Yesterday I visited the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. The library is a wonderful treasure trove of working-class history, cared for by a small number of very helpful staff and volunteers.
At the library the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) Manchester District Committee minute books (bit of a mouthful…), reveal the nature of workforce organisation at the Manchester motor firms Belsize, Crossley Motors and Ford.
During the First World War, these firms won large government contracts for vehicles and munitions. In several cases this required works expansion and the purchasing of new machines. Many engineers joined up to fight, which created a job shortage that led to increasing employment of women. In the minutes are records of women working at Crossley Motors during 1916.
Women were employed at £1 a week on lathes used to make hubs for the wheels of Crossley Tenders, ordered by the Royal Flying Corps. 16 male turners, working on the same machines, all members of the ASE, earned four times as much. This ‘dilution’ of labour was an extremely important issue to the ASE and the turners demanded that either the women be paid the same rate as a union member, or they be replaced with a union member. Crossley’s management refused and the turners left Crossley Motors in response.
The minutes record that:
“On leaving one of the men was informed by a chargehand that the foreman had told him that they were in for a B—– long holiday”
They did have a B—– long holiday, as they couldn’t find employment anywhere else. The suspicion was that their names had been given to other local engineering companies as trouble makers. Many eventually returned to employment at Crossley Motors, although those prominent in the walkout were refused.
The dispute over women workers at Crossley Motors probably continued until after the war, although I am only up to 1917 in the minute books!
On a side note the co-founder of the library, Eddie Frow, has a link to the Manchester motor industry, albeit a brief one. Looking for a job in 1930 he joined Ford, still at Trafford Park, where he immediately tried to organise the tool room into the Amalgamated Engineers Union (AEU). Ford’s management had little tolerance for union organisation and Frow, in the words of his wife Ruth Frow “found himself outside the gate”. He was also in for a B—– long holiday!