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Book Title:

The Good Old Days: Then and Now


The Good Old Days: Then and Now by S. Box

Published by: S. Box, The Firs, Marden, Hereford

Printed by: Reliance Printing Works, Halesowen, Worcs.

Chapter 10.



During 1920 a huge demonstration of labourers from all parts of the county, with bands and banners, and supported by other trade unionists, marched from the Labour Club to the centre of Hereford, with a banner inscribed " We Want 50/-," that being the amount the workers' side of the Wage Committee were instructed to apply for; here we can give credit to the ability and fairness to the two independent members of the committee to bring about a unanimous agreement whenever possible, which was a thankless office to undertake. After much discussion, lasting many hours, the workers agreed to a suggestion of 46/- for 60 hours in Summer and 48 in Winter, and this was adopted. This had the effect of greatly increasing the membership of the Union.


A Coalition Government was returned to power at the General Election, and proved disastrous both to farmer and worker alike. The National Farmers' Union sent a deputation to the Ministry of Agriculture, asking for assistance, as many of the farmers were driven to the verge of bankruptcy. They were informed they could not be assisted, but to help them the Government abolished the wages board. The effect was that wages went down to 30/- per week in 1932 for the hours 50 in Summer and 48 in Winter, and to 25/-, with an increase of 4 hours in Summer. The Government set up a Conciliation Committee, which had no legal powers to enforce either wages or conditions. In many cases wages as low as 20/- a week were paid. Now we had the old trouble again; the labourers were seething with revolt. At the next General Election, Labour was returned as the official Government, not to power—that was to come later. The first thing they did was to reconstruct the Agricultural Wages Board. During the debate in the House of Commons the Tories and Liberals wanted to fix a wage of 25/- a week as minimum, but Labour insisted upon the National Board being given the power to over-ride decisions arrived at by the County Committees.

This is not all the story; it would be incomplete unless the general public understood the position of organisers of trade unions before the movement became powerful enough to safeguard the interests of those so engaged. They had burnt their boats upon taking up the work, and the employers, in the main, refused to employ those known as agitators, or had been in the service of the workers. Yet it is true that employers would offer good positions and wages if the organiser would give up his work.  I had this experience, being offered a position as manager of a large farm in North Herefordshire, with a good salary—in fact, double the amount of my Union salary. This gentleman was informed that as a rule it was not money that attracted men and women to trade union and labour work, but definite principles and a desire to help their fellow men.

Other offers were made me from a different source. A friend of mine in Birmingham, Chairman of a large Co-operative farm, urged me to accept the position as manager at a good salary and conditions. I informed the Committee that we had commenced our work for the uplifting of the workers and had devoted our lives to that purpose. I thanked them for their kind offer. 

On another occasion I was invited to address a meeting in a large hall in Worcestershire on a Sunday evening by the Divisional Labour Party.  My subject was: " What Has Labour Done? " At the end of the meeting I was invited to meet their executive committee, and to my surprise asked me to accept the position as Labour Agent for that division (an agricultural one). The salary was quite good, but my reply was again that, having put my hand to the Trade Union Plough, I could not accept an offer from any source, as I had pledged myself to stick to the Herefordshire workers.   They were delighted with my reply, and wished me God-speed in my work.  They knew only too well what a bitter fight we had to put up in Worcestershire.   I have quoted these incidents to show that the life of a Trade Union organiser was not a selfish or an easy one.



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