The Worker January 1916

Suburban Munition Workers Revolt


Source: The Worker no. 4, 29 January 1916 p. 2, by J.B.;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


Thursday, 20th January, 1916, will be long remembered as a red letter day in the history of the district famed for its Machine Tool production, for on that day the workers of Johnstone and the adjoining villages demonstrated “in no half-hearted manner that they were opposed to concription” to quote a local weekly: It was originally intended to hold an out door demonstration but the inclement weather necessitated the resort to the Town Hall, which had been provisionally engaged. About 1,000 workers, mostly engaged on Munitions, with a sprinkling of the fair sex and a few men in Khaki attended the meeting which was presided over by Mr. J. Chalmers, president, Johnstone and District Trades Council. The chairman in opening expressed his pleasure at seeing such a large turnout from the local engineering works to consider a very important subject, namely, the Military Service (No, 2) Bill now before Parliament, and how it would affect them. He said it is unworthy of British manhood to be driven into a thing which we were opposing with all our power, i.e. Militarism. As an old soldier, he claimed some knowledge of the subject, and stated the first thing you were taught in the army in his time was obedience, and it was forced upon you with tyranny. He believed the young men in uniform in the hall would concur. The chairman concluded his remarks by stating that he saw behind this Bill Industrial compulsion, and submitted the following resolution:-

That this meeting of the organised workers of Johnstone and district protests against the passing into law of the Military Service (No. 2) Bill, and hereby declare their repugnance of such a measure as being against the interests of the workers, and call upon the Government to take over the control of all industries and give workers, through their various organisations a controlling voice in their management, and this in our opinion will make compulsion, unnecessary?”

James W. Young, Paisley District Committee, A.S.E., in seconding the resolution, said he felt fully convinced that the Bill as it stood was inspired by employers and aimed at Industrial compulsion under the pretence of military necessity. Persuasion had failed and this was the method they were going to adopt to obtain full control of the worker. He thought it ought to be energetically opposed.

Mr. John Watson, Paisley, D.C.A.S.E., speaking in support said he was a thorough believer in the voluntary system, and was opposed to compulsion in every shape or form. He contended that the present system had not had a fair chance, and dwelt at considerable length on the many brilliant deeds the British Army had achieved in the past, which he believed would have been impossible under conscription, He quoted Arthur Balfour of Philosophic Doubt fame, as having highly eulogised the voluntary military system of their country and concluded by observing that the Government should be urgently requested to withdraw the Bill under consideration. Tom Clark, treasurer, Clyde Workers’ Committee, prefaced his supporting speech to the resolution by giving a brief resume of certain actions of the C.W.C. He explained the constitution and objects of that body, and heartily invited the workers to line up with their brethren on the Clyde. Coming to the primary object of the meeting, Clark said, as he was a stranger to most of those present some of them might feel inclined to challenge his credentials. He then gave some particulars of his genealogical tree which proved him of fighting stock, and established his locus. His opposition to the Bill was based on the certain knowledge that the main purpose of the proposed measure was to endeavour to enslave the workers by applying it to the industries. Some of them were prepared to be soldiers or workers, but none of them were going to allow themselves to be made both simultaneously. There are certain persons, he said, who on principle objected to be shedding blood, and would not do so (no matter what happened). He did not share these views, and said while he would not spill blood in the interests of the Master class he was prepared to spill it like water in the interest of the class to which he belonged if the necessity for such arose. He used the term Master class advisedly because the most of workers to-day were as much slaves as the serfs in the Feudal days. Lloyd George was responsible for all the trouble about the Bill; if he had not entered the Clyde Valley it would not have been considered by Parliament. What was wrong with the Munition Minister he would explain in a few words by paraphrasing a certain “ancient.” “He came, he saw, but, damn the conquer.” It was not to-day he was most concerned about, it was the morrow. The workers had nothing to look forward to in the future but misery, and until that state of affairs was considerably improved they would fight every oppressive measure that came before them. It seemed to him that so far as the workers were concerned with the Bill, it was a case of, “Their’s not to reason why, their’s but to do or die.” The resolution covered the Clyde Workers’ Committee’s amendment to the proposed measure. Give the workers of these isles something to fight for and he would guarantee that neither Prussians nor Russians would ever take it from them. He intended fighting this pernicious thing to the death and urged upon all present to resolve to do likewise. The speaker gave a short address on Industrial History, which was much appreciated, and said he was sorry he had not more time to spare but promised to grasp the earliest opportunity of meeting them again. The resolution was then put to the meeting and carried practically unanimously, only three soldiers voting against it. The Secretary was instructed to forward copies to the Prime Minister and Colonel Greig, the member for the constituency. Replying to questions the genial Treasurer of the C.W.C. said the reason the Bill did not apply to Ireland was that the people of Ireland would never forget they were a subject race, and no British government would ever dare to impose a compulsory measure of that character upon them. The difference between the Irish people and the Clyde workers was that the one was out for political freedom and the other economic freedom, As to Asquith’s pledge re industrial compulsion; he said statesmen’s pledges were like eggs, made to be broken. He characterised the modern politician as being something like a weathercock: “The way the wind blows he goes,” and he is not particular what direction the wind comes from, provided it blows to his interests. Regarding the suppression of Forward and Vanguard, he explained that the management of Forward were taking action in Court for the restoration of their right of publication. Subscription sheets would be sent to the works, and as it was estimated that 500 would be required, he thought: the best resolution they could make would be to put up their “Bobs” the sheets were presented to them.

J.B.