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Book Title:

The Good Old Days: Then and Now


The Good Old Days: Then and Now by S. Box

Published by: S. Box, The Firs, Marden, Hereford

Printed by: Reliance Printing Works, Halesowen, Worcs.

Chapter 2.



The Workers' Union Letterhead

Charles Duncan & Alderman Morley of the Workers' Union.

The executive of the Union agreed for conferences to be held at Hereford, Ross and Leominster, to be attended by Mr. Charles Duncan, M.P., General Secretary of the Union, and Alderman Robert Morley (who had previously visited the county) to draw up a schedule of wages and hours to be presented to the farmers by the men, with the financial support of the Union should it be necessary. The first meeting was held at Hereford in April 1914, followed by meetings at Ross and Leominster. These meetings were attended by great crowds from all parts of the county. At Leominster a man named Townsend, holding meetings in the county for the Conservative party, kept interrupting Mr. Duncan whilst he was speaking. After tolerating this for a while Mr. Duncan invited Townsend up on to the platform, but even there he persisted in his efforts to create confusion. He was appealed to to keep quiet or leave, but he said " he would leave when he was ready," so Mr. Duncan caught him by the shoulders and rushed him off the platform and out into the street, amid roars of laughter from the crowded hall. In the report of the meeting in the Press the following day the caption was " M.P. ejects an interrupter at Leominster."


After each of these meetings a conference of branch officials was held, and as a result the following schedule, to be presented to the farmers, was drawn up: —

Hours for general workers should be: 6 weeks before Christmas and 6 weeks after, work from 7.0 a.m. to 5.0 p.m., with an hour for dinner. 54 hour week, wages 18/- per week.


Summer hours, the rest of the year, work from 6.0 a.m. to 6.0 p.m., with 1 ½ hours for meals. Wages 20/- per week.


Waggoners, 75 hours a week Summer, 59 in Winter, including Sundays. Half holiday weekly.


Cowmen and Shepherds, 59 hours per week Winter and Summer.

Sir Arthur Quiller Couch stated: " England's one chance of gaining her alleged pride in a bold peasantry is in the bold peasantry having the boldness to organise a strike. "
Such was the position at this time, that in May 1914 Alderman Robert Morley, President of the Union, sent a letter and a copy of the schedule as formulated by the workers' conferences to the Herefordshire Farmers' Union. We were informed they had met and discussed the whole matter and decided to advise their members to treat with their men indi­vidually and that fairly and justly, as in the past; ignoring the right of the workers to deal collectively, a principle they had adopted for themselves by organisation, and condemning themselves by the way they had treated their employees in the past under individualism. The matter was given over to me to proceed to enforce a higher rate of wages. 1,500 notices were sent to the Secretaries of the Unions, Herefordshire branches, according to membership, those to be delivered by the men themselves to their employers, giving them a fortnight to decide what attitude they intended to take. This caused consternation amongst the farmers, who were riding about the county to know what each intended to do. They recognised the solidarity of the men, and their determination to strike, who were supported financially by " The Workers' Union."


Many of the more intelligent and humane employers urged an amicable settlement, increasing the wages of their men by 2/- a week, a considerable advance in this period. The Lord Lieutenant set the example by increasing the wages of those engaged in farm work by 2/- and 3/- for Waggoners and Stockmen. He was followed by Mr. Jones and Mr. J. Hull, of Orleton; Mr. H. W. Taylor (Yarkhill), Mr. Jordan, Mr. Hughes, Mr. Ehillan, Mr. Bellamy (Fawley and Llangarron). Mr. Hoddell offered the men 1/-, which was refused. Mr. Openshaw (Wooferton), Mr. Yapp and Mr Arnett   (Little   Hereford),   Mr.   Bishop   (Moreton),   Miss
Symonds (Pengethley), Mr. J. Rowlands (Evesbatch) rose the wages to 18/- per week, Saturday half-holiday and 4d. an hour overtime. Mr. Rogers (Leintwardine) 2/- advance and 12 days' holiday per year.


At Bishops Frome most of the farmers advanced the wages by 2/- or 3/- a week. At Kilpeck one farmer increased the wages by 2/- and gave the men 6 days' holiday a year. At Fawley most of the farmers advanced the wages, while at Stretton Sugas the men accepted the farmers' offer of £1 per week with no perquisites. Throughout the whole county rises were given, much correspondence took place in all local papers by individual farmers, replied to by me and many outside sympathisers of the men, stating that agriculture had been the Cinderella of industries and treated by past govern­ments as such, causing farmers and workers to leave the land. The question of recognition of the Union by the Farmers' Union was of secondary importance, and a meeting of the delegates of the men's branches was held at Hereford. At this meeting it was unanimously decided not to call out any men on farms where 2/- a week had been given. The Farmers' Union was advised accordingly and the Press gave it publication. The farmers were anxious about the corn harvest, and at a meeting of their Union at Ross-on-Wye, took the names of all who would pledge to help each other in the event of a strike. I have the list of those who signed, in fact the paper with each man's signature, but so many had acted with common sense that not more than a hundred men were out for a few days, having received the all-round advance, and good relations with employers and employees established again.

Daily Express: War declared

Daily Express 5th August 1914.

Then came a bolt from the blue, the Press announcing " England Declares War on Germany," August 4th, 1914, and a call was made for volunteers; the workers, notwithstanding the fight they had for wages, patriotically responded to the call to such an extent that nearly all the officials of the Union branches joined up, and in many cases the members as well, which weakened the movement until after the war was over. The strike was closed and the rise of wages given to all, to the credit of the employers, who also recognised the interest of the nation was greater than individuals or of the Union.

Many of the National Organisers were suspended and the management of country branches put under the direct supervision of large district offices and secretaries, ours being in the Gloucester area. I returned to manual labour as a jobbing gardener in Hereford, but kept up the interests of the Union and its members, continuing to hold meetings and visiting branches Saturday afternoons another at 6.0 p.m., and still another at 8.0 p.m., in three and Sunday afternoons and evenings, at a village at 3.0 p.m., adjoining villages, which enabled me to keep in touch with the workers (without pay).


During this period, which lasted until the end of the war, some opposition from selfish men would attempt to upset the meeting, but were always defeated by the audiences, which were generally large. Several good speakers from Hereford assisted at these meetings and many amusing incidents recorded.



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