Farm workers in Scotland had attempted to establish a union throughout the agricultural "boom" years of the 1860's and early 1870's.
A Farm Servants' Protection Association was formed at Slateford, Edinburgh in 1865 and many other local farm labourers unions appeared in areas such as Kinross, Forfar, Perth,Kincardine, Stirling, Clackmannan,Peebles,Roxburgh, Berwickand East Lothian and as a result wages were improved and seems to have finally ended the "bondager system" on many farms.The bondage(r) system was one where the male farm worker had to provide a woman worker for a stated number of day's in the year a practice that continued in to the twentieth century as did the distinctive dress of the Scottish farm labourers.
Like wise the hiring fare or "Feeing mart" held in the open street once or twice a year in larger rural towns were where a great many farmworkers were hired. later this practice was described by Scottish Farm Workers union, leader Joseph F Duncan as "simply a relic of barbarism".
James C Thompson (1848-1904) established the first national union in 1884 (Scottish Farm Servants Union) and became it's General secretary in 1889. Thompson was the son of a harpooner in the whaling fleet, He had been born at Peterhead but his family moved to Aberdeen, when young he travelled to Dundee for work and then onto Glasgow returning to Aberdeenin 1875
The Scottish Farm Servants Union began life in 1884 as the Scottish Farm Servants', Carters' and General Labourers' but merged into the Scottish Ploughmen's Federal Union ten years late.
It is said that the events at Turra in North East Scotland (wages cuts at hiring fairs and refusal of a farmer to pay the new National Insurance) was the catalysist for the formation of the union in Aberdeen in late 1912 and registered in 1913.
However, the union was more likely the result in an upsurge in militancy across Britain,
The Union's motto was "Unity is Strength"
Scottish Farm Servants Union Offices at Queens Gate, Sterling
The Union campaigned for
• Job length to be longer than 6 months
• Monthly payment, not six monthly
• Half day holidays per week
First General secretary was James Rothney, he was tradgically killed in August 1914
The union launched early on, high profile campaigns in West Fife, Arbroath, Dundee, Mid Atholl, and amongst the Forfar ploughmen.
Early campaigns included reduction to 50 hours a week, half day a week off and in 1917 a campaign to end "Feeing Markets".
The union campaigned to improve the pay and conditions of the Potato harvesters "hokers" The Scottish potato harvest was dominated by "tatie hokers" from Ireland (Donegal and Mayo), The Harvest took place between June and October and the "tatie hokers" could spend up to 6 weeks on a farm. The Union forged strong links with the Irish union ITGWU and in particular the great Donegal Socialist and trade union organiser Peadar O'Donnell. One joint campaign included a boycott of the 1918 potato harvest.
The union was one of the first to employe a women as an organiser, Mary Sutherland (1895-1972) a native of Aberdeenshire, she was appointed union organiser between 1920 and 1922
The 1924 bi annual conference was held in the Labour Rooms Perth with Mr Thomas Denholm of Mid Lothian as Chairman and Dr Gavin Brown Clark (former Crofter's MP for Caithnesshire) as Honory President. Delegates from Sutherland to the borders.
Joseph (Joe) Forbes Duncan (1879-1964) - Scottish Farm Servants Union
Born in Banffshire, Scotland
Left school at 15 and became a clerk
General secretary Scottish Sea Fishers' Union 1904,
Scottish Independent Labour Party (ILP) Organiser 1906-1908
Founded the Scottish Farm Servants Union in late 1912 registered in 1913
Joseph F. Duncan was to fight for Labour in a number of elections in rural Scottish constituencies. He stood on platform stood for land reform, better wages, holidays, hours and social life for agricultural labourers
He stood as Labour candidate for Moray and Nairn at a General Election in April 1916 and secured 26% of the vote, later at Aberdeenshire and Kircardinshire central
Labour party Advisory committee on rural problems 1918-1919
Member of the Royal commission on Housing in Scotland 1912-1917
Royal Commission of Agriculture 1919-1920
President of Intentional Land workers Federation 1924
President of Scottish Trades Union Congress in 1926
Chairman of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture,
Doctor of laws honour conferred on Duncan by Glasgow University contribution Scottish culture and to improvements in Scottish agriculture.
Joseph Duncan and wife was Jessie Mable Duncan (Saunders) lived in retirement at Foveran, Newburgh, Aberdeenshire
Joseph Frederick Duncan died in 1964
Mary Elizabeth Sutherland (1895-1972) born at Burnhead, Banchury-Terna, Aberdeenshire organiser and the editor of the Scottish Farm Servants Union journal "Scottish Farm Servant"
The Scottish Farm Servants Union joined the TGWU in 1933