading the word of socialism. Later, as the party began to emerge as a major political force, he “formed and beat into a semblance of unity the Derbyshire Federation of Labour Parties. One of the first such federations in the country in the late twenties.” [17]
The overall result of 1929 was thus a new and decisive change in political support in Derbyshire. The Municipal Association, a Tory-Liberal alliance, was disbanded in Derby and, in the municipal elections of 1929, Tories stood independently against Labour. Even so, Labour gained absolute control of the Town Council for the very first time, with 49 seats out of a total of 64. This dramatic political background affected the very nature of the problems confronting trades unions and the thoughts of many turned immediately to extending their organisation.
2 The Workers Union and the TGWU (1927-32)
In November 1926 the AEU opened its ranks to all grades of workers, including labourers, but not yet to women workers. But it was too late for this skilled craft union to prevent the encroachment into the engineering industry of the many general unions. The Workers Union had attempted to recruit skilled workers in Derby and its environs, largely in vain. But the WU continued its drive in the textile industry. In early 1927, new efforts were made to “organise the girls in the Tailoring Trade at Smiths of Drewry Lane”. [18] There was only a limited result, however. Wood, the Long Eaton officer of the WU, considered that the union was “feeling the effects of the General Strike and if the position of the union was to be maintained it required constant work”. [19]
The WU had gained some reputation for a powerful and bureaucratic full time officer network, with little check on their activities. There is evidence that Derby’s lay activists were not entirely satisfied that all that could be done to keep up the constant work called for by Wood’s report was being done. There were other complaints. In July of 1927 Stokes, the Derby organiser, was on holiday and thus unable to make a report to the regular District Committee (DC) meeting. In his absence, some delegates became very bold! Smith, of the Loco Works complained that Stokes “did not use the proper tact” and that “no member could get into the District Office”. The DC resolved that complaints that must have also been made about the officer’s reports to the committee, by deciding that instead of Stokes dominating the proceedings by giving such a report the “question of organising should be on the agenda”. [20]
Life was difficult for the WU by this time, not only in some of its less significant areas, but also in its main power base of British Celanese. Early in 1927, the WU found that even their full time officers were encountering greater difficulties in gaining access to the plant than they had ever done. “In the past they could go in and out when they liked, but now they made inquiries at the gate who they wished to see”, complained the DC minutes. [21] Such relatively small, but significant and annoying interferences grew. So much so, that when Woods held a meeting of the dyers in the canteen at Celanese later that year, a company-hired private detective was observed to be present. [221 Six months later, Woods was to assess that “there is no doubt that since the change in control at the British Celanese there has been a tightening up”. The company had been subject to a boardroom takeover and manoeuvres associated with this resulted in a shift in industrial relations strategy as well as a general tightening up of efficiency. The signs were thought sufficiently important for the lay EC member, Hind, to warn the DC that half of the district membership was at Spondon and that, while the WU had gained ground there, it had lost it elsewhere. [23] The implication was obvious, that the union had all of its eggs pretty well much in one basket and that it would be disastrous if Spondon were lost somehow. Fortunately for the union and its successor, the TGWU, these activities did not materially affect its position.
Even after the merger with the TGWU, the Celanese membership was still to account for a third of the membership in the Derby area until the end of the Second World War. As elsewhere, the economic ups and downs of the firm dictated the relative power over the union. By the very nature of the products made by Celanese, the negotiating position of either side varied enormously. Recognising this, the WU tried to maximise its position by rousing the membership. Meetings were held at Long Eaton and Derby, as part of a WU campaign to organise process workers in the autumn of 1928. At the very end of that year a mass meeting of textile workers from both towns was held at Ilkeston’s Co-op Hall “to consider the present (wages) claim”. [24] This signalled a relatively new concept to that which had previously applied in pay bargaining, whereby union negotiators had operated very much without initial consultation or reference back to the members. It was not entirely false confidence which motivated Stokes to say that he “thought we had got to the bottom of the slump” in early 1928. Although he may have been referring to the state of the economy at large. Within months of this, Wood noted that “the slump at the Celanese was getting worse”. [25]
Despite these concerns, as the DC minute had it, he was able to say that the “people at Spondon is beginning to realise that the WU is the Union as far as Unions is concerned at the Celanese”. Wood was even confident that there was a “good feeling that existed between management (and the union) at Spondon”. So much so, that the WU made an application to the company for the “use of the Hut in the Lane at Spondon” as a union office. [26] The intention behind this was to provide facilities for small meetings of local branch officials close to hand and for a contact place for members wishing to consult shop stewards. (The WU still used Unity Hall and the Labour Party premises in Green Lane, where the union had an office. The DC met at the Transport Room, possibly the TGWU’s rooms in Corporation premises, at the Wardwick. The merged TGWU took an office at 69 Wilson Street from 1931 to 1960.)
The WU was only making substantial membership gains at Celanese. Wood was not generally “satisfied with the progress of the District for apart from the Celanese the other parts of the District was at a standstill”. Not that things were so rosy at that plant, vast areas of the workforce, including most of the women, were unorganised. Even where there were groups of members, it was difficult to get “suitable shop stewards”. [27] An example of this problem, which dogged the union for decades, was the election of six shop stewards for the spinning and preparation departments early in 1930, one of which turned out not even to be a member of the union! The man concerned was quite prepared to join, once it was explained to him that in order to be a shop steward he had to be a member of the union.
The WU had an even bigger job to tackle in organising the large numbers of employees in the wider textile industry not yet trades unionists. The biggest employer in Belper was Brettles, with 800 on the payroll in 1928. Two years later there were over a 1,000 employees. But even a major employer such as this remained unorganised. Brettles’ male framework knitters on cotton hose production were paid a fairly standard weekly wage for a 49 hour week, although shift workers fared slightly better by doing a 12 hour stint. Even so, the extra money was only achieved by doing such a back breaking shift. Moreover, as one contemporary recalled, “sometimes they called us in on a Sunday night for which we received no pay and we also got no holiday pay for our one weeks holiday a year”. [28] Hours were as long at English Sewing’s Belper Mill, where a standard 58 hour week did not produce anywhere as near lucrative earnings for the predominantly female labour force. A dispute in the company had sparked off interest in trades unionism at both the Belper and Milford mills, enabling the Workers Union to establish a strong branch at Milford in September 1929. But the Amalgamated Weavers were first in at ESC’s Matlock mill. [29]
Despite the sudden rise in unemployment which developed in the late 1920s, many trade unions in Derbyshire were still able to at least fend off wage cuts and in some instances to maintain regular wage rises. Parker Foundries were “reminded” by the WU that they had failed to apply a wage increase to some employees late in 1929. This was presumably a reference to the national engineering industry agreement. While the Amalgamated Laceworkers and the WU staved off a wage reduction in the lace trade. [30] But this situation began to change rapidly. By November, Stokes had reported a catalogue of denials of applications for advances. The dyers at Celanese had been given no increase in response to their request for an advance. The “Celastoid” workers applied for a penny an hour extra discomfort money and were refused. An application nationally for 8/- a week in the engineering trade was refused.
English Sewing Cotton was among the first in the area at this time to implement a wages cut. Although the firm was able to impose a 3/- a week cut at Belper, at Milford, where the WU had a strong branch of 90 members, the company made do with a cut of only 1/6d. [31] However, what started off slowly, very soon avalanched into an employers’ offensive against wages. The developing economic crisis not only affected the bargaining position of the unions, but it naturally had an impact on their internal organisation and finances. A serious cash flow problem evidenced itself in the WU, something which encouraged many in the leadership to favour a partnership with a larger, richer union. The first distinct signs of this locally were when Stokes complained at the DC in May 1929 that he was faced with a 25% reduction in his own wages. Hind, as the lay representative on the EC, pointed out that no actual decision had been taken and by the next meeting was able to say positively that no such action was to be taken.
There was some sharpness over the affair. Stokes complained bitterly that he had given 25 years loyal service to the union, but Hind stubbornly insisted that the “EC was elected to administer and the time had come when the position was such that the Organisers had to receive a reduction or there would no sick pay for the members”. [32] This may seem trite but, in the absence of even the most elementary welfare state provisions, union benefits were crucial to the survival of workers’ families in times of distress. There will also have been little sympathy for Stokes, at a time when most of his members were experiencing similar savage wages cuts. Whilst the WU was a financial disaster, it was an organisational success, a fact viewed with some jealousy by some unions. The Amalgamated Weavers Union (AWU) tried ferociously to implant itself in British Celanese and relations were so bad that the Long Eaton Trades Council passed a resolution condemning the “attack of the Amalgamated Weavers on the WU”. [33] By the beginning of 1930, the AWU had only three members in Celanese in total, a dismal failure. [34] Indeed, that union was to loose half its membership between the General Strike and the outbreak of war in 1939, no doubt sufficient reason for its interest in the strengths of the newer man made fibre industry at Celanese. There were similar tensions in the silk trade. The need for some clear agreement on the matter resolved itself in 1929, when a national conference of all unions involved in the artificial sector agreed that “where a union had organised a place other unions would keep away”. Wood reported this to the WU DC, no doubt with much satisfaction. [35]
Such inter-union disputes were common, as the fight for membership grew. The TGWU had a long running battle with the NUR over which union was appropriate to organise bus workers associated with the LMS Railway. After 1928, when powers to run road transport operations were granted to the railway companies by Parliament, the NUR had begun successfully organising bus workers in some areas of north Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. This was contained within the company called East Midlands Motor Services. Such organising caused much consternation to the TGWU, which of course included the old bus and tram societies within its midst. This whole issue remained a problem, until May 1932, when a spheres of influence agreement was reached between the two unions which restricted the NUR to organising bus workers directly employed by railway owned businesses.
More infighting took place locally, when the Amalgamated Society of Vehicle Builders (ASVB) disputed the involvement of the TGWU in the wagon building industry in Long Eaton. Claye’s, a wagon building firm, would not negotiate with any union other than the ASVB. Despite that, the WU made substantial progress in Cory’s wagon works, both in its own right and then as the TGWU’s General Workers Trade Group. [36] For the inevitable finally came about and the WU amalgamated with the TGWU in 1929. Given that the latter had been restricted to bus, tram and a very few lorry drivers, the WU brought the TGWU a very wide base in Derbyshire and the new entity enjoyed considerable vibrancy. The WU had always nurtured a desire for the wider organisational unity of general workers. That had, after all been the original idea behind the founding of the WU, that it would become a focus for all trades. The move to join up with the TGWU was therefore not entirely a shot gun marriage, motivated by the desire to escape dire financial pressures. Even so, Ernest Bevin extracted maximum advantage out of what was technically a merger, but had more of a feel of a take over. But, in Derbyshire the national takeover of the WU by the TGWU was in fact reversed, the WU being bigger, wider based and more rooted in society. Derby was probably one of the more important centres for the WU outside of London and Birmingham.
As early as 1915, the Derby WU DC had urged their executive to push forward with all possible speed on the question of amalgamation of various union catering for unskilled and semi-skilled workers. By the mid 1920s however, the WU was experiencing sharp internal conflict. This was less a political debate than a power struggle between various tendencies, full time officers for one and the lay executive for another, The consequences for the WU DC’s kind of ambition were terminal. The 1926 WU Triennial Conference saw a censure vote passed against the entire EC and the run up to the conference had been marked by internal manoeuvring of a very distasteful nature. Derby was by no means isolated from this. Stokes was rebuked at the November 1926 DC for withholding correspondence on these matters from the London United District Committee of the WU until after the Triennial Conference. The Derby DC then resolved that all correspondence for their attention should be read no matter what it contained. Much of these controversies had their origins in the financial difficulties which faced the union.
The last independent Triennial Conference of the WU was held in Derby at the beginning of 1929 and after this the process of amalgamation with the TGWU went fairly smoothly. Tory anti-union legislation required that half of the members of each union had to vote and that 55% of those voting had to endorse the amalgamation proposals. Both unions made great efforts to win this ballot. During December 1928 and January 1929, meetings were held on the amalgamation throughout Derbyshire. Ilkeston, Draycott and Long Eaton had well attended meetings, but the Derby meeting was relatively poorly attended due to an unexplained lack of organisation for the meeting. [37] It maybe that some leading officials in Derby’s WU were unhappy about the merger, especially Stokes who would have been ‘mainly responsible’ for the production and distribution of information about the event. Out of a combined membership of some 10,000 locally, the TGWU and the WU were able to attract only an audience of one hundred at the Derby joint meeting. In modern terms this may sound like a good turnout, but at this time there was a culture of branch meetings being generally well frequented and a considerably larger audience was expected.
          The aim of the rallies was to eliminate all doubts, so as to be absolutely certain of approval for the amalgamation during the six month voting period. As the ballot papers were returned by branches, district officials were informed of the total numbers voting in each branch, so that they could then intervene to encourage a maximum turnout, voting the right way of course. The immediate effect of the merger on the ordinary member was quite limited. He or she stayed in the same branch and was served by the same official, even keeping a WU card until 1931, when TGWU cards were issued. Bevin somehow allowed the WU to believe that a merger of equals had taken place. The union’s new headed notepaper read “Transport and General Workers Union (incorporating the TGWU and the Workers Union)”. WU activists could point to the second part of the TGWU’s name, “Workers Union”, and claim it for their own, even though no change had taken place at all.
          The membership of the WU was to remain a separate trade group until December 1931, when it was spilt up into the appropriate, existing TGWU trade groups. The only evident, immediate change to the mass of the membership was in the 6d increase in their contribution rate. But branch officers suffered a reduction of their commission from 7.5 % to 5% and chairmen, who had received annual honorarium in the WU, found that they did not do so in the TGWU. [38] A majority was won for the amalgamation, although as might be expected, there was slightly more resistance to the idea in the WU than in the TGWU. [39]
                                                                    TGWU       WU
          for amalgamation                      88.9%         86.1%
          against amalgamation             11.1%         13.9%
          The amalgamation formally began on August 5th 1929, but while H A Hind was to report to the Derby WU DC that “the amalgamation was now complete”, the reality was somewhat less certain. [40] The WU had a “strongly entrenched central leadership and little tradition of rank-and-file activism”. [41] So, there was some feeling in Derbyshire at least that nothing very much had changed. It was not until 1936 that the TGWU in Derby decided to alter the old Workers Union banner by having the name of the TGWU painted over the top of the old union’s name. [42] But the amalgamation did rather boost Derby’s position within the TGWU, compared to the status it had held in the WU. A sub-regional Finance Office, with W F Wells as Finance Officer, was set up in Derby by the TGWU in 1930 at new offices; whereas in the past all membership contributions had been sent direct to London. This development greatly enhanced the Derby District’s prestige within the TGWU, so much so that when the Area 5 (Midlands) Committee of the union thought of transferring the Finance Office to Birmingham, the centre of the union’s Midlands area, a storm of protest from the East Midlands caused a rethink of the proposal, which was put on the back burner for some decades. [43]
          It was fortunate for the WU that it made the transition at this time, for in 1930 the recession really hit Derbyshire hard. Heyhoe, the TGWU district president, optimistically observed that there “was a slump but he was hopeful that things would brighten up”. [44] Such complacency was balanced by the concern expressed once again by Wood over the “attitude of the employers towards trade union leaders when they go to interview them”. He thought it was a case of “political intimidation”. [45] But there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about the severity of the recession in November, when the TGWU DC heard that the “bad state of trade at the present time ... was worse than 1921 and 1922 ... (there was an) attack on wages in almost every industry”. [46] The situation everywhere was increasingly difficult. The TGWU had “two branches in the Peak District where for the first time since the war unemployment and short time are in operation”. [47] Wages cuts abounded. G R Turner’s of Langley Mill reduced rates of pay early in 1930, while Celanese warp knitters’ bonuses were cut from 10/- a week to only 3/-. In the wagon building trade, the employers took away the 10/- bonus won during the war, taking the basic down to 27/- a week. [48] The LMS Railway cut wages by between 2.5% and 5% in January 1931. While British Celanese gave notice of termination of all agreements early in 1931 and immediate negotiations took place to minimise the effect.
          The TGWU was pleased to be able to announce that they had limited British Celanese to a 7.5% cut in earnings, along with reductions on piece work prices. Due to an increase in work allocations, weavers’ earnings were to be reduced only by 2/6d a week on an average of £3 10s 0d. Although some earned up to 15/- a week more. Given that new looms were to be introduced and that the union believed “competent’ weavers could do the extra work, the members expressed themselves satisfied with the new arrangements “largely because they still earned about £1 a week more than Lancashire weavers”. [49] Later in the year, some one hundred spinners and mixers at Celanese stopped work one midday over the number of men employed on spinning machines, proving if nothing else that, given sufficient provocation, the defensive reflex action was as sensitive as ever. The following shift, on hearing of this development, refused even to start work. For it seems that more machines, and hence more work, were running with less men than was usually the case. Adding fuel to the already inflamed situation, the company refused recognition to Holloway, the spinners shop steward, when he attempted to negotiate a solution to the stoppage. British Celanese justified its position on the basis that it refused to negotiate under duress.
          Very quickly, over 500 workers were out and full time officials got involved. Stokes, Clarke and Wood attended a mass meeting which voted to go back to work to allow negotiations to proceed. However, the strikers were refused admission to the plant when they attempted to return, thus creating a lock out situation. The company allowed a small number of hand picked men to start work, thus generating a feeling that a crisis was imminent as large sections of the rest of the workforce began to be affected by the lack of work from the spinning sections. Day long negotiations broke up, with the firm requiring an answer to proposals they had tabled by 11am the next morning, but only if a return to work had taken place. The spinners and mixers met at the Spondon Picture House at 9.30 am. Stokes argued that the men had acted unconstitutionally by not communicating with the union before striking, reminding them that the company had refused to talk with the shop steward and only the intervention of the officials had caused negotiations to ensue. The meeting voted by a large majority to end their strike to allow negotiations. But this was only with the proviso that, if the results were unsatisfactory, a constitutional dispute be then declared. Moreover, it was demanded that an apology be extended to their shop steward, Holloway, for the manner in which he had been treated. The resultant absence of comment in the union’s local records would suggest that these objectives were indeed met.
          In 1931, the TGWU was able to report a moderately healthy position in the Derbyshire District, if not in membership terms or on the bargaining front, then at least in financial terms. The district actually maintained a ‘profit’ making situation which helped to subsidise less favourably treated areas of the country. [50]
          Income                                      £1,704            17s     111/2d
          Expenditure                             £1,301              7s     11d
          Returned to centre                   £403            10s     1/2d
          For all the difficulties, the union was making headway and not just financially. The WU had hoped to “get some members in the motor industry at Stapleford” in the spring of 1929. [51] The following year, Wood and Stokes went out on the roads, trying to organise County Council employees engaged in roads maintenance. But it was hard going, especially in the rural areas, and they thought “it will take a long time to get them organised”. [52] Nonetheless, meetings of Derbyshire County Council roadmen were held at Ashbourne. [53] A brewery branch was setup in Derby in 1931, reflecting the work carried out at Offiler’s. While workers at the DP Battery in Bakewell had achieved formal recognition and more. [54] But op scaled down its operations as the recession bit harder and only .12 out of the 40 employees stayed in the union.
          Attempts were made at the recruitment of wire workers at Mackintosh’s, Derby Cable Company and Concordia in Long Eaton, where “mostly boys and girls were employed”. In one fell swoop, 40 workers Joined up at Concordia and recognition of the union was immediately gained. [55]
          The WU/TGWU moved into the area of agriculture in Derbyshire with some seriousness in 1930. The WU had a base in the sector elsewhere in the country, so the move was not out of place even if it was not easy. Clarke, the Divisional Organiser, told the Derby DC that there were “difficulties in trying to organise the agricultural Labourers but he had not given up hope”. [56] Wages were determined on a country basis by the Agricultural Wages Board and this decided that no increase be awarded for 1931. The minimum rate of 8d an hour for a 54 hour week, with an overtime premium only payable on Sundays at 10d an hour, was thus maintained. Female workers received only 5d an hour and 8d on Sundays. [57] As the year progressed, farmers sought to maintain their profit margin by increasing summer hours of working. The aim was to compensate for their losses after food prices began to drastically drop due to lack of demand associated with the recession. The County Wages Committee reduced wages by 2s 3d. Naturally, the workers’ representatives were firmly against this, but the cuts were pushed through by a combination of the farmers themselves and the so-called independent members of the Board. The overwhelming majority of independents were drawn from the ranks of the middle strata of business and professionals, such as solicitors, bank managers and the like. [58]
          Celanese spinners were on £3 a week or more in comparison to perhaps £1 16s a week for farm labourers. Even so, despite these very low levels of payment, prosecutions were still needed to enforce the pittances which the Wages Board ordered. Between June 24th and July 28th 1931 alone, the Ministry of Agriculture had to take legal sanctions against no less than ten farmers in Derbyshire for failure to pay the proper rates to 15 workers. There were four cases in Ashbourne and three in Hatton, with others at Belper, Glossop and Heanor. Arrears in wages of as much as £59 were involved, although most were in the region of £10 and £20. Farmers usually paid up when caught out, but the paltry fine of £1 or £2 for each offence meant very little to the average farmer and many tried repeatedly to evade their obligations. [59] So the TGWU launched a major propaganda campaign amongst agricultural workers. Ten meetings were held throughout Derbyshire and it was hoped that two branches “which had ceased existence will be resuscitated”, it would prove to be a very difficult battle and the union never really made headway. [60]
          3 Unemployed Struggles (1927-31)
          The unemployed were still largely viewed as parasites by the authorities and the notion of a deserving and undeserving poor was widespread. Siddon, of the Derby Board of Guardians, argued in 1927 that skilled workers who had “made no provision for themselves in case of unemployment should be ashamed” of having to ask for public relief. [61] Yet Derbyshire was relatively unaffected by the mass unemployment of this period until around 1930. Workers in the severely affected areas of Britain looked to places like Derby with hope. Many were drawn to seek work in the area, but were often sorely exploited due to their desperation. The engineering firm of International Combustion, which had set up in Derby in 1922, employed youth from the “distressed” areas, such as the mining villages of North East England, Wales and Scotland. One youngster was given details of work at International Combustion and authorisation to work there (a ‘Green Card’) by his own local Labour Exchange. He was told that there would be someone to meet him when he got to Derby. On arriving in the town one night at 10pm, he found no-one to greet him in what must have seemed a strange place, a larger town than he had ever experienced. Perhaps he had expected the factory to be the only one in town? Eventually, he found the location of the factory and was able to work for a grand total of 69 hours, receiving 35/-, after which he was simply sent back home. Haslam Engineering also took on youths from “the distressed mining areas and was paying them 33/- per week”. [62]
          As unemployment grew in 1929, many on the left turned their attention to the struggle to organise those workers left without jobs. Largely on the initiative of the Communist Party, but with the involvement of many left Labour activists, a National Unemployed Workers Movement was once again organised. This was based upon the widespread and popular support which had been received in the previous decade and the movement was to dominate the unemployed struggles in the 1930s. The organisation was well established in Derby right from the start of this period, having partaken in the earlier struggles of the 1920s. A large NUWM conference was held in Derby in February 1929 and the town was on the first of the NUWM’s national unemployed marches - the ‘Hunger Marches’ - that year. Moreover, it was always represented on these marches which took place throughout the 1 930s. The 1929 march began in Scotland and spread throughout the country, along nine routes all of which culminated in a major London event. A strong contingent from Derby was involved in the Midlands stream. The TUC and the Labour Party officially banned Trades Councils and affiliated organisations from aiding the march. But many activists simply ignored the instructions; such were their sympathies with the plight of the unemployed. Yet, in some areas, the instructions were followed so earnestly that working class organisations spurned the marchers, refusing them even humanitarian help such as shelter or food. Churches were often more sympathetic in some towns than local Labour Parties. Even workhouses provided more hospitality than some labour movement organisations. In March, when the Derbyshire marchers returned from London by train, they were able to assist by placing unemployment as key issue in the May General Election. [63]
          The 1927 Unemployed Insurance Act, introduced by the Tories, provided ammunition in the election battle. The concept of ‘Not Genuinely Seeking Work’ (NGSW) particularly gave rise to much resentment amongst ordinary people. To obtain state benefits, the burden was on the unemployed clamant to prove that he or she was in fact looking for employment. Even the Derby Board of Guardians made an all too common criticism of Labour Exchanges in February 1929, that they were too strict in stopping benefits where the claimant could not provide absolute proof of a search for work. [64] Although the Board’s concern would not have been entirely altruistic, since anyone denied benefits would of course come to the Board for relief, thus depleting its funds.
          Labour proposed in its 1929 election manifesto that the NGSW clause be deleted, if they were to achieve government office, and this was a pledge which won it much support from both the unemployed and from concerned employed workers. In a massive mobilisation of activity, the NUWM fought the implications of scrounging which the NGSW clause implied. In many ways this single issue was critical in enabling Labour to win the election, despite the vagueness of the rest of its manifesto on the issue of unemployment. Once in government, with Ramsay MacDonald as Prime Minister, Labour at first merely tinkered with the administration of the NGSW clause. However, after much campaigning, the onus of proof on NGSW was switched from the unemployed to the authorities. Concern over these matters helped the NUWM to grow enormously in public stature. In April 1930, a march of around 80 unemployed arrived in Chesterfield on its way to a May Day rally in London. Predictably, they were cold shouldered by the labour movement in the town. That year the DMA barred unemployed miners who were members of the NUWM from holding office. But the move was far from generally accepted and the arguments within the union around this resulted in the DMA supplying food and lodgings to unemployed marches in 1930 and in 1932. 
          Unemployment had never gone beyond one million nationally during the 1920s. In 1931 it exploded to the highest level ever recorded up until then of 2.5 million, 21% of all insured workers. Trades unionists expected some action from their government, but things seemed to get worse. Following a major international financial crisis, in March 1931 the Labour Government commissioned a report from a committee headed by Sir George May, chairman of the Prudential Insurance company. The committee’s majority in July recommended a balanced state budget. The accounting assumptions of the May Committee were suspect, since it treated some expenditure as current - contrary to Treasury convention. Nonetheless, out of this emerged the proposal that £96 million be cut in government expenditure, two thirds of that at the expense of the unemployed by reducing benefits of 17/- a week by 20%. By the end of July 1931, the Bank of England was loosing gold reserves at the rate of £15 million a week and total reserves were down to £133 million. Financial policy dictated that the value of the pound as related to the Gold Standard, the internationally accepted mechanism for evaluating the relative worth of currencies, be adjusted. Mine owners in particular felt pressured by the effect on their export prices by the overvaluation of the pound, which had arisen as a result of the war. The severe recession which had begun in the early 1920s saw a sharp fall in wages and prices, but British exports were still uncompetitive at the pre-war parity rate of $4.86 at which Britain had re-entered the Gold Standard. The Government saw the capitalist system as like any mechanical system, available to be turned in any way it desired. Money was part of the system and the theory demanded that a restriction in the supply of money be made. Montague Norman, a leading Tory banker, put it succinctly when he spoke of there being no problem about money, except who has it! No doubt the unemployed would have heartily agreed with him. The Government found itself applying policies which a Tory Government would not necessarily feel unhappy with. Some staunch Labour supporters would explain away the contradiction by arguing the need to support their government, whatever the situation. But for many, there grew a massive disillusionment; power and wealth remained untouched. Little had been done to radicalise British society in any significant way and Tory anti-union legislation was still on the statute books.
          Those who had always ruled still did so. In a move reminiscent of the flippant gaiety so typical of the rich a decade earlier, Arthur Markham, the coal owner’s son, could still humiliate working people by arranging a ‘miners’ party’ at a fashionable restaurant in London. He arranged this jape by stopping miners at the pithead and giving them £10 and a first class ticket to London. A dozen agreed to go with him as they were when he met them, black with coal and in their working clothes. The restaurateur thought it “the most original party he had ever catered for”. [65] The underlying attitude of sneering insensitivity can easily be imagined and one can only hope that the miners took Markham for all they could get out of him.
          Controversy over the lacklustre performance of the Labour Government was widespread inside the labour movement, which began to divide into right wing and left wing factions. In March 1931, the TGWU’s Derby district president, Heyhoe, was “sorry that there was at the present time a disruption in the Labour movement, it was a United Front that was wanted”. [66] Although whether the choice of phrase meant a desire to keep the movement to the militant left may be a matter of doubt, it is more likely that the focus of attention was the increasingly doubts angry about the drift of the Labour government headed by Ramsay MacDonald. The situation would sharpen even further after the majority of the Labour cabinet began to implement a means test and severe cuts in state expenditure on the unemployed. MacDonald turned to the Tories for support as it became clear that his own party would not back him and a ‘National’ government was formed out of a coalition of MPs from all parties in August. Whilst many Labour MPs refused to follow MacDonald, the main divergence in the movement which emerged was between the Parliamentary Party and the party in the country at large. The amazing betrayal of MacDonald shocked almost everybody, but the signs had always been evident.
          J H Thomas sent a letter to the Derby Labour Party EC, dated August 26th, explaining his actions. He justified his support for MacDonald on the basis that failure to act in the way they had done would have resulted in a “crisis in which all would suffer, the working class worst of all”. [67] Even so, Thomas had by this time abandoned all pretence at socialist ideas; a sympathetic contemporary biographer approvingly described him as believing that “the constructive influence of the British Empire will most quickly and efficiently succour the ills of the world”. [68] Thomas addressed the Derby No 2 NUR branch on Sunday 27th September, when he revealed that the National Government would be seeking a vote of confidence from the nation at a general election which was imminent. [69] The Labour Party was still stunned by these events and was unable to mount an effective campaign. Much of its senior leadership had decamped without regard for the damage that this would cause to its credibility as a caring and honest party. The tide seemed to be very much with the National Government, which cleverly acted quickly before the impact of the dramatic new alliance was lost. Moreover, a public scare was created and turned into a major election issue, cloaking the real reasons for the election. The Government argued that if the Labour Party were returned, Post Office savings would be seized to pay for the crisis.
          All of Labour’s supposedly solid constituencies were under attack by the combined forces of Liberals, Conservatives and Labour’s right wing renegades. The Tory, Wragg, took Belper back from Jack Lees, not far short of doubling his vote in the process. Flint took Ilkeston from Oliver for ‘National Labour’ by a mere two votes, with both candidates taking 50% of the poll. The alliance of right wing forces is very clear in Flint’s case, since the Liberal and Tory vote from 1929 plus a few wavering Labour voters, who were attracted by the appeal to national unity, was sufficient to very narrowly win the seat.
                       Labour                   Liberal              Tory               National
          1929    59%                        22.7%              18.3%
          1931    50%                                 -               -                        50%
          The National Conservative took Chesterfield from Labour’s George Benson with a convincing majority of almost 6,000. Frank Lee lost Labour’s seat in North East Derbyshire to a small, but certain majority of around 1,000. Interestingly, the militant activist, Vin Williams, the former editor of the local strike bulletin in 1926, also stood in Chesterfield for the New Party, the short lived creation of Oswald Mosley and four other Labour MPs. Mosley had been a high flyer in the labour movement, deserting the Tories in 1926 and becoming a minister, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1929. His first wife, Cynthia, or Cimmie as she was affectionately known, the daughter of Lord Curzon, had also been elected as a Labour MP. When it was first founded in 1930, incredibly given its later development, the New Party was seen as being a left wing alternative to established politics. But Williams polled only a tiny vote of 1.7% and was immediately disillusioned along with many others and renewed his connections with traditional left politics. The New Party had an ineffective launch at the home of the well-heeled Sitwell family at Renishaw Park, but the connections with local landowners and coal interests, coupled with an increasing Italian link, served to emphasise where Mosley was going. In an extraordinary turn, Mosley rapidly veered to the right and transformed it into the British Union of Fascists, which was bankrolled by Mussolini, perhaps even because it was funded by the dictator.
          In Derby, an even more serious reduction in the Labour vote was registered than elsewhere in the county. A combination of the omnipresent coalition appeal and Thomas’ own personal popularity could have been responsible. But it has been suggested that his “influence failed to extend to other railway towns than Derby”. [70] Thomas’ partner in the contest in Derby was a National Conservative, whilst he himself stood as a National Labour candidate. In contrast, two official Labour candidates stood against them, one being Thomas’ old stable mate, Raynes. The National candidates beat them by something like a proportion of five votes to every two. Whereas Labour had taken around 70% of the vote in 1929, the position was reversed in 1931, with the National candidates winning 70%. Raynes viewed the Labour Party as “shattered and scattered and hopelessly in debt”. It had been a devastating experience. Raynes had lost his seat, yet he remained tremendously forgiving of Thomas, who had not consulted his fellow MP and did not repent his actions. But, if Raynes adopted a phlegmatic attitude, others did not. The mild mannered Les Clay recalled that Thomas ‘lived at Allestree - away from the workers”. (Allestree was – is - a pleasant and affluent suburb of Derby.) “The men in the railway workshops were very bitter about him. Not just the activists, even the average bloke. I saw him outside the Midland Hotel (near Derby station) once and I told him what I thought of him. “You traitor!” I said.” [71]
          The same pattern of humiliating defeat for Labour was obviously repeated in those areas which traditionally had small reservoirs of Labour voters. The National Conservative in High Peak beat Labour by a margin of three to one. Numerically, the National MP’s vote almost exactly combined the 1929 Tory and Liberal votes. Major Graham-Pole lost his seat in South Derbyshire to a National candidate, who also gained the support of the Liberal and Tories. There were serious complaints about clergymen using their pulpit to condemn Labour, as at Spondon parish church. Speaking after the election, Graham-Pole noted that “Labour lost more to the power of the capitalist press, the pulpit and the wireless than to the National Government’s programme”. On this occasion, his personal wealth had counted for little, the National candidate spent twice as much as Labour did on campaigning in the constituency. [72] In West Derbyshire, Labour did not even stand against the Marquis, who was thus returned unopposed. The sole remaining Labour MP left in the entire county was Charles Duncan, who was returned for Clay Cross. His vote was much reduced, but in this rock solid Labour seat, he was able to claim no less than 65% of the poll.
          The result, nationally and locally, was a complete disaster for Labour which was crushed as a national party, with only 56 seats to the 558 seats acquired by the National candidates. The campaign had been marked by great vitriol, with the National candidates labelling their opponents as Bolsheviks, even when many knew quite well this was nowhere near the truth, as they had been colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The effect of former key Labour leaders denouncing their own party had predictable results on the confidence of working class voters. Within a week or so, Labour was forced to face a similar test at local elections. In Derby, only two out of the twelve Labour candidates were returned.
          4 Social Conditions in the thirties
          With such a mandate, the new government warmed to its task, imposing a cut on all those receiving public money. All government works projects were axed. In a matter of weeks, in excess of a quarter of a million pounds were taken from unemployment benefit allocations by the newly imposed means test. The very name of which brought fear and loathing into the hearts of ordinary people who had hit on hard times. A Derbyshire man was to write of these fears and experiences, largely based upon his own life in the Ripley area. Walter Brierley’s book, “Means Test Man”, was sadly an unknown work in his own day. More attention has latterly been given to it, albeit posthumously, since he died in 1972. The unpublished manuscripts of Brierley’s novels, stories and plays are all kept by Derby Local Studies Library, whilst “Means Test Man” was published by Spokesman in 1983. The author was born in Waingroves in 1900 and eventually obtained work at McEnvoy’s engineering works in Derby, starting on January 1st 1935. He stayed there for two years, and then obtained a job as a Child Welfare Officer, an occupation he kept until his retirement in 1965.
          The winter of 1931 saw massive and widespread protests against the means test everywhere, including Derby and Chesterfield. On Sunday 11th October, thousands of the unemployed marched to the Town Council in Derby in a mood of considerable anger. Such a mood was borne out of real despair, for life on the dole was oppressive in the extreme. One who experienced the worst excesses of this period was Gordon Street. He recalled that about 1,200 people would be in the dole queue in Belper, “extending from St John’s Road, along the Butts and halfway down High Pavement”. He had to stand for the entire day in that queue before he could sign on the register. At Brettles, where he was normally employed, things were not as bad as elsewhere. Gordon Street was “only laid off a week or so at a time”, but such experiences on a regular basis must have still been very depressing. [73] Certainly, the situation in Belper was critical enough for the Labour Party to run a soup kitchen at premises in Bowling Alley, a street in the town, for the children of the unemployed, so menial were the benefits provided by the authorities.
          The recession hit hard at all working people, but naturally the unemployed suffered the most. The mining areas, which then crept closer to the larger towns than was the case in later decades, suffered dreadfully. A third of insured workers were unemployed in Clay Cross, Eckington and Chesterfield. The women of unemployed families suffered above all others. A contemporary social study of the conditions of working class women reveals the stark severity of the deprivation. This study was commissioned by the Women’s’ Health Enquiry Committee, which was set up in 1933 to review the welfare of women. It was by no means a radical body, Towns Women’s Guilds, the Midwives’ Institute, the Liberal Party and a collection of MAs, MBEs and JPs constituted the committee.
          Entirely random samples of 1,250 women in over 40 towns were intensively interviewed. 39 of these were from Derby and two from Chesterfield. Many were wives of unemployed men, most had large numbers of children and lived in difficult housing conditions. The consequences, in terms of ill health, were appalling. One survey visitor wrote of one unhappy, elderly woman with eight children who lived just outside of Derby: “This woman is very miserable; she has no leisure occupation and cannot read or write. She cannot go out much as her leg is too bad; she only goes to the shops once a week when well enough.” The woman suffered from nerves, headaches, general debility, shortness of breath and a very bad ulcerated leg. It had been that way for twenty years and she had to attend the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary for treatment on the leg three times a week, until two years before. For a while, the lotion the Infirmary had been giving her had eased the pain, but she could not now afford the 1/- bus fare, or the lotion, since her husband had become unemployed. [74]
          While most interviewed in the survey were not well placed, some of those obliged to live in the “slums” of Derby faced particularly distressing circumstances. One case was believed to be a “relatively rare” example of extreme poverty. Not that those women in families with a bread winner were much better off than those women in domestic circumstances where unemployment had struck. The diets of the women were examined in minute detail. A Mrs V lived in a “slum street of small houses in Derby”. She was 40 years old and had three children. Her husband was a railway porter and her housekeeping money amounted to £1 19s 0d. The rent constituted almost a quarter of this budget and the family’s diet was dominated by bread and potatoes. Only 4/9d, about an eighth of the budget, was spent on eggs, bacon, meat and the like. Mrs V’s home was “very bad”, having no bath and a broken boiler, which the landlord refused to mend. Since the bad floods of 1932, when there had been several feet of water in the house, it had always been damp. The toilet was 25 yards from the house and hemmed in by a rag and bone yard and factories, which caused a permanent and unpleasant smell. Her husband had been very ill when she was six months pregnant and she had “great difficultly in nursing (i.e. feeding) the baby”. [75]
          One young mother of 19 years of age lived in a condemned slum court in Derby. Four months after the birth of her baby, hysteria and nervous debility had come upon her. Tied to the house by the baby, she had no recreation and the dirty walls and damp wallpaper depressed her. She had no copper gas boiler for washing clothes, which made washing a crushing, onerous task. There was no sink and no special place to keep the coal. [76] Despite the fact that she too was considered a rare case, 31% of the women interviewed lived in “completely intolerable” conditions. Mrs A of Derby, aged 25, was pregnant and lived with her unemployed husband and four children in a slum court which was due to be demolished. There was no gas supply and no copper, only oil lamps provided light and water had to be fetched from 40 yards away. Mrs N lived with her husband and three children in squalid surroundings in Derby. She suffered from kidney trouble, back ache, constipation, head ache and tonsillitis. Her diet was an unrelieved dose of tea, bread and potatoes. She explained to her visitor that “more food is available on Friday when unemployment insurance money comes. There is then fried fish for supper”. [77]
          For Mrs T of Derby such circumstances were made worse by her surroundings. A young woman of 24, she had three children to look after, all under five years of age. She was in very bad health, “having kidney trouble”. The family lived in a slum court, where the surroundings were very squalid. There were “no facilities for cleanliness at all”. There was no sink or running water in the house, only a tap at the end of the yard. There was a row of communal ‘tubs’, lavatories cleaned by the corporation twice a week. Mrs T had “never been to a talkie”, only silent movies some years ago. [78] Another woman, the wife of an unemployed labourer who had only had two month’s work in three years, lived in a cottage in Derby where “the bugs which are present and bred in the rotting woodwork cause endless extra work in an endeavour to be clean. It has been necessary to sit up all night to keep the bugs off the small baby. The corporation is said to have refused to fumigate the place at present ... until the end of the slum clearance scheme.” [italics in original - 79] Most of the women interviewed who attended welfare centres drank water, though some consumed phenomenal amounts of tea. There was a reason for this, other drinks were rarely mentioned, except “in the slums of Derby ... mineral water and ginger beer are mentioned, but this is probably because the women have been warned not to drink the water” because of its health hazards unless boiled. [80]
          Mrs D of Derby was 35 years old with five children and lived in a council house, so her living conditions were more tolerable. But her husband was an unemployed labourer and their rent was almost a quarter of the family budget of £2 1s 0d. [81] Mrs C of Chesterfield was 55 years and lived with her unemployed miner husband and three sons in a “very poor old cottage with no copper, no bathroom, no coal-shed”. She had to keep the coal in the cellar with the food and take out the food every time she needed coal to avoid getting dust on it. She had been in hospital three times and had once “went away to the sea” afterwards for convalescence. Rather touchingly, she added that she would “remember that as long as I live”, so pleasant had the experience been. [82j Another miner’s wife faced the hardship of unemployment with dignity. Without the help of her son, who lived with them, she and her husband would have been more severely affected than they were. Despite that help, she so arranged meals that her son would not see his parents eating bread and butter and tea for every meal. As the sole bread winner, the son had the bulk of the weekly groceries, without his knowledge that this was so. The mother did have another son, but he had his own family and was suffering acutely from bronchitis, which prevented him from working. Yet the Public Assistance Committee (PAC) thought that he ought to be in a position to help his parents and thus only awarded them 2/6d a week to live on, even though their rent alone was 5/- a week. “We would rather be dead than go on like this”, the wife bitterly commented. The PAC man’s monthly visits were “dreaded” by the family. “He asks so many questions and is so strict.” [83]
          Housing conditions were so bad that even the Derby Conservative councillor, W H Phillips, was on record as saying that there was very definitely overcrowding of a terrible kind in the town. Over 17% of families, representing 27% of Derby’s population faced serious overcrowding. 50% of the women in the health survey had less than 6/- a head each week in housekeeping money and of these 65.5% were in very bad or poor health. [84] In another study, Sir John Orr estimated that one quarter of all children less than 14 years of age lived in families which had an income of less than 10/- a head per week, less than the minimum allowed for simple existence by the social scientist, Rowntree. He had judged 53/- to be necessary; adjusted to the year of the women’s health survey this would be 55/6d for a town based worker and a family of three children. The Women’s’ Health Committee, arising out of the survey, recommended a wide ranging series of reforms, but nothing of this character would emerge until the Labour Government of 1945. [85]
          With living conditions so bad and leisure activities so limited by lack of money, many working class people looked for cheap or free pleasures. Rambling, or simply walking through the countryside, was one activity which gained enormous popularity in these years. No less than five hundred people went on a Derby Labour Party charabanc outing to Monsal Head in 1926. Yet, even in this aspect of life, a class struggle existed. For the rights of working people to tread the hillsides were challenged by the wealthy elite and this challenge was in turn taken up by a series of mass and deliberate trespasses in Derbyshire.
          5 The 1932 Kinder Scout trespass
             Arguably, the trespassers of private property in 1932 were fighting the same battle as their forebears had generations before, when the Enclosure Acts had been resisted. However, the ambition of the rich in this period was not to gain economically, but to preserve the moorlands for themselves alone. Specifically, the aim was to maintain the grouse which provided elitist shooting ‘pleasures’. Something like three quarters of the southern Pennines and the Peak District was owned privately and the rest was owned by public bodies which admitted no public access. Less than 1% of the moorland was adequately open. Legislation to force land owners to permit the public to partake in their own heritage was the only answer. To achieve this, labour movement activists determined to embark upon a series of mass trespasses to draw attention to their case. The campaign was strongly influenced by the British Workers Sports Federation, which in turn was close to the Communist Party. Activists in the one were often involved in the other. Kinder Scout, an outstanding stretch of moorland, was chosen as the site of the first mass trespass. On Sunday April 24th 1932, ramblers gathered in large numbers at Hayfield, much advance publicity having taken place.
          One third of the entire Derbyshire Constabulary, under the personal command of the Chief Constable, poured into the village! Ramblers who had come from Manchester outwitted the police, by leaving before the stated starting time by a route through which police cars could not follow. [86] A rally was convened in a nearby quarry, addressed by the person most associated with the Trespass then and in subsequent years, one Benny Rothman. Hundreds of young men and women streamed across moorland, heading for the plateau above Kinder reservoir. They were challenged only by some twenty or thirty gamekeepers. Largely ignoring these, the youngsters reached the top where they met another group which had come from Sheffield, via Edale. (Activists from Derby had tended to join the Manchester group, whilst those from Chesterfield went with the Sheffield contingent.) It was an inspiring moment and the whole event was a bold gesture for “the rights of ordinary people to walk on land stolen from them in earlier times”. [87]
          Six young men were arrested after the Trespass and a travesty of justice followed. They were first brought before the New Mills magistrates court. Subsequently, on July 21st and 22nd, the group was brought before the Derby Assizes. A Grand Jury of two brigadier generals, three colonels, two majors, three captains, two aldermen and eleven country gentlemen considered their case. This was no trial by one’s peers; there was not a single working class person and no rambler amongst the jury! [88] They were charged with riotous assembly and assault of a gamekeeper. The most damning piece of evidence, it seems, was a book by Lenin which had been in the possession of one of the defendants. This fact drew the comment from the judge, amidst much laughter: “Isn’t that the Russian gentleman?” [89] Predictably, the ramblers were all found guilty, but sentences of six, four, three and two months jail were imposed. One young man was seemingly extra penalised because he had been selling the Daily Worker, which the Communist Party had launched only two years before. [90] The campaign did not end there. Apart from the demonstrations and activity designed to draw attention to the injustice of the imprisonments, there were other rambling protests. At the end of May, a massive turnout of over 5,000 ramblers demonstrated for the right of access to private lands at Whatstandwell. [91] Whilst on June 26th, some 10,000 ramblers assembled at Winnats Pass, Castleton. [92] Another mass trespass took place at Abbey brook in the Derwent valley and a rally was held at Jacob’s Ladder. With the more pressing activities on unemployment, anti-fascism and solidarity with Spain over the following years, the issue receded from the minds of the labour movement. But it was by no means in vain, the very establishment in 1949 by a Labour Government of the Derbyshire Peak District National Park, a novel concept at the time, was no accident. The ramblers’ struggles had made their point and the transformation of Derbyshire’s moorlands into public property was accomplished with relative ease. [93]
          6 The Left and the Unemployed
          J H Thomas was by no means the only defector in Derbyshire from the labour movement. The solicitor A R Flint and two Labour councillors in Derby, Mycroft - who had been involved in the Industrial Alliance - and Matley, left the Labour Party in October 1931 to join the National tendency. The effectiveness of the Labour Party was much impeded by the disillusionment and despair which was created by the split. In 1931, the Derby Labour Party (DLP) recorded that “the year has been a difficult one for us”, this had been even before the MacDonaldite desertion. “Success in the past’, the DLP thought, “has been brought about mainly by loyalty, enthusiasm, sacrifice and teamwork”. [94] A great amount of these qualities had been needed during the 1929-31 Labour Government, but with the arrival of the National Government the Party was shattered. In the spring of 1932, the DLP reported that “much happened that we regret, but on the other hand we knew that we touched rock-bottom and found our movement has secure foundations”. [95]
          Individual membership plummeted, almost halving in one year from 2,032 to 1,188. In a move to halt the slide, two political heavyweights were drawn in to officiate in the local party. H A Hind became chairman and W R Raynes took over as secretary. They were as affected by the experience as anyone; despite his quiet continuing personal affection for Thomas, the steady Raynes argued bitterly for a motion at the national Labour Party conference which repudiated those former Labour leaders who were by then in the National Government. Challenging the three railway unions to come to some agreement on providing a replacement parliamentary candidate for Derby, Raynes was outspoken in his public condemnation of Thomas. He had seen “the work of 30 years smashed and branches of the great railway union (the NUR) torn with doubt and dissension”. Although they were now building up again, they would “not stand for a repetition of the experience of the past 12 months”. [96]
          While individual membership of the DLP took a hammering, affiliated membership was reasonably unaffected, primarily because more union branches affiliated to the party as a conscious, defensive reaction, Interestingly, as late as 1928, the Derby Trades Council (DTC) maintained direct affiliation to the DLP on a figure of 252 members. These would have been individual members of the party, given the introduction of bans and the sidelining of trades councils which had taken place in the movement. Such reservoirs of loyalty would now stand the DLP in good stead. [97] Trade union affiliation improved slowly, but surely, throughout the next decade and beyond. Some unions affiliated most of their local branches to the DLP. The AEU had 19 branches affiliated in contrast to its attitude to the DTC, with which it had little to do. According to Les Clay, the AEU District Secretary, Arthur Sturgess, had told him not to bother with the DTC, since it was “all for office workers”. [98] A refrain which would echo down the years, as union officials watched with increasing dread the activism of the trades councils movement. But, of course, the Derby Labour Party was viewed differently. In 1928-9, the Workers Union had affiliated seven branches to the DLP and the NUR had six, plus two women’s guilds, a position unaffected by the MacDonaldite fiasco. After the merger with the TGWU, the three original T&G branches (5/95, 5/98 and 5/100) immediately affiliated, joining their new compatriots in the WU in a long standing close relationship with the DLP.
          Affiliated membership of the party of 17,897 before the calamity dipped only slightly to 17,024 immediately afterwards. Clearly, the tight control over union branches and district committees, exerted by people like Hind and Sturgess, enabled them to maintain affiliation levels. Nonetheless, as the fight back ensued individual membership began to lift. This was quite dramatically so in the period from spring 1932 to spring 1933, when a 50% increase was reported. [99] The DLP’s journal, the Democrat, continued to be published successfully. Despite the enormous cost of printing, £41 in 1931-2, the journal did avoid actually loosing money. Affiliated membership was ten times that of individual membership: [100]
          (Note: Individual membership covers period of March of previous year to March of the year stated. The gender split of the individual membership always heavily favoured men. For example, in the 1930 DLP Annual report, 1,246 males and 772 females were reported as being individual members.)
                                  Derby Labour Party membership 1927-1932
          Year                DLP individual membership                    DLP affiliated membership
          1927                           1,589                                                  ?
          1928                           1,905                                                  ?
          1929                           2,018                                                  ?
          1930                           2,030                                                  17,897
          1931                           1,188                                                  ?
          1932                       1,806                                                      20,037
          Despite the experience of a National Government and perhaps because the DLP fell into the hands of competent and charismatic men like Hind and Sturgess, the party remained solidly in the hands of the right of the labour movement. It was almost as if nothing had happened. No real pressure existed to challenge the dominance of the right in Derby. Unemployment hit the town hard, but it was as almost nothing compared with the bitter fight for survival experienced in the coalfields. Massive industrial complexes like Celanese, Rolls Royce and the rail workshops were affected by the recession but, by and large, there was a cushioning effect which reserved some prosperity for some of those lucky enough to have jobs. It was in these and subsequent years that the contemporary character of the local labour movement was formed. These developments made for the perceived historical judgement of Derby as a sleepy backwater, relatively unattracted to militancy. It is in this decade that a sense of Derby’s distancing itself from the rest of the county emerges and this mood would be particularly reinforced by the next two decades of good living, which manufacturing essential to Britain’s defences would bring.
          More fertile ground for the left was amongst the miners of the north of the county. The NUWM national council member for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire was Phillip Hicken, the brother of the DMA’s general secretary. In 1931, Phillip Hicken announced his intention of contesting the Clay Cross constituency as a Communist candidate. But the notion came to nought, for he was unable to raise the necessary deposit of £150. [101] An unspoken strategy to counter the effectiveness of the NUWM as the voice of the unemployed was embarked upon by the official labour movement. Influenced by the new DLP leadership, with its strong roots in the trade unions, the Trades Council called together 80 delegates at a county conference at the Kier Hardie Hall in Derby in March 1932. [102] The major concern highlighted was the operation of the Means Test. A tremendous campaign had been launched prior to the conference to attract support for its aims. A petition signed by some 4,500 workers on short time or actually unemployed was presented at the conference. The left on the DTC had not opposed the conference, on the basis that it would seek to be a unifying force. Indeed, the NUWM was represented along with its immediate, local rival, the Derby Unemployed Men’s’ Brotherhood. This had been founded by Alderman W G Wilkins. Its main approach in countering the NUWM was charitable and leisure activities, although it did issue a propaganda bulletin from its headquarters at the Theatre Gospel Hall in Bold Lane. There were many trade union organisations represented at the conference: six AEU and four NUR branches sent delegates, along with the TGWU, the Boilermakers, the NUGMWU, NUDAW, the Iron Founders and the Building Trades Federation. But such an initiative did little to ameliorate the stern outlook of the PAC5 and the Means Test men. Support for the bolder approach of the Hunger Marchers grew. Towards the end of 1932, another major national march was organised.
          The women’s’ contingent of the Lancashire route passed through Derby without any difficulties or restrictions being imposed by the workhouse authorities. There was much controversy at Burton-on-Trent, however. The marchers were told that they had to be in the workhouse by 8pm. In response, the women held well supported demonstrations in the town until nearly midnight, before they decided to return at their own leisure to the workhouse to retire for the night. [103] Only a few weeks later, the message of the march was mitigated in Derby by some good news. Rolls Royce was able to end the year with a big re-engagement of men made redundant during the year, as a large number of new orders came in. [104] But generally the position was none too good. The response of the well off in Derby was to embrace charity. The Rotary Club and Toc H provided boots for the unemployed, while the Town Council set up a recreational centre in Full Street for the seven thousand registered unemployed in the town. Councillor W Smithard was the chair of the committee which ran the centre, which may well have been seen as another initiative to head off the militant influence of the NUWM among the unemployed. The council also proposed a major project in Markeaton park. A pond was drained and an ornamental lake created, thus creating ‘work’ for 140 unemployed for six months. [105]
Derby Workers Defence Committee and Derby NUWM objected to the scheme on the grounds that it was test work, designed to apply the NGSW clause, and would not pay trade union rates for the job. The NUWM issued its basic demand for proper relief or genuine work, but the local PAC was dominated by National Government supporters and refused even to meet a deputation to consider their objections. The Derby NUWM continued to dominate the campaign amongst the unemployed, producing a handbill in 1933 which gives a taste of the vigour of the organisation:
“Employed and unemployed workers of Derby! Unite to defeat test work!
Derby Public Assistance Committee has forced men to take on work which amounts to slave labour! At least 30 men are now on test work and amongst them are cases where men are compelled to work 3 days for as little as 8 shillings and 10 shillings relief, a rate of 4d an hour.”
In response, the PAC secretary argued that the amount of the men’s’ relief bore no relation to the actual work done and thus that the NUWM was misrepresenting the facts. [106]
A mass meeting was called in February 1933 by the DLP to protest against the Means Test and unemployment. But this was marked by dissent and rowdy behaviour. Raynes called from the platform for more of “the Russian spirit’, presumably meaning that more discipline should apply in the movement. But this did nothing to stem criticism by Councillor Gill of the ILP of his role in Thomas’ desertion. Gill argued for more “socialistic principle” in the Labour Party and the need to admit past mistakes and learn from them. Raynes’ interpretation of the Russian spirit increasingly looked like a belief that unity meant no dissent. For the NUWM, A Crawley protested during Raynes’ speech that his organisation had been refused a place on the platform. Raynes justified this action on the rather ludicrous grounds that there was a need to show no disunity to the public, something which the very exclusion of the NUWM was almost calculated not to achieve.
In the spring of 1933, some 250 delegates from all sections of Derby’s working class movement attended a conference called by the DTC. The main aim was to “consider and protest against’ test work. The anonymous ‘worker correspondent’ who recorded the details of the conference for the Daily Worker, complained that the “nucleus of bureaucrats on the EC of the (trades) council showed from the start that they did not intend to allow delegates present to do any “considering” and confined the “protest” within safe limits by putting before the conference a resolution to “send postcards from every organisation to members of the Town Council”. The chairman of the conference started what was going to be a very controversial meeting by his own opening remarks. He over-stressed that the fight against test work was only a fight against the effects of capitalism and not the cause itself. His idea was that only the election of a Labour Government could dent the power of capital and this had to be sought at the expense of the here and now struggle. “To put the question in this way,” thought the Daily Worker correspondent, “seems to me to make little of the fight against test work ... to sidetrack the issue.” The main proponent of the DTC EC’s tame approach of a post card campaign was what the correspondent called “our star reactionary, Matt Lowe, of the NUGMW”. Even though the DTC EC was “not of our opinion”, there were some on the platform “who were thoroughly disgusted” with Lowe and those who supported him.
Harry Cheshire successfully moved a collection for the Workers Defence Committee, which raised 21s 3d. Cheshire also apologised to NUWM activists for the unspecified “disgusting allegations made by Matt Lowe”. After much controversy, the platform line put forward by Lowe was “disposed of’, but the chair refused to allow resolutions from the floor. But “the pressure of the delegates forced the EC to agree to send a deputation to the PAC”. Even so, on no account would the leadership “agree to this deputation going with the NUWM deputation which will be going at the same time”, reported the Daily Worker’s correspondent. [107]
Early in May, a deputation consisting of the NUGMW, TGWU and the United Carters and Motormen’s Association was received by the PAC. [108] Their representations were politely listened to, but the NUWM was kept outside. But Labour members on the PAC kept up a constant barrage of criticisms of its public works projects as in fact being test work. Within two weeks, Derby NUWM organised a mass demonstration to press home the point that they were a representative body which should be listened to and that the PAC projects were test work. A large crowd marched from the Market Place, headed by the NUWM banner, to assemble outside the PAC offices. The representative nature of the event is underlined by the fact that H A Hind proposed a resolution at the gathering that no further test work ought take place, after an amendment was agreed that there should be wider labour movement action wherever ordinary full time workers were being displaced as a result of test work.
Following this, the PAC received another deputation, this time from the Co-op Men’s Guild, NUDAW, the AEU and the DTC. Testament to the power of the relative unity of the organised campaign was that the PAC no longer refused to meet the NUWM, so long as the press were excluded. [109] The NUWM asked for the complete abolition of all test work and for relief to be granted to those who refused such work, but the PAC remained unmoved, despite the weight of public pressure now upon them. Figures were produced, supposedly supporting the PAC’s position. Of the 228 on relief work, some 53 had seen their relief money varied and 30 had had it discontinued. On the PAC’s own figures, about a third could have been said to have been affected by the test, hardly a justification for the argument that test work was not a part of the work creation projects. Despite the Daily Worker’s attack on him, Matt Lowe attended a Socialist League conference in June. There, Lowe revealed that unemployed men were in effect being paid as little as 5/- to 25/- for work which would have been normally carried out by Corporation labourers at the union rate. Such a comment explains why the major unions were now backing the campaign, for it was in the direct interest of their members to remove test work.
The Derby Co-op, the DLP and the DTC that summer set up their own “Unemployed Association” (UA) as a counter weight to the NUWM. This would be affiliated to these three ‘umbrella’ organisations of the labour movement, whilst the NUWM would not be. Significantly, a rule was decided upon that members of the Communist Party could join the Unemployed Association, but not hold office within it. Membership of the UA would require transfer to an appropriate trade union on obtaining work and the chief benefit would be the right to representation at public appeals bodies, an activity which the NUWM excelled in. All the local big-wigs of the labour movement were behind the UA, Sturgess, Raynes and Hind amongst them. But the organisation was marginal to the unemployed struggle, for it would remain bound to the official movement’s needs. The UA emerged as a narrow voice for the electoral ambitions of the Labour Party and its ability to act as an independent voice for the unemployed was thus severely constrained. Directly controlled by the employed, the organisation and its secretary, S Grimdell, was never able to shake off the image of being an adjunct of the Labour Party, whose erstwhile leaders had split to impose unemployment benefit cuts. The UA’s affiliation to the DLP shows a pitifully slow growth and a sudden death in 1938. In 1934 it had only 34 members and this had increased to only 40 by the following year. [110]
Meanwhile, the NUWM continued, challenged but largely unweakened in Derby. In the north of the county, Phillip Hicken continued his activities, being summonsed before the magistrates in 1933 for “disturbing the public peace and inciting persons to commit the offence of wilful damage and larceny”. He had spoken at a NUWM meeting on the immorality of the starvation of the unemployed when the shops were full. This was quite unreasonably taken to mean that the unemployed should take to looting. Despite the DMA’s formal opposition to the NUWM, the union provided the necessary finance for legal representation for Hicken. In the end he was to win an appeal against the decidedly unjust three month prison sentence. [111] Not that any of this daunted Hicken. Some 400 unemployed marched from all parts of the county in 1933 to Nottingham to demand an end to the Means Test and an increase in benefits. On one spur were 22 who marched from Chesterfield to Alfreton and then to Nottingham. Phillip Hicken was the chief organiser of this NUWM event, along with J Taiton and Jake Lodge of Alfreton. Other marches went from Ripley and Heanor. [112]
Such continuing protest helped to maintain pressure on the authorities. Derby Town Council was forced to concede that their relief projects were indeed test work, but sheltered behind the argument that it was obligatory on them under the 1930 Act and that they had no choice but to continue with the work. [113] The NUWM faced more and more refusal by the official labour movement to recognise the organisation. Indeed, the DMA decided in 1933 to withhold any future support to the NUWM because of its stance on the character of the official movement. In September of that year, another unemployed march was again refused shelter in Chesterfield. The official level of unemployment had reached three million. This march, which spread across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, was particularly well organised. A printed six page programme listed the demands of the NUWM, the stopping off places were located on a map and there was an expose of benefits and test work. The brochure included the official march slogans and marching songs. [114]
Over 200 marchers converged on Derby from three routes, one from Dinnington, another from Dronfield, Eckington, Staveley and Whittington. Staveley had its own unemployed newsletter, the Spark, which publicised the event. Another route to Derby came from Hucknall. The columns marched for six days, arriving in Derby during a heavy rainstorm. [115] The Derby NUWM unsuccessfully asked the workhouse for a waiving of the rule that casual welfare claimants, which they defined the marchers as, had to spend part of the next day in the institution after staying the night. [116] This restriction prompted the organisers to seek accommodation elsewhere and this was arranged at the Corporation Welfare Centre and the Co-op provided food without any charge. The marchers took to the streets in a spirited demonstration, when they heard a rumour that a reduction in benefit was being planned by the authorities, a rumour which the PAC would neither confirm nor deny. [117] After two days of protesting in the town, the major concession was won from the authorities of free school meals for the children of the unemployed.
i) The United Front
These struggle of the unemployed were very much led and initiated by the Communist Party, with some left leaning Labour Party activists participating, especially ILPers. In 1930, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) had introduced Standing Orders requiring Labour MPs to support Cabinet decisions over party conference decisions. This proved especially problematic for the ILP. Particularly since this party within a party found itself increasingly out of tune with the right wing parliamentary leadership of the Labour Party, even after the MacDonaldite split. Its candidates had fought the October 1931 election separately from the official party and its elected MPs subsequently sat apart from the Labour Party in Parliament. Thus, the issue of PLP discipline was something which the ILP had to square up to. After some prevarication, the ILP formally seceded from the Labour Party in 1932. This historic, if controversial and difficult decision was taken amidst general enthusiasm at a national delegate conference in Bradford. Derby’s ILP, which welcomed the decision was by no means an insignificant force.
DLP annual reports from before Bradford and the consequent disaffiliation, show several hundred members of the ILP. In 1931, there were 225 ILP members in Derby and by 1932-3 this had risen to 270. In addition to this there was also a Derby ILP Guild of Youth, with 30 members. The overwhelming bulk of these members accepted the decision of the Bradford conference, but there were 10 dissenters who argued that at all costs affiliation to the DLP should be maintained. When the local ILP insisted on sticking to the national policy the dissenters resigned; these included Matt Lowe, Frank Porter, W Wilkinson and Councillor Armstrong. But three Labour councillors who were also ILPers remained loyal to the Bradford decisions and resigned from the Labour Party. These were Thomas Markland, John Gill and G R England. Goodwin England, who worked at the DCS drapery store and was a NUDAW activist, very quickly lost his seat, Labour refusing to allow him to stand unopposed. Gill lasted a little longer, whilst Tom Markland survived as one of the last ILP councillors in the country until as late as 1952 and was still politically active in 1960, when he was 90 years of age! A railway guard, Markland had been Assistant Secretary of Derby Trades Council from 1923-7. In the Belper parliamentary division, the ILP was less certain about the new policy, so the Alfreton ILP branch was the only one in the constituency to disaffiliate from the local Labour Party. [118]
The leftward move in the ILP continued. The party held its April 1933 conference in Derby, when 200 delegates attended. A resolution intending to commit the ILP to an open revolutionary position, by advocating the setting up of workers councils, or soviets, was defeated by only 90 votes to 86. But a decision was taken to disaffiliate from the Socialist International, the Second International, and to apply for affiliation to the Comintern, the Third International, albeit by another narrow majority. This was not as surprising as it seems, for the ILP had long taken a midway position on the historic split in international socialism, earning the organisation the epithet of being supporters of a ‘Two and a Half’ International. The rise of Hitler concentrated minds, whatever the faults at the heart of the mutual recriminations between socialists and communists, this calamity seemed to suggest that the over-riding need was for left unity. The Comintern called for a United Front of working class organisations to halt the spread of fascism. Influenced by this, in private session, the ILP’s Derby conference decided to engage in concerted action with the Communists, despite the history of bad blood between the two organisations. [119] The 1934 ILP conference did somewhat modify its attitude to co-operation with the Communist Party but, apart from some grass roots unity, relations proved to be difficult. It was the initiative of Stafford Cripps and others which generated the Socialist League (SL) moves towards formally creating a United Front. The SL brought together socialists who had not followed the ILP into disaffiliation with intellectuals grouped around G D H Cole. Initially a think tank, it began to operate almost as a party within a party until it dissolved in January 1937, when faced with proscription. But not before it had acted as a focus for left unity.
Concern at events in Germany affected the official labour movement, the May Day rally in 1933 was entirely dominated by opposition to fascism. [120] Following the creation of the SL there was now once again a forum for supporters of broad left unity within the Labour Party. The SL had 16 members affiliated to the DLP in 1934 and 33 in 1935, this was a small but very influential body of activists. When 100 delegates of the SL attended a national conference in Derby in June of 1933, Stafford Cripps put their position on the ILP’s new line very clearly. Whilst criticising the dictatorial leadership of Transport House, the headquarters of the LP, the TUC and the TGWU, Cripps argued that “the proper body to advance the Labour Party’s policy was the annual conference”. Wary of expulsion, the SL conference defeated a proposal that a United Front of the SL, the ILP and the Communist Party be set up. [121]
But the SL did not have as good a base as the ILP in Derbyshire, being more a focus for intellectual criticism and organisational manoeuvring with the parliamentarianism of the Labour Party. The ILP in Derby had been an independent political party in its own right only a little over two decades previously. Thus, it proved not too difficult for the ILP to regroup into its old role. The party had such a reasonable base in Derby that it decided to contest the Derby seat at the next parliamentary election. In 1933 Sam Leckie, a local man originally from Scotland, was selected by the ILP as its candidate. Leckie was a teacher, indeed a former NUT executive member. It was at that stage unclear what the official Labour attitude would be. Would the ILP’s candidate be allowed to fight for the working class vote unchallenged? In the event, however, Leckie never did stand. As for the Communist Party, it was less uncertain of itself in this respect, having been excluded from the Labour Party rather than voluntarily leaving. The party did not therefore hesitate to declare its position by deciding to contest the Clay Cross by election in 1933 arising from the death on July 7th of the sitting MP, Charles Duncan. This was a golden opportunity for the much reduced Parliamentary Labour Party to give its leader, Arthur Henderson, a chance to speedily get back into the Commons. He easily won the selection conference on 29th July 1933, with 50 votes to his nearest rivals, S Sales (DMA) with 16 votes and B Smith (TGWU) with 14 votes, P G Barstow of the NUR only received 7 votes. Henderson was thus Labour’s candidate in a very safe Labour seat.
Phillip Hicken was mooted as a possible Communist candidate once again, but it was decided that the dynamic General Secretary, Harry Pollitt, should stand. There was a surprisingly wide response to Pollitt’s appeal for campaign funds, £340 was collected to finance the election address (a four page special broadsheet) and a team of helpers. Interestingly, the campaign began with not a single Communist Party member in the constituency. Pollitt held a series of lively and popular open air meetings, which themselves raised as much as £150 for the election costs. [122]
There was dreadful deprivation in the constituency. Many miners were working only two days a week, taking home eight or nine shillings in wages. Miners’ houses were such that one press correspondent handling the campaign and, being far from his own watering hole in Fleet Street, claimed that he quite seriously found himself unsure as to whether the accommodation was to be classified as houses or stables. Pollitt’s meetings attracted much attention and interest. He was able to make much of the fact that Henderson’s ministerial past responsibilities in MacDonald’s Labour Government drew him £5,000 a year to add to his salary of £1,000 a year as Labour Party General Secretary, all a far cry from eight or nine shillings a week. Critics of Pollitt tried to diminish his growing popularity by suggesting that he advocated violence as a means of political change. The Communist Party leader rebutted this with the comment that he did not want the workers to get rifles, he wanted them to get trade union cards. His own background as a nationally known former London District Secretary of the Boilermakers Union and delegate to the Labour Party conference during the 1920s, when the bans against Communists were being ushered in, stood him in good stead. Moreover, Pollitt proved to be a natural candidate for the area and could call upon the resources of some formidable supporters. Rose Smith, a former propagandist in the district, was one prominent campaigner with local knowledge. While Arthur Homer, the miners’ leader, and Saklatvala, the former Communist MP, were both well known figures who came to provide support.
Of great help to Pollitt was the fact that the local ILP was openly hostile to Henderson, an animosity that dated back to the previous war. The official Labour candidate had also somewhat lost sight of his working class roots and, at 70 years of age, had been a Labour MP since 1903 in various constituencies around the country, opening him to accusations of careerism and shifting loyalty. Pollitt’s relative youth, energy and sheer dash contrasted sharply with the rather sedate, almost moribund, conformism of Henderson. After all, the constituency had been lumbered with an elderly, ineffective MP in the form of Duncan for long enough. Did it really need another? Since the constituency had a reputation of being rock solid Labour territory, it is little wonder that many found it possible, even desirable, to experiment with their vote. There was no chance that the single non-socialist candidate could squeeze through, if Labour was not loyally backed. In the little time available to him, Pollitt did extraordinarily well. The result was in fact startling and largely brought about by the unsuitability of Henderson in the constituency. The Communist vote of 10.8%, in a constituency in which the Communist Party had not one member at the outset, was very much a protest against these many irritants by young, militant miners.
Henderson did not distinguish himself at the election count in his conduct, which seems consistent with his generally off-putting behaviour during the campaign. Even Labour campaigners had been appalled at Henderson’s crassness. To their disgust, Henderson thanked the Returning Officer in his victory speech in fulsome and praising terms. The man was very well known locally to be a thoroughly reactionary Tory. Pollitt was nearby, with his little daughter Jean held in his arms. He later recalled in his autobiography that, as Henderson reached the heights of eloquence in his description of the merits of a man who was a major political opponent of most of those in the hall, the little girl “stated in her clear, penetrating voice, ‘Daddy, I want the lavatory.” This brief remark expressed the feelings of most of the Labour supporters and all of the Communists; they too wanted relief from the drivel they were listening to. It was thus greeted with a spontaneous roar of laughter, which promptly brought Henderson’s speech to an untimely end. [123] The result was then declared, Henderson had a majority over the National Government candidate of 15,628:
A Henderson                 Labour                                        21,931            69.3%
J Moore                          National Conservative 6,293             19.9%
H Pollitt                             Communist                               3,434             10.8%
With the exception of the unusual circumstances of 1931, comparison with previous results is interesting. In the 1929 election Labour polled 80.2% and the Conservatives 19.8%. In this by election, the Tory vote was almost exactly the same, while the combined Communist and Labour vote came within one tenth of one percentage point of Duncan’s 1929 vote. One in eight Labour voters had switched to the Communists; it was not an earth shattering development, but not a bad one for the Communist Party. Pollitt had attracted considerable kudos for himself and his party and the Communist Party did not fail to follow this up. Phillip Hicken polled some 10% of the vote in the County Council elections of 1934. (R C Wildgoose (Lab) 1,134 votes; P Hicken (Communist Party) 112.) [124] Later that year, Pollitt returned to the area, speaking at an ILP meeting in Alfreton in November. Jake Lodge presided over the event, which was designed to launch the United Front in the locality. [125]
The Derby United Front was sufficiently well supported as to be able to win the local Trades Council to organise a demonstration against fascism on Wednesday 24th January 1934. Among the speakers were the Reverend F S Wood of York and G Wellcock. [126] It seems natural, in retrospect, that people would be anxious to protest against the bestiality of fascism. But to many on the right and in polite intellectual circles, Hitler seemed a crude man devoted to basically valid ideals. In late 1933, Derby’s Historical Society received a lecture which concluded that “the only salvation of Germany rested on Hitler”. [127] Again, a few months later, the society heard from T York, headmaster of the private DerbySchool, in the same vein. York called the “Nazi revolution a necessary alternative to the Communist one”. [128]
Thus opposition to fascism was largely restricted to the left, indeed the ideas of Mussolini and Hitler seemed attractive to the wealthy, powerful and the socially well connected. Anti-Semitism, the special characteristic of Hitler’s ideology, was well represented in Britain. But, in modern times, this had been mostly restricted to areas of Jewish settlement and is not openly evident in Derbyshire before this period. The acceptance of Hitler’s rule over Germany gave latent anti-Semitism a new impetus. A letter to the Derbyshire Advertiser was headed “Jew stallholder”, a dubious sub-editing decision in itself. The letter itself complained of the supposed monopoly of Jewish stallholders in Derby’s new market. [129]
The United Front had its own May Day rally in Derby in 1934, on being excluded from the platform at the official labour movement event. The list of speakers was impressive, even it was exclusively composed of ILP and Communist Party members: [130]
Sam Leckie              ILP prospective parliamentary candidate
Cllr T Markland        NUR and ILP
R Kitching                AEU (he was a fitter at Rolls Royce) personal capacity only
W Slater                    ILP Guild of Youth
S Hornsby                Communist Party
J Ryan                       NUWM
ClIr G R England     NUDAW and ILP
The official platform consisted of H A Hind and Alderman Jack Jones, MP for Silverton. Whereas the theme of the United Front rally was concerned above all for the need for working class unity in the fight against fascism, the official rally listened to speeches which were positively obsessive with hostility to the treachery of National Labour.
Britain’s fascists had clearly established themselves as a carbon copy of other, foreign extreme right wing movements, but a division of opinion emerged in the labour movement about how to deal with them. Much of the hierarchy were dismissive of fascist as crackpots, who received more attention than they otherwise would have received by protests against them. The left rejected this view, pointing to the already known degree of repression in Germany and how Hitler had risen from obscurity to Chancellor in only two years. Oswald Mosley, now far from his former leftist stance, saw himself as Britain’s Hitler or Mussolini and drew strong parallels with the situation in Germany and Britain. Massive rallies were organised to hear Mosley speak, along the lines of the Nuremberg events. When he came to Derby’s Drill Hall, some one thousand people crammed in to listen. The Blackshirts, Mosley’s uniformed party members, lined the gangways down the centre of the hall. This guard saluted Mosley, in the fascist manner, as he came onto the platform. Not all the audience were fascists or the curious who were thinking of supporting him, and the Blackshirts had quite a job on their hands keeping hostile elements in control. There were scuffles and exchanged insults throughout the rally. Question time was especially characterised by repeated interruptions Of Mosley. The Derbyshire Advertiser reported that “unruly elements were present and Sir Oswald did not have an altogether uninterrupted hearing”. [131]
But many opponents had failed to gain entrance to the meeting, due to the efforts of the Blackshirts. The United Front committee staged a protest outside the hall which was wrongly described by the press as a Communist demonstration. “Outside the Drill Hall local Communists also staged a mass demonstration against Fascism, members bearing signs attacking Sir Oswald, Hitler and Mussolini ... None of these were admitted.” Arising from this event, a local Communist named Charles Thornhill, aged 24 and an unemployed engineering worker, was charged with obstruction of the free passage of the highways. During the course of the legal action against him, the demonstration was continually referred to as a “Communist demonstration”. Countering this, Thornhill repeatedly denied that the Derby Communist Party had organised the event. It was the Derby United Front Committee, he repeatedly corrected the bench. Giving evidence, Thornhill charged the police with ignoring Blackshirt violence against anti-fascists, especially when they had snatched newspapers off demonstrators on at least two occasions. Testifying for Thornhill, Arthur Eaton, the Midlands divisional organiser of the ILP, agreed that the Blackshirts had torn up copies of the ILP’s paper, the New Leader, which were being sold by a young girl. Despite this evidence, the magistrates fined Thornhill 20/- for obstructing the highway. [132]
Such partiality against anti-fascism was to be found at the highest levels of British society. Stanley Baldwin, leader of the National Conservatives, addressed a mass rally in Derbyshire that summer. His view was that “the policy of Fascism is ... an ultramontane Conservativism”. The word ultramontane literally means ‘beyond the mountains’ and is a classical reference to things beyond the Alps, which may be viewed as coarse or poorly formed. He was therefore saying that fascism was a qualified Italian form of Toryism. However, Baldwin appealed to younger Conservatives not to be misled into turning to fascism by their “natural impatience”. Tories would do the same job, but perhaps a little more slowly. [133] There were other manifestations of tacit support amongst the establishment for the aims, if not all the methods, of fascism, some more forthright than Baldwin’s. Major L Eardley-Simpson of Quarndon grange wrote to the Derbyshire Advertiser, commending the British Movement, a fascistic front organisation. The Major’s letter used all the key code words of right wing extremism, urging that the notions of “People as a Nation against the interests of any one class” and of “empire ... Security ... and National planning” be taken up, especially in the fight against unemployment. More respectable even than the Major was the Venerable Archdeacon T Dilworth-Harrison of Chesterfield, who joined in the ever growing view that fascism was preferable to left wing revolutionism. In an address to his congregation, he expressed the view that the Jews “had a great hold on money” and that “Communism was the main enemy”. He had no doubt that Hitler’s ideal of “nations being higher than the ideal of classes” was a worthy one and that Hitler would ensure that there would be “no more war” in Western Europe if Hitler’s demand for ‘living space’ for the Germans in Central Europe were accommodated. [134]
ii) The Unemployment Act
The National Government proposed a new Unemployment Bill in 1934, which suggested a drastic reorganisation of the system of paying benefits by setting up the new Unemployed Assistance Board. The Means Test was to be extended and the NGSW clause tightened up. Actual benefits were to be drastically cut. Part Two of the Bill especially offended and a vigorous campaign developed against the Bill. The 1934 NUWM march was organised against this background and the rising tide of support for the United Front made the struggle all the more easy to fight. The march was marked by violent police harassment, while the Labour Party and the TUC officially disowned the march. A special feature of the event was the women’s’ column, drawn from various areas, which assembled at Derby late on the night of Saturday February 10th 1934, after marching from Scotland. (See pic left: John Gorman’s pictorial collection of labour movement memorabilia, “To Build Jerusalem” also has a photograph of this column with the Derby NUWM banner.) Three unemployed women from Derby joined up that night. The official contingent was chosen at a special conference called at the ILP’s Keir Hardie Hall. The Scots lLPer, John McGovern MP visited the town that day to support the march. All arrangements in Derby were in the hands of the United Front Committee, which was chaired by Councillor John Gill and the vice-chairman was Harry Cheshire. [135]
Wider support than the United Front was forthcoming in Derby, despite the official attitude of Labour. The Co-op Guilds and many trade union branches gave encouragement to the march. Early on the Monday morning the march left Derby, setting off from the Cornmarket and the Market Place. The next stop was Burton­-on-Trent, and the march stayed the night at Swadlincote. The final aim was to join up with other strands in London on February 24th. Few problems were encountered by the march in Derbyshire. But, as the various columns strewn across the country began to near London, the establishment began to condemn the march in vehement terms. The Home Secretary implied that special powers might be exercised, to deal with the march. While the police caused problems for the marchers all along the way. Individual marchers were arrested for “wife desertion”, even when their families supported them to the hilt. The authorities felt almost any action taken against marchers was justified, since they were in receipt of public relief. Out of the fight to preserve the liberty of the marchers to protest, emerged the Council of Civil Liberties (later the NCCL, today’s ‘Liberty’). Support came from H G Wells and other dignitaries. Ramsay MacDonald refused to meet the marchers, but considerable public support swelled for them. Even so, the TUC maintained its refusal to recognise the NUWM.
The 9th Annual Conference of the NUWM was held in the Keir Hardie Hall in Derby from 8th to 10th December 1934. A resolution called upon the TUC General Council to act in concert with the NUWM in the fight against unemployment. Citrine, the TUC General Secretary, curtly wrote that he could not in future reply to “communications from your organisation”, [136] In a move of petty and rather stupid vindictiveness that same month, the TUC sent out Circular No 17 asking unions to revise their rules, so that Communists and members of proscribed organisations deemed to be Communist fronts would be barred. Circular No 16 was sent to Trades Councils and asked for such delegates to be summarily dismissed. Whilst these circulars ostensibly proscribed both Communists and fascists, in practice very few of the latter were involved in the labour movement and then very rarely in a position of influence. In effect, it was a ban on Communists alone. Only in 1943 were the circulars withdrawn, although they had little effect in many unions. In others however they were adopted, creating a serious set back for the whole movement by amplifying division and marginalising many effective activists.
The NUWM’s opposition to the Unemployment Bill was shared by most of the labour movement. Representatives of Derby’s three thousand TGWU members had engaged in their own protest against the restrictive changes in administration and the cuts themselves. These regulations became operative in the second week of 1935 and around a million claimants found their allowances cut at a stroke. Demonstrations and even strikes in protest developed in Britain in almost every town, in some areas quite ferociously. On Sunday 3rd February, almost a third of a million people demonstrated in probably every town in the country. Alarmed by the extent of the opposition, in a rather frightened manner, two days later the Government issued a standstill order suspending the controversial aspects of the Act. Thus, the old levels of benefit under the PACs would continue. The victory caused a temporary lull in the storm and the NUWM did not have another national march until 1936, the last march. This was made up of six contingents. One, of some 185 marchers from East Scotland, travelled through Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Another, of 115 marchers, came jointly from Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Probably the most famous march of all was the 1936 Jarrow march. Supported, but not formally organised by the NUWM, the march was conceived by the Town Council of Jarrow and the local MP, Ellen Wilkinson, to publicise the plight of their town in emulation of the NUWM marches.
This march was strictly non-political and attracted support from various elements from without the labour movement and from the churches. Because of the TUC’s circulars advising Trades Councils not to assist hunger marches, the Chesterfield Trades Council ended up ignoring the Jarrow marchers, whilst the local Conservatives fed them!! [137] Ellen Wilkinson recalled the experience, “in places like Chesterfield, where the Trades and Labour Council obeyed the circular the Conservative Party weighed in with meals and a place to sleep. Mostly however the comradeship of the trade unions and the Labour Movement was circular proof.” In retrospect, in the 1980s, some elderly local residents of Chesterfield could only recall support for the men. Les Wilford, then in his early twenties, was a drummer in the welcoming band. “We played Blaydon Races and that really cheered them up. They were very weary, their feet were bleeding, shoes were worn out ... Their spirits were fantastic. Chesterfield was right behind them.” Cyril Barnett thought of the marchers that “(t)here was no look of despair or desperation in their faces, it was a look of determination”. They sang “We’re on the road to Anywhere”, as they marched through the town. Ivy Gee recalled her neighbour’s grandmother washing the bleeding feet of a virtually bare footed marcher. “Later she gave him her husband’s best shoes as well.” [138]
The strangest aspect to the march was that it was the least organised by the Communists, the least effective in changing government policy and yet the most respectable and remembered event. In all, the NUWM organised four big marches in 1930, 1932 and 1936. Each of them resulted in concessions from the governments of the day towards the unemployed in major areas of policy. But the official labour movement at best stood idly by and at worst sabotaged these struggles. It was as if the unemployed were of marginal concern to the movement, at least as far as the leadership were concerned, perhaps partly because unions saw themselves as acting principally for the employed. Only late in 1936 did the Labour Party officially set up a Commission of Inquiry into the problems of the depressed areas. The NUWM continued until 1939, engaging in sporadic acts of protest, but it never recovered the massive support it had attained earlier in the decade. For the worst aspects of unemployment gradually receded. The economic situation gradually improved and by the time of the outbreak of war the NUWM no longer really had a function.
7 The Thirties - a political decade
This was an intensely political decade, nationally the membership of the Labour Party doubled and the Communist Party trebled in size during these short years. This political ferment created a thirst for information and knowledge. Derbyshire produced many labour movement newspapers, mostly being produced centrally by the Ripley Printing Society, a division of the Co-op. There was a standard format, with each being eight pages in size. But political interest did not always flow easily into activism. Whilst the DLP emerged organisationally stronger and more confident after 1936, membership growth was not as spectacular as elsewhere. There were conflicting emotions about the defection of MacDonald and his supporters. David Graham-Pole said that they were “never good Labour men, and we are glad to get rid of them. I am glad we have got the real Tories out of the Party.” [139] Others, like Raynes and Hind, were bitter and disappointed.
Labour’s electoral base was so low that things could only improve. There were major losses for the Tories and other National candidates in the November 1933 local elections. The Tories lost 112 seats and Labour gained 181. In Derby, however, Labour was split and demoralised, although the party did poll 2,730 more votes than the combined Tory and Liberal total. Due to the oddities of the electoral system, the Liberal Party held the balance on the council, in terms of actual seats. [140] By the following year, Labour made heavy gains and regained control of the council and there were now challenges to the three ILP councillors. In the strongly working class wards of Normanton and Osmaston, both Labour and the ILP stood. In the former, there was a three cornered contest, with a Liberal intervening. Labour took the seat with over a thousand votes and the Liberal came second with only a few hundred votes less. F Tabberer, the ILP councillor, lost his seat polling 235 votes or 10% of the poll. In Osmaston ward, there was a straight fight between Labour and the ILP, with G R England of the latter polling over 600 votes, or 35%. In Castle ward, Labour did not stand and allowed the ILP’s councillor, Tom Markland, to stand against the Conservatives in a straight fight. There seems to have been some political selectivity in this decision. Les Clay described Markland as “a great orator and such a nice old boy”. [141] Perhaps these qualities contributed to Markland’s popularity and aided his retention of his seat for three decades, unchallenged by Labour.
On the parliamentary front, W R Raynes withdrew as Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Derby only a month after being re-adopted, declaring his intent to concentrate on local and municipal work, but there was some suspicion that he bowed out to prevent the accusation that his long personal association with Thomas compromised his candidacy. Within a very short span, H A Hind, who had now been a full time officer for the TGWU for three years, was selected in Raynes’ place. [142] But there was still the second Derby seat to consider and Leonard Barnes, an Oxford graduate, former Captain and Colonial Office civil servant, was selected. [143] The 1935 election was fought primarily on the issues of foreign policy and collective security. The Tories made much of Labour’s distaste for war, implying a willingness to abandon the defence of the nation. Even so, Labour’s recovery was considerable and the renegade National Labour group of MP5 dropped to the pitifully small number of eight. One of them was J H Thomas, still one of Derby’s two MP5. His re-election must have been largely due to the fact that most local Tories had come to accept him as their MP. Thomas’ personal following, culled from many years as a local MP, certainly aided him and he had his own support committee, which ran in tandem with the local Conservative Association; the victory party being held at their Beaconsfield Club. Hind and Barnes were beaten fairly decisively, although they pulled back some 5% of the poll from the National candidates.
In Ilkeston, Oliver was able to do fairly well in a straight fight with a Tory. His successful opponent was Sir C Markham Bart., the colliery owner. Frank Lee took North East Derbyshire for the fifth time for Labour, recapturing it from the Tories. Benson regained Chesterfield fairly convincingly. Henderson, the MP for Clay Cross, had died, so the seat was vacant at the dissolution of parliament, but A Holland took it for Labour by a three to one vote against a Tory. South Derbyshire was narrowly won back from the Tories by Labour with a young barrister, Frank Lowe, as candidate. For the first time in the constituency, the £363 costs of the campaign came only from party funds but the Tories still spent four times more than Labour. Wragg took Belper again for the Tories, although his majority as a share of the vote over Jack Lees for Labour declined from 20.4% to 2.2%. The stronghold of West Derbyshire was yet again bequeathed to the Marquis of Hartington unopposed, while the Tories also took High Peak in a two to one vote against Labour. The Tories had five of the county’s seats to Labour’s four, while Thomas remained as a National Labour oddity. The Government returned to office, but with a much reduced majority, and Labour had reasserted itself as a political force. There was now very little pretence that the Government was a National one.
Thomas resigned from the Cabinet on May 22nd 1936, after a row about the leaking of Budget secrets to his stock-broker son, and this was an ideal opportunity for Labour to re-establish itself in the Derby seat. In the ensuing by election, the Labour candidate was Phillip Noel-Baker and he was lucky enough to be only opposed by a National Labour candidate, A G Church. Noel-Baker was an intelligent, articulate candidate aged 47. Later in life he was to become a Minister and to live to a great age, achieving something of an international reputation on the issue of peace. The 1936 by election was fought on the issue of re-armament. Labour’s slogan “Scholarships NOT battleships” did much to win opinion for Noel-Baker. Moreover, Lloyd George addressed a monster rally in the Drill Hall in Newlands Street, with overflow meetings in the Market Place and in an adjacent car park where the Council House now stands. Naturally, this intervention won many Liberal voters over to Noel-Baker and he was able to win the seat with a reasonable majority over Church of 5% of the poll. [144]
Another major change for the Derby Labour Party had also come in 1936, when H J T (Harry) Russell became its full time secretary and agent, after Raynes retired from the post. The initial 59 applications were whittled down to seven and Russell was far from being the likely or overwhelming choice. Given his later pre-eminence in the DLP, this would come as a surprise to local veterans, had they but known it. On the first vote at the DLP EC, he was joint leader of the ballot, with 11 votes: [145]
             Russell      11
             Williams     11
             Hunt             8
             Arnold          6
             Salmon        6
             Frazer          4
             Shreeve       2
Clearly, there were a number of possible candidates for the job, once the lower end of the field was eliminated. In a second vote of the highest three, Russell still failed to secure victory, coming second to Williams:
Williams        11
Russell          9
Hunt               5
It was then decided to select the first two as a final short list and for the EC to interview them for a final decision. That some very strong arguments on the EC were put for Russell seems likely, given the decision to go for a thoroughly exhaustive election procedure. This was as well for Russell, for after the interview he was awarded the job he was to hold for very many years.
There was also a change of location for the party. On October 6th 1929, the DLP had moved from 63 London Road to relatively spacious new premises at 93 Green Lane. It was a bold move, “made possible by the generosity of 4 of our members”. [146] But, in the event, it proved to be too much of a financial burden to keep on, especially after the debacle of 1931. So, in 1936, the DLP moved to new offices at 29 Charnwood Street, a decision which removed “a heavy financial responsibility in the matter of repayment of a loan”. [147]
There were problems in building membership of the DLP, but the party made great efforts to recruit. In September 1937, the NEC of the party launched a “Special Crusade Campaign” as a recruitment drive. A E Hunder, President of the National Union of Shop Assistants, came to Derby as part of the campaign and twenty outdoor meetings were held. The next year, over fifty outdoor propaganda and recruitment meetings were held by the DLP. [148] Despite these attempts, membership in Derby had dropped in 1936 and increased only by a marginal amount in 1937 and 1938, the years of the public recruitment campaigns. From the period March 1938 to March 1939, a sizeable and serious drop of 20% was registered in individual membership. Affiliated membership remained unaffected, other than by a decision by the Co-op to affiliate on a larger membership:
Annual Report                         Individual Membership                 Affiliated Membership
           1935                                                      1,415                                     21,525
           1936                                                      1,345                                     22,327
           1937                                                      1,496                                     23,647
           1938                                                      1,502                                     24,232
           1939                                                      1,250                                     24,504
The Derby Co-operative Society affiliated to the DLP on the basis of 5,000 members up to 1933, even though it actually had more than 55,000 members in all. At 2d per member this represented a considerable sum for the DLP. From 1936, the DCS affiliated on a membership of 10,000. Unions affiliated ranged from the 18 strong Street Masons and Paviors Society to giants like the AEU and the TGWU. [149]
As for the ILP, whilst it had moved away from its brief flirtation with the Communist Party, it was some time before the formal breach with the Labour Party was healed. In 1938, the Derby ILP, after a conference at the Keir Hardie Hall, decided to withdraw two of their independent candidates in the municipal elections, H Cheshire and W Wilkinson, and to concentrate on the contest of J Gill in Normanton Ward. The initiative was designed to “avoid that split in the labour movement which the official Labour Party so often deplore but which they have this year made no effort to avoid”. Elsewhere in the country, unity agreements and electoral pacts ensured that the ILP contested certain areas of strength for them as official Labour candidates, with the official party standing down in their favour. But all efforts to this end in Derby were rejected by the DLP, the “local Labour Party refusing even to discuss the question” with the ILP. The local Communist Party, still anxious to be accepted as a part of the left, declared itself “ready and willing to work to its utmost to achieve the return of Labour on November 1st”, following up on the public controversy between the ILP and the Labour Party. The Derby Communist Party declared itself “opposed to any split in the working class vote”. But Harry Russell, for the DLP, was quick to distance himself from this friendly outlook. “Whatever they do, and whatever literature they put out is their own responsibility”, he announced. Even if the Communists helped Labour by pushing leaflets through doors, it would not be with the “sanction of the Labour Party”. [150]
Despite the turn to the left, which so characterised the experience of many labour movement activists in the 1930s, the official leadership seemed unable to make bold or imaginative moves, so obsessed were they with the notion that Communists, or those close to them, were behind every genuine workers’ movement in struggle. As G D H Cole put it, “every sign of trade union militancy can now be attributed to the machinations of a handful of Communists, who have somehow found the art of being in a hundred places at once”. In the same humorous vein, he supposed that if the Tolpuddle Martyrs “got into trouble with the police today, they would probably be told that they were a pack of Communist agitators who deserved all they got”. [151] The involvement of the Communist Party in the unemployed struggles and their militant attitude to trade unionism was largely the reason for the paranoid hostility. But their support for the Soviet Union was another concern. Both aspects were deemed to be vote losers for Labour. Despite this, inside the labour movement there was a great interest in what was happening in the USSR, especially as the capitalist world was racked with economic crisis and Soviet Russia seemed able to attain super-human levels of development.
Such interest was displayed when Mrs Christie, a Co-operative party organiser, returned from the USSR and spoke to an evening lecture organised by the DCS Political Council. This was entitled “From Rochdale to Russia” and Mrs Christie drew comparison in her talk with the aims of the cooperative movement and the Bolsheviks. [152] But such tolerance was not always allowed. In 1931, when H Cheshire and a delegate called Lumley moved that the Derby DC of the TGWU give a donation to the Derby branch of the Friends of the Soviet Union, their proposition was defeated with strong opposition from the leadership. Although, in May 1933, the DC did take the step of sending a letter to the Prime Minister and local MPs protesting against the embargo of Russian trade. But this was perhaps a more practical matter, potentially assisting employment in Britain and the protest was against the National Government. [153]
The Co-op continued to show interest in political education about the positive achievements of the Soviet Union and the former SLP and Communist Party leader, Bill Paul, still based in Derby and who had made several visits to that country, engaged in much propaganda activity in favour of friendship with it. He spoke to the Crewton Men’s Guild of the DCS on “Russia Today” in 1935, for example. Extolling the virtues of economic planning and the resultant growth in the USSR, Paul pointed out that “their final aim is to build a classless society”. [154] The rise of fascism and the dangers of war concerned many and Derby Co-operators and others were heavily involved in the 1935 Peace Ballot, in which eleven million people declared that Britain should remain a member of the League of Nations and that an all round reduction in armaments should be attained by international agreement. Without doubt, the issue which attracted most attention was the overthrowing of a legally elected reforming Popular Front Government in Spain. The first shots fired by fascists in 1936 were seen by the left as leading inevitably to world war. But Britain and most other nations maintained a studied impartiality which gave the fascist insurgents, massively aided by Hitler and Mussolini, an edge which eventually led to their victory. The Labour Party officially backed the neutrality line, but the plight of civilians caught up in the civil war touched many hearts. Rowsley NUR sent a guinea for the “Basque Children’s” appeal in May 1936. [155] Over fifty Spanish children were cared for in Derby and many local people donated to a Mayor’s fund. The refugees were however sent back, it being decided that separation from their families was more traumatic than remaining in their war-torn country. The first batch of 21 returned to Bilbao from Derby on January 7th 1938. By January 15th only four remained at Burnaston House, where the children had resided, the rest having gone to Leicester and Hull. The very last of the refugees left Derby for Spain on January 25th 1938.
Many labour movement organisations donated money as an act of their concern and sympathy. The Derby Co-op donated £50 to provide food, medical supplies and clothing on one occasion in 1936 alone. But there had to be efforts to avoid conflict with the- official position of the movement. “Precautions would be taken”, the DCS journal, Co-op Record, commented, “so that there would be no breach of national policy which might cause trouble”. In all, the DCS gave a very generous £500 to Spain. [156] The shop workers union, NUDAW, circularised collection sheets to members in 1937, raising over four guineas in the Derby branch. This branch was prominent in the anti-fascist struggle, its delegates to the local Trades Council being instructed to win a vote in favour of banning a local fascist meeting in July 1937. Another branch appeal in 1938 raised £12 1 2s 6d for relief for Spain.
The Derbyshire miners were rather more vigorous, frequently expressing support for the notion of the Popular Front and making a direct grant to the International Brigade, the volunteer army which fought in Spain. One young miner who gave his life was Eric Whalley, the NUWM National Council member for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and a Communist Party member from Mansfield, who was killed in action in 1937 at the battle of the Ebro River. Another was Tom Gaunt, of Broughton Lane, Clowne. He had worked at Staveley before moving to London in 1936 at the age of 29. Gaunt, who was the only Derbyshire participant in the International Brigade, was reported missing in action in March 1938 at the village of Belchite on the Aragon front. [157]
8 The unions gain renewed confidence
Trade union density, actual members as a percentage of potential members, had been around 45% shortly after the First World War. But the two depressions of 1921-3 and 1930-3 had reduced this figure to first 30% and then 22%. [158] Unions were starkly affected by mass unemployment, but they were about organising the employed. Many union Ieaderships viewed the unemployed as a financial liability and potentially undesirable politically. To activists the issue was maybe more clear cut. The Derby TOWU DC, with many members having had experience of these matters in the Workers Union, submitted a resolution to their executive criticising the leadership and proposing a way to be relevant to the workless and be financially prudent: “This Derby DC believing that the GEC do not fully realise the menace to Trades Unionism in the unemployment problem demand that the unemployed member be enabled to pay 25% of the contribution while totally unemployed and be entitled to that proportion of cash benefits”. [159]
Consumer prices actually fell at this time and the value of real wages rose significantly, so that a new buying power arose amongst those who were in steady employment. But for many life was still harsh, two thirds were getting less than £2 10s 0d a week and about a third of the population was below the poverty line. Half of those lived in abject poverty, getting not much more than a pound a week. Half of all children under one year of age were from families living below the poverty line. About a third of those were families hit by unemployment, another third simply received low wages. Nonetheless, with the easing off of the recession, a generally increased sense of confidence re-asserted itself. Derby Trades Council organised a “Propaganda Week” in May 1933. Factory gate meetings were addressed by many trade union organisers in an event reminiscent of the ‘back to the unions’ campaigns of a decade earlier. Even the civil service unions, quiet since the legal moves against them in 1927, launched a major propaganda campaign amongst the public and their potential membership in the Derby area in late 1933.
Yet, overall, there was a distinctly different feel to this resurgent confidence, a fading of political and class consciousness is evident. Unions were now playing a game of survival, each protecting its power base and waiting patiently for the turn of electoral fortunes to bring back a Labour Government. But Derby Trades Council tried to play a role suited to a different era, in seeking to be the local centre of the trade unions. Relations with individual, powerful unions were not always good. Les Clay, who described himself as then being a “bit leftish”, at this time queried on the AEU DC why the union was not affiliated to the DTC. Clay recalls that Sturgess, the District Secretary, was a “bit niggled. He said that the Trades Council only catered for white collar workers.” [160] Clay does not recall a specific political objection to the DTC, but both the AEU and the TGWU, under the influence of strong leaders, did seem to rather steer clear of the DTC, in the process somewhat undermining its credibility.
1934 saw the anniversary of the end of the Derby Turnout and the DTC joined with other organisations to commemorate the event. A Conley, that year’s TUC President, unveiled a bronze plaque to mark the occasion; this can be seen, located by the side of the original Silk Mill gates. A souvenir booklet was produced jointly by the DTC and Sturgess’s power base, the Engineering Joint Trades Committee. It was Sturgess who provided a short account of the Turnout. This was certainly a good moment to take stock of where the trade union movement was at. The unions had been seeking an eight hour day, forty hour week for a long time, to no avail. The Derby Tory and industrialist, J A Aiton, JP, argued at a meeting of the class collaborationist Industrial Alliance that this aim would do not a thing to reduce unemployment. The familiar refrain was made that “the menace of competition from the East was of greater concern to British industry than the 40 hour week problem”. The Japanese were “working 60 hours a week at a third or a fourth of the wages paid in Western civilisation”. [161] National unemployment was still as high as 17% in March 1934, but it was only 7% in Derby, lower than at any time since 1930. [162] Outside of the coalfields, the county was increasingly experiencing economic stability. Allied to a cautious moderation in politics, this reinforced the compromising character which now began to be seen as a characteristic of Derby’s brand of trades unionism. A defensive rather than a defiant, phase had been reached.
i) The Transport and General Workers Union
For the TGWU, the initial loss of membership brought about by recession was disturbing enough for the full time organisers to start visiting lapsed members at their homes to find out the reasons for leaving the union. Invariably, the reason given was simply financial difficulties and the need to cut out all unnecessary expenditure. As the newly formed TGWU district developed, a new style of organisation grew. The DC ceased to meet monthly, as had the old WU DC, and met only quarterly “to reduce expenditure”, since delegates were paid an attendance allowance. [163] The DC increasingly was encouraged less to review the work of the organisation and more to have a jolly time. Dinners and teas took precedence over demonstrations and strikes.
The union had some recruitment successes in Derby. Clutson and Kemp, tape manufacturers, and Jones and Strand and the hosiers, Cox and Moore, were all organised by the TGWU. A works council of all union organised departments at Celanese was set up, much assisting recruitment in the process. Less positively, the Co-op resisted another approach from the unions that it insist on union labour only contracts, when seeking services from suppliers. The society took the view that “if a firm is paying fair wages that is sufficient’. Some thirty women came out on a brief strike at Danby’s, “as they refused to work for a reduced rate”. This mix of activities enabled the TGWU to record only a “slight decrease for 1931 of members”. [164] By 1933, the Long Eaton Laceworkers were engaged in a major dispute with their employers. So long had the dispute been on, that the Midlands Area 5 Committee of the TGWU provided a major grant to the “Derby Benevolent Fund” to relieve the distress. [165] Success came however at the Derby Silica Firebrick company in Youlgreave. The TGWU’s paper, the Record, revealed that an agreement which gave “great satisfaction to our members employed by this company” had been attained. [166]
The union locally only now began to seriously think of itself as the TGWU, still largely being based on the old WU. The first delegate from what the WU veterans called the “Transport Section” attended the DC in February 1933. The union began to see the possibilities of expansion in the sphere of passenger transport. Stokes made “special visits to Matlock to try to organise the drivers and conductors of the Bus Service there”. [167] But little came of this at that point in time. The union was of course well organised in the municipal bus and tram service in Derby. In 1932, the union was able to prove its worth to its members by being able to “stave off a reduction of 1/2d per hour from (their) wages”. [168] The assistance of Labour councillors in this was invaluable.
In 1934, some 350 bus workers at Trent Motor Traction made clear their objection to unilateral changes in working conditions, when there was a major protest at a new shift grouping system. Of particular concern was the paid time allowed for signing on and off the job. When there was a lot of paperwork and a lot of cashing up to do, this could take quite a time. Another worry was the very infrequent breaks from unpopular duty shifts and over frequent lay offs. [169] Faced with a mass revolt of the workforce, the General Manager, J C Campbell-Taylor, agreed to a meeting with the union and, as a result of this, new proposals were put at mass meetings of the bus workers. It appears that the new proposals were not easily accepted and some reversals were experienced. Within two months, the company had issued a public statement, one which perhaps protested too loudly. The company claimed that it had “re-instated the recent wage cuts” and “felt it necessary to make a public statement that it was entirely voluntary ... and not as a result of representation or request either by the TGWU or by the men themselves”. [170] That such a statement was made at all raises doubts as to whether this was a calculated sophistry. Clearly, the threat of action had influenced the company in February and the implication behind the statement is that the threat still existed. Whatever the truth, some members of the TGWU were not entirely satisfied with the outcome. In October 1936, the Area 5 Committee of the union received a report on the “attempt of a disgruntled member to form a Rival Union for employees of the Trent Traction do., Derby”. But the breakaway came to nothing in the end. [171]
Rank and file bus workers’ movements caused the TGWU leader, Ernest Bevin, some trouble at this time. But he outmanoeuvred the left, introducing new rule changes to strengthen his hand. A national breakaway from the TGWU, the National Passenger Workers Union, was set up with almost exclusively London support. This lasted from 1938 to 1946, but was emphatically not a Communist Party inspired move. Even though many of its members were rank and file leaders of the TGWU bus workers and were expelled or barred from office, the Communist Party argued strongly against breakaways. In later years these leaders were able to re-assert their position in the leading councils of the union. The NPWU failed to establish itself in the Midlands, but there were examples of deep dissatisfaction in Leicester and Northampton in the 1930s. The events in Trent Motor Traction appear to be redolent of just such rank and file spontaneous unrest, which had its origins in the increasing unionisation of a growing private sector bus industry.
Trent was then a privately owned company and like all other private operators was not affected by the national agreement for the municipal tram operators which had existed since 1919. The various municipal bus operators were covered by a new national agreement which came into force in 1936, after long and difficult negotiations. One of the aspects considered was that of spreadovers, flexible rostering or split shift duties which might involve a short duty early on in the day, followed by a very long duty late in the day. It made for an extremely arduous day’s work. Local bargaining resolved many of the difficulties arising out of the needs of timetabling and rush hours, but the question of an agreed standard day remained elusive for many years.
The old WU base at Celanese proved to be a major source of strength for the TGWU. As a new industry, chemical fibres created new problems for the movement. As early as 1927, after workers made increasing complaints, it was clear that there were serious health hazards associated with acetone fumes. Gastritis and eye troubles were reported to be widespread, according to the TGWU. Demands for improved ventilation were frequent. [172] More specific even were the verdicts of accidental death made by the Derby coroner, Bendle Moore, on the incident whereby five Celanese workers were caught by the effects of ethylene-glycol in the “hush-hush experimental department”. The union was however able to obtain legal representation in cases of common-law compensation claims, but it must have been of small consolation to the widows. [173] That year, in one quarter alone, over seven hundred members were won to the TGWU, so the lesson that union legal assistance was invaluable must have been a powerful one. But the TGWU was not satisfied with its progress at Celanese, “in view of the fact that several thousands of workers have had their wages increased many more members should be made”. [174]
The Long Eaton branch at Celanese was making considerable headway. In the five weeks ending November 17th 1934, three hundred members were made, taking the total strength of the union in that area to over a thousand. A special appeal was being unsuccessfully made to women workers and the activities of the 5/325 branch secretary, Miss E Weaver, was decisive. Warning male trades unionists that, as long as they allowed women to remain unorganised, they were in danger of being undercut by low wages, she drew attention to the fact that “wherever they had organised sections of the women the wages paid in those departments were very much in advance of those where the women were not organised”. Generally, the union was reported as “making new members every day” in the Long Eaton area. Moreover, the organiser for the area, E Wood, enthusiastically reported that the special initiative of a “Women’s’ Guild” was a great success. A branch had been set up with a Miss Stevenson as the secretary in 1935. [175] Some idea of the spread of the TGWU in British Celanese can be gleaned from the 1935 list of shop stewards and contribution collectors in both the Long Eaton and Derby areas. [176]
Numbers of TGWU shop stewards at Celanese in 1935
Long Eaton plant                                       Derby plant
Department                       No. stewards Department No. stewards
Spinners                            5                        Spinners       6*
Preparation                       2                        Preparation 4
Process                              4                        Process         1
Celastoid                           1                        Celastoid       1
Weavers                             2                        Weavers        7
Engineering Lab              1
Crane men                         1                        *two stewards on each shift - A, B and C
Bobbin Stores                  3
Warp Knitters                  10
Film Plant                           1
800 Plant                            1
Internal Transport            1
Oilers and Greasers        1
Weaving Labourers        1
Drying                                 1
There were however considerable problems concerning shop stewards’ recognition, especially when in 1935 the AEU sought to gain recognition for the rights of skilled men to be represented by their own shop stewards at Celanese, citing as precedent the existing privileges which the TGWU had within the company. British Celanese queried this, claiming that the TGWU had no agreement, so why should the AEU have any right to elect recognised shop stewards? The twisted logic which the company applied was that a signed agreement only existed with the Workers Union, which no longer existed! [177] After rather arduous negotiations, a new all-embracing agreement was drafted. The unions were especially concerned with the need to prevent victimisation of their shop stewards and argued long and hard for some degree of security for them. Finally, a formula was agreed that a shop steward “shall not be penalised because of his activities as a shop steward in considering a reduction of staff’. [178] For shop stewards always seemed magically to appear at the top of the list whenever the all too frequent, small scale redundancies occurred! Likewise there appeared to exist a more draconian test of good workmanship for shop stewards compared to their members, whenever disciplinary activities took place. Unfortunately, this agreement did not seem to be very effective, for two months afterwards a shop steward named Bates was sacked the same day that he was elected. The firm argued that the union had “unduly rushed this question and had the union given time and thought to the same, Bates’ name would not have been sent in. (i.e. submitted as a nominee for recognition). He was not a satisfactory workman.” [179]
In effect therefore, the company kept a right of veto over the election of any particular shop steward by virtue of dismissal. The union found itself hampered in tackling this problem, for any slight excuse could easily be used. In October 1935, the firm blatantly sacked newly elected shop stewards for wholly contrived reasons. Two stewards, Banner and Balderstone, were dismissed for alleged absenteeism and inefficiency. Balderstone had worked for Celanese for eleven years, with no previous complaint about his work record and Banner was off work on certified sick leave with dermatitis, which he had contracted at the plant. The union was quick to accuse the firm of victimisation, but a Mr Bowers, for the company, said that while they would “look at the method of selection of men for dismissal ... he cannot agree to any (suggestion) of victimisation”. [1801
Despite all this, perhaps because of it, the TGWU continued to negotiate with some success over wages, hours and conditions at Celanese. The products made by Celanese had become very marketable and the bargaining position of the union was much improved. Celanese weavers broke new ground, when they established the principle of individual average earnings for holidays as early as August 1935. Membership took off in many areas never before organised at all well. A mini boom enabled the union to recruit 300 new members at Celanese from October 1936 to March 1937 and shop stewards were appointed to represent these. Sixty new members were made in the Dye House and it was reported that “a large number of workers have had their rate increased”, no doubt as a direct consequence of this. [181]
In 1937, the weavers established an average of £2 17s 10d a week, with a fall back guarantee of £2 5s 0d, after a 5/8d an hour increase, which was in turn quickly followed by a further 1/8d per house increase in June. This increase was matched the next year. A mini recession slightly depleted the expected increase in 1938 to 5/8d uplift.
                 increase in fractional pennies            increase in decimal pennies
1937                          3/4d                                         0.75d
1938                          5/8d                                         0.625d
1939                          3/4d                                         0.75d
This bargaining activity went hand in hand with the growing reputation of the new union in the local community. In 1933 the old Workers Union had 22 branches to the TGWU’s six, by the following year, with the accession of the ‘Altogether Builders Labourers’ two branches and three new general and one additional transport branches, the TGWU had 34 branches compared to a combined total of 30 for the three independent unions. [182]
Moreover, the TGWU was able to use its power bases in the WU general branches and the TGWU transport branches to project itself as the major union in the Derby area for workers who had not served their time as an apprentice. Recruits came in from everywhere, 38 joined at Langley Mill, 50 men at the Butterley Colliery Brick Works enrolled. After a new piecework system was introduced, which gave no money extra for more work, the Waingroves brick yards soon organised. Two others followed suit and, in the end, Butterley’s accepted the union and began to pay agreed rates of pay. 53 recruits were made at Roberts and do., while successful propaganda visits were made to Derbyshire cast stone workers, that is to say those engaged in prefabricated concrete products manufacture.
The base which Hind had begun for the WU in the railway workshops enabled the TGWU to stand its ground as a major engineering union. Tremendous possibilities existed for expansion in this sector. In 1935, the TGWU began “propaganda visits to Messrs Aiton’s, Rolls Royce, Parker Foundry and other engineering works, making 60 members in one such sortie”. [183] Over a hundred members were made at International Combustion in Derby at the end of 1936, a fact that made it easy to secure new favourable rates for slingers and drillers. In some cases as much as 3s a week increase was won. [184] Over the period from June 1936 to June 1937, the TGWU made over 1,500 new members including in excess of 400 women. In the three months to September 1937 some 700 recruits came in. Income was raised substantially. [185]
Income and membership in the TGWU’s Derby District
                                                                              1st quarter 1936             2nd quarter 1937
                 Income                                               £1,079                               £1,328
                 Members                                           2,522                                 3,378
A new sense of confidence appeared as demands for the restoration of previously made wages cuts began to be made. Derby Silica Firebrick restored the 5% cut it had made in stages, while dory’s brought back their 5% cut in one move during 1936. Moreover, positive increases were won at firms other than Celanese. G R Turner’s agreed to a 2/- rise, while public refuse disposal workers got a half penny an hour rise. [186] Demands not only for union recognition, but also for 100% membership agreements were now being made. The TGWU won just such an agreement in 1936 at DSF, when four men who had fallen out of membership were the subject of a boycott. “The men refused to work with them until they had paid up (union contributions) ... this had the desired result.” [187]
There were tensions between the TGWU and unions which it saw as standing in its way. Relationships with the Amalgamated Society of Vehicle Builders (the ASVB is not be confused with the NUVB) in the Long Eaton wagon building industry were especially poor. Rivalry between the two unions at companies like S J Claye’s and others reached a high point, when in 1937 the Derby TGWU DC severely accused the ASVB of concluding national agreements in the trade without even consulting other unions like themselves. In consequence, the poaching of members by both unions from each other reached major proportions, requiring a national agreement between them. This was signed on September 19th 1938 and provided that each would not tread into the other’s traditional areas of influence. The ASVB specifically agreed not to “interfere with” the TGWU’s membership in Long Eaton. The ASVB later merged with the AEU, which then took over the agreement. [188]
The TGWU emerged as the organiser of the widest possible range of sectors. Maintenance and other engineering workers in the South Derbyshire coalfield saw the union make much improvements in their conditions of employment. Negotiations with the coal owners in 1936 resulted in overtime rates for working bank holidays for the first time. [189] Lead mining workers began joining the TOWU in the Matlock area, after a number of meetings were held there in early 1935. Some fifty new members were made. However, flooding lead to the closing of the Mill Close mines, which employed over seven hundred men at Darley Dale in June 1938. [190] It was not until 1943 that Messrs H J Enthoven’s took over the mines and transformed the operation into a sophisticated lead smelting plant. In 1938, the whole of the 70 workers at Cox’s Lead Works in Derby organised and rapidly won a rise in hourly earnings of a half penny. [191]
In the building industry, the TGWU gained significantly by the decision of the Altogether Builders Labourers and Constructional Workers Society to go for amalgamation with the union and this commenced on July 1st 1934. Although Derby ABL generally welcomed the move, it did receive some opposition. The branch at Aston in Birmingham wanted to form a breakaway, while the main Birmingham branch wanted to split their funds up between individual members, rather than allow them to be swallowed up by the TGWU. [192] A massive demand for building workers in 1935 enabled the TGWU to demonstrate to the incoming ABL membership that it could cater for their needs. “Not since the close of the war has there been such a demand”, noted the union’s journal. [193] There was a serious skill shortage and employers sought to merely increase working time as a stop-gap solution, a move resisted by the unions.
The TGWU benefited from another link up of a less certain sort, which broadened the union’s base. Following dissatisfaction with the outcome of the co-operative insurance agent’s strike, the National Union of do-operative Insurance Societies Employees (NUCISE) was set up. By March 1931, there were 657 Co-op employees enrolled in NUCISE nationally, composed of 166 district managers, 138 assistant district managers, 306 clerks, 42 audit testers and five special canvassers. The union had a strong base in Derby and the general secretary of NUCISE, Will Stokes, edited the union’s journal from his home in 77 Walbrook Road. The executive committees of the individual sectors of NUCISE also all met in Derby. But the organisational task of maintaining such a highly structured network across the whole country from a house in Derby was too much. Rapid approaches were made to the TGWU, which was attempting to broaden the base of its clerical section, largely then composed of tally clerks on the docks. Considerable safeguards were given to NUCISE to enable it to keep autonomy and it affiliated, not merged, to the TGWU’s ACTS trade group, only balloting in 1984 to fully merge with the union.
The TGWU took over from the WU its interest in agricultural workers. The Derby Corporation owned a farm in Eggington which was linked to the sewage operations in that area and this enabled the union to create a foothold in agriculture. So much so that, at the Eggington 5/89 branch social function in November 1935, the branch was congratulated by J Tivey, the full time organiser, on the “nomination of Bro. Murfin to the Derby Agricultural Wages Committee”. Clarke, the Divisional Organiser, told the branch “they had no need to fear being in an organisation, as the Corporation followed the Fair Wages Clause in all contracts”. [194] But this good example was rather lost on independent farmers. Prosecutions for failure to pay even the legal minimum wage determined by the wages councils in the single period of July 22nd to September 22nd 1936 reflected just this. £168 in arrears of wages was paid to five workers in four local cases in Derby, Swadlincote and Wirksworth. Generally, only a £5 fine was imposed. One worker was owed as much as £48. [195] Tivey and Murfin and other union representatives made great efforts in the 1936 negotiations to get an increase of a penny an hour. Farmers vigorously opposed this and argued for a freeze on wage increases for the following year. The independents decided to oppose the increase, but threw in a minor concession of an extra day’s bank holiday. Only after six months of pressure was progress eventually made, with an increase of is 1 1/2d a week on a 54 hour week, or 37s 11/2d in all, achieved. [196]
The road haulage industry was another very tough industry to organise, but there were spectacular developments in the 1930s. The industry had mushroomed after the war and there were very few controls. Wages, hours and conditions of employment were in a chaotic state. This was not simply a concern for the workers in the sector, as Britain’s roads got busier and busier with the increasing mechanisation of transport, public concern grew. A Joint Industrial Council had been set up, but collapsed before it could do any more than adopt a constitution. By 1934, with the assistance of the Government, a National Joint Conciliation Board had been established. Even right wing politicians could see the value in legislative control over the chaos which the industry displayed. Low wages forced long hours on the road and caused a horrific rise in accidents. So much so that the 1930 Road Traffic Act imposed a limit on working hours and three years later a Fair Wages Clause was introduced. The North Midlands Joint Road Transport Board indulged in wages negotiations after a fashion. In 1928, recognising that the cost of living had risen by two thirds over the pre-war level, wages were improved by one shilling a week and six pence for youths. [197] Apart from the traditional and established carters, still rooted in horse transport, and in co-operative transport undertakings, or in the dock yard areas, there was little trade union organisation in the industry. Pickford’s Removals, which had a large base in the Long Eaton area, was one well-established local company organised by the TGWU.
But trades unionism now began to flourish, following the setting up of national controls over wages, in the road haulage sector. 22 drivers at Buoyant Upholstery works in Sandiacre were enrolled in mid 1933. [198] While a great amount of work was carried out in the Darley Dale area in 1934 by the TGWU with “good results”. [199] Speaking at the TGWU Darley Dale branch annual dinner, S Brooks, an official specialising in the industry, urged drivers to observe road traffic regulations. He revealed that he knew of people “in the industry who were contravening the law in every shape and form, but the (National Joint Conciliation) Board hoped in the course of a year or so to bring about such reforms as would make the industry one to be proud of”. [200] Two years later, organisation of road haulage workers in North Derbyshire had reached a sufficiently strong level to invite Corrin, the National Secretary of the TGWU’s Commercial Transport trade group, to speak at a dinner of two hundred members from the Darley Dale area.
But the union faced a daunting task, in organising the industry. Commenting on the dreadfully low pay for the job of lorry driver, J H Stirk, chairman of the East Midlands Traffic Commissioners, declared that “licences will never be granted so long as operators are under paid. I am not satisfied with a wage of £1 15s a week.” Hearing applications for operators’ licences, Stirk stipulated increases in wages in fifty cases before licences were granted. This legislative backing, coupled with a new mood of confidence, greatly aided union growth. [201] In 1935, the TGWU sought the adoption of the Fair Wages Clause in local authority contracts. Derby Corporation was reported as “tightening up the fair wages clause so that only firms adhering to the decision of the National Joint Conciliation Board should carry out work for them”. [202]
Despite these positive experiences, there still remained a need for firmer control and, in 1937, the Government contemplated the setting up of a Wages Council for the industry. The TGWU’s newspaper recorded that “a committee of inquiry, set up by the Ministries of Transport and Labour, were now considering the regulation of wages in the industry, and the Union was taking a prominent part in presenting evidence”. [203] Out of the deliberations came the Road Haulage Wages Act of 1938, which at long last called a halt to the disarray in the industry. Statutory bodies were set up in areas of the country which were capable of defining minimum rates. Even more union organisation followed on from this, while there were considerable increases in wages amongst some. Toft Brothers & Tomlinson of Darley Dale conceded a 5/- increase in 1938. [204] By January of 1939, the inaugural meeting of the East Midlands Road Haulage Board was held. [205] It was a new era for the industry.
Contrasted with the start of the decade, the end was infinitely more optimistic for the TGWU and others, yet even so the picture was by no means all pleasant. A classic, minor depression developed in the very late Thirties, after the boom. In 1938, the TGWU DC noted that “apart from Messrs Rolls Royce employment is not good, the Textile Trades are very bad - many members having been dismissed from the Celanese Works, while the whole of the Lace Workers have been unemployed or are working very short time. The Building Trade’ being slowed down, many men have been dismissed from the Railway Works.” [206] In the latter part of that year, it was clear that there were heavy pressures on shop stewards, when at Celanese it was reported that a shop steward named Jagger had been suspended by the firm for actions perfectly in accord with the union’s agreement on shop stewards. [207] Nonetheless, an overall assessment of the decade must accord the TGWU in Derbyshire considerable achievement. Local membership of the Workers Union in 1921 had peaked at 8,000 and it took the union’s successor many years to climb back to such heady heights, being short of such a target by a couple of thousand by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War. But the war blew away the minor depression and brought masses of women into production, ushering in a dramatic boost upwards. Such growth was not merely a Derbyshire phenomena, TGWU membership in the whole Midlands region soared from 13,056 in 1928 to 33,840 two years later and no less than 62,259 in 1939. [208] This was the making of what would become Britain’s biggest union for the next fifty years.
Growth of the Derbyshire TGWU in the late Thirties [209]
                    year                 membership
                   1935                 2,832
                   1936                 3,359
                   1937                 3,943
                   1938                 3,739
                   1939                 4,539
                   1940                 6,000+
(Note: figures do not include TGWU members in the far north of the county, beyond Chesterfield and Buxton, who were allocated to the Yorkshire and North West regions of the union.)
The TGWU in Derbyshire faced the end of the 1930s conscious of its position as incontestably a key trade union in the county town and the county. From 1932 onwards, it had accommodation at the Wardwick Rooms, by 1938 it was evident that these were inadequate for a union of such prestige. Additionally, the district was anxious to preserve the minor condition of the merger with the WU that the Derby office would be accorded a special status within the Area administration. The DC wrote to the union’s leadership, seeking support for better facilities. In January 1939, Wells, the Finance Administrator based at Derby and catering for the East Midlands part of Areas, along with Brown, the building trades officer, were asked to look at sites in Derby. They were later to report to the Area Committee that “suitable land had been purchased in Willow Row, Derby”. [210] The Derby DC noted with satisfaction that their executive had purchased a new site right in the centre of town and was pleased that new premises were to be built. But there were minor difficulties to overcome. By July 1939, there had been no start to the building project, so there was a suggestion that a “sign be erected saying that TGWU offices were to be built’ on that site. But the calamitous events of the next period would put paid to that ambitious plan.
ii) The Engineering Industry
In one example of the pace of technological change in the engineering workshops, the time taken to machine an engine bolt of the same dimensions and material has been compared across the years. It declined from 115 minutes in 1880, to 28 minutes in 1900 and a mere 7.7 minutes in 1930. In half a century, the time taken to do the job had been whittled down to 7% of the original. This process of speed up eroded the dominant position of time served engineering workers, the numbers of these had been halved since 1914, whilst semi-skilled workers almost trebled. [211] A new breed of engineering worker had been brought about and the challenge of new technology had to be faced by the unions involved in the sector. The TGWU was in a strong position to exploit this new situation. Even so, the AEU was still the most significant union in the industry. It had suffered like others from falling membership, but by 1934 it began to experience a return of confidence. As many as a thousand new members were enrolled in 18 Derbyshire AEU branches in the eighteen months to the end of 1934. [212]
Nationally negotiated wage rises began to be won. There were no less than seven between May 1935 and November 1937, mostly in 1/- rises, although the last two were worth 1/6d each per week. [213] But there were also locally negotiated rates. On August 25th 1935, a mass meeting called under the auspices of the multi-union Engineering Allied Trades Joint Committee was held in Derby. This decided to hold a ballot on the matter of “revising the Derby rate to the level of ... towns of comparable size”. [214] There was more than enough support to secure the two-thirds majority needed to obtain a mandate for industrial action. The Engineering and Allied Trades Employers Federation was informed of the demand, but asked for two weeks grace, because it was “difficult because of the local claims being pursued at the same time as national claims”. [215] The national claim sought an all round increase of 6/- a week, the restoration of conditions removed in 1931 concerning piecework and overtime and payment of the previously agreed increase to all workers, including apprentices, No wonder the local employers wanted to clear these demands before addressing the local rate increments being sought. The unions were however not satisfied with this answer and pressed for an early reply to their own, local claim. At a conference to discuss the matter, the employers agreed to an extra 1/- plus rate to apply in Derby factories. Corresponding percentage increases would be awarded to pieceworkers and the whole package was accepted at a mass meeting in early October. [216] It was the end of the period of management autocracy, as the balance of power tilted away from employers. Within two years, Bates and Hind, the AEU and the TGWU officials, were back, putting in an application for an increase on behalf of the Joint Committee in June of 1937. Two years later to the month, the TGWU was jubilant in winning an increase of is 6d a week for labourers in Derby’s engineering industry, which was followed by “organising work and over 100 new members were made”. [217]
As the AEU established more and more of a base in the newer mass production industries, it relied more and more on its shop stewards. A symptom of this was the fact that total payments to stewards from the union were three times what it had been before. Nowhere was this new reliance on shop stewards more evident than in the rapidly growing aircraft industry, where a strong sense of skill and unity of purpose easily united engineering workers. An event of more than symbolic importance was the formation of the National Conference of Aircraft Shop Stewards, itself a by product of a 1935 strike at the Hawker factory in Gloucester. Rolls Royce shop stewards’ committee from Derby not only contributed £40 towards the strike funds, but also participated in the convening of an unofficial National Council which came out of the conference. This was founded in 1937 and united some fifty factories in the industry. Its journal New Propeller was distributed in the Rolls Royce plants in Derby and the local shop stewards’ committees provided delegates to the national council. This body would play a very significant role in mobilising engineering workers during the Second World War for the war effort and the emergent rank and file movement would provide much of the impetus for militancy in the boom period of the 1950. [218]
If Derby was not exactly at the fore of the militant battle for an improved status for engineering workers, it was not a silent participant. There were some struggles of note. A major strike of grinders at Rolls Royce was occasioned by some inner-union controversies in the AEU. The men had been negotiating over a claim for a 10/- a week increase in 1937 over the general pay of £3 is 0d a week. This compared poorly with the rate of £3 is 41/od then typical of provincial towns. The company offered 2/6d to 25 skilled men, but this was swiftly rejected, causing in turn a strike of 270 from 18th February and 3,500 workers were immediately laid off. The president of the London district of the AEU, Communist Party member Claude Berridge, was in Derby for an unrelated meeting on Sunday 30th. The strike had been going for a while and there was much pleasure amongst the shop stewards at hearing a solidarity message from Berridge. Whilst the considered tactical advice that a leader of Berridge’s reputation could give was useful. Although the strike had the support of the AEU district committee, the national executive of the union saw this incident as a chance to rid themselves of Berridge once and for all. He was promptly expelled from the union on what was in fact a rather weak charge. Berridge was able to appeal beyond the executive, for the union’s constitution allowed for a final appeals court which could overturn the decisions of the leadership. It did just that and Berridge was re-instated.
Coppersmith apprentices in 1937 at Rolls Royce showed that they were affected by the rising militancy then evident amongst young people. They successfully complained that they were kept working too long a period on the same type of job, inhibiting their ability to gain a wide enough experience. That year, there was major action undertaken by engineering apprentices in the Clydeside, Sheffield and Coventry. In February 1938 Rolls Royce workers were again in struggle. The stewards called a mass meeting in working hours at 4 pm. Five thousand workers heard that the convenor, the shop stewards and the AEU district secretary were unanimous in condemning time and motion study methods then being used by the company. The system was compared to the despised Bedaux system, being used in America and Europe, but much was made of the fact that it was widespread in Nazi Germany. There was also much dissatisfaction over the company’s attempts to cheapen the job by the introduction of boy labour and the de-grading of certain jobs. But the shop stewards had been unable to get any satisfaction from the management. A resolution, carried with acclamation, asked for the withdrawal of ‘experts’ and Mr C A Taylor, chief of the Efficiency Department, as the work study department was called. The membership declared full support for any action that the shop stewards took and subsequently the matter was satisfactorily resolved. The whole affair was covered in New Propeller as an example of what could be done.
As for other unions and others sectors of the engineering industry, the National Union of Stove and Grate Workers once more locally hit the headlines, for the first time for 40 years! The union’s members at Qualcast threatened to walk out in March 1933, but the problems were negotiated away by Jobson for the company and Bennett for the union, with neither party being prepared to make a public statement. The union, incidentally, had expanded the potential scope for recruitment by adding the word “General” to its title.
Another small engineering union active in Derby was the Associated Blacksmiths. In 1932, fifteen smiths were ordered by the LMS Railway Company to move to Crewe from Derby. Quite apart from the dislocation this would cause, the men would actually suffer a reduction in earnings and refused to go. Between them, they had 27 children, a fact which won praise from their full time official, who hoped it would “lead to something being done nationally to stop the Railway Companies smashing up family life”. But the men lost their jobs and at first were even struck off benefit, although this was later reversed by an appeal to the Court of Referees. [219] Small though the union was, for there were very few blacksmiths to recruit, the AB did experience something like an expansion in the late i930s. Daniel Winwood, treasurer of the Nottingham No 1 branch of the union recalled in 1952 in its journal, The Anvil, the “jolly times combined with hard work he had enjoyed helping full time officials to organise at Langley Mill, Belper, Uttoxeter, Long Eaton and Derby, including Rigley & Wright’s wagon works”. [220]
Yet another specialist union, the Foundry Workers, launched a national campaign to level up poorly paid districts. Derby was not by any mean at the bottom end of the wages league, but the local NUFW branch secured a 1/- increase with corresponding piecework adjustments, after threatening a strike over the issue in the autumn of 1935. [221]
The National Union of Vehicle Builders had been seeking an expansion into areas outside the railway workshops for some time. In 1928, Councillor Isaac Floyd, the Manchester based NUVB organiser for the area, reported that he was making efforts “on behalf of our members employed in the Derby ... Corporation Tramways who are only on the minimum rate of wages”. Floyd had seen the manager, to no avail as he claimed that he was bound by the policy of the Tramways Committee, the members of which were “not very favourable to the Trade Unions”. [222] The union only increased membership from 235 to 242 in Derby from 1928 to 1929, so no dramatic steps forward were made. Floyd was back again in 1930, to meet the men at the Corporations “car works” to encourage them to join. Being able to point to a claim for 12 days paid holiday, which was put to the Tramways Committee successfully, the union extracted a promise from the men that they would join up. But there were however repeated complaints inside the NUVB that the Derby men were “prepared to ride on the backs of their fellowmen” in failing to meet their obligations, in arranging strike levies for example. [223]
In 1931, Derby NUVB membership was 250, but the effect of the slump dramatically affected this, for in the following year membership was down to 217. In the branch’s stronghold, the railway workshops, skilled men were faced nationally with down grading, reduction of status and short time working. After a series of meetings in all the workshops, including Derby, held to stiffen the resolve of the members, it was clear that no “great amount of enthusiasm for direct action” could be found. [224] Even though Floyd tried to recruit in other areas, like the Midland General Omnibus garage at Langley Mill, where some of the men who were already members were joined by most of the rest, the branch faced serious problems. By 1933 there were as few as 128 in the branch. In 1937, Floyd held a moderately successful meeting of Reeve and Kenning’s motor vehicle repair workers at Pilsley, where the shop was ‘well organised before the depression, and when the slump came it went back, but it will come again with some little help from the men in the shop”. [225] The men did re-join and a shop steward was elected, It was a clear sign that confidence was being restored to men in this trade as with others. In 1935, Derby NUVB was able to win a penny an hour increase for the men at the Corporation depot, while in October 1937 the Chesterfield Corporation maintenance men seriously considered signing up again, after a visit by Floyd. With renewed confidence came a slow and painful re­building of membership. By 1939 the Derby branch had reached the position it had attained a decade before: [226]
Derby NUVB membership
1935   157
1936   165
1937   176
1938   212
1939   240
As the decade expired, the pace of recruitment hastened. The union considered means of recovering its lost strength in the railway workshops. A special meeting of the branch held on January 27th 1938 considered how to do this, especially amongst “juvenile workers”. While the NUVB also played a positive part in the Derby Trades Council’s recruitment campaign of September 1939, with Floyd addressing many open air meetings.
iii) Railway trades unionism
Immediately after the General Strike, railway trades unionism did not adopt a conciliatory stance and neither did the employers. Even the isolated Rowsley NUR branch agreed to a joint meeting in October 1927 with ASLEF to consider co­ordination of all LMS employees. It also affiliated to the “Railway Workers Joint Council South Wales Committee”, an unofficial, militant rank and file body. [227] Joint co-ordination with ASLEF continued in the area at least until 1931. J H Thomas ceased to be NUR General Secretary in 1931, at the very time when rail companies were seeking savage wage cuts. The National Wages Board in March 1931 imposed a uniform reduction of 2.5%, with another of the same magnitude for those earning over £2 a week. Overtime premium time rates were also cut. It would take six and a half years before the rail unions were able to restore these cuts. In the meantime, they had to face a general mood of apathy and caution.
The mood is well exemplified by the experience which Rowsley NUR had when attempting a recruitment drive. The branch hoped for more expert canvassers than they had themselves from the Manchester district to knock door to door in the railway dominated village, to speak to the “non-unionists in the neighbourhood” and to “arrange a mass meeting at Rowsley on completion of the canvass”. [228] A special meeting of the branch was then called to obtain local assistance, but not even two members could be found who would volunteer to go out with the Manchester men, so the whole notion was dropped. [229] Not that this was the whole story by any means, for many wanted to fight back. In the winter of 1932-3, the rail companies sought wage cuts of 10%, but this time such strong resistance was threatened that the Wages Board recommended no cuts. It was in fact only a temporary reprieve, for the rail companies were not about to let the railway workers feel that they had won a victory.
Early in 1933, the Board found for an approach which the railway union leadership liked to think of as a victory, in the face of many of their members who would, they thought, recklessly engage in struggle. The actual decision took from the workers in the industry some one million pounds in wages and in the process the Board cleverly divided the workforce across grades and responsibilities. The resistance was largely left to the All-Grades Railwaymen’s Vigilance Movement, the name harked back to 1919. A national conference of the movement attracted some 120 delegates in January 1933. But support for the leadership was not uncommon, as when Rowsley NUR now displayed loyalty by agreeing that “correspondence received which does not bear official authority and which may come from unofficial sources be not read at branch meetings”. [230] With the tacit acceptance of the union’s leadership, the Board’s findings went through and within weeks the industry was facing a new problem. The railway companies gave notice of termination of the conciliation machinery and wages board agreements. This move was regarded with great alarm by the rail unions in Derbyshire, as elsewhere. [231] The rest of 1933 was dominated by a debate about the proposal, so much so that Rowsley NUR wondered if it were time to once again consider the idea of “one union for all Transport workers”. [232]
By the beginning of 1934, both the employers’ and the employees’ sides of the joint board were agreed on the need to maintain some form of conciliation machinery. But there were strong differences about the constitution, the employers proposing a decrease in the number of independent members by five, together with making the decisions made by a majority vote of the board non-binding. Over the next two years, this question was central to all bargaining within the industry. [233] A new agreement was reached which partially restored the cuts in wages by a staged increase of 3d in October and 3d in January of 1935. The NUR declared itself “not happy” with the result, but accepted it as the next best thing to the only other alternative of a strike. Yet, whilst the national leadership was phlegmatic about the development, the Derby branches were very disappointed. Smedley, speaking for the No. 2 branch in Derby explained that they had “hoped for a complete restoration”. [234]
During the course of 1934 there were some signs of returning confidence, perhaps not only borne out of the stabilising of the economy, but also by the moderate successes of the resistance to the employers’ offensive over the preceding three years. Rowsley’s NUR branch vice president, A Summers, distributed recruitment leaflets on his own to non-unionists in his area. It was a contrast to the embarrassing debacle of 1931, when the branch was unable to mount any kind of initiative. Better still was the campaign launched in 1936, when a special canvas of local non-unionists took place over the period of October 5th to 10th. ‘200 Buttons (i.e. badges) and 50 membership nomination forms were ordered and 8 members volunteered to help”. [235]
Nationally, a three man Railway Staffs National Tribunal was set up to replace the Wages Board. But only in August 1937 were the rail unions able to win a restoration of the 1931 cuts in full. Two years later there were strong expressions of feeling in Derby about the claim for a 50/- a week minimum wage. The NUR No.2 branch felt that the “full force of the union” should be used in pursuing the claim. Despite such desires, the unions were stuck with the restrictive procedure and the conciliation machinery. The official structure of the unions felt increasingly comfortable with this. However, a subsequent National Tribunal awarded a binding decision against the full claim.
iv) Mining
Both Derbyshire’s coalfields now found themselves in a relatively prosperous position, compared with other counties, Between 1914 and 1930, the average increase in miner’s wages across the country as a whole was 44%, but Derbyshire registered a 58% increase and South Derbyshire a 60% increase. Despite this, Derbyshire certainly felt affected by the demoralisation after 1926. The Derbyshire Miners Association (DMA) had lost a vast number of members since just before the General Strike, when it possessed some 43,000. By 1933 there were only 17,000 in the union, a serious loss even taking into account that there were then fewer actually employed in the industry. So the DMA began to make concerted efforts to win new members and build its lodges.
With nationalisation looking increasingly unlikely in the short term, some turned their thoughts on the ownership of the industry to co-operativism and the idea was seriously aired in the columns of the Derby Co-operative Record. The logic behind co­op mines was that if the DCS could supply 70% of the people of Derby with their bread and milk, why not their own co-op coal, then a staple requirement in any family’s weekly budget? But little came of co-op production, although for the next thirty years DCS remained a major supplier of coal. Such diversions made little difference to the reality of aggressive employers and a divided workforce. This tension came to a head in Nottinghamshire, at the Harworth colliery. A series of restrictive rules and heavy handed management action triggered a major dispute made more difficult by the refusal of the owners to negotiate with the NMA even though most of the men belonged to it. The strike dragged on for months, amidst great intimidation by the company and the police.
When the MFGB recorded an overwhelming vote in a national ballot to strike in solidarity, the TUC and the Government looked for a way out. A proposal for the merger of the NDMIU and the NMA was agreed and both organisations were fused into the Nottinghamshire and District Miners Federated Union. This operated in parts of Derbyshire around Bolsover, but unlike the NDMIU it did not seek to roam across the county in competition with the DMA. The experience was an important one, arguably the tide had turned on the bitter defeats of the previous ten years. In 1935 and 1936, a national dispute over the MFGB’s claim for a 2/- increase per shift very nearly developed into a major strike. Derbyshire had decisively voted for strike action if it proved necessary “to enforce the claim”. [236]
                                                    ‘Yes’ Votes            ‘No’ Votes
Derbyshire                                  15,292               1,059
South Derbyshire                       2,698                264
This outcome reflected the national position, for a vote of some fourteen to one was recorded. Oddly, when the MFGB conference did eventually give notice of a stoppage to commence on January 27th 1936, Derbyshire joined with Somerset as a tiny minority opposing the strike. In a frenzy, the Government tried to find a solution and some district settlements were proposed which gave South Derbyshire an increase of 1/-, but no such proposal was put to the main coalfield in the county. Other counties were faced with similar situations and the MFGB carried on negotiations whilst adjourning the strike. Eventually, improved terms including an offer of 9d per shift increase were offered to Derbyshire. The employers had moved only slightly, but the fact that national negotiations of a sort were being conducted was significant. Membership of the mining unions began to improve. By 1937, the DMA had gained three thousand members and was now at a total of 20,000.
The 1938 Act which brought one week’s holiday with pay for eleven million workers was a major step forward for all workers. There had been no general entitlement to paid holidays previously, in effect therefore most workers had no holiday. It had been the growth of negotiated improvements in conditions, including paid holidays, which had largely forced the passing of new legislation. The tradition of the summer seaside holiday had previously been the preserve of the professional and middle classes. Now, almost at once, this tradition became general. The Derbyshire coal owners were notorious for their opposition to annual holidays, therefore the opening of the miners’ holiday centre in Skegness in 1939 was something of an event. The centre had been made possible by a grant of £40,000 from the Miners’ Welfare Fund and by some contributions from the employers. As the centre was to be non-profit making, many miners and their families would be able to have a holiday by the sea for the first time, due to the low costs involved, The camp accommodated a thousand visitors at a time in small wooden chalets. It cost 33/- for a couple and 8/6d for four children, For miners, what had begun as a very depressing decade was beginning to be viewed much more brightly by its end.
v) The NASOHSPD Painters
The New Mills branch of the painters’ union, NASOHSPD, was pre-occupied in 1927 with getting the local plumbers organised by the Building Trades Federation. However, more excitement was generated by 22 claims for “loss of tools” allowance, when a major fire broke out at J W Swindell’s factory. [237] For the branch was parochial in nature and did not distinguish itself by militancy, voting for example by 20 votes to 1 in a ballot against a levy of 3d introduced in the union for the duration of the Belfast shipyard strike, which involved NASOHSPD ship painters. [238] Indeed, the branch exuded an atmosphere of craft unionism reminiscent of earlier days. In 1931, one member, Brother Lowe of Hayfield, near New Mills, had been discovered working overtime without the permission of the branch. [239] The branch initiated an investigation in which Lowe admitted the complaint, but blamed the firm for “allowing overtime without permit’. [240]
The branch was strongly against any amalgamation which would dilute the craft, voting 33 to 3 along these lines in 1931. Even the idea of the union affiliating to the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU), an alliance of many unions involved in such industries, repulsed New Mills NASOHSPD. The branch voted against this move by 20 votes to nil for the proposition. [241] There was also a positive vote not to affiliate to the local Trades Council in 1932, reflecting this generally sectional tendency. Although the union changed its name to the simpler and more all-embracing National Society of Painters in 1934, this decision was revoked after protests, no doubt for related reasons. Despite an obvious over emphasis on the independence of the craft society from the rest of the labour movement, in 1934 an appeal from the Amalgamated Union of Asphalt Workers for funds for a strike they were involved in did not go unsupported. Perhaps the sense of solidarity with the building industry weighed stronger than union identity, considering the refusal to assist the Belfast NASOHSPD ship painters.
Not only did the union seek to shed its distinctive but cumbersome name, it also sought to improve its finances. This move was sharply condemned by the New Mills branch, which sent a letter of protest “at the increased union contributions and reduced benefits at a time when we have seen a reduction of wages”. [242] This was signed by the branch president, Alfred Howard, in 1933. By maintaining pressure on the Derbyshire County Council to only use firms which paid the Fair Wages Clause on its building contracts, the New Mills painters managed to keep for themselves a small, tranquil world of constancy in a raging decade for the rest of trades unionism. Their craft was in one sense their greatest weakness and in another their greatest strength.
vi) Textile workers
In 1933, the Amalgamated Society of Operative Lacemakers and Auxiliary Workers (ASOL) was formed by the coming together of the Male and the Female Auxiliary Workers’ unions which had emerged out of the mass of earlier, smaller general unions. Earnings in the trade had been sharply affected by the recession, but the new unity and improved relations between the unions, following the merger of the WU and the TGWU provided opportunities in the more positive environment now emerging. A joint committee was established in the plain net sector of the industry, as a result of which the ASOL gave assistance to the TGWU when it had a dispute in Derbyshire in 1936.
Mergers and amalgamations were generally encouraged by the state of trade in this period. The National Union of Dyers and Bleachers and Textile Workers was formed in 1936 by a merger of three northern textile unions. Two of them, the Amalgamated Society of Dyers, Bleachers, Finishers and Kindred Trades and the Operative Bleachers, Dyers and Finishers Association brought several branches in north west Derbyshire into the new union. These were in New Mills, Whaley Bridge and Glossop. [243]
A similar story of merging very nearly came about in the hosiery trade, but the notion of trade union amalgamation was beset with problems. The Leicester hosiery union made a call in 1935 for amalgamations and this was supported by Jack Brewin, the Ilkeston Union secretary, who had taken over from Bassford following his death in 1928. However, the talks floundered on the perennial problem of satisfying union leaders’ fears of loss of status. But as far as Derbyshire hosiery workers were concerned, there was no problem to such a good idea. The union balloted four to one in favour of amalgamation in 1936. [244] But there was less favour for the idea elsewhere and it would be another decade before the next major step. The Ilkeston Union made progress in the 1930s and some major companies were organised for the first time. The giant “Bear Brand” factory was organised in 1935 and there was a major dispute there some four years later. [245] Membership rose significantly from 3,000 in 1933 to 4,000 in 1939. [246] Earnings in the industry now began to recover. Men had been getting only about 58/- a week in 1931 and this increased markedly to over 72/- in 1935. [247]
vii) The leather, boot and shoe industry
In the curing part of the trade, leather workers were organised in Derby and other areas by both the TGWU and the Amalgamated Leather Workers. After a dispute in 1937, an increase of id an hour and a guaranteed piecework price minima of 25% over day rates were both secured. [248] But as far as the boot and shoe trade was concerned, it consisted of small units spread over a large area, much of which was not trade union organised. The National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives (NUBSO) had branches in Derbyshire but as there were none large enough to afford a full time officer, the attention to the detail needed to sustain recruitment which was needed was not taking place. In Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire together there were about 3,000 operatives, mostly not organised in the union.
Consequently, a national officer handled any problems referred to him by these areas and “few manufacturers ... paid heed either to the Union or the (employers’) Federation”. [249] That is excepting the Co-op’s boot and shoe enterprises which were reasonably well organised. In 1936, Ernest Ward was appointed to the post of NUBSO Area Officer for the North Midlands. He had been a part time secretary of the Burton-on-Trent NUBSO branch for some time. After his efforts across the large area he was to cover, “one by one the manufacturers of the district were brought into line”. [250]
viii) The Pottery Industry
The National Society of Pottery Workers had members in Derby and Denby, who were no doubt pleased when, after a long period of inability to make headway in national negotiations, it asked for and got a wage increase of 5% in 1936, even though this did not flow through from the basic rates to additional payments. But the union’s base in the poorly organised sanitary pottery industry in South Derbyshire faced greater difficulties, Six sanitary earthenware factories, not members of the employers’ federation, refused to comply with the March 1937 agreement on minimum rates and holidays. A strike of 160 men ensued and a settlement was reached after a few weeks with two of the factories. The other four firms held out longer, mainly because not all of their employees were on strike and some that were out returned before the strike was over. [251]
ix) The Draughtsmen
At the 1935 conference of the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen (AESD), the question of the union’s political involvement was debated and a resolution calling for a ballot of the membership was lost. This sought to win support and approval for the understanding that the Association’s interests could be best served by having a voice on some political matters of direct concern to the membership. R R Ponton of Derby opposed the motion at conference, re-enforcing the political reputation that Derby AESD had.
Derby draughtsmen’s’ hours in 1935 were longer than in most parts of the country, varying from 40 hours 15 minutes to 43 hours 30 minutes a week, [252] The Derby AESD branch council decided on simultaneous applications for reductions in hours at engineering firms in the town. The employers’ strategy was to keep to individual settlements on a company basis. But the bargaining strength of draughtsmen was improving as industry was beginning to move and this was sufficient to force a cut in hours to 41 a week across the town in an entirely negotiated settlement.
There was evidence of some industrial agitation in the Derby AESD, but not of political militancy. Yet again, at the 1938 conference of the union, Derby distinguished itself by a fervent opposition to any political involvement. A motion to affiliate to the Labour Party was defeated, with Ponton as a key speaker against. He believed that “there was still plenty of work for the Association to do without interfering in political matters”. [253]
9 The decade in retrospect
If there had been many changes during those dramatic years of the 1930s, the essential balance of power and wealth was not one of them. Some workers now enjoyed holidays and many in safe havens of employment such as the co-ops were able to extract important concessions. NUDAW attempted to secure two additional employee representatives on the board of management of the Derby Society, despite the fact that many members of the local union committee opposed the concept in principle. Some unions still saw themselves in their original friendly society mould. Derby AEU distributed £2,000 a year in superannuation benefits in 1927. But others sought assistance from the employer. The first worker to retire under the DCS Superannuation scheme, which had been fought for from since the beginning of the century, retired in 1937 with a pension. The Long Eaton Society had introduced a scheme as early as 1927.
On the wider political front, Labour had made a real recovery as a political force and was looking to getting back into government at the General Election of 1940, which never came due to the onset of war. But the Tories still had a tremendous power base and disillusionment with Labour’s performance, if not with the party as such, was greater than they would have liked. Landed families were still a dominant part of the scene and work shy heirs not an untypical experience. In 1938 Captain Henry Hunloke took the West Derbyshire seat at a by election, succeeding his brother, Lord Hartington. Hunloke was described in the Daily Express as: “The man who will carry the Cavendish banner into battle ... (he is) married (to) Lady Anne Cavendish, sister of the new Duke of Devonshire, If Henry had not married Lady Anne, he would not be a candidate in West Derbyshire, ‘I lead a normal life’,” he told the Daily Express correspondent. “I hunt and shoot. Fishing I love too. And I have a passion for billiards and croquet.” [254]
Questions about how deep the economic recovery really was began to be widely posed as a minor depression became evident towards the end of the decade. But it also seemed that capitalism had only one solution to this, by what some considered to be its deep rooted preparedness to drive towards war. A serious international situation made war seem if not inevitable, then very likely indeed. For those unable to obtain work in the developing new consumer based light engineering industry, the only immediate escape from the dreary life of the dole was by joining the armed forces. It was matter of great concern to the authorities that 60% of those presenting themselves as potential cannon fodder were actually being rejected on medical grounds. Mainly because they failed to satisfy the minimum requirement of a height of 62”, or because their chest measurements were stunted. This was of course a by product of the recession, a generation sorely affected by ill-health. Although the Secretary of State for War did later admit that the eighteen months of army food and housing conditions worked wonders for those young men who had only just satisfied the medical conditions to be acceptable to the army. Not that army food and lodgings were that spectacular, but that the raw recruits were simply despairing and starving unemployed.
The unemployed had more successfully than ever before, or since, organised into a mass force capable to some degree of using non-constitutional struggle to force governments to back off from attacking their living standards. After such an experience, trade unions were stronger than before the recession. In the period from 1934, membership of some unions rose dramatically. But there were also the beginnings of a qualitative change evident in the relationship between unions, employers and the State. As Ernest Bevin reported to the 1937 TUC, “(t)he trade union movement has become an integral part of the state”. In 1931, there had been only one Government committee on which the TUC General Council was represented, by 1934 there were six such committees and the number rose thereafter. 1939 would be a watershed for tripartitism. A National Joint Advisory Council being set up to “provide for closer consultation between the Government and organised industry”. [255]
Even more important in the short term, was the fact that the shop stewards’ movement had taken on a new significance, which would play an important role in the coming conflagration. The left political parties, tendencies and groups had come through a tremendously invigorating period. There was much interest, and some distrust too, in and about the Soviet Union. The romanticism of the events in Spain, and other anti-fascist struggles, caught the imagination of the young generation of the day. Unity amongst the various strands of working class opinion had experienced great strains, it is true. But there were also instances of great achievements in the struggles of working class movements. The end of the 1930s saw the most serious efforts to build unity in the political sphere.
Following the difficulties which the ILP and the Communist Party found between themselves over unity, Stafford Cripps and his Socialist League initiated a new approach. But the campaign to achieve joint affiliation to the Labour Party came to naught, destroyed oddly by the ultra-leftism of the ILP. At the 1939 Southport Conference of the Labour Party, Cripps and Aneurin Bevan were temporarily expelled from the party for advocating a United Front. There was no way, the conference determined, that Labour and the Communists, Britain and the USSR, would be allies. Yet, within a few years both Cripps and Bevan would be leading members of a reforming Labour Government. Within two years the Soviet Union would be a political and military ally of Britain. The Red Army would be hugely popular in this country and within four years the Communist Party would come close to achieving affiliation to the Labour Party. A radical mood was clearly abroad. There had developed many links at the level of the rank and file, providing for unity in action. But not everywhere. Derby’s Labour Party, in 1939, expressed “strong disapproval” of Stafford Cripps and the concept of unity of all left forces. [256]
Attitudes would change fast, however. At least on the surface and within a short time. The hate and fury which would be unleashed in the Second World War was made clear by Britain’s Fuehrer, Oswald Mosley, when in February 1939 he made a speech attacking the established political parties. Mosley pointed out that there was, for him, a simple explanation for Britain’s ills, The snare of Judeo-Marxism. The “Labour Party learned all it knew from the German Jew, Karl Marx, while the Conservative Party learned everything from the Italian Jew, Disraeli.” [257]
1    Derby Mercury February 11th 1927
2    Derby Mercury September 2nd 1927
3    Derby Mercury November 11th 1927
4    Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes November 17th 1928
5    Derby Mercury July 15th 1927
6    Derby Evening Telegraph February 10th 1983
7    TGWU Record January 1929
8    Derby Evening Telegraph February 10th 1983
9    J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners - a study in industrial and social history” George Allen and Unwin (1962) p742
10 ed A Briggs and J Saville “Essays in Labour History” Vol 3 1918-39 Croom
Helm (1977) p154
11 Derby Mercury May 11th 1928
12 Derby Mercury September 23rd 1927
13 Derby Mercury June 1st 1928
14 R Martin “Communism and the British Trade Unions 1924-1933 - a study of the
National Minority Movement” Clarendon Press, Oxford (1969) p98
15 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes September 21st 1929
16 Derbyshire Advertiser May 3rd 1929
17 W R Raynes unpublished memoirs p80
18 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes January 8th 1927
19 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes March 12th 1927
20 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes July 9th 1927
21 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes January 8th 1927
22 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes November 12th 1927
23 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes May 19th 1928
24 Derby Mercury December 28th 1928
25 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes January 14th 1928, September 22nd 1929
26 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes July 21st 1928
27 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes September 21st 1929
28 Derby Evening Telegraph September 16th 1982
29 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes September 21st 1929
30 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes August 3rd 1929
31 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes November 28th 1929
32 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes August 3rd 1929
33 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes August 3rd 1929
34 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes January 18th 1930
35 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes January 19th 1929
36 Workers Union (TGWU) Derby District Committee Minutes August 3rd 1929, January 18th 1930
37 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes January 19th 1919
38 R Hyman “The Workers Union” Clarendon Press (1971) p162
39 TGWU Record June 1929
40 Workers Union (TGWU) Derby District Committee Minutes August 3rd 1929
41 J Hinton & R Hyman “Trade Unions and Revolution - the industrial politics of
the early British Communist Party” Pluto Press (1975) p20
42 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 7th 1936
43 TGWU Area 5 Minutes January 25th 1934
44 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes July 12th 1930
45 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes July 12th 1930
46 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes November 15th 1930
47 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes January 24th 1931
48 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 22nd 1930, July 12th 1930
49 TGWU Record January 1931
50 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes January 24th 1931
51 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes May 4th 1929
52 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes May 10th 1930
53 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes July 12th 1930
54 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 28th 1931
55 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes May 16th 1931, November 21st 1931
56 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 22nd 1930
57 TGWU Record January 1931
58 R Groves “Sharpen the Sickle” Merlin Press (1981) p220
59 TGWU Record August 1931
60 TGWU Record November 1932
61 Derbyshire Advertiser December 13th 1927
62 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes November 17th 1928
63 Derby Mercury March 8th 1929
64 Derby Daily Telegraph February 13th 1929
65 Derbyshire Times February 7th 1931
66 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 28th 1931
67 B Fuller “The Life Story of the Right Honourable J H Thomas: a statesman of the people” Stanley Paul (1933) p235
68 B Fuller “The Life Story of the Right Honourable J H Thomas a statesman of the people” Stanley Paul (1933)” p251
69 J Beadle “346,159 - the story of 14 general election contests in S Derbyshire
191 8-66” DLP (1968) p18
70 J Stevenson & C Cook “The British Slump - society and politics during the
depression” Cape (1977) p109
71 Les Clay - conversations with the author in 1984
72 J Beadle “346,159 - the story of 14 general election contests in S Derbyshire
1918-66” DLP (1968) p1 9-20
73 Derby Evening Telegraph September 16th 1982
74 M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981)
75 M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981)
pp 72-5
76 M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981)
77 M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981)
78 M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981) pp 110 & 144
79   M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981)
        pp 144-5
80   M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981)
81   M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981)
        pp 176-8
82   M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981)
83   H L Beales & R S Lambert “Memoirs of the Unemployed” Victor Gollancz   (1934) pp214-219
84   M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981) p212
85   M S Rice “Working Class Wives - their health and conditions” Virago (1981)
        pp188-9, pp207-8
86   Benny Rothman “The 1932 Kinder Trespass” Willow Publishing, Altrincham
        (1982) p24
87   Benny Rothman “The 1932 Kinder Trespass” Willow Publishing, Altrincham
        (1982) p36
88   Benny Rothman “The 1932 Kinder Trespass” Willow Publishing, Altrincham
        (1982) p41
89   Benny Rothman “The 1932 Kinder Trespass” Willow Publishing, Altrincham
        (1982) p43
90   Benny Rothman “The 1932 Kinder Trespass” Willow Publishing, Altrincham
        (1982) p44
91   Derby Mercury May 31st 1932 - A photograph of the event accompanies the
92   Benny Rothman “The 1932 Kinder Trespass” Willow Publishing, Altrincham
        (1982) p45
93   Benny Rothman “The 1932 Kinder Trespass” Willow Publishing, Altrincham
        (1982) p48
94 DLP 21st Annual Report 1931
95 DLP 22nd Annual. Report 1932
96 Derby Mercury October 11th 1932
97 DLP 18th Annual Report 1928
98 Les Clay conversations with the author 1984
99 DLP 23rd Annual Report 1933
100 DLP 22nd Annual Report 1932
101 Derbyshire Times October 17th & 24th 1931
102 Derby Mercury March 15th 1932
103 Derby Evening Telegraph October 18th 1932
104 Derby Mercury December 6th i932
105 Derby Mercury January 3rd 1933
106 Derbyshire Advertiser March 17th 1933
107 Daily Worker cutting, from the papers of Harry Pearce Snr, courtesy of H Pearce Jnr
108     Derbyshire Advertiser May 5th 1933
109     Derbyshire Advertiser May 26th 1933
110     Derbyshire Advertiser June 9th 1933; DLP 24th Annual Report 1934, 28th Annual Report 1938
111 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners” - a study in industrial and social history” George Allen and Unwin (1962) p835
112 Derbyshire Advertiser June 30th 1933
113 Derbyshire Advertiser July 8th 1933
114 P Kingsford “The Hunger Marchers 1920-40” Lawrence and Wishart (1982) p172
115 Derbyshire Advertiser September 29th 1933
116 Derbyshire Advertiser September 1st 1933
117 Derbyshire Advertiser September 29th 1933
118 Derbyshire Advertiser March 24th 1933
119 Derbyshire Advertiser April 21st 1933
120 Derbyshire Advertiser May 12th 1933
121 Derbyshire Advertiser June ‘9th’ 1933
122 Derbyshire Advertiser July 14th 1933
123 D G Goldstraw “Socialism and the Labour Movement in North Derbyshire 1929-51 MA Thesis Sheffield 1983 p59; Harry Pollitt “Serving my Time - an apprenticeship to politics” Lawrence and Wishart (1940) p282
124 Derbyshire Advertiser March 9th 1934
125 Derbyshire Advertiser November 3rd 1933
126 Derbyshire Advertiser January 12th 1934
127 Derbyshire Advertiser October 6th 1933
128 Derbyshire Advertiser February 23rd 1934
129 Derbyshire Advertiser October 6th 1933
130 Derbyshire Advertiser May 11th 1934
131 Derbyshire Advertiser May 25th 1934
132 Derbyshire Advertiser June 1st 1934
133 Derbyshire Advertiser June 22nd 1934
134 Derbyshire Advertiser June 29th 1934
135 Derbyshire Advertiser February 2nd 1934; J Gorman “To Build Jerusalem” Scorpion (1980) p150
136 Derbyshire Advertiser March 16th 1934
137 A Clinton “The Trade Union Rank and File - Trades Councils in Britain 1900-
1940” Manchester University Press (1977) p161
138 Ellen Wilkinson MP “The town that was murdered” Victor Gollancz (1939) pp205-206; Derby Evening Telegraph October 8th 1986
139 J Beadle “346,159 - the story of 14 general election contests in S Derbyshire
1918-66” DLP (1968) p19
140 Derbyshire Advertiser November 5th 1933
141 L Clay conversations with the author 1984
142 Derby Evening Telegraph December 18th 1933
143 Derbyshire May 11th 1934
144 Derbyshire Advertiser October 16th 1959
145 Derby Labour Party EC minutes March 6th 1936 (HJT Russell Papers)
146 Derby Labour Party Annual Report 1929
147 Derby Labour Party Annual Report 1936
148 Derby Labour Party Annual Report 1938
149 Derbyshire Advertiser March 24th 1939
150 Derby Daily Telegraph October 13th 1938
151 G D H dole “British Trades Unionism Today” Methuen (194S) pp540-1
152 Derby Co-operative Record April 1930
153 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 28th 1931 May 13th 1933
154 Derby Co-operative Record April 1935
155 Rowsley NUR May 30th 1936
156 Derby Co-op Record December 1936; Derbyshire Advertiser May 12th 1936
157 Derby NUDAW Minutes February 16th, July 1st 1937, October 10th 1938; Derby Evening Telegraph April 29th 1986
158 I J Beardwell Financial Times September 6th 1983
159 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes December 19th 1931
160 Derbyshire Advertiser October 13th 1933; Les Clay interviews with the author 1984
161 Derbyshire Advertiser February 2nd 1934
162 Derbyshire Advertiser May 4th 1934
163 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes September 9th 1933
164 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 12th 1932, November 19th
165 TGWU Area 5 Minutes January 26th 1933
166 TGWU Record February 1933
167 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes September 12th 1932
168 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes February 12th 1932
169 Derbyshire Advertiser February 16th 1934
170 Derbyshire Advertiser April 6th 1934
171 TGWU Area 5 Minutes October 1936
172 Derby Mercury September 16th 1927
173 Derbyshire Advertiser January 19th 1934
174 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes December 15th 1934
17S TGWU Record December 1934
176 H A Hind - Celanese Notes 1935
177 H A Hind - Celanese Notes 1935 - January 15th and 21st 1935
178 H A Hind - Celanese Notes 1935- March 14th 1935
179 H A Hind - Celanese Notes 1935 - conference at Celanese
180 H A Hind - Celanese Notes 1935 - October 14th 1935
181 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 13th 1937
182 TGWU Weavers Minutes 1935-42; TGWU branch address books 1933-4
183 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 9th 1935
184 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes December 12th 1936
185 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes June 12th 1937
186 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes June 6th 1936
187 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes December 12th 1936
188 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes December 18th 1937; TUC “Bridlington (1939) Trades Union Congress Declaration on Trade Union Membership and particulars of National Relationship Agreements with Other Trade Unions TGWU (1951) p 8
189 TGWU Record April 1936
190 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes June 11th 1938; Derbyshire Advertiser May 12th 1939
191 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 12th 1938
192 TGWU Area 5 Minutes July 1934
193 TGWU Record August 1935
194 TGWU Record December 1935
195 TGWU Record October 1936
196 TGWU Record November 1936, June 1937
197 TGWU Record March 1929
198 TGWU Record June 1933
199 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes October 27th 1934
200 TGWU Record January 1935
201 Derbyshire Advertiser June 1st 1934
202 TGWU Record February 1935
203 TGWU Record January 1937
204 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 12th 1938
205 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 9th 1939
206 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes September 17th 1938
207 TGWU Derby Weavers Branch Minutes March 13th 1938
208 TGWU Record September 1939
209 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes March 9th 1940
210 TGWU Area 5 Minutes January 19th, April 20th, July 21st 1939
211 J B Jeffries “The Story of the Engineers 1880-194s” Lawrence and Wishart
(1946) p207
212 Derbyshire Advertiser November 2nd 1934
213 W Hannington “The Rights of Engineers” Victor Gollancz (1944) p24
214 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes August 31st 193S
215 TGWU Record October 1935
216 TGWU Record November 193S
217 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes June 12th 1937; TGWU Record June 1939
218 Edmund and Ruth Frow “Engineering Struggles - episodes in the history of the shop stewards movement’ Working Class Movement Library, Manchester (1982) p116, pp123-4
219 T Brake “Men of Good Character - a history of the Sheet Metal Workers, Coppersmiths, Heating and Domestic Engineers” Lawrence and Wishart (1985) p307; A Tuckett “The Blacksmiths History - what smithy workers gave to trades unionism” Lawrence and Wishart (1974) p244
220 A Tuckett ‘The Blacksmiths History - what smithy workers gave to trades
unionism” Lawrence and Wishart (1974) p318
221 H J Fryth and H Collins “The Foundry Workers” AUFW (1959) p210
222 NUVB Reports April 1928
223 NUVB Reports October 1931
224 NUVB Reports January 1933
225 NUVB Reports July 1933
226 NUVB Reports for all years stated in text
227 Rowsley NUR Minutes October 20th 1927
228 Rowsley NUR Minutes July 26th 1931
229 Rowsley NUR Minutes October 4th 1931
230 Rowsley NUR Minutes January 29th 1933
231 Derbyshire Advertiser March 21st 1933
232 Rowsley NUR Minutes June 25th 1933
233 Derbyshire Advertiser January 12th 1934
234 Derbyshire Advertiser August ‘17th 1934
235 Derbyshire Advertiser July 26th 1936
236 Derby Co-operative Record March 1933; R Page Arnot “The Miners in Crisis and War” Allen and Unwin (1961) pp165-70
237 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes May 30th 1927
238 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes June 10th 1929
239 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes April 13th 1931
240 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes April 27th 1931
241 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes October 26th 1931, March 23rd 1936
242 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes February 6th 1933
243 Peter Booth “A Short History of the ASD - Research Notes on the History of the NUBDTW” NUBDTW, Bradford (1980) No.1 p13
244 R Gurnham “200 Years - the history of the trade union movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776-1 976” NUHKW Leicester (1976) p119
245 R Gurnham “200 Years - the history of the trade union movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776-1 976” NUHKW Leicester (1976) p152
246 R Gurnham “200 Years - the history of the trade union movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776-1 976” NUHKW Leicester (1976) p103
247 Ministry of Labour Gazette various issues from 1931 and 1935
248 TGWU Derby District Committee Minutes June 12th 1937
249 A Fox “History of NUBSO 1874-1957” Blackwell, Oxford (1958) p481
250 A Fox “History of NUBSO” Blackwell, Oxford (1958) p529
251 F Burchill and R Ross “A History of the Potters Union” CATU, Students
Bookshop, Hanley (1977) p195
252 J E Mortimer “History of the AESD” DATA (1960) p180
253 J E Mortimer “History of the AESD” DATA (1960) pl95
254 Derbyshire Advertiser September 2nd 1927; Derby NUDAW minutes July 9th 1937
DCS Record March 1937;Gracchus (pseudonym for Michael Foot) “Your MP” Victor Gollancz (1944) p34
255 P Hain "Political Strikes - the state and trades unionism in Britain” Viking (1986) p85; A Rogow and P Shore “The Labour Government and British Industry 1945-51” Basil Blackwell, Oxford (1955) p23
256 Derbyshire Advertiser March 24th 1939
257 Derbyshire Advertiser February 17th 1939

Chapter Nine


1 The 1918 general election
2          The revolutionary period 1919-21                     
3          Battles on the economic front - from the war to the early twenties
            i)        The engineering industry                         
           ii)        General and Municipal Workers
          iii)        Printing and paper workers
          iv)        The mining industry
           v)        The railway industry                                  
          vi)        Teachers                                                       
         vii)        Police unionism
        viii)        Co-operative and other distributive workers  
          ix)        The builders labourers union                 
           x)        The textile industry
          xi)        The Workers Union                                    
         xii)        Agricultural workers                                  
        xiii)        Boot and shoe operatives
        xiv)        Painters
         xv)        Public services and professional workers      
4          Battles on the political front
            i)          political radicalism in the early Twenties
           ii)          the Co-operative movement and Labour politics     
5          Unemployment and the depression 1921-25
            i)        the textile industry
           ii)        the Workers Union
          iii)        the mining industry
          iv)        the building trade
           v)        the NUVB
          vi)        the engineering industry
         vii)        the Transport and General Workers Union     
        viii)        the railway industry                                   
6          Unemployed Struggles 1920-25
7          Electoral battles 1921-2S
8          Chapter 9 References
1 The 1918 general election
As the war drifted to its close, the Labour Party in particular, faced an important crossroads in its future. The party leader, Arthur Henderson, joined with others in arguing for a new party constitution in 1918. There was an underlying motive to the apparent quest for efficiency of organisation. The bulk of the parliamentary party, along with the key trade union leaders, wanted to curtail the growing power and influence of the socialist tendencies within the movement. Individuals who did not work in typical paid employment in a factory, mine, mill, shop or office were not usually able to join a union and thus become involved in the Labour Party. Whilst those who were unwilling to join the mostly Marxist, or certainly left-leaning, socialist societies, were similarly discomforted. For the very first time, the concept of individual membership was brought into the party, thus dramatically altering - but by no means ending - its essentially federal character. Especially since the domination of the party conference by the affiliated union block vote was confirmed. But from herein, Labour activists were no longer firstly members of an affiliated union or socialist society.
Naturally, none of this was designed to appease the left within the overall movement, but the more radical element was gratified with a morally important, but practically irrelevant, concession. The general character of the constitutional aims of the party was to be clearly socialistic for the first time. The effect was to deliver power into the hands of the right wing of the movement and the soul of the party into me sight of the left. In particular, Clause Four of the constitution pleased the militants by defining the socialism sought in theory by the party. “To secure for the workers by hand and by brain the full fruits of the industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.” [1]
The result of all this was to give Labour a clear mid-way appeal between out-and-out socialism and social-reform Liberalism, a formula which was to provide a mass electoral base to the party. Nonetheless, interest in the theoretical basis of socialism grew phenomenally, even in some unexpected areas. For example, David Amyas Ross, a sixth former at the Derbyshire public school of Repton appeared one day in the summer of 1918 in the London office of the Labour Research Department (LRD). This body was actually independent of the Labour Party as such and engaged in research work for trade unions. Ross went to the LRD to ask on behalf of the entire sixth form at Repton what assistance they could give to helping to spread the Russian Revolution!! In later years, Ross would go on to become a Workers Education Association tutor. [2]
Support for the Russian Revolution and the adoption of Clause Four boosted support for the idea of socialised or nationalised production in quarters of the workers’ movement which had hitherto been reluctant to jettison Liberal ideals. There were good, practical reasons for this. In November 1918, the Workers Union Derby District Committee adequately expressed the general mood. A resolution called upon the government to “utilise all national factories for essential after-the-war industries as a means of providing against unnecessary unemployment and further that the same be owned by the state for the benefit of the community”. [3] ‘National factories’ were privately owned companies which had their product and output taken under the control of the state for the duration of the war.
Furthermore, as the 1918 general election neared, the unions were at pains to make clear their partisanship. The WU proclaimed to the press in Derby, at a special meeting called to discuss the election, that the District Committee (DC) “representing 6,000 male and female members urge its members in the constituencies of Derby and South Derbyshire to use all the means in their power to secure the return to parliament of Mr J H Thomas and Councillor Trueman, both of whom are the official Labour candidates”. [4] Despite the sense of confidence evident here, the newly revamped Labour Party did not win the election. Quite naturally, the government had timed the date of the election to suit itself. Few of the men in the armed forces, who might have held quite strong views about the way the future should develop, actually managed to vote. Despite this, the 1918 electoral roll in Derby was three times as large as it had been in 1914. Some 11,000 of the 61,000 potential voters were engaged in military service, but whether many of these were able to cast their vote is doubtful, as the bulk of the forces were still tied up in foreign parts. Moreover, 24,000 of these voters were casting their votes for the very first time and were no doubt rather cautious about it. [5]
Labour’s electoral machine was poorly developed. In some areas, the influence of Lib-Labism had retarded the political strength of Labour, so much so that no formal organisation existed in some places. The WU may well have wanted to urge support for Councillor Samuel Trueman of Long Eaton, who stood for South Derbyshire. But in reality there was very little practical organisational back up for the candidate. South Derbyshire Divisional Labour Party was established in 1918 at a conference composed of delegates from three co-op societies, three ILP branches and 27 trade union branches, including no less than twelve branches of the South Derbyshire Miners Association. Amongst other unions were the Potters, the Bakers, the WU, the ASE, the Colliery Engineers, the Carpenters and the Agricultural Workers. Trueman was proposed by the NUR and the Long Eaton Co-operative Society - of which he himself was a prominent member. While many of the old LECS stalwarts were Liberals, the society had voted 114 to 6 to affiliate to the South Derbyshire Labour Party only that year. A proposition to disaffiliate which came in 1919 was easily defeated. Political involvement was actually quite a new development for the co-operative movement. The Swansea Congress of the Co-operative Union in 1917 had set up the Co-operative Party, with the aim of representation in local and national democratic assemblies.
Trueman won the selection vote in the local party committee by 34 votes to 21 against Bill Smith of Church Gresley, who had been proposed by the South Derbyshire miners. [6] In common with many socialists, Trueman had adopted a pacifist stance in the war and this fact was crudely exploited with great effect by his Liberal opponent during the campaign. The Government faced the December 14th election quite confidently. A sitting government having led the nation through stormy times, it rightly believed it could rely upon patriotic calls. The preferred slogan of winning Government candidates was “Hang the Kaiser”. Such an approach rather excluded Labour’s serious and rather sober programme for social betterment from considered attention. Despite this, Labour considerably increased its representation and became the official Opposition.
The still largely federal character of the Labour Party showed itself in the results. The British Socialist Party was still affiliated and fielded candidates in sixteen seats. Twelve secured official endorsement from the Labour Party and one from the Co-operative Party, whilst the others ran as independents. The BSP did rather well, especially when compared to the ILP, which engaged in the election in a similar way. The ILP polled an overall average of 21.4% to the BSP’s 21.1% The latter doubled its 1910 average of 11.1 %, quite an achievement considering that it was a relatively new entrant into the electoral sphere. Derby’s Willie Paul stood for the other avowedly Marxist organisation, the Socialist Labour Party, in Ince, Lancashire, where he took 13% of the vote in a straight fight with an official Labour candidate.
In Derbyshire, Labour officially won only one seat. Two miners’ candidates, Hancock and Kenyon, took their seats unopposed respectively in Belper and Chesterfield. Supposedly Labour men, they were in reality Liberals, but the Labour Party deliberately left the field clear for them. The miners’ nominees in Clay Cross, Frank Hall, and in North East Derbyshire, Frank Lee, only narrowly managed to beat a Liberal, as did George H Oliver, the former Derby Rolls Royce convenor, in Ilkeston. Only J H Thomas victoriously led the field in the two-member constituency in Derby. He polled two-thirds as much again as his nearest rival, the successful Independent Unionist. There was much local speculation as to the reasons for the failure of Labour to field a second candidate and many ascribed to Thomas a fancy for a continuation of the Lib-Lab alliance of previous years. Whatever the truth, his Liberal ‘partner’ came far behind, only a little ahead of the fourth candidate, Captain H M Smith, the grandly styled “National Democratic and Labour Party” candidate. This was a group tied to the British Workers League, a pro-capitalist body which sought to win the working class. The NDLP saw itself as a patriotic working class propaganda group, opposing class struggle and acting upon a policy of support for the Government coalition and the prosecution of the war. This party did remarkably well in Derby, winning a good share of the poll, which split fairly evenly between the three candidates other than Thomas.
                                            Percentage of the Poll
            Labour                  37.8
            Ind Unionist         22.4
            Liberal                   20.2
            NDLP                     19.6
It was a result which intrigued the local press, the Mercury commented that the “Lib-Lab compact has existed for many years, but on this occasion Labour, who were exhorted to split their “Progressive” vote did not carry the Liberal with them. If there was any surprise it was the splendid poll which Capt. H M Smith ... obtained.” [7]
Labour had not yet eclipsed the Liberals, but signs of this future development were clearly there. Labour had won 57 seats, only a small improvement on the 1914 position. But what was of considerable significance was the fact that Labour was generally the second candidate to the winner in many former Liberal strongholds. The 1918 constitutional compromise in the Labour Party aided unity in the movement and this, with the improved electoral performance, rather perturbed many sections of the establishment. For the workers, it was a time to redress old wrongs, above all to win the peace after the war. In the preceding four years, wholesale prices had increased by 135% and the cost of living index by 120%. Wages had stayed well behind prices, being somewhat less than double the 1914 level. Trades unionists determined to put this right. In 1919 wages rose by about 20%, while prices were relatively stable, the standard of living of 1914 was thus all but restored. Apparently contradicting the results of the 1918 election, the popular mood turned strongly militant. The contradiction was easily explained by the fact of the enormous numbers of returning soldiers, determined that some sense come out of the horror of 1914-18, for themselves and their families.
2 The Revolutionary Period of 1919-21
The need to re-assimilate millions of men returning from the battlefields caused considerable problems to the economies of Europe. The immediate concern of many was to locate the demobilised into peacetime jobs. In the engineering industry, the skilled unions had won the introduction of the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act, eventually enforced by 1919, to ease the return to ‘normality’. The ASE had extracted this concession as a price for its co-operation in the practice of dilution, but the Workers Union, speaking for the many unskilled workers who had benefited by the disturbance of normal industrial life, opposed the Act. Moreover, if the skilled unions had extracted some concessions, they could not cushion their members from every hazard. Britain was a victorious nation, but it was still prone to the vagaries of the capitalist economy.
Recognising the dangers of large scale unemployment among returning soldiers, the Government introduced a weekly allowance and raised unemployment benefit by 4/, to a total of 11/- a week for those demobilised, but still out of work. Moreover, employers were prevented from effecting wages cuts by the Wages (Temporary Regulation) Act until May 1919 and this was subsequently extended to November and again to September 1920. Despite these measures, there were serious concerns about the plight of the former serviceman. In Derby, the Mayor received a letter from the Demobilisation Council, which worried over the “serious state of unemployment in Derby” and recommended public works as the solution. [8] Some looked for deeper solutions, while others thought no further than how to get back to the pre-war state of affairs. The Derby WU DC agreed to support a resolution referred to it by its No.1 branch, which asked the Labour Party to “endeavour to promote a bill forbidding married women to enter employment where the husbands are able, through their income to keep them at home, whilst there are single women out of work”. [9] No doubt many on the almost exclusively male committee had unemployed married and single men in mind as well, although the resolution diplomatically
avoided that argument.
Support for more radical, even revolutionary solutions reached a high spot in the 1919-21 period, when industrial militancy was generally accepted as a legitimate tool of working class struggle. Massive and frequent wage rises and even some progress in the reductions of the working week were sustained in and around Derby, as recorded in the DerbyWUDC Minutes:
Some Wage Rises (1918-20) in Derbyshire
Feb 1918      
Offiler’s Brewery                                                     8/- weekly increase
Derby Engineering Industry                               3/- war bonus
Graham & Bennett                                                  3/4d hour increase
Aug 1918
Offiler’s                                                                     10/- increase
Jones & Co.                                                 12% plus 7.5% increase
November 1918
Lolson’s (Pentrich)                                                           2/- weekly increase
Graham and Bennett                                               1d an hour increase
January 1919          
Rolls Royce             3/- a week increase oilers and store keepers         1/- a week increase for machine moulders
February 1919
Rickard’s                     5/- a week increase and a 47-hour week
March 1919
Green’s                    4d an hour increase
Shardlow boatmen                        10/- a week increase
Tarmac                                  41/2d an hour increase
September 1919                                                                                                  
Derby Ice                                             5/- a week increase
Lolson’s (Pentrich)                        6/- a week increase
Offilers                                               2/6d a week increase
November 1919
Lolson’s                                            2/- a week increase
Long’s                                               5/- a week increase
Engineering                                     5/- a week increase
Chemicals                                        5/- a week increase
Rail Workshops                              5/- a week increase
Concordia Electric Cables                           48-hour week                
Dec 1919    
Belper Urban District Council                 2/- a week increase
DP Battery                            2/6d to 5/- a week increase
Barnes & Fryer Packing Cases 2/6d to 5/- a week increase
Jan 1920     
Mackintosh’s                          4/- to 8/- a week increase            
Hampshire and Co                                48-hour week
Fletcher’s Lace, Nottingham Rd            5/- to 13/- a week increase
Leather Industry                             5/- a week increase
Derby Silica Firebrick (DSF)                                1d an hour increase
Feb 1920       
Derbyshire Royal Infirmary       5/- a week increase
Graham and Bennett                 1d an hour increase
Mar 1920       
Long’s                                   2/- a week increase
Engineering Industry       6/- a week increase
April 1920
Belper UDC                                      5/- a week increase
Long’s                                   5/- a week increase
Lolson’s (Ripley)                5/- a week increase
Brick making                       8/- a week increase
Leather                                  7/6d a week increase
June 1920
Kegworth Brewery                           8/- a week increase
Dickinson and Housall                   5/- a week increase
Derby Lead Works                           6/- a week increase
J Fowler (Borrowash)                     12/6d a week increase
Sandiacre Sewage                           48-hour week
September 1920                               
Graham and Bennett                       11/2d an hour
Bakewell UDC                                   5/- a week increase
Barnes and Fryer                             1 1/2d an hour
October 1920                                    
T Long and Co                                  5/- to 10/- a week increase
Peters Ltd (labourers)                     10/- a week increase
Peters Ltd (metal spinners)           10/- a week increase
Clay Industry                                     6/- a week increase
December 1920                                
DSF                                                       3d an hour increase
Offiler’s’ clerks                                  12/6d a week increase
A series of major disputes, locally and nationally, became the centre ground of a testing battle between capital and labour. More dramatically, these took place amid serious controversy about British interference in the revolutionary developments in Russia that had shaken the world. The continuation of conscription, the sharp rise in the cost of living, the low rate of exemption from income tax, which began for the first time to take revenue for the state from ordinary workers in this way, and the use of troops in industrial disputes, all combined together in creating a seething discontent amongst the working class.
The “Triple Alliance” of miners, railway workers and dockers proposed a strike ballot specifically on three of these issues - Russia, conscription and troops in strikes. Some in Derbyshire were violently against the notion. Frank Lee of the Derbyshire miners told the Staveley Trades Council that “he was the last man in the world to favour the (proposed) strike which would upset the commerce of the country”. [10] Not everyone agreed with him. The impact of the Russian Revolution amongst all activists of the labour movement was overwhelming; right from the first moment the workers’ movement in Derbyshire followed events as far as was possible, given the circumstances. The Trades Council convened a meeting on the Menshevik supported revolution of February 1917, very soon after the event and over the next two years there was much interest in the dramatic events in the east. In spite of the grip of right wing ideas on the labour movement in the country and county, little but praise for the revolutionary developments in Russia could be found.
In 1919, Derby NUR asked the Trades Council (DTC) to convene a “town’s meeting to be addressed by a Russian on Russia”. However, no progress seems to have been made on this idea, perhaps largely because no official Soviet representative existed in Britain, the government having refused credentials to the first to be appointed. Soviet Russia had asked the Clydeside working class leader, John MacLean, to be their consul and the gesture was not meaningless. In Scotland, large sections of the working class were little removed from potential revolution and the Government knew it. There was no hesitation in bringing out armed forces to quell the growing sense of revolution, an act that in itself only served to highlight the increasing unease. Even though there was no formal plan for an insurrection, troops were used in a ruthless manner. Workers protested against the use of troops in strike action and had troops used against them in turn. The labour movement in and around Derby was as one in roundly condemning the Government’s approach.
The DTC was of the opinion that “military troops, when used in strikes, are always used in the interests of Capital against Labour and demanded the immediate release of DavieKirkwood and Willie Gallagher, the imprisoned leaders of the Red Clyde.”[11] Such widespread support for radicalism naturally seriously worried the Government and the employers in all industries and localities. A familiar tactic of appealing to national pride and a joint employer-employee approach to industrial relations began to be exploited on a grand scale. The DTC however showed positive hostility to the forming of a Derby branch of the “National Alliance of Employers and Employed”, despite persistent approaches over the next few years from certain key local trade union officials who were supporters. [12]
British capitalism had important financial interests in Russia and men of power and wealth were sorely annoyed at the revolution, which pulled her out of the war. As soon as Germany was dealt with, Britain and twenty other nations invaded the young Soviet republic by force of arms, intending to crush the revolution almost at birth. Britain’s press was hysterical about the new experiment and violently condemned any signs of sympathy for Russia. To the consternation of many civic dignitaries, Derby’s most respected and respectable Labour leader, W R Raynes, announced at the local May Day rally in 1919 that he supported the demands for a withdrawal of British troops in Russia. His view was that “Russia had to fight to work out its own emancipation without Czars and capitalism”. [13]
Even more clearly, on another occasion, Raynes gave his support to the educational policy of the new workers’ republic, concluding that “if that is Bolshevism then I am a Bolshevik”. Naturally, the local press went to town! “I am a Bolshevik - W R Raynes” ran the placards. Horatio Bottomley’s weekly, “John Bull”, called him a “dangerous fool and an unholy liar”, regretting that he was not in the range of an active gun. “Derby should spew such a man ... out from its midst.” [14] Bill Raynes, misquoted though he was, found he was by no means alone. Workers’ organisations of all kinds adopted favourable policy decisions regarding Russia. In June of 1919, the Belper branch of the WU forwarded a resolution to the Derby DC that was accepted without dissent. As a result, the WU was locally committed to acting against “any further money or munitions being used in Russia” and to demanding the “immediate withdrawal of all British troops there”. [15]
The local branch of the BSP, one of the main constituent parts of the yet to be formed Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), submitted a resolution to the DTC in September 1919, “asking for support for the Soviet Government” and had no difficulty in getting this carried. [16] As an aside here, it is instructive to note that no constitutional queries were raised about the validity of such a motion coming from a non-trade union body. The BSP was still affiliated to the Labour Party and trades councils were still seen as central co-ordinating bodies of all working class organisations and the notion of banning or proscribing controversial tendencies had not yet been invented. A vigorous “Hands off Russia” campaign developed throughout the country, including Derby, whose committee wrote to the DTC in 1919 calling for support. Without any hesitation, the council demanded the “withdrawal of troops from Russia, and the removal of the Blockade and the refusal of supplies to Kolchak and Deniken”. [17] These were two generals who each waged civil war against the revolution. Subsequent meetings were to decide to send a donation of £1 to the Derby Hands Off Russia campaign, to send a delegate to a solidarity conference held on November 29th 1919 and finally to demand “immediate trade relations with Soviet Russia”. [18]
The strong sense of internationalism evident from these developments coincided with industrial militancy in an open way. However, the response was sometimes mixed. Staveley ASLEF branch voted on their EC’s request to consider the Triple Alliance threefold question in January 1920. Perhaps concern about the implications for railway jobs of coal nationalisation motivated the spilt vote on that issue, but there can be no doubt about the radicalism provoked by the events in Russia, shown by the vote:
       “1   nationalisation of mines                                    For 14 against 13
         2   to abolish Conscription                                      For 36 against 0
         3   to withdraw British troops from Russia         For 25 against 2”
Support for the EC’s motion was however massive. Even so, Derby ASLEF, in considering the circular from their general secretary, Bromley, uncharacteristically voted decisively against all three propositions. [19] Perhaps there were tactical, internal or constitutional reasons for this. The branch was certainly politically far more radical than other Derbyshire ASLEF branches.
Trades councils, shop stewards committees, trade unions, socialist societies, Hands Off Russia committees all formed “Councils of Action”, to unite all the forces opposed to intervention in Russia. The Parliamentary Committee of the TUC, the fore-runner to the General Council, the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party all joined together to declare that the industrial power of the workers would be used to stop the war with Russia. The unprovoked invasion of Russia by the right-wing reactionary government of the newly created country of Poland stirred much sympathy for the Soviet republic. Derby branch of ASLEF had changed their tune by June, when they declared that no member of their society would “handle any goods consigned to the Government of Poland for the purpose of prosecuting the war with Russia”. [20] For the threat of another war was now clear. The DTC meanwhile demanded the withdrawal of British troops amidst a great surge of solidarity which swept the working class. Dockers refused to load munitions ships bound for Poland. The TUC called a Special Congress on the issue.
In August, the DTC passed an almost revolutionary resolution, when it decided to “support steps taken by Councils of Action to prevent the government entering into war with Russia, and warns the British government if it attempts to send either men, money, munitions or stores directly or indirectly to the aid of Poland, organised Labour of Derby ... will resort to direct action to prevent it”. [21] 200 delegates met in Derby to set up the local Council of Action, on the initiative of the Derby Labour Party (DLP) and the DTC. Specialist committees on transport, information, organisation, supply were set up to deal with particular problems should the “direct action” be called for. Circulars were sent out by all unions demanding absolute loyalty to any instructions issued by the National Council of Action. Derby ASLEF adopted a position typical of most unions, after receiving the instructions. The branch agreed to support the Council of Action “in whatever step they think necessary to prevent war with Russia or any other country”. [22]
Many viewed the all-embracing character of the Councils of Action and drew the obvious parallels with the Russian ‘soviet’, or council of workers, soldiers and peasants. In the face of these developments, the Government trod warily and avoided confrontation, shelving the intervention in Russia. But it was clear as to where its main threat lay. Albert Inkpin, national Secretary of the Communist Party was arrested in 1921 on trumped up charges, as an authoritarian mood now grew amongst politicians. His imprisonment was raised in 1922 at the DTC, which passed a resolution asking the Home Secretary to consider his immediate release. But the warning signs were not clear enough for some. Having done their immediate job, the Councils of Action were wound up by the leadership of the labour and trade union movement, perhaps with indecent haste. But the experience of the councils was to surface and to be used once again in the General Strike of 1926 and this would be particularly evident in Derby and Chesterfield.
3 Battles on the Economic Front - from the War to The Beginning of the Twenties.
i) The Engineering Industry
In September 1919, the moulders and the ironfounders found themselves engaged in a strike for what the DTC called a ‘living wage’, when it discussed the issue at its meeting the next month. [23] As part of the national movement for an advance in wages, a Derby strike committee was set up. This began to receive donations from the movement towards the strike fund, such as the £2 which the Derby Builders’ Labourers gave in November to the Friendly Society of Ironfounders [24], while the Rowsley NUR donated £1 in December. [25] The FSI had held a mass meeting at the Derby Market Place in late October, as the strike set in and attitudes hardened. The men decided to continue with their stance by an overwhelming vote. The strike committee was established at this meeting, when seven men were elected to lead the struggle locally. [26]
Much hardship was experienced by the iron workers and their families. The Derby Board of Guardians granted relief in one week in December alone to 177 men, 143 women and 260 children. Similar grants were made every week at a cost of between £150 and £200, actually taking the Board’s funds into deficit. [27] Faced with an unrelenting force of employers and acute starvation as winter progressed, the ironfounders had to return to work in January 1920, unfortunately with nothing gained, but importantly with nothing lost.
A major factor in the impotence of the dispute must have been the sharp disunity between the two key unions involved, the FSI and the Workers Union. There was “much reluctance to bring the WU men out’, according to the Derby WU DC and there were arguments about who was to run the dispute, which drove the unions concerned apart. The WU complained bitterly that the FSI was “anti-WU”, and while there was much truth in this statement, the dislike was entirely mutual. [28] The FSI sent a circular to all craft unions “charging WU members who are moulders with working under price”. The WU protested that this was untrue and asked for full details from the FSI of their allegations. [29] Meanwhile the FSI took in some other small unions to become the National Union of Foundryworkers, which many years later joined the AEU one of the key components ultimately of amicus.
In the engineering industry generally the newly powerful shop stewards were determined to prevent the loss of their prestige and one reflection of this was a desire for unity amongst craftsmen, which took the form of a widespread demand for organisational solidarity. Eight skilled engineering unions joined together, the principal society being the ASE, to form the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) in 1920. In Derby, there were at least two societies along with the ASE which were brought into the new union. The Steam Engine Makers were well established at Haslam’s, along with the ASE. The Number One shop was organised by the former, the latter taking the membership in Number Two and Number Three shops. The Steam Engine Makers were present in most of the organised factories, as was the ASE. Similarly, the United Machine Workers Association, which was particularly strong at Rolls Royce, brought many members in Derby to the merged AEU. Councillor Arthur Sturgess, the convenor of shop stewards at Haslam’s and the part-time District Secretary of the ASE in Derby for some eight years, became the first full time organiser for the AEU, being based at the Labour Party offices in Green Lane.
A massive rally of members of all the unions forming the AEU was held at the Central Hall in Derby, presided over by H Grey. Councillors Ansell and Sturgess proposed and seconded a resolution welcoming the amalgamation. But without doubt the highlight was the speech by the new general secretary of the AEU. This was Tom Mann, veteran socialist, one of the leaders of the 1889 Dock Strike, founder of the Workers Union and originator of the pre-war syndicalist movement. Mann made an uncompromising speech, which was warmly welcomed by the mass audience. He declared himself a “Socialist, Bolshevist, Spartist or any other ‘ist’ and lay great stress on the fact that he was out for the complete control of industry by the workers”. [30] (‘Spartist’ was presumably the local newspaper’s mishearing of ‘Spartacist’, the name recalling Spartacus the famous leader of the slave rebellion against the Roman Empire, which had been adopted by one of the left wing tendencies which would form the Communist Party in Germany.) Mann proudly approved the Soviet system, making special play of the role of shop stewards’ committees as a kind of British soviet.
In a test of strength between this new, strong union and Rolls Royce, the biggest engineering employer in Derby, 6,000 workers from all departments, including office workers, struck at the company in May 1920, ostensibly over the dismissal of a shop steward. The firm at first accused Bolton, the dismissed man, of bad workmanship, but later said it was because of insufficient production. Bolton conceded a minor error, but pointed out that it had been rectified within two hours, whilst the lack of production was entirely due to his trade union duties. Three days into the strike, Rolls Royce claimed to have no knowledge of Bolton’s position as a shop steward, a claim which had little impression on the daily mass meetings which consistently backed the stance of the strike committee. To counter many public and media distortions about the dispute, the shop stewards produced a leaflet over the names of J Clarke and William Wilkinson, Chairman and Secretary of the joint committee. One rumour about the strike was that it was over the right to smoke at will, still a disciplinary offence, or only during meal breaks. The workers’ committee was quite clear what was at stake. “The Strike was caused in the first instance because we believe our brother and workmate, Bolton, was unjustly dismissed, and in the second place because the Management of Rolls Royce refused to remove the cause of friction pending negotiations.” [31] That is to say, to re-instate Bolton while the matter was discussed around the table.
Moreover, the whole attitude of the company annoyed the men and women on strike and the strike committee summed up their feelings. “We are not going to remain slaves and chattels, but are free thinking individuals, and in our Trades Unions and Shop Committees we are banded together for mutual help and protection. We stand by our brother as we would stand by any worker worthy and in need of protection.” Beyond arguing that the strike was held outside of the agreed procedure for the resolution of disputes, the company and the Engineering Employers Federation kept remarkably quiet. Within only a few more days, a compromise solution was found which avoided embarrassment, but left the company in no doubt as to the collective strength of their employees.
It was an important lesson for Rolls Royce, which embarked upon a more benevolent course of employee relations, which recognised the especially skilled nature of its employees’ work. Increasingly, a job at Rolls Royce was seen as a particularly worthy one and the quality of employment became ever better. Even so, such disputes had been common throughout the engineering industry, but it only took a national lock out in 1921 to tilt the balance of power back towards the employers. Meanwhile, the national shop stewards movement which had emerged in 1917 was formally wound up in 1922, as the official trade union movement took up the challenge of shop floor organisation more seriously.
The railway workshops in Derby faced an even more daunting task than the Rolls Royce workers in changing their work environment. A visit to the Litchurch works in Derby in the early Twenties, more than any other experience, converted to socialism the noted Methodist, Donald (or Lord, as he was later to become) Soper. The noise, dirt, lack of safety and the rigid discipline created a lasting impression upon the young man. The manager’s office was called the “Baron’s Fortress”, a term which reflected the warlike behaviour of the management. The foremen wore bowler hats, as if to place them above the workers who had to stand to attention when talking to them. The foremen’s blue suits were almost a uniform, designed to intimidate and the practice of distinguishing supervisors by dress only died out after 194S. Men were hired and fired at will.
One former worker in the railway workshops, Les Clay, was taken on when hundreds of men waited every day outside the gates for a company official to appear. “Any joiners?” the foreman would say. “Any blacksmiths? Any turners?” Clay was in the front row on one occasion when the last to be taken on was called. When he thrust himself forward, he was rewarded with a job. Casual work even for skilled men was the norm and security of employment was equally risky once in the works. Clay had an average of one in four weeks unemployed and was always in the first batch to be laid off on account of his trade union commitment. The employer tended to hire labour when needed that day and to fire it as soon as work dried up. Forward planning was not a concept then familiar to the railway workshops.
Shop stewards, or to be precise ‘shop committeemen’, were provided for in a new agreement concluded for the railway workshops in 1923. In the Derby loco works, these committeemen were subjected to terrific harassment. Les Clay’s foreman, Healey, was a “bastard”. When Healey stood as a Liberal candidate in the local elections, Clay responded to a comment by the chairman of one of Healey’s public meetings, even though Sir Henry Fowler, the head of the Midland Railway, was also on the platform. The chair remarked that the men who worked under Healey would testify to his qualities. To the surprise of all, Clay announced to the meeting that the only thing Healey lacked in qualities was a whip! A member of the press fell off his seat on a window ledge in amused amazement at Clay’s audacity. [32]
Amongst other skilled engineering trades there was also sign of the desire for organisational unity of the kind displayed by the AEU. In 1919, the National Union of Vehicle Builders (NUVB) came into existence by the merger of the old established UKSC and three London based coach making societies. In Derby, the new union was particularly well based in the rail workshops having 313 members in the local branch compared to only 80 in 1915. The branch secretary was one T Osman and he steered the NUVB locally through its amalgamation and beyond. The effect of the new union was very positive in this highly specialised section of the engineering industry, for within two years membership had risen substantially.
ii) General and Municipal Workers
The Gas and General Labourers Union (G&GLU) was still strongly based among quarry workers in the north of the county, which was largely rural and remote from the major towns. Not that they were at all docile. One thousand quarrymen and lime workers in the Buxton area came out on strike for a week in May 1920, to satisfactorily resolve their grievances. But it was only with expansion into other fields, which was assisted by mergers, could the union emerge as the massive body that is today’s GMB. The G&GLU had been taking members in a variety of industries for some time. To underline this fact, the union changed its name in 1922 to the Amalgamated Society of Gas, Municipal and General Workers. However, the merger of three big general workers unions in 1924, which brought about the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (NUGMWU) really laid the basis for growth, particularly in the municipal sphere. In the lead up to the merger, the veteran leader of the gas workers, Will Thorne, visited Derby to address a mass meeting in the Temperance Hall in June 1923. Members of his own union joined in to listen to the merger proposal with those of the Municipal Employees Association, which had members employed by the Borough Council in Derby, and the National Amalgamated Union of Labour, which had members in the coalfields and elsewhere in Derbyshire. [33]
iii)        Printing and Paper Workers
The female printing and paper workers of Derby were able to win an agreement in early 1919 to provide for wages of between 12/- at 14 years of age and 30/- at 20 years, which significantly was inclusive of war bonuses, thus protecting the increments. Skilled printers also received increases, taking them to 69/- a week in May 1919. The Operative Printers (NATSOPA) and the Paper Workers Union, representing male warehousemen, cutters and packers extracted rises taking the most experienced workers to within 3/- a week of the most highly skilled men. Their union, the Typographical Association, responded by asking for a 10% increase, but by the beginning of December the semi-skilled unions had obtained an immediate 6/-increase and a 1/6d increase to apply from January 1920. [34] The general thrust of all this is to only underline the fact that the general experience of the printing unions during the war continued immediately afterwards. Organisation of the workers was high, control of the trade was firm and demand for the products of the labour of print workers was still rising rapidly.
iv)        The Mining Industry
The mining industry had been relatively quiet during the war, as demand for energy was at a premium. The Derbyshire Miners Association (DMA) was even able to expand itself in other, unusual areas. The price of lead rocketed during the war years and in consequence the mineral was once more actively mined in the county. But as the price of lead was left to rise or fall in an open market, the onset of peace presented serious problems for DMA members in the Mill Close mines in Darley Dale. This was Derbyshire’s largest ever lead mine, producing half a million tons of lead concentrates over three centuries of exploitation. Mill Close experienced no less than four defensive strikes over 1918-9, the last being in August 1919, when union members were made redundant at the same time that non-unionists with lesser service were given their jobs, after being transferred from other areas of the mines. 86 DMA members came out and the strike dragged on for months - until early 1921 in fact!
Under Derbyshire’s ancient lead mining regulations, a claim could be made for possession of disused mines, so the DMA decided to do just that in order that the men could be provided with work. A claim for three disused mines near to the Mill Close operations was made, the idea being to run the workings as a worker co-operative. But the capital required to fund such a project was too much for the union. Meanwhile, the owner of Mill Close, H Denman, sold out his interests in the mine, but the new owner still refused to take the DMA strikers back. In 1922, New Consolidated Goldfield Ltd, which now controlled Mill Close, injected much needed capital in the mines. [35]
The experience of the DMA’s coal mining membership over the next few years was to prove to be every bit as exhilarating as the struggle of the lead miners and sometimes as bitterly disappointing. As the demobilisation of the troops took place, some coal owners dismissed men to make way for returning servicemen, a course of action that led to disputes at Tibshelf and Normanton. The employers argued that they could not keep ‘uneconomic’ levels of labour on their books unless they had some help from the Government. This line of approach led in turn to definite calls for nationalisation of coal mines, as pit after pit faced the same problem. Another repeated demand during this period was for the abolition of the butty system. This operated throughout Derbyshire and the mass of the men were thoroughly opposed to it. They did most of the work whilst the butty took the lion’s share of the wages. Even so, there were some workers who believed that piece work maximised earnings. After decades of controversy, the unfair aspect of butty was finally ended in 1919, when a ballot of the DMA showed a three to one majority for a new system whereby every man would share equally in the results of a butty contract.
The ease with which such a long-standing grievance was resolved must have given great confidence to the DMA. A national claim for a 30% increase, a six hour day, full wages for the unemployed displaced by returning servicemen and nationalisation of the mines was made against the background of bold confidence in every coalfield. Of Derbyshire’s men, 93% balloted in favour of strike action. Wages had not kept up with the price of coal. Since the establishment of the datum line of 1888, wages had risen threefold, but prices had risen fourfold, so the demand for a 30% rise was not seen as unreasonable. Only the involvement of Lloyd George, as Prime Minister, averted the strike. A proposal to set up a Royal Commission was accepted by the Miners Federation, so long as they could have a say in the appointment of the members of the Commission.
Its Chairman was Mr Justice Sankey, hence the Royal Commission began to be called the ‘Sankey Commission’. It eventually reported that the high prices and low wages of recent years had allowed the owners to make extremely large profits, despite their inefficiency in managing their own businesses. But differences in the Commission resulted in three separate reports being presented to Parliament. Six on the Commission voted for the majority report, which provided for the MFGB’s demands for a 30% increase, a six hour day and a guarantee for those laid off due to demobilisation. A minority report, put by three of the Commission’s members and supported by the coal owners, argued for a 1/6d a day increase, a seven hour day for underground workers and an eight hour day for surface workers. A third proposal, which the government accepted, dubbed the ‘Sankey Report’, envisaged a 2/- a day increase, a seven hour day in 1919 and a conditional six hour day in 1921. The coalfields were in ferment at this manoeuvring and the MFGB balloted the men. Railway workers were in a similar struggle and were also on the verge of a national strike. It seemed impossible to hold the miners back to await the result of the ballot. In Derbyshire, sporadic strikes of pit deputies took place and, on 27th March 1919, 8,000 men in twelve of the coalfield’s pits walked out on unofficial strike. But the DMA advised acceptance of the Government’s terms and eventually the men came around to this.
The question of nationalisation had yet to be settled and the Sankey Commission began another inquiry. This time four reports emerged, but all of them favoured some form of state involvement. This apparent sense of unanimity to some extent lulled the miners into a false sense of security, rudely shattered when the Government rejected nationalisation. There were also difficulties in implementing the shorter working week, as the Government hedged on whether the reduction in hours would mean a reduction in wages. Unrest in the coalfields reached a new high, especially when it became clear that fewer hours would also mean fewer wage. 20,000 Derbyshire miners came out from 21st July in 30 pits. The DMA leadership laboured in vain to head off the strike wave, which was paralleled in the rest of the country. On 2Sth July, Lloyd George agreed a formula ending the strike, but nationalisation was still an unresolved issue. Mass meetings were held in the coalfields to win the miners for action on the issue over August and September. But the failure to generate support in other industries for sympathetic action ensured the failure of this struggle. In early 1920, Derbyshire miners voted nine to one for action. The MFGB as a whole was more evenly split, but nonetheless still voted in favour of a strike. However, the TUC took the initiative and decided by an overwhelming vote not to call a general strike on the affair. Nationalisation became a dead issue for a generation.
Not that this experience dented the resolve of the miners to tackle their immediate problems. The introduction of iron and steel props in underground workings at the Butterley mines in May 1920 led to a threatened strike and the idea was hurriedly withdrawn. The notion had proved controversial because the cheaper props would not give out a cracking sound when excessive pressure might lead to a roof collapse, as did wooden props. More emphatic than this was the major wages confrontation of 1920. The Derbyshire miners voted in a national MFGB ballot by well over two to one to strike for a claim to reduce the price of employees’ coal and increase wages. The owners made the fixing of a datum line to calculate production bonuses the main issue, but this was clearly rejected by the miners. The extent of feeling amongst the men can be gauged by the stormy reaction of the historically less militant South Derbyshire miners. There was a special reason for their outrage; the wages of miners in the Swadlincote area were about 3/- a day less than their fellows in the north of the county around Chesterfield. South Derbyshire joined with most other miners in the national strike, which started on Saturday 16th October. The DMA immediately made the decision to conserve its funds by paying a reduced strike pay of £1 a week to full members.
The miners naturally looked to the Triple Alliance, formed in 1915, for support from the transport unions. Rowsley NUR, like other railway union branches, formed a strike committee. But the domination of the solidarity action with the miners by the NUR was not well received by Staveley ASLEF, which voted 12 to 54 against supporting the NUR action. Instead, a proposal to stand by a decision of their own EC, once it had consulted ASLEF branches, went through with 40 for and only 22 against. Despite such bickering, at a national level the rail unions warned on October 21st that unless the miners’ demands were met, they would strike within days. The Government rushed through an emergency powers bill to give it authority to stand up to this challenge, but in also began negotiations with the MFGB. After four days, a proposal was made sufficient to avert the solidarity railway strike. Amidst much confusion and a split in the DMA’s leadership, there was a small majority in a ballot for acceptance in the county. Nationally, there was a wafer thin majority for rejection of the Government’s offer. Despite the ballot result, a special MFGB conference abandoned the strike.
Subsequent increases gave the Derbyshire men 3s 6d a day more than they had been previously earning. But, essential, very little in terms of lasting gains had been extracted from the strike. Essential strike funds had been drained away, weakening the miners’ bargaining position if a sudden fight came. The valuable offer of solidarity action by the Triple Alliance had frightened the Government, but the firmness of such offers had not been put to the test. Within a single year, the employers would be back to reassure themselves of their dominance over the miners.
(v) The Railway Industry
The eight hour day was introduced on the railways as part of the process of establishing a peace-time national agreement for the industry but not until after a fight. Discussions with the Government took place, amidst an atmosphere of intense militancy amongst the workforce. By the end of November 1918, the rail unions were deciding upon industrial action unless the Government definitely indicated that the eight hour day would be introduced. In December, Derby ASLEF considered that the “time has arrived when the question shall be settled once and for all”. A strike committee was elected, in a determined mood, while the branch pledged to “abide by whatever decision the EC considers the best”. Faced with the certainty of a major national railway dispute, the Government determined that discretion was the better part of valour and calmly retreated. The eight hour day was introduced from February 1st 1919, a momentous occasion. As Derby ASLEF called it, a “red letter day”.
As soon as rail workers realised their full strength, other issues came to the fore. In particular, after the tensions generated by the preparations for a national strike had revealed the potential extent for strike breaking, the question of working with non­-trades unionists emerged as an issue. The future ability of railway unionism to face up to the employers was seriously affected by this. The isolated Rowsley branch of the NUR in North Derbyshire was, in those days, the centre of a major marshalling yard. Yet this rural NUR branch was just as affected by the prevailing mood of determination to seize material improvements as any big city branch. Rowsley NUR carried a resolution that a strike committee be formed and pickets “appointed to carry out the EC decisions of January 7th re their call on the non-union question”. In anticipation of future conflict, the branch set up a 15 man strike committee and another 15 members constituted a special picket group. [36]
These developments had been a reflection of the improved bargaining position that had been brought to railway unions by the war and its aftermath. National conformity of wages and a big improvement of the lot of the rail worker went hand in hand with the massive increase in union membership which had taken place over the war years. The Railway Clerks Association (RCA) won the right to represent station masters and other supervisory workers in national negotiations in early 1919, a fact which no doubt had a direct bearing on the sudden jump in RCA membership. The Derby branch reached the heady heights of some 1,500 members by the end of 1920. [37]
Throughout 1919, the Government and the rail unions negotiated over the question of a national wage agreement based on the standardisation of the hundreds of grades which the various companies used. Both sides naturally adopted postures designed to maximise their bargaining strength. The NUR especially sought to revamp the Triple Alliance, a fact underlined by a special discussion at the Rowsley branch in June at which “absolute support for the Triple Alliance” was declared. [38] A major crisis was reached in September 1919, when the Government proposed a wages settlement which would supposedly end wartime controls and lay the basis for the future rail negotiations with the independent companies at a national level. The proposal gave special concessions to drivers and firemen who were organised by ASLEF. The entire 33/- war bonus, which had been arrived at in seven stages was to be added to the highest pre-war company footplate rate. However, for the other grades, reductions of between one and sixteen shillings a week would apply from the beginning of January 1920.
A national strike was the only thing to be expected in the circumstances and this began on midnightFriday 26th September 1919. The obvious attempt to split the unions by treating loco drivers and firemen and the bulk of NUR members differently failed miserably, for the 57,000 members of ASLEF stopped work in solidarity. Derby ASLEF took a hard line over any of its members who might be tempted to waver. The branch resolved that “all members that remain at work during the strike shall be expelled from the society and forfeit all benefits”. The motion was carried unanimously. Moreover, to ensure complete solidarity, the branch decided not to resume work until “every man has been reinstated” and that “we unanimously agree that we will not resume work till the whole of the men that remained at work during the strike have been dismissed”. Seven men were given four hours notice of expulsion unless they ceased work, but in contrast seven non-unionists joined up from September 14th onwards. [39]
The wider labour movement geared itself to mobilising support for the rail workers. The United Machineworkers No 69 Derby branch simply reflected the overwhelming mood of solidarity with the rail workers, when it declared full support for them. The public at large were decisively in sympathy with the rail workers’ struggle. Meanwhile, the rail unions began to make arrangements for a long dispute. The joint strike committee In Derby approached the board of Derby Co-operative Society (DCS), after the Government ensured the withholding of wages duly earned. The Co-op was asked to supply food to strikers by voucher on their honour to redeem the full costs later. A similar request came from the iron founders who were themselves also engaged in a dispute at the same time. The DCS Board unanimously agreed to assist both groups of workers. [40]
This central strike committee of the railway unions met constantly during the dispute. In particular, NUR and ASLEF held their own and joint branch meetings practically every day. 11,000 railway workers were out on strike in and around Derby, so naturally the effect on industry was both immediate and dramatic. Thousands were laid off in the Derbyshire coalfields and many pits, such as Barlborough, Whitwell and Southgate were completely closed. 150 trains normally came out from Derby each day, but only three appeared on the first day of the strike. [41] After that there were no trains for five days out of Derby and the Trades Council later summed up the general view of the movement, when it “congratulated the railwaymen on the splendid stand made by them during their recent strike”. [42]
The Government waged a fierce propaganda battle against the rail workers, with newsreel films in the cinema and full page advertisements in the newspapers. It was the first, systematic use of such sophisticated techniques of mass persuasion during an industrial dispute. The Government’s campaign so infuriated members of Derby ASLEF that they decided to ask assistance of the Vehicle Workers Union, a recent merger of the London based bus and tram union and the Manchester based Amalgamated Association of Tramway Workers, which had a branch in Derby. The union was asked to “refuse to handle any transport (of) any capitalist papers seeing they are trying to influence public opinion by making false statements about the railway dispute”. The NUR countered the propaganda by commissioning the Labour Research Department to present its case to the public. Well argued advertisements appeared in the newspapers, asking workers whether they wanted to see their own wages cut in a similar way, for their turn would come next. The tremendous public support was maintained partly due to this professional aid from the LRD, which was an independent body much influenced by Marxist elements. The use of the LRD was an important first step for unions in utilising intellectual skills in a coherent and modern way.
Another major aid was the threat by print workers to strike if their own newspaper put the strikers’ case unfairly. It was very quickly apparent that the rail workers were due for a stunning victory and they were magnanimous in their strength. A party of soldiers returning home on leave were stranded in Derby by the strike, but were sent to Birmingham in taxis paid for by the local branches of the NUR. [43] The strike did not spread to other industries, simply because the rail unions did not call for such solidarity action. Nonetheless, the Derby builders’ labourers working on railway contracts came out in support, although they need not have done so, such was their sympathy for the dispute. The ABL subsequently sought official dispute benefit from the union’s head office for their members “who left work with the railwaymen in the recent strike”. [44]
After nine days of struggle, the strike ended on October 5th 1919, when the Government met with the railway union leaders to settle the dispute in No 10 Downing Street. The terms of the settlement allowed for no victimisation and the guarantee of existing earnings until September 30th 1920, when new negotiations on standardisation of wages would begin on the basis of a 5/- a week minimum wage. Following this success, it proved no difficulty to negotiate a series of agreements which were signed during 1920. The extremely complex wages scales were simplified. Enhanced payments for overtime and shift work and a guaranteed week were all introduced, as the NUR maximised its advantages by adopting a strongly militant posture within the Triple Alliance.
The rail unions tried to achieve 100% membership within the industry. Derby ASLEF considered in December 1919 that “the time has arrived when all men joining the footplate fraternity shall be compelled to join a trades union”. The victory ensured that it began to be much easier to pick up membership. One Derby member of ASLEF, T Wasley, received a medal from the EC for proposing 60 new members in eight months during 1920. [45] Bargaining opportunities also arose that year, when the unions put a proposal to the Minister of Transport to establish national conciliation machinery. Derby No.1 ASLEF voiced a common concern, when it decided to keep its rank and file Vigilance Committee, “while the new machinery is set up and then we shall see what is required to work it”, thus hedging their bets. [46]
Railway workers were still subject to the rigidity of stern disciplinary rules. For example, instant dismissal for smoking on duty was not at all rare. Despite these restraints, perhaps because of them, the unions were able to prosper in the aftermath of 1919 strike. This was so even in what might be considered the more remote areas. Rowsley NUR, for example, went from strength to strength. The branch affiliated to the Matlock Trades and Labour Council in 1919, with as many as four delegates attending the council. Links were forged with the Matlock, Cromford and Ambergate NUR branches and the NUR in North Derbyshire even supported Hibbs of ASLEF as a Labour candidate in the Darley Dale Urban District Council elections of 1920 with some vigour. Rowsley NUR set up a branch library and with great pride recorded their intent to buy a volume of a Keir Hardie biography for this. The branch became an intrinsic part of the daily life of the locality, engaging in house to house charity collections - especially for the local hospital - amongst other community activities in the Darley Dale area. This work was so advanced that a formal “collection committee” was set up.
In a similar way, Derby ASLEF branch tried to view its activities with a broader perspective. A “workers education class for the younger members” was set up in 1921. However, a different mood was to be detected already, as recession began to set in. The ASLEF branch thought that their initiative ought to be followed by other branches “with a view to lifting the workers out of the apathy that they are in at the present time”. [47] We shall see in due course how this came about.
(vi) Teachers
In sharp contrast to manual workers, the lot of the teacher was infinitely less disagreeable, in terms of the standard of working conditions. Yet it is a measure of the seriousness of unrest amongst all employees in Britain at this time that the profession was beset with ‘industrial’ relations problems. The failure of DerbyshireCounty Council (DCC) to more effectively deal with the still inadequate salary of its teachers caused a strike in the county in early 1919, quite an unheard of development. The Derbyshire area of the NUT had by now achieved the not inconsiderable membership of 1,459. In the course of its dispute over county rates of pay, it became clear that only a nationally set level of payments would resolve the teachers’ problems. Indeed, the Derbyshire area demanded such.
A similar process of unrest was evident throughout the country and resulted in the convening in 1919 of the Burnham Committee of enquiry into teachers’ pay. This accepted the NUT’s demands for a national salary scale, although much pressure had to be exerted upon DCC to implement the terms of this decision. Two years later, area scales were still in existence in Derbyshire. [48]
More controversial still, was the pressure from women teachers for equal pay. A separate organisation, the Union of Women Teachers had been formed in 1909. But little progress on fairer treatment for women had been achieved and the war years had exacerbated the discrepancies which existed. The perfectly sound, egalitarian principle of equal pay caused much dissatisfaction amongst male teachers. Despite the fact that the NUT’s membership was 70% female and that equal pay became union policy in 1919, the NUT maintained an ambivalent attitude, causing support for the continuation of separate women’s and men’s only teachers’ unions, as hostility towards each others’ positions developed. [49]
(vii) Police Unionism
Even more astonishing to modern experience is the unionisation of police and - perhaps less surprising - prison officers, which came about in this turbulent period. A process which began in 1914 culminated five years later in the terminal defeat of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers (NUPPO), a bona fide trade union in the contemporary sense of the word. NUPPO was defeated in the course of a major dispute, which seriously worried the Government and establishment. For the very survival of British capitalism rested upon notions of neutrality of the state and its instruments. To have the police engaged in conflict with the state raised very profound questions.
Pic: police on strike in 1919
At first NUPPO grew very slowly, its members having to meet in secret. A branch began organising in Derby in 1917. [50] As the war came to an end, discontent about pay and conditions spilled out into the open, as it was to with so many other diverse industries and occupations. Some local authorities, the technical employers of the police, were prepared to concede advances in pay. The DerbyshireCounty Council Standing Joint Committee asked the Home Secretary for sanction to improve reserve police pay. It submitted an entire new scale of payments for approval in 1918. [51] Demands for the reinstatement of a dismissed leading member of NUPPO in 1918 were initially refused and led to a strike in some parts of the country on 29th August.
Within days a settlement had been reached and membership of NUPPO rose to five sixths of the entire force. Like any other trade union, NUPPO had learned the value of solidarity, both for its own members’ problems and for other workers. In the summer of 1919, the Derby branch of NUPPO decided to affiliate to the Labour Party. Nationally, the union had already affiliated to the TUC. Locally, NUPPO benefited from the organisational and financial assistance of the Derby Trades Council. The DTC gave Derby NUPPO a donation of £1 4s 0d to help it on its feet. Generally, there was widespread sympathy in the labour movement for the policemen’s’ case. Charles Duncan, the WU leader, was an honorary official of NUPPO and was himself involved in a libel action on the latter’s behalf in 1919. [S2]
But the Home Office had moved very little on police pay and by the summer of 1919 had rejected NUPPO’s demands outright. A strike broke out principally in London and Liverpool, as the wider trade union movement declared itself decidedly in favour of the union. The Derby Trades Council did so on July 9th 1919. Despite the earlier signs of militancy, in common with most other police areas, Derby’s NUPPO branch did not come out on strike. The branch would only comment that they were “not on strike for the present”, implying that their hesitancy arose out of misconceived tactical considerations on the part of the union.
Whilst Derbyshire police did not actively join the dispute, there is an interesting sidelight which provides a link with the county. One of the key leaders of the strike was Leonard Petchey, who had served with the Derbyshire Constabulary in 1903 and 1904. His experience as a 19 year old in a North East Derbyshire mining village was decisive in preparing him for the leading role he played in the police strike of 1919. When in the county, he had to work a 63 hour week for £1 4s 6d, with no holidays, no bicycle and with primitive lodgings. Petchey resigned out of disgust at the high handedness of the police authorities. Yet, for him, the local people were “real decent and warm-hearted, they took a bit of knowing, but once you knew them, they presented no problem at all”.
Because of the spilt amongst the men themselves in 1919, well exemplified by the hesitancy of NUPPO activists in places like Derby, the Home Office was able to ride out the dispute. After a humiliating return to work, mass dismissals of militant policemen began and an emergency Police Bill was introduced in Parliament. This had the objective of stifling police trades unionism, once and for all. Strike action by the police would be illegal from the passing of the Bill into legislation. The wider trade union movement registered its opposition, for example the DTC in August and Rowsley NUR in November but it was to little effect, for the Government had got its way and independent trades unionism amongst the police was at an end. Whatever professional bodies which were subsequently established to represent the police would say about their own representativeness, these would remain quite divorced from the wider workers’ movement and would operate in a manner quite alien to trade union traditions.
(viii) Co-operative and Other Distributive Workers
In the period which followed the war, not even the Co-operatives - which were supposed to be on the side of organised labour - avoided industrial disputes. In 1919, the South Yorkshire Amalgamated Union of Co-operative and Commercial Employees (AUCCE) fought a battle for the merging of war bonuses into a complete wages scale. The Co-ops realised that the dispute could escalate into a fight for a national arrangement along these lines. Consequently, the employers decided to pre-empt this by threatening a lock out of North Midland and Lancashire employees. Co-ops in Derbyshire would have certainly been affected by this. But a negotiated settlement resolved the immediate conflict, although the argument about wages scales rumbled on for eighteen months.
This experience encouraged the mood for greater trade union unity in the sector and the three societies which mainly organised in the Co-ops decided to opt for amalgamation. AUCCE had over a thousand members in Derby, when the union joined with the Shop Assistants Union and the Warehouse Workers Union. A mass meeting to promote the fusion of the three was held in Derby in November 1919. Held at the Temperance Hall, this was chaired by Councillor W R Raynes, who put the rather suspect view that Derby was “at one time a black spot in the trade union world”. This was presumably by contrast with the rapid growth of unionism in his time. [53]
But, as it happened, only the Warehouse Workers joined up with AUCCE. However, a merger with the Journeyman Butchers’ Federation (JBF) enabled the union to change identity to the National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers (NUDAW). The Shop Assistants remained aloof from all this until as late as 1947. To complicate matters further, the Shop Assistants suffered a breakaway in the form of the National Chemists Assistants, which became the National Union of Drug and Chemical Workers by a merger. In 1936 shortening its name to the Chemical Workers Union (CWU), this earned a long-standing reputation for being a maverick union. It was to leave the TUC in 1923, rather than conform to a Disputes Committee ruling on membership recruitment from another union altogether. There were very strong objections from the TGWU and NUGMW, which both suffered from the casual approaches of the CWU to snatching the members of other unions. Oddly, the union subsequently merged with the TGWU in 1971. Apart from sporadic attempts to organise in British Celanese, the union never really featured locally.
As for NUDAW, the new union broke into its chosen sphere of activity with enthusiasm. Its paper, New Dawn, was not only a slight pun on the name of the union, but was really symptomatic of a sense of a new beginning that the establishment of the union gave co-op workers. Some evidence of an initially militant industrial policy exists. For example, after permission had been given to NUDAW members at Ripley Co-op to engage in official strike, the Society agreed to pay the “Boot Repairers’ Log”, a disputed payment claimed by shoe workers. [54] While a total strike of all the employees of the Derby Co-op was called by the local representative and later approved by NUDAW’s executive. This was actually averted in the end, but a strike of butchery department members did occur when some employees changed membership to the craft butchery union, the JBF, before the merger which created NUDAW. The craft union advocated a higher rate of pay, as generally observed by Derby’s specialist retail butchers. Arbitration was proposed, but there was still a strike, which eventually was ended by agreement to refer the affair to a joint committee of the TUC and the Co-operative Union, the latter being essentially a trade society of the co-op organisations. Another instance of local militancy was in the early 1920s, when Derby Co-op Society workers came out in sympathy with craft bakers in their national dispute, whilst bakers at Long Eaton Co-op unsuccessfully campaigned for night work to be abolished in 1921. [55]
A more serious and lengthy affair was the insurance workers’ dispute. The Co­operative Insurance Society (CIS) dismissed W Stokes, District Manager in Derby, “due to his actions as a trade union secretary” for sending out in his own time a circular to his members telling them not to accept new conditions of employment until they had been considered by the union’s executive committee. [56] This event took place against the background of another dispute on a new scale of wages, which had been raging for eighteen months that had been set off in South Yorkshire. These insurance workers were just unable to resolve their problem and the dispute bubbled on, with morale beginning to flag.
In September 1922, the CIS rejected arbitration and nine months later the issue was discussed at the Derby Trades Council. There, one delegate argued that “it is ridiculous (since the CIS) were preaching the ideal of the Co-operativeCommonwealth”. [S7] But if dissatisfaction with the co-operative movement was evident, then this was equally the case with NUDAW. Insurance workers set up a rival union, seceding from their own union. The new formation, established in 1923, was called the National Union of Co-operative Insurance Society Employees (NUCISE). Due to technicalities of a constitutional nature, NUCISE was not considered eligible for affiliation to the TUC and therefore, in 1934, it affiliated (not merged or amalgamated) to the TGWU. Affiliation ensured continued autonomy, while access to all TGWU services and facilities was possible by the payment of an annual affiliation fee. In 1982, NUCISE formally merged with the TGWU, after a ballot of its members, to become part of that union’s clerical and supervisory trade group, ACTS.
Apart from the initial hostilities with NUCISE, NUDAW had problems with the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks (NAUSA) all during the Twenties. The tensions were so strong as to receive a report on the problem at the DTC in 1923. [58] The antagonism continued for some time, but the two unions were destined to unite in 1947 in the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), which today is the main union in the Co-ops. In the meantime, the forcefulness of the two unions mellowed, as the Co-ops themselves now began to cope with the notion of effective trade unionism amongst their employees, A special relationship with the Co-op unions was nurtured. This was exemplified by the introduction of worker directors, as in the Long Eaton Co-operative Society in 1922, when NUDAW member Arthur Church took his seat. [59]
However, there was little trades unionism in the distributive trade outside of the Co­ops. Major stores like Woolworth’s were then noted for their anti-trade union outlook. The DTC launched a boycott in 1924 of Woolworth’s store - the first in the area - for its open refusal to employ union labour, [60]
(ix)The Builders Labourers Union
Charles Brown, the former branch secretary of the Derby ABL, only came back from the army to take up his union activities in October 1919. It was an opportune moment to return, for the membership of ABL was about to phenomenally explode. An enormous amount of building work began to be undertaken for British Celanese (or British Cellulose, as it was called at first) at Spondon. This enabled the ABL, and also the craft unions, to make major recruitment gains during 1919. A shop steward was elected for the ABL on site by October of that year and the union decided to extend the election of shop stewards to all yards organised by itself in the Derby area and on all jobs where there was in excess of twenty men.
Throughout this period, the minutes of the ABL show an almost obsessive concern for the “non-union question”. While the organisation of the shop stewards’ system grew apace and in October 1919 the ABL voted to meet monthly instead of quarterly. Apart from the expansion of the Spondon site, there was generally a building boom and this reflected itself in some startling recruitment levels. National membership of ABL in 1918 was 9,969, so the local branch was not an insignificant part of the whole union.
Derby ABL membership [61]
                  1917                                      65
                  1918                                    281
                  1919                                    248
                  1920                                    835
A number of locally and nationally well-known firms were organised by the ABL. McAlpine’s had employees in the union in Derby in 1918. [62] W Ford’s, which had been organised as early as 1913, were still organised in 1920, when the company was warned about paying under the union rate. Gee’s, which later became Gee Walker, were organised. In 1920, they too received a union warning; this time about allowing bricklayers to unload brick lorries, obviously the work of labourers. [63] Ford and Weston had a number of labourers organised by Brown, when he visited a Melbourne job to check on membership. Astral Company in Kedleston Road were organised in September 1920. [64]
Faced with this growth, the Derby branch of ABL began to feel the need for some more permanent arrangement of an officer. This would be a departure from the past practice of periodically appointed district delegates, when a working member of the branch would be paid loss of earnings to attend to problems on the job of branch members. A new rule book adopted in 1916 at a national level - and supported by the Derby branch - for the first time made provision for the existence of full time officers. [65] The branch discussed the idea of a local full timer, as a general principle, in the spring of 1920. [66] A working group reported to the branch committee that it was a feasible proposition and on July 1st the branch voted to make Brown the full-timer at the remuneration of £5 a week, paying for this by means of a levy of 2d per week per member. Such decisions were being made in a number of towns where the ABL organised. The head office determined a standard rate for the job later that month of £6 a week, so Brown got an increase earlier than he might have expected! [67]
The work of an organiser was fairly strictly controlled by the membership. It was agreed by the local ABL committee in 1921 that to check “the organising work done by the secretary ... a report in writing be made weekly (and) to each quarterly meeting”. [68] £6 was a good wage for the building industry, even though rates had risen quite dramatically, compared to the pre-war position. Building labourers got 16s 8d for an eight hour shift in 1920, compared to 6s 0d for nine hours in 1914. Labourers managed to maintain a rate moderately close to that of the skilled men. Plasterers, plumbers, bricklayers and carpenters could expect around 19/-, or just under, for a ten hour day in 1920. [69] This was very much due to the pressure on the wages front that the entire industry felt from 1918 onward. During the course of 1918, the ABL lodge in Derby decided to press their head office to “apply to the Government for the payment of the 121/2% for all members working in controlled establishments and on work of public utility”. [70] Great changes began to be made in the industry. In October, a new local federation of building unions was established under the rules of the newly set up National Federation of Building Trade Operatives.
The significance of both the local branch resolution and the new structures was that, effectively, local bargaining in the building industry had come to an end. In 1920, this became formally confirmed after the ABL head office circulated branches indicating that all future claims for pay and conditions improvements would be handled nationally. [71] A major demand for the building unions in this period was for a reduction in basic hours of work. Derby ABL balloted 194 for and 3 against the claim for a 44 hour week in May of 1919. Only one year later, after all building unions had agreed to press for this without reduction in pay, the reduced working week came in.
(x) The Textile Industry
At the end of 1918, the Ilkeston Hosiery Union (IHU) voted to press for the 44 hours, at a time when average hours in the textile industry were in the region of 54 a week. The hosiery unions throughout the East Midlands were generally a little more cautious than the IHU and asked for a 47 hour week in negotiations with the employers. After five hours argument, an agreement was reached for a 48 hour week and increases in overtime premia and piecework rate.
Despite this advance, some textile workers were not happy with the deal. In parts of Derbyshire, the S4 hours were accepted as quite normal and the full amount of earnings lost by the six hour reduction in standard hours were not totally compensated for by the increase in piecework agreed to by the employers. Union members demanded that in future no agreement should be made at the negotiating table without reference back to the membership at large. More positively received were the series of cost of living rises agreed on at the joint forum. [72]
Even largely unorganised firms were affected by the general agreement in the textile industry to improve pay and conditions. The English Sewing Cotton Company issued the following circular early in 1919, concerning working arrangements at its DerwentValley mill in Derbyshire. [73]
Changes in Working Hours
It has been decided to make an experiment for three months commencing from February 17th 1919 of a Forty-nine-and-a-half working week at this mill and during the period the daily hours of work will be as follows:
8.00                             am to 12.30 pm
1.30                             pm to 6.00 pm
SATURDAYS:          8.00 am to 12.30 pm
Piece rates will be unaltered and the weekly wages of Time Workers will remain as at present.
The directors look with confidence to the workers to use their utmost endeavours to see that, as far as practicable, production is unaffected as little as possible as a result of the reduced working hours.
Breakfast will have to be taken before starting work, but in the case of those workers who come a long distance, the gate will be open at 7.30 am, and Breakfast can be taken in the Dining Room between 7.30 am and 8 am, when Tea will be provided if sufficient names are handed in.”
While responding to the advances won elsewhere, the company maintained a studied attitude of, on the one hand, benevolent working conditions and, on the other, firm resistance to trade unionism. A move on hours was made, but there was no question of paying for it out of anything other than reduced earnings.
But the textile industry was about to experience major technological change, albeit over a long period. The British Cellulose Chemical Manufacturing Company Ltd was first established in the Derby area in 1916 and the company thoroughly developed the cellulose acetate process during the war, By 1921 this had been applied to yarn production, as modern techniques were explored. Knitting, dying and finishing units were soon installed in the Spondon fibre plant. This new artificial fibre industry would give rise to massive factories, more like chemical plants than clothing establishments. A union like the Workers Union was well placed to take advantage of this development. As early as 1919, when the giant Spondon plant was only in the first stage of expansion, the WU was fighting the company over the issue of shop stewards’ representation. Although the WU executive sanctioned an official dispute over the sacking of a shop steward in 1919, the company was unmoved and maintained a vigorous resistance to the influence of shop stewards for decades after. [74]
More traditional industries like the lace making trade viewed the immediate future somewhat differently. The three lace making unions had established some degree of unity in 1919 and engaged in a long running dispute aimed at raising the level of wages outside of Nottingham, in the Eastern Derbyshire area, In November 1919, the delegates of the various unions in Long Eaton, Ilkeston and Derby met to decide what to do to break the deadlock. A joint leadership, consisting of Wood of the Long Eaton Operative Laceworkers and Warburton of the Derby WU unsuccessfully pressed the employer for an increase in the bonus of 30%. The Nottingham bonus was 50% on basic rates - the lower rate prevailing outside the city. Despite much strengthening of the trade union movement in the trade, this differential proved very difficult to break down. [75]
(xi) The Workers Union
There was still much speculation in the local labour movement as to the way in which the WU had negotiated a conclusion to the Darley Abbey affair. This was characterised by a rift between Derby Trades Council (DTC) and the union itself. The conflict was fuelled by events elsewhere in the textile industry. Workers at Doulds engaged in a dispute in the summer of 1919, when the DTC Executive Committee initially condemned “the action of the Workers Union official”. This approach was backed at the July meeting of the full council, when the DTC strongly protested against the conduct of Stokes. The WU DC protested equally robustly at the DTC’s intervention. [76] Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the case, there was resentment at outside intervention. In the end, the DTC at its August meeting simply withdrew the letter of complaint.
At Darley Abbey, the local branch began pressing for an improvement on the length of the working week in 1919 and a resolution on this was forwarded on through the DC to the WU executive. [77] A fact which re-enforces the probability that the settlement of the recognition dispute had envisaged only national bargainers dealing with local matters affecting the mill. Such a set of circumstances rather implied a hollow victory in the 1917-8 strike. The WU branch had found itself without rights to raise grievances directly with their employer. The shorter hours hoped for did not occur, for early in 1919 short time working hit the company as recession followed the former boom in the textile industry. The short time working was applied within the mill so unfairly that the WU had to intervene to unsuccessfully negotiate on the matter. Despite this, the Darley Abbey WU members still pressed for a reduction in hours and the claim was put in the hands of the Divisional Organiser, J Clarke of Burton-on-Trent and Julia Varley, the National Women’s’ Officer, based in Birmingham, towards the end of 1919. [78]
In January of the following year, the Darley Abbey branch made an application for an increase in wages, but this appears to have been referred to national level. [79] The branch protested to the DC about the long delay in handling their problems in April and this was again referred to the executive. [80] Despite the inevitable disillusionment which surfaced at the mills, trades unionism did hold firm in the company at least until some time after 1920. No doubt the decline in organisation evident in the town generally, following the end of the militant years, had an effect on confidence of workers at the company as well. Nonetheless, it was a far cry from the brave words of support which had been spoken for the ‘Darley Abbey girls’ to the dismal end which unionism at the company faced. During the course of 1921 trade union organisation at the firm came to end altogether and the company ceased trading some two decades later, without a union ever again breaking ground.
Another cause of friction between the DTC and the WU was the dispute at Alderman Green’s Agard Street tape mills late in 1919. A dispute had broken out in the summer, but due to dissatisfaction with the progress the union had made, the employees dropped out of the WU. The DC noted in August that their “EC had decided to pay strike pay to our members employed at Aid. Green’s Ltd, but it had come to the knowledge of the organiser that the girls did not intend to pay any more money into the union”, Stokes was given a free hand in dealing with the situation by the DC, [81] Yet, somewhat contrary to the impression created by this, the workers went to the DTC for assistance. The DTC executive organised a deputation to Green, much to the displeasure of the WU, which protested at what it saw as inaccurate press reports. But the correction subsequently made by the local paper was considered by the WU as worse than the initial statement, so the union sent a sarcastic letter to the DTC “thanking them for disorganising our women members at Greens’s”. Relations, following these controversies, between the WU (and even the TGWU, its subsequent ‘heir’, locally at least) remained distinctly cool for more than a decade afterwards. Defending the fact that not one single WU branch was at this stage affiliated to the DTC, Hind retorted that “none of the women (at Green’s) had been taken back”. The affair would not die down, for in 1924 it once more surfaced. [82]
Disappointing experiences like this apart, the WU began to expand throughout the county. While it had established a branch in Ashbourne at least as early as 1914, it was not until 1920 when membership exploded in that area. Declared branch income, a rough and ready indication of membership, in Ashbourne in 1914 was £44s 0d; six years later this figure had reached £842 3s 21/2d. A District Committee was set up with C Holmes of Green Lane, Clifton, Ashbourne as secretary. Elsewhere in the county, branches were begun in Borrowash, Youlgreave, Belper, Spondon and Langley Mill. [83] The union spread into new sectors, notably public services. A strike of WU members employed by Heanor’s Urban District Council (UDC) ended quite successfully in October 1919, giving the green light to other municipal employees in manual grades to try out the WU, even as far north as Bakewell’s UDC. There, on Christmas Eve 1920, Stokes withdrew the threat of a strike by WU members at the gasworks, after a 1/- increase was conceded. It was claimed that these were the worst paid group of its kind in the entire country prior to the increase. [84] Clearly, the threat of action at Christmas had some publicity pressure value. These furthest reaches of Derbyshire were gradually organised by the WU, operating from Derby. The union found a friendly response when the Bakewell branch approached the Rowsley NUR for the first ever dispute at OP Battery. [85]
In another trade, the WU made inroads, to the displeasure of the small specialist unions, in the furnishing industry. As in textiles and engineering, the WU showed itself capable of an almost priggish independence when it came to joint industrial action. The furniture unions for their part thought that the union should follow their lead. The industry faced a lock out in 1919, which was discussed at the WUDC held at the Mikado Cafe in Ilkeston on August 9th. An official of the National Furniture Trades Union had called out the WU members in the trade in that locality. But Stokes “ordered the girls back to work pending a decision of the Executive Committee”. [86]
(vii) Agricultural workers
The mood of buoyant confidence rubbed off onto this very difficult to organise group. Derbyshire rural workers were largely non-unionised until this period. The main body was the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union (NALU), later to become the National Union of Agricultural Workers and, from the 1980s the T&G’s Rural, Agricultural and Allied Workers trade group. NALU began to find a basis in the villages around Derby. A Findern branch of NALU was founded in early 1920; the secretary, C JeIf, initially arranging a social evening to which he invited local farm labourers. The event was entirely successful, with enough recruits made to enable the branch to be declared well and truly established. The trend to greater organisation on farms and in the countryside aided the difficult set of negotiations which decided farm labourers’ wages. A county wages board set the standards, often to the dissatisfaction of the labourers.
In 1920, the board decided on a minimum scale, affecting 2,000 workers, of £2 2s 0d, a considerable rise from the previous figure of £1 17s 6d. But NALU had wanted a minimum of £2 105 0d and many members were reported by their area organiser, Charles Wozencroft, as being upset. The rise of 11.5% was obviously extracted by virtue of the prevailing state of unionisation in this and other industries, Pressure on central government to introduce an Agricultural Wages Act bore fruit eventually in 1924. Predictably, the farmers in Derbyshire opposed this. Alderman Peat, Chairman of the Derbyshire Farmers’ Union, said that they were “prepared to pay their labourers adequate wages”, but their objection was to the insult of the “penalties of imprisonment and fines” which the legislation imposed. The effects of the overall militancy of the working class were very quickly lost in agriculture, even more so than elsewhere. Wages had dropped to as little as £1 11s 6d in 1924, as effective unionism became more difficult; but the new Act did bring in a minimum of £1 16s 0d. [87]
(viii) Boot and shoe operatives
Boot and shoe workers in the village of Eyam in North Derbyshire stood their ground for some three years in an extraordinary dispute. The trade had first established itself in the village in around 1906. Ankle and bar shoe work was carried out at Eyam, while pit boots were made at the village of Stoney Middleton. J Buckle of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives began organising these workers in 1918. (NUBSO, after a name change and a merger, became part of KFAT, which in turn merged with the ISTC into `Community'.) But the employers, determined to maintain the very low rates of pay, sacked the Eyam NUBSO branch secretary, as well as the president and his son and daughter. In fact, the entire branch committee was dismissed - and all because they had dared to join a union. There was no pretence on the part of the employer that the action was anything other than a calculated attempt to smash the union. An immediate strike would have taken place, but NUBSO officials advised the workers to stay at work, whilst attempts were made to arrive at a negotiated settlement. But, in the event, the employers stubbornly refused to even meet with the union.
So, the strike began, with the workers immediately maximising demands by asking for a reduction in hours from 59 to 52 hours 30 minutes, a war bonus payment and of course the re-instatement of the dismissed trades unionists. However, the employer adopted an entrenched position and the battle was to be a long one. The strikers organised marches, headed by a band, and paraded between the two villages at which open air meetings were held. Over £9,000 - then a small fortune - was paid out in dispute benefit by the union, which decided to adopt an old stratagem as the months slipped by, by placing shoe-making machines in the homes of strikers, to provide some form of work. Then a bold suggestion was made - that of starting a rival factory - some two years after the dispute had begun. Many of the men had been supplementing their strike pay by home-working, quarrying or farm work during all that time.
Clearly, some more stable solution had to be found. Buckle purchased an 80 foot by 15 foot hut on the outskirts of the village for £250. A roadway and a small stone building were built and the whole of this was paid for by voluntary subscriptions, collected within the space of two months. The total cost of this venture was £2,000. The new ‘strike’ factory was capable of producing much better work than the employers were and also had a greater capacity. The old employer paid 13/- a week maximum with some of the women getting less than 10/-. The new factory paid the union rate of £2 a week minimum and piecework earnings of up to an extra 10/-, all in a 43 to 48 hour week. It was a bold solution to a bold-natured dispute. But it eventually “petered out without any definite settlement being reached”. The perennial problem that has arisen over all history, for all worker co-operatives or employee-owned businesses, of a shortage of capital bedevilling the project. The strikers’ factory closed down and strikers who had not obtained employment elsewhere returned to their former occupations. [88]
(xiv) Painters
The painters’ (NASOHSPD) New Mills branch had established a closed shop at Howard’s in 1915. [89] Within four years the branch was organising painters at Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en-le-Frith, all within the boundaries of Derbyshire, but close to the influence of Manchester, [90] A total of four shops were now ‘closed’ to all but union members: Alsop and Clayton’s, J Barbers, G & J Howard’s and Jackson & Potts. [91] From time to time, problems surfaced over the employment of non-unionists, but these were usually solved as when, in 1920, Howard’s were given an ultimatum that unless a non-society man became a member before May 1st an indefinite strike would begin, Needless to say, the union got its way! [92]
Pic: Derby Painters' lodge minute on branch correspondence paper.
The New Mills NASOHSPD branch under its secretary, Potts, and its president, Stewart, operated very tight rules and regulations. This was exemplified when nine society members from outside their area were taken on by the DerbyshireCounty Council Education Committee, without reference first to the branch. The men were fined 10/- for operating contrary to society rules, [93] Even though the NASOHSPD executive seemed not to be in sympathy with the action of the New Mills branch, it decided to summon the men to the branch to explain their actions in taking the local men’s jobs without their endorsement first, [94] Conflict with their executive was not necessarily a strange feature of the life of the New MiIIs branch. When the EC had granted permission in 1920 to members in Matlock to work 44 hours in 5 days, the branch sought to challenge the ruling via their delegate at the Building Trades Federation meeting.
(xv) Public Services and Professional Workers
Public service workers of all kinds began to organise. Post office workers were ruthlessly preventing from organising easily, especially in rural areas, In March 1924 and again on August Bank Holiday 1925, the Union of Post Office Workers had a demonstrative event to put their case for recognition, which was held at the Whitworth Institute in North Derbyshire. Other trades unionists, including Rowsley NUR, turned out to assist them. Between 1906 and 1920 firemen were sporadically organised by the Municipal Employees Association (which later helped to create the NUGMW) and the National Union of Corporation Workers (which later became NUPE, today part of Unison). Most of this work was concentrated in and around London, but some slight signs of interest existed locally. More concretely, the Poor Law Officers Union (a section of the Asylum Workers Union, later to become the Confederation of Health Service Employees - COHSE, now part of Unison) was set up in 1919. Both the section and the main body had members in Derby at the local asylum employed by the Board of Guardians. Even white collar public service workers were beginning to combine, The Civil Service Clerical Association (later the Civil and Public Services Association, or CPSA, now part of PCS - the Public and Commercial Services Union.) was founded through the amalgamation of a number of unions in 1922. A product of the contemporary vogue for organisational unity, the new union had some membership in the locality, but its activities were very limited.
White collar workers in the private sector saw unionism as an extension of their professionalism, Draughtsmen at Rolls Royce and the railway workshops began to join the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen during the war. The first formal step towards recognition of the AESD locally was in 1918, when the engineering employers were one of two of the first district associations to agree to negotiate with the union over draughtsmen’ salaries. [95] The Derby AESD specialised in organising monthly trips to engineering firms in the North and Midlands, to examine new techniques in design and engineering. Over a hundred members went on a visit to Hadfield’s steel works in Sheffield in December 1923, for example. [96]           Interestingly, in recognition of new developments in the trade, in 1922, a special section for tracers,  a job that would become dominated mainly by women, was created.
There were other private sector white collar workers who organised locally. The National Amalgamated Union of Life Assurance workers emerged in 1918, a branch being created in Derby in 1922, with the help of R E Stokes of the Workers Union. [97] Whilst the National Union of Clerks had some significant membership at Stanton Ironworks in 1918. The NUC would later become the Clerical and Administrative Workers - CAWU - later the Association of Professional, Executive and Clerical workers - APEX - which subsequently became the white collar section of the GMB. [98] A Derby branch of the NUC had catered for local government clerks for some time, when a second branch was set up in 1920. The absorption of some smaller unions saw a name change to the National Union of Clerks and Administrative Workers (NUCAW). This then organised a wide range of membership in areas not today the province of its heir, APEX, the white collar section of the GMB. Municipal clerks, education departments, income tax offices, labour exchanges and pensions offices were all organised to some extent by the NUCAW. [99] A NUCAW office was set up in Ilkeston in 1920, but the finance committee of the borough refused a written request from the union’s local secretary for sole negotiating rights. [100] It is clear that concern for the position of the National Association of Local Government Officers (NALGO) existed here. NALGO had yet to establish its dominance of Britain’s town halls, which is today inherited by Unison.
Finally, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which had been founded in Birmingham in 1907, set up a chapel, or branch, in Derby in this period. Thomas Jay, the president of the union, visited the town in May 1921 to speak to the local NUJ, which was well based in the local press, The president of the branch was Walter Piper. [101]
Some Strikes in Derby 1917-24
September 1917 Darley Mills v Workers Union
September 1917    Midland Railway Loco Works v Boilermakers
April 1918        Ambergate Timber v Woodcutting Machinists Society
June 1918 Rubber Cable v Asbestos Workers Union
April 1919 Scarle & Co. v Upholsterers Union (a)
July 1919   Building Trades Employers v Building Trades Federation
July 1919 Doulds v Workers Union
August 1919 Derby Master Bakers v Bakers Union
October 1919 Foundry Employers        v Moulders and Iron founders
May 1920   unknown v Piano Workers
June 1920 Woolworth’s v NAUSA
October 1920 Lysol v Chemical Workers Union
1921   British Celanese v Workers Union
March 1922 Maypole Dairy v NAUSA (b)
1922              Rolls Royce v engineering unions (c)
February 1923 Building Employers v Building Trades Federation
March 1923 Smith’s of Drury Lane        v Garment Workers
March 1923 Stokes and Hudson v        Elastic Web Weavers
June 1923 Borough Asylum v Asylum Workers (d)
July 1924 A Green Ltd v Workers Union
Most of these disputes, reported in the local press or in Trades Council minutes were over wages. Some interesting exceptions are:
(a) over trade union recognition
(b)          to resist an increase in contractual hours worked
(c)          a nine day strike over a dismissed shop steward
(d)          to resist an increase in contractual hours worked
4 (i) Political Radicalism in the Early Twenties
It was but a small step from opposing imperialistic venture in Soviet Russia to support for the right to self-determination in Ireland, Especially as the national struggle of armed rebellion and civil war in Ireland reached crisis proportions. The Sinn Fein nationalists had won an absolute majority in Ireland itself in the general election of 1918, but refused to take their seats in the British parliament. The mass of the Irish people no longer recognised (if they had ever!) the authority of Britain in Ireland and were determined to achieve self-determination for their country. The British Government sent vast numbers of troops to Ireland to prevent this.
Derby trades unionists and socialists were mainly solidly in support of Irish independence, The Trades Council viewed with concern “the state of affairs in Ireland, where men are arrested, imprisoned and deported without charge or trial and expresses its sympathy with the men suffering in Mountjoy Prison in the cause of Political and Social Freedom”. Significantly, the resolution was passed unanimously. [102] Partition of Ireland had yet to come, so there was little sense of the need to defend ‘loyalists’, while distaste for repression was strong. In September 1920, the DTC attacked the Government’s treatment of the Mayor of Cork, who was on hunger strike. [103]
Derby’s Labour Party (DLP) came down in favour of Irish independence in an unambiguous decision. The quarterly DLP meeting supported the immediate liberation of all Irish political prisoners and the offering of a truce. The party looked forward to the time when all armed forces would be withdrawn and the time when the “keeping of order has been placed in the hands of the Irish local elected bodies, thus creating conditions under which the Irish people may determine their own form of government’. The DTC was as equally clear in its policy for complete withdrawal of troops from Ireland and for complete self-government, as expressed in its resolution adopted in March 1921. [104]
Many were alienated by the viciousness of the so-called ‘Black-and-Tans’, the troops sent to Ireland. The nick-name arose from the half police, half army uniform this rag­tag and bob-tail outfit were clothed in. Derby No.1 ASLEF voted 32 to 3 for a motion in February 1921, condemning with horror the “atrocities committed upon innocent railwaymen” in Ireland. A strike over the situation, particularly over the shooting of ASLEF members in Mallow, near Cork, was proposed by the EC of the union. The move was supported by the local activists, until a joint Derby branches meeting revealed that the decision would not obtain ‘a great deal of response from the membership. Nonetheless, the threat of a strike brought pressure to bear on the Government, which agreed to an inquiry into the Mallow atrocities. [105]
Faced with widespread criticism of its policy in Ireland, the British Government opted for a political, rather than a military settlement. In negotiations with Sinn Fein, an offer was put of an Irish Free State of 26 counties, still owing allegiance to the British Crown, but effectively independent in political terms. In due course, this institution would become the Republic of Ireland. However, six counties were to remain within the British Union. This compromise attracted the support of a small majority of the nationalist camp and laid the basis for a temporary solution to the Irish problem, albeit in an atmosphere of extreme controversy amongst the Sinn Feiners, leading to a civil war and the long-running hostility to Northern Ireland of the remnants of the IRA. This minority within the nationalist camp, which refused to accept the settlement and attempted to maintain the armed struggle, were subject to fierce repression. The labour movement in Britain did not immediately loose interest in the affairs of Ireland with the settlement. The Trades Council voiced the concern of the movement at the imprisonment of James Larkin, the outstanding Irish trade union leader, in the USA in 1922 and sent a message to that effect to the American Ambassador in London. [106]
Interest in political matters at home was largely based on the seriousness of the economic situation. Prices of wholesale goods in the spring of 1920 were 225% above the 1913 level and the cost of living, or retail prices, in November of that year reached a peak of 176% above August 1914. [107] Workers could only maintain their position by the exertions of industrial militancy and this in turn fuelled political passion. In this situation, it is hardly surprising that Labour’s electoral fortunes took a favourable turn. The first signs of this in Derbyshire were in the DerbySchool Board elections in April 1919, when Labour gained an extra five seats to add to its existing two, out of a total of fifteen available places. In Belper, Labour gained five seats at the UDC elections the same month. Jabez Walker unseated the ‘independent’, a sitting councillor since 1904. Gains were made throughout the county in Ockbrook, Codnor, Blackwell, Clay Cross, Ilkeston, Duffield and at Derby - all in County Council elections. [108]
In November 1919, the small Labour group on the Derby Borough Council of four was joined by an extra ten councillors. In the following year, another five joined the group, bringing the total to 19 out of 64. Labour had arrived as a major force in municipal politics. [109] In these circumstance, the Tories made a special appeal to the working class voter, going beyond their traditional stance of patriotism and blind faith in the economic system. A Derby section of the ‘Labour Committee’ of the National Unionist Association was set up in 1920. The function of the committee was to foster anti-socialism and support for the Tories in the unions. The committee had members in the NUR, the WU, the ASE, the Tailors, the Moulders, the Motor Drivers and the Burton Coopers. [110]
But such devices had little real effect in denting the surge of interest in working class politics, which reached a new height. There was even a locally printed, leftist rank and file newspaper aimed at trades unionists, the Derbyshire Worker. This would play an important role in the north of the county in the General Strike of 1926. The Worker circulated in the mining districts of the county, in particular, throughout the period and the DMA officially gave a subsidy for 1,500 regular copies of the paper. The Worker proved to be a sufficient thorn in the side of the establishment to justify special attention. A novel way of trying to close down the paper was found. John Reynolds, the printer of the Derbyshire Worker was prosecuted for “employing” workers on overtime, contrary to the Factories Acts. It appears that Reynolds’ hours of work were supposed to be 8am to 8pm, but the Factory Inspector caught Reynolds, his wife and their three children all at work at 805pm. Despite his defence to the court that the children were only “amusing themselves”, Reynolds was found guilty and fined £5. The Worker was of course merely a self-help initiative by political activists, but the authorities treated it as a business. [111]
The spread of popular socialist ideas really ensured the development of a modern look to British politics, with the Labour victory at the Spen Valley by-election in January 1920. Over the next four years, the challenge of Labour as a major electoral force became more than evident. As this came about, the Tory leadership destroyed the Coalition, the Liberal Party and Lloyd George. As the Liberal Party disintegrated, middle-strata opinion clustered for comfort around the Tories as the guardians of law and order, the Empire and the “British Way of Life”. Under Baldwin’s leadership, the Tories won the 1924 general election and were to dominate Britain for the next two decades without serious challenge, apart from short intermittent periods.
The arrival of Labour as a significant electoral force revealed the degree to which the establishment feared a repeat of the traumatic events of the 1917 Russian Revolution in Britain itself, even if that were moulded by British experiences and traditions, The newly arrived electoral power of Labour was treated in the Tory press to almost the same sense of horror as the Bolshevik revolution had been. The Derby Mercury featured a weekly column throughout 1920 by ‘Ruskinian’, entitled “Labour’s Forum”. This was in fact one continuous, lengthy theoretical diatribe against the generality of socialist ideas.
Inspired by the events in Russia and the call by Lenin, with all the prestige he commanded as leader of the first socialist revolution, to found revolutionary parties on the model of the Bolsheviks, many socialists joined together with militant trades unionists from the shop stewards’ movement to form the Communist Party in August 1920. A variety of socialist groups amalgamated into the Party, including the BSP, the SLP and the South Wales Socialist Society. The biggest group, the BSP, had re-affiliated to the Labour Party in 1916 and so it seemed natural that the new organisation should apply for affiliation. Although a significant minority from the SLP were opposed to this, But the leadership of the Labour Party departed from the established federal basis of the party and aimed to exclude the Communist Party from its ranks right from its very foundation. Persistent attempts to reverse this at the Labour Party annual conference were always defeated, albeit sometimes relatively narrowly. For most of the 1920s, however, individual members of the Communist Party were able to attend Labour conferences as delegates from trade unions and even be nominated for public office as official Labour candidates by local constituencies. Gradually, each inroad the Communists had into the wider federation of working class politics was closed off.
At its foundation, and for much of its history, the Communist Party had strong roots in Scotland, Wales and London. In towns like Derby and Chesterfield, the party was able to establish a significant presence in the local labour movement, basing itself on pre-existing socialist groups. The Derby SLP branch and its key figure Willie Paul enjoyed some prominence, but there was also a BSP branch in the area. At the time of the foundation of the Communist Party, Willie Paul lived at ‘Pen Bryn’ in Littleover, Derby. He became a member of the Provisional Executive Committee of the Party and was particularly involved in the debates inside the SLP over the unity process and the nature of the new formation. Paul was in fact a major influence in coalescing those in the SLP who favoured joining the Communist Party. [112] At the founding conference however, Paul displayed much of the revolutionary zeal which the SLP had made its hallmark, by speaking against affiliation to the Labour Party in a most scathing and cynical way. This was of course entirely consistent with the SLP’s view of the matter. Nevertheless, the anti­-affiliationists were beaten in the debate and the Communist Party’s policy was to be for affiliation. The Derby Communist Unity Group was one of many smaller, local societies represented at the founding Unity Convention. The Communist Unity Group was the faction inside the SLP which had convened a special national conference at Nottingham to win the SLP to the notion of unity of all communist organisations. The SLP official leadership expelled the CUG for this action but was left only with a rump and quietly faded away over the years.
Paul stood unsuccessfully in 1923 as official Labour candidate in Manchester, bravely following Communist Party policy, even though he disagreed with it. Publicly well known to be an individual member of the party, he had strong connections with Manchester. Paul had often “rendered songs of the Irish potato famine” at the Openshaw BSP meetings for Harry PoIlitt, later to become the long-standing leader of British Communism. Paul has been described by PoIIitt’s ‘official’ biographer as a “powerful and expressive baritone”. He polled a respectable 21% of the vote against strongly fielded Tory and Liberal opponents in the 1923 election. The following year, he stood again with much the same result, but increased the share of the vote, this time as an official Communist with Labour backing. Paul later edited the Sunday Worker newspaper in the late 1920s but left the national stage during the period of the ‘Bolshevisation’ of the CPGB, even if he remained on the fringes of Communist politics all his days. In the 1930s and l940s he was closely identified with Soviet friendship activities in Derby and was a prominent supporter of the Derby Peace Council in the 1950s, until his death in the latter part of that decade. He was to leave his considerable personal library to the Party in his will. [113]
Derby’s Labour Party was not really affected by significant Communist involvement. Perhaps the DLP’s decidedly right-wing leanings encouraged residual anti-Labour attitudes amongst local Communists, which were inherited from the SLP. As with all working class political organisations in the immediate post-war period, the DLP experienced a period of growth. Branches were being established everywhere, even in rural areas of Derbyshire, as with the founding in March 1920 of the Mickleover branch, then a small village on the outskirts of the town. The DLP’s membership and income rose phenomenally and the healthy financial situation meant that by the end of the year new premises were to be acquired at 63 London Road in Derby.
                                    DLP annual income                        DLP affiliated membership
           1910                               £92                                                   -
           1918-9                          £398                                                 7,634
           1919-20                     £1,100                                                         14,244
Little wonder then that the working class movement viewed the future optimistically. The success of the pro-Soviet councils of action, the rising industrial militancy and the increasing electoral support for Labour all seemed to bode well, There was also an enormous growth of interest in socialist ideas and a general belief that world peace had at last been achieved and this made for a sense of security. The joint DTC-DLP May Day celebration in 1920 was a big event. W R Raynes declared that “May 1st should be reckoned as a general holiday” and trades unionists and their families crowded the streets of Derby in a carnival atmosphere to watch a parade of decorated carts and drays. One represented “S.S. Co-operation”, another portrayed a garden allotment. Every union had its banner out in what was probably one of the largest May Day processions ever held in Derby. [114]
ii) The Co-operative Movement and Labour Politics.
For the first time, the 1917 Congress of the Co-operative movement recognised that it needed a political voice and founded the Co-operative Party. From herein the Co-ops around the country, in varying degrees, began to exert political authority. The first act of Derby Co-operative Society (DCS), along these lines, was to set up a Political Committee, the first meeting of which was held on February 20th 1918. A list of possible parliamentary and municipal candidates who would be approved by the DCS was composed. Additionally, a political structure was established in Normanton ward and Jessie Unsworth stood in Pear Tree ward in the Board of Guardians elections. It was thought that a good campaign was waged, even though the seat was not won. Formal co-operation was established with the Labour Party, which had agreed to leave a gap in its list of candidates to enable Co-operative candidates to stand unimpeded. Utilising this agreement, A J Tapping was elected in Dale Ward in 1919 as the first Co-op councillor.
Affiliation or alliance to the Labour Party became a controversial question in the Co­operative movement and in 1920 the DCS, for the first time, accepted the need to affiliate to the Derby Labour Party. The radicalism of this period affected almost every section of the working class movement. The almost exclusively retailing role of the Co-op movement had not entirely been defined and there was a potential for political conflict with other sections of the movement arising from this. For example, the DCS by 1918 had lent no less than £400,000 to its members for housing purposes. Was this a role for the Co-ops, or for direct works departments of local authorities? More profoundly, the conjunction of political and economic values represented by the Co­ops lent itself to an abiding interest in and fascination for all things Russian. J J Wooley, secretary to the Cooperative Producers Federation, was invited to lecture DCS members at the Co-op Hall in 1923 on his visit to Moscow.
Others were not so certain about the propriety of the co-ops being linked up with politics. In the mid-1920s, the Long Eaton Co-operative Society (LECS) did eventually disaffiliate from the Labour Party after a series of arguments. In doing this, the LECS was showing how influenced it was by its president, Wilkins, who made the objective of disaffiliation a personal crusade. The decision was taken by a referendum of the membership of LECS and the question posed not only the disaffiliation from the Labour Party, but also from the Co-operative Party. 1,859 voted for ending affiliation, with 846 voting for continuing the relationship. It had been the decision of the Co-operative Party to work with the Labour Party, on fixing the number of Co-op candidates overall and to label such candidates in future as ‘Labour and Co-operative’, that had finally pushed people like Wilkins of the LECS to move in this direction. The long term future of LECS was to remain with the Co-operative Party, but it was not for very many years that the Society would eventually drop its determined resistance to links with the Labour Party.
In Derby, “very cordial relations” existed between the DLP and the Political Committee of the DCS, resulting in the implementation of the Co-operative Party’s agreement with the Labour Party and the appearance of joint candidates in local elections. An organised disaffiliation campaign was waged in Derby, but it was not one which had highly placed support. An attempt was made in June 1923 at a quarterly meeting to get the DCS disaffiliated but was lost on a vote of 359 to 214. In an attempt to meet the criticism that not all DCS members voted Labour, the Society affiliated on a figure of only 5,000. It being claimed that this was a “fair estimate of those who held sympathy towards the Labour Party”. [115]
5. Unemployment and Depression 1921-5
The immediate future for working people was bleaker than could have been imagined. Unemployment and short-time working became a common feature of industrial life during 1921. 5,085 were reported as being unemployed permanently or temporarily. The DTC demanded work or maintenance at full trade union rates at its January 1921 meeting. The figures were reported in detail. [116]
Category                   men         women     boys   girls
Unemployed             1,720        1,238     166        307
short-time                      489           962       17       191
At the peak of the depression, unemployment in the engineering industry had risen nationally to the astonishing figure of 27%, while 17.8% of all insured workers were out of work. One observer wrote that “the unofficial shop stewards movement is at ebb tide, because of the percentage of unemployed in the metal trades, the man at the gate (i.e. the unemployed worker awaiting work) determines the status of the man at the bench”. [117]
In the three years from 1919, trade disputes accounted for an average annual figure of some 49 million working days. But the following ten years, even excluding the General Strike, involved only 7.5 million lost days. For every dispute in 1918 there were well over three in 1921. This level of activity climbed steeply over those three years, apart from a slight cooling of the rate of increment in late 1919. But, from the beginning of 1921, dispute levels fell to that of 1918 in a single year and over the next three years to half that level again. The impact on wage levels was dramatic. Workers’ earnings declined relative to their 1914 value by some 50%, thus abolishing the relative gains of 1919-20. [118] R E Stokes of the Workers Union made clear that these gains were under attack at the WU DC in November 1920. “There would not be much chance to get an increase in wages as he put in for an advance of wages in one industry and the employers had put in for a 25% decrease.” That was the bad news. Now for the good news! “But he had been successful in getting it put off until January of next year.” [119]
Wage cuts and increases in Derbyshire 1921 - 1924
June 1921
Tarmac        CUTS 1 1/2d an hour in April and 1 1/2d in May
July 1921
WagonBuilding           CUTS 3/- in July and 3/- in August
October 1921
Engineering                  CUTS 7.5 % to 12.5 %
WagonBuilding           CUTS 7.5%
Plain Net                        CUTS 7.5%
Plain Net Threaders    CUTS 12%
Levers Net                     CUTS 16.66%
Timber                            CUTS 1 1/4d an hour
Clay Industry                CUTS 7/- a week
December 1921           
DP Battery                     CUTS 10%
November 1922           
Wagon Building           CUTS 6/- a week
Clay Industry                CUTS SI- a week
DP Battery                     CUTS S% in stages
July 1923                      
Brewing                         CUTS 3/- a week
DP Battery                     CUTS to a weekly wage of 52s 9d
September 1923          
Offiler’s’ clerks             CUTS 1/6d a week
March 1924                   
Derby Brick                   5/- a week increase
Building Trade             1/2d an hour increase
Gas Industry                 1/2d an hour increase
Electric Cable Making 1/6d increase a week
Electricity Supply        1/2d an hour increase
Cement Industry          4/- a week increase
May 1924                       
British Celanese          1d an hour increase (machinists)
British Celanese          1/2d an hour increase (spinners)
i) The Textile Industry
The textile industry went through a sudden recession which was in part borne out of a glut in the whole of the European textile market. In the autumn of 1920, Bemrose’s reported that orders were affected; Boden’s laceworks had been working short-time for some months and expected the situation to get worse. Walter Evans Darley Abbey Mills described trade in the sewing cotton industry as “very bad”. The workforce had just been put on a reduced working week of 30 hours. Moore Eady and Murcoft Goode Ltd reported that the hosiery industry was affected by the possibility of a coal strike.
H Cheshire, the WU Laceworkers branch chairman in Derby reported at the end of 1920 that 1,500 were out of work for good or on short-time in his trade within Derby. “150 worth of relief food had been ordered from the Co-op.” [120] The distress was acute and gave rise to feelings of bitterness. The Long Eaton Laceworkers’ leader, Ernest Wood spoke at the local Trades Council, telling the delegates that “there would be trouble if something wasn’t done about the local unemployment problem”. [121] The WU’s greatest strength in the lace trade was amongst the plain net twisthands in Derby, nevertheless the union made a move which seemed almost calculated to generate inter-union conflict. The WU agreed to a cut in wages of 7.5% in the plain net rate and as much as 16.66% in the levers rates. To enable this extraordinary move, the union withdrew from the Lace Operatives Federation. The Amalgamated Society of Laceworkers resisted the agreement and accused the WU of “scab-hunting tactics”, of deliberately seeking to poach the less resilient membership of the Amalgamated Society. [122] The other main union in the trade, the Weavers Union took a similar attitude.
The fourth union in the trade, the independent Long Eaton Operative Lacemakers Society, had maintained itself aloof from the Amalgamated Society for two decades with Ernest Wood as their full timer, based at their office at 8 Gibb Street. In July 1921, however, this small craft society amalgamated with the Workers Union, providing the union with a remarkably firm base in textiles. The Long Eaton union voted unanimously to merge at a meeting of members held on 12th May 1921. Clarke from Burton had been present to stress that amalgamation would bring the benefit of full financial support from the WU during disputes.
The Workers Union had only recently set up a Draycott lace branch, just next door to Long Eaton, when Wood brought his members across to make the union the largest force within the plain net sector. The strength borne out of this amalgamation was to be needed for, in September, the WU was to be rewarded for its dubious tactics towards the other unions in the previous year. The Lace Conciliation Committee met to consider the employers’ demand for a 10% cut for twisthands and a 25% cut for auxiliary workers. The union side countered this with a sliding scale proposal, only to be faced with the employers’ new demands of a 25% cut all round. Moreover, they sought an increase in women’s working hours from 48 to 55, a suggestion that Wood thought was “inhuman”.
In an atmosphere of gloom and despondency, the Long Eaton laceworkers decided to call a mass meeting to be addressed by “some of the Workers Union chief organisers”, who no doubt advised caution in the face of the obviously aggressive stance adopted by the employers. At any rate, the essence of the employers’ demands went through without action against them by the unions. [123] With recession adversely affecting the ability of the unions to prove their worth to potential members and with the growing number of jobless, they were themselves under pressure to keep or obtain the maximum possible number of members. Bad feeling already generated between the lace unions would be exacerbated by the rivalry thus created. While the Long Eaton union merged with the WU, the Amalgamated Laceworkers, with a base both in Nottingham and in the surrounding towns in Eastern Derbyshire, maintained their own union. To face the challenge of the WU in Long Eaton, the Amalgamated Society decided to appoint a replacement full-time officer for the area. The successful candidate, John Fletcher, took over in 1916 and continued in the post until his death in 1939.
The WU benefited most from the competition, even though the Amalgamated Society favoured the more skilled worker. Membership of the WU amongst laceworkers was greatly expanded. By 1924 there were four branches in the lace trade in and around Derby and income in that year for these branches alone was four times what it had been six years previously. New members were acquired in Heanor and its lower level of membership contributions assisted the WU in competitive recruitment. But other unions were eager to enter the field and the WU had no monopoly. In December 1922 and January 1923, the Derby Trades Council promoted itself once more as an organiser and recruiter of all labour. It gave attention to the organisation of workers at Smith’s of Drury Lane and at Stoke and Hudson’s, both textile firms. Banham of the Garment Workers Union attended the DTC’s meeting to discuss Smith’s and by March it was reported at the DTC that a meeting of the employees had been held, but that it was very poorly attended. Complaints about conditions at Stokes and Hudson’s were resolved however and the Elastic Web Weavers had begun recruitment there.
The WU found itself back in the news with fresh difficulties at Alderman Green’s Tape Mills in Agard Street, Derby, during the course of 1924. A measure of how much a union was needed at the firm was reflected in comparative wage rates at union and non-union establishments in the same sector. Mayfield’s, the union firm, paid 35/- a week for a 48 hour week, or 8.75p per hour. Green’s paid 28/- a week for a 551/2 hour week, or 6d per hour. On top of this enormous disparity in earnings, Green’s were proposing to reduce the rate to 18/- a week for 551/2 hours, or almost 4d per hour! Not unnaturally, this awakened interest in the union and a strike broke out. This was resolved after a two minute conference! Initially, it seems, the notice proposing an alteration of the payments system which was displayed at the factory, was wrongly interpreted as meaning a reduction in wages. Leastways, that is how Alderman Green explained it. He argued that it was all a misunderstanding and that, if he had been in the town at the time, the strike would never have happened. Naturally, he reasoned, as soon as he was able to deal with the problem, he unreservedly confirmed that no cuts were intended. [124] Having supposedly resolved the matter, Green promptly dealt with the ring-leaders in his own way. When three of the women approached him, asking for a general increase, he sacked them.
The Trades Council intervened to extract a promise of action from Green. Weeks later, he had still failed to respond, so a DTC delegation again waited on him and received a promise of re-instatement of those dismissed. But once more, the Alderman showed himself to be slow in implementing his promises and the DTC put further pressure on him. It was only at its December meeting, half a year later, that the council was satisfied to note that a letter from Green had promised that there would be “re-instatement of the women the council had seen him about’. [125] Although there seems to be no further evidence of any union organisation in this company thereafter, whether or not Green kept his promise to re-employ the women. In the hosiery industry, the Ilkeston Hosiery Union (IHU) was predominant in the area.
During the course of 1920, it had begun to feel its way to the north of the county. A branch was opened at Matlock and membership modestly increased to 7,600 in the process, nearly all within the county of Derbyshire. [126] The majority of the textile unions kept very much to their own trade. But the Tailors and Garment Workers Union proposed a more efficient approach, by drawing together all textile trades into a wider federation. (This union eventually merged into the GMB.) The federation idea was welcomed by J S Amatt, the secretary of the IHU’s Derby branch, but he was on his own. Amatt suspected that the opposition of his union to a federation was much related to the refusal of H Bassford, the IHU General Secretary, to contemplate change. He was, after all, by then in his early seventies and had been in the job for a good thirty years. [127] Federation was seen by some in the trade as a way of preventing the disintegration of unionism in the face of depression. But for others, the habits of a lifetime and the traditions of a generation were just too ingrained.
In the hosiery part of the textile industry, over half of the workers in the county were on short-time by June 1921 and naturally the distress was terrible. In April, the executive of the union had decided to pay out-of-work benefit for only one more week; such was the pressure on funds. [128] The hosiery employers demanded a 25% cut at the Joint Industrial Council, but a ballot of the workers showed a ten to one vote against acceptance. The employers changed their position slightly, proposing a sliding scale, which would be less painful, but as effective in the long run. [129] But, by the next year, the unions were able to obtain a list of agreed wage rates with the hosiery employers in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Equal rates throughout the trade were established for full-fashioned underwear, in itself an important advance in organisation. This was largely based on the need to compete for labour with the relatively high wages paid in the coal mines of the area. As the IHU secretary, Bassford, put it, “the colliers had got such big wages that others were forced to pay them good wages or lose their hands”. By 1924, average earnings in the hosiery industry had stabilised fairly well at 55s 0d for males and 28s 1 0d for females, with an overall average earnings figure of 35s 0d. [130]
ii) The Workers Union
Naturally, the recession enabled those who had always hesitated to use industrial militancy to now argue that the time was not ripe for boldness of approach. A fad for the philosophy of industrial peace and non-political unionism emerged, much aided by the ‘popular’ press. R E Stokes of the WU was prominent in advancing these notions, most noticeably from the beginning of 1921. Tensions between ‘Mick’ (H A) Hind and Stokes became obvious. The former, as a lay member of the executive theoretically had the power, while the latter could claim local leadership by virtue of administrative advantage. Hind made a doubtful speech of congratulations, in a silver wedding presentation to Stokes and his wife. While speaking of the good work done by the organiser, Hind said of him that “it was not possible for him to please everybody it had been his lot to make decisions which were unpalatable at times to some people, but Brother Stokes had always tried to see both sides of the question and had endeavoured to hold the balance between employers and the members of the union, and if he thought the member was in the wrong he would not hesitate to say so”. Unmoved by these back-handed compliments - after all the role of a union officer was hardly to act as some kind of neutral arbiter between the membership and the employer - Stokes was happy to express his view that the future lay in “the better understanding between employers and workmen”. [131] It was a far cry from Tom Mann’s view of the role of the Workers Union.
There were 27 branches of the union in the Derby area by 1921, all of which had sprung from the original Derby No.1 branch of which Stokes had been pioneer. He was to remain a WU full time official until his death in the Thirties, but was somewhat undermined by the creation of a new organisational division in 1921. This new WU administrative area covered Burton and Derby and Stokes became very much overshadowed by the Divisional Organiser, Joe Clark, who was based in Burton-on­-Trent. Clarke’s position in the union, as easily the youngest officer in that kind of position in the country, positively assisted the stability of the WU in the area he covered. Clarke proved better able to withstand the demoralising effects of this period. He himself attributed his success, in part, to his refusal to popularise the scheme whereby new members could claim immediate welfare benefits, rather than have to wait for a qualifying period as would normally be expected in trade union benefits. No doubt, a complex of factors was at play, including the relatively sheltered nature of the industries in the division. Clay pipe making, artificial fibres, railway workshops, the Rolls Royce industries and the breweries were all sectors which coped fairly well, in relative terms, at this time and in consequence made for a healthy future for the WU.
However, wage cuts were the order of the day during this period in every industry. A trade which usually had few industrial relations difficulties was the leather tanning industry. Derby Workers Union members in the trade came out on strike in July 1921 to resist a reduction. It was one of the first moves to effectively resist wage cuts in the town. But soon a trickle of cuts, followed by a six month period of quiet, rushed into a flood. In October 1921, R E Stokes reported to the WU DC that “he was sorry he had not got a more favourable report to give”. He went on to list five major industries where wage cuts of between 7.5% and 16.66% had been imposed. A minor strike at Spondon occurred in the summer, but it failed to prevent a 15% cut in wages. The picture was the same everywhere. At the end of 1921, Stokes was still complaining at the DC that it was “a most difficult job ... to stop employers from reducing wages without any agreement”. As the fierceness of the recession calmed somewhat, in the spring of 1922, “some employers (were) hinting at a longer working week to cope with orders being received during the slow climb out of depression”. [132]
That year saw a re-assertion of confidence amongst some sections. Around 4,000 WU members in the Derbyshire clay industry were involved in resisting the demands of the employers for up to £1 a week reduction in wages. A “somewhat critical situation” was created, some employers indicating their intent to withdraw from the industry’s collective agreements. [133] Two year later, at DP Battery, six months of negotiations with the WU resulted in a reduction in hours from 491/2 to 48 without loss of pay. (The DP, or Dujardin-Plante, Battery Works had been established in 1897 on an old site of one of Arkwright’s cotton mills at Bakewell.) Additionally, a week’s paid holiday was agreed as was the introduction of premium times for overtime pay. A strike of the two hundred employees was thus only narrowly averted, while the overall change in the company’s treatment of their employees was quite startling. Seven years previously, a normal working week had been 60 hours, all on plain time rates. [134] It was perhaps some measure of how far it became possible to get away from the nightmare of cuts after cuts in wages.
In between these two experiences, the WU was involved in a number of strikes - all for offensive rather than defensive issues. The brick manufacturers, Derby Silica Firebrick (DSF), near Youlgreave, faced a successful strike in March 1923 for a 100% union shop. Schweppes aerated waters were involved in a strike over wages. 350 spinners at Spondon came out on strike over a local issue. During 1922 and 1923, the union began to register considerable success in the recruitment of new members, contrasting sharply with the failure of other unions to do so. Extreme flexibility in handling any industry, in cohabiting with militancy when it seemed prudent to do so and being able to create a friendly working relationship with employers, all seemed to favour the WU. Moreover, it lacked the skill snobbery that handicapped other unions at a time when speed-up and mechanisation was deskilling much of Britain’s industry.
New areas organised were in a wide spectrum of workplace sectors: [135]        
·        a new branch of school caretakers in Derby, November 1922
·        a branch of 30 women in Alfreton, May 1923
·        a branch of county council employees at Stretton, September 1923
·        350 spinners at Spondon, September 1923
·        30 new members at Leys Foundry, September 1923
Perhaps more significant, and certainly more impressive, was the ability of the union to retain and expand membership and organisation in the railway workshops, where branch income, and therefore probably membership, increased by almost six fold in the period between the end of the war and the General Strike.
WU Railway Workshops Branch Income [136]
Loco Works Derby No. 11 branch Carriage and Wagon Derby No 9 branch
        (national No. 1122)              (national No. 1084)
                   £         s        d                        £          s          d
1918      1,083    2         6                  215        14          71/2
1920     2,992    11       7                  578         2           21/2
1924     2,474    13   111/2              305        12          6
1925     3,488    7       81/2               340         4           10
1926     5,472    3       91/2               422         8           41/2
Total income of Derbyshire Branches of the Workers Union 1914- 26
(figures for individual branches extracted from WU Annual Reports and aggregated)
   year                  £               s                   d
1914           2,540             13                   4
1915           2,560             17                   101/2
1916           1,419             18                   111/2
1918           2,496               1                   4
1920         13,033             19                   61/2
1924           8,756               8                   8
1925           8,348               3                   6
 1926        10,858               5                   5
The figures tell their own story, but the point can be re-enforced without tedium. In the militant years, there was a sudden and dramatic growth, followed by a distinct drop as the recession bit. But membership lifted once again, in the case of the Loco Works quite dramatically. The recession had certainly knocked the wind out the Workers Union as with others, but the union soon re-asserted itself. Not that life was easy for the union, even in the new industries, While the British Celanese Company accepted the fact that it had trade union membership on a large scale and had to talk to the unions, it did not encourage shop floor involvement. Indeed, this was a special feature of the company’s attitude over several decades. It was entirely a typical comment on affairs inside the plant for Stokes to report in September 1925 that he was “always receiving complaints from our members employed (at Celanese) such as unjust dismissals and the tyranny of some of the Foremen and Heads of Departments”. [137]
Unlike other trade unions which peaked at their 1919-20 membership, in a few cases forever, mostly until the Second World War or afterwards, Derbyshire WU grew over the whole of the period after the 1914-18 war. In 1918, the union had a total of 6,057 members. But, atypically, in 1924 it had more members than it had had immediately after the war - approximately 8,000. In itself this was a remarkable achievement. But the union’s success was its downfall. For the WU was almost a bankrupt organisation throughout the 1920s. The Unemployment Insurance Act of 1920 made it compulsory for workers to be insured against unemployment and allowed trade unions to administer the state scheme, where they had an additional union out-of-work benefit. The WU nationally seized upon this to launch a major recruitment campaign, with a spectacular offer of “a pound for sixpence”, immediately on joining. If a member was made unemployed and had contributed even minimally to the fund, no matter how short the length of membership was, then they were entitled to benefit. Amazingly, even unemployed members who had joined when unemployed could benefit. Payments were extremely generous; all WU benefits were like that, not just unemployment benefit. Strike pay was 12/6d a week, accident benefit was 10/-for two weeks. Optional extras, like out-of-work benefit and sickness pay were available. It was a bargain, for a minimum contribution of only 4d a week in 1921. [138]
The first real sign locally of impending difficulties for the union was in June 1922, when the DerbyDC received a circular from the Central Office asking branches to help the union out financially. Derby WU sent £5 as a free grant and £5 as a loan to their own central organisation, which faced a serious cash shortage situation. Notwithstanding Clarke’s view that the Burton and Derby WU Division was solvent because it avoided recruitment based on these false premises; the whole union was beset with a strategic difficulty. Not only were union benefits too high, higher than any sensible insurance society would pitch them, but the organisers’ salaries had become increasingly relatively generous at a time when most of their members were facing wage cuts. This is well illustrated by the annual salary received by R E Stokes in Derby over the period from before the war:
year                                  £        5           d
1909                              79        0           0
1915                            101      15           0
1916                            121        2           6
1918                            216      16           0
1920                            377        0           0
1926                            279      10           0
While some of the reasons for these increases were to keep pace with inflation, there were other pressures. The NUGMWU paid their officers no less than £10 15s 0d a week, or not far short of £600 a year. Naturally, the WU officials pressed for similar wages, for broadly similar work. But, then the NUGMWU cut their officers’ wages by £2. The WU found it had to reconsider its outgoings on officers and lay members’ expenses. But the failure to attack the root cause of the union’s financial problems would eventually lead to the merger with the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) in 1929. [139]
iii) The Mining Industry
At the heart of the employers’ offensive was the long running battle against the coal miners’ attempts to maintain their improved standards won during and immediately after the war. The mines were finally released from government control in March 1921 and it was immediately clear that the private owners would not honour the new conditions. Specifically, there was a war bonus of 3/- a shift, the Sankey increase of 2/-, 20% in 1920 and the datum line increases. Bargaining had of course been carried out purely at a national level in respect of these increases, but the coal owners made clear their intent to revert to county bargaining, a tactic which served to disunite the miners. Against the background of recession, the MFGB was reluctant to engage in battle to resist the owners’ strategy. Despite the attitude of its leaders, Derbyshire joined a small band of coal areas prepared to stand firm. The rank and file national conference of the Federation agreed with the determination of these areas and rejected the hesitancy of the executive. The scene was thus set not for a strike, for the miners demanded nothing but what they already what they had, but a lock out for failing to accept the demands of the owners that inferior conditions be introduced, The entire labour movement had expected that it would be called upon to assist the miners from 1919 onwards and there had been many an expression of sympathy amongst the trade unions in Derbyshire. The Trades Council in Derby opposed the Government’s attitude to the miners at its September 1920 meeting and again at its May 1921 meeting in the midst of the lock out, when it donated £5 to the DMA. The Derby Builders’ Labourers gave £4 to the strikers of Orgreave Colliery in Yorkshire, when they had their own local struggle, in two payments in June and July 1919. At the start of the lock out in 1921, the ABL reaffirmed their generosity by donating £10 in two payments to the miners.
But there were sections of the movement that did not immediately react with class consciousness, The Long Eaton Co-operative Society bought supplies of wood, coke, briquettes, slack and part of the town’s allocation of Welsh coal. A motor driver, bringing wood from Watnall was stoned by some miners and “it was decided to cease fetching wood and cancel the contract for it”. The 1921 lock out was a major test for the Triple Alliance of coal, rail and docks. Britain’s miners were deserted on April 1st and, within days, the railwaymen were pressing their leaders to more positively support the miners. The Chesterfield NUR men demanded a solidarity strike. Rowsley NUR unanimously offered support to the Triple Alliance concept. Indeed, they even formed a strike committee immediately and appointed despatch riders. Volunteers were sought to inform the NUR membership in the locality of all the latest developments. Three groups were appointed to see everyone within the immediate vicinity of the marshalling yards at Rowsley. “1) all between Tor Farm and South Junction and North Wood, 2) to inform all in the cottages, 3) all in Green Lane”. [140] Derby ASLEF declared the fullest possible sympathy for the miners, but was upset at the “arbitrary attitude displayed by the Triple Alliance towards our society”. It was another case of the NUR being seen as taking decisions for ASLEF, as far as the loco men and foremen in Derby were concerned. Such rivalries apart, Derby ASLEF unanimously decided to “instruct the EC to call a national strike of ASLEF in support of the miners”. [141]
J H Thomas, leader of the NUR, ignored the obvious pressure he was under from below and delayed making any positive moves, hoping for the MFGB leadership to loose their nerve. In fact, most of the miners’ leaders were now prepared for a struggle, given the level of support from other workers that the first indications led them to expect. Although J Hancock, the MP for Mid-Derbyshire and also Financial Secretary of the Nottinghamshire miners, at last displayed his true colours as the Liberal that he had always seemed to be, when he publicly denounced the actions of the Federation. [142] As it became clear that the MFGB would not weaken, the NUR, ASLEF and the Transport Workers Federation notified the miners that they could not expect their support. The day was Friday 15th April 1921 and it would immediately be dubbed ‘Black Friday’. The disillusionment of workers throughout the country at the seemingly inexplicable cowardice of their leaders was sharply expressed. Railwaymen at Chesterfield and Shirebrook voted overwhelmingly against the actions of the Triple Alliance leadership.
W R Raynes explained that “when the news came through to Derby that the Triple Alliance strike was off he saw men with tears of vexation and sorrow in their eyes because they had been told that they must not strike in favour of the miners”. [143] The full story of the betrayal was kept quite secret at the time, the leadership implying that great affairs of state were involved and contributed to their tight lipped attitude. Under the headline: “Secrets kept Secret”, the Derby Mercury reported on the ninety minute speech of J H Thomas on the reasons for the breakdown of the Triple Alliance pact at the annual May Day rally in Derby’s Market Place. Thomas refused to tell of the “inner history of the refusal of the NUR and the Transport Workers ... to strike in support of the miners”. Whilst Raynes, ever helpful, moved a rhetorical and verbose resolution that spoke of the greater glory of the international workers’ movement. [144]
Within four years railway and other transport workers were to redeem their honour by providing firmer support for the miners, but in 1921 most workers were simply unaware of what was going on, or were totally misled by their leaders, in whom they had what today would be considered a naive faith. Rowsley NUR, which had been so geared to action before Black Friday, gave total support to their leadership on their attitude to the matter, while they displayed impatience with what they saw as divisions within the Triple Alliance, believing that “sectional’ aspects of Trade Unionism hinder the progress of ‘Industrial unionism”. [145] Staveley ASLEF, which had only a year earlier voted to strike against the war in Russia, was tired with it all and distrustful of the motives of its leaders. In a mood of despondency, the branch passed a resolution complaining that their EC spent “too much time involved in political action”. [146] Perhaps reflecting similar concerns, the branch on more than one occasion in the early 1920s seriously debated the worth of continuing to affiliate to the Chesterfield Trades Council.
Meanwhile, the miners had to stand alone. For three months they withstood adversity, during that spring and summer. Stocks of coal became scarce and parts of industry faced difficulties. Some firms were able to ride out the crisis. Leys Malleable in Derby were even able to allow their employees 100 tons of coal on the basis of a hundred-weight for 2/6d per household per fortnight. [147) The miners and their families had to endure months of hardship. Soup kitchens were set up with money donated by trades unionists. Free supplies of clothes from the same source were distributed. The miners’ communities, as always, served to bind those in dispute together. In Clay Cross, a women’s section of the Labour Party was set up after the dispute. Women involved in the soup kitchens and the like found themselves politicised during the course of the lock out. The men were subjected to tremendous pressures to concede defeat. Archdeacon Crosse published a letter in the Derbyshire Times on May 7th asking the men to return to work, claiming that the situation had been brought about by “a small number of irresponsible extremists”. [148]
The government proposal of the compromise of arbitration was rejected by the miners without hesitation, while some employers decided to resort to firmer tactics. Some owners, like Morewood of Swanwick Collieries, offered to open their pits to any that would attend work, hoping to break the strike. The DMA’s finances were stretched to the limit and the union desperately searched for financial assistance of a substantial character. Their Chesterfield offices were proposed as collateral on a loan, but the union was very disappointed with the Co-op, finding that the DMA’s bankers, Farr’s of Chesterfield were of more assistance. The miners and their families acted swiftly, and in large numbers, demonstrating wherever there was evidence of an attempt to diminish the effects of the struggle. On June 20th, a midnight demonstration took place against outcrop working, that is to say the illegal surface mining of coal. What concerned the miners was not the deprival of the owners of their property rights, but the fact that substantial quantities of coal thus mined were being sold to the public, thus undermining the effect of the strike. Large numbers of miners were charged at Whittington Moor and at Brierley Wood by the police, when protesting about the outcrop working. Such digging and the picking out of isolated pieces of coal on tips for the use of miners’ families was common, especially in Chesterfield and Ilkeston districts. After the last lock out benefit payment had been made by the union on May 5th, things got very bad.
At the Butterley Company, crowds of men and women raided the premises “withdrew the fires for the boilers, collected every bit of loose coal and wood they could find, pulled up fences, damaged gates, smashed a few windows and commenced digging of coal in the pit hills”. [149] But more common was a determination to calmly wait out the dispute, only when the authorities or the owners stupidly (or cleverly?) committed some act of gross provocation did such incidents occur. To occupy their time, miners would engage in activities such as pit pony races. In West Hallam, local stories are said to abound concerning these races. “The ponies were brought to the surface and raced bareback across the football pitch at the rear of the social club. The jockeys wore their pit caps on back-to-front and it seems they were mostly lucky if they stayed on the pony to the end of the race - a good time was had by all.” [150] But, as the hunger grew and the finances diminished, defeat looked certain. The MFGB looked for a way out and, after negotiation with the government, the EC proposed to the area councils that the strike be ended. The DMA council agreed, despite the protests that inevitably followed. Hicken thought that there had been one important lesson learned, that struggle was necessary, but that “we will choose the time and the ground when we have to fight”. [151]
Many miners had fallen into great debt, the Chesterfield Board of Guardians heard in November that it would take over 58 years for loans from the lock out to be repaid. [152] Unemployment and industrial defeat took its toll quite heavily from the miners. Over two thousand members were drawing out of work benefit when, in January 1922, the DMA decided to levy their members sixpence a week to cover the extra expenditure thus forced upon the union, so great were the numbers involved. [153] Confidence diminished and in some collieries membership of the DMA dropped significantly after the defeat. In 1920, the union had 59,035 members and this had fallen to 39,455 by 1922. [154] The employers were confident and tried to assert their authority by taking even more new ground. Disputes over fork-filling and the butty system erupted for months afterwards in the Derbyshire coalfield. The butty system was largely re-introduced, but fork filling came in only in parts of the county, albeit most parts. But some areas were able to reach local agreements on shovel-filling. Some owners demanded further wage cuts, as when notices were posted at Hartington and Ireland collieries, declaring that the pits would otherwise close. While the Staveley and Butterley companies reduced local allowances, despite a threatened strike.
Others, seriously worried by the militancy of these years believed that the way to beat the miners was to contain their ‘revolutionary’ leaders and the notions of a non-political trades unionism and indeed even non-unionism began to be fostered by the employers, The National Democratic Labour Party operated in industry under the name of the British Workers League. Meetings called by the latter organisation were held throughout Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in 1921 and 1922. Much of the initiative came from the owners and the butty contractors in the Bolsover area, but little support was found amongst the miners themselves. It was, however, an ominous development, especially for Nottinghamshire, [155]
iv)   The Building Trade
The depression naturally caused many and varied responses by the unions to the ????4çby problems created economic downturn. The Builders’ Labourers in Derby were seriously worried about the decision of the Corporation to offer relief work to the unemployed on road making. After all, it was the very work that their own employed members would normally do - and on trade union rates at that. In an endeavour to limit the effects of the recession on their members locally, the ABL made strenuous efforts to stop all overtime, Members began to be fined for contravening the branch’s policy. Particular difficulties were experienced at the British Cellulose plant, much of which was still under construction. A fine was not usually imposed for the first offence, but subsequent infringements could result in heavy punishment. One member, “Brother Wragg”, was fined £1 plus 5/6d committee costs on November 26th for working overtime, while a “Brother Dann” was fined 2/6d plus 6d costs and “Brother Cobden” ???1 0/6d - all significant sums of money and no doubt related to the actual gain of working overtime in question. Despite the rise in job losses, clearly the union’s ability to exert discipline to some extent had not been totally discredited.
Indeed, the national basis to negotiations in the building trade revealed some progress, but there was a tendency to equal out good as well as the bad; national negotiations did not prove popular with the Derby ABL. The notion of a sliding scale of wages was discussed but vigorously rejected by the branch in 1921. The Conciliation Board, on which the ABL nationally was not represented, had with the agreement of the Workers Union approved a reduction of 3d an hour, Meeting on April 1st, Derby ABL resolved to resist any cut. Understandably, the matter was of serious concern to the whole membership and over a hundred turned up to a special meeting on June 17th to decide what should be done. A further meeting a couple of weeks later decided to get their EC to withdraw from adherence to Conciliation Board settlements and to get the National Federation of Building Trades Operatives to act on the matter. If the NFBTO did little, then Derby ABL believed their union should withdraw from that body also. [156]
The reason for the unsatisfactory representational position of the ABL, which gave rise to the dissatisfaction with the Conciliation Board and NFBTO, was the initial refusal of the craft dominated federation to admit the four national builders’ labourers’ societies unless they agreed to fusion. However, only partial success was possible for this plan. Two societies resulted, the National Builders’ Labourers’ and Constructional Workers Society and the ‘Altogether’ Builders’ Labourers’ and Constructional Workers Society. It was the latter, the ‘Altogether’ - or the ABL as it is referred to here throughout – that organised in Derby.
The builders’ labourers were amongst the last of unions to relinquish the tradition of the club house. The end of the use by the ABL of the Star and Garter clubroom was reflective of the demise of the unique ties that had existed between unions and pubs. These ties were, if not exactly relinquished, certainly were to be qualitatively changed. It was only in 1917 that the ABL committee had released its officers from a commitment to man the clubroom every Saturday night of the year. It was agreed that, to provide the branch officers with a holiday, that there would be “4 nights when the clubhouse is not opened Easter, Whitsun, Christmas and August (Bank) Holiday”.
In 1921, this was all to come to an end. The landlord of the Star and Garter gave notice of an increase to 5/- a week in the rental of a clubroom. The ABL committee considered the increase as “altogether unreasonable”. They had after all been paying only 12/6 per quarter since the last increase in November 1920 and had been
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subjected to successive increases in the space of only one year. The rent had remained stable at £1 a year until October 1919, when it had jumped to 30/-. Another massive increase to 12/6d per quarter followed and the latest demand caused the committee to reconsider its position. It proved no difficulty, to obtain the use of a room at the new Labour Party headquarters at 63 London Road for periodic meetings. The idea of their own clubroom could no longer be maintained. [157]
Clearly, one aspect of the forced move was the pressure of inflation on room rents, but breweries were beginning to exert monopolistic pressure on pubs by obtaining tied houses to market their own beer and drinks. There appears to also have been a semi-conscious attempt to force out unions and other benevolent societies to make room for more paying customers. There may even have been an eye cast on the political implications of restricting facilities from bodies which would have been viewed as militant enemies by the notoriously Conservative brewing industry. Sometimes, landlords would consort with breweries in this. Certainly the days when a trade could invariably count on a former colleague to be the landlord were well and truly over. Perhaps the ABL encountered just such a problem.
The massive rise in unemployment obviously had severe repercussions on trade union income generally and this was no less so for the ABL. A reflection of the difficulties is in the level of pay received by the full time officer, Brown. He was paid £6 a week in 1920, but only £4 10s 0d in 1921, further reduced to £4 flat in 1922. At the same time, shop stewards’ commission of 3/- in the pound collected in subscriptions was cut to 2/-, while delegates’ expenses for attending meetings were cut from 2/6d a meeting to 1/6d. During the course of 1922, Brown’s salary was further cut to £3 5s 0d a week. In October, the committee had to instruct the secretary that he would receive “such sum as the previous week’s income would allow”. For, with membership loss, revenue loss inevitably followed. Only 246 members were admitted during the whole of 1921, compared with 835 the previous year. In 1922, this rate of recruitment was halved down to 108. The impact on the branch was disastrous, for the union relied on a high turnover of members; a slow rate of recruitment meant in practice an actual drop in total membership. A poorly attended branch meeting concluded that the branch could not maintain a full time secretary, but would keep the 2d weekly levy on members until Brown could find a job within the building trade once more, out on the sites.
By the beginning of April 1923, this had not happened. But the ABL branch committee decided to keep Brown on as full timer. Within two weeks he was able to inform the branch committee that he had been appointed District Organiser by the central organisation and that “payment to him as Branch Delegate should cease”. He became responsible for membership of the ABL within the East Midlands area. Happily, the membership position of the Derby ABL branch much improved as 1923 progressed. Membership was 273 in July, up 60 over the previous quarter and by October membership was up by another 23, to 296. But Brown’s promotion put paid to the full time delegate’s job. For never again did Derby ABL have such a position and in many ways the loss of Brown as a purely local organiser had a material effect on the future of the branch. [158]
year                    quarter          admissions                          yearly total
1919                          1                             31                               248
                                   2                             38
                                   3                           109
                                   4                           170
1920                          1                           151                               835
                                   2                           240
                                   3                           348
                                   4                             76
1921                          1                             63                               246
                                   2                             74
                                   3                             70
                                   4                             39
1922                          1                             23                               108
                                   2                             27
                                   3                             36
                                   4                             22
1923                          1                             28                               208
                                   2                             96
                                   3                             51
                                   4                             33
1924                          1                             85                               275
                                   2                             91
                                   3                             67
                                   4                             62
1925                          1                             89                               258
                                   2                             49
                                   3                             75
                                   4                             45
A common problem for the unions was ‘defalcation’ - shortfalls or misappropriations of union money. Collectors, branch secretaries and shop stewards handled enormous sums of money and, in times of great hardship, it was often very tempting for individuals to dip into union funds temporarily held by themselves. Often this was with the intention of repaying the money, but sometimes the sheer scale of the debt proved too much. Workers at Gee’s of Osmaston Road complained to the ABL committee in April 1921 that they were out of benefit because Warren, the shop steward, had not paid in their contributions. It turned out that he owed £31 0s 4d and the branch decided to make him repay it at the rate of 10/- a week. By June, his failure to make any repayment at all raised the question of his expulsion, a fact which roused him sufficiently to pay 7/6d immediately. [159] Of course such problems rarely arose because of any disregard for the union and often simply reflected the dire straits which workers found themselves in.
The whole experience of cutbacks and financial stringency which unions faced was but a mere reflection of the difficulties actually faced by their members. In 1922, when some trades were just about recovering from the worst ravages of depression, the building employers had little confidence of an upturn in their industry. They proposed a reduction of 2d per hour in the national minimum rate from June 1st. There was widespread opposition to this by the workers themselves, exemplified in an ABL ballot in Derby which resulted in 120 voting against and 8 voting for the employers’ proposals. In April, the cuts were nonetheless imposed. The following year, the employers demanded a further reduction of 20%, or 1 1/2d an hour, for labourers. A ballot of ABL members in Derby rejected the idea by a vote of 55 to 1, calling on their EC to resist the cuts. The employers linked wages and hours proposing to alter the agreed 44 hour week and for the ABL in Derby, now conscious that some improvement in their organisation was being made, this was totally unacceptable. The local ABL suggested that the union opt out of all national agreements, for the branch had noted with some satisfaction that “we were making some headway in re­organising the men in the shops that had been taken in hand”. In the end, the issue went to arbitration, the award from which extended summer working hours to 461/2 hours and kept winter hours at 44. On wages, future variations would be related to the cost of living, while a clause allowing for increases due to exceptional circumstances was also removed. [160]
As for painters in the NASOHSPD New Mills lodge, they revealed a mood of desperation, remaining rather insular and not a little right wing. The branch opposed the union’s affiliation to the Labour Party in 1921 and a proposed levy in support of the engineering workers’ dispute of 1922, by a narrow majority in a nearly tied vote. In a move consciously rejecting the worldly wise trades councils, the branch decided in 1923 not to affiliate to their local one. While, in the following year, apathy over internal union elections led the branch to decide that “voting for organisers, Executive Committee and Trades Union Congress be left for the Big Branches to decide”! Even so, when it came to strictly trade matters, the obvious distaste for things political was not so evident. In the local painting shops, the union maintained a certain tightness of organisation throughout the 1920s. When non-society men were spotted in the employ of any of these, as when Jackson and Potts were reproached in 1925, these were soon sorted out. [161]
A trade associated with the building industry was woodcutting. The Amalgamated Society of Woodcutting Machinists (ASWM) had rejected amalgamation, in a ballot vote of the members, with the woodworkers, the ASW, by 5,054 to 4,540 in 1921. It was, however, as in so many sectors, a time when woodworkers were seeking organisational unity. In March 1921, the ASW and the General Union of Carpenters in Derby were pleased to announce the national merging of their unions. [162] But the narrow majority against merger in the ASWM was, in effect, a statement that many wood machinists saw themselves as more aligned to skilled engineers than carpenters. The ASWM had a reasonably strong base in Derbyshire. There were four branches: [163]
     Branch                                   Meeting Place
     Derby                                     Unity Hall
     Ambergate                            Canal Inn
     Chesterfield                          Hady Cottage
     Glossop                                 Gladstone Street
v) National Union of Vehicle Builders
An alliance of the ASWM and the National Union of Vehicle Builders (NUVB) in the machine woodcutting trade was formalised into the United Kingdom Joint Wages Board (UKJWB). Such a development made amalgamation inevitable eventually. The state of trade in the UKJWB companies was considered by the Derby NUVB to be good in the town itself in 1925, but fair to poor elsewhere in the county. Hours of work varied from 44 to 47 and wages from 1/6d to 1/8d an hour. [164] But the effect of the recession on NUVB membership generally was disastrous. Derby branch membership strength was much reduced over the five years from 1920 and had only begun to show some signs of recovery in 1925. [165]
year                     Derby NUVB members
1920                             351
1921                              355
1922                             262
1923                             235
1924                             187
1925                              196
While the demise of horse drawn vehicles seriously hit the NUVB’s traditional base, the skills of their members proved adaptable to the mass production of railway carriages, especially as passengers in standard coaches began to be treated to more comfortable decor and furnishing. So, the union had quite a base at the Midland Railway. The NUVB however also organised in areas which would have been foreign to the old UKSC, bus and tram garages for example. The Manchester based organiser who covered Derbyshire, while in Derby to discuss proposed reductions in wages at the rail workshops, visited various shops in the town and in Chesterfield and Pilsley. At the latter there was “a decent shop employing between 30 and 40 members”. Moreover, the Chesterfield tramway’s maintenance men rejoined the union. [166]
But one bar to growth in their field was the division between the NUVB and the Amalgamated Wagon Builders, which had a presence in eastern Derbyshire. There was also some conflict of interest between the two and the TGWU, but all three unions reached an agreement on spheres of influence in 192S. [167] This tended however to isolate the NUVB and the AWB from each other. The end result was that, shortly before the Second World War, the AWB merged with the AEU and in the 1970s the NUVB merged with the TGWU.
vi) The Engineering Industry
This period saw two lock outs of general significance, the miners and the engineers. These were important in moulding the outlook of all trades unionists, for these two sections were often seen as providing a lead to all others. In engineering, the employers unsuccessfully made demands for wages reductions of 20%. Countering this, the unions posed claims for mutuality in controlling overtime, piecework production and other sweeping demands. The employers rejected these outright and argued for management prerogative, or management’s’ right to manage, especially in determining overtime working. The AEU rejected the employers’ stance, after a national ballot decided to insist on mutuality in all agreements. The employers demanded the signing of a declaration that the AEU would not interfere in management functions and, failing this, locked out all of that union’s members from March 11th 1922. When the other engineering unions failed to concede the required declaration, they too were locked out.
Both sides dug their heels in and, by the ninth week of the lock out, the employers re­opened their factories, announcing that those willing to accept the new terms could be taken on, all to little effect. But, by a slight concession in the eleventh week, the employers were able to break the ranks of the unions and all but the AEU accepted the new terms, as modified. The AEU fought on alone until June 13th, but by then it was clear that the unions were broken. The employers imposed reductions in the national minimum rate. There had already been a cut of 16s 5d at the beginning of the year, now a new cut was to be imposed of a similar amount, bringing the new rate to £2 16s 0d a week. A ballot vote resulted in a two thirds majority, rejecting the cuts, even after the long and difficult struggle. But the employers were adamant and, in the circumstances, the union’s national negotiators ignored the result of the ballot and accepted the wage reductions. The whole affair had dragged on for several months and ended in great bitterness. A legacy that would take half a century to jettison was an imposed procedure for the handling of disputes.
Wages after the lock out remained low and the engineering unions sought to remedy this throughout the 1920s, unsuccessfully until 1927. There were of course some firms which paid in excess of the minimum by giving local bonuses. In 1924, the engineering unions in Derby unsuccessfully demanded an all round increase of £1 for skilled and 10/- for the unskilled, in common with all the engineering districts nationally. The AEU was joined by the Associated Smiths and Ironmakers, the Workers Union, the Foundry Workers, the Patternmakers, the Brass and Metal Mechanics, the Coppersmiths, the Iron and Steel Dressers and the Sheetmetal Workers. [168] A mass meeting of all unions was held, addressed by Stokes of the WU, Bates and Sturgess (who was by now a councillor) of the AEU, Alderman Bower of the Smiths and Alderman Varley of the Foundry Workers.
Despite some obvious determination, the employers would not budge. A year and a half later, in September 1925, a mass meeting of AEU members at the Central Hall in Derby listened to a report on the claim. [169] The national application had been on the table all this time, with no effect, A Government intervention to discuss the 48 hour week and suspend the £1 claim stimulated further movement, at least in some localities. But the onset of the General Strike was to interfere with these moves. Localised bargaining in some industries, plants or localities did bring some restitution for the losses of the 1921 lock out. It would however take many years to rectify the position at national level within the industry.
vi) The Transport and General Workers Union
On the initiative of dockers’ unions, for some two years the unions in transport had been discussing unity. The bulk of the multi-union Transport Workers Federation joined together formally within one organisation, which came into existence on January 1st 1922. Many of the members of the new union - the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU, later more popularly shortened to T&G) - had distinct and separate loyalties and the new constitution reflected that. Six quite separate ‘trade groups’, or sections, of dockers, bus and tram workers, carters and lorry drivers, ships’ clerks and others formed the basis of the giant new body, some 350,000 strong at the outset. The initial membership of the TGWU in Derbyshire seemed to have been restricted to its new Passenger Services Group, of mostly bus and tram workers. These had been inherited from the Manchester based Amalgamated Association of Tramway Workers (AATW), which merged with a London based union bus, taxi and tram union in 1919 to form the United Vehicle Workers (UVW). But, within a very short space of time, some membership of the Commercial Services Group of lorry drivers and carters was established, initially in the Long Eaton area.
A particularly strong upsurge of trades unionism in London’s public transport system encouraged the unionisation of public passenger transport throughout the country. To siphon off discontent, the Government encouraged the setting up of Regional Joint Industrial Councils for the industry, paralleling a national body, set up in 1919. Major revisions of wages, conditions and hours were accompanied by important new transport regulations, although the framework was still rather rudimentary. While a special tribunal award saw significant improvements in the previously low wages of conductors and conductresses. The UVW greatly benefited from all these developments.
Tramway workers tended in the main to be less militant than the newer job of bus worker, for the former could expect long and stable service with a municipal employer, not necessarily on high pay, but at least with some security of employment. Bus workers were then usually employed by private companies, operating routes in rural and suburban areas, the whole operation being rather casually arranged. Little public control existed and operators, who gradually began to face unionised workforces, were presented with employees who sought to get what they could whilst it was possible, for the enterprise could be gone the next day. Moreover, the ethos of bus firms was decidedly focused on profit rather than service. Working conditions and rates of pay were therefore relatively inadequate, when compared with the circumstances of tramway workers. In Derbyshire, this meant that employees of institutions like Derby and Chesterfield Borough Councils faced quite different problems than did a private firm like the Derby based Trent Motor Traction.
In 1922, Haslam, the TGWU branch secretary covering Trent Motor Traction’s bus workers, revealed the degree to which there was apathy within the company. At the Derby Trades Council, he somewhat desperately raised the need for the entire trade union movement in the locality to “make every effort to get the men to organise to improve their present conditions”, there were then very few women, if any, even in the conducting role and none as drivers. Clearly, while there was a substantial base to the union within the company, there was a some way to go, but the momentous events of the next few years would see bus and tram workers play a vital role in the life of the wider labour movement.
viii) The Railway Industry
The final settlement of the 1919 dispute was when an Industrial Court made Award 728, which determined that legislation should be passed. The Railways Act of 1921, following the period of industrial militancy, strikes and lock outs as it did, was designed to remove the industry from the arena of confrontation, The Act ignored the vital question of nationalisation of the railways, but did recognise some of the arguments for greater efficiency by re-grouping the private firms. More positively, the Act provided for statutory recognition of the main rail unions. A complex system of legally based local and national negotiating bodies was also introduced under the Act. Local Departmental Committees, Sectional Councils for each grade and Central and National Wages Boards were created. This highly formalised approach rather took power away from local rank and file representatives and sought to incorporate the unions with the interests of the employers.
For the railway workshops, the Act was a controversial development. Other unions than the three which were based upon the operational side of the industry were concerned that the right to strike was taken away by this formal conciliation network. Unions like the WU and the AEU in particular, with its commitment to shop stewards’ systems, were very worried by the Act. Only by specifically excluding the railway shop workers from the Act was it possible for it to be effective. [170]
The Act had an instant change upon the rail unions. The Vigilance Committees, which had been a kind of shop stewards’ committee dealing with problems where they arose as soon as they arose, were sidestepped by the new machinery. Rowsley NUR reflected the shift in attitude in the union, when it decided not to invite representatives from the unofficial Manchester and Derlick Guards’ Vigilance Committee in late 1921. [171] This contrasted sharply with the obvious enthusiasm with which the branch invited a Derby workshops militant active in the NUR, Harry Pearce Senior, to speak to the branch on the work of the committees. (Pearce, incidentally, was to feature fairly prominently in Derby’s left-wing politics over the years, on the Trades Council, in the Minority Movement and in the Labour Party - a role his son, Harry Junior, was to replicate a generation later.)
A factor in Rowsley NUR’s attitude may have something to do with its torn loyalties. The Manchester district of the NUR always had a stronger reputation for militancy than the Derby District of the NUR, Rowsley, though closer to Manchester, was firmly part of the Derby District from 1919 to 1924. Peppered throughout its minutes are constant references to the need to “write to Derby”, whenever a problem arose. In late 1924, for unrecorded reasons, the Rowsley NUR branch decided to “switch to the Manchester District Council for 1925”, to which it remained affiliated for the next two decades. [172]
Despite the intentions of the new Act, episodes of militant industrial action continued for some time. In 1921, over a hundred Derby NUR loco men joined in with a strike called by ASLEF activists against the proposal to cut mileage bonus rates which operated for drivers and firemen. The NUR’s official attitude was that, like it or not, the men must accept the changes as they were the product of the new conciliation scheme. Events like this generated a sense of unease at the direction which railway trades unionism was taking, as when in August 1922 Derby’s Vigilance Committee passed a resolution expressing strong disapproval at the NUR’s tacit acceptance of the LMS’s re-classification of signal boxes, a move which de-graded many men. Dissatisfaction with the NUR was strong amongst signalmen also. [173]
The tensions already evident in the workshops between the rail unions and the engineering unions were not eased by the arguments over the 1921 Act. At the beginning of 1923, there was a proposal to reduce the bonus of the shopmen. A mass meeting of WU workshop employees was held at the Co-op Hall in Derby. In a sceptical vein, Stokes and Hind addressed the men about the posturing of not only the company, but also the NUR. A rail strike then mooted was described as being the “greatest piece of bluff’, for negotiations had yet to be totally exhausted. [174] By the end of the year a major programme of passenger and freight carriage and wagon building was embarked upon at Derby. The full complement of around 10,000 employees in all LMS workshop activities were in full time work for the whole of the next year. This positive employment situation certainly moderated attitudes in the workshops. [175] But, on the track, a major unsuccessful strike was experienced in the course of 1924 on the LMS. Derby ASLEF organised a strike committee of 20 and on the first day of the strike the union arranged a mass picket at midnight. The strike emerged from the dissatisfactions over events following the 1921 Act, which began to be seen as a poor settlement of the 1919 dispute. There were three special developments in the strike locally. ASLEF made substantial recruitment advances out of it, 96 new members were admitted in Derby after the strike. Another aspect was the special involvement of the loco men's wives in the struggle. Out of this came a women’s’ group. A subsequent open meeting of the branch attracted large numbers of women, which “spoke volumes for the women’ society”. The third interesting thing was that Derby ASLEF disaffiliated from the Trades Council over its role in the 1924 strike. [176]
The DTC secretary had offered assistance to Trent Motor Traction bus employees during a dispute they had. But when ASLEF was involved in the 1924 strike, in January the DTC made no such similar approach. This was much to the annoyance of the branch, which pointed out that, in contrast to the bus workers, Derby ASLEF had been affiliated for 20 years. Over the course of 1925, a series of trite arguments carried on between the branch and the council. [177] Relations between ASLEF and the NUR, never very sound, were not improved by the new bargaining position, despite attempts by the TUC to encourage closer working. But the move was not popular with ASLEF members. Staveley ASLEF expressed the mood well, when they voted “full support to the EC to keep out of the amalgamation” with NUR. [178] Similarly, the railway clerks, the RCA, turned down the idea of fusion of all rail unions, keeping very much to itself in its own sphere. Although the RCA was obliged to come to some kind of working relationship with a non-rail union which had a professional base in the design sector of the railway workshops, the draughtsmen of the AESD. The RCA and the AESD however aimed to promote closer working between themselves in 1925, when the two held a joint meeting at the Cavendish Cafe, because the “company had hitherto played off one union against the other”. [179] The NUR and ASLEF had a similar problem in the manual sphere, but failed, or were not willing, to reach an understanding.
6 Unemployed struggles 1920-5
Percentage of Insured Workers Unemployed 1920-23
   year                              approx percentage
 1920                                           5
 1921                                           17
 1922                                           14
 1923                                           12
The recession really jolted Derbyshire as 1920 came to an end. Jobs were lost not only in the big towns like Chesterfield and Derby, but also in the smaller towns. There were some 600 reported as workless in remoter areas, 80 of whom were ex-servicemen, 50 were labourers and the rest were hosiery and wire workers. Women workers were, then as now, often the first to be laid off. The effect of this was especially serious where the woman was the main, or only, breadwinner, for the authorities were far from sympathetic to their plight. The Trades Council in Derby took strong exception to female unemployed “being compelled to go to domestic service or be refused out-of-work payment”. [180] Indeed, the DTC was obviously very concerned about the general unemployment situation. So was the Town Council, with 5,401 unemployed and 5,350 on short-time in Derby in May 1921, it is not surprising that the council called a special meeting to debate the widespread anxiety over unemployment. [181] One immediate result of this was that the children of unemployed parents were soon receiving free Sunday dinners at the National Restaurant on The Spot, in Derby town centre. [182]
Other proposals were more substantial, if perhaps less easy to achieve. The Town Council unanimously agreed to provide special work, mainly on improving the arterial roads in Derby, Manor Road being the prime development. However, this seemingly philanthropic gesture, supported by Labour councillors, would be dogged by controversy. Initially, the problem was that the Borough was inordinately slow to actually start the project, but subsequently the same concerns which motivated the ABL to query the very concept of relief work on public building projects came to the fore. Relief funds were also organised throughout the county. In Chesterfield, the Borough Welfare Committee appealed for second-hand boots, clothing and toys for Christmas.
In June 1921, unemployment reached a national peak of nearly 18% and the Government, in an attempt to meet criticisms of failing to look after the unemployed, especially ex-servicemen, increased male unemployment benefit from a weekly sum of 15/- in November 1920 to 20/- in March 1921. But three months later, as the sheer cost of maintaining the rapidly growing unemployed escalated, the Government cut benefits back to the 1920 level. This single act caused an enormous national campaign around the slogan of “Work or Full Maintenance at Trade Union Rates of Wages”, spearheaded by the Communist dominated organisation, the National Unemployed Workers Committee Movement. (The word `Committee’ was soon dropped and the body is referred to as `NUWM’ throughout.) At local level, campaigns against the Boards of Guardians were organised to win improved relief from economic distress. The unemployed pressed for more and more attention. A march to the Shardlow Board of Guardians’ workhouse in 1921 was a spontaneous local protest against the appalling distress. [183] But most protests were more consciously organised, within local self-help unemployed workers’ organisations, but mostly being led by the NUWM, which dominated the struggles of the unemployed in the inter-war years.
The NUWM had a mostly Communist leadership, but support was surprisingly widespread amongst the unemployed themselves and the party was not exclusively involved in the organisation. ILP militants, trade union and Labour Party activists fought side by side with Communists to advance the cause of the unemployed. 90 town’s committees, including Derby, were represented at the 1921 conference of the NUWM, testifying to its strength. The local branch naturally campaigned on the NUWM slogans and utilised the style of action which so characterised the movement. A big gathering of many hundreds of unemployed interrupted the DerbyTown Council proceedings in September 1921, when a special meeting was held to consider a motion to ‘invest’, or confer honours upon, the Duke of Devonshire. [184] For the unemployed of Derby, the Borough had its priorities all wrong. No municipal work projects had yet begun, for the council dallied, arguing that the Manor Road scheme would cost £32,000 simply as relief for the unemployed, let alone taking into account all costs. Instead, other projects for the widening of roads were suggested by the authorities.
In response to pressure, the Liberal and Conservative dominated Town Council in Derby, perhaps with an eye to the forthcoming local elections, granted the use of a disused derelict house in Willow Row as a headquarters for the unemployed movement. On visiting the premises, however, the NUWM rejected the suggestion on the basis that the buildings were totally unsuitable and accepted the Labour Party’s offer of the use of part of their London Road centre. A split developed in the unemployed movement when a committee claiming to represent the unemployed, consisting of the chairman, Green, and two others, Cassidy and Hollis, asked to see the Mayor of Derby to discuss better facilities for the unemployed, so that “the headquarters would not have to be on political party premises”. [185] How serious this development was must be in doubt, for little is heard of this group subsequently, whilst the NUWM continued to dominate the scene in Derby, as elsewhere,
The recession bit harder, Ogles’ foundry closed on a temporary basis, redundancies were announced at the Butterley Company’s own railway sidings and 20 were discharged at the Waingroves brickyard. Butterley’s mines were ordered to start filling coal tubs with screens, which would sieve out the slack and hence obtain maximum production for minimum payment. Denby’s Salterwood colliery also laid off 100 men. To help with the severe hardship experienced by many, trade unions often arranged their own relief funds. Derby AEU ran a concert in November 1921, which raised £34 for boots for their own unemployed members. [186] While the DTC launched a “children’s’ Boot Fund” in early 1922. [187]
The economic recession had its consequences in the political sphere, as the authorities became concerned at the impact the Communist Party was having on the unemployed. The national Secretary of the Communist Party, Albert lnkpin, had been sent to jail for six months hard labour for publishing the Comintern’s statutes, on the grounds that these were in themselves seditious. Meeting in the New Year, the DTC demanded that the Home Secretary seriously consider lnkpin’s release from what they saw as a politically motivated prosecution, concerning possession of imported books written by Lenin and copies of the Comintern journal, Communist International.
Hundreds of demonstrations took place in Britain during February 1922 to demand scales of relief from local Boards of Guardians which would be nearer to the NUWM’s basic programme of 36/- a week for a husband and wife, plus 5/- for each child up to 16 years of age and up to 15/- for rent and a hundredweight of coal. Compared to the official rate of 20/- for husband and wife and 1/- for each child, this would have been a significant improvement in the conditions of life for the unemployed and their families. The activities in spring were rapidly followed up by more of the same in the summer. But the high spot that year would be the initiative of the first Hunger March, the first national NUWM march, in late 1922. Two separate strands of the march came from Lancashire; one came through the West Midlands on its way south. Two others, starting from Bolton, came through Manchester, Staffordshire and Derbyshire, with support joining up along the way. Labour’s Derby MP, J H Thomas, called upon the unemployed to disassociate themselves from the event, but while this must have certainly dented official labour movement support, it does not appear to have held back the activities of the NUWM amongst the unemployed. [188]
The organisation of the march revolved around the fact that the Poor Law allowed the marchers to arrive at a town and make claim for workhouse accommodation and food. No luxury involved here, by any means, but it was at least enough to keep the marchers going. Often, the authorities would try to treat them as tramps and provide only the ‘casual diet’ of bread and tea, an attitude which inevitably generated conflict when it was attempted. More sympathetic Guardians would issue instructions for more than the legally established minimum diet to be given to marchers. Derbyshire must have seemed an unfriendly county at first, the north-western strand of the march coming through Ashbourne and the rural west. The situation was described as “grim, for there was a desperate search for enough food”. By the time the marchers arrived in Derby, the welcome was much improved, despite the unwillingness of some in the labour movement to assist. The borough allowed the marchers the use of Orchard Street Schools for the weekend. The Sherwood Foresters donated a hundred tins of bully beef and the Co-op supplied £30 worth of food. Although the Poor Law inspector was to reprimand the clerk at the Board of Guardians for paying the Co-op for feeding 23 men from Bootle.
40 demonstrators from Scotland, who had marched from there in another stream tramping all the way through Yorkshire, arrived shortly after the north-western contingent, with tales of fights for work at the Sheffield Labour Exchange. Their worst experience had been at Clowne, in the north of Derbyshire. The police were quite uncooperative and the end result was that the new additions to the march, which had joined it at Sheffield, had to sleep out in the open through a cold freezing night of rain and snow. The local villagers, seeing them out in the morning, took them into their own homes. In complete contrast, at Derby, the 320 men on the north-western march ate a stupendous breakfast at the York and Clarendon hotels, along with the Scots­-Yorkshire contingent, both enjoying the hospitality of the town after their arduous experiences. The next day, the joint march was yet again fed and pampered. During the course of that Sunday, a dinner, social afternoon and high tea were provided and the men marched from one event to the other, wearing red rosettes and singing the Red Flag. [189]
The chief marshal thanked the Board of Guardians in Derby for the best treatment of all the towns so far. Derby had redeemed the honour of the county, so let down at Clowne and Ashbourne. The men marched the seven miles to Shardlow for tea, bread and cheese. By the end of the day, and another ten miles, they had arrived at Loughborough to a very different reception than that which they had at Derby. Once again they experienced poor accommodation and meagre food. This newly expanded and now single column met up with a total of 20 such contingents from across the entire nation, all converging on London on November 17th. The entire march was greeted by a crowd of 20,000 supporters, the event having been eagerly awaited. On Remembrance Day, only a week earlier on November 11th, 20,000 unemployed ex-servicemen fell in behind the official parade and filed silently past the Cenotaph. The marchers wore their own medals; those of the dead and severely wounded were pinned to the red and black banners of the NUWM. At the front rank of this march was carried a wreath inscribed: “From the living victims, the unemployed, to our dead comrades who died in vain.” [190]
The massed marchers of the 20 regional contingents of the NUWM march were all billeted at various public institutions across London. Daily protests demanding that Bonar Law, the Prime Minister, see a deputation were held using these forces. While reinforcements from towns throughout the country, including Derby, arrived in the weeks up to Christmas, despite a deliberate policy of discouraging such recruits by the Guardians in very many places. The national leadership of the TUC joined in with the NUWM to organise a massive demonstration on Sunday January 7th, Unemployed Sunday as it was called. So influential had the NUWM become that it could arrange a joint committee with the TUC. Despite all endeavours, the obstacles to maintaining the protests were just too many. The impetus of the campaign began to slow down, especially when Bonar Law positively refused to meet a deputation of the unemployed. After a full two months in London, the columns of the Hunger Marchers began to disperse.
This was but one phase of the entire battle for the NUWM. A major area of action for local NUWM branches was the test introduced by the Government to determine whether an unemployed worker was genuinely seeking work. Those deemed not to be, often as a result of an entirely arbitrary and unwarranted decision, were classed as ‘Not Genuinely Seeking Work’ (NGSW) and deprived of benefit. In May 1923, R G Ansell, president of the Derby ILP, and his colleague Frank Porter reported on the work of the Guardians. 181 men were on the “test” in Derby. Their benefit had “run out” and the Board was attempting to determine whether they were NGSW. Some of these men were employed on a major public works scheme at Alvaston, the intent being to provide them with work they could not refuse on pain of loss of benefits. This was the “test”. The catch was that the work was paid 25% less than the going union rate for such a job. The majority of the Guardians refused to pay more and any unemployed workers who declined to accept this under-cutting of the union rate were simply classified as NGSW. [191] As unemployment passed its high water mark, the Guardians were able to drop the local Poor Law rate, or levy, where this existed, In Derby, the Guardians dropped the local rate in 1924 to is 9d in the pound for the latter half of the year, compared to the figure of 2s 3d which the rate had been earlier in the year. Instead of such a course, the rates could have been held at the higher rate and benefits could have been increased, but the majority of the Guardians would have none of it. [192]
As the economic situation improved somewhat, the activities of the NUWM diminished until the crisis which affected the capitalist world in 1929 onwards once again produced massive unemployment. It would be a time of the greatest activity of the NUWM. Despite its Communist leadership, which remained until the fading away of the movement in the early stages of the Second World War, the NUWM retained a mass following and in the 1920s still had official recognition from the TUC. The course of events leading up to the General Strike, in which industrial militancy was tested against political reform, would of course be decisive not only in determining the future response of the trade unions and the political parties of the working class, but also the very direction of the unemployed movement. The attitude of the trade unions towards the unemployed movement and vice-versa was especially important in conditioning the response of both to the situation that confronted each. Another Communist influenced body which turned its attention to this was the Red International of Labour Unions, a sort of Comintern for revolutionary trade unions. RILU attracted support from some sections of Britain’s trade union movement in its 1922 campaign, in which it called for a “Back to the Unions” movement, Higher wages and shorter hours were but one aspect of the campaign to reverse the serious losses of membership and power of the unions. There was a determination to achieve the “concentration of all local forces of the movement in the Trades Councils”. The Derby Trades Council, with 20,000 trades unionists affiliated to it in 1923 and with finances increased tenfold over the 1917 level in 1924, was clearly an obvious target for local Communists in seeking to implement the RILU strategy. Some success was achieved and the DTC displayed its leanings when it called on the working class study organisation, the National Council of Labour Colleges (NCLC), to “give the workers the education they need i.e. that known as the Marxian philosophy”; although this was not a Communist Party inspired organisation.
But the main concern was over the “apathy of members of Trades Unions and the failing off of interest taken in Trade Union matters and the present method of organisation”. In an endeavour to put some life back into the local movement, the DTC launched a “Back-to-the-Unions” campaign for the summer of 1923. The campaign was kicked off by calling a conference on industrial unionism, that is to say creating mergers and amalgamations in particular industrial sectors. 16 full time organisers were invited to visit Derby during one week from July 30th to August 5th. The Shop Workers, the Foundry Workers, the NUR, the Building Trades Federation, the AEU, the TGWU, the Municipal Employees, the Metal Dressers all sent officers to assist in the membership drive. Ben Tillett MP, figurehead leader of the TGWU, and famed for his involvement in the dockers’ strike decades before, was the main speaker, along with George Hicks of the Building Trades Federation. The approach reflected the breadth of representation on the DTC, which is exemplified by the wide ranging character of its Executive Committee and affiliated membership.
Successful Candidates in the Derby Trades Council Executive Committee Elections of 1922
(details from DTC minutes of February 8th 1922)
     Name                     Union                           Votes received
Cllr E Paulson          Boilermakers                           43
Mrs Chalkley             Darley WU                                42
Mr C Brown               Builders Labourers               41
Mr A E Field               Shop Assistants                     34
Mr F Guest                 Typographical Assn              30
Mr W Gamble            ASLEF No 1                             29
Mr J Trowell              Bricklayers                               28
Mr I Amatt                  Hosiery Union                         28
Mr G Reader              NUR No 2                                 25
Mr P Wilton                NUR No 4                                 27
Known Local Union Branches Affiliated to the Derby Trades Council 1913 - 1926
Details extracted from DTC minutes, when an affiliate was either new or the subject of some dispute, hence it cannot be taken as an exhaustive list. The terminology used is generally that detailed within the minutes book, thus the names are not necessarily entirely historically accurate, but reflects the popular name for the bodies concerned. The names of newly amalgamated unions are sometimes also used, so some societies are named twice in different forms. However, there is some value in reproducing this analysis, since many of the unions mentioned in the minutes are entirely local or not otherwise touched on elsewhere in the text.
??/Society Post Office Workers
Amalgamated Musicians Union     
Amalgamated Society of Farriers  
Amalgamated Tramway and Vehicle Workers   
Amalgamated Union of Co-operative Employees         
Association of Engineering & Shipbuilding Draughtsmen
Asylum Workers (first affiliated in 1913, then lapsed and re-affiliated in 1919)
Bakers and Confectioners      
Basket Makers
Boilermakers Society
Bookbinders Union                 
Boot and Shoe Operatives
Brassfounders Society
Bricklayers Labourers Society
Carpenters and Joiners
Chemical Workers
Coachmakers (later the NUVB)
Elastic Web Weavers                
Electricians Trade Union         
Garment Workers
Hairdressers Association
Hosiery Workers
Journeymen Butchers
Licensed Vehicle Workers Union  
lronspring Trades Union
Moulders and Iron Founders  
Municipal Employees              
National Brass and Metal Mechanics       
National Union of Clerks
National Union of Life Assurance Agents           
National Union of Paper Mill Workers       
National Union of Railwaymen (several branches but especially Derby Nos 3 and 4)
National Union of Shop Assistants
National Warehousemen & General Workers
Operative Bricklayers
Operative Plumbers                 
Operative Stonemasons         
Postal Telegraph Clerks
Pottery Workers                         
Prudential Assurance Agents         
Railway Clerks Association   
Rubber, Cable and Asbestos Workers     
Steam Engine Makers
Stove and Grate Workers        
Tailors Society
Toolmakers Society
Tutbury Plaster Mineworkers
Typographical Association
United Machine Workers Association
Upholsterers Society
Woodcutting Machinists
Workers Union (several branches including Lacemakers, Women’s’ Branch, Carters, Brick makers)
In all, 42 meetings were held as part of the campaign, but unfortunately several were cancelled due to the very thing the campaign aimed to eliminate - apathy! But, apart from the new membership gained by a few unions, the campaign for all its intentions faced a formidable enemy in the despair and disillusionment that fear of unemployment brought. The role of the NUWM in stiffening the resolve of the employed in standing up for their rights, by demonstrating that the unemployed were prepared to do so, was especially important. The NUWM organised the unemployed not to break strikes, to undercut trade union negotiated wage levels and to respect trade union won rights. [193]
7 Electoral Battles 1921-5
At the 1921 local elections, anti-socialists of all kinds combined together, as in many places, into the “Municipal Association”, fielding candidates jointly under the guise of a supposedly non-political body. No doubt for many involved in the alliance, the aim was to ward off what the Derby Mercury called the “Labour attack”. While that year, in Derby, the attack was fairly successfully rebuffed by the Municipal Association device, Labour was able to console itself with the largely ceremonial position of Mayor. W R Raynes was elected Labour’s first Mayor of Derby, not the first in the county, however. William Smith had become the Mayor of Ilkeston the year previously. Raynes’ election was secured by the fact that, while the Liberals dominated the council, Labour did potentially hold the balance of power should the combined forces of Liberals, Tories and ‘independents’ ever see their shaky alliance dissolve. Thus, it made sense to placate Labour to some degree. Especially since Raynes could claim seniority and was a respected figure in the council chamber across all parties, by virtue of his dedication and competence.
One of Raynes’ first acts as Mayor was to set up a “Mayor’s Fund for the Unemployed”, which attracted immediate support, especially from trades unionists. £627 was donated within ten days and the eventual total was almost doubled. The Fund provided a Christmas dinner, a gift and a cinema or music hail visit for over 5,000 children. Over 600 pairs of boots were distributed as well. Within three years the Labour group on the DerbyTown Council was able to boast of a second Labour Mayor, Allen Mycroft, a Typographical Society official. The Labour Party began to experience many a trade union official, lay and full time, begin to take on the job of a local councillor. Soon, there was not a councillor or a union that was not in some way inter-connected. Trade union relations with the party became organically very close. When the Derby Labour Party (DLP) launched its own local weekly paper, the Democrat, in 1922, this was the culmination of a project which had been mooted first in August 1919. The unions offered immediate and enthusiastic support for the Democrat. The Builders Labourers, which had never been very close to Labour Party circles, came nearer. Derby’s ABL branch had re-affiliated to the DLP in June of 1921 and Brown, their secretary, was adopted as a candidate soon afterwards for the Kingsmead ward. Months only after the union had affiliated to the party, Brown was a town councillor. Meanwhile, also reflecting this new sense of purpose, Derby’s ASLEF set up a weekly fund for “the purpose of running ... for local bodies such as the Town Council and the Board of Guardians”. [194]
The party approached the 1922 general election with high hopes. Its electoral fortunes had progressively improved from 1918 onwards and their Parliamentary leader, Ramsay MacDonald, was well respected. By now, his war time pacifism -oddly contrasting with his decidedly right wing stance - stood him in good stead. As a former leader of the ILP, even that left-leaning body favoured him. While the group of ex-Liberals, who deserted that party after the war to join Labour, naturally gravitated to his leadership. Derby was still a double member constituency and, for the first time, Labour put up two candidates for the two seats in 1922. One of them was Raynes, a natural choice given his municipal reputation. He had hoped to stand in 1918, but that had been vetoed by the party’s national executive. There had then been the suspicion that the sole Labour MP for Derby, J H Thomas, favoured an unofficial Lib-Lab situation and feared that Liberal support for him would dissolve if he had a running mate. But the local party was determined to break the Liberal connection and Raynes was thus selected to stand alongside Thomas, who did not take kindly to the decision. The outcome was a close result, the bottom and top of the poll being less than four percentage points from each other. Raynes was bottom of the poll and the two seats were divided exactly as before, one Labour and one Liberal. So Thomas had got his way, but things would never be the same again. Three party politics had arrived for good in Derby.
At Ilkeston, G H Oliver, standing for the second time, took the seat against a National Liberal and a Conservative. His share of the poll was somewhat diminished compared to the straight fight he had waged on the previous occasion, but he took a bigger, actual vote, He was to hold the seat for the next three decades, with a break of only four years out of Parliament. In North East Derbyshire, Frank Lee took the seat for Labour by only a handful of votes after a series of recounts, beating the former MP, a Liberal. In the first recount Lee had a majority of only two, in the second recount this had increased to a majority of only three! However, the third count boosted this to 201 and by the fourth he was ahead by a thousand votes. Even so, the Liberals persisted, demanding and getting a further four recounts, none of which were decisive. At the end, five ballot papers appeared to be missing, but Lee was declared elected. Holmes, the defeated Liberal, afterwards went to court, seeking a new election, but the judges eventually ruled in Frank Lee’s favour. As for the two Liberals who had been elected with miners’ support in 1918, one was not allowed to stand unchallenged by a genuine Labour candidate. This was Oliver Wright, who was selected as early as 1921 to stand for Labour, as an officially supported Derbyshire Miners Association candidate, in the Belper division against the sitting MP, Hancock, who was also a Nottinghamshire miners’ official. When Wright was adopted formally as candidate at a meeting in Belper, the Red Flag was sung for the first time at such an event. The Labour candidate’s commitment to socialism contrasted sharply with Hancock’s ambiguous position, but the sitting MP was to retain his position in Parliament on this occasion. [195]
Barnet Kenyon (pictured left) was the other Liberal who had miners’ support, but he shrewdly stood in Chesterfield as a “Radical”. Kenyon had been returned unopposed with Labour support in 1918 and this was the case again in 1922. Support for him as an individual was still very strong and his connections with sections of the miners gave him an important base. So much so that he was able to win the backing of the Chesterfield Co-op, which followed the lead of his key supporters in disaffiliating from the Labour Party in April 1921, on the basis that “by introducing politics into our society they were shaking the very foundation of the movement’. [196] Nonetheless, the DMA itself was increasingly dissatisfied with Kenyon. “Ours is the only mining county in the kingdom in which a Miners’ Agent is sitting in Parliament as a member of a Capitalist Party, and supporting Capitalist employers.” [197] This was a reference to the aggravating fact that he was still technically a retained official of the Derbyshire miners.
The Clay Cross division was taken by Labour with a convincing majority by the Charles Duncan, a non-mining candidate and senior official of the Workers Union. That the Liberal vote was spilt between a National Liberal and the official candidate had some effect, but on the other hand there was no Tory standing. Some thought it a minor miracle that the seat had been won with a candidate such as Duncan. He had been a Labour candidate before, but neither Keir Hardie nor Ramsay MacDonald had ever supported his candidature. MacDonald was supposed to have said that Duncan had run in 1906 as a LRC candidate in the Conservative interest and with Conservative money, since his candidature had clashed against the Lib-Lab electoral pact of 1903. [198] Whatever the case, his extreme ‘moderate’ views caused his rejection as a Labour candidate by the local Labour Party in Barrow and his subsequent defeat in the 1918 general election. Once in Parliament as the MP for Clay Cross, Duncan’s contribution was not one of great significance. He was chiefly remembered as “the best dressed man in the House of Commons”, not the best or the most inspiring of memorials to have! [199]
As for the less militant and largely rural areas of Derbyshire, there was no Labour candidate in West Derbyshire, but the party contested HighPeak for the first time, a constituency which was to be a permanent preserve of the Tories. Nonetheless, in 1922 Labour pushed the Liberals to the bottom of the poll. In South Derbyshire, Sam Trueman put up a brave fight once more. The Derby Daily Telegraph openly campaigned for the Liberal, declaring the Labour man to be a revolutionary candidate. But Trueman came nowhere near the eventual victor, the Tory. Despite press support, the Liberal was pushed to the bottom of the poll. Interestingly, the turnout was significantly higher than in 1918, rising from 57% to 80%.
In 1918, Derbyshire had returned only one Labour MP, along with two Tories and no less than seven Liberals of assorted hues, National, Coalition and Independent. But in 1922 there were equal numbers of Liberal and Labour MPs, four each, to the two Tories in the county’s seats. Labour had more than showed that it was set to challenge the Liberals. However, the election settled little in parliamentary terms and the new Government soon declared another election on the issue of tariff reform, with the Labour and Liberal Parties favouring such a policy and the Tories opposing it. The election was held in 1923, with the results declared in January 1924. It was notable for the elimination of the Liberals as a serious contender for government and the appointment of Labour as a minority government - the first Labour ministry ever.
The national trend was reflected in the results in Derbyshire. Oliver Wright stood again in Belper for Labour in a three corned contest in which the Lib-Laber, Hancock, was pushed into last place. His attacks on trade union and labour leaders as “wild men”, “extremists”, “those who want another Russia” and other such choice epithets lost him much support, especially by the strident and aggressive tone in which this onslaught was carried out. The seat was actually won for the Tories by Herbert Wragg, who was to hold the seat for the next two decades, all but for three years. In Chesterfield, Barnet Kenyon was at last challenged officially by Labour. His connection with the DMA as an official was finally terminated as a result of his refusal to endorse the Labour candidate at this election. Despite this, using his strong personal following and exceptional local base, he was able to retain the seat in a three cornered contest. Duncan kept his seat at Clay Cross, despite complaints about his failure to visit the constituency even once during the period of his tenure as MP.
Derby returned two Labour MPs, for the first time, with Thomas at last being joined by Raynes in a fairly close run race against the sole Tory nominee. Significantly, the Liberal vote more than halved compared to the previous, recent election, There was also an interesting and unusual intervention of a fourth candidate, T C Newbold, who saw himself as representing the interests of ex-servicemen as an “Independent’. The day following his nomination, a meeting of the Full Street branch of the British Legion in Derby adopted Newbold as their candidate by 25 votes to 7 with 4 abstentions. Due to the shortness of time to polling day, it was claimed that other Legion branches which might have supported Newbold were unable to do so, their normal meeting dates coming after the election. There were resignations at the Full Street Legion, as some members claimed that Newbold’s adoption was unconstitutional and undemocratic. The circumstances of his candidature remain obscure, but he did admit that there were several Conservatives amongst his sponsors and it “appears probable that he had the backing of a number of Conservatives supporters in Derby who felt that their party should have contested both seats”. [200] Given the fact that electors had two votes to cast and that some traditionalists might not have wanted to back Raynes, the more left wing of the two Labour candidates, it is clear that Newbold’s candidature was designed to assist rather than harm the sole Tory. Whatever the case, his creditable 11% of the poll did not affect the outcome.
G H Oliver was returned again for Ilkeston, as was Frank Lee in North East Derbyshire. This time, Lee was well ahead of his closest rival, the Tory, with the Liberal at the bottom of the poll. In HighPeak and South Derbyshire, Labour fared badly. In the latter, the lace manufacturers held a meeting at New Sawley, with some operatives declaring the Tories to be the only salvation for their industry, no doubt arising from their concern over free trade. In West Derbyshire, Labour once again failed to stand a candidate.
Nationally, the Conservatives took 257 seats, while Labour had 192 and the Liberals had 157. Thus, with Liberal support, it was possible for Ramsey MacDonald to become Labour’s first Prime Minister. J H Thomas was elevated to cabinet rank, a matter “learnt with satisfaction” by many in the NUR. [201] As the Liberals had agreed with Labour on the key election issue of tariff reform, it was not perhaps unnatural for them to propose the larger party as the new Government. Clearly, Labour could only form a ministry if the Liberals were prepared to back them. Yet, there were dangers and the relative wisdom of accepting the challenge could be a matter for debate. Labour had after all only recently formally arrived at the point of a socialist programme. An anti-socialist majority in Parliament would not make it easy for Labour to introduce radical measures and maybe this had attractions for the party’s enemies. Placed in the invidious position where Labour had office, but very little power, it was almost inevitable that disillusionment with the performance of the new Government would be great amongst its supporters, whilst those who opposed Labour would have their fears simply confirmed.
Needless of these considerations, which in any case are made strong with the benefit of hindsight, the labour movement enthusiastically celebrated the forming of the first Labour ministry. The Clarion Club in Derby gave a concert party to 130 children at the Co-op Hall, while the Labour Party invited Raynes and Thomas to a “Victory Social” at the Central Hall. [202] During its brief life of nine months, the Labour Government did not gain a reputation for any intent to radically change British society. There were major industrial disputes and the Government displayed a reaction very little different to that which would have been adopted by a Tory, Liberal or Coalition government. Moreover, preparations were made, as part of a general policy, to set up procedures to enable the Government to withstand any key strike; these would be followed assiduously by a Tory Government in 1926 to beat a solidarity General Strike with the miners.
The new “workers” Government took a distinctly aloof attitude to the grievances of workers in struggle during its lifetime, an attitude which may explain the cooling of feeling for it amongst those who ought to have been its greatest supporters. The immediate technical cause of the downfall of the Labour Government was the affair surrounding the prosecution of John Ross Campbell, editor of the Communist Party of Great Britain’s journal, Workers Weekly, on the grounds that he had published an article calling on soldiers not to fire on strikers when so ordered. Despite the fact that the Government had initially decided to proceed against Campbell, the fact that it had reconsidered was much criticised by both major opposition parties, the claim being made that undue pressure had been put on the Attorney General to drop the legal proceedings against Campbell. Both anti-socialist parties combined to force an election just at a time which would be most unfavourable to Labour.
The Tories benefited strongly during the election campaign from the so-called “Zinoviev Letter”, which purported to be a communication from the leader of the Communist International to the British Communist Party. It was supposed to prove the Soviet Union’s interference in British affairs, with Labour consigned to the role of benignly watching on. Over the years, many have believed that the letter was a forgery, created by émigré Russians with the connivance of Conservative Central Office as an election stunt designed to boost the campaign of the Tories. Document releases at the public record office now establish clearly that Stewart Menzies, a security forces operative, later to become head of Ml6, was indeed responsible at the very least for the dissemination to the Tory press of the `letter’. Menzies ordered the destruction of documents relating to his youthful activities in April 1952.
Linking the Campbell affair with the Zinoviev Letter was a stroke of brilliant proportions, for its effect was devastating. Four days before the election, the Daily Mail splashed headlines saying: `Civil War Plot by socialists’ masters; Moscow Orders to our Reds; Great Plot Disclosed’. In Belper, the Tory leader, Strutt, freely cast doubts about the political background of the Labour candidate, Jack Lees, implying without justification that he was a member of the Communist Party. Despite these dubious tactics, Labour actually gained ground at Belper in a straight fight with the former Liberal votes apparently divided evenly between Lees and the victorious Tory, Wragg. In North East Derbyshire, the Tory candidate, Bowden, called the Communists the tail that wagged the Labour dog. But this did not affect the re-election of Frank Lee, who was in for the third time and actually took very many votes from the Liberals. In South Derbyshire, Alfred Goodere, a local newsagent stood in the Labour interests and only narrowly failed to beat the Conservative. The Tories produced a leaflet accusing the mild-mannered Goodere of assisting in Labour’s plan to help the Soviet Republic paralyse the armed forces. A big effort was made by them, the Conservatives spending £1,267 in the campaign in the constituency to Labour’s £432. [203]
The out-going premier, Ramsey MacDonald, had visited Derby during the election, passing through by car and stopping for lunch at the Royal Hotel. Not that his rather detached style of campaigning seemed to have made any difference to the result in Derby. Raynes was defeated after his brief sojourn as local MP, the Tory pipping him at the post, although with the Liberal vote halved Thomas retained his seat. Barnet Kenyon, in his charismatic way, retained Chesterfield in a straight fight with Labour, the votes dividing three to two in Kenyon’s favour. In another straight fight with the Tories, Duncan took Clay Cross again quite comfortably. Oliver retained Ilkeston with an improved vote, while the Tories cut very sharply into the Liberal vote there. Labour did not bother to contest their weak areas of HighPeak and West Derbyshire.
It was a mixed pattern of results, reflecting the continuing trend of electoral contests in the 1920s. More straight fights, a transformation of some industrial districts into Labour strongholds, a polarisation of the vote which tended to crush Liberal strength where Labour seemed in danger of not winning. Nationally, the Tories benefited most from all this. Not only had they the stunning propaganda effect of the Campbell affair and the Zinoviev Letter, but they had also jettisoned the unpopular and controversial policy of tariff reform. The party took the astonishingly large number of 413 seats, while Labour had 151, a similar number to that previously held. The Liberal Party in Parliament was but a shadow of its former self, having a mere 40 seats. It was the main loser of the whole campaign and the character of British politics for many decades to come was thus set.
The Labour Party in Derby had regained much of its membership strength, after suffering from the recession in a similar way to the trade unions. In 1922, membership had plummeted to the position it had been just after the war, but it began to improve almost immediately. The ILP maintained its sceptical separatism within the overall Labour Party set up, although one veteran of the time has argued that the “ILP ran the Labour Party”, perhaps an exaggeration but, certainly, some of the party’s key activists were ILPers. [204] ILP membership affiliated to the DLP rose from 120 in 1922 to 180 in 1927 and the detailed figures show how dominant affiliated membership was, compared to individual membership.
Year*                                     DLP                                              DLP
                                  individual membership            affiliated membership
1918                  750                                                       7,634
1919              1,877                                                       14,244
       1920              2,395                                                       24,719
       1921              1,579                                                       21,754
       1922                  783                                                       18,039
       1923              1,088                                                       16,692
       1924              1,597                                                       18,589
       1925              1,815                                                       20,358
       1926              1,777                                                       19,719
(* Figures cover the periods from March to March from the previous year to the year stated, the year of the annually published report of the Derby Labour Party.)
Throughout the 1920s, the reluctance of ordinary people to contemplate war, having had the experience of the carnage of 1914-18 so recently, fuelled the desire of the labour movement to campaign around questions of peace. For example, the DTC in September 1922 was concerned over Government policy in the “Near East’, or North Africa. Whilst in February of the following year, the council was disturbed at the situation concerning French action in the occupied Ruhr area of Germany, declaring that “no assistance (ought) to be given by this country in their (i.e. the French) attempts to cause another war”. [205] Towards the end of 1924 the ILP, the Labour Party, the Co-operative Party and the Derby Trades Council all came together to organise a “No More War” demonstration. [206] Also, when the newly elected Conservative Government embarked upon imperial ventures in China, utilising British troops, organised labour was determined in its opposition. [207]
The vicious election campaign of 1924 revealed not only a polarisation of politics, but also a new trend in right wing thinking. The revolutionary tide which had swept Europe in the aftermath of the war and the Russian revolution had been averted in Italy by the adoption of a strong conservative state. Mussolini’s Fascists (or ‘Fascisti’, to use the Italian name widely utilised in Britain itself at this time) attracted much interest. A Fascist movement grew in Britain itself, as the established politics of consensus seemed to fail. The “British Fascisti” established a branch in Derby in the middle of 1924. Brigadier General E Pearce-Sercold, one of the executive heads at British Celanese, was the first commander of the local group, which claimed 150 members in the county. They described their aims to be to “support Christianity, the King and the British Empire”. Pearce-Sercold used his position to win young recruits at British Celanese, where a small Fascist cell was established. To most right wing Conservatives there seemed to be a great attraction in the basic tenets of Fascism, especially its violent anti-communism. [208]
It was an ominous development, presaging the tragedy of mass war and genocide only a decade and a half away. Yet for all the concern of the working class movement that war be avoided, the DLP was preoccupied with carnival like activities, exemplified by the first ‘outing’ organised in the summer of 1925, when 22 charabancs assembled in the Market Place preparatory to setting off to Monsal Head. [209] Labour’s parliamentary leaders had tasted nine months of government, a delight to any serious orthodox politician. This seemed to have been snatched away from them due to the radicalism, in both the political and industrial spheres, of the 1919-23 period. The identification of Labour with Russia by the increasingly powerful daily popular press was strengthened by the Campbell and Zinoviev Letter affairs. The leadership reasoned that the defeat of 1924 was the result of the fear of the winnable centre ground of the electorate that a vote for Labour was a vote for red revolution. If this was so, then the answer to future electoral popularity must lie in projecting a more ‘safe’, more conservative political line.
The presence of Communists within the Labour Party was argued to be an electoral handicap, although where individual members of the Communist Party stood as official Labour candidates this did not prove to be the case. For some time before the election of the first Labour Government, hostility to the Communist Party within certain sections of the Labour Party had increased. This was especially so in Derby, where the labour movement was led in the main by the right wing. The chairman of the Derby branch of the Communist Party was refused access to the platform at the annual May Day rally at the Market Place in 1923 by Councillor A Slaney, who was chairing. This action was considered to be a “significant rebuke” by the Derby Mercury. In complete harmony with this approach was the tenor of J H Thomas’ speech, the main one of course. This was marked by the determination to achieve what Thomas called “industrial peace” at all costs between capital and labour. [210]
Administrative difficulties had been placed in the way of Communist-Labour candidates. So as to resolve the problem, the Communist Party applied formally for affiliation to the Labour Party as a socialist society, reasoning that its main constituent organisation - the BSP - had been affiliated and there should therefore be no obstacle placed in the way of its direct heir to the same relationship. The argument over this raged, as the 1925 conference of the Labour Party approached. In Derby, a crowded meeting of 100 delegates attended the half-yearly conference of the local DLP, to decide by a large majority to oppose affiliation of the Communist Party. The minority argued that the Communists gave strength to the movement, that solidarity and unity were needed. Others were suspicious and believed that only the electoral success of the Labour Party could benefit the working class and that might be jeopardised by affiliation. Significantly, the DLP’s delegates to the annual conference were given a free hand on all matters other than this question. John Cobb and Mrs Clarke, the two delegates, were mandated to vote against affiliation. [211]
One month later, the opposing view was put with considerable force and authority in the town when Josiah Wedgwood, Labour member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and a former cabinet minister, spoke at Derby’s Central Hall. His local Labour Party had mandated him to vote for the Communists to remain within the party. Opposition to affiliation was effectively tantamount to voting for expulsion of those Communists involved in local Labour parties and the banning of delegates who held Communist Party membership from attending party conferences on behalf of trade unions. Wedgwood argued that he for one did not want the Labour Party to “lose the rebel spirit by being too goody-goody”, a line received with considerable applause at the packed meeting. He would rather have “the Communists inside than outside”. While he personally did not support the general line of the Communists’ strategy, Wedgwood was afraid that Labour might become a “social reform movement instead of a socialistic one”. [212]
Despite the significant, but perhaps minority, views such as this which were expressed quite strongly inside the Labour Party, the annual conference voted marginally to reject the affiliation of the Communist Party. This act was an important symbolic step away from the militant years. Yet, whilst Labour turned right, at the Scarborough conference of the TUC, the unions took a determined stance decidedly to the left. The scene was thus set for the fateful events of the 1926 General Strike. The unions would remain a key target for destabilisation by the establishment. As for the Labour Party, while the right most definitely held the reins of power within the party, the heart and soul still lingered in the left wing camp. Arguments and controversy over the direction the Labour Party should take would grow. One of the leaders of the left at this time would show just how volatile politics can be. The young Oswald Mosley was an extremely charismatic person and his particular branch of criticism of the cautious approach of the parliamentary leadership caught the imagination of many. In Parliament, he was an MP who adopted a most dashing style of oratory and action. They were qualities which would serve him well in the next decade as leader of Britain’s Fascists.
Mosley had local connections by marriage to the aristocratic Curzon family and his own father was a major landowner in the area. He and his wife were regular visitors to Derbyshire labour movement events. His radicalism and personality were an attraction. Mosley addressed a meeting called by the ILP in October 1925, at which he argued the case for nationalisation of the banks and a generally radical social and economic programme of reform. [213]
The General Strike was to be the ultimate confrontation between the coal owners and the miners, a test of strength which would determine the course of the next few decades. The strike was to prove to be a defeat in more than one way, but before defeat came stunning success. In 1925, the TUC offered positive support to the miners, threatening to embargo all movement of coal when the owners had threatened a lock out which aimed to roll back any gains made in the previous decade. The owners and the Government were unprepared for such a confrontation, backing off completely but temporarily. A subsidy was provided which would allow the lock out notices to be withdrawn. The announcement came as a vindication of the movement, more than making up for the unsavoury events of Black Friday. The victory was hailed as Red Friday. But it was short lived, since another Royal Commission was set up to review the situation in the coal industry. The subsidy was only limited and, as it ran out, the Commission reported in favour of the employers’ demands. The TUC joined in with the parliamentary leadership of the Labour Party in desperate efforts to avert a dispute. But the Tory Government had deliberately planned revenge and aimed once and for all to silence the militancy of the miners. The experience of 1926 and the run up to it would mark the end of any possibility for the road. In 1919, many in the working class had genuinely debated the question of revolution or reform. By the end of the General Strike the answer had been provided.
1 “The Labour Party Constitution and Standing Orders” The Labour Party (1980)
2 ed Asa Briggs and John Saville “Essays in Labour History 1918-39” Vol 3 Croom Helm (1977) p100
3 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes November 16th 1918
4 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes December 4th 1918
5 Derby Mercury October 25th 1918
6 Derby Mercury March 22nd, July 26th 1918; G Kingscott “Long Eaton Co-operative Society Ltd - A Centenary History 1868-1968” LECS (1968) p112; John Beadle “346,159 - the story of the 14 General Election Campaigns Fought in South Derbyshire between 1918 and 1966 (1968) pp3-6
7 Derby Mercury January 3rd 1919
8 Derby Mercury March 7th 1919
9 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes June 14th 1919
10 Derbyshire Times August 9th 1919
11 Derby Trades Council Minutes June 13th 1917 and February 12th 1919
12 Derby Trades Council Minutes January 8th 1919
13 Derby Mercury May 9th 1919
14 W R Raynes unpublished memoirs p71
15 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes June 14th 1919
16 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes September 10th 1919
17 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes October 8th 1919
18 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes November 12th, December 13th 1919
19 Staveley ASLEF Minutes January 20th 1920
20 Derby ASLEF Minutes June 13th 1920
21 Derby Trades Council Minutes August 11th 1920
22 Derby Mercury August 20th 1920;Derby ASLEF Minutes August 15th 1920, September 12th 1920
23 Derby Trades Council Minutes October 8th 1919
24 ABL Minutes November 27th 1919
25 Rowsley NUR Minutes December 28th 1919
26 Derby Mercury October 31st 1919
27 Derby Mercury December 12th 1919
28 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes December 20th 1919
29 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes February 21st 1920
30 Derby Mercury April 30th 1920
31 Derby Mercury May 21st 1920
32 P S Bagwell “The Railwaymen - the history of the NUR” Allen and Unwin (1982) Vol 2 p74; L Clay - conversations with the author
33 Derby Mercury May 21st 1920, June 8th 1923
34 Derby Master Printers Association Minutes March 24th 1919, DMPA letter reproduced in the minutes August 18th 1919, December 6th (letter) and August 26th 1919 (minutes)
35 J E Williams ‘The Derbyshire Miners” Allen and Unwin (1962) p583;H M Parker and L M Willies “Peakland Lead Mines and Miners” Moorland Publishing (1979) no page numbers - note to plate concerning Hillcar Sough
36 Derby ASLEF Minutes December 1st 1918, January 12th 1919; Rowsley NUR Minutes January 26th 1919
37 Derby Mercury December 24th 1920
38 Rowsley NUR Minutes June 29th 1919
39 Derby ASLEF Minutes September 29th, October 1st, October 3rd 1919
40 Derby Mercury October 3rd 1919
41 Derby Daily Telegraph September 29th 1919
42 Derby Trades Council Minutes October 8th 1919
43 Derby Daily Telegraph September 29th 1919
44 ABL Minutes October 17th 1919
45 Derby ASLEF Minutes December 14th 1919, March 14th 1920
46 Derby ASLEF Minutes May 9th 1920
47 Rowsley NUR Minutes July 27th 1919, August 28th 1921, June 5th 1922; Derby ASLEF Minutes August 28th 1921
48 Derby Mercury January 24th 1919
49 Derby Mercury April 16th 1920
50 Derby Trades Council Minutes June 13th 1919
51 Derby Mercury October 11th 1918
52 A V Sellwood “Police Strike -1919” W H Allen (1978) pp56-7
53 Derby Mercury November 28th 1919
54 New Dawn (NUDAW journal) March 5h 1921
55 W L Unsworth “75 Years of Co-operation in Derby 18S0-192S” DCS (1927)
p218-9; G Kingscott “Long Eaton Co-operative Society - a Centenary History 1868-1968” LECS (1968) pp112-113
56 New Dawn July 1921
57 Derby Mercury June 15th 1923
58 Derby Mercury October 12th 1923
59 G Kingscott “Long Eaton Co-operative Society - a Centenary History 1868-1968” LECS (1968) p111
60 Derby Trades Council Minutes July 9th 1924
61 ABL Minutes for the years stated
62 ABL Minutes October 17th 1918
63 ABL Minutes January 1st 1920
64 ABL Minutes September 20th 1920
65 ABL Minutes March 29th, June 28th 1916
66 ABL Minutes May 13th, May 27th 1920
67 ABL Minutes July 5th 1920
68 ABL Minutes April 5th 1921
69 R W Postgate “The Builders History” NFBTO (1923) Appendix 1
70 ABL Minutes April 23rd 1918
71 ABL Minutes July 13th 1920
72 R Gurnham “200 Years - history of the trade movement in Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776 1976” NUHKW (1976) p75
73 English Sewing Cotton original poster 1919
74 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes September 6th 1919
75Derby Mercury November 28th 1919
76 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes July 12th 1919
77 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes March 9th 1918
78 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes February 8th 1919, September 6th 1919
79 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes January 20th 1920
80 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes April 17th 1920
81 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes August 9th 1919
82Derby Trades Council Minutes November 15th 1919
83 Workers Union Annual Reports 1914, 1920
84Derby Mercury December 24th 1920
85 Rowsley NUR Minutes February 19th 1920
86 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes August 9th 1919
87Derby Mercury April 16th 1920, May 9th 1924; R Groves “Sharpen the Sickle” Merlin Press (1981) p253
88Derby Mercury October 1st 1920; Clarence Daniel “The Plague Village - a history of Eyam” W Warrington & Sons, Tideswell (1938) p58
89 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes March 29th 1915
90 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes June 2nd 1919
91 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes June 30th 1919
92 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes April 19th 1920
93 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes April 4th 1921
94 NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes April 25th 1921
95 Rowsley NUR Branch Minutes March 30th 1924; J E Mortimer “History of the AESD” DATA (1960) p46
96Derby Mercury December 14th 1923
97Derby Mercury March 17th 1922
98 Charles Doherty “Steel and Steel Workers - the Sons of Vulcan” Heinemann Educational (1983) p62
99Derby Mercury April 30th 1920
100 Ilkeston Borough Minutes 1919-1920
101 Derby Mercury May 6th 1921
102 Derby Mercury October 22nd 1920
103 Derby Trades Council Minutes April 14th 1920
104 Derby Mercury December 24th 1920
105 Derby ASLEF Minutes February 13th 1921, February 20th 1921
106 Derby Trades Council Minutes February 8th 1922
107 G D H Cole “A Short History of the British Working Class Movement 1789-1947” Allen and Unwin (1948) p469
108 Derby Mercury March 14th 1919
109 W R Raynes unpublished memoirs p120
110 Derby Mercury October 15th 1920
111 Derby Mercury July 20th 1920
112 Official Report of the Communist Unity Convention - London July 31st to August 1st 1920 Facsimile Reproduction - CPGB (June 1968)
113 John Mahon “Harry Pollitt” Lawrence and Wishart (1976) p35; James Klugmann “History of the Communist Party of Great Britain 1919-24” Vol I Lawrence and Wishart (1968) p361; Information supplied by Fred Westacott, CPGB East Midlands District Secretary.
114          Derby Mercury March 27th 1920
115          W L Unsworth 75 Years of Co-operation in Derby 1850-1925” DCS (1927) pp 177-8,180,183; Derby Monthly Record (DCS) January 1923, June 1923; G Kingscott “Long Eaton Co-operative Society - a Centenary History 1868-1968” LECS (1968) pp112-113; Derby Mercury May 7th 1920; DCS Derby Monthly Record October 1916
116 Derby Trades Council Minutes January 12th 1921
117          J Hinton and R Hyman “Trades Unions and Revolution” Pluto Press (1975) ppl4-15, quoting A Gleason “What the Worker Wants” (1920)
118          G D H Cole “A Short History of the British Working Class Movement 1789-1947” Allen and Unwin (1948) p469
119          Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes November 13th 1920
120 Derby Mercury December 24th 1920
121 Derby Mercury October 8th, November 26th 1920
122 Norman H Cuthbert “The Lacemakers Society” The Society (1960) p131
123 Derby Mercury September 23rd 1921
124 Derby Mercury May 9th 1924
125 Derby Trades Council Minutes July 9th, December 10th 1924
126          R Gurnham “200 Years -history of the trade movement in Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776 1976” NUHKW (1976) p92, p96
127          R Gurnham “200 Years - history of the trade movement in Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776 1976” NUHKW (1976) p117
128          R Gurnham “200 Years -history of the trade movement in Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776 1976” NUHKW (1976) pplOl-3
129 Derby Mercury March 18th 1921
130          R Gurnham “200 Years - history of the trade movement in Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776 1976” NUHKW (1976) p108; Ministry of Labour Gazette 1924
131          Derby Mercury January 7th 1921
132          Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes December 10th 1921, April 8th 1922
133          Derby Mercury February 17th 1922
134          Derby Mercury April 11th 1924
135 Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes - various dates
136          Workers Union Railway Workshops Branch Minutes and papers of H A Hind
137          Workers Union Derby District Committee Minutes September 19th 1925
138          Workers Union Membership Card 1921
139          Workers Union National Reports for years stated
140          G Kingscott “Long Eaton Co-operative Society - a Centenary History 1868-1968” LECS (1968) ppll2-113; Rowsley NUR Minutes April 3rd, April 12th 1921
141 Derby ASLEF April 10th 1921
142 Derby Mercury April 15th 1921
143 Derby Mercury April 22nd 1921
144 Derby Mercury April 10th 1921
145          Rowsley NUR Minutes July 24th 1921, undated minute between May 1st and May 15th 1921
146 Staveley ASLEF June 26th 1921,
147 Derby Mercury April 29th 1921
148 Derbyshire Times May 7th 1921
149          R H Mottram and C Coote “Through Five Generations - a history of the Butterley Company” Faber and Faber (1950) p145
150 B J Hunt “The West Hallam Heritage” Moorley’s, Ilkeston (1978) p51
151 Derbyshire Times July 2nd 1921
152 Derbyshire Times October 7th 1922
153 Derby Mercury January 13th 1922
154          J E Williams ‘The Derbyshire Miners- a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p610
155          Derbyshire Times December 24th 1921, January 7th 1922, January 14th 1922, January 28th 1922
156 ABL Minutes April 1st, July 17th, August 5th 1921
157 ABL Minutes July 11th 1917, June 20th 1921, November 12th 1920, June 30th 1921, August 5th 1921
158 ABL Minutes January 4th, January 5th, March 9th, March 30th, April 14th, April 22nd, October 10th 1922, April 5th, April 24th, July 5th, October 4th 1923
159 ABL Minutes April 5th, June 30th, August 5th 1921
160 ABL Minutes March 13th, July 5th 1923
161          NASOHSPD New Mills Branch Minutes December 23rd 1921, May 1st 1922, May 4th 1923, June 11th, June 23rd 1924, April 27th 1925
162 Derby Mercury March 4th 1921
163          ASWM Monthly Report May 1925
164          NUVB Quarterly Reports 192S
165 NUVB Quarterly Reports for the years stated
166          NUVB Quarterly Reports July 1923
167          NUVB “A Short History of the NUVB - 1834-1959” p25
168          Derby Mercury April 18th 1924
169          Derby Mercury September 11th 192S
170          ed H B Lees-Smith “The Encyclopaedia of the Labour Movement” Vol II Caxton Publishing (1928) p83-5
171          Rowsley NUR Minutes October 30th 1921
172          Rowsley NUR Minutes December 28th 1924
173          PS Bagwell “The Railwaymen - the history of the NUR” Vol I NUR (1963) p433
174          Derby Mercury April 20th 1923
175 Derby Mercury December 21st 1923
176          Derby ASLEF Minutes January 13th, January 20th, December 7th 1924
177          Derby ASLEF Minutes April 12th 192S
178          Staveley ASLEF April 29th 1923
179          Derby Mercury September 27th 1925
180 Derby Mercury April 5th 1925
181 Derby Mercury May 6th 1921
182 Derby Mercury May 13th 1921
183 Derby Mercury October 14th 1921
184 Derby Mercury September 9th 1921
185 Derby Mercury September 16th 1921
186 Derby Mercury January 27th 1922
187 ABL Minutes March 9th 1922
188 P Kingsford “The Hunger Marchers 1920-40” Lawrence and Wishart (1982) pp 39-40
189          P Kingsford ‘The Hunger Marchers 1920-40” Lawrence and Wishart (1982) p46, p61
190 A Tuckett “The Blacksmith’s History” Lawrence and Wishart (1974) p200
191 Derby Mercury May 4th 1923
192 Derby Mercury September 11th 1924
193 J Hinton and R Hyman “Trades Unions and Revolution” Pluto Press (1975) p25’ Derby Trades Council Minutes July 11th 1917, February 14th 1918, December 13th 1922, January 10th 1923, March 9th 1923, December 10th 1924
194 ABL Minutes May 10th 1922; Derby ASLEF September 14th 1919
195 Derbyshire Times November 4th 1922
196 Derbyshire Times April 16th 1921
197 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners - a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p816
198 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners - a study in industrial and social history” Allen and Unwin (1962) p816
199 J Hinton and R Hyman “Trades Unions and Revolution” Pluto Press (1975) pl55
200 F W S Craig “British Elections 191 8-49” Parliamentary Research Service -
Chichester (1983) p125
201 Rowsley NUR Minutes January 27th 1924
202 Derby Mercury January 4th 1924
203 John Beadle “346,159 - the story of the 14 General Election Campaigns Fought in South Derbyshire between 1918 and 1966” privately published (1968) p12
204 Les Clay - conversations with the author
205 Derby Trade Council Minutes September 13th 1922
206 Derby Trades Council Minutes September 10th 1924; Derby Mercury September 26th 1924
207 Derby Mercury June 3rd 1925
208 Derby Mercury November 14th 1924, July 2nd 1926
209 Derby Mercury July 24th 1925
210 Derby Mercury May 11th 1923
211 Derby MercurySeptember 25th 1925
212 Derby Mercury October 23rd 192S
213 Derby Mercury October 16th 1925

Chapter Twelve


The Derbyshire Labour Movement: 1939-1945
For some, the summer of 1939 was a complex contradiction of international turmoil and domestic idyll. The TGWU District Committee in Derby felt so complacently self-satisfied that it held the statutory quarterly meeting in the pleasant country village of Youlgreave, making it more of an outing than a serious meeting. Naturally, a larger attendance was registered than in the whole of the previous year and a delightful time was had by all. Tea was served at the Bull’s Head Hotel after which several members strolled through the lovely dales and all appreciated the beautiful well-dressing (a traditional Derbyshire village custom based on flower decoration) before enjoying a very fine drive back to Derby”, no doubt by charabanc. [1] But stormy clouds were gathering.
After years of appeasement and friendship with fascism among the highest circles of British life, the initial lack of enthusiasm for war could not have been entirely unexpected. Many people were in dreadful fear of what was to come, everyone was apprehensive. Certainly, the response amongst Derby trades unionists was mixed. Anticipating the possibility of war earlier that year, the Derby Joint Engineering Trades Committee, representing some 15,000 workers in a variety of unions, firmly opposed conscription. [2] This attitude was by no means uncommon, a meeting of protest against conscription was planned by the Trades Council and the Labour Party, but was cancelled. [3] Reflecting a note of weary realism, the Derby branch of NUDAW, the distributive workers union, considered that war would bring ‘probable attempts to lower wage rates, possible redundancies amongst ... members, the employment of substitute labour etc’. It was resolved that an Emergency Committee be appointed to “overlook these matters”. [4]
The declaration of war gave new problems to the trade union movement. Many members joined the forces and some unions, with some urgency, introduced new rules enabling them to retain membership during periods of national service. Despite the upheaval, recruitment continued and a net increase of some one hundred members was registered in the July/September quarter by the Derby TGWU, for example. [5] Trade unions immediately took up the question of air raid protection for their members, and British Celanese provided shelters, after representations were made, even before the actual declaration of war. [6] The onset of war brought an immediate strong bargaining position to many workers and substantial wage increases began to be won everywhere, NUDAW members at the Derby Co-op Paint Works asked for a 10% cost of living increase due to sudden inflation caused by the war. The union also negotiated an agreement covering the Co-op Laundry workers for loss of time and consequently earnings, due to air raids. [7] While the TGWU led the way with a stunning pace of improved wages settlements:
Wage increases won in the early part of the war by Derby TGWU [8]
Company or agreement                           weekly increase      hourly increase
Autumn 1939
Sinfin Ordinance Depot                            4/-                                            -
Brands Stove & Grate                               2/-                                            -
Cox’s Lead Works                                                  -                                               1 1/4d
DP Battery                                                    -                                               1/2d
PAC Institution gate porters                    -                                               1d
Celanese Weavers                                     -                                               1/2d
Spring 1940
Boden’s Weavers                                       5/- + 10/-                                 -
Rolls Royce - cleaners                              -                                               1/-
Cory’s Wagon Repair Co                         2/6d                                        -
G R Turner’s - pieceworkers                   2/-                                            -
G R Turner’s - day workers                     an additional 5%                -
DP Battery                                                    2/-                                            -
Railway Workshops                                   5/- providing new weekly minimum £2 8s 0d
National Engineering Agreement          5/-                                            -
Butterley (Waingroves)                             3/-, 2/-, 1/-                               -
East Midlands Local Authority                           -                                               3/4d
Summer 1940
G R Turner’s - men                                     5/-                                            -
G A Turner’s - boys                                    2/6d                                        -
Chemical workers (national)                   -                                               3/4d
Textiles (national)                                       -                                               3/4d
DSF - Men                                                     3/6d                                        -
DSF - Women and boys                           2/6d                                        -
50 tunnel miners employed by Lehane and MacKenzie & Shand Ltd on constructing Derby’s new drainage system went on strike in April 1940 for a 12.5% increase. The men “congregated along Osmaston Park-road, disturbances were caused and the police called in”. The men were already getting 2d an hour above the national rate set by the civil engineering conciliation board - but now they demanded an additional 3d. Precisely what the outcome was is unrecorded. But considering the atmosphere at the time and the fact that the men were out on strike for at least two days and that the press did not follow up the story, no doubt for fear of encouraging others; one suspects that tunnel miners got what they were looking for. The reputation of tunnel miners has never been one of timidity! [9]
Agricultural workers were given a stupendous boost by the war. Average weekly wages in Derbyshire of labourers were a mere 38/- in 1938 but had increased massively to 90/- nine years later. For the agricultural worker, the war was a blessing in disguise. Given the blockade of Britain by U-boats, the importance of home grown agricultural products escalated quite phenomenally. In the early part of 1939, few County Area Agricultural Wages Boards secured wage advances, but by the latter part of the year this situation was suddenly reversed. In early 1940, the Agricultural Wages Act was introduced, enabling national minimum wages to be established which were initially set at 42/- a week for male adults. But after protests and following the intervention of Ernie Bevin, the higher rate of 48/- was established. County Wages Committees could now only set local rates above this and wages cuts were not allowed, only increments above the minimum. In common with only a few areas, Derbyshire was able to extract an extra 2/- a week. [10]
Foreign citizens and others, interned for the duration “under the Royal prerogative or under the order of the Secretary of State”, working in agriculture were to receive 4/- less. [11] By the end of 1941 a minimum rate of £3 a week for male adult workers was established in the Derby Wages Committee area. Women were paid a minimum of £2 adult wages, irrespective of the job they performed. Paid holidays (albeit only a maximum of three days, plus the then four bank holidays) were also provided. Despite this, permits of exemption could be obtained to enable farmers to employ workers affected by physical injury or mental deficiency and, in consequence, avoid the legislation covering wages, hours and holidays. [12]
The legal definition of a week varied widely in meaning from county to county, but 48 hours would seem to be an approximate standard. By and large, much of the work was done by County Committees, local conditions not only determined the length of a standard week, but also other factors such as how much might be paid to the worker in kind. The Derbyshire Agricultural Wages Committee increased the amount of benefits payable in lieu of cash from April 27th 1941. For example, milk, board, lodgings up to £1 per week and cottage rent of up to 4/- per week might be accepted as payment for wages. [13] As a direct result of all this, the National Union of Agricultural Workers (NUAW) membership more than tripled during the course of the war years. [14]
Elsewhere, concern was expressed very early on in the textile industry as to the effect of the war on labour conditions. By the end of 1939, a Joint Committee had been established by the Ilkeston Hosiery Union with the local employers to supervise the restrictions on labour necessary as a result of the war. The first conflict arose when the union refused to lift their ban on Saturday afternoon working. The employers wanted to extend hours to 57, without consultation, but soon apologised for their hastiness when they realised the need for the union’s co-operation. [15]
The initial boom created by the war was, in characteristic capitalist fashion, followed by a slump in demand which affected all sectors. In 1940, Celanese went on short-time and the union noted that the position was not very satisfactory. In the clay and gravel industry, work was very scarce after the declaration of war, due to the cessation of all ordinary building operations. Two brickworks were temporarily closed down, but nonetheless an agreement was reached in South Derbyshire for a 48 hour week payment for overtime after 12 noon on Saturdays, when only plain time had been payable before. [16] It was to be expected, of course, that demand for bricks would sky-rocket as German bombing took its toll and as more air-raid shelters were constructed. But this took time; a “decided improvement in the state of trade” could be noted by the following year. [17]
Despite the early mild slump, as the war began to be taken more seriously, demand began to rise considerably and, overall, it was a boom period. A massively expanded sense of strength was generated by the generally favourable economic conditions and this made many workers recall old wounds and consider how to recover the full degree of lost power. The Derby TGWU sent a resolution to the Prime Minister in March 1940: “this meeting of delegates, representing over 6,000 members emphatically protest, against your decision not to amend the Trade Dispute and Trade Union Act 1927 and further, this decision has caused profound distrust of your sincerity in regards to the hard won rights of the Trade Unionists in this country”. [18] The local NUDAW Branch passed a resolution condemning the government in ringing tones, “in conscripting labour but not wealth”; it followed this up with a resolution for its annual conference, demanding that the means test be abolished. [19] A demand which was in fact accomplished that year when all the harsher features of the means test were virtually abandoned from 2nd June 1941. [20]
The conscription of labour into the army was bound to cause dissent. As in the 1914-18 war, Conscientious Objectors faced severe difficulties, although in the main, socialists were not objectors, especially following the invasion of the USSR in 1941 by German troops. In the early days of the Battle of Britain, Derby NUDAW discussed the case of a member called Arthur Taylor who had, because of his refusal to be conscripted been refused Unemployment Benefit. The Union agreed that the case be taken and that “support of the Branch be accorded to Mr A J Taylor in his appeal against military service on conscientious grounds”. [21] Whilst the NUDAW Branch was a particularly left wing one, this open-mindedness was not uncommon. In fact, trade unionists were more charitable to objectors than they had been a quarter of a century before. The Derby NUDAW branch was a major influence on the local Trades Council and the fact that the branch agreed to a resolution of support to the Daily Worker on the 20th March 1939 should not escape notice.
Derby Trades Council took a distinctly left wing line on the war, quite to the distress of some sections. Hind’s TGWU Branch had long since disaffiliated in contempt of the DTC’s leftism, but were continually pressured by the union’s national and regional hierarchy to re-affiliate, which they did in 1939. Relations were sufficiently well improved that the Railway Shopmen’s TGWU Branch, after discussing the proposed DTC “Trade Union Week of Recruitment” in August 1939, decided that Hind and Hull, the full time organisers, should participate. [22] Despite this show of unity, a clear difference over the war existed between the DTC and the local labour movement establishment. The Railway Workshop Branch of the TGWU, under the influence of Hind, took the view that the war was “against the actions of aggressors and, more particularly, the dangers of Fascism to the Trade Union, Labour and Cooperative movement”. The branch also supported the TUC’s position on General Council powers over the trades councils and, with some weariness, Hunt, their delegate, reported on the “uphill fight he was having” at the DTC. The general opinion of the union locally was that the “whole of the main work done by the trades council was political and was the Labour Party’s work”. [23]
The left, however, took a critical view of the war, with opinions varying from the official Communist Party view that it was a sort of replay of the 1914-18 war, offering no future for the workers, to the hostility to the ‘Men of Munich’ view which characterised left labour thinking. The war was being conducted with so little vigour that it was dubbed ‘the phoney war’ by all and sundry. Communists and their allies on the left were out of line with the official Labour and trade union view, which argued that an opportunity to fulfil the anti-fascist rhetoric of the Popular Frontism of the 1930s was now available, even though that official policy had not supported the Popular Front at the time! So vitriolic was the criticism by the left of the war’s conduct, and so near the bone, that the Home Secretary threatened the Daily Worker with suppression, whilst refusing to identify the specific objections. Discontent with the course of the war was channelled into massive support for the demand that the Men of Munich must go. There was tremendous popular discontent with the way the war was being run by the old Tory faces of the 1930s, even the revamped all party Government of Churchill’s coalition, established in May 1940, did not dampen the unease.
A National Conference in June 1940 was held, which attracted fairly wide support, to elect a People’s Vigilance Committee to further the anti-Tory campaign, as the phoney war continued. The PVC campaigned for improved air-raid facilities for working class districts as, from August onwards, air-raids began to be more common. Paralleling the Communists’ view, the PVC argued that the conflict between Britain’s existing imperialistic interest and Germany’s desire to obtain similar power, would not solve the needs of British workers. The broad unity which developed around this idea, sharpened by popular demands for a democratic approach to Air Raid Precautions (ARP), seriously worried the Government and the Labour leadership which sought to denigrate the PVC by its closeness to the Communist Party. The controversy around the PVC and the official Labour Party view inevitably surfaced in Derbyshire.
In mid-1940 the Derby Labour Party organised a “Labour and the War” conference, to project the official policy. However, quite distinctly different was the DTC’s “War Profits and Big Business” conference called for the 28th September. The title of the conference suggests closeness to the Communist analysis of the war situation, which had a resonance with the experience of ordinary people of war profiteering in the First World War. But the left’s sharp criticism of the failure to provide adequate ARP measures for working people was also widely applauded. NUDAW’s Derby Branch continued to associate with such a stance throughout 1940, as when, for example, it decided to reply to a circular letter from the Derby CP “expressing approval for the suggestions made”. [24]
Many Labour Party members supported the PVC, but were expelled for their pains. Derby Railway Workshop TGWU Branch noted in late 1940 that “the People’s Vigilance Committee ... was being led by expelled members of the Labour Party who are known Communists ... individuals who give support to this movement forfeit the qualifications upon which they are members of the Labour Party”. [25] This attitude was widely adopted but, undeterred by all this, the PVC began to organise for a major national conference to be called the People’s Convention. Despite threats to ban the People’s Convention, it was held on 21st January 1941. 2,234 delegates, representing 1.25 million workers, were there. Each main area in the country was credited with a certain number of delegates and the local Convention and Vigilance Committees were grouped according to regions. Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were placed with Sheffield, to provide a total of 95 delegates. So there would easily have been maybe a dozen or more at the very minimum from the county. Clearly, a major movement was developing and twelve great regional conferences were planned and the Convention demanded a People’s Government and a People’s Peace. The eight part programme pointed to a radical direction for Britain. The demand was for “emergency powers to be used to take over the banks, land, transport, armaments and other large industries in order to organise our economic life in the interests of the people”. [26]
So impressive had the convention been that some in the movement sought disciplinary action to crush support. The People’s Vigilance Committee was discussed at the TGWU No 5 Midlands Area Committee, only days after the convention. The view was expressed there that the PVC “was a subversive movement of the Communist Party and great concern was expressed at the rapid progress it had made”. [27] John Trotter, a member of the Area Committee from the Building Trade Group, a labourer who had been a long-standing leader of the Communist Party in Birmingham, had signed a supporting document for the Convention. A recommendation was put to the Area Committee that he be, in effect, expelled from the committee for using his name in connection with the PVC. However, this aim was eventually withdrawn after some debate and the committee decided that it would not follow the procedure for expulsion, due to the fact that Trotter, deciding to exercise discretion on this occasion, undertook not to use his name again in this way.  (Trotter was to win election to the TGWU General Executive Council, representing the national Building Trade Group in the post-war years but, refusing to give up his Communist Party membership when the bans on Communists holding office were introduced in the union, was ejected from his seat from 1950.)
The Daily Worker commented on the Convention and the Government’s view of it: “The Government answers (the Convention’s demands) by threatening the workers and declaring that the police action will be taken.” [28] The paper was a daily thorn in the side of the Government, with its insistence on championing the rights of workers and, in consequence, was suppressed from 21st January 1941, under a “Defence Regulation 2D Order” by the authority of the Home Secretary. No court of law was involved and no right of appeal existed. The last editorial of the Daily Worker before it was banned accused the Government of allowing a crisis in war production, “due to the reckless profiteering and incompetence of the ruling class”. [29] A tremendous campaign began, which went as far as to force the national Labour Party itself to carry a resolution, after a heated debate on 26th May 1942, calling for the lifting of the ban on the Daily Worker. Only on the 27th September 1942 did the paper begin publication again, some twenty months after the ban had been imposed.
With Churchill’s take over in 1940 and Chamberlain’s departure, Labour had entered the war cabinet and important trade union figures, like Ernie Bevin, General Secretary of the TGWU, began to feature in the news. The new strength of unionism was often linked to Bevin and, indeed, his influence was paramount. A father figure perhaps, a benevolent dictator, certainly. The usual message to concerns was - ‘don’t worry, Ernie’ll sort it out’. This is well exemplified by the minute of a Derby TGWU Railway Workshop Branch meeting, which recorded that: “A discussion took place on conscription, the meeting was informed that Bro Bevin had the whole matter in hand.” [30] His appointment as Minister of Labour in the Coalition Government was to have very important repercussions for trades unionists everywhere. The Derby TGWU District Committee showed something of this, in a resolution on his appointment which expressed: “Appreciation of the action of the General Secretary Bro. E Bevin in accepting the position of Minister of Labour a determination to assist in the fight against Fascism was the resolve of all members of the Derby District Committee.” [31]
In order to more effectively propagate the war, following the end of the phoney war period, the Government increasingly took over the direction of labour. Essential Works Orders (EWOs) were applied to some concerns like garages and bus companies, making it unlawful for some workers to leave the industries in which they worked. Section 4 obliged a worker who desired to leave employment in “scheduled undertakings” to obtain permission, while Section 6 allowed for the prosecution of workers absent from work or persistently late without “reasonable excuse”. Derby’s first case of a worker being prosecuted for failing to attend work at the specified time was heard in July 1941, when a 19 year old was fined a total of £15, perhaps two months wages for him - a tremendous sum for the nature of the ‘offence’ committed. [32] The regulations also allowed for the compulsory transfer of workers from one job to another and there were some instances of the use of these powers. The NUDAW local secretary, Frank Glover, was transferred to Rolls Royce for munitions work under the scheme. On another occasion, 27 men were transferred from Derby Corporation to London to deal with first aid and repair work arising from the blitz. [33] In return for accepting restrictions such as these, the unions extracted the major concessions of a legally guaranteed minimum wage and greater worker participation, much of which gave rise to the nature of the post war bargaining structure. Wages were to be settled by reference to arbitration when negotiations fell down and a National Arbitration Tribunal (NAT) was set up. Order 1305 of the Emergency Powers Regulations determined that the NAT decisions were binding on all parties in a dispute. Workers and employers should not take part in lock outs or strikes, until the dispute was reported to the Ministry and 21 days had elapsed. More advantageously, the concept of obliging employers to observe recognised terms and conditions of employment in particular industries was brought in. State regulation of wages, and the acceptance of the need for the war, brought strength, respectability and a sense of responsibility to trades unions.
Of special importance was the facility for compulsory arbitration replacing strikes, which the unions exploited mainly in their own favour. Locally, for example, successful arbitration proceedings took place on an application for district minimum base rates for power grades in the South Derbyshire coalfield represented by the TGWU. The arbitrator, Mr V A Aronson, a London barrister, awarded basic rates for all grades, the lowest being 5s 8.2d and the highest 7s 3d. The award gave most grades increases ranging from 2s 0d to 9s 10d a week. Road haulage had already received legislative attention in 1938; by 1940 massive recruitment was being made by the TGWU and big increases in wages were being won. Joe Hull, the Derby organiser, reported in September 1940 that “many visits to garages and roadside cafes have been made, resulting in 69 new members”. Back pay, won by the union from firms paying under the accepted rate, proved very effective in securing recruits. W J Ellis of Hartington was organised after the firm was obliged to pay 25 of their men back pay. Transport workers not strictly covered by road haulage legislation followed the lead of many lorry drivers who were. Offiler’s’ brewery workers were organised at last in 1943 and an entirely new TGWU Branch was established at Matlock in that year with 320 members. [34]
This interference by the State into the relationship between employer and employee was accepted with much more grace and infinitely more discipline that a generation before. Not that the trade-off of state controls over workers’ living and working conditions for improvements was always accepted entirely without question. Much concerned discussion took place, at the January 1943 Area Council meeting of the Derbyshire Miners Association, over the large number of prosecutions under the EWO. [35] Whilst the decisions of the NATs were not always accepted smoothly. For example, in 1943 a strike in various parts of the country in the bus industry began to spread, after a tribunal decision not to concede the TGWU’s claim for increases. Unanimously, Derby bus drivers, conductors and conductresses decided to cease work, which they did in unison for two hours from 2.45pm on Thursday 13 May 1943. After a meeting between Ferry, a Trent Motor Traction employees’ representative, and Drivers J Sharrocks and L Walker it was agreed, as a temporary measure, that war workers’ factory transport and school buses would run until Saturday. In the end, the union’s claim was partly conceded. [36]
Left: A Communist Party inspired aircraft workers' rank-and-file publication
National Arbitration Tribunal Awards were made in the engineering industry to the following effect: January 1941 - 3s 6d; December 1941 - 5s 0d; March 1943 - 6s 0d. The average provincial rate for craftsmen had thus reached £4 7s 6d by 1943, an increase of £1 11s 6d over July 1927. It was particularly in engineering factories that the direct involvement of workers in the business needs of the enterprise began to be developed for the first time. At the start of the war, the main way of seeking improved productivity had been largely to exhort the workers to better standards. For example, in May 1940 workers at Rolls Royce in Derby, where car production had now been ceased entirely in favour of aircraft work, were asked by the head of the company, E W Hives, to “cheerfully (accept) a 24 hour a day effort on parts when there is known to be a shortage”. Help from the skilled workers to the other grades was called for and care not to produce scrap commended. But a need to more positively involve workers in this process was seen to be necessary to maximise the war effort and Joint Production Committees (JPCs), representing both management and workers, were set up. Their function was to provide consultation over the maximisation of output and the minimisation of conflict. However, the JPCs proved more effective as a stimulus to union militancy and confidence in extending the bargaining arena, rather than as an example of industrial democracy in itself. [37] The first JPCs were set up early in 1942 and in a little over a year four thousand were operating. While wages were excluded from their scope, a wide variety of issues were open for discussion, especially in Royal Ordnance Factories: “(A) maximum utilisation of existing machinery: (B) upkeep of fixtures, jigs, tools and gauges: (C) improvement in methods of production: (D) efficient use of defective work and waste: (E) elimination of defective work and waste: (F) efficient use of material supplies: (G) efficient use of safety precautions and devices:”. [38]
A massive army, navy and air force on a war footing, along with the industries required to feed, fuel and supply them, implied maximum efficiency in the use of labour. The use by the Government of the cost plus system for war work contracts with private industry proved to be problematic. This worked on the basis of the actual price for the work plus an agreed percentage for profit. This meant that the higher the cost, the higher was the profit. So, it benefited private industry to utilise labour on premium time rates at weekends and overtime. Millions of hours and pounds were wasted to boost the profits of companies. The role of the JPCs in policing the system was thus very politically sensitive and important. The advantages of the new bargaining position were not lost on union negotiators and membership recruitment was quite phenomenal. The unions were not slow to realise this, the Coppersmith’s national executive committee for example established an experimental committee in Derby for one year from 1939, to co-ordinate recruitment activity in the aircraft sub-contact shops then springing up all over the Midlands. Whilst in 1940, the Derby coppersmiths were able to set up a sub-branch for men employed on high grade pipe work at the Rolls Royce experimental shop at Hucknall airport. War, it seemed, at least brought a solution to the unemployment problem which rapidly diminished. In the North Midlands Region, in September 1941, there were only 6,363 unemployed, compared with 23,535 one year previously. [39] Nationally, the unemployment figures dropped from just short of 1.5 million in 1939 to a mere 64,000 in 1944, in progressively bigger stages of decline. Within two years of the declaration of war, unemployment was a mere one fifth of what it had been at the start. Despite the heavy call up to the forces, TUC membership increased by almost a quarter in the three years to 1942.
The most important short term ambition of the labour movement was in obtaining maximum war production in the fight to achieve victory. Nowhere was this more so than in coal mining, then Britain’s prime source of energy. Derbyshire coal was particularly sought after for its high fuel capacity and the miners of the county benefited, as elsewhere, from the crucial strategic role of coal in the massive military and industrial build up. The Derbyshire District Wages Board, the joint negotiating body, took on the role of Coal Production Committee in the county, as trades unionists began to view their role in the war more positively. The DMA Council resolved on 29 May 1940 to “undertake to co-operate with the coal owners and the Government, to the best of its ability to increase the output of coal in the county, demanded by the Government as fundamentally necessary to the winning of the war”. [40]
While some mining areas experienced major disputes from time to time throughout the war, Derbyshire was relatively peaceful. Although valuable war bonuses were won in mines in the county, there were no less than six such increments in the first two years of the war. For the need for coal far outstripped the abilities of the existing labour force, which in Derbyshire in 1939 was only some two thirds of the size that it had been in the early 1 920s. In consequence, an urgent appeal was made on behalf of the Ministry, the miners and the owners in 1941 for three thousand experienced men who had previously left the industry to now leave their existing jobs in the more lucrative engineering factories to which they had gravitated in the 1930s. [41] In June 1941, a one shilling a shift attendance bonus was introduced to encourage maximum production. Thus, from 1939 to 1942, wages were increased on average from £3 0s 10d to £4 11s 1d. Improvements in conditions were carried out as well. In November 1941, work was begun on constructing the first colliery canteen in the country which provided full meals, at the Grassmoor Colliery which coincidentally had been the first to provide pit head baths in 1929.
DMA membership had naturally increased with the expanded workforce, to 34,836 in 1942 from 20,364 four years earlier. [42] The new sense of bargaining strength brought signs of extraordinary confidence, as when the Yorkshire miners secured a wage increase applicable only to union members. When the Rowsley NUR heard of this, they were delighted with the concept. [43] But better wages did little to diminish the industry’s traditional Monday morning sickness! Following the introduction of the EWO, JPCs at Derbyshire pits were given a new lease of life and the legal prosecution of absentees was made easier. Working miners were less phlegmatic than officials at the prospect of the owners’ use of the war to trample on the fragile gains which the previous decade had seen emerge. As DMA officials joined with the owners in using the law against absenteeism, some miners began to threaten a boycott of payment of union contributions. Naturally, this caused DMA officials to insist that the proprietors deal with late-comers and shift-missers themselves.
But absenteeism was not a serious factor in inhibiting production. Derbyshire’s Denby Colliery typically registered an absenteeism rate of 6%. This was very low in fact, a level which would perhaps approach that expected of an office bound situation, not underground production in wartime conditions. [44] Declining productivity in the first years of the war had more to do with the drop in the total number of face workers caused by the drift of young, active men to the forces and the munitions industries, although Derbyshire did not fare as badly as elsewhere in this respect.
There were real and serious problems to cope with for workers in all industries. Long hours, in bad ventilation and tense working conditions, lengthy travelling distances to work and much loss of sleep were very much the order of the day in most munitions industries. Sharp disputes over the allocation of fire watching duties were common. Such responsibilities were vital, since German bombers targeted the rooftops of factories for incendiary bomb raids. Disputes arose when employers drew up rotas without consultation, contrary to their legal obligation. The Home Office had to issue special guidelines, excluding those working a 60 hour week or more from fire watching altogether. Despite this, many workers were stretched to as many as 100 hours a week throughout 1941. Only by the general introduction of split shift systems was production maintained and industrial conflict avoided. There was a general and popular feeling that the urgency of war production dictated flexibility, but shift working simplified the odd hours which munitions workers were in any case subject to.
The war situation brought some unusual problems for unions to resolve, the blackout caused many accidents, especially on the roads. An army lorry knocked a Derbyshire TGWU lorry driver though the bridge over the River Derwent, killing him as a result. The union was able to extract for his widow the very considerable sum of £1,850 in damages, since only pin-point lights had been used contrary to the regulations. [45] In 1940, shaded lights were fitted to Derby Corporation buses in accordance with these regulations. This did not cause problems initially, since most people were prepared to cope with the consequent difficulties in the name of the war. But, towards the end of the war, doubts about the need for this measure were raised. The subdued lighting on buses “hindered conductresses in giving change and making up their records”. [46] Derby Trades Council successfully sought to find solutions to the general difficulty on behalf of the community.
Many political and war refugees began to arrive in Derby, but unions did not readily seek to recruit them. This, despite the fact that most were strongly motivated by their experience under fascism to be left wing; perhaps this was the problem. Also, refugee organisations, being by their very nature foreign, were not viewed sympathetically by the mainstream of the labour movement. In July 1941, the Areas TGWU Committee discussed “Communist inspired refugee organisations” with some interest. [47] Even so, there were many refugees who joined the union. Salton's, a firm based near Ashbourne, employed a number of Czechs and the TGWU made an application on their behalf for payment of a war bonus. Two Czechs, Kafka and Neidal, also became members of the TGWU District Committee in December 1940, reporting that there were 120 Czechs in the Derby area at that time. [48]
As with the First World War, women were brought into manufacturing, especially from domestic service and other similar industries. Initially, young women shop workers were specifically unaffected by this process. But in 1941 the Ministry of Labour decided to withdraw women in the age group of 20-25 years in the retail trade from protection from conscription. Overnight, the Derby firm of Midland Drapery lost no less than 80 women assistants. There were only 20 women aged 20-25 left at the company, when a new option was put to them that they take up engineering work or join the ATS - Auxiliary Territorial Service - and most opted to leave shopwork for the better paid factories. [49] Women were brought into areas of employment that their mothers had perhaps never contemplated. The niece of A A Flint, the former National Labour MP for Ilkeston, was appointed as the first full time policewoman in Derby in 1941. [50)
The intake of women into munitions proceeded at an increasing pace in 1942. A campaign was started with the intention of recruiting three thousand women to work in Derby factories. A war work bureau was opened at the Midland Drapery Stores, where exhibitions of war material and photographs of Soviet women at work were displayed. [51] Within weeks, huge numbers of women were working in a wide variety of occupations. The LMS Railway Company employed women carters at St Mary’s Goods Depot. Grundy’s munitions factory employed machinists and women inspectors of hand grenade castings at Qualcast and there were large numbers of typists at the Ordnance Depot at Sinfin. The LNER employed women in making concrete railway sleepers, while women Conductresses were employed on Derby Corporation buses for the first time in two decades.
With this trend to greater women’s involvement in work came a parallel trend to ‘greater trades unionism amongst women, In 1935 only some 2% of the women in engineering were in unions, but by 1940 this had increased to 6%. [52) Pre-war there was only six million women out of a total of eighteen million engaged in paid occupation of some kind; over 1.5 million were in domestic service, By 1944 there were over nine million women in industrial occupations. More than half the workers in chemical and explosive manufacturing and more than a third in engineering were women. [53] Union membership among women expanded enormously with the war effort and the opening up of the craft unions. Even so, only a small minority of working women were unionists at the peak of war production in 1944. In the heart of the industry in aircraft, marine and general engineering, only slightly in excess of a tenth of women employees were unionised, although the membership was heavily concentrated in the larger well organised establishments. [54]
Very many of these new women workers were not unionised and many trades unionists positively resisted the notion of recruiting them. Male trades unionists were much concerned that the fundamental principle of ‘the rate for the job’ was not undermined by this influx of women workers. The TGWU Committee at the Railway Workshops reported in 1941 that: “Women were being engaged at all of occupations at the women’s rate of pay and it was felt that women doing simple labouring jobs and crane driving etc., should be on the rate for the job as paid to men and not be either on the women’s rate or subject to the craftsmen’s dilution agreement.” [55] Success in this regard was regularly reported. For example, the “men’s rate for women crane drivers (was established) at the LM&S Rly CME Depot”, in mid 1941. [56]
It was only in 1942-3 that the AEU faced the inevitable and shed its pride, balloting the members on the admission of women to the union, it had already significantly dropped some of its skill snobbery by the creation of a special semi-skilled section 5. Consequently, gradually, the AEU became less of a union just for skilled workers. While 75% of its membership were craftsmen at the time of the General Strike, by the mid point of the Second World War, this had diminished to only 29.7%. In contrast to this, Section 5 membership grew from 0.3% at its beginning in 1926 to 25.2% in 1942. Overall, the AEU stunningly tripled its membership during the war. [57] The NUVB had already admitted women in 1930, one of the first craft unions to do so. The NUR, for its part, had made the decisive change by now, and the admission of the first woman into the Rowsley Branch was referred to in the minutes, quite without any sense of the momentous nature of the event. “Mary Elizabeth Blackham was admitted a member of this branch.” But women were only tolerated by being paid starter rates on a permanent basis. [58]
Out-staging all other unions, by 1943 the TGWU was able to boast of forty-four branches in Derbyshire. In a little over a decade the union had doubled the number of branches that the old Workers Union had possessed, partly by the process of amalgamation but also by massive recruitment of women war workers. The TGWU was able to establish a firmer base in engineering even beyond that already won. By 1941 the union’s railway workshop branch had 885 members and had managed to secure no less than six representatives on the overall Railway Shops’ Committee in the following year. [59] The list of their occupations tells a story in itself of the range of the TGWU’s interests. [60]
Name                       Shop                            Representative
Baggaley                Pipe fitter                    Millwrights
Emmings                Erection                      Erecting
Naylor                      Welder                         Boiler shop
Allen                         Riveter                        Boiler shop
Jones                       Platers’ helper           Boiler shop
Otterwell                  Slag tapper                Boiler shop
September quarter branch membership figures showed that total branch membership was 3,063, but it was spread across many trades:- Engineering - 885; Road Transport - 89; Building - 34; Clerical - 13; General - 2,041. [61]
From the start of the war, the workshops were the centre of much agitation to safeguard workers’ rights. Only after strict guarantees were given by the LMS Railway Company, jointly with the War Office, did the unions accept the idea of the introduction of trainees from the Railway Transportation Corps into the workshops. [62] In October 1942 a dispute developed at the LMS Railway Loco Works, when the company introduced a 47-hour working week for night workers as laid down in Tribunal Award 728. This award dated back twenty years or more and was based on the notion that comparability with engineering district rates was not possible, as workshop employees had special privileges as railway employees. But local bargaining pressures had always inhibited the full application of the Award. At the workshops’ branch meeting, the TGWU branch secretary “gave a resume of what happened in 1919 and 1922, when, (1) the original arrangement as to the 47-hour week and its application to nights were dealt with and (2) when award 728 came into being and (3) the current position and it was resolved that we await developments”. [63] These developments were in fact to be favourable to the workforce, for a 44 hour week on nights and days was introduced.
Les Clay recalls the controversy over this matter as being the responsibility of a new superintendent, Jimmy Rankin, who favoured comparison with employees on the railway lines rather than in the local engineering industry, in line with Award 728. But, in response to Rankin’s refusal to budge and to accept the local practice which ignored the award, four thousand men sat down in protest. This was however to no immediate benefit, for Rankin was immoveable on the subject. So the unions took the matter through procedure. The employers set up a committee of seven of their people to tour the various workshops in Britain to see what the practice was in these. As a result of this, the men were proved right, in that generally there was a tendency to follow the local engineering industry practices. Subsequently, Rankin was removed quietly; the significance of this development was not lost on the workforce, which kept their historic practices. From herein can be dated the very marked improvement in industrial relations at the workshops.
The resurgence of business activity in the railway workshops was especially significant, for they often set the pace for wages and conditions elsewhere in the town and county. The new found strength in the railway workshops of a general union like the TGWU enabled it to spread its influence elsewhere in engineering. Although there had been a Ley’s Malleable Castings Branch of the Workers’ Union as far back as 1919, the firm had always resisted trades unionism. Little organisation existed when even this company, which had resisted recognition of trades unions for decades, finally accepted the tide of progress. [64] A TGWU branch was re-formed in 1941 and full recognition was obtained only shortly afterwards. By the end of the year the TGWU had some 3,500 members at the British Celanese establishments in Derby, Long Eaton and Ilkeston, despite the ineffective poaching of the Chemical Workers Union. [65] At Celanese, the TGWU won rises of a penny an hour at each successive wage review in March 1941 and 1942. This took the weavers to a new fall back rate of £3 6s 0d, or is 41/od per hour, quite a good wage for the time. [66] Whilst TGWU membership boomed at Rolls Royce: [67]
Date                              TGWU membership at Rolls Royce
December 1939                                          407
March 1940                                              1,400
September 1940                                     1,700
Trades unionism spread everywhere, even in the fire brigades. There was a massive growth of the fire service as a result of the desperate needs of the blitzed towns and cities of Britain. The society which catered for the brigades had changed its name to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in 1930, signifying its adoption of trades unionism, It naturally seized the opportunities for growth in the circumstances of this expansion of the service. An increase in the size of the FBU naturally took place, both nationally and locally, and the union saw a growth of its membership by 23 fold in three short years. Firemen saw themselves as fighters in the war against Nazism and, with the election by a small majority of John Homer to its leadership in 1939, the union had taken a leftward turn, especially so when the new General Secretary joined the Communist Party as the war against Hitler progressed. After the formation of an alliance between Britain and the USSR, following the German invasion of Russia in June 1941, all sense of doubt about the war had evaporated among militant trades unionists. An appeal by Henry Hicken, the Derbyshire miners’ leader, put it succinctly: “Coal will win the war or lose it ... Coal provides the tools with which to win the job! Russia needs these tools to fight our battle.” [68]
 Pic: A Communist Party sticker c. 1942
Unlike its experience in 1914-1918, the shop stewards’ movement now found itself more convinced of the need for purely political action to resolve workers’ problems. Little evidence of the use of industrial militancy existed at this stage of the war. All effort was exerted in the fight to maximise war production, especially to provide fuel, machines and power for the Second Front, the invasion of Western Europe. Tremendous support for the Red Army grew, as their dedication and sacrifice to the anti-fascist struggle was revealed to the vast sympathy of the British workers. Derby TGWU sent a resolution: “expressing our admiration to our comrades in the USSR”, to Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador. The TUC launched an “Aid to Russia” fund and many Derby trades unions matched the TGWU District Committee’s gift of £5, almost two weeks wages for an average worker. [69] The Derby Co-operative Society Record displayed a Co-operative Wholesale Society advertisement on one full page. This gloried in the “Fight for Freedom”, a heroic picture of “red partisans” was accompanied by a text which linked the struggle of the “Red Flag and the hammer and sickle” in 1941 with the “spirit that drove back the enemy in the early 1920s”, a reference to the intense class struggles of twenty years before.
Rolls Royce shop stewards committee sent a letter to a local MP, protesting against the BBC’s failure to play the Soviet National Anthem, the Internationale, with the anthems of other allies. The BBC avoided the issue by withdrawing the playing of the various anthems altogether and the Soviets assisted the process of alliance by adopting a new anthem which had a more national appeal, rather than the international revolutionary hymn of the Comintern, which was to be dissolved within a couple of years. [70] Willie Paul emerged into prominence again in Derby, by speaking on his visit to the USSR at a meeting at the Central Hall, presided over by the Deputy Mayor, AT Neal. The rally’s objects were to “send greetings to the heroic defenders of Leningrad”. [71]
The most popular form of entertainment, indeed one of the few ways for workers to spend their new found prosperity from wage rises and long hours of overtime, was the cinema. Flourishing, the industry reflected the political situation in its choice of programmes. With the film “Escape to Glory”, starring Pat O’Brien, the Popular cinema screened “Salute to the Soviets”, a film about life in the USSR. Collections were taken at the door for the Soviet Red Cross. A Derby Anglo-Russia Society was set up and immediately organised photographic exhibitions, films and music record sessions of Soviet culture and life. [72] Flag days were organised across the county for Aid to Russia during December 1941, an event which had wide support across political lines and social strata. [73]
To build closer working relationships between Soviet and British trade unions, two key representatives of the Soviet trade union movement visited Derby in January 1942. [74] Pro-Soviet enthusiasm continued throughout that year and beyond. Derby held a `Russia Week’ in June 1942, centred on several events introduced by key dignitaries. In an activity arranged by the trades unions in the Allied Engineers Committee, £1,150 was collected in Derby’s engineering factories alone; the fund provided an X-ray unit for the Red Army. [75] Derby Labour Party and Derby Trades Council came together in a joint committee to raise funds for Russia, which from 1942 to 1944 raised £2,323 14s 91/2d. [76] By and large, industrial militancy was consciously avoided in spite of the growth of a militant shop stewards movement and trades unionism in general. Overwhelmingly, the nature of the war as perceived by ordinary people was coloured by the respectability of the Anglo-Soviet alliance. One thousand LMS workers listened in their lunch break to a speech on Russia in their canteen, the meeting being held under the auspices of the propagandist Ministry of Information, which was geared to boosting morale in production for the war effort. [77]
Germany’s concentration camps were set up in 1933 and informed world opinion had been more than adequately aware of their broad function, if not the scale of the later extermination. However, the British Government only felt it necessary to investigate the matter in any kind of depth by publishing a White Paper in October 1939. Now that the war had begun, the establishment began to express opposition to Nazi repression. Contrasting strongly with the respectability of anti-Semitism amongst the clergy throughout the 1930s, was a protest meeting in Derby of all religious denominations in January 1942. Outrage was expressed against Nazi atrocities against the Jews, which: “Surpassed in horror, barbarity and sadistic cruelty the blackest records of the past.” [78] The process of extermination of all whom the Nazis disapproved was now clear. Mental and physical ‘defectives’ of all kinds were massacred in the death camps. It is often not appreciated that extermination followed a precise order of priority. First to be targeted were, from 1933, the Communists, then Socialists, trades unionists and the severely disabled. Only with the exigencies of total war were Jews, along with homosexuals, Gypsies, Slavs, partisans and Red Army prisoners exterminated. At that stage, the guesses as to the number involved – aside and apart from casualties of war - were piteously tiny compared to the final hideous truth of six million Jews and six million others. Understandably, faced with such an enemy, few doubted the validity of the war. The sense of national and international unity created, transformed the very character of those days as the phoney war disappeared and the peoples’ war ensued. A sense of purpose now existed, whereas a generation before the war had seemed pointless. The generally overwhelming sympathy for the Soviet Union, firstly for the obvious heroism and doggedness of its resistance and then for the stunningly gigantic numbers of its citizens who lost their lives, now reckoned to be of the order of 28 million – all  reflected itself in a sharp leftward swing within the labour movement and Communist Party membership, in Britain and in so many other countries too,  soared astronomically upwards. Trades unions grew stronger and political debate and discussion, even within the armed forces, reached an historical high-point. This politicisation worked in the interests of the entire labour movement, but nowhere was it more spectacularly evident than for Britain’s Communists. 
The Communist Party was now enthusiastic about the war, but the ILP was diffident, by virtue of the fact that the organisation was an alliance of ultra-left wing critics of the USSR and a range of pacifist tendencies. With its past roots in anti-imperialism in 1914-8, the ILP was uneasy about the war and this attitude contrasted sharply in the public mind with that of the Communist Party. Combined with many other factors, this made for the eclipse of the ILP by the Communists in Derby as elsewhere. The Labour Party, being primarily a Parliamentary and electoral force, was severely disadvantaged by the absence of such contests by virtue of the electoral truce. Its membership atrophied, but by the end of 1942 British Communist Party membership had reached one quarter that of the Labour Party. Nationally, Communist Party membership rose from around 17,500 in mid-1939 to a registered 56,000 three years later, the actual level of adherence being clouded by the fact that so many members were now incommunicado in the forces. In Chesterfield, party membership was around 100 during the war and some 500 Daily Workers could be sold every Saturday in the Market Place. In Derby, there were 300 Communist Party members by 1943 and the party was especially strong in the factories, with branches in the main centres of production, For some years, the local CP had been assuming dominance in the leadership of the left from the ILP.
Derby Communist Party factory branches (Approximate war time membership)
              Rolls Royce                         50
              British Celanese                 40
              Loco works                          30
              Carriage & Wagon              30
Given this development, and the extraordinary surge of sympathy for the Red Army which reflected itself back into ‘respectability’ for the Communist Party, it is not surprising that when Henry Hicken ceased work as the DMA secretary in 1942 a Communist should take his position. Bert Wynn, a Communist Party member since MacDonald’s premiership of 1929 and by now Chairman of its East Midlands District Committee, won the final ballot, defeating his opponent, Harold Neal, by 11,906 votes to 8,492. [79] The Party soon put their new star to effect, when the General Secretary, Harry Pollitt, spoke to an audience of five hundred at the Central Hall in Derby, along with Bert Wynn. The tone of the rally is significant, both speakers concentrating on the crucial need for production and the launching of the Second Front, While this mood of confidence and unity existed, the Communist Party resolved to rectify its 15 year isolation from the movement. Arguing the case for its affiliation to the Labour Party, the Communists Party reasoned with some justification that by 1943 it was a major influence in the labour movement: “our membership too, is not insignificant, It is over 60,000 - far greater than any socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party had ever had.” [80]
A massive movement developed in response to the Labour Party National Executive’s refusal to recommend affiliation, because it thought that the Communist Party would be “bound to carry out within the Labour Party the directions of the Communist International”. [81] Despite this attitude, nationally over one thousand trade union branches supported the Communist Party’s affiliation in resolutions, as well as six national trade unions, 108 district committees, 109 Labour Party organisations, 47 co-operative bodies and 73 trades councils. [82] Amongst these were local organisations like the Derby AEU District Committee. Even sections of the movement traditionally hostile to political and industrial militancy in the 1930s, like Rowsley NUR, were won to the idea. In April 1943 the branch unanimously decided to support the Manchester NUR District Council resolution over the affiliation of the Communist Party to the Labour Party. [83]
But while stupendous enthusiasm existed for the idea of unity among the rank and file labour and union activists, the trade union block vote wielded by the giants of the right wing prevented this development. Not least in resisting the demand for affiliation was the TGWU. Some resolutions from Midland branches which went to the Area Committee of the TGWU, asking it to give support to Communist affiliation to the Labour Party, were smartly rebuffed simply by the expedient of referring to the fact that the policy on this matter had already been established by the union’s Biennial Delegate Conference in 1939. Of course, this completely ignored the profound re­alignment in international and national politics since that time. The TGWU’s conference in July 1943 defeated a resolution proposing that the union support affiliation. But there was, nonetheless, a surprisingly large vote for it, there being 187 votes for and 340 against, with 35 abstentions. [84] At the June 1943 Labour Party Conference, as it had been at the TGWU BDC, the issue was posed as a crucial test of loyalty to the leadership. The newly elected chairman, George Ridley, MP for Clay Cross, strongly opposed affiliation in his first speech to Labour’s conference. [85] Nonetheless, the conference only narrowly resolved against affiliation.
1942 had been the peak of pro-Soviet sentiment and, in the years following, signs of unease at the closeness of the alliance emerged. An example was the overtly trivial incident of the stolen Red Flag. In separate incidents, the Anglo-Russian Centre in the Market Place was ransacked and a Soviet flag stolen from the roof of the Town Hall. A group calling themselves “The Four Patriots” claimed responsibility. One Albert Hunt, a director of a timber firm, was eventually charged in August 1944 for the theft of the flag which was found in a cavity in the wall of his bathroom. [86] While in itself harmless enough, the underlying attitudes revealed were significant and it was almost as a gesture of defiance that a week later another Soviet flag which flew above the Guildhall disappeared. [87] Silly as the affair was, it generated public concern, for the Soviet alliance was crucial to the success of the war. However, leniency was applied in the case of Hunt - despite much comment about ‘Fascist treachery’ - and he was bound over for two years and ordered to pay all costs. [88]
By 1944, as it became clear that the allies were winning, the working class began to feel easier about using its traditional strength to resolve grievances which would have been shelved earlier. Throughout the engineering industry, particularly in aircraft production, shop stewards of all unions had organised their own national forum - the unofficial Engineering and Allied Trades Shop Stewards National Council (EATSSNC) with its journal, The New Propeller, which was strongly influenced by the Communist Party. Both the secretary and the editor of the journal were Party members. As this new shop stewards’ movement was particularly strong in the aero-engine factories, it had no difficulty in establishing contact in Derby which regularly sent delegates to the National Council. The movement was strongly influenced by the left, much to the distaste of some union bureaucracies, and administrative measures were sometimes used to limit the influence of shop stewards considered too militant, An example of this was revealed only after the war, when a Derby employee of International Combustion, called Frank Antley, appealed to the law to declare that the Derby AEU District Committee had acted illegally by appointing a shop steward other than himself in 1941-43 in his factory. Antler had been duly nominated and seconded, but a rival nominee who did not receive a majority of the votes was accredited by the DC over and above himself. It seems unlikely, but not impossible, that Antley was a member of the Communist Party, by this stage at least, since Communists generally then held to the view that such matters should only be appealed within the movement, not to the ‘bourgeois’ judiciary.
But it is likely that Antley was too left for the local right wing AEU officials. In court, speaking of Antley’s debarment, the AEU spokesman “frankly admitted that they did this on political grounds”. Barristers for the union argued that, in the AEU, custom regulated that credentials were issued by the DC after assessing eligibility under rule to stand, This eligibility related to length of membership and upkeep of contributions, but “in this district they went further and examined his credentials as to whether he was a suitable person to act as a shop steward”, [89] The final result is unclear, for the case was adjourned when Antley amended his summons to cater for future problems as well as past difficulties, But the fact that such a case could have occurred is of significance, Perhaps a compromise about future nomination was reached, since the AEU’s defence was shaky in law and in its rule book?
This new shop stewards’ movement, whilst bearing strong similarities to its 1917 predecessor, was not defeatist in its attitude to the war, Even though there were critical stances taken, as when a mass gathering of engineering shop stewards was held at Derby’s Central Hall to hear a report from the EATSSNC’5 national conference on the emergency power over labour, Among the measures demanded was an amendment to the Essential Works Order to provide that trades union officials were consulted before workers were transferred from one factory to another. [90] The EWO was sometimes used as an expedient, by transferring union members during the development of a dispute. There were also special difficulties about the degree of leniency applied to disciplinary matters.
A strike of the Trent Motor Traction bus workers was only narrowly averted following the prosecution of a conductress for lateness, One conductress, who had been prosecuted twice, was left alone by the National Service Officer. But another, Kathleen Deeley, was selected for prosecution under the EWO, despite her defence that it was her mother’s illness which had caused her lateness. The company’s solicitor, A A Flint (the former National MP), claimed on their behalf that it “had no part in the selection of Deeley for prosecution” and had pressed very hard for both girls to be dealt with “by the company’s own disciplinary procedure”. The unfairness of it all stirred the workforce, but the union appealed to the conductresses, who were particularly incensed, to continue working “pending action through constitutional channels”, The TGWU demanded a Ministry enquiry and indicated that if any further trouble occurred they would “wash their hands of the matter”, At court, the prosecution invited the bench to “consider the effect their decision might have upon the employees generally. A penalty might have a result that no one wished to see.” What might that be? The traffic manager of Trent tentatively identified it for the court: “There had already been repercussions and he was afraid there might be others.” In an atmosphere charged with fear of a major strike, the magistrates ended up fining Miss Deeley the relatively small sum of thirty shillings - she had been fined four times that amount a year previously - and the whole affair blew over. [91]
The unions had entered the Second World War with a national membership of 4.75 million and by the end of 1944 this had risen to eight million, of which 6.5m were in the TUC. Union strength was dominant in essential war industries and women membership had almost doubled from its pre-war figure. By 1944 almost 50% of the workforce was involved in some sort of ‘war work’. The opportunity to extract concessions was not lost on workers and a pattern of industrial militancy began to clearly emerge. Apprentices and women came to the fore in a wave of industrial militancy in 1943-4. A battle for equal pay for women reached a climax and was finally defused by the establishment of a Royal Commission in the summer of 1944.
Days lost by strikes nationally rose dramatically but, compared to the response of workers in the First World War, the days lost were initially astonishingly low: [92]
                         Year                       Days Lost
                         1915                      2,969,000
                         1917                      5,865,000
                         1940                       940,000
                         1942                      1,530,000
                         1944                      3,710.000
Nonetheless, the wave of militancy in 1943-4 was widespread and perhaps comparable to that of the later stages of the previous war. A new mood of certainty could be observed amongst many sections.
The Derby Branch of the normally quiet Amalgamated Union of Operative Bakers Union displayed a new sense of self-confidence when, at the East Midlands District Board (i.e. District Committee), its delegate pressed a vote of no confidence in the District Secretary and a special meeting was called of the District Board. This decided to pass a vote of censure on the District Secretary for his action in “agreeing to terminate the agreement with the Co-op”, contrary to the Board’s policy decision, The issue seemed to concern the rights of the workplace representatives for, six months later, the Derby delegate complained of losing time attending the Area Board and pushed a resolution requiring union reimbursement, [93] Other branches of the union existed at Long Eaton, Ripley and Ilkeston.
Even the most poorly paid and minimally unionised industries benefited from the improved bargaining position. Wages in the hosiery industry rose dramatically, especially in the traditional three counties, The male average wage in 1939 had increased by some 35% some five years later, while the female rate rose by 56%. The female juvenile rate was pushed up phenomenally - by 94%. [94] The increase reflected not only a large increase in the workforce, but also the special value of the newly acquired female labour. The Midland Tape Manufacturers’ Association and its prime, local representative, John Bowmer & Sons of Wirksworth, concluded an agreement in the Narrow Fabrics industry with the NUGMW, the TGWU and the Amalgamated Society of Textile Workers and Kind red Trades in 1942 to provide 38/-a week at the age of twenty. [95] In the lace sector, increases of 10% for women and 15% for men were extracted locally in 1943. Workers in the remotest parts of the county secured comfortable advances. The Matlock firm of Lehman Archer and Lane conceded 2d an hour extra and, in another industry, DP Battery of Bakewell gave in to an increase of 5/- a week for men and 3/6d for women and youths.
With millions of men in the forces and with consumer demand high due to good wages, labour was at a premium. Tremendous problems surfaced in some areas due to the lack of staff. Derbyshire’s three thousand members of the NUT were disturbed at the level of staffing in the county, which was “an acute problem and no improvement could be expected until salaries were improved and brought into line with surrounding areas who paid more than Derbyshire”. [96] These generally severe manpower problems were revealed by the fact that the percentage of teachers who were pensioners was 25% nationally, but 38% in the county.
In another sphere altogether, of the 61 men employed by Derby Corporation as refuse workers, 22 were over 60 years of age and many were unable to lift heavy weights. At one stage more than 50% of the men were off ill at one time. [97] But it was a problem soon to be magically solved. In one fell swoop, the ending of the war would reverse the situation. Only weeks after the declaration of peace in Europe, bus workers at the Trent Motor Traction Company were claiming that part-time workers should be made up to full time or be dismissed. The TGWU’s appeal however was rejected by the National Arbitration Tribunal. [98]
H A Hind of the TGWU established himself strongly in the public mind as one of the most notable local labour movement figures during this period. However, his heavy civic commitment following his election as mayor in 1942 had a distinct impression on the ability of his own local branch to function. His absence and the difficulties of members getting release from work gave rise to expressions of subtle concern and the moving of its meetings from the day time to the evening, since for “some considerable time now there had not been a quorum present”. [99] Nonetheless, achieving the Mayoralty only four years after becoming a councillor was quite something and the branch was proud of him, a fact shown by the minutes of a meeting of the branch, held at 69 Wilson Street, Derby, when “it was resolved that a photo of Bro Hind in his official robes as Mayor of Derby be purchased and framed for the office”. [100] A photo that hung in the local TGWU Office years later. The TGWU local full time officers changed rapidly. F W Haslam was appointed in April 1943, the very same Haslam who had led Trent bus workers in the General Strike. On Wood’s retirement, a former member of the Long Eaton 5/225 Branch, Moses (Mo) Parker, was transferred to Derby from Birmingham, where he had been working as an Engineering Group Organiser for the Union from 1941. J H Startin from Coventry replaced Brown in 1944 as Building Group Organiser for the East Midlands. Another building union, for craftsmen, which eventually merged with the TGWU, was also able to fund a local full time official; the National Association of Operative Plasterers started T Oultram to cover Derbyshire and South Yorkshire around this time.
In 1945 the National Union of Agricultural Workers opened a branch which met once a quarter at 29 Charnwood Street, Derby, and I Simpson was the Secretary. The branch immediately affiliated to the Trades Council and the Labour Party. Of particular importance to the NUAW were the Land Army ‘girls’ working on the Derby Agricultural Committee sites at the Meadows and Roe Farms. These young women were represented on the NUAW Derby Central Branch Committee by a Miss Chapman in 1945, but as the Land Army was wound up this connection ceased. A particular problem for the branch was the employment of prisoners of war (POWs) on farms in the area and members were asked to “notify the branch if they heard of any regular farm workers being displaced for cheap labour”. [101] A small charge was often required by the authorities, but the cost of POWs was infinitely cheaper than regular labour to the farmer. Italian POWs especially played a prominent role in some industries and trades unions in agriculture were not on their own in being concerned. The significant post-war Italian community in Derby had its origins in the large number of POWs based there. Their employment in the railway workshops as cheap labour caused the unions to notify “the employers that they objected to these prisoners of war being employed on either semi-skilled or skilled operations”. [102]
As the war neared its conclusion, there grew distinct signs of the heat of the economic boom cooling somewhat. From 1944 onwards, British industry began to run down and in some places large scale redundancies (a new word then) were declared. A general return to the ‘free’ labour market was hopefully anticipated by employers. Reflecting both this and the full force of conscription, the membership of some unions dipped somewhat. The NUVB Derby branch peaked in 1942 and rapidly began to diminish.
Derby NUVB Branch Membership [103]
                         1940                               256
                         1941                               260
                         1942                               270
                         1943                               245
                         1944                               228
                         1945                               216
In passenger transport, the operating staff was not on its own in establishing effective union organisation, for skilled maintenance workers largely joined the NUVB again, but this time for good. Indeed, extremely lucrative bonus increases were won towards the end of 1945 by the union at the Midland General Omnibus garage in Langley Mill. In Derby, maintenance workshop employees at Trent Motor Traction established rises equivalent to a newly established national standard. Grave inter-union tensions were reported between the NUVB and the Sheetmetal Workers, when a demarcation dispute at the Loco Works caused concern. [104] Unionism also became firmly rooted in the white collar grades in railway workshops. The Draughtsmen’s union, the AESD, sought an agreed national minimum wage with the engineering employers in 1944. A union rate already existed but it was not enforced with employers. A lively debate at the union conference that year ensued when the Derby delegate, Ponton, a well known controversial figure in the union, was yet again in the forefront. In the subsequent branch ballots, however, Derby AESD No.1 branch voted for an agreed minimum wage and Derby No.2 against. Nationally, however, the ‘ayes’ had a substantial majority for a minimum rate. [105]
New alliances, new strengths and new organisations abounded in the years before the end and immediately after the war, paralleling the experience three decades earlier. The process of trade union amalgamation in the hosiery industry was slow, with sectional and craft considerations impeding progress. Union contribution levels varied enormously. Amalgamation talks in 1943 brought about some agreement on a common level of contributions, which would have meant an increase for the Ilkeston Union. Whilst it was prepared to concede this, Ilkeston supported the fine gauge knitters’ desire to retain control of their own considerable fund, standing at £6,500. But this did not meet with the approval of the other unions at all and was to prove to be an obstacle for almost a year until the fine gauge men relaxed their opposition to a common fund. A ballot of all the hosiery unions was held in October 1944, Ilkeston voting 95% in favour of amalgamation. [106] On January 1st 1945 the five Midland hosiery unions finally became one, more than 50 years after it had first been mooted, as the National Union of Hosiery Workers. (The NUHW - later, in recognition of the changes in product, with the addition of the word ‘Knitwear’, to become the NUKHW; then with the absorption of the old Boot and Shoe union, to become the National Union of Knitwear, Footwear and Apparel Trades - or KFAT, which merged with the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation and others to become `Community’ in contemporary times.) The NUHW was able to claim a total of 5,015 members in the Ilkeston District in December of 1945, made up of 2,005 males and 3,010 females. [107] While trade union unity was thus considerably advanced, the political role of the hosiers was still minimal. None of the hosiery unions had ever affiliated to the Labour Party and the product of the amalgamation did not do so.
In March 1945, after yet another appeal to the National Arbitration Tribunal (NAT), the first ever minimum wage agreement was signed for the hosiery industry. Perhaps the framework knitters of 1779 might have felt rather pleased if they could have known. The ‘need for a minimum was great,’ although earnings were still rising. Many workers, particularly women, were taking home ridiculously low wages. Amatt, the Derby branch secretary of the Ilkeston Union, revealed that there were women working on time rates in some of the small firms in the town for only 35/- a week, before the NAT awarded the employers’ offer of 80/- for men and 50/- for women. [108] Another union had also emerged on the scene in local textile firms, the Amalgamated Society of Textile Workers and Kindred Trades (ASTW&KT). It recruited some hosiery workers and others in Derbyshire during the war. [109]
Demobilisation took place in an exciting and stimulating time. The war had transformed social relations. While many families returned to the traditional roles of the husband being the bread winner and the wife being the home keeper, some did not and the dichotomy was much weakened. Indeed, there seemed to be a determination on the part of working women not to loose the gains made by proof of their abilities during the war. Perhaps they had learned from the experiences of their mothers, a generation and a war ago? Over 65% of the National Society of Pottery Workers membership being women, the union enthusiastically sent delegates from Stoke, London, Scotland and Derby in 1946 to a Ministry of Labour conference in 1943 of women’s’ movements. The conference stimulated the development of a charter for women in the pottery industry by the union. [110] Its key demands were: 1 Working conditions; 2 Equal pay and opportunities; 3 Unity with men over wages; 4 Full employment, social security and a minimum wage. While it was still to be a long uphill battle, working women could see the light ahead.
In the field of the economy, the unions found themselves in a new world. Sensing the opportunities ahead, unions like the TGWU in Derby had already in 1944 began to think ahead, planning for new offices and new leaderships. “The union proposed new buildings in Willow Row after the war when it is hoped to help our younger members to become interested in the movement.” [111] Like so many things the proposal, which was first put in 1939, had to wait on the war. The land acquired by the TGWU executive in Willow Row, Cathedral Road, was still in the hands of the union in 1956, when it was decided not to proceed with a major building programme there in view of other commitments elsewhere. A new Derby office was opened by Jack Jones, the then Midlands Regional Secretary, in 1960 in Charnwood Street, in what had been a works social club. Unions like the TGWU were transformed by its war time experience. By 1945 trade union life in Derby had much of the flavour of the years to follow. 58 Shop Stewards were now carrying out their functions relatively unhindered at Celanese. An appeal was circulating to cover the loss of earnings of Hemsley, the Works Convenor. Derby TGWU could boast 7,315 members by 1946, a far cry from its humble beginnings as the Workers Union in 1912.
In a few short decades, Britain’s industrial life had been transformed. Unions as diverse as railway workers and plumbers registered success. At the beginning of 1945, Councillor Herbert Smedley, Secretary of the Derby No.2 NUR branch, was able to report that membership had risen from 700 to 2,000 in the long period of his tenure of office. [112] While the plumbers had quadrupled their national membership in 45 years, from 11,186 in 1900 to 41,119 in 1945. [113] 1945 was to be seen as a watershed for trades unionism. By the end of the war the unions had reached the previous short term peak of 1917-1920. However, the temporary nature of the previous peak was not to be repeated. Branches of some unions had simply folded into inactivity for the duration. When the New Mills Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers met on June 24th 1946, it was the first full representative meeting since September 21st 1942; almost four years out of the history of a branch, with roots going back at least to 1919. [114]
What had been achieved in these long difficult years? Brown, the Altogether Builders Labourers Secretary and, for over a decade now, a full time official of the TGWU, was to say at his retirement function in May 1944 that: “Since the early days, when it was an uphill struggle to get the men to appreciate that their only hope of improving wages and conditions lay in strong trade union organisation, a great deal of progress had been made. The improvement in wages, the guaranteed week, and payment for wet time were all evidence of what trade unionism could do.” [115]
Strict state control of prices, coupled with the high premium set on labour - especially skilled labour - meant that wages rose by 63% from 1940 to 1945, while prices only rose by 3.6%! A trend that continued into the immediate post war years. But the real achievement of the war was the election of the reforming Labour Government of 1945. Without doubt the most startling experience of the war years was the mass yearning for real and lasting social justice. Of particular relevance in stimulating this was the sharply anti-fascist character of the war, highlighted more especially by the alliance with the USSR. It must have seemed that the dark days of the 1930s were only a nightmare before the golden dream. But before even that, a common sacrifice had had to be made for the common good. Fighting a war for social justice and democracy inevitably created high ambitions, as rewards for the struggle were contemplated. As early as 1943, workers were determined to ensure that some positive gains would come from the war. Addressing a Labour Party Conference in Derby on the future of Britain’s medical services, Dr Stark Murray declared: “We are not going to have a ‘blackmarket’ in medical care after the war.” [116]
Labour was of course part of the war cabinet but, perhaps by the nature of the war, was not seen as shackled to the Tories and Liberals in the way that they had been in the 1914-1918 war. While it was a war supported by practically all political parties in Britain (except the fascists!), an electoral truce had been quickly declared to ensure stability in political leadership. A general election due in 1940 was indefinitely postponed and by elections would not be contested by parties other than that of the retiring MP. Despite the commitment of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the official leadership to this idea, the Labour Party Conference voted only very narrowly in 1942 to discipline local parties into obeying the electoral truce. There was already a sense of impatience over the winning of key social reforms. [117] Some signs of this had been expressed in by elections held despite the truce. No less than four sitting Derbyshire MPs died over the decade, causing such elections. One, in April 1944, had provided a taste of what was possible. Neal had been elected for Labour on that occasion, when he won by a vote of five times that of his nearest rival. While the major parties remained committed to an electoral truce, fringe candidates were not, Philip Hicken of Tibshelf, the former NUWM leader, by then a railway worker and now seemingly influenced by ultra-leftist revolutionary ideals, stood as a “Workers Anti-Fascist Candidate”, saving his deposit with 13% of the vote. The other candidate had been W Douglas Home who polled 10.7% as an “Atlantic Charter Candidate”. [118]
The electoral truce, Labour’s massive popularity and the sense of change evident in the rejection of old values enabled a major upset in the political history of Derbyshire to be recorded at a by election in West Derbyshire. The seat had been the virtual gift of the Duke of Devonshire since it was created in 1885. The Cavendish family had an almost unbroken record of parliamentary representation in Derbyshire since 1571. By feudal tradition and title inheritance, the Duke sat in the Lords and his son, the Marquis of Hartington, sat in the Commons. The Cavendishs were unopposed in the 1931 and 1935 elections and the seat was handed to the Duke’s brother-in-law, Colonel H P Hunloke, in a by election in 1938. Largely viewed as a not very competent Tory MP, Hunloke resigned in 1944. Charles White, whose cobbler father had been the Liberal MP for the seat from 1918-1923, had stood for the Labour Party in 1938 and maintained a steady reputation in the area, especially as a result of his municipal activities. White was still the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party when the by election was announced. White’s refusal to be bound by the electoral truce lead him into trouble with the official leadership of the Labour Party. That there was clearly much support for White in the locality is demonstrated by the fact that Rowley NUR decided to take his advice on the matter of his expulsion. He suggested that their delegate at the forthcoming conference be mandated, as the branch minuted, to “rise and speak in favour of Mr White and vote against the expulsion”. [119]
Charles Frederick White (1891-1956) had been born at Bonsall, near Matlock. “Young Charlie”, as he was often called locally, was his father’s agent in 1910, 1922 and 1923. The son was first a member of the County Council in 1928, then a member of the Matlock UDC in 1929. He first joined the Labour Party in 1929, resigning the year after, being connected with the New Party for three months. After rejoining Labour, he was selected as prospective parliamentary candidate for the area in 1937. In 1944, White stood as an Independent Labour candidate, but he did receive support from the local Labour Party as well as the Common Wealth Party, which had been set up as a kind of soft-option ‘united front’ by intellectual socialists. At a series of meetings in the constituency, White had speaking on his behalf several key figures in the Common Wealth Party, including the leader, Sir Richard Acland and Tom Wintringham, a former International Brigader in Spain. Common Wealth only really existed because the Labour Party was in government and observing the political truce; it was a well-funded, professional party machine with a national network of progressive celebrities to fill the political vacuum. A G Walkden, Labour MP for South Bristol, appeared to pursue the official line, by speaking on behalf of Lord Hartington. [120] An amazing result, in which White polled 57.7% to the Marquis of Hartington’s 41.5%, showed the possibilities of massive electoral advance which lay ahead. A minority “Agricultural Party” candidate, Robert Goodall, also polled 233 votes in an endeavour to appeal directly to small scale independent farmers, despite being disowned by the National Farmers Union. [121]
The contest was marked by a remarkably sharp political debate. The Marquis revealed his political ineptitude when he let slip that he thought that the coal mining industry was already nationalised! Replying to accusations, White admitted that he had been a member of Oswald Mosley’s New Party for three months. But this had been only in the early stages, when many joined believing that a new radical left wing alternative to the Labour Party had been set up. [122] In common with many, White had left it as soon as its fascist character became clear. Belper’s Tory MP, Herbert Wragg, said the contest and the election of White was a “Stab in the back” for the Government, a “stimulus to the enemy” when “large numbers of Derbyshire ... men were prisoners of war. This mood was reinforced when the young Marquis was killed in action in 1945. Charlie White wrote a letter of condolence to the Duke, the bereaved father of the Marquis, It was returned to him, torn to pieces. [123] However, most people interpreted the by election as a sign of the enormous desire for social change - an expression of things to come. White was to retain the seat as an official Labour candidate in 1945 and became chairman of the County Council in 1946, then leader of the council for the best part of a decade. He was also Chairman of the Peak Park Planning Board for many years.
What then was the record of the Tory MPs in the county? Hunloke had been ineffective more or less since the beginning. Of the others, they had displayed all the attributes of the Tory appeasers. The Derbyshire Tory MPs had solidly voted against a motion proposed by Attlee on Abyssinia condemning the British and French appeasement of Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), as they had against a Liberal Party amendment asking for a ministry of supply. What else had they opposed? There had been Hugh Dalton’s motion in 1938 asking for an independent enquiry into the state of Britain’s defences and another proposal to increase old age pensions in 1939. While many Tories had supported Chamberlain’s policy on the Munich appeasement of Hitler’s annexation of part of Czechoslovakia. All this was, of course, predictable. The vast majority of Tory MPs were solidly in favour of the Government’s official line to let Hitler expand in the hope that a Fascist-Communist conflict would break out in the East of Europe and satisfy both the need to placate Hitler with fresh territory and their hopes of smashing Soviet Russia and Communism once and for all. What would be less certain would be the attitude of these Tory MPs to the Chamberlain - Churchill vote of 8th May 1940, which had seen the demise of the former and the elevation of the latter to the premiership. Chamberlain had wanted to befriend Germany, but Churchill’s strategy was always different. Stopping Hitler at any cost was his approach. Of those who voted, two Derbyshire Tory MPs, H Wragg of Belper and W A Reid of Derby, voted for Chamberlain, for phoney war, for continued appeasement. With Liberal and Labour support a vote of 281 to 200 led to Chamberlain’s fall. Only P V Emrys Evans amongst the county’s Tory MPs voted for Churchill. In the final bitter test of future attitudes, the very mild Beveridge Report, which had Tory, Liberal and Labour support (335 votes to 119), saw all the Derbyshire Tory MPs vote against. Needless to say, the popular enthusiasm for social change and anti-fascism would not in retrospect view these records kindly. [124]
Victory in Europe (VE Day) was declared on 4th May 1945, as the German war machine was smashed to insignificance. Peace had come after 2,071 days of war, what would now be the future in peace? The Tories had already printed “Vote National Conservative” (or even simply, “Vote National”) posters, for they believed a continuation of the wartime coalition possible - a coalition which would preserve the status quo. Scurrilous propaganda abounded against Labour. Churchill suggested that a Red Gestapo would take over Britain if Labour won! The Tories argued that Labour was helping to prolong the war in the Far East and thus cause the deaths of British servicemen, despite the fact that the war policy was not at issue and the battle was about how to win the peace. Reactionary governments had always been able to win elections on single issue scares which cast its opponents in a bad light. In 1918, it was the unfulfilled call to hang the Kaiser, in 1924 it had been the Zinoviev Letter, in 1931 Labour was accused of planning a raid on Post Office savings and in 1935 it had been the issue of collective security. But the 1945 scare did not work, for the mood was scare proof. Even though the electorate was based on the 1939 register, which excluded seven million young voters, most of whom would have favoured Labour. The electoral truce had strained loyalties, given the huge majority which the anti-Labour forces had in Parliament. Only about a half of the 141 seats which became vacant between general elections were in any way contested, so there was an overwhelming atmosphere that it was time for a change. Labour’s 1945 manifesto, “Let us Face the Future”, not only saw itself as seeking victory in the war, but also in the peace to be able to look forward to jobs for all and social insurance for the sick, the old and the needy. As part of the planned economy, the public take-over of the Bank of England, fuel and power, inland transport, iron and steel would take place.
Anticipating the approach of a general election, Labour rapidly began to ensure the selection of prospective parliamentary candidates where necessary. Derby Labour Party had begun the process of selection at least as early as 1944, There was no hesitation in readopting Philip Noel-Baker, the sitting member. The selection contest for the second parliamentary seat resulted in the selection of the candidate recommended by the local Labour Party EC, Group Captain C A B Wilcock, OBE, AFC, who was locally based. One early contender, later to succeed in obtaining the Belper nomination, was George Brown - much later to become Lord George-Brown. But there were problems, there was some fear within the DLP that Brown, then a TGWU full time officer, was too young and had not been in the Army. But Shepherd, the National Agent, wrote to Russell, the local Labour Party secretary and agent, explaining that Brown as a full time official had been “exempt on the grounds that the services he had been rendering are more valuable than any service he could render in the armed Forces”. [125] Russell succinctly recorded his own view of Brown on a letter he had received from the Assistant National Agent to himself, “able man”, he noted.
Also considered was Francis Williams, the editor of the Daily Herald. Russell marked his own query note “?Finance”, by the side of his name and the obvious drawback was his lack of trade union sponsorship, and hence financial help. [126] Another contender, L J Edwards, the Post Office Engineering Union (POEU) General Secretary was considered by Russell to be “rather academic”. An additional black mark was that while he himself was considered to be “very sound” politically, his wife had at one time been sympathetic to the Communist Party. [127] Amongst other contenders, there were three military men, Wilcock, Lt. Lawson and Major Dawson. There was also C Dickens, the Mayor of Nuneaton, who had strong USDAW backing. Local candidates were Matt Lowe of the General and Municipal Workers and Councillor S W Harper of the Castle Ward Labour Party.
Percy Collick, the Assistant General Secretary of ASLEF had also expressed interest in the seat and had been nominated by his union’s Derby branch. On the surface of it, his was an apparently uncontroversial nomination, but it resulted in much secret administrative manoeuvring. Previously unpublished confidential files of the local Labour Party agent, Harry Russell, reveal a letter dated 16th November 1944 to Russell from Phillip Noel-Baker. It had been written in reply to the agent’s request for an opinion on Collick. Significantly, it was marked “Very Private” by the MP, who noted of Percy Collick: “PHC - although a Colleague for several years on the NEC, I should not welcome him as a companion. He is widely believed to be a near communist. I do not feel sure that this is true, but I think we might have a good deal of trouble over it.”
The local party was seeking someone with a trade union background, between late thirties and fifty years of age and, ideally, with some kind of local connection, even if only with a local industry. Naturally, he (no women were considered) would have to be capable. As a leading national trade union figure in the party, a member since 1919 and being aged 46, Collick fitted the bill perfectly. There was only one flaw, the objections detailed in Noel-Baker’s letter. How then to get around this problem? With many of the outsiders eliminated, there also remained the difficulty of some of the local hopefuls. In a statement to a meeting on 28th January 1945, Raynes asked ClIr. Harper to withdraw, which he readily agreed to do, in an atmosphere of sacrifice and dedication to the unity of the party.
A decision on Collick was deferred, while the remaining candidates, Dickens, Wilcock and Edwards were to be interviewed. It was definitely decided only to formally delete Collick from the list if any of these proved unsuitable. In the event, the EC voted 13 for Wilcock and four against with one abstention. The four against were USDAW and Co-operative Party representatives, anxious to project the interests of Derby’s 90,000 strong Co-operative movement. They had consistently supported Dickens for this reason, whilst it is likely that the left also leaned to his candidature. While the party could only choose between those three referred to it by the Executive, it should have been a foregone conclusion. As the EC recommendation, a favoured local man from Etwall and a war hero, there was no way Wilcock could not have beaten his short listed opponents in the selection for the list which had to be submitted to the General Management Committee. Having said that, it was much closer than one might have expected and the voting was kept secret to the press. Hind reported it to his TGWU branch: [128]
C J S Dickens                      37 votes
L J Edwards                       19 votes
Group Capt Wilcock          58 votes
However, the public announcement untruthfully said that his selection was “unanimous”. [129] It was not a surprising vote - for C A B Wilcock (1899-1962) had been the personal recommendation of Atlee himself. [130] Moreover, he was a local man and a dashing military figure, clearly an electorally safe and sound candidate. He was founder of both the local RAF Volunteer Reserve and of the Aeroclub and was a member of the Territorial Army. In private life, he was the “Director of an Engineering concern and an Insurance Broker on the Aviation Market”. Despite his personal background, he said that his political outlook was centred around the thought that it was high time that the “working people of this country governed it”. [131] But the underhand approach to Collick did not go unnoticed. W P Allen, the General Secretary of ASLEF, in a letter dated 2nd February 1945, complained strongly about the whole affair, expressing his “surprise at the policy which was adopted” in the selection procedure. Derby Labour Party had come through the war unscathed, its organisation intact and still possessing a full time agent. But it still revealed a tendency to lag behind the party nationally in its ability to capture the imagination of activists. Membership remained more or less static throughout a period when ideas of socialism were very popular and confidence in these ideas most profound. [132]
Year     DLP Membership                    National Labour Party Membership
              Individual Affiliated                       Individual  Affiliated
1941     1,203           24,300                                 227,000 2,259,000
1942     1,130           22,894                                 219,000 2,235,000
1943     1,142           24,961                                 235,000 2,268,000
1944     1,294           26,407                                 266,000 2,407,000
1945     1,364           26,665                                 487,000 2,552,000
An analysis of the above shows that the affiliated membership of both the national and the local parties increased by roughly the same order, but the individual membership shows a different pattern. True, the dip in membership caused by the massive call ups of 1941-42 are reflected in both figures, but the dramatic 83% increase in national individual membership in 1945 over the previous year is nowhere near matched by the 5.4% increase accorded to the DLP. No official account for this is recorded, but the local party had decided on a recruitment drive with the target of increasing membership by 10% over 1944. But the DLP was only able to report at the next annual conference that slightly more than half that target had been reached. [133]
Certainly conscription must have created some problems, but these seem to have been relatively marginal in Derby, for the annual report made no reference to any major difficulties. The only problem reported was that the 5/100 Derby Corporation bus branch of the TGWU had sustained a small reduction in its affiliated membership figures to the party, “due to many of their members being called up for military service”. [134] The bus industry was a sector particularly prone to displacement of males by females. In these unstable circumstances, where it required a positive application to opt into payment of the political levy, affiliated membership of the Labour Party could be affected if the labour force was not politically aware. But, by and large, there was a much heightened sense of politics. As Les Clay recalled: “Everyone was alive to the fact that Labour was going to win.” Although most of the Labour leadership were privately surprised by their success. Polling day in the General Election was July 6th 1945 and Wilcock’s partner in the two-seat Derby division, Noel-Baker, had held his seat for nine years. The two of them took a combined 66.1 % of the popular vote, with the Tories lying well behind them.
George Brown had been selected after all for the Belper division, taking over from the ageing George Dallas who had been nursing the seat for years. At the selection conference, held on the 25th February 1945, Brown easily took the nomination over the 47 year old Pontypridd signalman and NUR EC member, A J Champion, who was in turn to be selected for the South East Derbyshire seat. Brown took 47 votes to Joe Champion’s score of 21. Dallas had in fact paved the way for Brown. As the latter himself later put it, “very quietly and stealthily I was paraded there (i.e. in Belper) and given letters of introduction to the right people to make sure that when the selection conference met the right decision could be made”. [135] There was not a strong Labour Party prior to 1945 in the Belper division, There were only 214 individual members in 1944, a situation drastically remedied in preparation for the 1945 General Election when membership increased to 1,026:
                            Belper Divisional Labour Party
                            Branch         1944 Membership [136]
                            Ambergate                        36
                            Belper                                16
                            Kilburn                               36
                            Swanwick                         9
Area No2                           13
                            Mickleover                        5
South Riddings              29
                            Alfreton                              63
South Wingfield              7
                            Total                                   214
As a TGWU Officer, George Brown was able to call upon the popular figure of Ernie Bevin to speak at Alfreton and Belper on his behalf. With the improved organisation that came with a five-fold increase in members, the new boy romped home with a clear majority of the popular vote, ending a lengthy historical domination of the seat by Liberals or Tories, only broken by the two years following the 1929 election.
George Benson was returned again for Chesterfield with a thundering majority against Lord Andrew Cavendish. Clay Cross, which had earned a record of being the most contested seat in the county, returned Langley Mill’s Harold Neal for Labour for a second time. He had been elected unopposed in the 1944 by election. But now he got the biggest majority ever in the seat, winning 82.1 % of the vote. Henry White, who had also entered parliament on Frank Lee’s death unopposed in 1942 at a by election, retook his North East Derbyshire seat for Labour with a two to one vote. In the more rural areas, Labour did extraordinarily well. In West Derbyshire, Charlie White had been readmitted to the Labour Party in a unanimous vote by the Constituency Party. [137] Defending the seat in conditions rather more normal than a by election, White still managed to hold it by a wafer thin majority of 156 in a controversial campaign, which he himself characterised as one of the “hottest and direct he had ever known”. [138]
More dramatically, in South East Derbyshire, Joe Champion took the seat for Labour. It had only been won once before, in 1929. Champion’s success may have been aided by the fact that he was the first working class candidate since Truman in 1922, as well as the general trend. Whatever the case, he took a stunning victory over his rival, an Under Secretary for the Dominions, on a ratio of almost two to one. The campaign was a markedly lively one, with a tremendous effort being waged by Labour. One indication of this was the relative expenditure on the election. Labour spent £997 (£800 of which came from the NUR), the Tories £960 and the Liberals £446. Champion distinguished himself by adopting a distinctly radical tone in the campaign, somewhat at variance with his later political development. At a rally at the Gloria Cinema, Chaddesden, Derby, he declared that to carry out its programme: “Labour would ask for power to make fundamental changes in the machinery of government”, in particular the reform of the House of Lords. Labour aimed to “lay the foundations of a Socialist Britain within the five years’ lifetime of Parliament”. [139] Emrys Evans, the Tory candidate, was opposed by a hostile audience at Alvaston. His speech was centred around the proposal that “private enterprise, helped by the State, will bring about the prosperity of the country”. But “this statement was challenged by the audience”, commented a Tory local paper, somewhat dryly. [140] This hostility to the Conservative view of the future was widespread and no doubt was a key factor in the success of Labour’s campaign. One local paper thought that “the size of the majority for A J Champion came as a surprise to supporters of all parties”. [141] The remaining Derbyshire seat, High Peak, went to the Conservative candidate, A E Molson, but only by a majority of somewhat less than 3,000 in a total poll of almost 40,000. Of the ten county constituencies Labour had taken nine.
The situation in the rest of the country was much the same - an overwhelming vote for the Labour Party. It was a stunning victory - the Derbyshire Advertiser splashed the headline, “LABOUR AVALANCHE SWEEPS BRITAIN”. [142] The election was fought on a hopelessly out of date register, as in 1918. Large numbers of men and women were still in the forces and Labour had to rely on postal votes, with many service personnel being furiously lobbied by their officers not to vote Labour. In the circumstances, the result was fantastic, 394 Labour MPs were elected on a gigantic landslide of nearly twelve million votes, two and a half that received in 1935. Even better, the debacle of 1931 had been more than vindicated. Unlike most other countries in Western and Eastern Europe, electoral success did not sweep across the spectrum of left wing opinion. British workers, in a spirit of wanting to win an overwhelming victory, voted solidly Labour. No united front list was present in Britain and the Commonwealth Party, the ILP and the Communist Party were generally marginalised. Derby Labour Party maintained a stance of hostility to the rest of the left, evidenced during Wilcock’s selection process.
In May 1945, immediately before the General Election, at a time when Labour was purported to be at its most left wing, the DLP displayed extraordinary sensitivity to things Communistic. The belief was that if the Labour Party was perceived as being ‘soft’ on Communism, this would be electorally damaging. Given the size of Labour’s victory, amidst the sharpness of Churchill’s assault, the DLP’s reaction was disproportionate. The DLP Executive considered at great length the fact that the Derby Trades Council EC had asked “a person to lay the wreath on the Silk Strikers memorial tablet who was not a member of the Labour Party”. Pressure had been put on the Trades Council which refused to budge. Amatt, the Trades Council secretary, reaffirmed that the EC of the Council wanted Mrs Clifford to lay the wreath. Displeased with this, the Labour Party EC agreed that it “placed the Party in an embarrassing position, in view of the fact that the Wardwick ceremony had now become part of the May Day demonstration and it was clear that members of the Labour Party could not be associated with people who were not eligible for membership with the Labour Party”. [143] Presumably, Mrs Clifford was a member or supporter of the Communist Party. It was thus actually proposed, without recorded dissent, by Hind that the Labour Party “take no part’ in the 1945 May Day event. Anti-communism was not that sharp, but the electoral system minimised the party’s intervention and support. Where they were the only opposition to Labour, two Communist MPs were elected and a handful of others came close to winning; nine retained their deposits by breaking the 12.5% barrier, which then applied. The CP gained 43 local councillors in November 1945 and 95 in April 1946. By the end of the 1945-6 period the party had trebled the number of their local councillors to 215, with a total vote of around half a million electors. But this support was largely localised to Wales, Scotland, London and a few local communities in England where the Communists maintained a highly visible profile. Communist contests often raised the temperature of local debate and did not necessarily harm Labour’s electoral base. But the party faced the same problems which had beset the ILP, electors sympathetic to the left were reluctant to risk splitting the socialist vote and there was no serious future outside of Labour for any alternative electoral strategy.
The developing fate of the radical left was exemplified by the experience in Derby during the municipal elections which followed. The local branch of Communist Party adopted Harry Fuller, a Denby miner, of Uttoxeter New Road, Derby, to stand in King’s Meadow. [144] Fuller had been a full-time worker for the Party in Bradford, then an infantry instructor from 1941-4. In a virulent attack against Fuller, Alderman Hind struck out hard, comparing the Communists to the Nazis. But Labour need not have been concerned, for Fuller’s challenge was not very serious. Even so, his 10% share of the vote was not unimpressive. [145] 
                    Kingsmead Ward, Derby, election 1945          
Votes                               Party 
                           1,034                           Labour
                              807                           Conservative
                              203                           Communist
In the town as a whole, Labour gained six seats, taking seventeen of the nineteen seats contested. It was a victory as overwhelming as that of the General Election. What then did Labour do with its new found mass popularity? It was now well and truly a party of government. Sweeping reforms, including the socialisation of key industries and services would transform the lives of ordinary people. Arguably one single achievement of the 1945 Government exemplified the winning of long held aspirations, that is to say the nationalisation of the coal mines. Of the nineteen individuals who were members of the Board of Directors of the Butterley Company at one time or another from its incorporation in 1888 to nationalisation in 1945, fifteen were members of the Wright family and others were either closely connected with ownership of the company or the family itself. No industry had been run so much like the personal fiefdom of the mediaeval baron.
On the 1st January 1947, the coal industry at long last was taken out of the hands of private individuals and put it where it belonged, in the technical control and actual ownership of the people. Every colliery in Derbyshire celebrated the triumph. At each pit, an official notice announced that it was the property of the people. A surface worker and an underground worker hoisted the flag and loudspeakers toured the mining villages, announcing that the State had taken over. Grown men, hard-bitten colliers who remembered the 1920s, shed tears of joy. We had won at last ... or had we? The election raised new hopes and new problems. Workers and working conditions had been altered by the war so very dramatically that the next decades would bear the marks of the experience. A measure of some social control had been won, but socialism was still a dream. Young people, women and unskilled workers had been propelled into importance by the war and they were loathed to lose this pre-eminence. More significantly, the balance of world power was fundamentally altered, Britain’s role as an imperial world power was in terminal decline and that fact would dominate the next thirty years. While the peoples’ history of Derbyshire in the last half of the 20th century would be influenced by the prevailing economic circumstances, as it had over the previous three centuries, this would become more evident than ever before and would naturally help shape the course of things to come.
                     CHAPTER TWELVE REFERENCES
1 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes June 24th 1939
2 Derbyshire Advertiser May 12th 1939
3 Derby NUDAW branch minutes June 19th 1939
4 Derby NUDAW branch minutes September 18th 1939
5 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes December 16th 1939
6 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes September 3rd 1939
7 Derby NUDAW minutes October 16th 1939
8 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes various dates 1939-1940
9 Derbyshire Advertiser April 5th 1940
10 A Groves “Sharpen the Sickle” Merlin Press (1981) p 253, pp227-228
11 Order 1175 Agricultural Wages - March 25th 1941 ex-NUMW papers (Derby Rural and Allied Workers Trade Group - TGWU)
12 Derbyshire Wages Order 1268, December 19th 1941 - Derby TGWU (RAAWTG)
13 Derbyshire Wages Order April 19th, April 28th 1941 - Derby TGWU (RAAWTG)
14 R Groves “Sharpen the Sickle” Merlin Press (1981) p229
15 R Gurnham “200 Years - the history of the trade union movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776-1976” NUHKW, Leicester (1976) p128
16 Derbyshire Advertiser December 16th 1939
17 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes September 21st 1940
18 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes March 9th 1940
19 Derby NUDAW branch minutes January 20th 1941
20 Derbyshire Advertiser April 18th 1941
21 Derby NUDAW minutes June 3rd 1940
22 TGWU Railway Workshops branch minutes August 21st 1939
23 TGWU Railway Workshops branch minutes April 1st 1940
24 Derby NUDAW branch minutes October 28th 1940
25 TGWU Railway Workshops branch minutes December 7th 1940
26 Daily Worker January 21st 1941 editorial
27 TGWU Area 5 - Area Committee minutes January 16th 1941
28 Daily Worker January 21st 1941
29 William Rust “The Story of the Daily Worker” Peoples Press Printing Society (1949) p82
30 TGWU Railway Workshops branch minutes June 22nd 1940
31 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes June 22nd 1940
32 Derbyshire Advertiser August 1st 1941
33 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes August 22nd 1941
34 TGWU journal “The Record” February 1941; Derby TGWU District Committee Minutes September 21st 1940
35 Derbyshire Advertiser January 15th 1943
36 Derbyshire Advertiser May 14th 1943
37 Rolls Royce leaflet to all employees dated May 17th 1940; W Hannington “The Rights of Engineers” Victor Gollancz (1944) p24
38 Memorandum of Joint Production Consultative and Advisory Committees for Royal Ordnance Factories February 26th 1942
                        39 Ted Brake ‘Men of Good Character - a history of the Sheet Metal Workers, Coppersmiths, Heating and Domestic Engineers” Lawrence & Wishart (1985) p310; Derbyshire Advertiser October 17th 1941
40   J Williams “The Derbyshire Miners - a study in industrial and social history” , George Allen and Unwin (1962) p845
41   Derbyshire Advertiser July 11th 1941
42   J Williams “The Derbyshire Miners - a study in industrial and social history”, George Allen and Unwin (1962) Appendix 1
43   Rowsley Branch NUR minutes November 30th 1941
44   J Williams “The Derbyshire Miners - a study in industrial and social history”, George Allen and Unwin (1962) p346; Derbyshire Advertiser October 2nd 1942
45 The Record (TGWU) November 1943
46 Derbyshire Advertiser October 13th 1944
47 TGWU Area 5 Committee minutes July 1941
48 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes September 21st, December 14th 1940
49 Derbyshire Advertiser October 3rd 1941
50 Derbyshire Advertiser October 24th 1941
51 Derbyshire Advertiser April 24th 1942
52 A Croucher “Engineers at War” Merlin Press (1982) p61
53 Communist Party “Women Today and Tomorrow”- “Party Organisation” May 1944
54 A Croucher “Engineers at War” Merlin Press (1982) pp274-275
55 TGWU Railway Workshops Branch May 19th 1941
56 TGWU Railway Workshops Branch July 14th 1941
57 J B Jeffries “The Story of the Engineers 1880-1945” Lawrence and Wishart (1946) p296
58 Rowsley NUR branch minutes November 30th 1941
59 TGWU Address Books 1933-45
60 TGWU Railway Workshops branch minutes October 25th 1941- figures for September quarter
61 TGWU Railway Workshops branch minutes March 23rd 1942
62 L Clay conversations with the author
63 TGWU Railway Workshops branch minutes October 19th 1942
64 WU Derby District Committee minutes October 11th 1919
65 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes September 13th, December 13th 1941
66 TGWU Derby Weavers branch minutes 1935-42
67 Derby TGWU District Committee minutes various dates 1939-1940
68 J Williams “The Derbyshire Miners - a study in industrial and social history”, George Allen and Unwin (1962) p850
69 Derby Co-operative Record 1941; Derby TGWU District Committee minutes September 1941
70 Derbyshire Advertiser July 25th 1941
71 Derbyshire Advertiser September 19th 1941
72 Derbyshire Advertiser October 17th 1941
73 Derbyshire Advertiser November 7th 1941
74 Derbyshire Advertiser January 23rd 1942
75 Derbyshire Advertiser July 10th 1942
76 DLP Report 1943
77 Derbyshire Advertiser July 2nd 1943
78 Derbyshire Advertiser January 22nd 1943
79 Information supplied by Fred Westacott, former East Midlands District Secretary of the CPGB - details from CP DC Secretariat Minutes October 1948; J Williams “The Derbyshire Miners - a study in industrial and social history” George Allen and Unwin (1962) p866
80 Derbyshire Advertiser December 3rd 1943
81 Letter from J S Middleton 8th February 1943 to Harry PoIlitt q. in “The Communist Party and the Labour Party - Correspondence” CPGB (1943)
82 Emile Burns ‘The Case for Affiliation” CPGB (1943)
83 Rowsley NUR April 24th 1943
84 The Record (TGWU) August 1943
85 Derbyshire Advertiser January 7th 1944
86 Derbyshire Advertiser August 25th 1944
87 Derbyshire Advertiser September 1st 1944
88 Derbyshire Advertiser October 13th 1944
89 Derbyshire Advertiser June 15th 1945
90 Derbyshire Advertiser April 14th 1944
91   Derbyshire Advertiser September 29th 1944
92   G D H Cole “A Short History of the British Working Class Movement 1789-1947” George Allen and Unwin (1947) p454
93 Amalgamated Union of Operative Bakers minutes November 28th 1942, April
10th 1943
94 R Gurnham “200 Years - the history of the trade union movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776-1 976” NUHKW, Leicester (1976) p136
95 Midland Tape Manufacturers Association Records - Derbyshire County Records Office
96 Derbyshire Advertiser March 31st 1944
97 Derbyshire Advertiser March 9th 1945
98 Derbyshire Advertiser July 27th 1945
99 TGWU Workshops branch minutes October 19th 1943
100 TGWU Workshops branch minutes May 8th 1944
101     NUAW Derby Central branch minutes March 28th, May 30th, July 25th, September 26th, November 28th 1945
102 TGWU Workshops branch minutes June 5th 1944
103 NUVB Quarterly Journals 1940-1945
104 NUVB Quarterly Journal December 1945
105     J Mortimer “History of the Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen” DATA (1960) p229
106 R Gurnham “200 Years - the history of the trade union movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776-1 976” NUHKW, Leicester (1976) pp145-147
107     R Gurnham “200 Years - the history of the trade union movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776-1976” NUHKW, Leicester (1976) p153
108     R Gurnham “200 Years - the history of the trade union movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776-1 976” NUHKW, Leicester (1976) p137
109     R Gurnham “200 Years - the history of the trade union movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1776-1976” NUHKW, Leicester (1976) p163
110     F Burchill and R Ross “A History of the Potters Union” CATU-Students Bookshop, Hanley (1977) p224
111     TGWU Railway Workshops branch minutes July 3rd 1944
112     Derbyshire Advertiser February 16th 1945
113     J O French “Plumbers in Unity 1865-196S - history of the Plumbing Trades Union” PTU (1965) p151
114     New Mills ASW branch minutes 1943-1964
115     The Record (TGWU) June 1944
116 Derbyshire Advertiser October 22nd 1943
117 Derbyshire Advertiser June 5th 1942
118 Derbyshire Advertiser April 7th 1944
119 Rowsley NUA branch minutes April 30th 1944
120 Derbyshire Advertiser February 4th 1944
121 Derbyshire Advertiser February 11th 1944
122 Derbyshire Advertiser February 18th 1944
123 Derbyshire Advertiser March 10th 1944 Guardian May 2nd 1986
124 All detailed extracted from “Your MP” by “Gracchus” Victor Gollancz (1944)
pp 93-110
125 Letter from Shepherd to Russell November 10th 1944 - Russell papers Derby Local Studies Library
126 Letter to Russell from Labour Party Assistant National Agent - dated October 31st 1944
127 Letter to Russell from AL Williams, Yorkshire Region Labour Party, November
18th 1944
128 TGWU Workshops branch minutes February 12th 1945
129 Derbyshire Advertiser February 2nd 1945
130 Report to Panel Sub-Committee November 22nd 1944 - DLP, Russell Papers
131 Letter from C Wilcock to Russell November 14th 1944
132 DLP Annual reports 1941-5, Figures cover period of March to March from previous year to year as stated; G D H Cole “A Short History of the British Working Class Movement 1789-1947” George Allen and Unwin (1947) p484
133 DLP Annual Report 1944
134 DLP Annual Report 1941
135 Lord George Brown “In My Way” Gollancz (1971) pp41-42; Belper Division Labour Party Report - Russell Papers
136 Belper Division Labour Party Annual Reports 1944-1945
137 Derbyshire Advertiser March 23rd 1945
138 Derbyshire Advertiser August 24th 1945
139 Derbyshire Advertiser June 22nd 1945
140 Derbyshire Advertiser June 29th 1945
141 Derbyshire Advertiser July 27th 1945
142 Derbyshire Advertiser July 27th 1945
143 DLP EC Minutes May 3rd 1945 - Russell Papers
144 Derbyshire Advertiser October 26th 1945
145 Derbyshire Advertiser November 2nd 1945

Chapter Ten


“There were no signs of weakening. On the other hand more workers were coming out and joining the strike.” [1] Report of the Derby Trades Council on May 12th 1926 at the end of the General Strike.
1 “Class fear’ or “magnificent generation”? - the stage is set
2 “Hamlet without the Prince” - the strike in Derbyshire at the beginning
3 From “soakie to a “gold mounted fountain pen” - the miners battle on
4 “The miners could have won a wage reduction without Thomas’ help - by way of an epilogue
5 Appendix - Calendar of key events: April to May 1926
6 Chapter 10 References                                           
1 “Class fear” or “magnificent generation”? - the stage is set
The 1914-18 war had solved nothing and had yet created the potential for much economic and political instability. Industrialists very much preferred a continuation of the wartime boom, while financiers and bankers looked to a return to pre-war fiscal certainty generally, and the Gold Standard in particular. In the end, these incompatible aims would continue to be reflected in a conflict between industrial and finance capital. The miners had achieved much in a decade of strong bargaining, an eight-hour day, a minimum wage and the establishment of a national basis for negotiations. The defeat of Black Friday in 1921 had been, however, the start of a reversal of these advances. This trend would culminate in the General Strike, having serious consequences not only for the miners but also for the working class generally.
As the post-war boom began to ease off, the demand for British coal overseas diminished. The central coalfields of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire chiefly supplied the home market and were thus not as badly affected as elsewhere. Even so, in these areas miners’ wages fell rapidly with the slump in demand for coal. An index of real wages per shift for 1922 has shown that in real terms wages were only 86% of the level attained in 1914. [2] The strategy of the Tory Government, elected in 1924 with Baldwin as Prime Minister, was to revive the old pre-war, imperial economy and the workers would pay the cost of doing it. Churchill, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, thus masterminded the return to the Gold Standard, which immediately and drastically affected those industries reliant on export orders by making their goods dearer. By the middle of 1925, coal exports had declined dramatically, causing a crisis. To preserve profits, on July 1st, the owners declared a return to the 1921 level of wages. At the same time, the much fought for national minimum wage was withdrawn, so that there could be no limit to wage reductions in the future. The immediate effect in Derbyshire was the reduction of day wages of coalface workers to 11/- a shift, a cut of 8s 14d. [3] Elsewhere, cuts double or even treble that were sought.
The Prime Minister called upon the miners to help him meet “the difficult situation with which the industry is confronted”, declaring, “all the workers of this country have got to take reductions in wages to put industry on its feet”. [4] Despite the familiarity of such an appeal, the miners would have none of it and declared their readiness to act. Fortunately, the entire trade union movement seemed behind them. Faced with the difficulties this would produce, an emergency Cabinet meeting was called in the early hours of Friday 31st July 1925. After this hurried consideration, it was announced that a subsidy would be granted but only for nine months so that a complete inquiry into the industry could be made. This would be known as the Samuel Commission, after its chairman, Sir Herbert Samuel - a Liberal. Only days before, such a prospect had been totally ruled out, now the masters withdrew their lock out threatened unless the men accepted the new conditions.
The day was to be immortalised as ‘Red Friday’; it seemed that the movement had redeemed itself and it was more than compensation for the debacle of ‘Black Friday’, four years earlier. The TUC had acted decisively and militantly, so much so that the Cabinet had been instantly recalled. Derby’s Councillor Brown, of the Builders’ Labourers, attended a special recall TUC to review the events of Red Friday. On hearing the fulsome praise of the leadership in his report back at its August 1925 meeting, the local Trades Council sent a telegram to the TUC and the MFGB expressing Derby’s congratulations. Contrasting sharply with this was the Trades Council’s forthright condemnation of the Government’s approach to the coal negotiations. [5] Victory though it was, Baldwin was in reality no more than stepping back in a shrewd tactical move. The subsidy was simply conceded to enable the preparation of an effective resistance to a repeat of Red Friday. In the meantime, much of the trade union movement turned to the left. Fred Bramley the TUC’s Secretary in 1925, reported that its recent delegation to the Soviet Union had concluded that the October 1917 Revolution had given expression “to the resolutions we have passed at TUCs for many years”.
The Vehicle Builders moved a resolution at the TUC, calling for a militant approach to what they recognised as an inevitable and impending conflict. They called for the General Council to be given the power to levy all unions, to call for a stoppage of part or the whole of the TUC and to liaise with the Co-ops to ensure the plentiful provisions of food supplies. The big wheels of the TUC - Thomas, Bevin and others - were against the motion. J R Clynes of the General and Municipal Workers Union, made the view of the right wing entirely clear. “I do not fear on this subject to throw such weight as I have on the side of caution. I am not in fear of the capitalist class. The only class I fear is our own.” He proposed that the NUVB resolution be withdrawn in favour of putting “Our trust in our leaders”. [6] By an alliance of the fearful right and the cautious centre, a compromise resolution was passed referring the NUVB call to the General Council, which had to later report to a special conference of the executives of all the unions. The conscience of the movement was thus salved, but the power was firmly placed in the hands of the General Council. Strategically, it was a fateful mistake.
While the TUC leadership were determined to avoid preparations at all costs, the establishment was out to face the coming battle head on. There was no doubt in the minds of the coal owners and the Government that Red Friday had delayed the inevitable showdown of a General Strike and that “public opinion would have to be educated into a state of preparedness to accept the consequences”. [7] On September 25th 1925, the press announced the formation of the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS). The aims of this body were quite clearly defined from the beginning that, in view of the “movement to promote a general strike”, the OMS bodies had been concentrated “in many metropolitan boroughs and in all principal centres of the Kingdom”. This was a clear declaration of intent to smash the forthcoming defensive General Strike. [8] More sinister was the fact that, while the formal leadership of the OMS was rooted in the establishment, the growing fascist movement made a conscious decision to give support to the British State via this organisation. The President and Vice President of the British fascist movement assumed prominent positions in the OMS. The coal owners, for their part, relished the prospect of the battle to come. Charles Markham told the Chesterfield Rotary Club on the 26th September that he did not believe that “this trouble is going to finish without bloodshed”. Asked after the strike whether he realised that miners were in prison for saying less than that, he unconcernedly replied, ‘Oh, yes.” [9]
If the establishment knew what it was doing, the labour movement did not. Hardly any protests were raised against the creation of the OMS. The Daily Herald simply believed it to be an insult to Baldwin. There was a failure to understand that the OMS, the State and the Government were as one. Only the left wing, through the United Front style paper the Sunday Worker and Communist Party, were decisive and clear about the role of the OMS. The Communist Party’s Workers Weekly viewed the organisation as the “most complete scheme of organised blacklegging and strike breaking yet devised, and it is the most advanced form of Fascism yet reached in this country~’. [10] Leading theoretician of the Communist Party, Rajani Palme Dutt, worried that the settlement of Red Friday was only a truce. “The government has made it clear that it regards the present strategic retreat as only a preparation for a decisive conflict in the future.” No one could have seriously suggested any other interpretation of events. Derby ASLEF noted that the reprieve was “only a pause in the fight between the workers and the capitalist class”. Referring to Baldwin’s statement that all workers would have to accept wage cuts, the union branch called for the consolidation of “our forces for the strenuous fight that has to got to come and when the next attack on the workers takes place this branch suggests that our EC propose to the TUC General Council that they call a general stoppage”. Evidence, therefore of some understanding of the impending struggle at the grass roots and that there was a popular feeling for action in defence of the miners and all workers. [11] Throughout 1925, the Workers Weekly carried a box giving the diminishing countdown of the weeks of subsidy left; so many weeks left to prepare for the struggle. Yet the General Council dallied, refusing to prepare right up to the eve of the strike, which was inevitably to follow the end of subsidy. Pressure was repeatedly exerted on the miners’ leaders to accept the new deteriorated conditions. Nothing practical was done, there seemed to be a deliberate policy of averting strike action at all costs. Bevin was to confirm this at the post-mortem conference of joint union executive committees in January 1927: “with regard to preparations for the strike, there were no preparations until April 27th, and I do not want anyone to go away from this conference under the impression that the General Council had any particular plan to run this movement”.
Contrasting with the general militant mood of the 1925 TUC, Labour’s conference that year in Liverpool was seen by some critics as “the signal to the Government to intensify its anti-working class drive”. [12] The conference implicitly invited the Government to launch an offensive against the Communist Party, which would only serve to intimidate the entire left. On October 12th 1925, twelve key national figures of the Communist Party were arrested and subsequently sentenced to terms of six and twelve month’s imprisonment. Protests came flooding in from trade union bodies, especially the miners who foresaw the general intent. Seventy Labour MPs joined the protest and some 300,000 signatures were collected on a petition presented to the parliament by Saklatvala, the Communist MP, in February 1926.
In December 1925 Oswald Mosley, then a leading left wing Labour MP, visited Derbyshire. He had considerable local family connections, especially after the death of his father, Sir Oswald Mosley (Bart) of Hilton Lodge, Derbyshire in 1929. It was revealed that the son had been left out of the will because of his then left-wing views, two years later he had become Britain’s fascist leader. “Comrade Mosley and Lady Cynthia”, his wife, both spoke at the Spondon branch of the Labour Party in 1925. There, they condemned the imprisonment of the twelve Communists. Somewhat ironically, considering Mosley’s later political shift, he unfavourably compared the “prosecution of the Communists and the action of the public prosecutor in withdrawing charges against Fascist young men”. The latter had criminally hijacked a lorry load of Daily Heralds, whereas the twelve Communists had “been sentenced not for doing anything violent, but for expressing their opinion”. [13]
It was this theme of free speech that helped the campaign win such widespread support as it did. In January 1926, Derby’s Labour Party protested at the double standards in imprisoning the twelve COMMUNIST PARTY members, but releasing the “fascists who were responsible for the outrage on the Daily Herald”. [14] Similarly, the month before, Derby Trades Council on the proposition of Reader and Rolley, decided that it “renders its most emphatic protest. This prosecution is contrary to the right of free speech and demands that these working men should be immediately released.” [15] But it had more to do with minimising the power of the militants in the labour movement to act, than with restricting free speech. Despite its tiny size, the Communist Party was able to exert effective leadership that contrasted sharply with the inactivity of the General Council.
In the meantime, the Samuel Commission was meeting. Chaired by Sir Herbert Samuel, the body also consisted of General Lawrence (who was also a banker as well as a military man), Kenneth Lee (chairman of Tootal Cotton Company) and Sir William Beveridge of the London School of Economics. There were no miners, trade unionists or workers’ representatives. Meeting to receive evidence from October to January, the Commission reported in March 1926 when it opposed nationalisation, along with the eight-hour day. Although national agreements and nationalisation of royalties in the future were also vaguely recommended by the Commission. The only immediate and concrete proposal was for 13.5% pay cut A J Cook, the miners leader who was also a member of the minority Marxist trend of the ILP, voiced the reason for their outright rejection; they demanded the slogan of: “Not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day”. [161 Against this was the intransigence of the owners. Samuel offered no way out other than conflict, as the nine months subsidy ran out. Anticipating a re-run of 1925, the COMMUNIST PARTY launched a campaign in March for unity between the Triple Alliance and the metal unions. The Party warned of the employers’ general plan to “tie the workers up in a number of enquiries which will begin and terminate at different times and so make united action difficult”. The coal owners threatened a lock out in May and the miners responded by giving notice of a strike. The battle lines were thus drawn. [17]
The necessity of a continuation of the subsidy or some similar solution was clear to the coal miners. Their job was still desperately difficult and dangerous. Youngsters still started their long hard life in the pits at the age of fourteen. Accidents were frequent and horrendous; a miner was killed on average every five hours while, every day, 850 suffered injuries causing more than a week off work. Earnings varied from as little as 8/- a day. Wages had lagged far behind price increases. Yet, despite the coal owners’ pleas of poverty, considerable profits had been made over the previous decade; a total of £261.1 million since 1913, or an average of well over £20 million per annum. A loss was recorded only in one single year - 1922 - and then of only £1.8 million. As well as the profit, considerable royalties were paid to wealthy landowners for the privilege of allowing mining underneath their land. Nobility, such as the Marquis of Bute, Lord Tredegar, the Duke of Hamilton and others, including the Church of England, took vast sums ranging from £80,000 to over a third of a million pounds a year. All of which ate into the profits of the coal owners, who in turn determined that the men would pay for it. [18]
While the coal industry faced enormous difficulties due to the rapacious demands of the owners, hopes of a revival in industry generally were very strong as the 1926 New Year passed. “TRADE OPTIMISM”, read a headline in the Derby Mercury. J A Aiton’s engineering firm was “quite happy regarding the future” and reported a general tendency “towards a more stable condition akin to a pre-war state of affairs”. The large printing firm of Bemrose looked forward to “great things”. British Celanese hoped for a ‘steady trade” in 1926, Brown’s Foundry “continued improvement”, Derwent Foundry for ‘big things”, while English Sewing Cotton Ltd hoped only for ‘fair conditions”. Handyside’s expected “new orders”, Haslam’s Foundry had “a good deal to be thankful for” and Ley’s Malleable hoped for ‘improvement”. Boden’s believed that the new year would be less “unfavourable than 1925”. [19] Everywhere, there was a sense of upturn coming; but if that was so, would industry be back to the revolutionary years of 1919-20? If so, it was absolutely vital to the employer class to arrange a showdown with the unions, so that workers could be kept at bay during the revival in trade. The miners were in the front line of potential conflict and they knew it. Hurriedly, they tried to prepare and alert the labour movement.
Les Clay, then a young man active in the ILP, recalled in later years how, on one of Cook’s visits to Derby in this period, the Grand Theatre was hired for £25. To advertise the meeting, six ILPers “walked around the centre of Derby on the Saturday afternoon wearing sandwich boards and black masks”. A J Cook spoke in a determined way: “We shall be ready in May - prepared to meet the attack on wages better than we were in July” (i.e. Red Friday). Spurning the idea that Thomas might yet ditch the Triple Alliance, Cook believed that the ‘Railwaymen ought to control Thomas”. The audience was doubtful about it all, but Cook made his position clear. “No one man, neither Cook, nor Thomas can control a Union. I am the miners’ servant, and every official ought to express and represent the views of the rank and file or get out. The NUR will come into the Alliance in spite of themselves.” [20]
But, if the miners were ready, their hope that other unions were equally prepared was misplaced. In Derbyshire, the key local officials were noted for their moderation. R E Stokes of the Workers Union was particularly prominent in this regard. “By reason of his work in the Alliance of the Employers and the Employed, and his moderate views, Mr Stokes has not always pleased the extremists”, the local press noted. [21] His view was that collaborationist activities were necessarily in the best interests of the workers. Speaking at the Derby Area Committee of the Industrial Alliance of Employers and Employed, he revealed that he believed that the cautious trade union leader was not always the mere coward that some critics seemed to suppose”. Deprecating the concept of strike action, he argued that “to hold our own in the world’s market, there could be no room in the Trade Union movement for shirkers and slackers”. [22]
Except for the bold and intemperate language, such views were shared by the majority of the elite of MPs, councillors and full time officials that ran Derby’s labour movement. In the countdown to the General Strike, the railways locally seemed more than unusually placid. The NUR rank and file had been pre-occupied from early January with a relatively trifling local argument over meal times, but otherwise there were no major difficulties facing the workers in the rail companies that might match the miners’ problems. It was a deliberate strategy of the employers to keep it that way and most local leaders were happy to go along with that. A private meeting of representatives of the unions and the Labour Party was held at the TGWU offices in the Wardwick in Derby in March. Although furious and fierce criticism of Thomas, both as an MP and as a labour and trade union leader was made, he was easily able to carry the day. He did this by cunningly attacking his opponents as intriguers and “Reds who were ruining the Labour Party”. While some were “striving for revolution”, Thomas declared that he ‘would have nothing to do with the Revolutionary Party”. The meeting overwhelmingly endorsed his report justifying his stance and ended with a rendition of “For he’s a jolly good fellow”. [23]
This set the tone for how the labour movement was supposed to react in Derby and the apparently private meeting was leaked in great detail to the press, perhaps to condition the mass of the workers to accept the inaction. Faced with the sheer fact that a strike would soon begin, the TUC pledged its support to the miners on the 14th April. But, such was its supreme reluctance to move, plans for the conduct of the strike were not made until 27th April. Within three days, a state of emergency was declared. If the TUC had acted with the utmost moderation, the Government did not. Emergency regulations were formulated, local authorities told to enact previously arranged measures, troops were moved to working class areas, and even the Navy was alerted. The Sherwood Forresters’ regimental depot at Derby was placed on alert during the emergency, while many of its four battalions of part time territorial soldiers signed on as special constables. Still no official call had yet been made for strike action.
On Saturday 1st May, this call came at the reconvened conference of trade union Executives, the mandate for which had been the NUVB resolution at the 1925 TUC. At this meeting, J H Thomas made an impassioned speech declaring that no government had “made such a blunder as this Government had made. Not until 1.15 on the day when the notices expired was a definite concrete proposal submitted to the miners ... which would have meant such degrading terms that no decent minded man or woman would tolerate.” Again and again, Thomas underlined his distaste for action. He attacked the Government for failing to find a compromise, missing the point that no compromise was intended. “They (i.e. the TUC) begged for peace and still wanted peace” was all Thomas could say. [24] So, even as the TUC was deciding on the General Strike, the seeds of defeat were sown. Ramsay MacDonald was at the conference in his capacity as Labour leader. Sensing the mood of the hall and the movement, he played to the gallery. Yet, he hoped and believed that “something will happen before (the strike) which will enable us to go about our work cheerily, heartily and hopefully during the next week”. [25] The conference emotionally burst out into singing the ‘Red Flag’, when the overwhelming vote for strike action was announced. However, MacDonald was quietly, but absolutely, opposed to the decision and at no stage - even at the height of the strike - did he indicate support for the solidarity action. Amongst workers at large, the general mood was one of enthusiastic readiness to take action. Like most workers, C S Hollis, a NUR activist in Chesterfield, did not hesitate for “we all thought the miners had got a good case”. Desperate though the majority of the TUC General Council was to head off the strike movement, the pressure was too great. Yet, from the start, the workers were handicapped by a leadership more afraid of victory than defeat. On the employers’ side, the Tory Party, the Liberals, Church, Press and State were intent on winning and ready to use every weapon from open conflict to underhand manoeuvring.
Why was this so? The labour movement leadership was motivated by a reformist philosophy, believing that socialism could be won only by step-by-step reform within the existing framework of British society. Their view was that the state was somehow a neutral force, above class and political bias. That the armed forces, the police and the civil service would unhesitatingly serve whichever party won office in Parliament. The notion of class struggle was rejected and the very concept of classes, as distinct and conflicting entities, was denied. Mass struggle was rejected, especially mass struggle outside Parliament. The be-all and end-all of this reformist philosophy was to capture Parliamentary and local council majorities. Within this narrow vision of the world, the role of the worker was simply to vote Labour and the role of the activist merely to win these votes at elections. While the leadership waited in vain for a reprieve, Bevin (then more a centrist than strictly speaking of the right) expressed on the Sunday before the stoppage the sense of passion that existed. “If every penny goes, if every asset goes, history will ultimately write that it was a magnificent generation that was prepared (to strike) rather than see the miners driven down like slaves.” [26] History most certainly records that this was a magnificent generation; whether their leaders, who feared struggle, were so is entirely another question.
2 “Hamlet without the Prince” - the strike in Derbyshire at the beginning
Thomas had cancelled an appointment in Derby on the Friday evening - the 30th -due to the crisis, but indicated his intent to attend the traditional May Day celebrations on the Sunday. In the event, this proved impossible and the excited crowd had to be content with a solidarity telegram from Thomas. However, his notion of solidarity consisted of warning: “outlook intensely black ... all who desire peace should strive for settlement. That we will continue to do and I hope we will be successful.” The strike had been called but had not yet even begun and Thomas was seeking its end. His absence from Derby was an important factor, in that no major counter-weight existed to prevent a slide to political militancy in the town and its environs in this highly charged situation. While Thomas has been accurately described as the “greatest buffoon the Labour Movement has known”, he was nonetheless the King of movement in Derby. One local paper thought the Sunday May Day event like “Hamlet without the prince”. [27] As it was, Derby would have to do without its monarch. He had difficulties of his own, having to plead with the NUR executive to “keep out of it”. But he was spurned by his own union, receiving no support at all for this outrageous outlook. More important, in occupying Thomas, was the role he assigned for himself during the strike. For he saw himself as needing to be the one man who kept his finger on the pulse of negotiations between the TUC and the Government, with the aim of finding the first available opportunity to stop it all.
Nationally, most mining areas were locked out from Friday 30th April 1926, although in Derbyshire the men were involved in sympathetic action from that date, technically strikers rather than lock outs. The Derby Telegraph thought it significant that, in most cases, miners took their tools home with them at the end of the Friday shift. It was an odd attempt to imply sinister events were afoot. No one could have seriously doubted that the Derbyshire coalfield would be completely stopped, but perhaps few thought that the miners would not work again for seven months. The coal owners’ ultimatum ran out on midnight on Friday. The next day was Saturday May 1st, international workers day, a day of solidarity, May Day itself. That weekend, with its special almost symbolic significance, was spent in excited anticipation.
St Werburgh’s church in Derby was filled to capacity on the Sunday afternoon for the annual church parade, which in the 1920s was held in conjunction with May Day. The vicar, Canon Blunt, along with Alderman Raynes and Councillor John Cobb, the Labour Party’s agent, addressed the congregation. The keynote of their speeches was to “keep within the law”. Raynes spoke of brotherhood and the need to “keep their courage high”. His call to the workers of Derby was for an example of quiet solidarity and his address was loudly applauded. This display was to the displeasure of Canon Blunt, who urged the congregation to desist from clapping in church even though it was a “silly convention” not to do so. Blunt’s contribution was to preach the parable of the good Samaritan, drawing the lesson that “fair play all round was what was wanted”. [28] The May Day meeting was held that day - the Sunday - in the Central Hall, rather than the traditional venue of the Market Place, supposedly “in view of the uncertainty of the weather”. Nevertheless, such was the turnout that there was an overflow into the Market Place itself. A V Knowles chaired the event, while the secretary of the Trades Council, E Gadsby, of the No.1 branch of the NUR, read Thomas’ telegram and the instructions from the TUC to an audience that showed “intense earnestness in its manifestations of approval of the course adopted by the TUC General Council”. Gadsby viewed the possibility of troops being called out to deal with the situation quite calmly, reminding the meeting “that happened in 1911 and again in 1919 and they knew with what result”. The implication was that such a prospect had already been experienced in highly charged struggles without serious consequences.
Kate Manicom, a London based organiser, spoke for the Workers Union. Promising the active support of women, she drew sharp contrasts between the impoverishment of the workers and the extravagance of their employers. Quoting another trade union official, she ended her speech with the refrain “Thank God for Jim Thomas”, to loud applause. Similarly, Alderman Raynes confirmed that they were all proud that the “great member of Derby was right at the head of that great dispute”. In ten days time such pride would seem misplaced to most unionised workers. Both Manicom and Raynes were at pains to call for restraint and the latter declaimed loud and emotional pride in the “Socialist International Movement”. Rhetorically, he demanded, “Are the workers of Derby this time going to rise to the occasion and be loyal?” His audience responded with cheers, applause and cries of “YES!”. The enthusiasm had to be tempered though; “sit still and keep the law, whatever happened ... disregard any instructions that were not signed by the president and secretary of the TUC”, Raynes warned the crowd. The rally ended by acclaiming an enthusiastic resolution, moved by Stokes of the WU and seconded by Cobb.
The main speakers at the Derby meeting were philosophical about the use of troops and this was the case everywhere. At Long Eaton, the prospective Labour candidate for South Derbyshire, Major David Graham-Pole, an ILPer and former secretary of the Indian Home Rule League, told the May Day demonstration that he thought the miners were right to stand firm and that “troops were already being moved about and reserves were being called up, but if the workers sat down with folded arms the lock out would end within a week”. Again, the message was sit tight and do nothing.
In the meantime, rather than wait a week, Thomas tried to do a deal that very day by selling out the miners. However, the Tory Cabinet refused to play along with this; they wanted a battle to the very end, deciding the problem of the coalfields once and for all. The refusal of the Daily Mail print workers to print a vicious scare story, which implied armed revolution was about to break out, was seized upon by the Government to end the negotiations. They had prepared for this for nine months and did not want to be cheated of the satisfaction of total victory, which Thomas’ actions told the Government was now possible. The Government’s careful preparations were brought into play. Derbyshire and five other counties formed the North Midlands Division, under the control of Captain H Douglas King MP, who was deemed Civil Commissioner and based at Nottingham. Local councils were well prepared for the dispute and immediately sprang into action, in an attempt to alleviate the impact of the General Strike. In Derby, Mayor S Collins appealed for volunteers to sign up at the recruiting office at the Town Hall and 1,677 people rapidly enrolled for emergency work. The Food Committee laid plans for a rationing scheme, should it prove necessary. Derby’s Postmaster asked the public to refrain from using postal, telegraphic and telephone services if at all possible.
Posters and leaflets were released by the Derby Borough under the signature of the Town Clerk, G Trevelyan Lee, detailing the “Coal (Emergency) Directions 1926”. As these were dated the 3rd of May, they had presumably been printed well before the strike and in anticipation of it. The regulations dictated that no more than one hundredweight of coal be used in any home in one week, or 50% of the usual supply in any works. The use of light for advertisement was prohibited and the supply of gas or electricity was restricted to 50% of the average quantity used by the last reading of the meter. Exemption could be granted, but only by obtaining a special permit from Frank Cooper at the Borough accountants’ office in Babington Lane and then only when very good reasons prevailed. In the north of the county, the Civil Commissioner opened offices at the Market Hall in Chesterfield to receive the 625 volunteers who subsequently enrolled to transport food and fuel and to assist in the maintenance of light and power. A recruitment sub-office was established at Buxton very soon afterwards and 130 strikebreaking volunteers were enrolled there.
Local authorities, even where they were Labour controlled, willingly assumed the responsibilities asked of them by the central Government. In Chesterfield, the Labour Lord Mayor, Alderman H Cropper, claimed that the council “represented the whole of the ratepayers and (their) position should be entirely neutral ... (they were) acting on specific instructions from the Government”. [28] While the Government was imposing duties on local councils, which might certainly have limited the opportunities for Labour councillors to act in assistance of the strike, the notion that they did not have to act as representatives of their class came straight out of reformist ideology. This saw central and local state machinery as somehow neutral, apolitical and above class. The role, which such authorities as the Chesterfield council adopted, was in practice a strike breaking one, as the Government played a clever political game with the organs of state power in what was essentially an industrial dispute.
A special meeting of Chesterfield Borough’s General Purposes Committee on the 4th May resolved to take whatever steps were necessary to maintain electricity and gas services. The Tramways Committee met the same day to decide on a skeleton motor omnibus service, to be operated by the council during the emergency in place of its normal service. An emergency committee for Chesterfield’s volunteer services was set up by Cropper. The town clerk was responsible for food, the borough surveyor for roads. Both the LMS and the LNER provided officials responsible for railways. While an agent for a local coal merchant’s was responsible for coal distribution. The postmaster was responsible to the committee for postal services and the borough provided a committee member concerned with finance. Ministry of Health circulars were enthusiastically put into operation by the council.
Although Cropper was at pains to distance his emergency committee from the semi-governmental Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS), which managed the entire strikebreaking operation, he did repetitively quote Ramsay MacDonald’s view that there could only be one government at a time of national crisis. Indeed, Cropper reminded Labour councillors that the skeleton of the emergency organisation had been set up under MacDonald’s government. Whatever the convoluted logic employed by Cropper, the practical result of the Council’s actions were to undermine the strike in the area covered by the Borough - Chesterfield, Dronfield, Bolsover, Clay Cross, Clowne, Blackwell, all mining districts. Mayor Cropper went further, announcing the provision of recreation and sport and music services by the authority. An appeal was made to the local cinemas to open their premises for Sunday evening concerts, all in the name of keeping the strikers happy, contented and above all quiet.
[29] Ilkeston Borough Council rationed food and coal supplies and asked for reports of profiteering. More positively, soup kitchens were opened for the children of strikers. The Derby Gas Company considered itself in a good position “in regard to supplies of coal”, while the Derby Corporation Electricity Department reported that there were no dangers of a “curtailment of services”. Indeed the department prided itself on “having made provision for all difficulties that may arise”. [30]
While preparations of such a character were brought to fruition throughout the country, the TUC was unmoved and little was done to counteract this hostile preparation. None of it could possibly have been a surprise. Quite apart from the connivance of Labour authorities and councillors, it had (as Cropper repeatedly reminded his Labour councillors) been Ramsay MacDonald’s Government that had introduced the strike breaking mechanisms in 1924. There was therefore no way that the Labour leadership could have been unaware of the Government’s steady preparations. While the links between the TUC and the Labour Party, at the level of senior leadership, were close. Thomas, for one, would have been aware of the plans. The TUC did at least see some value in propaganda, for both the Government and the TUC produced their own newspapers, in the absence of Fleet Street and much of the provincial press. The Government paper, the British Gazette, was edited by Winston Churchill and printed on the Daily Mail presses, it was distributed in Derby by a fleet of vehicles loaned by George Usher, the owner of International Combustion. While supplies were erratic at first, after some days most of Derbyshire was able to receive at least some copies of the Gazette. In Chesterfield, newsagents helped to distribute and sell the paper, which maintained a vigorously hostile attitude to the strike throughout. In its first edition, it opened the propaganda war by accusing the TUC of open political revolutionary aims, a claim so wildly far from the truth that in retrospect it seems farcical.
Counter to this, but after some delay, the TUC published the British Worker on the presses of the Daily Herald, utilising volunteer print workers who were on strike. The Worker replied to the Gazette’s wild accusations with the mild rebuke that the TUC politely but firmly wished to “emphasise the fact that this is an industrial dispute”. While this was essentially true, the TUC blindly refused to face up to the obvious political implications of the strike. This attitude had important practical as well as ideological results. For the importance of the situation demanded that there be a strike committee in every locality, mobilising every striker out on the streets in picketing or propaganda work. The TUC thought otherwise and could only have thought so on the basis that it did not intend to effectively prosecute the strike. The British Worker told the strikers: “The General Council suggests that in all districts, where large numbers of workers are idle, sports should be organised and entertainments arranged. This will both keep a number of people busy and provide amusement for many more.” [31]
Only three unions out of 1,100 failed to honour the strike, which started from midnight Monday May 3rd. The General Council reported stupendous solidarity, which “surpassed all our expectations ... The difficulty of the General Council has been to keep men in what we might call the second line of defence rather than call them all out.” A telegram dispatched at 6pm on Saturday called out only “front-line workers”, i.e. some builders, all transport workers, the printing industry, steel, chemical and power workers. The ‘second-line’, that is to say the rest of the movement, was to be held in reserve. [32]
In Derbyshire, all Trent Motor Traction bus services stopped from midnight without any hesitation. Tramway workers employed by Derby Corporation met on the evening before the deadline, stopping the scheduled trams for the night while they considered their position, They too responded solidly from midnight, after their mass meeting. Thus most public transport was out of action in the Derby area, only the Blue Bus Company of Willington kept going throughout the strike. However it was only a tiny service, privately owned and non-unionised, The company’s historian has revealed that ‘it had been said that in case of trouble a gun was carried aboard the bus”! [33] By the morning, Derby’s streets were crowded with workers showing “the extensiveness of the industrial stoppage in Derby. Only 2 trains ran on the LMS this morning ... No trams and only a few buses ran. The whole of the transport services are paralysed”, the local press revealed.
Despite not being called out by the TUC, the AEU membership at Rolls Royce in Derby spontaneously came out on strike that Monday morning and other unions followed their lead. Compositors at the Derby newspapers came out, causing the Express to produce a duplicated typewritten sheet. All of the workers at Bemrose printers, both men and women, came out and the coal deliverymen at the Co-op stopped work. Cardboard box workers at the Foreman Street factory walked out. [34] Most of the stone quarries in Derbyshire were immediately closed, if for no other reason than lack of transport, although most quarrymen came out in the solidarity action except for the Wirksworth area. [35] The railway workshops closed completely and pickets remained at the Loco Works throughout. Les Clay, an AEU activist, recalled the work of the picket: “Occasionally a bloke would arrive for work. We persuaded them it was pointless to go in, because there was no work to do.” [36] Beer deliveries were held up at some of the big breweries in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, but the Gazette reported that “tenants of public houses are motoring to the breweries and bringing away supplies”. [37]
Thousands stopped in Derby, many more than were requested to do so. There were so many that special signing on places for union benefits were arranged and publicised, The AEU paid out at the Labour Exchange in London Road, while the NUR’s Nos. 2 and 3 branches shared Unity Hall with the joiners. Nos. 1 and 4 NUR branches signed on at the Temperance Hall, along with the TGWU. All the building trades, except the joiners, used the Clarion Club. While the Railway Clerks, the Bookbinders and the printers went along with the shop workers to the Labour Party headquarters. [38] Apart from union benefits, there was the possibility of public relief payments from the Board of Guardians for some strikers and their families received over £727 from the Derby Guardians during the dispute. [39] Shop committees of direct representatives from the workplaces were affiliated to the Derby Trades Council’s strike committee. [40] The DLP executive joined the committee as well, making it deeply representative of the town’s labour movement. There were two representatives from each of the following trades and workshop committees:
Printing          Railway and Transport
Building         Railway Carriage and Wagon Shop Committee
Engineering Railway Allied Engineering Shop Committee
The overall strike committee set up specialist sub-committees - some with more serious intent than others: [41]
Engineering Publicity
Transport    Sports
Dispatch    Distress
The Transport sub-committee was formed of road and rail unions, its formal title was the “Derby and District Joint Transport Strike Committee”, and there were a total of 21 delegates. As elsewhere, it was given delegated authority by the TUC to deal with transport permits. A presentation photograph of the committee survives and used to be displayed at the TGWU offices in Derby. The members of the committee were:
                            B Green            S Pickering
                            A W Smith        R C Werrett
                            W Rose             E Hutchinson
                            J E Gapp          W G Clarke
                            F Humphries   E W Key
                            R Bridge           E Naylor
                            H B Walton      W Ball
                            F Haslam          H Beeson
                            A Goodwin       W Hurst
                            E Gadsby         A W Mallett
                                           E Garratt
The Co-ops were magnificent. In Derby, arrangements were made for the issuing of food vouchers on the guarantee of the various trade unions. The DCS Board set up a sub-committee to confer with the strike committee, for the society believed itself to be the “feeder of fighters” and in consequence would seek to maintain food supplies. Moreover, the Co-op was able to assist the unions directly, by ensuring that branch secretaries of trade unions in the town were able to cash cheques forwarded to them by central offices for dispute benefits. While the quarterly DCS meeting in May sanctioned the paying out of £50,000 in `dlvi’ money, which naturally helped many. The Ripley Co-op offered its halls for the use of strikers’ meetings. [42] Indeed, throughout the area, ILP halls, Labour Party rooms and miners’ welfares were turned into communications centres from which came instructions. These centres and committees gradually became, in effect, almost like an alternative government. In some areas, as councils of action, they were potentially a direct challenge to the established power, practically running the locality. The State’s official emergency committees often had to liaise with the strike centre, to obtain sanction for the movement of certain goods.
Most newspapers being out of action, the NUJ executive agreed that, to allow strike bulletins to be produced, it was “permissible for our members to work on make-shift papers which are being produced by labour which cannot permanently displace men who are out on strike”. [43] So the strike committees were often able to produce quite well written duplicated newssheets. The ‘Sheffield Forward’ strike bulletin had a worker correspondent in Chesterfield who provided details to the newssheet about events in the Derbyshire coalfield. Another miner, Albert Vincent Williams (better known as Vin), a Mossborough man, produced the ‘Derbyshire Chronicle’ daily with assistance from Joe Lynch. Williams was also a part-time organiser for the Labour Party. The Derbyshire Chronicle was produced as a halfpenny newssheet at the Chesterfield Trade Council offices in the Miners’ Welfare. Twelve despatch riders toured the county, bringing in news and the papers were collected by them at around 4am or Sam, for distribution each morning. The Derbyshire bulletin differed sharply from the Derby strike bulletin, in that the former was thoroughly vitriolic in style. Its third issue declared, “Blood is thicker than water, as the trite saying goes. The ruling class can don our class in soldiers’ clothes, but the working class heart pulsates beneath.” [44] This was in response to the news that Welsh Guards in London were supposed to have refused to act against strikers. The statement was subsequently to have grave legal consequences for Williams and only three issues of the Chronicle were issued after this controversy, for fear of involving the unions in libel actions.
The Derby strike bulletin was produced officially on behalf of the central strike committee by the Labour Party’s agent, Councillor John Cobb, and the DTC secretary, E Gadsby, on a Gestetner duplicator at the Labour Party offices at 63 London Road. It appeared from the first day to the last day of the strike, often with mid-day as well evening editions. Selling it at a penny a copy, local newsboys took them off the strike committee for thirteen copies for 1/-. The total income received over the ten days by the strike committee for sales of the bulletin was £92 17s 2d. So, taking into account the profit to the sellers, over 24,000 copies were sold, presumably at the rate of a couple of thousand copies a day. In Ripley, a local bulletin was produced but only in small quantities, enough to post outside the committee room and similar places. [45]
These bulletins were an open and obvious direct target for the authorities, especially the more militant publications. In a flagrant attack against the effectiveness of such bulletins, the Communist Party headquarters in Birmingham were raided and presses, papers and people were seized. The Party had printed four issues of the Birmingham Worker, which circulated widely in the Midlands. Issues specifically designed for Wolverhampton and Derby were confiscated in the raid. [46] Strikers and supporters who distributed strike bulletins were subjected to intimidation by the law as much as were the printers. Joseph Fretwell of Pinxton was bound over in the sum of £20 for six months and had to pay costs of £3 7s 0d for having “on premises in his occupation a document likely to cause disaffection amongst the civil population.” He had displayed a copy of the strike bulletin issued by the Alfreton strike committee in the window of his home on May 10th and the Hyde Park story had been printed in it. Arthur Wilkinson of South Normanton was similarly dealt with for the temerity of selling six copies of the Alfreton bulletin. [47] Apart from these strike bulletins, some parts of the country were starved of news. However, in Derbyshire all the local newspapers were generally available, albeit in reduced form. Needless to say, they were intensely biased against the strike. While the printers at the Derby Daily Express struck, the journalists remained to produce a scab newssheet throughout. The quality and size of the paper desired much, mostly due to the journalists’ inability, or unwillingness, to solve the difficulties of setting typeface.
Some compositors at the Sheffield Telegraph returned to work, enabling a rough edition to come out on Wednesday. While, the next day, the Sheffield Independent came out as a newssheet. Both circulated in the north eastern part of the county. The weekly Derbyshire Times was printed in its usual format, for it was normally produced by non-union labour. (The paper was to be the last significant printing firm in the county to become unionised.) The Derbyshire Times made great play of its neutrality and its intent to “give all sections of its readers a fair and un-biased account of the position as it affects both sides”. It claimed that it would be strictly non-political. These lofty aims set for itself were not in fact reflected in the columns of the paper. If news was always distorted according to whether it was a scab journal or a strike bulletin, in general hard news was limited and scarce throughout the strike. For example, Belper was reported as being “completely isolated as far as news is concerned. Not a single paper of any description was on sale after Tuesday and this absence of news gave birth to some extravagant rumours”. Sandiacre and Stapleford were deprived of newspapers until May 7th, when an edition of the Ilkeston Pioneer arrived. Ilkeston itself was without papers until late Friday, when a car appeared from Leicester laden with newspapers. The local strike committee warned a newsagent not to bring any more strike breaking newspapers into the town, but Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby newspapers were on sale from the weekend onwards. [48]
The strike was as solid amongst trades unionists outside Derby in the county as in the town. In Chesterfield, some of the engineering works tried to keep going if they could. But the major ones, like those of the Sheepbridge and Staveley companies, completely closed down for the duration of the strike making no attempt even to try to open. One week before the start of the strike, 400 workers at Staveley’s Devonshire works and foundries were given notice that, during the crisis, they would be on day-to-day contracts instead of the usual weekly ones. This was to facilitate the immediate suspension of the workforce, in the event of lack of work due to shortage of supplies. Some 1,300 came out on strike on May 3rd, while another 800 or so came out at Sheepbridge works.
Only eight of Chesterfield’s corporation buses and only one of its trams ran on Tuesday 4th. Six corporation employees who were not union members, plus some dozen ‘volunteers’, ran the service as conductors, conductresses and drivers. This was much to the displeasure of the strikers, who gathered that evening in large numbers at their depot to voice disapproval at the strikebreaking. The next day eleven buses were on the road, yet most of the volunteers left a lot to be desired in their ability to do the job. At all Chesterfield Corporation bus stops messages were chalked on the pavements: “Please do not ride on the buses - Blackleg labour”. For the council allowed untrained drivers, young middle-class students and the like, having a great lark while strike breaking, to take control of the buses. The strikers saw this as putting the public in grave danger, at a time when not only were legislative controls on driver quality generally very weak, but public service vehicle regulations were minimal. Strike committee member Joseph Lynch wrote to the Derbyshire Times, stating that he had been talking to a ‘volunteer’ driver who admitted to only a short experience in driving and that only by lessons given to him by his father. How could Labour councillors ignore this sort of thing, considering the borough’s motto ‘safety first”, Lynch wanted to know?
The railwaymen of Chesterfield were as solid as bus workers. Only three trains came through or left the town on Tuesday May 4th. There were no trains at the Market Street station. However, two ran from the Central station on the Manchester to London route. One strikebreaking signalman manned the vital Tapton junction, a bed being placed in the signal box and provisions being delivered daily from Hasland by a light engine. The NUR strike headquarters were in the Marquess of Hartington pub in Chesterfield’s Salisbury Street and this, with the overwhelming majority of men out, proved to be a hive of activity.
A private bus company, Underwood’s, proved a source of much activity. A non-union firm, it kept a skeleton service going, most employees being fearful of their job. Although all of the conductresses came out on strike. Conditions of work at Underwood’s were described as “slave labour”. Five NUR pickets turned out at Sam one morning during the strike, locating themselves outside the single entrance to the depot in Pond Street with the aim of stopping the buses. The leaders of the small group were Jack Wilkinson, the NUR branch secretary, and 1 J Mitchell, later to be a Mayor of Chesterfield. Mitchell’s house was kept under constant police surveillance during the strike. But the picket was unable to persuade the drivers not to cross the line, so on Thursday May 6th a large crowd gathered outside Underwood’s Clowne depot. Stones were thrown at a bus as it left the depot and glass was scattered across the road. Later that morning, police boarded the buses in service, so that they could protect the scab drivers. Despite this, the company decided to suspend operations from Clowne altogether for the time being.
Some Underwood’s services were allowed to run through however. Up to the Thursday, the Chesterfield to Barrow Hill and Clapwell to Matlock routes were kept on after the DMA asked for this to allow miners the opportunity to pick up their previous week’s wages. But the battle against Underwood’s continued at Clowne, when some 50 strikers gathered to fill three lorries, which were “chartered” by three men and three women. Travelling to Chesterfield the lorries stopped just inside the borough, blocking the road to Underwood’s buses and forcing the passengers off. The local press claimed that the bus crews were “assaulted”. Whatever the nature of the incident, the six organisers of the picket were charged under the emergency regulations with acting in a manner likely to ‘impede, delay or restrict the measures taken for maintaining the means of locomotion”. Not, it should be noted, for an offence of violence, Subsequently, the men received one month’s imprisonment, The women were bound over for three months, a punishment which restricted their future strike activities.
In common with other towns, Chesterfield had its own strike committee. The twelve members of which met from the very first day of the strike until the end, Its members were:
          Frank Hall                     (DMA secretary)
          George Spencer         (DMA compensation agent)
          Henry Hicken              (DMA treasurer)
          Joseph Lynch             (possibly NUR)
          Vincent Williams         (miner and editor of strike bulletins)
          Alice Wild                     (NUDAW)
          Anne Astwood            (Communist Party)
The strike committee would hold its special tactical meeting at 6pm each evening, but otherwise met in permanent session at the Miners’ Welfare in Chester Street. Alice Wild presided, while 24-year-old Communist Anne Astwood was secretary. The latter worked at Robinson’s, the surgical dressings manufactures, The manual workers at this firm were solidly out on strike, despite the TUC directive for such workers not to take action. Most of the manual workers were in the AEU, but the office staff was not at this stage organised. Anne Astwood was the only office worker who came out. Recalling all this, in an interview in 1973, she remembered that her father had said: ‘You’re a member of a Trade Union, you come out.” It was as simple as that. Anne Astwood had the advantage of her father’s strong views to sustain her in these dramatic times. He was an engineer at the Scarsdale Poor Law Institution and he had never hesitated to support any group of workers in struggle. In a previous battle, when locked out miners marched through Chesterfield, he had taken the clothes of the marchers to fumigate them at the Institution. [49]
In Ripley, the Trades Council called an immediate meeting of all trade union branches to form a central strike committee. A good response from both affiliated and unaffiliated organisations was reported. Although, the strength of the strike in the building trade in Ripley was especially thought of as being “bad” by the Trades Council in its post-strike report. This noted that other trades could be described as having a “good” strike response. Skilled tradesmen seem to have particularly responded well, for the strike committee was driven to comment that, in industries other than the building trade, general labour was badly organised. [50] There were regular meetings at the Ripley Co-op Hall, where the ‘Labour Party and miners leaders lent their voices to the cause”. [51] At the Ripley collieries, a federated labour board was set up to ensure that authorised safety men, employed at the pits during the strike to maintain the workings for the eventual return, were properly issued with permits by the unions to do so. There was also a check that they were themselves trades unionists and would confine their activities to normal duties.
llkeston had a particularly active central strike committee, which sent a daily message to the TUC on its work, On the 7th May it reported that the “stoppage is proceeding in a most orderly fashion, with determination to stand fast until victory is won for the miners”, On the following day: “All workers solid.” Only a few buses ran from Ilkeston after the first Tuesday. On Saturday two went to Derby, one to Hallam Fields, two to Nottingham and three to Heanor, The private bus owners met the strike committee and it was agreed that the works services would operate from Monday only, so long as the passengers were using the same bus as before the strike. [52] There was an “almost total suspension of rail, bus and tramway services at Ilkeston. Private bus proprietors attempted to run the usual service to Nottingham, but were stopped there, and returned empty, passengers having to walk back.” [53] There was a ‘feeding centre’ in Ilkeston’s Gladstone Street, This concerned itself with providing meals for needy children, During the long months that were to follow, as the miners stayed out alone, the centre was overwhelmed with the demands of many extra mouths. In the month of April alone 1,899 meals were provided at a cost of £30 9s 7d. [54] In the seven days from May 8th, at the height of the General Strike, 3,914 meals were served, at the cost of £200, This was almost double the usual level which applied during the miners’ lone dispute, since so many were now out on strike, [55]
Alfreton, then mainly a pit village, was of course solid from day one. There, as elsewhere in the county, the Miners’ Welfare committee arranged talks and concerts, for little picketing was needed in the coalfields. On Wednesday, the Derby Daily Express was to deny that buses had been overturned, but suggested that attempts had been made to intimidate drivers and conductors of the small private firm of Barton’s, Chapman’s of Belper, maintained a service and the owner denied that any interference had been made with his buses. In general, there was little sign of violence and only good-humoured exuberance, But strike breaking ‘volunteer’ services continued to expand rapidly. Alderman Ling, the chair of Derby’s volunteers, reportedly thought that “things are going smoothly”. Branches of the service were opened in Alfreton, Matlock and Swadlincote. In the meantime, the Derby Strike Committee was more concerned to get the massive numbers of people, seen on the streets on Tuesday, off the streets and pro-occupied with ‘safe’ matters. To that end, a concert was held for strikers at the Central Hall on Wednesday and the strike bulletin advised strikers to “go into the fields and gardens to avoid congestion”. That evening, W R Raynes told the Town Council that the strike would not interfere with the house-building programme: “The workers in Derby ... would see that house building went on.” [56] Raynes should not have had any difficulty in delivering on his promise, The TUC had exempted social responsibility building work and his own old union, the NASOHSPD painters, had sent telegrams instructing ‘all members not engaged on Housing and Public Health services to refrain from starting work on Tuesday morning”. [57]
Moreover, there was currently a major slum clearance programme taking place in the town. A massive target of 1,240 houses actually under construction and 562 more with approved contracts only marginally bit into Derby’s particularly severe housing problem. However, Raynes had reckoned without the spirit of solidarity and enthusiasm for the strike, which spread rapidly. All building operatives in the town were asked to cease work at 5.30 pm on Friday evening, in notices signed by local officials of the various trades, Paviours employed by the Corporation and workers of companies engaged on housing contracts all came out without notice to their employers. The decision to do so was motivated by a feeling that the TUC’s instructions on housing and hospital work were unfair, in that some members of the construction unions would lose wages while others were working normally. ‘One out all out’ was a time honoured motto in the building industry and Derby followed it with a vengeance, Some contractors tried to carry on with apprentices and non-union men, who were not usually time-served. One can only guess at the structural consequences from the little work that was done. [58]
Many industries had to cope with the damage done by strikebreaking and ‘volunteer’ labour. There were many serious examples of how inefficient and indeed dangerous the railways had become under the non-union labour. One rail worker, walking from Spondon to Derby via the railway line held up his hand to a passenger train and the driver stopped to pick him up! Some cases were less dangerous, but equally comic. One scab driven train left Derby for Leicester, but got lost around the Trent River, arriving nearly four hours late. While it was a standing joke that the ‘volunteers’ had a “new set of gates for every train”, after amateur drivers had “fetched down once or twice” the level crossing gates at Beighton. [59] With much of Derbyshire’s transport strike-bound, people found other ways of getting around. Owners of the few private cars that then existed took to giving lifts to complete strangers. Although Barton’s did occasionally get its hourly service from Derby to Nottingham running, in the main, most towns and villages were isolated from one another.
Thursday and Friday were pay days for most workers and there were problems everywhere over the payment of wages. A crowd of two hundred gathered outside the Carriage and Wagon works, hoping for their wages as usual, But the Midland Railway Company used an excuse, that so many clerks had taken solidarity action, to delay the payout by several days. [60] The Thursday edition of the strike bulletin reported that the “chairman of the Derby Shops Committee had been informed that the LMS have not sufficient money at Derby to pay wages to those at work.” Despite such experiences, there was still in general a spirit of almost carnival gaiety, On the Thursday afternoon, a concert was held at the Central Hall at 3pm and a film was shown at the Temperance Hall at 7.30 pm. Both were followed by a voluntary collection for the strike committee’s funds, but were otherwise free to strikers.
An idea of the sort of concerts laid on for the strikers is revealed by a printed programme of the time. The still-existing, typed Gestetner cyclostyle stencil presumably contains the front and back of the programme - perhaps inside there were song-sheets? The stencil was deposited with original copies of the strike bulletin at Derby’s Local Studies Library. There is no certain identification of it as being from the strike period, but it seems very much like the sort of entertainment that would have been provided. [61]
(Front side of programme)
by the
Presented by Mr Albert E Baker
Miss Wynne Robinson             Soprano
Miss Kitty Boston                      Pianist & Accompanist
Little Babs Kinsey                     Juvenile Prodigy
Mr Bert E F Bainbrigge             Tenor
Mr J Marsden-Starkey              Scottish Comedian
Mr Albert E Baker                       Light Comedian
(Rear side of programme)
Mr Albert E Baker
43 Handel Street
Mr Francis Fisher
The House
Litchurch Gas Works
Mr J F Flint-Bainbrigge
79 London Road
In a similar vein, the local press reported that “most of the Amusement Houses of Derby are attracting large audiences in the evenings, but business is reported to be below normal in the afternoons.” The large crowds which gathered in the streets during the day seeking excitement, much to the consternation of trade union leaders, did not find it in the picture houses.
There was a desperate desire for news, which when it came gave no hint of the disappointments to come. After all, even J H Thomas was quoted by the Derby strike bulletin as having “confidence in the Derby workers” and believing that “the most remarkable feature (was) the wonderful response made by the Railway Clerks Association”. [62] Moreover, had not Thomas stated in the House of Commons that he had “IN HIS POCKET IN THE PRIME MINISTER’S WRITING THE BASIS OF A SETTLEMENT ... THE PRIME MINISTER DID NOT DENY THIS”. [63] Thus proclaimed the strike bulletin. Victory must have seemed very close.
The following day, Rolls Royce agreed to pay wages at the usual pay stations from 4.30 pm. With pay in their pockets, the weekend approached and the dispute was solid. Everything must have seemed perfect to the strikers. Friday’s mid-day strike bulletin revealed that a special messenger had arrived from the TUC the previous night. He had reported that the position was solid “all the way along” from London. Ever anxious to avoid accusations of revolutionary activity, the General Council’s message was again emphasised in the strike bulletin: “we are engaged in an INDUSTRIAL DISPUTE”. Nationally, all transport was reported to be at a halt. “All tram and busmen out solid.” [64] While new sections continued to enter the dispute, often unasked. Members of the Sheet Metal Workers, Heating and Domestic Engineers Union pledged to withdraw labour, while those expected to remain at work would levy themselves 5/- a week during the dispute.
As the weekend approached, the position at Ilkeston was considered quiet, All the collieries there were out solidly and the blast furnaces at Stanton were damped down. [65] All the blast furnaces in the country were out, except parts of Staveley and one other, At Ilkeston, miners drew chalk circles on street corner pavements for passers-by to drop coins into for their fund. Only 5% of clerks and 2.5% of traffic grades had reported for duty at the LNER establishments in the North Midlands generally. This was a phenomenal response for what some saw as one of the weakest unionised companies. The Derby strike committee was still worried about crowds in the streets. Making the point that “the men in Derby are as solid as ever and as keen”, the local bulletin demanded strict discipline from the strikers, Yet another concert was arranged at the Co-op Hall and a cinema showing was held at the Temperance Hall on Friday evening. All to keep spirits high and order certain. Some strikers made their own entertainment, that of disrupting the efforts of strike breaking labour! [66]
At 8 pm on Friday evening, about 25 busmen who were on strike boarded the scab private bus of Messrs Dean and Tailby at Derby’s Cheapside, Only a few other passengers were able to get on the bus which was bound for Burton, so that the rest of the queue had to stay behind. But the strikers refused to pay their fares before the bus moved off and again after it had travelled about 50 yards. As two policemen then got on the bus, a few did agree to pay their fares by the time the bus had got to Littleover. Some scrambled out through the windows to avoid paying and all of the strikers, after getting off at Littleover, marched back into the town in military formation. No doubt after appropriate refreshments, the strikers tried their hand again - for another bus was highjacked at 11 pm in Derwent Street. [67] Very late that night the MP for Ilkeston, G H Oliver, arrived in Derbyshire from London, having travelled all the way by road, Only one of about 60 signal boxes were open that day, making it impossible for even the very few scab trains to operate. Oliver reported that “everywhere the strike was solid.” [68] To keep morale high, plenty of activities were arranged for the weekend.
On both Saturday and Sunday, R Taylor MP addressed meetings held under the auspices of the TUC. Mass meetings were arranged for the Saturday in Normanton Recreation Ground at 3 pm and Chester Green at 7 pm. On Sunday, the meetings were held at Alveston Recreation Ground at 3 pm and Markeaton Park at 7 pm. Large numbers turned out to listen and applaud at the various rallies. The Sunday events were particularly well attended, despite the fact that a wireless bulletin had broadcast that ‘an appeal has been made to observe today as a day of rest”, Even during that weekend it was reported that buses were still coming off the road, as crews - probably non-unionised at that - joined the strike. A BBC wireless, or radio, bulletin at 1.00 pm on Saturday the 8th May was recorded verbatim by the Derby strike committee. It revealed, without stating the location or the name of the company, that 160 buses of a large North Derbyshire omnibus firm had stopped. [69] Perhaps Underwood’s had finally succumbed?
As the strike developed, the Government showed clearly that it took for granted that the full apparatus of the State was its to utilise at will. All of the coercive and administrative powers in society were gathered around the Government, The British Gazette informed the armed forces that any action they found necessary “to aid the Civil Power will receive, both now afterwards, the full support of His Majesty’s Government”. [70] With this carte blanche, there was no formal restraint on any action to beat the strike and the law was geared to defend the establishment. Strikers, not strikebreakers, were arrested for trivial matters. Strikebreakers could d