Jersey Looks Forward - World War 1
Extracted from Norman Le Brocq's Jersey Looks Forward, published after World War 2
Industrial peace and economic misery
The First World War years showed very little Labour activity in Jersey. This was a period of industrial peace in so far as the island was concerned,
Economic misery undoubtedly increased, but was borne patiently as a temporary evil-as the result of the war, There being no workers' organisation during the years of war meant that the masters reigned supreme.
In 1917 the building and allied trades masters formed a federation to guard their interests. This federation called a meeting of the masters and men that June to discuss wages. The masters put forward a new wages table offering a handsome increase of an average of 25 per cent on all wages. The apprentices' rate advanced most, rising from 1s per week to 1d per hour, with yearly increases. The improver was scheduled to receive 3½d per hour, the mechanic 5½d, the skilled mechanic 6½d (minimum), the unskilled labourer 5d, and the semi-skilled labourer 5½d per hour. This "handsome increase", as the local papers termed it, met with opposition on the part of the men, who pointed out that a rise of 25 per cent in money wages meant little to them when the Ministry of Labour estimated that the cost of living had risen 98 per cent.
The lack of workers' organisations resulted in the protest of the building and allied trades workers being ignored and the federation plans being carried through. This backwardness in organising may seem surprising to the onlooker.
The grounds for it are fairly simple. It must be kept in mind that there was still no large-scale capitalist industry in the island. The largest concern was probably the Jersey Gas Light Company, employing just over 1,000 men. This meant a lack of concentration of workers; where they could discuss grievances and remedies. It is a well-known fact that the larger the concentrations of workers in a district or country the more militant becomes their outlook. Another point making for backwardness was the lack of a real, hereditary, working class. In those times, far more than today, the Jersey worker had a brother who kept a small shop or an uncle who owned a farm, or perhaps a cousin who was a master carpenter. When times were bad, Jack could go and work for his uncle. There was not the same feeling of being a class apart. The Jersey worker, even more than the English worker, had the mental outlook of the bourgeoisie. He was very far from being class-conscious.
The war still dragged on; prices still rose; wages hardly increased. Even the Jersey worker was growing sceptical about this coming "land fit for heroes". On 23 September 1918 the Guernsey Branch Organiser of the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Workers Union arrived in Jersey and was present at a meeting of the local dockers to inaugurate a Jersey branch of the same union.
Ned Moignard was elected president and Jack Hardman, secretary. One hundred and five men signed on.
This meeting, held at the Herald Mission Hall, Devonshire Lane, was the result of negotiations between Ned Moignard, Jack Hardman and Phil Mallet, Jersey dockers, and the DWR & GWU headquarters. The latter had promised to send an organiser; but he being taken ill, Fry, the Guernsey organiser, came in his place.
A meeting of workers was held on the next Thursday evening at the Mission Hall, Museum Street, which was later purchased by the Union and renamed Unity Hall. Moignard, in his speech from the chair, called for recruits from workers in other branches of industry than the docks. The dockers had already enrolled in large numbers and, speaking of them, Moignard said: "If a master discharges a man because he joins the union, we will not handle his goods, either import or export".
The Museum Street hall was packed to overflowing and many more names were added to the membership lists
Meetings of this type continued to be held every Thursday evening at the Mission Hall. These meetings were very largely attended and the membership lists continued to grow rapidly.
At one of these Thursday meetings, Deputy Gray of St Helier, a liberal politician and organiser of the Jersey Political Association, which had sprung up a couple of months previously, pledged the support of this movement for the union.
This uneasy alliance - uneasy because the JPA, a milk and water reform movement, included many employers hostile to trade unionism - continued for some time. Deputy Gray was elected union representative in the States Assembly, which post he held for a couple of months. Then Gray found class conflicts sharpening, decided for the masters, and cut adrift from his connection with the Union.
11 November 1918: Peace? Or a fight for better conditions? The Jersey worker did not let the relief of international peace interfere with the necessary fight on the home front. He was caught up in the revolutionary upsurge that swept over Europe. At last there was no fear of Jersey unionism petering out for want of support: 105 members in September 1918 - 1,000 in November - 1,200 in December - 1,700 in January 1919 - 2,200 in March - 3,000 in May - 4,000 at the end of a year's work.
The Evening Post, Jersey's leading and conservative daily paper, took umbrage at this rising tide, and in December suggested that the workers would have done "far better to have formed a purely local union, for they were now committed to the dangerous road of dependence on English organisers", and "by affiliating to an English union they stand committed to its rules and regulations. A local union could have framed its rules to fit local conditions; but, as things are, the Jersey worker will lose his independence totally".
What the Evening Post did not realise was that the worker earning 15s per week had no independence to lose and had everything to gain by uniting under the banner of a strong English union.
The DWR & GWU got down to work immediately. Even before the cessation of international hostilities two victories were registered: during the first week of November there were two lightning strikes of dockers over the employment of non-union labour. In both cases the strikes were settled by the men in question joining the union.
At this time real wages in most trades were extremely low, for money wages had advanced but little, while prices had shot up to almost double the pre-war level.
Some typical wage rates were: 18s per week for storemen, 7½d per hour for skilled carpenters, painters, plumbers, etc, 8s to 12s per week for shop assistants, 15s per week for farm labourers. This, the union was determined, had to alter.
The first serious clash came with the farmers. Prices of dairy products were rising rapidly - butter, normally averaging 2s 6d per lb, rising to an average of 3s 4d per lb. The union decided for action. In January 1919 a petition was sent to the Defence of the Island Committee (the body then responsible for the control of foodstuffs) asking for action to be taken re controlling the prices of dairy produce. Until such time as an answer was forthcoming, no cattle were to he loaded for export. The States did nothing, and no cattle were loaded until 8 March , when agreement on all points was reached between the DWR & GWU and the newly-formed Farmers Union.
The rapid growth of the union in membership and power had begun to frighten the local bourgeoisie. This fear came to the surface in January 1919. Certain States members are reported to have said that they were out to smash the union, and this is in effect what was attempted by a Bill introduced in the States Assembly during that month. This Bill, the child of Deputy F Bois' brain, begot by bourgeois guile and Hill Street cunning, was introduced to legalise workers' unions in Jersey. Up till this time trade unions had been illegal under the Code of 1771 which ruled that: "Persons, whether workpeople or tradesmen who conspire together with regard to their pay, hours of work, manner of doing it, or delivering it, will be punished with a fine not exceeding £20 to be applied as above, and in cases of a repetition (of the offence) by such punishment as may be deemed suitable".
Article 1 of Deputy Bois' Bill allowed a Union to be formed and Article 3 allowed disputes to be settled by negotiation between shop stewards and masters. But the sting was in the tail.
Article 5 reads as follows: "Any third party who shall interfere or shall attempt to interfere to prevent an agreement or aggravate a difficulty between masters and employees, as also any person who shall attempt to promote strikes or lock-outs in any industry, trade, or undertaking of any kind, or who shall attempt to bring about a crisis in regard to labour or employers, or who shall attempt by means of intimidation or otherwise, to compel another party against his will to join a union either of labour or of employers, shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable for each infraction to a fine not exceeding £100 or to a term of imprisonment with or without hard labour, not exceeding six months, or to both at the discretion of justice".
There is the sting. Although the Bill legalised the position of the Union in the abstract, it forbade its effective action. One can well imagine the result of the local shop stewards in any concern trying to reach a settlement in favour of the workers under those conditions. No attempt could be made to consult union headquarters, for that would be introducing interference of a "third party", and no attempt to "promote a strike" would be allowed. Any militant shop steward would soon find himself victimised. That was Jersey in 1919.
However, Bois' Bill was dropped when it met with a storm of disapproval and the union remained illegal under the terms 1771 Code of Laws.
Meanwhile the DWR & GWU Committee had taken up the old Franchise fight from where Le Noir had laid it down. In January, 1919, Moignard and Hardman went to English Headquarters for consultations re the policy to be adopted in the struggle for a wider franchise.
On February 1 Hardman made public the fact that a few days previously a resolution of the union had been forwarded to Sir Alexander Wilson, Lieut-Governor of the Island, Sir William Vernon, Bailiff, and Mr Lloyd George, British Prime Minister, which read as follows:-
- The Jersey Branch of the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Workers Union of Great Britain and Ireland.
- "To His Excellency Major-General Sir Alexander Wilson, and Sir William Vernon, and Members of the States of the Island of Jersey:
- "Gentlemen, We, the members of the above union, being representative of the working classes who have ever been loyal and law-abiding citizens of the Island of Jersey, hereby appeal to you as the Governing Body of our Island, for the extension of the franchise.
- "That, taking into consideration the great sacrifices which the classes to whom we belong and represent have been called upon to make during the long period of the most terrible war ever known, and also the compulsory military service that has existed for over a century, which has been a great burden to the working classes.
- "That, in recognition of the great sacrifices that have been made by our fellow islanders, we are at least entitled as our brothers of the United Kingdom to a vote and a voice in the government of our Island; and we who produce the wealth of the place in which we dwell, consider that it is our right to determine when and how it shall he used for the benefit of each and all; and that suffrage should be granted at the age of twenty-one years, and also to women on, attaining the age of thirty years, the same as in Great Britain.
- I remain your obedient servant,
- On behalf of the Union, J W Hardman, secretary.
During the same week the JPA suggested a monster petition calling for manhood suffrage
The States met to discuss the franchise question on February 4. Bills were submitted by Deputies Gray and Cory and the Constable of St Helier. These were lodged au Greffe to be printed for discussion on 20 March. On that date, after some discussion, a committee was formed to examine the matter.
Nothing having been done by the date of the union's quarterly meeting of 29 March, a resolution was passed "that this Quarterly Meeting of the Jersey Branch of the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Workers Union protests against the apparent delay in the passing of the Franchise Bill and urges our accredited representatives to impress upon the States Assembly the desire of the, at present, disfranchised men and women to have the privilege of exercising the vote at the next General Election, 1919."
Finally, on Thursday 22 May, after much delay and opposition, the Franchise Act as it now stands was passed. This Act gives "every male British subject of 20 and over, and every British female subject of 30 or over, who has no guardian, curator, or "procureur general" the right to vote if either "their names are mentioned on the list of contributors to the Parish Rate" or "they occupy a house or part of a house, building or land, of an annual rental of at least £10", or "they (men) are on the active list of the Militia or any other organisation for the defence of the Island replacing the Militia" or "they (women) are the wives of men whose names are inscribed in the Electoral list".
This gave the vote to the majority of the adult population of the Island, but left a minority of at least 20 per cent still voteless.