« PrejšnjaNaprej »
reforms of January, 1890, as regards the hours of signalmen, were still in progress.
Meetings were held at Glasgow and elsewhere on 23rd November, at which this and other replies were read to the men, and at which the Executive announced that they recommended “ cessation of labour," with the object of compelling the companies to grant their demands. They professed themselves confident of their ability to provide the necessary funds, and asked the men to send to the secretary of the society their notices of resignation for transmission to the railway companies in whose service the men were respectively, if and when the Executive thought a sufficient number of notices had been received to justify such action. The question of notice is so important, and has filled so large a place in the public controversies on the subject, that it is advisable to give in full the relative paragraph of the Report of 23rd November, by the Executive of the Society of Railway Servants :
NOTICES OF THE MEN.
“The committee, in deliberating upon this important point, had before them the legal opinions of three eminent men, along with the result of inquiries at other trade unions, and are unanimously of opinion that the usual notices of the men should be given in, and their contracts honestly fulfilled. The rule-book of each company has been carefully gone over regarding the necessary notices to be given by the various grades, which on the three lines range from one week to a month. The men may rely upon their notices being presented according to the terms of their agreement, and at a time to secure that all railways must stop work according to the conditions and time hereafter specified.
DATE TO CEASE WORK.
In consideration of the length of notice required by some companies, and for the purpose of all stopping on one date, the committee have decided to fix Wednesday, 24th December, as the day when all work shall cease. By that period ample time is given for them to carry out the many important arrangements incidental to having the notices sent in. The following is the manner determined upon by the committee for tendering the notices of the men : The cards which every man will have signed will immediately after the meeting be forwarded to the general office, where a staff of clerks will be employed in tabulating and compiling the notices. This will take a day or two to acccmplish. During this time the addressed
post-cards from those who are not at the meetings to day will also be coming to hand. They must be placed in the hands of absentees immediately, and the names of men to whom they were given taken, so as a check be kept of any backslider. After such is done, and it is seen that a sufficient number has fortified the committee to take steps, they will be handed in to the companies. The committee, however, wish to niake it perfectly clear that if a sufficient majority does not give them the requisite power to act, that the notices will not be presented, as, however anxious they are to see a cessation of labour, they are determined that no partial stoppage with their sanction shall take place, which would tend to result in failure, and many of our best men sacrificed."
On 30th November and on 7th December meetings were held in various railway centres in Scotland. It was evident that while the men in Glasgow and Edinburgh were enthusiastic in favour of a strike, the men in the country districts were apathetic. The reasons are obvious. Work is less severe in the country than in the town. The country men live in small groups thinly scattered over a large area. They have been to ally unaccustomed to corporate action, and they are stationary in their habits. Nevertheless, by the 7th December, 4, 173 notices of resignation had been handed to the Executive. At the meetings held on these dates, and on the 14th and 21st December, the Executive intimated that they did not consider that the number of notices justified a cessation of labour. The Society of Railway Servants in Scotland has a membership of 9,000, and the number of notices showed that only a minority of these were in favour of a strike, while the views of the large number of non-members were quite unascertainable.
During November and December the current of feeling among the men was apparently against the Executive. They were looked upon as throwing cold water upon
proposed strike. 1 The mutterings of discontent found expression
(1) "A man who was sitting in the area of the hall said he was disappointed at the character of the meeting. He had come there prepared not to start work again, or at all events not to start after Monday week. (Applause.) What was proposed by the Executive was a retrograde in place of a forward movement. Cards similar to those which they now held were sent to them twelve months ago. He did not intend to sign his one, and he knew that a great many others were of a similar mind. He moved as an amendment that the report should not be adopted, but that the men should agree to cease work a week hence. The amendment was received with loud and prolonged cheering. The mover, continuing, said he was aware that the proposal was not according to law, but
in Glasgow in a proposal to give a week's notice on the 14th December for a strike on the 21st. The counter-proposal of the Executive for delay was, however, carried on the 14th December at several meetings in the country. These meetings were, it is stated, attended by 2,100 men, of whom 600 voted for the proposal to give a week's notice at once, and 875 to abide by the decision of the Executive not to strike until the number of resignations justified such action. At the meeting held in Glasgow on 21st December, the Executive announced that additional notices of resignation were still necessary, and that they continued to refrain from advising an immediate cessation of labour. “A man in the gallery
» 2 - moved that they do not resume work," and this proposal was carried amid a scene of great excitement by 660 to 81.3
The news was telegraphed to meetings held the same afternoon at Edinburgh, Motherwell, Perth, and elsewhere, and the motion for an immediate strike without notice was carried by considerable majorities at all the centres but one. "The man in the gallery" had apparently rightly interpreted the prevailing feeling. it did not do to discuss legal points with men like railway servants, who knew nothing about law, and, further, had no time to consider it. (Laughter.) If they resolved on this course, the directors of the railway companies might put them in jail. If they did so, they would have something to live for; and they would be sure of their hours. (Laughter.)
A railway servant in the gallery of the hall also stated that he was dissatisfied with the report submitted by the committee. For the last fifteen years the men had had the same papers submitted to them over and over again. (Laughter.) He was distinctly in favour of an immediate strike. As the breaking of an agreement was not a criminal offence they could not be put in prison, and surely there was enough money in the society to pay the fine of any man who was proceeded against.
One of the men said that if the amendment was carried, and an immediate strike was. not successful, the Executive Committee would at once turn round and say, should have done as we wanted, and all would have been well.” The fact was the Executive were far too cautious. They had never made a spurt to get the society brought into prominence by risking something to win something. They had always wanted them to go on and go on. When the 24th of December came there were men who were superannuated on the North British Railway. They would lose their jobs and the superannua. tiun allowance which Mr. Walker put forward so much, and then there would be nothing left for them but the poorhouse. (Laughter.)
A member of the committee said it was not the fault of the Executive that they had acted as they had done. The remedy lay with the men. If they did not want a cautious Executive they should elect men who were not cautious. (A voice—“ The Executive are there to do what they are bidden." Applause.)"— Report of Meeting at Glasgow, Glasgow Herald, 24th November, 1890.
(2) Glasgow Herald, 22nd December, 1890.
Immediate Strike. Immediate Strikes
THE LEADING EVENTS DURING THE STRIKE. Though the agitation for the reduction of working hours had been going on for at least seven or eight years, and the agitation for a ten hours day for more than a year, and though a strike had been in the making for at least two months, the resolution suddenly to cease labour without legal notice was carried, so far as an outsider can judge, by a spontaneous rush. The men were weary of the apparently never-ending and fruitless correspondence between their secretary, Mr. Tait, and the railway companies. They found, or thought they found, an obstinate indisposition to improve their conditions of labour; they saw their work become weekly more and more severe ; they suspected that their presence in the ranks of the agitators might compromise them with the managers of the companies; and, above all, they learned that the employees of the North Eastern Railway had secured substantial changes in administration by means of a conference between the directors of the company and Mr. Harford, secretary of the English Railway Servants' Society. Thus, on the one hand, disgusted with their own position, and on the other encouraged by the successful result of the decisive measures adopted by their brethren in the North of England, a section of the men sufficiently numerous to carry their point at the meetings of the railway servants decided not to return to their employment. In so doing they disregarded the advice of their Executive Committee, and forgot or ignored the probable illegality of their action. Although this rather risky manoeuvre gave the strikers an immediate strategic advantage, it is very doubtful whether the sudden cessation of labour without notice was deliberately adopted with the view of securing this advantage. The indications of the course of events go to prove the contrary. Indeed there is little doubt that the men did not realise at the
(1) The first definite proposal to strike had been made on 19th October, and two months had elapsed.
time, precisely the view that might be taken and was extensively taken, of their action. Their Executive had very properly sought legal advice on the subject of notice, and had con sistently declined to advise a strike in which a comparatively small minority would be involved, probably only to their own personal sacrifice. But the constant deferring of the moment of engagement is more demoralising to troops than a partial defeat, and the men who were eager for a strike, instinctively felt that unless they made a decisive movement at the critical hour on the 21st December, their spirits would be worn out before the struggle began. The step, bold and irregular as it was, was successful at least in securing the endorsement of the general body of the men.
On Sunday night, 21st December, there were throughout Scotland upwards of 3,000 men on strike; on Monday, 22nd, there were 4,000; on 23rd, 5,000 to 6,000; and by Christmas Day 8,500 to 9,000.3 These figures are given with due reserve. It is impossible, amid the conflicting statements, to arrive at an accurate series of figures. Indeed, the very large amount of coming and going among the men rendered the collection of correct statistics of the number on strike at any particular moment quite impracticable. Apart from errors made in good faith, it is probable that, as in most strikes, statements were made, both by the officials of the companies and by the men on strike, which were for tactical reasons exaggerated or minimised as suited the purpose of the moment.
The railway companies were completely taken by surprise. They had not made, perhaps they could not have made, pro. vision for the conduct of the traffic without the services of the strikers. The result for a time was utter chaos. The internal transport of the central, eastern, southern, and western districts of Scotland was for a day or two utterly paralysed. The strike
(1) See above, page 11.
(3) For estimate of the total number of railway servants in Scotland, and of those affected by the strike, see page 23.