Jersey Looks Forward - Agriculture

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Extracted from Norman Le Brocq's Jersey Looks Forward, published after World War 2

It will he noted that one of the union branches existing at this time was that of the agricultural workers. It was not a large branch numerically, for the agricultural worker in Jersey was about as backward as anyone in making his grievances public.

Small farms

Although farming is Jersey's chief industry, the large farm is rare. There are some landlords with large landed possessions; but these are split up into small leaseholds, with the owner usually working one of these in person, So, in Jersey tenant and landlord farmers are both great in number. The tenant farmer worked about four-fifths of all cultivated land in 1919.

Both types exhibit the typical peasant characteristics: thrift, backwardness of technique, family exploitation, and conservatism in politics

The average size of the Jersey farm was seven acres (approx). Out of the 1,820 holdings of more than one acre, 1,579 were smaller than 20 acres, and only five larger than 50 acres. The number of horses used for agricultural purposes was 2,071. Tractors and lorries were practically non-existent. The number of cattle was 10,172 and the number of pigs, sheep, etc, 4,583. The value of the potatoes exported in 1919 was just under the million pounds. (£994,000)

Such was the state of Jersey agriculture. What part did the landless labourer play? The figure for 1919 being unavailable, we can only take a figure for 1931. However, it held good in 1919 with very little modification. In 1931 there were 2,569 agricultural workers regularly employed. We can take 2,500 as being roughly the number for 1919. This shows us that there was only one labourer employed for each eight acres of cultivated land. It will be seen that most of the work was done by the farmer and his family.

Pay and conditions

The agricultural worker was expected to work anything up to an 84-hour week, for which he received 10s to 15s-plus; sometimes, his keep, or a cottage rent free, or a supply of vegetables and milk. On the whole he was probably as "well off" as the town worker at that time

His share of the wealth of the farming community, however, was very small. He dug the farmer's potatoes, with the aid of casual labour taken on for the season, for £4 per vergée (four-ninths of an acre) while the farmer was selling the potatoes at about £2 per cental. (An average crop is 60 centals to the vergée.)

On 1 June 1919, the potato diggers decided that this was not good enough. They struck. The DWR & GWU had been negotiating with the Farmers Union for some time without reaching agreement. The farmers had offered £4 5s per vergée; but this was not definitely accepted. The rank and file, particularly in the south east of the island, asked for £5 per vergée, and called for a strike. The men came out. The union officials refused to authorise it and refused strike pay. At this about half the men went back to work at the new rate of £4 5s. After a mass meeting on Gorey Common and some days off kicking their heels, the remainder drifted back to work. So ended the first, and up to the present, the only agricultural workers' strike in Jersey. So ended also, for all practical purposes, the agricultural workers' branch of the wnion.

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