Henry Summers' Speech in Full
"Gentlemen, - We have asked you to come here today so that we might have an opportunity of having a plain straight talk abut the dispute which has been troubling us for so long - about its origin, about the various complications which have arisen during its progress, and about the position in which we find ourselves today. But first I should like to say a word or two about our business and our works here. It is now some fourteen years since we came to these parts, and the buildings and the machinery which you see around you are evidence of the enterprise which has been displayed by those responsible for the conduct of this business. When I tell you that we have been paying approximately £6000 weekly in wages, and that in addition to that there must be many thousands of men engaged in the manufacture of iron, the raising of coal, and a hundred and one other occupations in a large measure dependant upon the operation of these works for their livelihood, you will readily understand how far reaching must be the effect of anything which tends to restrict their operations or to bar their progress.
I do not think I am wrong when I say that directly and indirectly not less than 10,000 persons are dependent upon these works for their livelihood. I have now been associated with this business for more than twenty years, and until this trouble arose we were able to boast that in no single instance had we ever come into serious conflict with our employees. Difficulties had arisen from time to time, as they must in all large undertakings but we were always able by conferring with the men themselves, or the representatives of their Society, to find a speedy and harmonious settlement. I don't think that it has ever been argued against our company or against those responsible for the management that there has ever been any difficulty in any man feeling himself to have a grievance finding easy opportunity of laying it before those in authority. I don't think it has ever been argued that we were not at all times ready and willing to give courteous reception and a patient hearing to any matters brought to us by any of the Trade Societies having members working in these works. With this record before us, which I don't think will be disputed by anyone, one would have said twelve months ago that it would be utterly impossible for such a condition of things to prevail in these works as we have all seen in the past nine or ten months. Coming now to the dispute in question concerning the workmen employed in the Staffordshire Mills, I want you to go back in your minds with me for some twelve months. Some time last year, I cannot fix the date exactly it became known to us - the Directors - that there was considerable dissatisfaction and unrest amongst the under-men employed by the contractors in the Staffordshire Mills. We asked a number of the contractors to meet us in the office, and we told them to our mind these men had legitimate grievances, and it was their duty to give them most careful consideration and do what was right and proper towards them as man to man. The matter, I believe, was brought before the officials of the Iron and Steel Workers Society, and they, I believe, tendered similar advice to the men. Whether this advice was taken, or whether it was only in part taken, the result was that the dissatisfaction amongst the under-men was not removed, and eventually in large numbers they joined the Steel Smelters Society. This Society, in the early part of the year - in the month of February I think - told us that their men were going to tender notice unless the contract system was abolished.
The results, as you know, was that notice was tendered, the members of the Iron and Steel Workers Union left the works, and the Steel Smelter Society told us that they would be able to find men to work the Mills, and that eventually we should come out all right - to use Hr Hodge's own words:- "We should lose nothing by it." Well, you know how this experiment proceeded. We worked first 8 mills, and then 14 mills, and I believe for a time we worked 20 mills. You know something of the difficulties we had to contend with, but few of you, I am sure, can realise the full extent of what we have had to go through. The greatly increased percentage of defective sheets, the small amount of output obtained by many of the mills, and the very high proportion of the scrap yield, have made our losses during this period extremely heavy. I have some figures here taking us up to the 30th September last. As I have reminded you, the Steel Smelters first commenced to work in the mills some time towards the end of February. For the quarter ending 31st March - that is a quarter of which about half would be operated by the Steel Smelters Society and half by the Iron and Steel Workers Union men - the result, as taken from the books of our Company, shows a loss of £13,824. The quarter ending June 30th the loss was £15,826. The quarter ending September 30th - the latest date to which figures are available - the loss had still further increased, and was £15,904, a total of £31,054. These figures represent only the actual losses which have arisen in this one department; they take no account of the losses which we have sustained in the Galvanising Department through the curtailment of the output, and they take no account of the loss which has accrued during the two months of October and November. When everything is taken into consideration I think that it can safely be stated that the Company's losses arising out of the dispute are not less than £60,000. We have many times called the attention of the Steel Smelters Society to the unsatisfactory attendance of many of their members, to their inefficiency, and to the great loss which we were suffering. Eventually, with a view of endeavouring to increase the output of the mills it was decided to adopt the 8 hour shift system, and to pay the scale of wages as arranged by the Midlands Wages Board for the 8 hours working. The result of that was to increase somewhat the output per mill, but still left the quality as unsatisfactory as before, and with a smaller number of mills working, as the Steel Smelters Society were unable to find men to work the mills which were thrown idle by the substitution of the three-shift system for the two-shift system. Early in the month of October my Directors held a meeting, at which the whole position from the beginning was very carefully considered. We had very exhaustive calculations made touching our cost of production, and the financial result of operating the mills was very carefully ascertained so that we might be quite certain of the actual position.
The result of these investigations showed that it was perfectly impossible for us to continue working the mills under the arrangement which had prevailed since the middle of February. Losses of the magnitude which I have indicated, within not perhaps a very long time must have landed us in financial difficulties. I do not hesitate to say that many firms in our business would have been brought to financial ruin had they been subjected to such difficulties as have fallen upon us. It seemed to our directors that to continue under the conditions then prevailing, gave no hope at all of any future improvement. They decided therefore that I was to approach the Steel Smelters Society, explain the position very carefully to them and the instructions given to me were that unless some arrangements could be made by which the mills could be more efficiently operated, and the very heavy losses either totally removed or greatly reduced - the instructions given to me were that the works were to be closed down altogether. Following upon this I met in Manchester the full Executive of the Steel Smelters Society on October 7th, and discussed with them at very great length the situation. I conveyed to them the message, which had been given to me by my Directors, that the works would be closed unless some arrangement could be made by which the mills could be operated without the continuance of the great losses which were being sustained. I told them that, in my opinion, the larger number of the skilled and efficient employees were amongst those who were at that time out on strike, or locked out, whichever you may be pleased to call it. I said to them that they appeared to be quite unable to bring any appreciable number of efficient men to take their places, and I expressed the opinion that mills would never be operated satisfactorily until some arrangement was made by which these men, - members of the Iron and Steel Workers Society -could resume work. I must confess that in the first instance these proposals were not received favourably by the members of the Steel Smelters Executive, but a very considerable discussion ensued. A number of questions were put to me, which I answered quite frankly. And I went further and said that I thought there was an opportunity then for them to obtain undertakings from the Iron and Steel Workers Society that the under-men should henceforth have better treatment. I said that we would help them to obtain guarantees, that the contract system should be abolished, and that the under-men should have a larger proportion of the mill earning than they had under the system prevailing before the dispute arose, and I went even further and said that we would use all the influence we could to bring about in other works through the instrumentality of the Midland Wages Board similarly improved conditions for the under-men throughout the trade. I pointed out that their Society would then be able, and in my opinion, very properly able, to take credit for having lifted the under-men on to a higher and a more dignified plane than they had ever occupied before. They would be able graciously to hand back - having obtained these guarantees - to the Iron and Steel Workers Society the control of our Staffordshire Mills, so showing the world at large that they had no other object in view than the amelioration of the conditions of these men, who, it was admitted on all hands, had very legitimate grounds for complaint under the old system prevailing.
The Pay Office in 1910
Well, eventually after a meeting extending over a whole day, the Executive of the Steel Smelters Society accepted my views and it was arranged that we should ask Mr. Askwith of the Board of Trade to hear all the parties, and put into writing whatever might be required to give effect to this decision. Following on this we had almost continual interviews with Mr. Askwith from October 10th to October 25th when finally two agreements with which you are all familiar, were completed and signed. We all thought then that a very proper and very dignified solution had been found of the difficulties. Unfortunately, however, from that point the difficulties seemed to increase. The Smelters Society took the view that there ought to have been only one agreement. Mr. Askwith, however, expressed the opinion that under the very great difficulties which existed two agreements were necessary. He explained that the matter first brought to him was to arrange for the re-instatement of the members from the Iron and Steel Workers Society and under these circumstances it was only reasonable to expect that that Society should require some agreement setting forth the conditions upon which they were to resume work. Notwithstanding this expression of opinion, however, by Mr. Askwith, the Steel Smelters Society still maintained that the second agreement between ourselves and the Iron and Steel Workers Union should be cancelled. This Union however, supported by the opinion already expressed by Mr. Askwith, declined to cancel their agreement. Mr. Askwith therefore suggested as an alternative that the parties should instruct him to draw up one agreement embodying all the essential features of the two and this agreement should take their place and be signed by all the parties. To this suggestion representatives of the Iron and Steel Workers Society were quite agreeable , but unfortunately it did not find favour with the representatives of the Steel Smelters Society. It then occurred to Mr. Askwith that as this dispute was one between two Trades Unions, and a dispute in which the employers were only indirectly concerned, that the most satisfactory way of ending the difficulty was to put the whole matter, without reservation, before three leading Trades Unionists selected from the Board of Trade panel. This proposal, however, was not acceptable to the Steel Smelters Society. I will read you a letter which I have received from Mr. Askwith which explains in his own words exactly what has taken place in the last few days:-
Board of Trade,
29th November 1910
I regret to inform you that the negotiations for a settlement of the dispute at the Hawarden Bridge Steel Works have not been satisfactorily concluded. Following upon prolonged negotiations and the signing of an agreement between your firm and the associated Iron and Steel Workers Society and the British Steel Smelters Society, exception was taken by the latter to the existence of two agreements.
As I have already stated, I believe that under the difficult circumstances two agreements were necessary, and that nothing in either agreement conflicted with anything in the other. An alternative course was to draw up one agreement, to take the place of the two agreements of 25th October, to be signed by all parties and embodying the essential features of both. The proposal however was not received with favour by the Steel Smelters Society.
It then occurred to me that as the primary difficulty was between the two Trade Unions rather than between the Firm and either of the Unions, the matter at issue might be safely referred to three leading Trade Unionists, but in a reply which I have received from the British Steel Smelters Society to this suggestion a condition is attached to acceptance which conflicts with the fundamental basis upon which the negotiations were in the first instance opened. As these negotiations have extended over seven weeks, I do not see that under these circumstances they can with advantage be prolonged, and I have written to this effect to the other parties.
G. R. ASKWITH.
Hy SUMMERS Esq.
The only conclusion to be drawn from this letter is that Mr. Askwith finds himself unable to do anything further, and we are therefore left to take whatever course we may think best. We have written to Mr. Cox, of the Iron and Steel Workers Society, and to Mr. Pugh, of the Steel Smelters Society, a letter which I will read to you:-
November 30th 1910.
I have received from Mr. Askwith a letter in which he expresses regret at the apparent failure of the negotiations to bring about a formal settlement of the dispute in our Staffordshire Mills. Under these circumstances, after conferring with my co-Directors, I have decided that the Mills will be reopened on Monday next, and preference will be given to efficient former employees applying for work whether as Rollers or Under-men.
A. PUGH Esq.
The situation is now one which I want to ask you all to very carefully consider, because on your action depends very much the future of these works which mean so much to the comfort and well-being of so many. I ask you - you are not children, you have minds of your own - I ask you to look all these facts squarely in the face, and decide on the evidence before you what course you propose to take. I have endeavoured to avoid showing any bias towards one side or the other. I think it quite likely that an unprejudiced person would say that there had been faults on all sides, but I do think that every reasonable man must say that it is time an end came to these troubles. The worries and anxieties in conducting a business of this kind under normal conditions are great, but they have become intolerable when surrounded by such trials as we have been subjected to for so long. There is one thing I think that the Britisher loves - that is fair play - let "live and let live" be your motto. Let the past be buried and forgotten. We have a great deal of lost ground to make up. A very large number of our customers have left us because we have been unable to supply their requirements, partly because the quality of the goods that we have sent has not been up to our former standard. Let us try and put an end to this. Let us try to find the means by which the comfort and prosperity which hitherto have been associated with the employees of these works can be brought back. Gentlemen, this is not a Trades Union Meeting, it has not been called for the purpose of discussing the merits of the dispute, or with a view to further negotiations. These have been tried, amply tried, the patience of those connected with them is exhausted, but there is one thing in connection with these negotiations which I do greatly regret, and that is that Mr. Hodge, the Secretary of the Steel Smelters Society has been absent. Whether the conclusions arrived at would have been different, had he been present, I don't know, and I am not called upon to express an opinion, but this much I can say, and that is that his shrewd insight and great experience could not have failed to be of great benefit to the deliberations, and would have added considerable weight to the conclusions arrived at, but the negotiations are finished, and we can obtain no satisfaction by trying to imagine what might have happened. "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, it might have been."
Now concerning these negotiations which have been conducted before Mr. Askwith I should like to bear my testimony to the great courtesy which has been shown to the parties, the unstinted manner in which his services and those of his assistants have been placed at our disposal, and to the inexhaustible patience which he has displayed. Gentlemen: I ask you is it right, is it fair that our works should be made the battleground for two Trades Unions to fight out their differences at our expense. I say such things ought to be impossible in a civilised country; it is monstrous - it is deplorable. They ought to be forced to go to some tribunal where their pleadings could be impartially heard and a verdict given. This is not a political meeting, but I hope before long the Legislature will take such steps as will in the future make such troubles as we have had impossible. Until twelve months ago we were allowed to conduct our business peaceably and without molestation, but since then we have had nothing but wrangling and threats. In my twenty years experience in this business it has not hitherto been found necessary to serve notices and to hold pistols at our heads to obtain redress for any real grievances. My ideas may be out of date, but I will cling to them. I have always felt that the closer the bond between an employer and his workpeople the better it must be for all concerned. I don't think it will be suggested that we have attained our position in the trade at the expense of our employees. We have always striven when we could with mechanical appliances to lessen the labour of the workman. I don't think there is any works in the trade where the conditions of employment are better and the earnings of the men, taken as a whole, higher than in ours.
No one knows what the future may hold for us, but I can tell you this, with a conviction amounting to a certainty, that if we are to be continually harassed in the way we have been during the last twelve months there is an end to our progress, and with our progress yours is indissolubly bound up. We have asked you to attend here today to put the matter fully before you, to tell you that negotiations are ended, and to tell you that the Mills will be re-opened on Monday next. There is work for every efficient man. With us efficiency will be the only standard of employment. We shall be glad to answer any questions or give any man an opportunity of expressing his views, but as I have said, this is a meeting of present and former employees and only such can be heard. The Iron and Steel Workers Society will be the only one we shall recognise in the Staffordshire Mills, which is the only recognised Society throughout the Staffordshire Sheet Trade. A system of dual control is impossible; it is contrary to the first principles laid down and accepted by all the parties. Such an arrangement would render the lives of ourselves and our Managers unbearable, and I believe it would place in jeopardy the lives of the workmen employed in the Mills. To officials seated in an office in London it may seem simple to make such proposals, but I ask you, you are intelligent men, you are acquainted with all the local conditions, you know very well the very high feeling and the strained relationship that exists among the men. I ask you to agree with me that such conditions, even if they were acceptable to the parties, could not be put into operation by us. We could not, we dare not take the responsibility, and no reasonable person would expect us to do it.
I believe that we have arrived at a turning point in our history - much will depend - in fact everything will depend - upon the help you give us. If you decide to help us to work the Mills on the lines I have suggested from Monday next, all will go well . I have no fear of the result - our career of progress will go on unchecked. We have no alternative to put to you; there is no other alternative. The resources of negotiation and conciliation have been exhausted, It will be deplorable if these works are brought to a standstill - to us it is some small satisfaction to feel that much as we should regret it, and notwithstanding our heavy losses, we can still afford to close them, whilst prudence forbids us to work them under the conditions which have recently prevailed.
It cannot, however be a position which those dependant upon them for their daily bread can like to contemplate.
Gentlemen, I have finished. I have said what I hope is my last word on this most unfortunate affair. I feel that I am entitled to ask for your assistance, and my confidence in you is so great that I feel that I shall not ask in vain".
The Welsh Mill in 1910
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