Chapter Twelve


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

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply