Saturday, 21 February 2009

National Agricultural Labourers Union - South Warwickshire 1872

National Agricultural Labourers Union South Warwickshire 1872

In May 1972 a ceremony took place at Barford, Warwickshire to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Joseph Arch's National Agricultural Labourers Union (NALU).

On May 28th 1972 three hundred trade unionists gathered on a windswept village green The event was organised by the National Union of Agricultural Workers (NUAW).

They came to honour the memory of Joseph Arch the local Wesleyan Minister who had led and welded the agricultural workers of England (or at least sections of it) into an effective union, the National Union of Agricu
ltural Labourers. Which secured popular support, even amongst sections of the media.

The union was formed at a time when many English agricultural workers were being paid just 11 shillings
a week and tea kettle broth kept a man alive.

Joesph Arch demanded and in many cases won 15 shillings.

One hundred years later (1972) the basic w
age of an agricultural labourer was £16, 20 and the union was preparing a demand for £25.

As the procession of three hundred marched with banners t
hrough Barford. Mr Bert Hazell the Union's President laid a wreath at Joseph Arch's grave at the local church.

The procession was led by the brass band of the Post Office Engineering Union (POEU) from Stockport, the procession returned for afternoon speakers, side shows and patronage of an ample beer tent.

The Prime Minister was unable to and gave his apologies noting that on this occasions they would be in the capable hands of "that experienced agriculturalist, the honourable member for Ebbw Vale" attend but Michael Foot stood in for him.

Michael Foot used the occasion according to the Times "to launch a blister and fiery attack" on the Industrial Relations Act he said "In 1872 the union leaders had to fight on the village greens for the right to speak freely and week by week, or day by day almost, it is now becoming evident that if the Act is allowed to defile the statute book for any length of time and to be operated by the kind of judges who are operating it now, free speech will be in deadly peril"

Mr Reg Bottini The Agriculatural Workers Union Genera
l Secretary speaking in the Joseph Arch Public House, Barford stated that it was a "They were much more militant now than for many years, after having their demand for an £18 minimum wage rejected twice, the fight would however be won by the drift from the land to the factories where wages were between 30 and 50 per cent higher".

In the early days of the formation of the Agricultural Labourers Union in and around Wellesbourne, BarfordWesleyan Meeting Houses were used as the local headquarters of the union.

Arch stated on his aims in founding the union that

"I remembered the labourers union in DorchestershireTolpuddle), started in the thirties - what had become of that ? poor Hammett had had to pay a heavy price for standing up with his fellow labourers against oppression"..."They were Martyrs in a good cause, and I honored them; but I did not want to be a Martyr. I wanted to win alive and kicking"

The first meeting of the union was held on Wednesday 14th February at Wellesbourne and on that evening, with the rain falling steadily

Arch arrived wearing his old flannel jacket, cord vest and cord trousers often wore billy-cock hat

George Pert arrived bringing the people of Moreton, William Nash summoned those from Locksley John Lewis of Wellesbourne and an old labourer called "Old Ned hobbled from Walton bringing men with him.

Soon the room booked at the Stag's Head could not accommodate the thousand plus agricultural Labourers present.

The sound of voices and of heavy footsteps tells of bands of men tramping from villages, coming out the darkness and merging into crowd soon hundreds strong.

Wellesbourne village was there, every man of it; and they had come from Moreton and Locksley, Charlecote, Hampton Lucy, and from Barford.

It was decided to move the meeting to the green, a pig killing stool served as platform, lanterns on bean poles lite the meeting.

As it was raining they shelter under the spreading of the large Chestnut tree on Wellesbourne.

The Chairman is Thomas Parker

speeches lasted one hour, when a resolution was passed to form a union, on that night between two and three hundred members were enrolled and another meeting planned for a fortnight

Arch stood up in the flickering light of the lanterns he saw the careworn faces of the labourers looking up at him; "These white slaves of England with the darkness all about the, like the children of Israel waiting for someone to lead them out of the land of Egypt"
He spoke out, straight and strong for the union, the homely fustian of his speech coloured by bright strands from his Bible and Shakespeare. For an hour Arch spoke, and was heard in a tense, expectant silence.

The next meeting on Wednesday 21st February was even larger, held from a waggon under the Chestnut Tree on this day the union was formed and it was stated .

"give us a fair day's wage and we will give you a fair day's work; if you won't pay fair, we won't work; if you starve us, we will strike".

When Arch is spotted a roar goes up "three cheers for Arch and the union"

Arch speaks stating

"There is not a man here to-night, however poor, but likes to wear his own coat and cut his own loaf; and if a man can only have a herring for dinner, he likes to pay for it....Let us claim rights with English independence, honestly and manhood. Union is our hope....Ask for what is fair and when you have asked for it stand by it at all costs. Don't compromise and don't be intimidated; don't look at the toes of your boots but look your master right in the face as honest men. Stick together and the day of your emancipation is at your own command.

A storm of cheering shows his words have stirred the men

Another local Agricultural Labourers leader was John Lewis a union stalwart, who lived in a cottage in Wellesbourne and his house was used to hold committee meetings in.

The local land was owned by Sir Charles Mordaunt and Mr Lucy who were hostile to the union, Arch stated that if they could not get the rise they must emigrate with Hudson's bay company or Chicago would welcome them.

At the end of the Meeting the crowd roared with "three cheers for the union" and this often ended Union meetings.

It was reported in the Times that Josph Arch "simply counsel's patience moderation, good conduct, and firmness, and it must be in no small degree the result of his influence that the proceedings so far have been absolutely free from disorder, large meetings of 1,500-2,000 labourers have assembled and dispersed without a blow being struck, or a stone thrown or a tipsy man being seen among the crowd".

However, The meetings caused consternation among the farm labourers of the locality, on being told that their demands for an advance would not be granted by the land Lords, they went on strike, initially just 200.

On the 13th March a large meeting of landowners and farmers was held at Wellesbourne under the presidency of the hated and feared Sir Charles Mordaunt which according to the Times "led to a general expression of dislike of the union, and an agreement among the farmers to discountenance any attempt to organise a counter union among employers of labour".

The local Rev Holbeche was drafted in to support the landowners and circulate 2,000 leaflets opposing the union, undoubtedly recognising that the union was led by non-conformists.

Rev Holbeche no doubt subscribed to the famous hymn by Cecil Alexander, 1848. "All things bright and beautiful" with the words informing "the lower classes" of their place in society.

The rich man in his castle,. The poor man at his gate,. God made them, high or lowly,. And ordered their estate.

Across Warwickshire and elsewhere union men (and their families) were dismissed, evicted from their cottages, including union members dismissed and evicted at Wellesbourne and Radford, also Hanbury and Snitterfield.

Despite setbacks progress on pay was made.

On good Friday March 29th 1872 the Warwicksire Agricultural Labourers Union held demonstration Leamington from all parts of south Warwickshire, the men in fustian jackets or smock frocks, the women in neat but shabby, worn gowns arrived.

As they marched or drank in pubs they sang songs, rhymes, including the newly written union song

The farm labourers of South Warwickshire
have not had a rise for many a year
although bread has often been dear
but now they've found a union.

Then up, be doing, brave-hearted men,
Stand shoulder to shoulder again and again,
Then ask for your rights and you'll have them when
Each man has joined the Union.

We won't be idle, we won't stand still,
We're willing to work, to plough and till;
But if we don't get a rise we'll strike, we will,
For all have joined the union.

The main meeting of the union was held in public hall, Portland Street, Leamington. Speakers included the Hon Auberon Herbert, Sir Baldwin Leighton, Mr E. Jenkins MP, Dr Langford of Birmingham and Jesse Collings

( Jessie Collings was the son of a Devon agricultural labourer, who had risen to successful heights in Birmingham business and who later be Mayor of Birmingham and was to initiate the famous "Three Acres and a Cow" programme.

The meeting formed the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers Union.

Active leaders of union John Lewis of Wellesbourne, Edwin Russell, joint secretary with Joseph Arch and Tom Parker. However, it was Henry Taylor a carpenter, who became the first organising secretary of the agricultural Labourers union.

By April the Wellesbourne strike of 200 Labourers had ceased to be a problem, all but 29 of the 200 strikers had found jobs elsewhere, some in a Liverpool soap factory some in the Gateshead

The wages of Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers rose to 14s, 15s and the 16s

All over England new hope, that finally their grievances and utter despair would be addressed rose in the hearts of the agricultural labourers ("Hodge" a term of contempt for agricultural labourers often used) Many refused to wear the traditional smock frocks

It was stated that "Hodge the unionist was up for a bout with Jack his master"

On April 27th a letter was sent out urging local unions to send two reps to a national conference Leamington May 29th 1872. At this historic meeting the National Agricultural Labourers Union (NALU) was formed and elected Joseph Arch as President (Chairman) and Henry Taylor as Secretary.

Henry Taylor was an experienced trade unionist, a branch secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters & Joiners Union, and had been trained in union administration by Robert Applegarth.

According to Reg Groves Taylor "was an invaluable addition to the union's forces, the brains behind its rapid development and early success".

The National Agricultural Labourers Union Executive Committee included
E Russell, G. Allington; T. Parker, J. Biddle, T. Prickett, J. Harris, E. Haynes, H. Blackwell, G. Jordans, B. Herring, G. Lunnon and E. Pill.

other prominent supporters included Rev C.G.C. Piggott, Dr J.A. Langford, The Rev Arthur O'Neill (A Birmingham Baptist Minister), J. Campbell MP for Rugby, George Dixon MP, Hodgson Pratt Secretary of the London Central Aid Committee

The National Agricultural Labourers Union (NALU) entrance fee was set at 6d and contributions at 2d a week.

The immediate aim of the newly established National Agricultural Labourers Union was a wage of 16 shillings a week for a nine and half hour working day.

Its defacto National Agricultural Labourers Union (NALU) journal was the weekly Labourers Union Chronicle, edited by J.E Matthew Vincent and reached circulation of 35,000. however few agricultural workers could read it.

The colour worn by the union was dark blue ribbons

Karl Marx referred to the rise of the union and the strike wave of 1872 as
and other villages the Primitive ( and village Green dockyards and some emigrated

"The great event here is the awakening of the agricultural Labourers"

Karl Marx