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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 5.



Hereford Shire Hall

Hereford Shire Hall

A meeting at the Shire Hall, Hereford, was eventually arranged between a large number of prominent farmers in the county and the workers. It could be seen that the farmers present were sincere in their attempt to create a good feeling with their employees, because they had at last realised that co-operation was essential to the farming industry to secure prosperity.


The Chairman dealt with the objects of the meeting in his well-known impartial manner, and this contributed greatly to the good spirit which prevailed throughout. Of course there were opposing points of view on the questions of wages, hours and working conditions, but the most vexed problem was the old, old story of the tied cottage, with its disastrous effect upon the lives of the farm workers and their families. It deprived the worker of any independence, and the fear of offending the employer undermined any security the worker could have in home life. If the worker offended or disagreed with his employer and had to leave his job, he would also have to leave his home. This made a complete mockery of the quotation: " An Englishman's home is his castle."


The case for the workers was ably put by Mr. A. Ellery, Divisional Organiser of the Workers' Union, and myself, several members of the Farmers' Union putting their case. All the points were discussed in a friendly fashion, despite the wide differences of opinion. That meeting brought about an understanding of the many problems confronting both parties in so far as the tied cottage was concerned. The farmers agreed to recommend to their union that a three months' notice, to expire on either 25th March or 25th Sep­tember, be given the occupant of a tied cottage, so that he could plant or harvest the crop of his garden instead of being turned out at a moment's notice, and having to fight for the crop's value through the County Court. Several of these cases I had dealt with myself. The farmers present intended to and in some cases did honour the agreement. It was also agreed that a report of the meeting be sent to both organisations, drafted by the Farmers' Union Secretary on the following lines:—


The first conference of the representatives of the workers and Farmers' Union was held at the invitation of the former, contained in a letter from Mr. S. Box. The conference took place at the Shire Hall, Hereford. The Mayor of Hereford presided and delegates from 30 branches of the Workers' Union, and an equal number from the Farmers' Union attended, including the Chairman, Vice-Chairman of branches, and County officials. The local Wages Committee was also invited to attend—a total of 70 people being present. The secretarial duties were carried out by the organiser of the Workers' Union, Mr. S. Box, and the Secretary of the Farmers' Union, Mr. J. P. Griffiths. It was decided to admit the Press on the proposition of Mr. Box, seconded by Mr. Leslie Thompson, a farmer. There was a good deal of cross voting, but the proposition was carried by 36 votes to 34. Several people had urged the need for plain speaking, and a candid expression of opinion, so the Press were asked to suppress the names of the speakers taking part in the dis­cussion. The Mayor, in his opening remarks, referred to agri­culture as the greatest of our industries. He welcomed the idea of a conference between the workers and the farmers, and hoped such meetings would be held frequently.

The programme for discussion was:—

1.   General   Agricultural   Policy—Including   adequate remuneration for Farmer and Worker.
2.   The Question of Harvest Labour.
3.   Cottages, Tied and Otherwise.
4.   Appointment of a Joint Committee to  deal with questions of dispute.


In opening the discussion Mr. Box invited the farmers to state their Agricultural Policy. The farmers' leader, Mr. J. A. Thompson, objected, because the invitation came from the Workers' Union.   Mr. Box retorted that the invitation came from both sides, and in a very able speech Mr. Box went on to say that the Agricultural Worker should in future live and work under better conditions than in the past. This would involve the payment of higher wages, but labour would not submit to the present high prices of food and manufac­tured articles (between the two wars). They were against protection or subsidies in any shape or form. Workers in the towns must not be starved to increase farmers' profit. I look to scientific and co-operative methods of farming to meet the revolutionary tendencies of the present day—improved transport and a greater use of machinery. One thing the farmer could rely upon and that was—Labour would do everything in its power to obtain for the farmer, security of tenure. Agriculture must get rid of its superfluous burdens, such as landlordism, and generally of the middlemen. All non-producers must go and all vital interests must co-operate. I contend that farming at the present time was exceedingly profitable—there were instances where the Government had taken over farms and made profits of over £8 per acre.


Mr. Thompson, for the farmers, replied at considerable length, and said that the farmers did not expect the present high prices to continue; the whole question centred around the cost of production. If the people demanded the importa­tion (unrestricted) of such things as the farmer produced and prices fell to the level of the 80's and 90's, then the farmer could not pay the present minimum rate of wages. He pointed out the immense cost of implements, manures, harness and everything the farmer had to buy. At the present time the farmer saw no hope for the future and if prices fell, one of the first things they would have to do would be to reduce the labour bill, either by employing fewer persons or paying lower wages. Workers must co-operate with the farmers through their organisation in defence of their industry.


Mr. David Watkins, another farmer, urged that all interests should work together. Starting life as one of the workers, he said he had great sympathy for the men, but that now, as a farmer, he complained a great deal of in­different labour.


Mr. J. C. Davies, farmer, also said that all interests should work together, and he acknowledged that the Landowners, Farmers and Workers were conscientious people. He strongly approved the holding of this conference. Mr. A. E. Rudge said the only hope of getting Parliamentary repre­sentation lay in the united efforts of all persons concerned in agriculture, but the towns were against them and could out-vote any one section. Thinking of past experience, he humorously remarked: " Our fathers clung to their farms in faith and struggled on in hope and ended up by being dependent on charity." Referring to the increased cost of farming, he said the Income Tax was a great burden; this generally meant an increase of 300% and in the future rates and taxes must continue to be high. He continued: the farmers held no brief for unreasonable employers and he hoped the Workers' Union held no brief for unreasonable men who would not work regularly and not do a fair day's work.


The Divisional Organiser of the men's union, Mr. A. E. Ellery, of Gloucester, warmly complimented the last speaker on the tone of his speech. He said the farmers' and workers' interests were the same up to a point, and that was when it was to the man's interest to get as much for his work as possible and the employer to get the work done as cheaply as possible. He thought it was very important that the Costs Commission go thoroughly into the cost of production; he gently chided the farmers on not having organised them­selves earlier. He promised that wherever possible the workers would support the farmers in their legitimate demands. Mr. Barnett, a farmer, humorously referred to the strong language used by the workers' leaders at propa­ganda meetings, and thought it was a mistake; no doubt it was thought that bad cases needed strong medicine: the present high prices were the result of a scarcity of products and a large supply of money—a few apples and plenty of sovereigns; the time would come when there would be plenty of apples and a scarcity of sovereigns. Mr. E. W. Langford, farmer, said the war had proved the value of agriculture to the nation, and the labourers had nobly done their share; naturally prosperity had come to both. He well recollected a time when the local papers week by week announced the bankruptcy of some or other. Mr. Box did not go as far as the Labour Party—they advocated the Policy of the Plough. How could that be harmonised with the refusal of labour to allow agriculture that protection which would save it from ruin. It was essential that large numbers of people should enjoy the healthy occupations of the countryside so that robust workers would be available for the unhealthy occupations of the town.


One common ground was to be noticed running through the discussions at this conference—the need for co-operation between farmer and worker, if the welfare of the agricultural industry was to be maintained. In the past it had been the Cinderella of all industries from a Government point of view, largely because farmers and workers had neglected to send men to the House of Commons to protect their interests. Large landowners, brewers, military, navy, and monopolists in large businesses, had in the past successfully combined to protect and advance their own respective interests. Mr. J. Evans was asked at the Shire Hall meeting who did represent the farmers. He replied: " The Conservative Association."

Tom Williams

In Winston Churchill's wartime Coalition Government, Tom Williams was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries from 1940 to 1945


In the county of Hereford the Farmers' Union had two candidates at the General Election; the result, chiefly through snobbery, was that both were heavily defeated. The fact is that when I stood for Labour in 1918 I polled a larger number of votes than the farmers. Notwithstanding these facts the Labour Party, during their period of power, did more for the agricultural industry than all pevious Governments, and it is frankly admitted by the majority of farmers that Mr. Tom Williams, the Labour Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, was the best Minister they ever had.


The reader will note that at the conference the farmers were apprehensive about the future of farming, and they had cause for this by the poor treatment they had received from the " Baldwin Government." The workers had suffered not only in lower wages but also by the loss of the machinery established to adjust wages and conditions.



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