Vanguard November 1915

Women Engineers
Letter from a Weir’s Worker

Source: Vanguard, No.3. November, 1915, pp. 8 & ?;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

When on July, 1915, women were first engaged on shell work, as per shells and fuses agreement, at Weir’s, Cathcart, their wages were fixed at 15/- per week, and piece work rates were promised to them after a fortnight’s employment. The women recruits of the industrial army of Messrs. Weir were told that after this period of apprenticeship, they would get an opportunity to earn a good wage, and that it would be the women’s own fault if they did not do so. This was the declaration of the administration to the women who entered the works.

Now over three months have passed but only three women are on piece work. Two have been dismissed, on October 2nd for “want of work.” One of them was reinstated on October 11th, while other six have been promised and could have been on piece work, but are still on time wages.

About the, beginning of September a new foreman took charge, and in discussing the wages, question, shortly afterwards explained that if piece work rates were insisted on, some of the women would be dismissed. He promised, with Mr. Holie’s sanction, bonuses of 4/- for the following week, September 14th. Wages received that day were 17/4 and 16/4, while women under Mr. Dudgeon were receiving 19/5.

On the day after the above conversation re bonus, the foreman reported that Holie would guarantee wages of 1 and 18/- to 6 women in the washing and varnishing department (the higher wage being for the person in charge) provided the output was 1,000 shells per week. This was impossible as there were only about 600 shells made per week.

In learning that these women would not be in a position to earn 18/- per week, and on being told by the foreman that there was very little chance of getting machines for some time yet; it was arranged to ask for transfer to Mr. Dudgeon’s flat downstairs where machines were being put in order.

Mr. Holie agreed to let those women get the first chance who had been longest in his employment; but added that he did not want to lose his best workers.

About this time it was suggested by some of the men to ask for an interview with Mr. Richmond with the view of getting all the bonuses raised to the same level, as it was impossible to get satisfaction from the foreman or manager.

A deputation was formed and application made to Mr. Holie for permission to go to Mr. Richmond. This was refused on the excuse that Mr Richmond was too busy to attend to such matters. He also remarked that if the women were dissatisfied they could leave, as at that time they were kept on merely out of charity. Should piece work be insisted upon, he added, then some of the others would be dismissed.

Immediately after this an interview with Mr. Richmond was arranged and took place during the dinner hour on October 1st (this was granted after the men had seen Mr. Richmond and put the case before him)

The deputation, accompanied by Miss. L. Young, of the N.F. of W.W. was received by Mr Richmond. He was told of the above grievance and promised to enquire into the whole matter. The result of this interview was that all bonuses were done away with, and the rates of pay arranged as follows 15/ to start, and an increase of 1/- at the end of two months until a maximum of 18/- was reached; the granting of piece rates to be left to the discretion of the foreman.

At the end of the October 2nd, 7 women were dismissed on the plea that there was no work; 3 of them were painters who had been suspended 2 days previously; 2 from varnishing department of 11lb. shells, one was employed jobbing on small 2lb. shells, and the other a machine worker on 2 lb. shells.

During the suspension of painters, and after their dismissal other women in the department were employed at various times painting shells, while in the varnishing department the others were working overtime on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, one night late during the week, and the following weekend (which means Saturday afternoon and Sunday). Thirty-six women were employed altogether. Three of those suspended have been reinstated, and three lady students have left. One girl who was suspended and was considered a good worker at the machines could not earn her living, and was obliged to obtain assistance from her three brothers who are serving in the Army. Another lady student was put on to the machine she left. This girl is still unemployed.

One great difficulty the girls had to face was the reporting grievances to foreman, and then to Mr. Holie, factory manager; they could get no satisfaction. Every obstacle was placed in the way to prevent them getting a deputation to interview the manager of the factory. The men were appealed to for advice, and they sent a deputation of men to see Mr. Richmond (head of the firm), and arranged an appointment for the women.

When the women who were dismissed for alleged slackness of work (we believe scarcity of steel) applied at the Labour Exchange, the officials there could not get them situations until they had interviewed Weir’s firm, as at this time the firm had made an application to the Labour Exchange for 40 girls at a moment’s notice, and 100 to follow at a later date. The result of this treatment was that the girls were in compulsory idleness. The object of the firm is to speed them up to the highest pitch for the lowest possible wage. It is remarkable that while the administration of the firm applied to the Labour Exchange for 140 women workers six girls were dismissed.

[We hear that the women in Weir’s are now to get a minimum wage of 1 a week. Why not the same rate as the men? – Ed]