Chapter Eight


                             CLASS WAR OR IMPERIALIST WAR?
Illustration: graffiti made by conscientious objectors imprisoned in Long Eaton 
1 The Unions at the outset of the war
The ‘great’ war of 1914-18 abruptly cut into the growing power of the working class movement. Pressure for social reform was submerged in the heady fervour of patriotism. The sharpness of workers’ struggles was dulled as the guns of August 1914 boomed. Yet the war did nothing to address the very real and massive social problems that existed. The conflict was supposed to defend democracy freedom and peace but Britain was still very much two distinct nations divided by class and wealth. The Derby engineering businessman, Sir H Ley, left £448,424 in his personal estate when he died in 1916. This was incontestably a huge amount, maybe some scores of millions of pounds today. For the bulk of his employees, there was only uncertainty of employment and lack of social welfare and they were probably in the main considered representative of the luckiest segments of Derby’s working class. Others fared even more badly.
Derby’s pioneer Labour councillor, William (usually called Will in his younger days and more often called Bill in his later years) Raynes recounts in his unpublished memoirs a chilling tale of poverty in the pre-war Derby. As he walked along London Road one day, he was accosted by a sanitary inspector who drew him down Burrough’s Walk to show him some disturbing things. “He took me to a foul smelling slum, not more than two hundred yards from the main thoroughfare of London Road, down a dark entry and across a filthy yard littered with tradesmen’s’ refuse, to where stood some two-roomed dwellings of the back-to-back type.” Inside, the ceilings and walls were black with “the accumulated filth of years”. The brick floors were broken and crumbling with damp.
Raynes saw naked children playing amidst the dirt and decay. One boy of seven had a sort of spinal paralysis and would never walk again; the pioneer socialist had thought of him: “the sooner dead the better”. The bedroom ceiling had holes in it, through which rain poured; the walls were “literally alive with bugs”. The entire family of husband, wife and four children slept in one filthy bed. Raynes tried to blame one woman for not being clean enough. She flew at him, when he rebuked this wife and mother: “You tell me to go and get clean water,” she cried. “Come and see where I have to go to the nearest tap.” They went down the entry “along the street past a dozen houses, and down another entry into another filthy yard to the one tap in common use for twenty houses and probably more than a hundred people”. The sanitary conveniences were there and, when Raynes saw them, he felt sick. There were “just two open tubs in closets without doors and in a state too filthy to be believed unless actually seen”. The woman explained to Raynes “Now, Councillor, when I came here to live I was a respectable girl. I tried, God only knows how I tried, to keep my place decent, but it was no use. I gave up trying and now I don’t give a damn what happens.”
The owner of the property turned out to be a Tory alderman! A respectable burger of Derby, he proved to be an easy target for Raynes’ fury. The Labour councillor lost no time in pressing home the electoral and public advantage he had gained from this information, easily winning changes to the conditions that the tenants had to cope with. Yet, the real answer to Derby’s slums lay years ahead. Demolition was the only remedy, accompanied by good cheap municipal housing. The problem was widespread and, countrywide, Labour politicians were more concerned with this aspect of social planning than anything else. They pressed for direct building labour organisations to be set up by municipalities and investigations into living conditions were undertaken everywhere.
One difficulty was that not enough houses were being built. The Medical Officer for Derbyshire made this clear in 1914, reporting on Clay Cross that: “It is almost impossible to deal with the overcrowding and for the sanitary authority to make the necessary orders if there are no houses for the people to go to. The first thing is for the district council themselves to erect twenty or thirty houses.” In 1915, a survey by the Ripley Trades and Labour Council revealed, “a scarcity of houses, closets and water taps, and too many privy maddens”. A closet was, of course, a flush toilet and, in contrast, a privy midden was a large, shallow communal open cesspit. The report was followed by the formulation of detailed schemes for municipal housing but, as housing projects were suspended for the duration of the war, these were not acted upon.
The disillusionment with electoral politics, which had marked the immediate pre-war labour movement, was still evident and the Labour Party was still weak, winning only a minority of seats in some areas. Lib-Labism, as a philosophy if not an electoral strategy, was still vibrant. The establishment of the first really independent Labour Party in the Belper area came only in late 1914. A conference at Alfreton set up a Mid-Derbyshire Division (Constituency) Labour Party, after preparatory work carried out by W Holmes. Fifteen trades unions, representing around 5,000 members, were present. With the long-standing difficulty associated with the popularity of Hancock in mind, the Liberal miners’ MP for that area, the conference firmly decided that endorsed candidates must stand as “Labour Candidates – independent of either political party”, that is to say both the Tories and the Liberals. [3]
Pre-war socialists had stressed their internationalism. Sharp imperialist rivalry between the big powers, in a fight for exclusive trading markets in the world, had existed for a decade or more and war was generally seen as inevitable. Socialists had declared that the working class would not fight a war of such a character. However, the paranoid anti-German feeling and jingoistic patriotism, which surged up after the outbreak of war, effectively demolished the radical sentiments of internationalism, socialism and opposition to Empire, which were so evident before within much of the labour movement. Early in March 1914, the Derby Trades Council (DTC) had booked the Temperance Hall for a mass rally of welcome for the deported white trade union leaders of South Africa. The expression of solidarity was important, in that the power of the Empire to inhibit by force the development of trades unionism on its territory was thus frowned upon.
The meeting proved to be a radical turn out of the Labour Party, the ILP, the British Socialist Party (BSP) and the Women’s’ Labour League. [41 One delegate, R G Ansell, had spoken at the May DTC meeting on “the desirability of trades unionists keeping their children away from school” on Empire Day. He was by no means alone and no criticism of Ansell’s stance was recorded. On the contrary, several delegates “expressed their opinion of the waste of time in teaching for these and similar functions”. The DTC went on to ask the local National Union of Teachers (NUT) to affiliate and there was clearly not much patriotic loyalty around, at least at that meeting. Derby ASLEF branch at its meeting recommended its members to boycott the proceedings on Empire Day “as a protest against the Town spending money that day”. [5]
At the very beginning of the First World War, the German Army had by-passed the heavily defended French frontier by marching straight into Belgium and thence into the heartland of France itself. Thus, a neutral country was embroiled in the war, providing the Allies with a propaganda asset but a military conundrum. This aspect of Belgium’s neutrality won many socialists to support what was otherwise a blatantly imperialistic war. Derby’s Labour MP, J H Thomas, later compared “little Belgium” to a victimised union member, the weak needing the strong to help out. [6]
For the first few days, Labour opposed Britain’s participation in the war, until the invasion of Belgium enabled the party to swim with the tide of national feeling and claim that the conflict was concerned with the rights of small nations and not at all about great power rivalry. All parliamentary parties agreed that, in the interests of national unity, there should be an electoral truce and, in consequence, the municipal elections in November 1914 were largely uncontested. In Derby, all candidates were returned unopposed. However, the Labour Party was by no means united; many rank and file activists and the ILP in particular were opposed to the war. Amidst controversy, Labour joined the War Cabinet of 1915 and continued in the Second Coalition after the accession of Lloyd George to the Premiership in late 1916.
The early years of the war were characterised by the most appalling signs of imperial pride inside the labour movement. Mass working class opinion was won to the idea that the war was for democracy and freedom by grossly exaggerated stories of German atrocities, which appeared in mass circulation newspapers and were then repeated in the local press. The hysterical patriotic reaction of some socialists and much of the trade union movement was in no small way attributable to inaccurate reports of inhumanities committed in ‘little Belgium’. The author and poet Robert Graves detailed in his autobiography how he saw the following newspaper cuttings put in chronological order: [7]
“When the fall of Antwerp became known, the church bells were rung (in Germany).” – Kolnische Zeitung (Germany)
“According to the ‘Kolnische Zeitung’, the clergy of Antwerp were compelled to ring the church bells when the fortress was taken.” – Le Matin (France)
“According to what the Times has heard from Cologne, via Paris, the unfortunate Belgian priests who refuse to ring the church bells when Antwerp was taken, have been sentenced to hard labour.” Corriere della Sera (Italy)
“According to information which has reached the ‘Corrriere della Sera’ from Cologne, via London, it is confirmed that the barbaric conquerors of Antwerp punished the unfortunate Belgian priests for their heroic refusal to ring church bells by hanging them as living clappers to the bells with their heads down.” – Le Matin (France)
Sympathy for the inevitable suffering of Belgian civilians, who became displaced by the advancing German army, grew as refugees arrived in Britain. Some 300-400 were billeted in Derby in the space of seven months in late 1914 and early 1915. [8] Jobs and homes were found for them and a very natural concern for their plight strengthened the war fever. The armed forces’ recruitment figures were boosted by such developments and pre-war sentiments of international working class solidarity dissolved. Contact between the mighty German socialist movement – then the centre of the proletarian world – and the British labour movement came to an abrupt halt. At the May Day rally in 1915 in Derby’s Market Place, W R Raynes took issue with those who claimed that the workers’ international movement, “which had been founded 50 years ago … was a dead cause”. Rather rashly, given the circumstances, he asserted that “it was just as much alive today as it ever was”. [9]
Before considering how the war impacted locally on the politics of the labour movement, it is necessary to review the position of the trade union movement in the early stages of the war. Of the new unions, the Workers Union (WU) was the largest. There had been WU branches in Derby as early as 1905 but, in the early years, the growth of the union floundered, although as we have seen a resurgence took place in 1912. Nationally, the WU soared in membership and consequently influence. The number of branches rose almost sevenfold and membership by thirty times in the four years from 1910. The First World War was to provide an even greater stimulus to membership growth. There were special characteristics that gave the WU advantages over other unions. Its structure and rule book allowed for rapid local expansion, in that its organisers could be appointed quickly and they often worked from home. Compared to other unions, the decision to start a new district was thus less hampered by the financial constraints of establishing a bureaucracy. [10]
The WU in Derbyshire was based essentially in what would become war industries – engineering and textiles – providing munitions and uniforms. At the outset of the war, the WU full time organiser in Derby, R E Stokes, reported that “things looked bad for a little while, but by November we had quite recovered to the normal position”. Increases in engineering wages of 3/- all round were registered. “In another works we got the rough fettlers and grinders up 6/- per week and we have now practically every man employed in these shops inside the Union.” Similarly, a demand for increased wages at Messrs S & J Claye Ltd of Long Eaton caused the District Committee (DC) of the WU to ask their executive for permission to “tender notices in consequence of negotiations having failed to affect a settlement”. The WU flexed its muscles at the Midland Railway. As Stokes revealed, “employment, as a result of the war, has been exceptionally good”. However, he held scant regard for the quality of the rates of pay of labourers there, expressing the hope that low pay could be remedied. In July 1915, the WU presented “for the first time in our history, the representatives of the Midland Railway at Derby, with an application for an advance”. The negotiations were a success, securing an increase of 1/- a week and improvements in overtime rates and shift allowances. [11]
Even so, the war inevitably brought mixed results to the WU. Membership fell sharply in the Swadlincote pipe trade and in the newly organised breweries in Burton-on­-Trent, but grew rapidly in Derby’s engineering firms. [12] The union spread all over Derbyshire in 1914, opening a branch in Long Eaton with 29 members, which grew to 132 in one month. “We are establishing a chain of branches up the ErewashValley at Langley Mill, with another branch in view at Alfreton”, the DC enthused. [13]
Stokes had been the first WU branch secretary in Derby, with his appointment as full time organiser the opportunities from trade expansion were captured and consolidated. [14] The DC was formally established in 1915, at a meeting at 42 Full Street on Saturday 11th September. John Beard, the national President, was there to support Stokes at his first meeting, which was attended by delegates from Derby No. 1, 2, 3 and 4, Langley Mill and Long Eaton branches. [15] On the debit side, and perhaps reflecting the unskilled and youthful nature of its membership, within the first week of the outbreak of war, 25% of the thousand members of the WU in the Derby District were called up as Army Reservists and within another few months another 25% had volunteered. J W Clarke, the Divisional – and senior – Officer, reported that in the South Derbyshire District “our members have been very badly hit by the war. Some firms have closed down; also a good number of our members have gone to work at the collieries.”
However, wage advances were possible where the war aided local economies. Coal banksmen at Kilburn Colliery Company’s wharf received a 3/- advance and the Derby Brewery workers, for the first time, reached the same terms and conditions of employment as Burton’s workers. As prices rose massively, workers struggled for war bonuses to compensate for the sudden and massive inflation that eroded earnings. Even the pipe workers of South Derbyshire were able to win such a claim. Despite the loss of employment, “the men that are still in the pipeworks remain faithful to their organisation” reported Clarke. WU members in the clay pits came off “slightly better having received a war bonus of 2/6d per week”. [16]
Textile workers faced a particularly difficult situation. Dominated by unskilled work and by women workers, the industry was prone to low levels of unionisation. A typical textile company was the lace manufacturers of Boden’s, which had been producing in the town of Derby since 1822. A WU deputation from workers on strike at the factory visited the Trades Council at its meeting in October 1914. They complained that the firm aimed to “force odious conditions and reductions in a most despicable manner”. Hours were to be increased without a corresponding increase in wages, the alternative being given to them of a “week’s notice” of dismissal. [17] Elsewhere, the Ilkeston Hosiery Union (IHU) wrote to Asquith and Lloyd George in April 1915, calling upon the Government to “acquire immediate powers to arrest and reduce the inflated prices now being charged for all commodities”. [18]
By July of that year, the Munitions of War Act made requests for War Office bonus work the subject of arbitration. All strikes and lock outs upon war contracts were illegal, unless the grievance had been reported to the Board of Trade. The sudden bargaining strength of women workers, brought about by the massive level of men volunteering for the armed forces, was reflected in 1915 by the advances secured by the Workers Union at Rickards in Derby. An exceptional increase of 2/6d a week on all grades brought the comment from Stokes that “the women and girls have done remarkably well, and we have at last got a rate of wages for female workers which are more on a level with the other districts, and which are far in excess of anything hereto paid in Derby for female labour”. [19] Labourers at Rickards had achieved a minimum rate of 26/- a week, or 3/- in excess of local engineering rates.
Many workers joined the unions simply to obtain war bonuses and then fell away once they had been achieved. The Ilkeston Union had to pay extra expenses to a collector of union dues for “considerable” time lost “over females” who declined to pay their union contributions. [20] The Nottingham and the Ilkeston Hosiery Unions in 1915 formed a grand, but somewhat inaccurately named alliance, the National Associated Hosiery Trade Unions, when they co-operated to secure an advance of a 15% war bonus. A general meeting of the hosiery trade was held in Nottingham in December 1915, with representation from Derbyshire in the form of the IHU and local employers. Agreement was reached on which categories of women could be admitted to departments previously restricted to men. While many safeguards were agreed to, rank and file men were worried that this gender based dilution would have unfavourable long term consequences. The following February, the Executive of the IHU had second thoughts, after seeing the operation of dilution and passed a resolution that members should not teach women to work Cotton’s Patent Knitting, which was a physically strenuous job. [21]
In the building industry, the Derby Builders’ Labourers (ABL) asked early in March 1915 for a bonus of 3/- a week to cover the abnormal cost of living due to the war. [22] By October, they were still bargaining with the master builders. An offer worth accepting was only received – and accepted without dissent – after eight months of pressure, at a special meeting called on November 3rd 1915. [23] A war bonus of 1/2d an hour, payable during the sixteen weeks of winter short time, was conceded by the employers in return for the labourers giving up id an hour on overtime worked between 5.30 pm and 7.30 pm.
Much construction work was carried out during 1915, mainly associated with the expanding war production at Rolls Royce and ABL organised the labourers there. Overall, the war years were not kind to the membership levels of this totally male union, deeply affected as it was by military recruitment. ABL membership admission figures for this period show poor levels, compared to the pre-war years: [24]
 1914    174
 1915       62
 1916       45
In 1916, the Derby ABL quarterly meeting noted a sharp reduction in membership and decided that any member bringing in a recruit should receive 1/6d as an incentive. [25] By June, ABL was to loose their branch secretary, Charles Brown, to the Army and had to elect A Hoe to carry on the work until Brown returned. [26] It was not just in such obvious ways that the war impacted upon union life, new pub licensing regulations made it necessary to modify the ABL club hours to between 6.30 pm and 8.30 pm in October 1916. Members finished work in the winter months much earlier than the new opening hours of pubs. An afternoon closing period was obliged in the name of war production, it being considered a distraction to workers to be able to drink at that time. The ABL club was of course merely a room in such an establishment. Since members had previously called in on their way home from work, the change of hours must have made it difficult to keep club life going. [27]
In the railway industry, the unions and companies had agreed an industrial truce on 1st October 1914, which lasted throughout the war years. Consequently, the railway unions confined themselves to purely altruistic activities. The minutes books for this period of the Rowsley NUR and Staveley ASLEF are replete with references to refunds made by the unions for loss of earnings deducted by the employer for disciplinary purposes. The tendency for union officials to sign agreements without consulting members, encouraged by the industrial truce, was deeply annoying to most activists. Derby ASLEF members complained about just this tendency, when their union confirmed “the suspensory period re conciliation boards and conditions of service”. In November 1914, on the Midland Railway in Derby, loco drivers were being “tyrannized by certain inspectors for not cleaning their fronts of engine”. Complaints were aired about little time and no materials with which to clean the engines and the whole matter was referred to ASLEF’s head office. Clearly, the problem of over­zealous supervision was not resolved, for one month later – in December 1914 – a joint meeting between ASLEF locomen and the No 2 branch of the NUR demanded a Board of Trade inquiry into the “placing of individuals as inspectors and foremen with no other apparent object than harassing the men”. Moreover, the locomen seriously doubted that their tormentors had the qualifications for their positions. Perhaps as an immediate result of this experience, that month a ‘Vigilance Committee’ was set up of four delegates each from the two unions’ branches “to deal with local grievances” as they arose.
Military needs demanded of railways a more united and more centralised administration. The industry co-ordinated itself through the Railway Executive Committee at the request of the Government. The supply of railway workers was now at a premium level of demand, as they ferried war materials and men across Britain. No less than seven special war bonuses or wage increases were negotiated on a national basis from February 1915 to November 1918. Pre-war wages were more than doubled and individual company bargaining ended. The NUR found itself at the end of 1918 with two and a quarter times its pre-war membership. The influx of women into traditional male roles ensured that the NUR altered its rules in 1915 to allow the temporary admittance of women. Some 55,000 women were employed during the war to replace enlisted railwaymen.
While the pre-war syndicalist orientated Triple Alliance between the miners, dockers and railway workers carried on into the war, it lost its real thrust with the fervour of patriotism. Staveley ASLEF viewed this subversive collection of semi-skilled and unskilled workers as a real threat to their traditions. In 1916, the branch declared itself opposed to the “working agreement between the Triple Alliance of the NUR, the Miners’ Federation and the Transport Workers, on the grounds that it may have for its objective the controlling of political opinion and industrial revolution which we consider is a national danger and a menace to the great principles of Trade Unionism”. [28] While the skilled manual workers sought to remain aloof from the unskilled, white collar workers aimed to keep apart from them all! Even so, unionism began to take root in unpromising territory during the war. The Railway Clerks Association (RCA) was reformed locally in 1906, but still had only 300 or so clerks out of the total of around 3,000 by 1915. As many as 200 new recruits were won that single year alone. Seeking to emulate the success of manual workers, the RCA launched a claim for improvement on the back of this. Much controversy greeted this, including the suggestion that their demands somehow undermined the troops at the front. This was considerably fuelled by the fact of the RCA’s opposition to the introduction of the idea of compulsory conscription to the armed services. Countering this, the RCA declared that it was “not unpatriotic to pursue their demand for a 25% increase in wages, when the cost of living had increased by 33%”. [29] The union’s opposition to conscription may have been less to do with any deep rooted anti-imperialism and more connected with the fact that clerks were not considered vital to the war effort and were being strongly targeted for military recruitment. Some success was maintained generally on the bargaining front and, in consequence, RCA membership continued to remain relatively buoyant, by the following year the branch had 450 members. [30] (The RCA is today’s TSSA.)
As for the miners, they viewed the declaration of war in 1914 even more resignedly than others did in the labour movement, regretting the war, but hoping for success for Britain. Their leaders did all they could to increase output and cut absenteeism. While the drift of labour from the mines to the forces was slight at first, by early 1915 a net reduction in the labour force of 14% was registered. This, however, roughly matched the disrupted need to satisfy certain markets lost due to the war. [31] The longer term needs of the war economy dictated that a massive expansion of coal production take place and the Government prepared to ensure greater control of the mines. The effect of this was easier negotiating for the MFGB and miners’ earning rose considerably. A new standard was agreed with the coal owners in 1915, which consolidated rates to a new level based on previous minimum standards. This resulted in a nationally agreed increase of 5%, which took miners’ wages to 30% above the standard, added to which was a substantial war bonus. Other increases of 5% in March 1916, 3.5% in June 1916 and again in February 1917 brought wages up to 45.5% above the standard. It was a time of steady and continuous advance for the miners. Feeling relatively strengthened by this experience, the Derbyshire Miners’ Association (DMA) was able to turn its attention to new pastures. The union had only ever organised face-workers and production workers. Only in October 1917 did the DMA decide to accept colliery clerks as members. Much friction was generated on the way between the union and the National Union of Clerks, which also recruited white collar workers in collieries.
Elsewhere, the Derby baking industry had been partially organised for some time, when the Operative Society of Bakers was able to take advantage of wartime regulations controlling the food industry. An agreement was conducted locally in 1917 on a new platform of hours and wages, which meant a minimum increase of 6/- a week and a cut of six hours working. There were immediate fines for some companies when the new regulations, the Bread Order, came in. A Derby baker was fined 10/- for selling bread as fresh on the day of sale, although it had been baked twelve hours before. [32] Demands for legal controls over bakery workers’ hours emerged, but this objective was only achieved some decades later.
In the printing industry, the Typographical Association (TA) made a demand for a 10% war bonus in February 1915. This was followed up by the Derby Printing and Kindred Trades Federation early in March. The Women’s Cutters’ Society had to register a separate, but associated claim some days later, to avoid exclusion. To all these demands the ‘masters’ peremptorily refused, “owing to the bad state of trade”. [33] The tactic of splitting the men from the women appears to have served the employers well. For they immediately came across a “private matter” which occupied their attention. A member of the employers’ organisation had told “a certain local firm that their printing estimates formed a subject for discussion at Derby Master Printers’ Association (DMPA) meetings”. In short, a ‘mole’ had been telling Derby Printers, a workers’ co-operative and the arch rival of all the ‘masters’, about what amounted to a price-fixing ring. The women continued to press their claim and, after a split vote in the DMPA, some firms began to separately concede increases for the war period to the ‘girls’, to apply from April 1916. The TA responded by placing another claim for a 4/- advance, presumably to restore differentials. The DMPA agreed the increase, but warned it was only for the duration of the war. Skilled bookbinders waded in with the same demand as typographers on May 22nd, meeting the employers two days later. A team of seven lay delegates was led by W H Pearson, the local branch secretary. A settlement of only 1/6d was attained. To the workers’ advantage, it was to apply all round but, to the employers’ gain, it would not affect the district minimum rate. The bookbinders’ delegation agreed to consider the offer and put it to their members, who subsequently accepted it.
In the meantime, presumably because of a fear of an avalanche of claims for parity with typographers, the DMPA decided to meet again with the TA delegates. No doubt the employers’ representations were effective, because after a couple of weeks’ consideration the DMPA was able to send a letter to its members indicating that a 1/6d war allowance had been accepted by all the various branches of the trade and that no leap-frogging would take place. The increase would not affect minimum rates, nor be reflected in overtime premia. Moreover, it would definitely be ended by the agreement three months after the cessation of hostilities. However, before the year was out, the TA and the Women’s Cutters were both back to press for a further 2/­increase. In the event, the DMPA was only prepared to grant a doubling of the previously agreed war bonus of 1/6d. A further – and third – bonus was achieved after pressure from the Printed and Kindred Trades Federation in July 1917, while three months later an even greater success was attained. This October 9th 1917 agreement emerged following a TA application to the Midlands joint negotiating body, meeting at the Midland Hotel in Derby. A 6/- increase was agreed for those earning less than 35/- a week, with 4/- accorded to those earning more. The local war bonuses were to remain untouched, while machine operatives received a new differential of 12.5% above the minimum rates thus achieved.
More co-operative printers had been established by this time. The Long Eaton Printing Society started out at the turn of the century, with the encouragement of the local co-operative movement. This was an “all union concern” by 1914 and the directors specified in all future contracts from then on that the trade union rate should always apply in any tenders. Conditions were good as well; hours were reduced from 52 to 50 hours in 1915 and down all the way to 48 hours the following year. [34]
In the traditional co-op movement, an increased war bonus was won by the Amalgamated Union of Cooperative Employees (AUCE) for its members at Derby Co­op, except for females under the age of eighteen years. Throughout 1916, the union pursued the matter through the disputes procedure, eventually resolving the problem. This paid dividends, for AUCE grew rapidly, as women and young girls joined up. From 398 members in Derby at the beginning of 1916 the branch had grown to 456 by the end of the year. [35]
Trams had been running in Derby since the latter part of the previous century, but motor buses were quite new. The earliest vehicles had resembled tram cars, but had solid tyres and travelled at a maximum of 12 miles an hour. The major firm in the area, Trent Motor Traction, had been established in 1913. However, it was still quite small, until war-time needs demanded a massive growth in public transport to ferry factory workers to the new munitions orientated plants. Unionisation did not immediately come to bus workers; it first needed the emergence of a modern style of industrial relations in the tram sector. The earliest recorded action of tram workers locally was in 1917. The Manchester based Amalgamated Association of Tramway and Vehicle Workers had been established in Derby about six years before. The dispute was really about wages, but it was sparked off by the dismissal of a driver employed by the Notts and Derby Tramway Company. After a week on strike, the union’s branch secretary, Abgood, met the management jointly with a representative of the Ministry of Munitions, which had responsibility for resolving industrial relations problems. After several offers, the full demand of the workers for a lid increase was agreed to and the dismissal of Driver Duffield was unreservedly withdrawn. [36]
2 The Consequences of War
The need to mobilise all of society’s resources in the war effort forced the State to engage in a new strategy vis-à-vis the relationship between capital and labour. Hitherto, it had stood aloof, tacitly favouring capital. Now it sought to mediate the conflict to some extent, without disturbing the process too much. The creation of the Ministry of Labour in 1915 was the opening gambit in a period of more than six decades of state incorporation of trades unions. Albeit only tentative in the first stages and confined largely to disputes resolution, the development had profound consequences for trade unions. With unemployment down to 1% from 4% in 1914 and with state intervention in industrial relations, the negotiating position of workers had vastly improved. In the early stages of the war, the overall number of working days lost by strikes was only one tenth that of the previous peak of 1912. A sense of national unity pervaded the whole country and frequently manifested itself in a wave of hysterical anti-German nationalism that did not escape Derby and its environs. For example, strong objections were raised at the Town Council in November 1916 about renewing the contract of Otto Hehner, the Borough analyst. The comments made at the time – “Once a German, always a German” – conflicted somewhat with the facts. Hehner had spent 25 loyal years in the town doing an important job. [37] Before the war he had been a respected local figure, now he was a barbarian! The Derbyshire labour movement failed to challenge such bigotry. This silence reflected the support for jingoism and the war being given by the movement locally. Such support was not simply moral, but it was also active. Labour leaders encouraged working class men to join the forces. Even so, speaking to a Derby meeting of the joint trade union and Labour Party “Labour Recruiting Committee” (a very different kind of LRC!!), J H Thomas revealed that the labour movement was not entirely united on the whole issue. He thought that the only thing that would loose Britain the war was “anything that will break the unity of the nation”. [38]
The issue of conscription arose to further fuel doubts about the war. Despite frantic efforts by the leadership of the working class movement to win recruits for the meat-mincer that the Army had become, volunteers bean to dry up and the Government seriously began to moot the idea of conscription. If the labour movement was half-hearted and divided, even if unequally, about support for the war, it was thoroughly split over conscription. In 1915, at the quarterly General Council meeting of the Derby Labour Party (DLP), Raynes had argued that the logic of opposing compulsory recruitment was that Labour had to take part in encouraging volunteers, there could be no neutral position. Councillor James Bennett had even put a resolution to that effect, which would commit the movement to doing the Army’s job for it. F Kelly, for the ILP, strongly opposed the motion, saying that the “workers had nothing to gain from this war or any other war which were the results of the machinations of diplomats for the aggrandisement of the capitalist class”. [39] The Government proposed a “National Register of Army Eligibles”, a thin end of the wedge of conscription. To avoid this, knowing the unpopularity for the war that this would bring, Labour escalated its army recruitment campaign. Hence the resolution to commit the DLP to such. However, it was only carried by a narrow majority, the trade union delegates being overwhelmingly in favour.
Bennett, who had moved the proposal, was not only DLP secretary and Derby District Workers Union Chair, but he was also Trades Council Secretary and in that capacity helped deliver the union vote on this issue. At the subsequent DTC meeting, only four delegates opposed a similar motion to that agreed by the DLP. Only the RCA, which had already declared itself opposed to conscription in June, emerged as being strongly against the resolution. [40] One of their delegates revealed what would be an area of growing unease, “it was time for the government to declare what terms it would seek peace on”. [41] When would the war end and how? It was a question that would begin to be posed more and more. In a move designed to bring the right wing of the DLP and the conservative minded trade unions closer together, thus outflanking the left and especially the socialist ILP, a new committee was set up in early 1917. Uniting the unions and the party locally in a formal way, the joint committee was “destined to supply the medium for authoritative and decisive action which has become of paramount necessity to the organised Labour movement”. [42]
A special congress of the TUC and the national Labour Party conference decided in 1916 to oppose the Conscription Bill, then being debated in Parliament. Even so, conscription did come in, although this only served to fuel the activities of the anti-war movement. Even Liberal supporters now began to query where the war was going. The failure of the Government to clearly declare its aims in the war worried many middle class reformers. Anti-war activists like E D Morel, then a nationally prominent Liberal and J Ramsay MacDonald, leader of the ILP, came together to form the Union for Democratic Control. Mildly pacifist feelings grew, especially as the scale of the carnage in the trenches became clearer. These stirrings occurred within the labour movement, but the anti-war opposition in the movement was neutralised, as key Labour leaders got more and more involved with the Government. J H Thomas was created a member of the Privy Council, prompting a unanimous vote of congratulations on Derby’s Town Council. [43] He had taken what was to become a well trodden path from workers’ voice to member of the establishment.
In the meantime, conscription hit hard, while Lloyd George was to reward the assistance of lay and full time trade union officials, by declaring them potentially exempt by virtue of their services to the war effort. This was true for more than their role in industrial relations. Nevertheless, not all officials were able to automatically rely on exemption, especially lay activists. One such was James Bennett, who had escaped military service in June 1916, when he had been represented at Derby Military Tribunal by Will Raynes. Bennett had been given six months reprieve from the trenches on the grounds that his political work was of use to the nation. [44] In anticipation of his own impending conscription, Raynes was elected full time agent and secretary of the DLP. It was by then a very important job, some 37 societies were affiliated. While an electoral truce was on, the DLP was patiently building up its organisation and finance in preparation for post-war elections. [45] Bennett was conscripted in August 1917 and later that year died in action with a garrison artillery in France. He had been one of the first Labour Party councillors in 1911, when he was elected for Pear Tree ward. A loco works employee, he had been the first president of the WU branch there, the first District Chairman of his union, the first secretary of the DLP. Having left the ILP for its stance on the war, he became the most prominent local labour movement leader to die on the Western front. [46]
The inhuman carnage of ordinary soldiers in France had its effect on many. E Merchant, the former Derby railway workers’ leader and now manager of the Derby Co-operative Society, received batches of letters from former employees now at the front. Mostly, the correspondents kept to safe subjects, inquiring after workmates and life at home generally. Behind the bonhomie of the letters, each revealed deep anxieties and concerns. “The life in a military camp is not exactly what anyone of us would have chosen had we any choice in the matter”, wrote one. Another was more open: “I keep hearing of first one and then another of the men, who have worked alongside of me for the Society, being killed … I shall be very thankful when it is over.” Some tried to be cheery: “We are up to the neck in sludge and mud. You see, Sir, that I can’t say too much to you. I hope the war will be soon over.” While many revealed desperation: “I should be greatly thankful if you could do something to get me back again. You told me when I was at home on leave that you wished I was coming back. I only wished it was tomorrow.” Or another: “it is awful out here and I shall be pleased when it is over”; and another: “I can only tell you that I only wish I was coming back again to my own work.” Throughout these letters ran a theme of hope that the future would bring better things. The thought that it all could be in vain troubled the soldiers at the front. One former employee wrote to Merchant: “There is only one thing that we can hope for, and that is this will be the last of wars; also that future generations will receive the benefit of the terrible cost today.” Another fellow soldier was simpler about it: “Let us hope that there is a brighter day in store for us all.” [47]
At the special tribunals set up all over the country to try conscientious objectors (COs), to see if they were genuine or not, a favourite test question was to ask the applicant what he would do if German soldiers broke into his house and raped his mother. This was a catch question, for if the CO said that he would restrain the rapist then he proved that he was not in principle against the use of justified force. If the CO indicated that he would not resist the intrusion, then he was clearly a coward who could do with a dose of discipline. Lacking the moral fibre to be a CD, the tribunal would reason, such a man needed the experience that the forces would provide. Aside from all the claptrap associated with white feathers and the like, there were three types of CO. There were those of genuinely pacifist views, like the Quakers and other deeply religious people who believed that war was contrary to God’s laws. For them the standard Christian rationalisation of the just war did not exist.
The second group of COs were Marxists and left socialists who, unlike many in the labour movement, had not jettisoned pre-war commitments generally made to oppose imperialist war. These held to the belief that international class war was to be preferred to patriotic war. Despite being a minority of COs, they were a particular target of the tribunals. One socialist, employed by the Midland Railway in Derby as a loco foreman, had his application to be considered as a CO turned down by the local tribunal. He had argued that, as a socialist, he believed in the “brotherhood of man” and could not in all conscience kill fellow workers with whom he had no quarrel. The tribunal gave him short shrift, saying: “if Blatchford could support the war so could he”. [48] Blatchford had been the pre-war darling of the left. The author of the phenomenally successful inspirational book, “Merrie England”, he had indirectly caused the foundation of the Clarion Cycling Clubs. However, like many, he had joined the jingoistic bandwagon with the onset of war.
The third group of COs were those young men who simply could not see the point of all the death and destruction. Some naively so, others being more cynical. It was perhaps the latter type, who were sometimes petty criminals, but sometimes not, which became fixed in the mind of the public as a man to loathe tremendously. The detestation became attached to all COs. For official and majority opinion in the country coincided in the belief that the war was just, conscription a necessary evil and opponents of the war were simply traitors. By the end of 1916, the prisons were full of anti-war objectors and special camps were established to keep COs under observation, where they were employed in forced labour.
Opponents of the war came together in the No Conscription Fellowship (NCF), which helped COs inside and outside of prison. Pacifists from Derbyshire were imprisoned in RichmondCastle. A time-passing piece of graffiti on one cell wall from a local man can still be seen there. A rough cartoon-like picture of a bull has the following text: “To prevent anyone getting it wrong I may as well state that I mean this to be a bulls head drawn by R L Barry conscientious objector ILPer and NCF, Long Eaton, Derbys. The only thing I can draw by the way. RLB.”
From its foundation in 1914, for the first few months, the NCF had its headquarters in the Derbyshire cottage of the ILP’s Fenner Brockway. Editor of the party’s paper, the Labour Leader, he and his wife, Lilla, were the provisional secretaries of the NCF. As the organisation grew, it became necessary to transfer its HQ to London. Branches throughout the country were established with the support of Marxists and other socialists, a range of anarchists, Quakers and other religious objectors. In short, the NCF united every anti-war activist in the country. [49] It would have been extremely unnatural if the British Government had not been very interested in such a body. Tragic events in Derby during the course of 1916-7 would reveal all too clearly how this was so.
3 The Alice Wheeldon affair
Mrs Alice Wheeldon was one such anti-war activist involved in the NCF. Her house in Pear Tree Road (later rendered as Peartree Road) in Derby was always open to anyone against the war. She and her two daughters, Hettie and Winnie who were both teachers, were passionately against the war. Her younger son and her son-in-law were both COs, the former being actually on the run at the time when she and her family became the target of a serious conspiracy by the state. Winnie’s husband, Arthur Mason, was a chemist at Southampton and was considered something of an expert on poisons. He had originally been declared exempt from military service, but now faced the call up. Winnie was very active in the Southampton NCF, so much so that she once wrote to her mother that she had helped as many as 23 COs to escape conscription. Alice Wheeldon had been an active suffragette and the family as a whole were well known locally for being strongly supportive of radical working class movements. Arthur MacManus, a national leader of the newly developing shop Stewards’ movement, regularly came to Derby in that connection (50] He became a welcome visitor to the Wheeldon’s, eventually marrying the second daughter Hettie.
Pic: Hettie, Winnie and Alice
MacManus was not on his own. Willie Paul, the Glasgow born nationally known socialist leader, who had been based in Derby since 1911, was a close friend of the family. Paul operated a one man business, as did Alice Wheeldon, for his hosiery and drapery stall in Derby’s market gave the necessary independence required to become a semi-professional revolutionary. He also had market stalls in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Rotherham and Chesterfield. These were surreptitiously used as centres for radical literature distribution and revolutionary fund-raising. In Derby, Paul was also involved in the Clarion Club. No doubt, his base in Manchester facilitated his contesting the 1918 election in Ince for the Socialist Labour Party (SLP), of which he and the others were members of. The SLP was a split-off from the older established SDF and saw itself as a purer brand of Marxism. Doctrinaire and dogmatic, it was hostile to the generally accepted reformist politics of the labour movement. Yet the SLP entirely underestimated the Possibilities of winning the movement to a fighting position. MacManus and Paul however played an important role in widening the outlook of the SLP. Both had important links with the mass organisation~ of the working class and were especially significant initiators of the shop stewards’ movement Both would become key figures in winning much of the SLP to the notion of fusing with the BSP and other Marxist groups to form the new Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1920. MacManus would become national Chairman of the Communist Party.
Paul would also play an important role nationally for some time to come. He was editor of the Communist Review, the Communist Party theoretical journal from 1921-1923 and the editor of the broad left journal, the Sunday Worker, for the short period of its highly popular existence in the late 1920s – it sold as many as 100,000 copies each week. He then faded from prominence, but for decades more he would remain a sympathetic and knowledgeable expert on the Soviet Union on the local scene. (He died in Derby in 1958.) At this stage, he was joint editor of the SLP’s journal, The Socialist, and had already earned a reputation as a formidable Marxist lecturer and theoretician. His SLP social science classes in Derby were especially well attended throughout 1917-8. A book of his lectures entitled “The State: its origin and functions” was published as a result of these classes. The work clearly follows classic Marxist themes, but more interestingly draws the same or similar theoretical conclusions as Lenin was reaching. Paul was joint editor with Tom Bell, another leader of the SLP of similar thinking to himself, along with John Clarke. The latter spent most of the latter part of the war secretly at a Mr Turner’s farm at Arleston, near Derby, as a labourer. Clarke subsequently was involved in the National Council of Labour Colleges and the Plebs League, being allied to the non-Communist Party Marxist elements of the labour movement. In later life he was a Labour MP and journalist. Whilst Bell would become a leader of the Communist Party in the 1920s. [51]
With all this around them, the Wheeldons as local people were party to the debates of the leadership of a certain militant sect, which in itself more than provided cause for the attention of the Government. Throughout the war, the state resorted to the old practice of using spies and agent provocateurs against opponents. The munitions shops were riddled with them. As the Webbs wrote, “the very ease with which the War Cabinet suppressed the civil liberties of the manual-working wage-earner during the war, and, even continued after the Armistice a machinery of industrial espionage, with agents provocateurs of workshop ‘sedition’, enormously increased the solidarity of the Trade Union Movement.” [52] It was by use of such an agent that the authorities trapped Mrs Wheeldon, her daughters and her son-in-law. The agent, operating under the name of “Alexander Gordon” was in the service of the secret branch of the Ministry of Munitions from September 1916. Other pseudonyms of his were Herbert William Vincent and Albert Richard, but his real name was for a long time believed to be Francis W Vivian. On December 26th 1916 he was sent to present himself as a CO on the run to Alice Wheeldon. She received him hospitably and, by putting him up for the night, immediately took the risk of prosecution for harbouring an absentee from the army. The original brief of “Gordon” must have almost certainly been to obtain any details he could of possible attempts at sabotage, which the NCF might supposedly have been involved in at Rolls Royce. But, being a man of rather imaginative and theatrical taste, he soon turned the initial conversations with Alice Wheeldon to more bizarre matters.
Implying that he was an especially active CO, “Gordon” won the confidence of Alice Wheeldon (pictured left) and initiated a discussion on the techniques that could be utilised to help others escape from internment camps to Ireland and thence to the USA. In the Liverpool camp, dogs were used to guard the COs. “Gordon” argued that only poison could put them out of action. Pressed on the matter, Alice Wheeldon considered the idea seriously. But “Gordon” informed his superiors that a much more serious conspiracy was afoot. [53] He claimed that a plot to poison the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, and the Labour leader, Arthur Henderson – who of course supported the war – was in progress. “Gordon” sent details of his ‘success’ to his superiors, Booth and Major Lee, by telegram. Booth himself came to Derby on December 29th and was taken by “Gordon” to Alice Wheeldon as “Comrade Bert’, supposedly a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a syndicalist organisation originating in the United States, which was usually affectionately called the ‘Wobblies’. “Comrade Bert” was supposedly a fugitive from the army.
In the meantime, Major Lee was watching the Wheeldon’s mail expectantly. On January 4th 1917, Alice Wheeldon received from Southampton four phials, labelled A, B, C and D. They contained strychnine hydrochlorate and curare, and were accompanied by detailed instructions for use, Injection by a dart or a rusty nail, or an air gun, or soaking in meat or bread was recommended. The letter however was clear that the intended victims were only dogs. “All 4 will probably leave a trace, but if the bloke who owns it does suspect it will be difficult to prove it. As long as you have a chance to get at the dog, I pity it! Dead in 20 seconds.” [54] “Comrade Bert” picked up the parcel of poisons and instructions from the Wheeldon’s house in “Gordon’s” company. As far as Alice Wheeldon was concerned, the poisons were to be taken to those who needed them to put dogs out of action. But these men were government agents and the authorities now decided that they had all the evidence that they needed to act.
Alice Wheeldon and her son-in-law, Mason, were the first to be arrested on January 30th in Derby. Hettie was picked up at the Ilkeston school she taught at, while Winnie Mason was arrested in Southampton. A large number of newspapers were found at the second hand clothes shop which Alice Wheeldon ran. These included “The Suffragette, Socialist Worker, Tribunal and … pamphlets on the social union and various labour matters”. That was how the local paper breathlessly described it. Surely “Socialist Worker” was really the SLP’s `The Socialist’? `Tribunal’ was the weekly paper of the NCF, while “The Suffragette” is a puzzling reference. These could have been back issues of the WSPU paper, but the name had been changed to Britannia in 1915, to underline a commitment to the war. It may be a reference to Sylvia Pankhurst’s history of the WSPU, “The Suffragette”, for her views at that time would have strongly coincided with those of Alice Wheeldon. (In 1916 the WSPU, now renamed the Women’s Party opposed a government offer of full adult suffrage on the grounds that enfranchisement of servicemen was the priority!) Alice Wheeldon’s open support for socialism was more damning to the family than anything else. The Attorney General had no hesitation in describing them all as a “gang of desperate persons poisoned by revolutionary doctrines and possessed of complete and unreasonable contempt for their own country”. [55]
The charge was that, between 26th December 1916 and 29th January 1917, they did: “Amongst themselves unlawfully and wickedly conspire, confederate, and agree together, one the Right Honourable David Lloyd George, and one the Right Honourable Arthur Henderson, wilfully of their malice, aforethought to kill and murder, contrary to the Offences Against the Persons Act, 1861 (Section 4) and against the peace of our Lord the King, his Crown and dignity.” [56] The trial attracted enormous publicity, not just in Derby, for the significance of the first major trial of anti-war conspirators was not lost on the press, the Government and the public. Hostility to the war was rising and a successful prosecution, identifying opposition to the war with violent revolution rather than Christian pacifism, would obviously be of great use to the Government. The London Times did not stint itself in its headlines: [57]
G R A V E   C O N S P I R A C Y
F O U R   P E R S O N S   I N
A L L E G E D   P L O T   T O   K I L L
M R   L L O Y D   G E O R G E
C H E M I S T   A M O N G   T H E
The paper went on the describe the accused as
“Mrs ALICE WHEELDON, aged 50, second-hand clothes dealer, of 12 Pear Tree-Road, Derby.
HARRIET ANN WHEELDON (her daughter), aged 30, school teacher, of the same address.
Mrs. WINNIE MASON (ANOTHER DAUGHTER), aged 27, School teacher, of 172, Milbrook road, Southampton.
ALFRED GEORGE MASON (husband of the last named), aged 24, chemist’s assistant, of the same address.”
(The Derby Mercury had Harriet as being aged 25 and Winnie as being 23.)
The accused first appeared at the Derby Guildhall on Saturday February 3rd and again on the following Monday and Tuesday. The preliminary trial was to last two weeks and aroused enormous public interest. Emiline Pankhurst came to Derby to listen in the public gallery. The case was transferred to the Old Bailey, where the full trial began on March 6th 1917. The defendants’ Derby based solicitors ceased to act for them on February 27th, the solicitors tersely informing the Treasury’s solicitor that “the necessary funds have not been provided and we had ceased to act”. [58]
One week before the start of the trial, no barrister had been commissioned by the Wheeldons. Perhaps the prosecution deliberately took advantage of their lack of representation to move the trial? The question is begged as to why the change in venue, after all the Derby Assizes were in progress and the case could have been heard there. The Attorney General had insisted on the move to London, “because of the great importance of the case … it would be expedient in the interests of the prosecution to have the case removed to London”. [59] There were tangible reasons for this, the first effective Zeppelin raids on London were now taking place. Utilising aerial bombardment was then a very novel and frightening concept. No wonder that the Crown sought a London jury! Their views on a group of anti-war activists would certainly be hostile. Moreover, the world’s press would see that Britain was cracking down on its dissidents, unlike Imperial Russia, which was in the process of cracking at the seams. The first revolution of 1917 broke out between March 8th and 12th and massive pressure was being put on the new Russian government to call off its involvement in the war. People with political affinities to the Wheeldons were suddenly emerging in Russia as a powerful voice of mass opinion. High political stakes were involved here and some rather ordinary folk in Derby had found themselves enmeshed in dramatic intrigues of which they knew little.
In prison, awaiting trial, the Wheeldons asked their friends and relatives not to visit them, as “secret agents … are on the prowl and even walls and key holes have ears”. [60] Despite incarceration, Hetty assured her friends that they were all “quite Al, I’m not kidding”. She continued to keep up this brave face. According to her letters, things were not so bad in prison. She thought that: “if the poor, honest, excluded, submerged tenth only knew that in prison there is rest, quiet, comfort and good food. I don’t think they would toil and sweat, curse life and live in a slum as they do.”
The prosecution made much play during the trial of Alice Wheeldon’s oft-declared wish that Lloyd George would be dead. There was much bitterness and anger on the part of some who were strongly opposed to the war. For it had reached new heights of human folly, turning into a stupendous tragedy. A culture that claimed world pre-eminence tolerated mass slaughter on the battlefield. Hundreds of thousands of young men walked to their deaths through machine gun splattered mud, were impaled on barbed wire or were transformed into countless drops of lifeless matter by high explosive shells. Both sides repeated the insane process daily. Thousands and thousands of young lives were extinguished in giant battles for yards of territory. It should not have been surprising that some people expressed themselves vehemently. Yet the prosecution seemed highly offended at Alice Wheeldon’s habit of using “cuss words” or the “language of criminals”, whenever speaking of the armed forces or the Government. The disparity between the one offence to morality and the other hardly seemed to occur to the authorities.
In a further attempt to further besmirch her name, the extraordinary suggestion was made that some years before Alice Wheeldon had led a suffragette plot to burn down Breadsall church. Both Booth and “Gordon” claimed that she had admitted to the arson. But, there was no other evidence that this was the case and in hindsight it is now generally accepted to be a nonsensical charge. While a great deal was made of the fire at the trial, the Attorney General (later the Earl of Birkenhead) in his memoirs published in 1926, long after the imprisonment and subsequent death of Alice Wheeldon, did then concede that “it is by no means certain that the church was deliberately set on fire”. [61]
The prosecution, carried away by its own rhetoric, rather suggested that being a suffragette was in itself a greater crime than arson. Indeed, it had been quite normal to ascribe the most ludicrous plots to the suffragettes. One prosecution witness claimed that Alice Wheeldon had said “we had a plan before when we spent £300 in trying to poison him (i.e. Lloyd George)”. This was supposed to entail the driving of a poisoned nail through the Prime Minister’s boots when they were put out at night in a hotel for cleaning! It was further claimed that she had once said that Walton Heath would be the best place to get Lloyd George with an air gun. Naturally, all this was intended to be taken in conjunction with the instructions that Mason had given Alice Wheeldon on how to handle the poison he had sent to her. It was intended to prove a murder conspiracy. How would Alice Wheeldon reply to the charges in the witness box? Despite a less than competent advocate, she emerged proudly defiant and unshakeable in her declaration of innocence of the absurd trumped up charge. She denied that she had said any of the things claimed about poisoned shoe nails and air guns. Alice Wheeldon attempted to bravely defend her opposition to militarism and above all to de-personalise the issue. But the Attorney General continually and adroitly brought her back to her dislike of Lloyd George. She agreed that she had a strong feeling about those responsible for conscription, especially the Prime Minister and Arthur Henderson. There was no denying that she saw the latter as a “traitor to the working class”. However, none of them were worth doing mischief to personally, she insisted. Although she thought it would be a good thing if their public careers came to an end.
In reply to a question as to whether it would be a good thing if Lloyd George was assassinated, Alice Wheeldon made her position clear. “No … He is not worth it.” To which the judge intervened: “is that the only reason? I would not like to have it on my conscience.” It was as if two languages were being spoken. Bear in mind that the Wheeldons were associated with Marxist rather than anarchist groupings and, as such, would not approve of personalised violence and the issue becomes clearer. Even worse for the judge and others was when she admitted that she had said of the King that: “George of BuckinghamPalace had sponged on the people.” The Times was beside itself. [62] As far as the charge itself was concerned, Alice Wheeldon insisted that it was “Gordon” who had raised the issue of assisting men to escape from camps, pretending that he was especially active in this field. She was very interested in what he had to say, since her own son was a CO in hiding from the police. It was “Gordon” who first referred to the need to obtain poisons to deal with the dogs. Alice had told “Gordon” about her attempt to arrange emigration to the USA for her three sons. Emigration papers were later found on Hettie, who had justified them by saying when arrested that she had been “the organiser of the conscientious objectors of Derby, but she (had) found it too much for her”. She had the papers because she had planned to use them to assist a CO to get away, but had backed off. [63]
It had been “Gordon” who had suggested that it would be easy to arrange emigration, “if they put themselves in his hands”. Alice Wheeldon, used to the notion of a bargain being a minor businesswoman, agreed with “Gordon” that “if he rendered this assistance (concerning the emigration) she would procure poison for the dogs”. [64] All else, she admitted, but argued that Booth and “Gordon” had duped her, the latter’s identity still being shrouded in mystery. She did not deny that she had arranged the poison, but never did she plan murder. Mason, in his evidence, backed up Alice Wheeldon. He entirely repudiated the idea that the poison might have been intended for use on humans. Mason’s own written instructions for use of the poison was self-evidently aimed at dogs, he pointed out on the witness stand. Yet Booth had claimed in his evidence that the first he had heard of dogs was when the defence introduced the idea at the trial itself. [65]
The prosecution’s case turned on the four phials of poison and their very existence was the one hard piece of sinister evidence that was used with great effect. Apart from that, the only other evidence posed “Comrade Bert”, or Booth, and “Gordon” against Alice Wheeldon and her family. The police spies said that the poison was intended for use against politicians, the defendants said it was for use on dogs. The poison itself gave no clue to its intended use, only Mason’s instructions provided that. At the very worst possible construction put on the wording of the instructions, it could only be said that they were ambiguous and that was stretching the point. The only way for the prosecution to tip the balance of probability on the wording actually intending or hiding a more deadly purpose was to introduce, time after time, Alice Wheeldon’s intemperate language concerning Lloyd George and others. Booth related, with blanks suitably replacing the swear words, how she had fulminated against the politicians supporting the war, when on January 1st he had visited her shop to receive the poison: “Lloyd George has been the cause of millions of innocent lives being sacrificed. The …… shall be killed to stop it. And as for that other ……. Henderson, he is a traitor to his people. But Asquith is the ……. brains of the business. He (meaning Lloyd George) is neither fit for heaven nor …….. hell.” Alice Wheeldon capped all this for Booth by making an offensive reference to the King, who she said ought to “be done in too”. [66]
The trial lasted five days and, on March 11th, the jury found Hetty not guilty. There had been no evidence at all that she was involved in the criminal aspects of the affair as seen by the prosecution. The others were however convicted and received very severe punishment. Alice Wheeldon was given ten years penal servitude, Alfred Mason got seven years and his wife, Winnie, five years. Imprisoned in Holloway, Mrs Wheeldon engaged in the established tactic of the suffragette movement – a hunger strike. Much public interest in her case was thus aroused and not a little controversy about the course of justice. After a year all three were released on licence, no doubt to avoid the transformation of Alice Wheeldon into a living martyr.
But her health was broken by the strain of the whole affair and the added factor of the hunger strike and she was to die some fourteen months after leaving prison. Her coffin was draped in a red flag, when it was buried in February 1919 in Nottingham Road cemetery in Derby. Crowds of socialists gathered to honour her memory and the Derby Daily Express described the event as “Sensational Incidents at Graveside: Rhetorical Sneers at Prime Minister”. [67] Winnie and Alfred Mason both contracted pneumonia as a result of their weakened condition and were close to death for weeks. Their marriage was wrecked by the whole experience. Hetty’s luck was little better; she was SLP Derby branch secretary during 1919, living at 907 London Road. In the summer, she married Arthur MacManus, but unfortunately was to die a year or two after her wedding of appendicitis, or possibly childbirth. MacManus died aged 38 in 1927, being buried in Soviet Russia.
Looking back on the affair, it is strongly tempting to make comparisons with this provocation and that of Pentrich in 1817, one hundred years earlier. Like Oliver, the Government’s spy (the eccentric and greedy “Gordon”) was shipped into hiding in South Africa, where he was later to die in obscurity. The only epitaph for him was a poem in the SLP’s paper, The Socialist. Willie Paul described how even the maggots would not eat “the corpse of filthy Alick … a brother” to them. [68] There were other strange parallels between Pentrich and the Wheeldon affair that merit comparison. Both were suspect legal decisions. Like Oliver, “Gordon” was not called at the trial as a witness. As in the Pentrich case, legal and establishment figures later cast doubt on the decision of the jury. Above all, in both cases the political benefits for a government facing social turmoil were obvious.
All in all, the Wheeldon affair was a bizarre case. In an atmosphere of war fever, the defendants had little chance of getting off, despite the sense of unreality permeating the trial. They had been found guilty of conspiring to murder Britain’s Prime Minister by pricking him somehow, with a needle-like instrument dipped in a rare South American poison. If the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes had surfaced at the trial as an expert witness it might not have been out of place! The unjustness of the result of the trial and the prosecution in the first place is evident when the real strategy being followed by anti-war activists is considered. As already pointed out, the Wheeldons were associated with the Marxist SLP, which rejected individual violence, a tactic only favoured by some anarchist grouplets. When Alice Wheeldon said that Lloyd George was not worth killing she meant it quite literally, not pejoratively. The SLP sought violent revolution arising out of mass working class rebellion, informed by a complex process of education of a revolutionary elite. Individual heroics played no part in this. The possibility that there ever was a real plot to assassinate Lloyd George is negligible. That the Wheeldons were ferociously opposed to the war is absolutely certain.
It has taken no less than eighty years for the truth to be officially recognised. When most of the foregoing was first written in 1980-1, there had only been one privately published book, obscure and confined to the far left, produced nearly fifty years before. A book and a radio programme were produced in 1986, whilst secret Home Office records were released only in 1997, the latter was, however, only reported in substance by the Guardian. These documents now reveal as a fact that “Gordon” was secret service agent “No. 5” in MI5 section PMS2, or “parliamentary military secretary’s department, section 2”. His real name was William Rickard and his job was to provoke those disposed to sabotaging the war effort to do so.
An “expert” on MI5 early history, Nicholas Hiley, was quoted by the Guardian as saying that “what Wheeldon actually agreed to was a plan to poison dogs guarding internment camps”. Despite the tragedy, Alice Wheeldon had no regrets. She was a woman of great courage. Writing from prison on the eve of her trial, she provides us with her own memorial: “We will keep a-going … and will break before we will bend. So long comrade, keep the flag flying and when we loose our madness we will meet again.” Even in Aylesbury prison, Alice fought for better conditions for prisoners. A warder complained that she was called “a damned flaming vampire” by this inveterate rebel! In December 1917, it was Lloyd George who overruled his ministers and ensured her release. “It was very undesirable that she should die in prison”, record the secret papers. Although, after her release, the family and all the participants in the trial fade from the scene, dissatisfaction with the war grew. Out of it would be born the modern shop stewards’ movement. [69]
4 The trade unions in the latter part of the war
The introduction of conscription significantly altered social and economic attitudes to women, for a tremendous expansion in the numbers employed took place in compensation for the men called up. In engineering, between 1915-6, the numbers of females employed doubled to just over half a million nationally. By the end of the war that figure would double once more. There was a similar picture in other industries, in transport the war period as a whole saw a six-fold increase in females employed. In commerce, there were twice as many women by the end of the war than at the beginning. National and local government doubled its female workforce. [70] In consequence of this development, trade unions had to reconsider their attitude to female membership, a practice traditionally discouraged by most. During the course of 1915, the railway workers, the bakers’ union, the Silk Workers’ Association and the Vehicle Workers’ Union (a bus and tram union) had all opened their ranks to women membership. The following year, the electricians followed suit and, within two years, nearly all the key engineering unions had at least reconsidered their attitude.
For some, it would take another war and the consequent experience of conscription once more to finally change their rules, as society’s attitude to the family wage and women’s’ employment altered. The logical result of this shift in female employment was to reduce sharply the numbers of women employed in their traditional areas of work. The total of domestic servants dropped by a quarter, the textile industry lost a tenth of its female labour. A new economic power was handed over to women, as they entered better-paid and more rewarding employment. Before the war, the average female wage had been about a third that of the male wage, at about 11/- a week. Women would never quite think of themselves as the same after the experience.
Not only were women brought more closely into the world of work, but also the severe shortage of labour meant that immigration from the colonies was contemplated. An event which prompted the WU Derby DC to reveal in 1916 that it viewed “with grave concern the proposed action of the Government in importing coloured labour into this country, both from a moral, social, and industrial standpoint, and we urge the Labour group in the House of Commons, to resist it with all their power, as we fear it is only a preparatory step on the part of capital for the exploitation of labour after the war”. [71] The fear was surely more inspired by a worry over cheap, non-unionised labour, but the undercurrent of chauvinism was nonetheless there. It had been H A Hind who had raised the matter and he made sure that the resolution was widely circulated in the movement and the press. However, little came of the idea and it was the large numbers of women brought into industry that created change. However, the response of the WU DC was ominously prophetic of the initial attitude of many trades unionists in the 1950s at a new and more evident wave of immigration.
The Workers Union was far better placed than most to take advantage of this new situation. Stokes, the Derby organiser, and Julia Varley, the WU’s women’s’ organiser from Birmingham, told a public meeting in Derby in February 1916 that employers were consulting the union over women’s’ employment. Moreover, that non-union women were getting around 8/- a week while union women were on 15/- minimum, with 25% extra on piecework. [72] The WU had set up a women’s’ branch in Derby in 1914, which had more than prospered. Recorded branch income gives some idea of the probable increase in membership. [73] There was an augmentation of some ten fold over the two years from 1916:
     year           Derby WU Women’s’ Branch income
                             £            s            d
 1914                                3            6
 1915                16          19            4
 1916                35            1          31/2
 1918             301          17            6
The WU particularly favoured moving into new areas of the textile industry for recruitment. Lace operatives were a key target for the union. At a WU DC meeting in 1917, the Derby No. 6 branch reported several successful organising meetings of lace workers in the town. Additionally, the branch had contacted the Nottingham Laceworkers’ Society with a view to a possible agreement between the two unions and Fletchers, the lace employers. Unfortunately, it did not prove possible to resolve differences between the two unions at this stage. [74]
The WU engaged in a major battle in Derby from 1917 onwards to win a dispute that became symbolic of its ability to recruit and organise women workers. The women and young workers of the Walter Evans and Company mill at Darley Abbey joined the WU in April 1917. It was a recruitment coup of such significance that Hind reported it with some relish at the Trades Council meeting in May. [75] However, Darley Mills were not to be won that simply and in the autumn of 1917 a lock out and strike developed. R E Stokes reported to the WU DC in September that “Darley Mills has… been organised since our last meeting and an application has been sent to the firm
all constitutional methods have been exhausted, (and) notices were given to the firm calling our members out on strike on Sept. 15th”. [76]
Having joined the WU, the workers had waited some time before proposing an increase in wages of 5/- a week for those over 18 years and 2/6d for those under, together with a reduction of 90 minutes on a 55 hour 30 minute week. Girls of 14 were being paid less than seven shillings a week and women of up to 25 years only from 16/- to £1, so there was clearly a major source of discontent over wages and hours. [77] The workers waited three months for a reply to their demands but the company refused, despite Ministry intervention, to arbitrate or even recognise the union. In consequence, the WU had given notice on September 7th of a dispute and the 130 members prepared to walk out, only to find the company respond with a week’s notice of dismissal to all those who remained in the union.
The Government’s Chief Industrial Commissioner for the area, Sir George Askwith, was brought in to arbitrate, despite the refusal of Evans’ to co-operate. The company’s respect for Askwith’s official position was such that he was able to obtain at least some sort of reply from the company, which had so far remained defiantly silent. The reply was a blankly negative one: “There is no dispute so far as we are concerned, nor anything to arbitrate about, for we have already given all our employees substantial advances, and under no circumstances shall we concede the demands put forward by the Workers Union.” [78] The company had in fact offered a 3s 6d increase if the employees had nothing more to do with the union, an offer only taken up by a handful of workers. The rest were handed their insurance cards with the comment that they should “go and starve and then they would be glad to return”. [79] This turned the whole affair into an issue of union recognition and the ‘Darley Girls’ became a cause celebre for all local trades unionists. The question of wages now became completely overshadowed by the basic right to organise.
Few of the manual employees engaged in strike breaking, although the office and lower management staff lived in tied cottages in the main and were naturally unlikely to join the union or the dispute. The few manual employees who did ignore the pickets “were tin-panned all the way and back again to work, with an occasional performance outside their cottages at night”. A form of social ostracism redolent of that displayed during the Derby Turnout eight decades before. A tent was erected for use of the pickets at the bottom of Old Lane and another at Haslam’s Lane, covering both approaches to the factory. [80] Against this background, tremendous public and trade union support was won. A mass demonstration on the Saturday morning of September 15th was designed to enable other trades unionists to give assistance in picketing and a particularly strong presence was shown by the NUR’s Derby No. 4 branch. [81]
A week into the strike, the workers held another demonstration at the Market Place addressed by Stokes, Miss Weaver for the Derby WU women and Salisbury, Waterson and Turner of the Trades Council. The WU printed 5,000 handbills drawing attention to the dispute in October, which asked for massive financial support from the public to help the lockouts. Showing good humour and determination, the women and young people of Darley Abbey Mills paraded each Sunday morning to Derby town centre for a meeting. The procession would be headed by the effigy of a peacock (being a pun on the name of the owner) on a pole and a line full of black stockings, signifying blacklegs!
In November, the DTC was optimistically noting that, despite two months of struggle, the dispute continued with a “better outlook”. Yet there was clearly a need to bring greater pressure to bear to end the conflict to the satisfaction of the trade union movement. At the December DTC meeting, Stokes asked it to once again call “the attention of the Ministry of Labour to the dispute and (advise it that) unless it is settled members of other trades may take drastic action”. [82] The WU DC had unanimously formulated a successful resolution which committed the DTC and the Engineering Trades Joint Committee to sympathy strike action. In the meantime, popular support was reaching major proportions. The ASE agreed to withdraw their two members employed at the mill on maintenance work and this was quite a significant act in view of the undeveloped relationship between the two unions. [83] More importantly, every organisation in the town each gave enormous sums of money in solidarity donations, equivalent to several weeks’ wages to most workers. [84] The WU itself organised a well-supported concert at the Derwent Hall, attended by many local trades unionists, specifically to raise funds for the strikers. The DC of the union asked for a voluntary levy of 3d a week from all of its members in the area for the “Darley Abbey girls”.
With the New Year came the question of whether the movement would genuinely carry out the implied threat of a local general strike, which was contained in the decisions of December. The President of the DTC, at a mass conference of unions called at the Gospel Hall to consider how to give effect to this policy, declared that the unions were unanimous in resolving that a “town’s general strike be called unless a settlement was achieved within 14 days”. The drama of the situation was not lost on the Government, which had spent all of 1917 battling with mini-general strikes in Coventry, Sheffield and the Clydeside area of Scotland. A sudden telegram from the Chief Industrial Commissioner was sent to the DTC, aiming to avert the solidarity strike. It read: “department dealing with the matter … settlement possible … no cessation of work should take place pending negotiations”. [85]
The town had been heading for collision course and only high-level intervention by the Government prevented it. Unfortunately, the character of the eventual settlement was shrouded in mystery. The WU’s national officials being the only union representatives with any knowledge of the details. Whether this was for the benefit of cloaking a leadership sell-out, or to hide the employer’s embarrassment at defeat remains unclear even now. Most probably there had been some sort of fudged deal allowing both sides to claim victory but was this enough to satisfy the hopes of the rank and file?
The WU DC heard some of the details of the settlement from Stokes at its January meeting, while a victory concert was held at the Gospel Hall later that month. Three months later, the lay national executive member, H A Hind complained at the DC that “neither he nor the Darley Abbey branch secretary had received any information re: the latest settlement at Darley”. This extraordinary situation was only resolved when Hind wrote to the national President of the union for details, which were read but not minuted at the WU DC in April 1918. Judging by later developments, it seems certain that the compromise allowed the WU to retain the right to organise, but only to negotiate at national official level. There were the seeds of future defeat in the tawdry secrecy of the January 1918 settlement that is for sure. What could have been a magnificent chapter in Derby’s trade union history fizzled out in confused disappointment. [86]
While all this had been going on, the rest of the movement had been experiencing great change. The over-close association of trade union officials with the prosecution of the war caused a growing dissatisfaction with the official union machinery. The Munitions Act, introduced to strictly control the movement of workers in essential industries was critically called “industrial conscription” by the Midlands ILP conference, held at the Socialist Hall in Derby in early 1917. [87] All through 1916, there were continuing and increasing complaints of absenteeism brought before the Munitions Tribunals, set up under the Act to oversee discipline in employment. The official machineries of most unions did not challenge the right of Tribunals to handle such matters, indeed full time union officers sat along with employers and ‘independents’, who usually had a legal background, to adjudge such offences. Derby Munitions Tribunal met almost weekly throughout the period, considering breaches of the Act. Quite trivial matters were often dealt with in the name of efficiency for the war effort. The normal functions of trade unions as independent protectors of their members’ interests were entirely usurped by the powers of the Tribunals.
One case involved four foundry workers at Haslam’s, who complained that they had lost between 12% and 19.7% in earnings through short time from March 1916 onwards. Endeavouring to pressure the employer to more efficiently run his business, the men promptly downed tools. They were subsequently told by the Derby Tribunal that they had taken “concerted action in trying to foment a strike”. Although they were ably represented by the radical ASE member L Wozencroft, they were fined 30/-, over a week’s wages, for absenting themselves from work illegally. But such infringements were not the most common complaint of employers; workers often found themselves in court for all sorts of supposed misdemeanours, such as lateness, ‘idleness’ and ‘insolence’. A pig iron carrier from a “local coal and iron company” was fined for “refusing to obey orders and using abusive language”. [88]
Elsewhere, probably in the Ilkeston area, (the press withheld the employer’s identity presumably in the interests of national unity), four men persistently refused to load some iron, having declared the job in dispute over payment for stacking pig iron. When they were spoken to by the furnace manager, they continued to stand firm on their demands and were supposed to have used “abusive language to him”. [89]
The men argued at the tribunal hearing that they were paid 3d per ton for carrying pig iron eleven yards to the wagons. However, they received only an extra 11I2d for stacking, which involved another thirteen yards. The men reasoned that, logically, they deserved more for the stacking part of the operation, but were prepared to accept at least a minimum of another 1d. The company blankly refused, so the men promptly decided to continue to carry the iron to the wagons, but not to stack it. Despite the fact that the Munitions Tribunal thought that there was “something in the contention that the remuneration was not fair and reasonable”, it fined the workers 10/- to be paid over five weeks. It was a lenient punishment, relatively speaking, but for all that still a fine for indulging in the elementary right to engage in industrial action. Even though the Tribunal thought some settlement ought to be made, it only had the power to hint that the Blast Furnace Conciliation Board should consider the matter sympathetically.
Serious problems in industry were also caused by the system of ‘Leaving Certificates’, which under the Munitions Act had to be issued before a worker could change employment. Only where clear medical evidence provided grounds for leaving a war industry would the tribunals look on job transfers favourably. As in the case of a “munitions volunteer” who earned 48/- a week as a fitter in a Derby works. “After being employed for a fortnight he found that the work affected his health, and a medical certificate to this effect was submitted.” Some industries were particularly badly hit by the legislation. Throughout 1917, Derby Trades Council discussed problems in the textile trade in this respect, until the final abandonment of the system by the Government. The textile trade had been brought under as much tight state control as had the engineering industry. Ten mill ‘girls’ in Derby who “persisted in regarding the first Monday in August as a Bank Holiday notwithstanding the notice to the contrary” were brought before a Tribunal. [90] Such relatively innocent ‘breaches’ of the Munitions Act could bring severe retribution, however in this instance the young women promised not to repeat the offence and were let off with a caution.
Other industries suffered the same fate. As late as the spring of 1918, 17 sawyers were dismissed at Ambergate after joining the Amalgamated Society of Woodcutting Machinists. The tribunal held the dismissal of the shop steward as justified on the grounds of “unwarrantable interference with the management”. The rest of the men were fined ten shillings, the chairman saying that “the sooner employers recognised that their employees had as perfect a right as themselves to unite in their own interests the better”. [91] Fine words, but the union remained unrecognised and the men’s representative sacked. There was at this time much wood processing in Derbyshire and the ASWM had branches in Derby, Chesterfield, Glossop and of course Ambergate.
In the face of this general pattern of employer hostility to trade unions, backed up by legal penalties in the name of the war for any worker that refused to accept the pre-eminence of the master, the established trades unions seemed powerless. Workers would turn elsewhere for strength and support. The trades council movement then still maintained a role more akin to a set of local mini-TUCs, intervening in local disputes in a bargaining fashion. It was a role quite unlike that with which we are today familiar. For example, in the summer of 1917 it was the Derby Trades Council that met with the management of the Cosy Picture House to resolve a dispute concerning Musicians’ Union members, not the union’s representatives. [92] But a sort of tug-of-war for control developed in this period, with trade union leading officials emphasising their exclusive interest in the affairs of the membership, to the detriment of the role of the trades councils. In part, this was reflective of the growing tensions between the official union leaderships and the rank-and-file. Yet, paradoxically, many trades councils were dominated by powerful Labour councillors and even full time trade union officials and Derbyshire trades councils were no exception to this. Some activists began to view some trades councils as being as compromised as the individual unions themselves, shackling the movement from exercising its traditional and expected functions.
It would be in the workshops themselves that workers, especially munitions workers, would create their own organisations. The spontaneous growth of the shop stewards’ movement came about, direct representatives of the workers themselves immediately controllable by them on the job. In a way, it was a new kind of unionism, centred upon the opposition of skilled workers to the dilution of their trade by those female and male unskilled workers recruited to replace conscripts to the forces. Most craft unions had branches based upon localities, a fact which made it very difficult for the basic structures of the union to relate to the problems of the workshops. Shop stewards had been recognised by the ASE rulebook in 1896, but it was not until 1909 that the notion began to spread around the country. By 1912, the ASE had recognised the potential value of shop stewards by raising union payments to them from 2/- to 3/-. In April 1914, the engineering employers and the ASE concluded the York Memorandum which made provision for “deputations of workmen, who may be accompanied by their Organising District Delegate” to meet local employers over matters of wages and conditions. While not formally recognising shop stewards, this was a major step forward in workplace representation. Essentially, the shop steward before 1917 was appointed to carry out routine tasks of collection of dues and maintenance of communications. In the engineering and munitions workshops of towns and cities like Derby, trade union officials appeared to be remote from their memberships, insulated from giving even moral support by the Munitions Act. They seemed to many workers to be compromised by the industrial truce and were increasingly ignored as shop stewards were looked to for leadership.
Workers’ Committees began to be set up throughout the country from 1915. First in the Clydeside area of Scotland and then in every engineering centre. It was predominantly, almost exclusively a phenomenon initially centred around skilled workers. It was the “sudden impact of dilution on craft aspirations in the areas where those aspirations had been relatively well preserved up to the outbreak of war that threw up the Workers’ Committees as mass organisations”. [93] But semi-skilled workers also emulated the move by seeking solutions to their own concerns. As early as January 1916, the WU Derby DC had debated the “formation of a Workers Committee in connection with the Clyde Committee”. [94] The challenging idea was neatly sidestepped by deferring the matter to the next meeting, when (at least as far as the minutes are concerned) the whole issue was silently forgotten. It was almost two years later, after the ASE had made great strides in shop stewards’ organisation, that the Derby WU returned to the idea. A resolution was sent to head office, asking that the WU executive “endeavour to see that the Workers Union are represented on the shop stewards systems, recently formulated by the skilled unions”. [95]
Young workers lead the way in the engineering industry, perhaps mainly because of their closeness to military age. In 1916, apprentices at Haslam’s decided that their usual increase of 1/- was just not enough. Prompted by Arthur Sturgess the ASE convenor at Haslam’s, they went on strike, a most usual phenomenon. After one and a half days out the company conceded a 2/- rise! General hostility to the Munitions Act’s restrictions on trade union freedom reached a peak in the spring of 1917, when the Government declared its intention to spread the process of dilution of skilled labour in industry from War Ministry work in the munitions factories to the whole of private industry. Unrest amongst engineering workers was widespread and a spontaneous national unofficial strike developed from May 5th and 6th, led by ASE activists. Some 10,000 came out in Sheffield on May 7th and within two or three days most engineering workers in Chesterfield and Derby had followed suit, as a wave of strike action swept throughout the heavily industrialised parts of the country. On May 12th, a national meeting of shop stewards was held in Derby, causing the authorities to arrest eight of the leading activists at the meeting. It seems highly likely, given the key role of SLP members in the Clyde and Willie Paul’s presence in Derby, along with a high profile group of comrades, that the link was of relevance. Certainly, the Derby SLP is known to have been targeting the local Rolls Royce factory with propaganda material. Paul also “appears to have been instrumental in establishing the Coventry movement” which developed into a mini-general strike in the city, uniting skilled and semi-skilled workers in a way which proved difficult in Derby. The movement in Manchester had some influence in Derby and the connection of one of the leaders from that area may have been important. Derby born George Peet had served his time as an apprentice fitter in the railway workshops, joining the ASE branch in 1904. [96]
Suppression proved to be a wholly wrong approach on the part of the Government, from its own perspective, for it simply inflamed the entire situation. More and more workers began to strike and the ASE executive met with Dr Addison, the Minister for Munitions. The Government simply caved in as the strike reached crisis proportions. It promised the release of the arrested leaders and a no-victimisation agreement, if the unofficial leaders called off the strike. However, it was only when the charge against the eight was actually dropped that the strikers would return to work and that occurred only as late as May 23rd. The issue that had sparked off the dispute, a proposed Dilution Bill, still remained in the thinking of the Government. A national ballot of the ASE rejected the notion by a vote of six to one, with members knowing full well that this meant striking once more if the Government would not totally capitulate. The industrial truce was in tatters as the result of an official and overtly political strike, which had basic economic needs at the heart of it, loomed ahead.
Winston Churchill had by now replaced Addison as the responsible Minister and he ensured that, whilst the Bill was presented to Parliament, it excluded the sensitive question of extending the dilution powers to private work. A few months later, the conditions restricting the leaving of workers from munitions establishments were withdrawn and that year’s national wage award in the engineering industry was most lucrative for the workers. It was, moreover, binding on firms not attached to the employers’ federation and the conditions applying to dilution were tightened up considerably. Exceptionally favourable rights were enshrined in law for trade unions in munitions industries. The entire political and industrial settlement represented an utter and smashing success for militant strike action and was a vital shot in the arm for the new shop stewards’ movement, as well as generally massively stimulating the process of unionisation everywhere; this upsurge necessarily fuelled the growth of formal trades unionism.
New branches of skilled workers, in particular, were set up and old ones flourished. In the summer of 1917, around 300 people attended a “smoking concert” organised by the Steam Engine Makers’ Society, which opened a new branch in Derby. This rapidly grew to over 800 members. [97] Similarly, the Derby branch of the Associated Blacksmiths was founded in 1917 by a B Morris from the Loco Works and a J Wheeldon, a shoeing smith. Because of its extreme specialisation, the union was started with only ten members, but it did grow to some extent in the workshops during the days of steam. Eventually, the union joined up with the Boilermakers in the 1960s, which is today part of the GMB. The Tin Plate workers joined up with the Joint Trades Committee in the action against dilution. The Coppersmiths, who had accepted dilution of twenty six silversmiths in 1916, also backed the engineering unions in campaigns against the abolition of the trade card system (which exempted skilled workers from the call up) and against dilution on commercial work. [98]
In contrast, the giant non-skilled Workers Union had a power base in Derbyshire engineering already, fairly equally with its interests in textiles. Because of its unique attitude to women workers and the unskilled, the union was well placed to grow. Indeed, Stokes the local WU organiser summed it up well, when he referred in 1918 to the organisation’s “remarkable progress”. By then, there were no less than twelve branches in Derby itself, whilst the union had “extended up the ErewashValley and the Peak District”. [99] In August of that year, the union’s membership in the Derby district had reached 5,497 and towards the end of the year had peaked at 6,057. [100] It was a new, but temporary, height in strength in Derbyshire, which would not be matched again until the Second World War.
Perhaps because of these developments, relations in the engineering industry between the unskilled unions and the skilled unions became uneasy. The WU had a particular problem in actually obtaining recognition from the other unions of its right to sit in on certain industry-wide negotiations, both at a national and a local level. Whilst the WU was not the only non-skilled union and the ASE was by no means the only skilled union, the root of the problem lay in the intent of the latter to be a craft union, whilst the former saw itself as a truly general union, bringing together all workers, regardless of whether they were skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled.
At the inaugural meeting of the Derby District Committee of the WU in 1915, the national President of that union, John Beard, had emphasised that it would take as members “all those workers willing to join, whether eligible to join a skilled union or otherwise”. [101] Such a beginning clearly put the WU and the skilled unions in a position of potential conflict. This was particular so in the engineering industry in general and with the ASE in particular. The Derby WU expressed its frustration with the ASE very clearly, when the latter failed to support one of their members who had been sacked from Rolls Royce. The union decided upon a wholly unrealistic course of action. The WU was to “try to get a large number of our members who are skilled men from Birmingham and get them placed at Rolls Royce and thus endeavour to combat the ASE”. [102] For the position in the West Midlands in this respect was always to be different to that of Derby and the East Midlands. The WU secured a massive presence from as early as the 1890s in companies like the BSA and many others in Birmingham and Coventry. Many skilled workers were organised by the WU and this gave it a unique strength in these areas, which the DerbyDC no doubt would have liked to import.
Relations generally between the skilled and non-skilled organisations were so bad that John Beard advised his members not to join a proposed national engineering strike in 1918. This concerned a lack of assurances from the Government in respect of its post-war manpower proposals. Derby WU had no hesitation in following the advice. The DC recommended “all our members to stay at work in the event of a strike by the ASE as it will be detrimental to our own interests to take part in same”. [103] How the WU expected to recruit skilled workers when it maintained contradictory attitudes to the very problems of the skilled and unskilled does not seem to have occurred to the local worthies. Yet there was no hesitation when it came to the matter of supervisory workers. Derby No. S branch of the WU, the Rolls Royce branch, had no difficulty in obtaining sanction from the WU DC to proceed in their plans to expel a member of theirs who had become a foreman, simply for that reason. Such instances are highly illuminating of developments in subsequent decades of the relationship between the TGWU, which absorbed the WU, and the AEU, the later evolution of the ASE.
Major employers and national trade union leaders met with the Prime Minister in 1918 to agree a six-month standstill on wages, whilst statutory regulation of wages was being phased out. The engineering unions agreed with their employers on a 47-hour week over five and a half days, cutting the week down from 54 hours at which it had been stuck for many decades. This national agreement also provided for the recognition of shop stewards and their committees as the institutions of first reference in the world of industrial negotiations. Many trade unions in the industry rapidly amended their rulebook to include at least some reference to shop stewards. Following this, the Engineering Allied Trades Joint Committee immediately took control over the issuing of credentials in Derby. [104]
By July of 1918, official shop stewards cards had been issued by the individual unions and the unofficial movement had all but been supplanted by the formal structure. Unions sought to contain the shop stewards’ system and there were obviously problems associated with the transition. For example, at Rolls Royce, the company had been informed by the WU that “Bro Base was the official shop representative as far as the Workers Union are concerned”, It seems however that the workers being represented did not see it the same way. The WU waged a running war with some of their Rolls Royce shop stewards for over a year. As far as the district leadership was concerned, there was “something lacking” in the Derby No.5 branch – presumably in the head! [105] So much so that the union wrote to the employers’ federation, instructing them to ignore all correspondence from one Fearn, presumably the out of favour local leader. The WU executive was asked to intervene to prevent “unofficial note paper being used”! by Fearn and his supporters, a reference to the unofficial use of WU headed notepaper. [106]
One industry especially favoured by the war was the hosiery industry. An unprecedented and enormous demand for socks, underwear, pullovers and gloves for the massive and constantly replenished army on the Western Front created a boom period. The Ilkeston Hosiery Union (IHU) had initially decided not to hold any organising meetings for the duration of the war. Within months, the union had reversed this attitude and engaged in a vigorous recruitment campaign in Derbyshire. By 1918, the secretary of the union, H Bassford, was able to claim that much of the hosiery side of the textile industry was organised. Agreements with the employers were signed in every key section of the hosiery trade. The IHU’s membership dramatically increased in this period:
     date                            IHU membership
June 1914                       902
March 1915                  1,050
March 1916                  1,400
March 1917                  1,410
March 1918                  2,020
March 1919                  2,200
These were the figures reported by the union to the General Federation of Trades Unions, a sort of mini-TUC for the smaller unions. For its own internal purposes, the IHU claimed a quadrupling of membership to over 4,000 in September 1916. [107] It was not only in the larger towns that the union grew. Over 700 women joined en bloc in September 1915 in North Derbyshire and most enterprises in Ambergate and Buxton were organised during 1916. In Derby, the union had a major battle at Moore and Eadie’s hosiery factory. Bassford reported to the May 17th meeting of the National Hosiery Federation that the company had agreed to recognise the union after a strike and Board of Trade intervention. While in early 1918, at the annual social and dance of the Derby branch of the IHU, Bassford left no-one in any doubt that unless the firm of Carder and Sons, an Ilkeston hosiery manufacturer, re-instated two dismissed collectors of union contributions, he would call out the entire membership on strike. [108] So, the great bargaining power that came with the war had more than stiffened the resolve of the union to engage more readily and determinedly in militant industrial struggle.
Large sections of the railway workforce were called up into the armed forces, despite the crucial importance of the industry in the economic infrastructure, since road haulage was as yet rather poorly developed. In the early stages of the war, the rail companies had extracted the maximum advantage from the workers in the industry in the name of patriotism. The militancy of the pre-war years simply evaporated. Staveley ASLEF branch expressed a commonly held concern in the railway industry, when it felt that experienced men in the army ought to be discharged in order that they might re-enter the industry to “relieve the present Railway Locomotive men of the hardships and long hours they have endured through the war up to the present’. Yet that was only in December 1918, with the war already declared over.
Against the background of weary self-sacrifice, it proved not at all difficult, despite the influence of national leaders like Jimmy Thomas, for the rail worker to re-discover a sense of militancy. The NUR saw a similar development of rank and file leadership as did the engineering industry, albeit in not so advanced a way. Many “Vigilance Committees” of local activists were organised to represent the workforce and to put pressure on the normally staid official leadership. Derby ASLEF reflected the mood fairly early on, when it indicated that it was only prepared to concede the need to restrain demands for increases in wages, if the government took “steps to restrict the increase in the price of commodities due to the unscrupulous methods of certain capitalists”. This question of manpower was the issue which stimulated most fury, as the war was clearly to be seen coming to an end.
Derby ASLEF determined to resist the government proposals, especially a deal simply sorted out between their national officials and the Government. The Derby locomen resolved to only accept a settlement based upon a formula which did not “agree to any form of substitution, as considering the excessive strain placed on the footplate men at the present time, it is most important that Class A men should only be employed. Furthermore, considering the excessive hours now being worked on some companies, work should be equalised on all companies.” ASLEF in particular had made a stand on the issue of the introduction of a standard eight-hour day during the course of 1917. It had been agreed then that, as soon as hostilities ended, a shorter working week would be introduced for locomen. Thus, the issue of shorter working hours was an especially sensitive matter.
Another area of concern that the railway union gave attention to was the problem of sufficient food rations to men working away from home, as was often the case now that so many hours were being worked. In February 1918, Derby No.1 ASLEF wanted their union to press the National Food Controller to allow more food to men lodging away from home and working extra shifts, as their experience was that the rations were simply not adequate. Subsequently, the first issue was agreed and implemented, but not the second point.
Meanwhile there was a great strengthening of the rail unions. Derby ASLEF branch had first decided on May 9th 1915 to “invite all Great Northern loco men at Derby to become members of this branch”. Only the Midland Railway men were organised and not many Great Northern men joined initially. However, by October 14th 1917, the branch was able to decide to print leaflets for an open meeting, to be held later that month for “the purpose of opening a new branch for Great Northern men at their end of the Town”. The mood was one of general unity. Although Derby ASLEF declared itself in favour of some closer working with the NUR it was against an amalgamation, preferring a federation; an attitude reflecting the divide between skilled and non-skilled unions. [109]
The print unions continued to consolidate their position. A strong bargaining position and highly localised relationships between member and trade union official, who were traditionally former working printers, conditioned different developments. The Derby Typographical Association won a gigantic increase in wages of 10/- in early 1918 and they were immediately followed by the male cutters. Females were given a varying increase of one shilling for the first year of employment and up to 3/6d for those with six years service. Within six months, further advances took most male print workers to between £3 3s 6d and £3 7s 0d, when another 10/- increase was achieved in October 1918. Typographers, binders, stereotypers and lithographers all found themselves at the very top of the wages league. Apprentices got 10/- a week in their first year and £1 5s 0d by their seventh. As for the women, they extracted the sixth successive war bonus of 10/- to take a first year employee to 9/- a week, while a longer serving employee could expect £1 9s 0d. [110]
The mood of the time encouraged even teachers to a bolder spirit than previously exhibited. The Derbyshire area of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) had successfully negotiated a war bonus of between £5 and £7 10s 0d per annum in 1916. Then the following year, new scales of central government grants to local authorities gave an extra £39,000 onto the existing budget of £44,000, a massive increase. The NUT’s representative on the Education Committee called for speed in allocating the money to a new salary scale, for the “financial position of some of the teachers at the present time was very trying. Before the war some of them found it difficult to make ends meet, and now that prices had advanced so considerably they were in great straits”. That the NUT was rapidly moving towards a role as a genuine trade union is evident from the election as national president for the war period of William B Steer, a teacher at Abbey Street municipal school in Derby. Steer was an ILPer and adopted Labour candidate. [iii]
As for building workers, the war certainly made for a slower pace of recruitment. As industry began to pick up in areas not affected by the needs of war, the demand for building encouraged the employment of more and more workers. In turn, this reflected itself in a new burst of membership growth, exemplified at least by the experience of the Derby builders’ labourers. The membership books of the ABL show a fairly steady, but low, pace of admissions in 1915, 1916 and 1917. This continued in early 1918 but, towards the middle of that year, the situation changed markedly. By the end of 1918, the union was recruiting at a dizzy pace, a trend that continued into the following immediate years.
Derby ABL membership admissions 1915-8
year                                     quarter          quarterly              yearly
(1= January to March)                             admissions         admissions
             1915                          1                   10
                                               2                   25
                                               3                   16
                                               4                   11                                        62
             1916                            1                     14
                                                 2                     12
                                                 3                       8
                                                 4                     11                                                45
             1917                            1                     12
                                                 2                     10
                                                 3                     17
                                                 4                     26                                                65
             1918                            1                     24
                                                 2                     44
                                                 3                     72
                                                 4                   141                                                281
The new spirit encouraged one of Derbyshire’s oldest industries, to organise. Demand for lead was at a premium during the war, so much so that the price was firmly controlled. The military importance of this ore substantially raised the bargaining power of the new workers brought into the recently expanded workings. The lead miners of Ashover were admitted to the Derbyshire Miners Association in 1917 despite the opposition of the employer who argued that the appropriate union ought to be the National Union of General Workers. However as the war neared its end, the Government lifted the controls on the price of lead, generating a brisk interest in the shares of lead mining firms. The new circumstances led to conflict in the industry. The Mill Close lead mines at Darley Dale, owned by H Denman, were closed for eight weeks towards the end of the war with the men out on strike. The employer threatened to close the mine for good and the whole dispute caused the Ministry of Munitions to become involved. The Ministry sent an engineer down the mines to decide which workings were safe and how many men were needed to work them. A considerable increase in wages for underground men was recommended and the war bonuses already accorded to them were to be continued. [112] Strict control of the mines continued for the short term. Late in 1918, seventeen men were removed from the workings to attain the Ministry of Munitions’ “requirements for profitable working”. [113]
Whilst the shop stewards’ movement was principally concerned with dilution, wages and workshop discipline, near to the end of the war it began to assume a more political character. From the first, it had been led in the main by left wing socialists and Marxists, hostile to what they saw as an imperialist war. Once an initial position had been adopted, it was but a small step from resentment at the effects of the Munitions Act to opposition to the war. After all the one relied upon the other. Early in 1917, a letter from the Derby and District Peace Negotiations Committee inviting the Derby Trades Council (DTC) to a conference was simply left to “lie on the table”, after a long discussion. After the struggles in the engineering sector, matters would be entirely different, at least in that industry. There was a distinct cooling of support for the war amongst many workers. A sign of this was the passing of a resolution at the DTC in August 1917, opposing “the treatment meted out to C.O.s.” [114] Whilst a mass meeting of engineering shop stewards in Derby at the beginning of 1918 overwhelmingly demanded a “people’ peace”, calling for “immediate negotiations with other belligerent powers for an armistice on all fronts with a view to arranging a general peace on the basis of self-determination for all nations, no annexations and no indemnities”. [115]
It was an honourable and dignified suggestion but one which would be completely ignored by the British Government. Significant in the change in attitude was the effect of the two Russian revolutions of 1917 and the growing disgust with the appaling loss of life on the Western front. The first revolution deposed the Czar and installed a liberal regime, which was however still committed to continuing the war. The revolutionary wing of the Russian socialists, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, argued for an end to the war and a settlement of the social questions facing peasants and the small, but influential, working class.
Only by mounting the October Revolution, was this possible. The shock that this engendered, internationally, was dramatic. It proved that it was possible to get out of the war. Russia, whilst a considerable power in its own right, was the basis for much French and British investment. An interesting footnote to the history of the powerful drama enacted in Russia is one effect that the Bolshevik revolution had on local business. Alderman Thomas Fletcher, an employer in the lace making trade, was supposedly “reduced to comparative poverty” by the new Soviet government, when his Moscow lace works were nationalised without compensation. [116]
In the early part of 1917, an international conference of left wing socialists had been planned for Stockholm in Sweden. The idea was for peace terms to be worked out between the representatives of the working class of each belligerent state, which could be then be presented to the various governments as a fait accompli. The Labour Party voted, amidst great controversy, to support the Stockholm Conference and some unions began to raise money to send delegates. Locally, the Staveley branch of ASLEF made such a contribution. However, the Government refused visas to the British delegates and the idea receded in favour of an offer by the USA to propose a settlement, one that would be more akin to the imperialistic desires of Britain and France. Contrasting with ASLEF, Rowsley NUR enthusiastically endorsed President Wilson’s peace programme. All this implied a radical shift beyond mere sectional militancy and consciousness. The politicisation that was sweeping through the county’s new shop stewards’ committee movement was perceived by employers as representing a very real danger to the status quo. The response was the formation of the National Alliance of Employers and Employees, during the course of 1917. Centred around the notion of class collaboration, rather than class war, NAEE was slow to get off the ground. Within three years, it would begin to win important sections of Derbyshire’s labour movement.
If big business had been shocked by the prospect of international revolution, some soldiers and workers were bemused by the simplicity of this solution to war. A rebellious mood gripped the working class of Western Europe and Derbyshire could not remain aloof from this. In June of 1917, one thousand delegates, a few from Derby, assembled at a giant national conference jointly convened by the BSP and the ILP. This conference glowingly welcomed the first Russian Revolution and urged Britain’s workers and soldiers to adopt a similar solution of soviets, or councils, of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies. Many were to see the shop stewards’ movement as just that.
Derby’s Midland Railway men passed a resolution in January 1918, urging that the British Government “at once accept the invitation of the Russian Government to consider peace terms”. Going further, the resolution also linked the “immediate conscription of wealth” with this proposal and with the need for “adequate provisions as a national right for all victims of war”. The mood strengthened as the year went on. In September, ASLEF’s president, Cooke, spoke to a large rally of railway workers in the town of Derby. Also present was the organisation’s General Secretary, Bromley. His message was uncompromising. “Workers should unite and form an international federation … against such terrible wars … because when the workers of the world understood each other and come to an international agreement, without ‘them the diplomats and capitalists would be powerless.” Moreover, “we might as well recognise first and last that there (are) two classes in this country and they are the capitalist and governing classes and Labour”.
Against this background, conflict developed between the right wing parliamentary group of the Labour Party and their coalition partners, especially the Liberals. Due to a combination of factors, Labour Party membership had remained stagnant during the early part of the war. Conscription, jingoism and disillusionment with Labour’s collaboration, all of these sometimes contradictory elements applied. Yet, by the spring of 1917, Derby Labour Party individual membership was more than double its pre-war level. Within twelve months, the DLP was to shoot up to more than six times its 1914 membership figure. Trade union affiliated membership similarly soared. [117]
Year of Annual DLP individual     DLP affiliated
Report                membership         membership
1914                    119                          1,369
1915                    125                          2,018
1916                    172                          1,662
1917                    292                          3,920
1918                    750                          7,634
Everywhere, the sense that the end of the war was in sight dominated thinking. A major spring offensive against Germany in 1918 resulted yet again in stalemate, yet the belief that revolution was imminent in Germany was widespread. Trades unionists began to view the war much more critically. Dominating the thought of a WU national delegation, some 200 strong, which visited the war zone in France in April, were wages and conditions. Three Derby activists were part of the visit and, on their return, they agitated locally for higher pay for soldiers. Particular concern was expressed at the differences in pay between colonial and “home” troops. It was also decided that the WU executive be approached about the need for a cost of living increase for the citizens of Calais, who worked at a British Government textiles factory, providing an endless supply of khaki uniforms for the cannon fodder that the military had become. The Derby delegation saw the Government in this context as a “sweated employer on a large scale”. [118]
Such concern, especially for the troops, became a common matter in working peoples’ organisations. Most trades councils linked up with ex-service organisations of all kinds, even those not initially involved with the labour movement and even some which were actually hostile, like the “Comrades of the Great War”, which nonetheless liaised with the Chesterfield Trades Council in 1917. [119] Vast numbers of complaints from working class families about the work of the Food Control Committees were handled by the movement. These committees administered the crude rationing system, often unfairly. There was much pressure exerted to get more and more labour movement representatives on these committees, a struggle which was successful in Derby in early 1918. [120]
In 1917, there was a desperate situation on Britain’s farms caused by a lack of labour and horses, still a major source of power, both being commandeered by the military. A disastrous harvest saw the entire country’s reserves of food reduced to a mere three weeks. Reflecting such concerns, Derby’s Trades Council considered that the legal controls over the price of raw meat ought to be kept on after the war. Even more determined was the resolution that “the allowances paid to the dependents of sailors and soldiers are inadequate and that the Trades Unions (should) adopt a down tools policy if necessary to secure increases”. Not that this special concern for the families of servicemen in any way deterred the council from supporting a fund for the relief of the dependents of conscientious objectors. [121]
A major gain for social progress from the war was the extension of the franchise to women at long last, albeit only partially. The new found economic power of women easily spread in the political field. While some two thirds of the adult male population could claim a vote, the rest being restricted by property qualifications, not a single woman could say the same. It had been 1884 since the last extension of the franchise. Although the campaign for votes for women had been placed on hold by the WSPU, very many women’s’ organisations continued to point out the anomaly of a nation relying on its female population to ‘keep the home fires burning’, whilst denying them a basic human right. As the war neared its conclusion, few were in doubt that women would receive some concession in this respect and this was indeed so. In 1918, women over 30 years of age were allowed a vote in parliamentary elections. Yet it would be another decade before women of 21 years would find themselves on the same terms as men.
5 The 1918 TUC in Derby
For the first and last time ever, Derby hosted the 1918 Trades Union Congress – the 50th TUC – 881 delegates representing 262 trades unions with 4,532,085 members came into the town. The unions faced the post-war years with confidence and in some ways this was reflected in the character of this year’s TUC. It was held in the Derby Co-op’s new Central Hall, from September 2nd to 7th and despite the inability of Derby to provide the pleasures normally associated with union conferences at Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton and the like, the town went out of its way to make up for it. All such resorts had been closed down for the duration and were not yet ready to be open for next summer’s business. Gompers, the internationally known US labour leader, was present – providing a note of some importance – and of course the atmosphere was electric, generally due to the fact that the war was near its conclusion and everybody knew that it was so.
The official report praised local trades unionists for their efforts in providing a spirited welcome to the town. A reception committee consisting of Trades Council officials, Salisbury the President, Southern, the Secretary, and Turner, the Treasurer, had hurriedly made all the necessary arrangements. It was naturally considered a great honour to host the Congress and no effort was spared, even if finance was limited. Delegates were accommodated in paid bed and breakfast arrangements in the houses of Co-operative and trade union movement members. Probably, the ability of the Derby Co-op Women’s’ Guild to make such a provision, coupled with the new hall, were the most important factors contributing to the selection of the town as a venue for the Congress. There was much pride in the use of the new Co-op premises. “The Central Hall proved entirely adequate for the unexpectedly large gathering and the co-operative movement in Derby is to be congratulated upon the erection of the new and commodious buildings”, noted the TUC official report. As President of the Trades Council, Salisbury made a speech of welcome for the town’s labour movement which centred upon support for General Haigh, the commander of forces on the Western Front. Hitherto an almost stationary war now saw the army at last pushing back the Germans with almost unbelievable speed in August and September of 1918.
There were 16 delegates present from Derbyshire itself at the Congress, some from specifically county unions and others as part of the national delegations of their union. These bodies were:
General Union of Carpenters and Joiners
Steam Engine Makers Society
Provincial Typographical Association
National Union of Clerks
National Federation of Colliery Enginemen and Boilermen
Workers Union
United Operative Plumbers and Domestic Engineers Association
Derbyshire Miners Association
Amalgamated Lithographic Printers
Ilkeston Hosiery Union
Printing and Paper Workers
No doubt some of these delegates were active in making preparations for the Congress and the official report gave them their due: “it speaks well for the zeal and enthusiasm of the local Reception Committee and the members of the Trades Council that faced with the task of providing for the largest assemblage of delegates on record, nothing but praise can be given to one and all for the complete and highly satisfactory manner in which the task was undertaken and carried through”. [122] But the Congress did not really address itself to the more fundamental problems facing the working class now that the war was all but an end. The mass of the troops, when they returned home, would bring with them disillusionment and anger. Many took up radical and even revolutionary positions. While some women were content to receive the vote almost as a gift, others joined with some of the ex-servicemen in challenging the very basis of the society in which they lived.
One such was Sylvia Pankhurst, who on visiting Derbyshire on a propaganda tour ended up being fined the massive sum of £50 under the Defence of the Realm Act by the Eckington magistrates for a speech made in the village in September 1918. Her crime was to define the war as having been “absolutely a capitalist war – a sordid scrabble to get control of the world’s raw materials”. [123] Many working people in the next decade would echo such a view. For the Twenties were indeed to be ‘roaring’ in the battle for social, economic and political progress.
1 W R Raynes unpublished memoirs pp 109-112
2 D Skinner and J Langdon “The Story of Clay Cross” Spokesman (1974) p13; Ripley Trades and Labour Council Annual Report – A Clinton “The trade union rank and file Trades Councils in Action: 1900-1940” ManchesterUniversity Press
(1977) p38
3 Derby Mercury October 2nd 1914
4 Derby Trades Council Minutes March 8th 1914
5 Derby Trades Council Minutes May 13th 1914; Derby ASLEF April 13th 1913
6 Derby Mercury May 7th 1915
7 R Graves “Goodbye to All That” Penguin Modern Classics (1971) p61
8 Derby Mercury 14th May 1915
9 Derby Mercury 7th May 1915
10 Workers Union Annual Report 1914
11 Workers Union Annual Report 1915
12 R Hyman “The Workers Union” Clarendon Press (1971) p105
13 Workers Union Annual Report 1914
14 Derby Mercury March 12th 1926 – recollections of R E Stokes at the 21st anniversary of the opening of the first Derby WU branch in 1905
15 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee September 11th 1915
16 Workers Union Annual Report 1915
17 Derby Trades Council Minutes October 14th 1914
18 R Gurnham “A History of the Trade Union Movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear
Industry 1776-1 976” NUKHW (1976) p76
19 Workers Union Annual Report 1915
20 R Gurnham “A History of the Trade Union Movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear
Industry 1776-1 976” NUKHW (1976) p78
21 R Gurnham “A History of the Trade Union Movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear
Industry 1776-1 976” NUKHW p80
22 ABL Minutes March 6th 1915
23 ABL Minutes October 2nd 1915, November 3rd 1915
24 ABL Admissions Book 1909-25
25 ABL Minutes March 29th 1916
26 ABL Minutes June 13th 1916
27 ABL Minutes October 4th 1916
28 Derby ASLEF October 11th, November 8th, December 6th 1914; Staveley ASLEF March 26th 1916
29 Derby Mercury November 5th 1915
30 Derby Mercury March 14th 1916
31 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial social history” George Allen and Unwin (1962) p519
32 Derby Mercury November 16th 1917
33 Derby Master Printers’ Association Minutes February 23rd, March 4th, March
10th 1915, February 29th and December 28th 1916, October 9th 1917
Derby Daily Express July 20th 1917
34 G Kingscott “The Long Eaton Co-operative Society Ltd – a centenary history
1868-1968” LECS (1968) p93
35 Derby Monthly Record – Derby Co-operative Society March 1917
36 Derby Mercury October 5th 1917
37 Derby Mercury November 16th 1916
38 Derby Mercury October 29th 1915
39 Derby Mercury October 22nd 1915
40 Derby Mercury June 4th 1915
41 Derby Mercury October 22nd 1915
42 Derby Mercury January 19th 1917
43 Derby Mercury June 8th 1917
44 Derby Mercury June 9th 1916
45 Derby Mercury September 8th 1916
46 Derby Mercury October 19th 1917; Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee October 13th 1917
47 Derby Monthly Record (DCS) September 1917
48 Derby Mercury March 24th 1916
49 Fenner Brockway “Inside the Left” New Leader (1947) p66
50 Tom Bell “Pioneering Days” Lawrence and Wishart (1941) p127
51 Raymond Challinor “The Origins of British Bolshevism” Croom Helm (1977) p144
52 S & B Webb “History of Trades Unionism” (1950) p645
53 Tom Bell “Pioneering Days” Lawrence and Wishart (1941) p126
54 F W Chandler “Political Spies and Provocative Agents” (1933) p104
55 Derby Mercury February 9th 1917
56 F W Chandler “Political Spies and Provocative Agents” p100
57 The Times February 1st 1917 in F W Chandler “Political Spies and
Provocative Agents” p100
58 Documents in the possession of Mrs Fay Kidger, Derby Evening Telegraph March 23rd 1983
59 F W Chandler “Political Spies and Provocative Agents” p111
60 Derby Evening Telegraph March 23rd 1983 – letter from Hetty Wheeldon
61 Earl of Birkenhead (F E Smith) “Famous Trials of History” Hutchinson (1926)
62 The Times March 8th 1917
63 Derby Mercury February 9th 1917
64 F W Chandler “Political Spies and Provocative Agents” (1933) p107
65 F W Chandler “Political Spies and Provocative Agents” (1933) p109
66 F W Chandler “Political Spies and Provocative Agents” (1933) p106
67 Derby Daily Express February 21st 1919
68 The Socialist March 1917
69 Guardian November 28th 1997; letter to Mrs Lydia Robinson (Auntie Lid) March 5th 1917 – Mrs Fay Kidger, Derby Evening Telegraph March 23rd 1983
70 A Marwick “Women at War” Croom Helm (1977) p166
71 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee December 2nd 1916
72 Derby Daily Express 29th February 1916
73 WU Annual Reports for the years cited
74 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee January 27th 1917
75 Derby Trades Council Minutes May 1917
76 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee September 8th 1917
77 Derby Mercury September 28th 1917
78 Derby Trades Council Minutes September 12th 1917
79 Derby Mercury September 28th 1917
80 Arthur Nelson’s reminiscences – Derby Trader January 12th 1983
81 Derby Trades Council Minutes November 14th 1917
82 Derby Trades Council Minutes December 12th 1917
83 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee December 8th 1917
84 ABL Minutes January 2nd 1918
85 Derby Mercury January 11th 1918
86 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee January 12th 1918
87 Derby Mercury February 2nd 1917
88 Derby Mercury May 19th 1916
89 Derby Mercury August 10th 1917
90 Derby Mercury August 25th 1916
91 Derby Mercury March 1st 1918
92 Derby Trades Council Minutes July 11th 1917
93 W Hannington “The Rights of Engineers” Victor Gollancz (1944) p27
94 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee January 29th 1917
95 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee December 8th 1917
96 J Hinton “The first shop stewards movement’ George Allen and Unwin (1973) p333; L Munby ed “The Luddites and other essays” – B Moore “Sheffield Shop Stewards in the First World War” Michael Katanka Books (1971) pp256-8; W Hannington “Industrial History in Wartime” Lawrence and Wishart (1940) pp62-3; AL Morton and G Tate “The British Labour Movement 1770-1920” Lawrence and Wishart (1956) pp269-70; J Hinton “The first shop stewards movement’ George Allen and Unwin (1973) p216; J Saville and J M Bellamy “Dictionary of Labour Biography” Vol 5 MacMillan (1972) p170
97 Derby Mercury June 22nd 1917
98 A Tuckett “The Blacksmiths’ History” Lawrence and Wishart (1974) p319; T Brake “Men of Good Character – a history of sheetmetal workers, coppersmiths, heating and domestic engineers” Lawrence and Wishart (1985) pp 21 and 295
99 Derby Mercury 25th January 1918
100 WU Annual Report 1918
101 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee September 11th 1915
102 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee January 15th 1917
103 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee February 9th 1918
104 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee June 8th 1918
105 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee February 9th 1918
106 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee July 6th 1918
107 R Gurnham “A History of the Trade Union Movement in the Hosiery and Knitwear
Industry 1776-1 976” NUKHW (1976) pp73-74
108 Derby Mercury February 1st 1918
109 Staveley ASLEF Minutes December 29th 1918; Derby ASLEF Minutes May 14th 1916, January 13th and February 10th 1918
110 Derby Master Printers’ Association Minutes April 4th and October 29th 1918
111 Derby Mercury September 30th 1916, May 25th 1917, January 4th 1918
112 Derby Mercury October 4th 1918
113 Derby Mercury December 28th 1918
114 Derby Trades Council Minutes August 8th 1917
115 Derby Mercury February 1st 1918
116 Derbyshire Advertiser September 7th 1934
117 Derby ASLEF Minutes January 13th and September 8th 1918; Derby Labour Party annual reports – figures cover period from March to March for previous year stated
118 Workers Union Minutes of Derby District Committee April 13th 1918
119 Chesterfield Trades Council Balance Sheet for 1917 – A Clinton “The trade union rank and file – Trades Councils in Action: 1900-1 940” ManchesterUniversity Press (1977) p74
120 Derby Mercury February 8th 1918
121 Derby Trades Council Minutes October 8th and November 13th 1918
122 50th TUC Report 1918
123 Derbyshire Times November 2nd 1918

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