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Caledonian Railway Strike and Agitation
among North British Railway Employees. 1889, September
General Agitation for Ten-Hours Day. 1890, January,
Concessions granted by North British Coy. 17th August, After Dissatisfaction among Certain Sections
of Employees during the Summer, Meet
ings of Railwaymen held. 10th September- Correspondence between Companies and
Secretary of Society. 19th October- Offer by men of submission to Arbitration,
and proposal to Strike in the event of cffer
being rejected. 9th November- Correspondence with Companies. Offer re
jected. Meetings. IIth and 15th Nov.- Correspondence with Companies. 23rd November- Meetings. 30th November- Meeting at Edinburgh. 7th December- Meeting at Glasgow. 14th December- Meetings in the Country. Delay resolved
upon, 21st December- Meetings at all Centres. Resolution to
Strike forthwith carried. 27th December- Public Meeting at Edinburgh to express
sympathy with men. 27th December- Dundee Negotiations.
31st December- G. & S.W. men returned to work. 1891, 7th and 8th January, Mr. Haldane's Negotiations. 9th January
Glasgow Citizens' Meeting. 9th till 17th January, Glasgow Citizens' Committee Negotiations. 21st and 22nd January-Lord Aberdeen's Negotiations. 22nd January,
Civil Action raised by North British Compy.
against Messrs. Milne, Tait, etc. 24th January, Large body of men return to work on
Caledonian System. 29th January
Settlement with North British Railway. 31st January- Settlement with Caledonian Railway.
NARRATIVE OF THE TRANSACTIONS PRIOR TO THE STRIKE.
The agitation for reduction of hours in the railway service in Scotland may be said to have formally begun in 1882. In January, 1883, the men employed on the Caledonian Railway engaged in a strike, and though the attempt to reduce the hours of labour may be described as a partial failure, the ultimate result was a considerable modification of the conditions of employment in that company. In the same year, deputations from the employees made representations to the North British Railway Coy., with the result of at least certain nominal concessions. The demand of the men at that time was for a working day of nine hours."
In the case for the North British Railway Coy., as stated in the “Circular to Staff, 15th November, 1890," the agitation of 1883 is represented as having been based upon a desire for increase of wages, rather than for a diminution of labour. This construction is, however, repudiated by the men, as is also the statement that the present agitation has any such object. 3 During the years subsequent to 1883, strong efforts were made to consolidate the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in Scotland, and while this was going on, public representations by the men to the companies fell for the time into abeyance. A demand for a normal working day of ten hours for all grades was formulated in the autumn of 1889, and presented to the
(1) It is alleged, however, that the men in the mineral department lost rather than gained ground by changes in the summer of 1883.
(2) North British Railway Company. Circular to Staff, 15th November, 1890.
(3) Report by Executive Committee Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, 23rd November, 1890. On this point see below, page 28.
companies. In January, 1890, the managers of the North British Railway received deputations from certain sections of their men, and “concessions” were again granted. Some sections, however, “declined to comply with the request of the directors to meet representatives from the departments separately for the consideration of any grievances they might have.". The North British Railway Company thus admitted the existence of unallayed discontent in their service; but they alleged that the men concerned had been invited to come forward and state their grievances, and that they had not done so. In the case for the men, the reduction of the hours of labour of certain classes is admitted as the result of the negotiations of January, 1890. These concessions are, however, represented to have amounted to a reduction to an eight-hours day for only six per cent. of the men employed in signal cabins on the North British system, while “ 94 per cent continued to be employed for twelve hours, and in some instances for fourteen or fifteen hours.” From the point of view of the men, therefore, the concessions of January, 1890, were inadequate even as regards the class of signalmen, while the other classes-enginedrivers, firemen, etc.—were practically unaffected. pression, “others who declined to comply with the request of the directors to meet and discuss their grievances with the inanager,
,” 4 doubtless refers to these classes. During the year 1890, the North British Railway was the chief scene of disaffection, and the disaffected were mainly in those grades whose claims were not placed before the manager and directors by deputations in grades separately. On the face of it, this looks a reasonable position for the railway company, and a correspondingly unreasonable position for the men. The rationale of the situation is, however, that the men, rightly or wrongly, suspected that the members of the deputations from the grades, whoever they might be, would be "marked " men ever after, and that they would be degraded or dismissed at the first
(1) N. B. Railway Circular to Staff. Op. cit. (2) Ib.
opportunity. This suspicion, justified or not, has influenced so very largely the whole bearing of the men, both before and after the strike, that it cannot be passed over, though it is extremely difficult to form a judgment upon a matter which could only really be cleared up by examination of a great number of witnesses on oath in a court of justice. No doubt a large part of the feeling is the outcome of the general suspicion which is unfortunately characteristic of many classes of workmen ; but the prevalence of it, and the number of instances of which details have been given by the men, suggest either acknowledgment that the feeling is not groundless, or a judicial inquiry. Such proceedings as are alleged to have taken place might well have escaped the knowledge of the superior officials of the company. Indeed, the
, men insist that the superior officials are not aware of the real state of matters.
During the summer of 1890, the congestion of traffic on the North British system, following upon the opening of the Forth Bridge and its connections, became notorious. Much of this congestion was no doubt due to the inadequacy of the accommodation at Waverley Station, Edinburgh ; but there is probably some weight to be attached to the statements that trains have had to stand owing to the staff having refused to take duty until they had secured "an amount of rest,” and that “extra men had to be called out on Sundays to clear up the yards more favourable start at the commencement of the week.” 2
It is alleged by the men that the conditions of work became more and more severe during the summer and early autumn of 1890. Meetings of the men were held in August and September, and a series of formal demands were made by them through the secretary of their society to the companies. The demands of the men were formulated in the following terms : 3
· for a
(1) "The unsafe proposals of the companies to meet the men in grades is not only obsolete in the regulation of the conditions between employers and employed, but has had disastrous results in the flower of the delegates afterwards being dismissed."-Report Executive Amalgamated Society Railway Servants, 24th November, 1890.
(2) Report Executive. Op. cit.
“1. That a universal ten-hours day be the maximum day's work for all grades of the service.
“2. That the custom of reckoning hours of labour by an aggregate fortnight's work be dispensed with, and that each day stand for itself.
“3. That time-and-a-quarter be paid for overtime. 4. Time-and-a-half
pay for Sunday duty; such to be reckoned from 12 p.m. on Saturday to 12 p.m. on Sunday.
“5. That eight hours be the maximum for yardsmen, shunters, ground pointsmen, and locomotive men, and others engaged in busy shunting yards.
“6. That more cabins at present working on the twelve-hours system be placed on the eight hours per day system.
"7 That a universal agreement for regular annual holidays be put into practice.
"8. That the running of trains on the “trip" or contract system be abolished.
“9. That a mileage system be arranged for passenger and goods trains.
“10. That, owing to the whole time of all grades being at the disposal of the companies, it be a condition of service that all men be guaranteed a week's work, and when called out for duty at any time, or waiting orders hy instruction, a full day's pay be paid, and the custom of booking men off duty for periods during the running of their maximum day's work be abolished.”
To this circular the railway companies replied to the effect that any grievances could only be discussed by deputations from the grades in the usual manner. For the reason explained,
" the men wisely or unwisely rejected this mode, and desired the companies to submit the matters in dispute to arbitration. At meetings, held in various districts on Sunday, 19th October, this course was decided upon, and a threat formally made that if the companies rejected the offer of arbitration, a strike was the alternative. To this offer to submit the question at issue to arbitration, the manager of the North British Railway Company replied : “ There is no question at issue,” ? and went on to say that the whole subject had been gone into in 1883, and that the reforms then initiated, as well as the subsequent
(1) There is singular unanimity among the men as to "the usual manner. quired of the men (at Bathgate) if they had ever laid their grievances before the Company. Oh, yes, we have done so by written communication, and even by deputa. tion, but without result. Many of our communications were never acknowledged.'"Citizen Inquiry, Fifth Article.
(2) Circular to Staff, 15th November, 1890.