Vanguard, December 1915

Workers’ Deputation to the Sheriff

Source: Unattributed, Vanguard, December 1915, p.7 & 8;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

When the Sheriff came into the Court, one of the deputation went forward and asked his Lordship if he would be prepared to receive a deputation and hear a statement which might have the effect of avoiding further trouble. The Sheriff pointed out that his position was purely a legal one, and he had no authority to mix himself up with any political questions. But these were exceptional times, however, and if he thought it would effect the desired purpose, he was prepared to take the risk of receiving a deputation.

The deputation thereupon interviewed the Sheriff in his chambers.

The first spokesman said: – “My Lord, I stand here as one of the deputation from Dalmuir shipbuilding yard, where over 8000 workers are employed. When these men became aware of the fact that 18 tenants had been notified to appear before you to-day at this Court for refusing to pay an increase on their rent they were on the point of stopping work to attend here; but they were advised to stay at their work and send a deputation. After discussion, they agreed to stay at work and send a deputation. The men were working under protest, and in the event of you deciding against the tenants they are determined to stop work. But should you decide in favour of the tenants these men are prepared to do all that lies in their power to assist the Government at this particular time. You know, my Lord, that the interests of the country are at stake, and it is your duty to assist the Government and the people of this country. The only way you can do that is by deciding in favour of the tenants. The country cannot do without these 8000 workers, but the country can do without the factors. My Lord, I am of the opinion that the factors ought to be arrested and, charged under the Defence of the Realm Act, as they have done more to injure recruiting than any one in Scotland that I know of. Mr. M'Kinnon Wood, Mr. Lloyd George and Lord Hunter have suggested to the factors that they should stay their hand in the meantime.'”

The second speaker said he represented the engine shop, one of the principal shops on the Clyde. The decision of the men was to down tools and go to the Court in a body as a protest against the factors. But after discussion, they agreed, by a small majority, to send a deputation. The men were red hot, and the only way to avoid trouble was to have the cases dropped. He said that the workmen were prevented from leaving their particular work to go and better their positions, but the factor, who was under no Munitions Act, came along and raised the rents of these workmen. That was the actual position.

A representative from Harland & Wolff’s said that this was not a spasmodic movement, as the men considered these increases as robbery. He said these were inhuman monsters among the factors.

A representative from Dalmuir read the following resolution:-

“That we, the organised workers of Beardmore’s Naval Construction Works, Dalmuir, recognising that we are by Act of Parliament prevented from using this most propitious time to raise our wages, are determined to do all that lies in our power, even to the extent of downing tools, to prevent the landlords using the present extraordinary demand for houses to raise rents.”

The Sheriff said he could not go into political questions. He was trying to see whether by continuation he could put off a decision that might give offence and trouble outside. There might be new laws by another week, and he should have thought that if it were possible it would be better not to force a decision; but that was all he could do for them.

“You know the unfortunate position I am in. I never made the law; my7 duly is to administer the law. This question has risen since the war started. Parliament is considering the question. Why not favour a continuation of the case?”

A Worker: – “My Lord, I realise the unfortunate position you are in. You did not make the laws; your duty is to administer them. But don’t forget the fact that these laws were made in normal times, when everyone was living in peace. These are abnormal times. This is the time to make sacrifices. Who has a greater right than those who have everything to lose by a German invasion? You hear the voice of the people out in the street. That is the workers of the upper reaches of the Clyde. These men will only resume work in the event of you deciding against the factor; if you do not, it means that the workers on the lower reaches will stop work to-morrow and join them.”

Another worker said: – “With all due respect, this talk about expiring laws reminds one of the bird in the hand being worth two in the bush. They were determined to keep hold of the bird, and were not going to consider any possible legislation, The workmen must have a decision to day.”

A representative from the Albion Motor Works said: – “We workers are always told when we come for anything ‘Go back to your work’. That is diplomacy, of course. George Barnes introduced the question of rents in the House of Commons months age; but while the Government passed a Moratorium for the rich, they left the working classes to defend themselves.”

The Sheriff:- No doubt the rich people would say just the opposite. Every class has got its complaints. But that is going into political questions, which we cannot do here. At the present moment the Government is, as I understand, considering very seriously what is to be done as to the matter of rents, and I suppose everybody is agreed that some increase is absolutely justifiable. Everybody is also agreed that some greedy persons have made exorbitant demands on their tenants. One hopes it is a minority. The question is under the consideration of the Government, and one hopes with confidence that a just decision will be come to very soon.

A Worker: – That is why we want a decision to-day. We have left our work, and are determined not to go back unless you give a decision in favour of the tenant. It might look like coercion, and we are sorry, but we are anxious to avoid serious trouble. If you decide in favour of the tenants, it will be an indication to the Government to move in our favour.

The Sheriff: – Alas! alas! it is not my decision which will be an indication to the Government; it will be that horrible thought of industrial strife bringing untold misery into our midst.

A Worker reminded the Sheriff that the deputation had no power to stop a strike. They could only tell the workmen the decision of the Court, and leave it to them. There will undoubtedly be a stoppage of work.

The Sheriff: – We have really gone into political matters, and we have failed to come to any suggestion of anything I can do to assist the matter. No one here would suggest an unjust decision. There has been no suggestion that any delay, that any joint conference between you and the factor might serve. We have tried our best, but I do not think we have done anything of the least public interest.

The Sheriff then adjourned to the court.