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that the efforts of the leaders of the men, helped
more sympathetically by the manufacturers, as time
went on, culminated in the establishment of the
second Potteries Board of Arbitration.

The arbitration of the new Board afforded a
compromise between the method of branch arbitra-
tions as originally favoured by the first Board,
formed in 1868 and general appeals, affecting all
branches alike. The compromise indicated that the
workmen had accepted the position that wages, as a
whole, were to be influenced by general conditions of
trade, but, on the other hand, it recognised each branch
as a separate unit, possessing the right to make its
own voice heard upon questions peculiar to itself.


By Rule 19 it was agreed that while "the general
wages question, as it related to the condition of the
markets," should be arbitrated upon as one case
for the whole trade, when a general appeal had
been made by either side, yet "each branch should
have the right, at such arbitration, to make special
reference to any question or subject that specially
concerned its interests or modes of working." The
oven-men's branch, however, enjoyed a special privi-
lege, for the Rule which followed provided that
when the Umpire had finished the hearing of a
general arbitration, "he should then consider the
case of the oven-men, and give to them a separate
award." There was no reason why the oven-men
should have been so favoured beyond every other
branch, but they had all along been the strongest
in Union, and the most obstinate in regard to the
re-establishment of the Board, and the concession
to them was much more a tribute to their might
than a recognition of any right which they pos-
sessed, entitling them to this distinction. The other
branches, however, gained what they desired in
regard to those "technical questions" which Mr
Brassey had declared to be an intrusion into a
general arbitration, for Rule 2 1 enabled any branch
to make "a separate and special appeal to the
Board for change in prices, on any special ground
that might seem to them to justify such a change,"
but such an appeal could only be made when there
was no general arbitration taking place, and not more
than two branches could appeal for such special
arbitrations at the same time. A further advantage


obtained by the workmen was that the Umpire was
given power to call in an accountant to " verify any
figures or statements made in evidence," providing
that such verification did not expose the business ,
of any firm.

These two Rules represented the concessions made
by the employers for the constitution of a Board
which should remedy defects in its predecessor.
En revanche, however, the employers insisted upon
stipulations being made in the Rules which should
stereotype certain customs of the trade. For
instance, the questions of " good-from-oven," and
the Trade Rules questions of bitter conflict in
1872-3 were expressly excluded from the consider-
ation of the Board, and the second of the Trade
Rules re-affirmed the sanctity of the tradition of

The new Board had little work to do. The work-
men did not feel that the time was ripe for a general
appeal on the wages question not because of any
doubt as to the favourableness of the conditions of
trade so much as on account of the weakness of their
Union. As a matter of fact, they had found that
Boards of Arbitration meant weak Unions. There
was always a nucleus of the better class of workmen
who kept a Union alive, and so long as a Board of
Arbitration existed, its official dealings were only with
the organised workmen, who alone were members of
that Board. But the decisions of the Umpire affected
all alike in the sense that it set the standard by which
all were governed. A manufacturer might not sub-
scribe to the Rules of the Board, and might take no


part in its proceedings, but if a reduction in wages
were decreed, he would, without hesitation, adopt
that decree, which would, of course, thenceforth affect
all the men in his employ, whether they were in
Union and, therefore, by the branches, represented
on the Board or not. And so it had come about that
the bulk of the working potters had come to regard
it as a matter of little importance whether they were
in Union or not, as, at any rate, with a Board of
Arbitration in existence, there would always be a
little band of Unionists, who would act as their
spokesmen, and plead the cause of Union and non-
Union potters alike ; and they knew very well that
the best terms possible would be obtained for them,
notwithstanding that they held aloof from any prac-
tical assistance, and were interested only in the
result. Therefore they withheld their weekly six-
penny contributions, and looked upon it as money
saved when others were fighting their battles for
them. The ranks of the various Unions had thus
become sadly thinned, and the disappointment which
followed the arbitrations of 1879 and 1880 had con-
tributed to the result which this laissez faire point
of view had mainly brought about ; and so, ever
since 1880, the leaders of the men had been preaching
to them the obvious doctrine that the value of an
Arbitration Board to workmen largely depended
upon the strength of the organisation of the work-
men engaged in the trade with which it was
connected, and that the existence of a Board of
Arbitration in no sense superseded the necessity
of Union.


Some of the old branch Unions had fallen almost
to pieces, and the leaders of the men decided that
it would be a better plan to start a new and general
organisation than to attempt to revive or reconstruct
these branch associations. The National Order of
Potters therefore came into existence. It was for-
mally started in 1882, and was largely composed
of flat-pressers, but its constitution embraced the
membership of workers in every branch. The aim
of its promoters, however, was to interfere as little
as possible with those branches which still main-
tained a healthy organisation, whilst leaving it a
matter of free choice to all working potters to decide
whether they should join the larger and more hetero-
geneous organisation, or identify themselves ex-
clusively with their branch Union, where it existed.
Provision, however, was made for general and con-
certed actions by the Executive of the National
Order and the representatives of the branch organisa-
tions. The National Order of Potters grew but
slowly. A steady campaign of Unionism was
carried on for several years, and continued
even after the re-establishment of the Board of

The employers, too, had been engaged in the task
of organising their ranks, and about the time of the
Brassey arbitration, they formed themselves into the
Staffordshire Potteries Manufacturers' Association.
The North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce was
no longer a body chiefly composed of pottery manu-
facturers the growing local industries of coal and


iron now had their representatives in that Chamber,
and the pottery manufacturers were impelled to form
a distinctive body of their own. Their Association
included about one-fourth of the total number of
manufacturers, but in importance and influence its
members were vastly superior to those who remained
outside it. Just as Trades Unions are composed of
the better class of workmen, so it may be truly said
that the Manufacturers' Association was composed of
those employers who most felt the responsibility of
their position, and were animated by a sincere desire,
whilst justly protecting their own interests, to recog-
nise the rights though perhaps often opposing the
effort to assert them of those in their employ. The
aim of the Association, however, provided rather for
a united opposition against those who, in Union,
were opposed to them, than for any mutual action
in regard to their own affairs. Within the scope of
such an organisation are, of course, two main ques-
tions : The relations of its members, as a body, to
their workmen, and the relations of themselves to
each other ; and those two main questions may be
subdivided, or simplified, into two other : wages and
selling prices. The position of the Association in
regard to the question of wages was that of coherent,
united action. Upon that point, at least, they must
be unanimous and were. Partly as a measure of
protection, and partly out of a jealous consideration
of each other's commercial advantage, they recog-
nised their body as an entity complete in itself, which
must look with a " single eye " upon the wages which


it paid. Upon the other question, however, the
entity became split up into isolated and independent
fragments, for amongst its Rules was the following:
" The only action that the Manufacturers' Association
shall take with respect to selling prices, etc., shall
be that the Secretary be at liberty to call meetings
of manufacturers engaged in particular trades, for
the purpose of considering these matters, and taking
independent action with respect to them ; but the
action taken by such meeting shall not be considered
as binding upon members of the Manufacturers'
Association as such."

The manufacturers therefore were united in facing
the enemy, but declined to bind themselves by any
observances in their own camp. " Wages " was the
bugle-call which brought them together "selling
prices" dismissed them to their tents, and in that
retirement they carried on the internecine war
amongst themselves which, by a strange paradox,
then became a casus belli against the opposing side.
Little wonder that the workmen spoke of the Manu-
facturers' Association as "a union to keep down the
men, rather than to elevate the prices of the trade."
The Rule we have quoted destroyed the last vestige
of justification for the claim that wages should be
governed by selling prices or, rather, we should say,
reduced to nought the contention that even if a direct
relation could be established between the two, and the
method could be made " practicable," it could be any
longer urged as equitable. The manufacturers in-
sisted that wages should decline with selling prices,


and they formed themselves into an Association
having for its main object united action in opposing
an advance, or insisting upon a reduction, in wages ;
and yet in the Rules of their Association they pur-
posely deprecated and provided against any uniform
action upon the question of selling prices, by which
those wages were nevertheless to be governed. If,
on the other hand, they had agreed in their Asso-
ciation to take united action in maintaining selling
prices when they could, and had so given a guarantee
that when prices had declined they had declined
through causes over which the united body had no
control, and despite its efforts, the manufacturers
could have gone to an Umpire armed with a weapon
against which any protest from the workmen would
have been useless. They would, in fact, have brought
about an approximation to such a condition in the
potting trade as made the selling prices doctrine so
applicable and natural in the iron trade. The work-
men had always urged that the manufacturers were
setting up a standard for their wages over which
they (the workmen) had no control, but if the
employers had agreed to united action in selling
prices, they could then have said, with unassailable
right : " These are matters over which we, too, have
no control both sides alike must be governed by
a force beyond themselves." There was no need
why, if their attitude in regard to this question was
to be of so purely a negative character, they should
have referred to the subject at all in their Rules,
but they were guilty of an additional betise in thus


going out of their way to gratuitously support the
arguments of the workmen, by announcing that so
far from selling prices being a matter for their
concern and control, it was a matter upon which
they pledged themselves not to take any control-
ling action whatever.


THERE was no active controversy between the
two sides for several years. The Board of Arbitra-
tion was usefully employed in the settlement of
minor disputes, but this work was done by the
Committee of Conciliation, composed of equal num-
bers of both sides, to whom the cases were first
submitted. The workmen had not forgotten their
" pennies," but they had little confidence in being
able to convince an Umpire that trade was in
such a flourishing condition as to justify a verdict
in their favour. As a matter of fact, trade was
bad, and selling prices were still gradually declin-
ing. The employers then seem to have awakened
to the view that, for their own sakes, something
must be done. They, too, could not hope to
convince an Umpire that a further reduction in
wages must be the moral outcome of this con-
tinuous decline in prices, and they therefore saw
that competition amongst themselves had reached
such a point that they alone would suffer from it.
So then they began to call meetings, and discuss
the question; and in 1888 it seemed that abstract
discussion would result in definite action. The
result, however, is best told in the following



extract from the report of the Association for

"An attempt had once more been made during the
year to raise selling prices, and although this Association
is prohibited by its Rules from taking any action with
regard to selling prices beyond calling meetings of manu-
facturers engaged in particular trades for the purpose of
considering and taking independent action, yet the mem-
bers of your Committee individually rendered all assistance
in their power to bring about a successful issue to so
desirable an object. Numerously attended meetings were
held, and at first it appeared that they would result in
success, but as is unfortunately nearly always the case
when important questions affecting manufacturers arise
that can only be crowned with success by the several
manufacturers affected thereby acting in unity, in this
attempt, as in many former ones, failure was brought
about to a great extent because a few manufacturers in
the district did not see their way clear to act in harmony
with the general body of manufacturers. Thus the time
and labour bestowed by the Special Committee were
thrown away; and we need not remind members of the
Association that every successive failure makes it more
difficult to induce manufacturers, who have the welfare
of the trade at heart, to work on Committees when they
so often see their time and efforts wasted."

The above extract does not clearly indicate
whether there was a lack of unanimity amongst
the members of the Association, or whether the
hopes of the Association were frustrated by the
abstention from the movement of those who re-
mained outside the Association, but we believe
we are right in attributing the failure of the effort


to the apathy of those within the Association,
who justified their inactivity by pointing to the
Rule upon selling prices which we have quoted.

In the following year, 1890, the workmen came
to offer their assistance. The manufacturers had
said that they could not agree amongst themselves
to increase selling prices, and the workmen now
blandly inquired : " Will you agree to let us coerce
you?" The representatives of the workmen met
the employers, and submitted to them a proposal
for joint action, the pith of which is given in the
following words from the address which the work-
men had prepared :

"What you could not do, the working potters, by your
help, may be able to accomplish. To you, as the only
organised body of manufacturers, we must of necessity
appeal in such a matter as this, and, though you do not
represent all the manufacturers, you, by reason of the
individual and collective importance of your firms, repre-
sent a large proportion of the productive and employing
power of the district trade. What you decide to-day can
become the rule of the trade to-morrow if your decision
be backed up by the willing co-operation of the working
potters. We are convinced we can promise this co-
operation if you will agree to an equitable revision of
prices on the basis we have suggested. To put it tersely :
You give the workmen the advance in wages, and they
will guarantee to obtain it also from those who are not in
the Manufacturers' Association, and also that those who
will not 'act in harmony with the general body' of
manufacturers as to selling prices, shall not have working
potters to employ unless they do act in harmony with
the Manufacturers' Association.


" Many of those who persist in selling at the lowest
prices also persist in paying lower wages than we believe
is averaged at the firms of which your Association consists ;
and we, therefore, have a substantial reason of our own
for making all to 'toe the score' of justice to the capital
and labour of the trade. We, at least, owe no obligation
to those who are not members of your Association as
to not altering prices in the middle of the trade year,
for they are not members of the Board of Arbitration,
do not acknowledge its Rules, and reduce wages when
they can.

"What we then request from you is that you will
consent to the formation of committees to at once
proceed to the revision of the wages list of each branch
of operatives, with the view to incorporating the 10 per
cent, advance in the prices for labour. We are con-
vinced that the course we recommend the honest
co-operation of capital and labour in the trade is the
only course that will save the potting industry from im-
poverishment and commercial degradation. You know
now, as the representatives of the workmen confidently
predicted at the time, that the reduction of wages
decreed by Lord Hatherton was an unmitigated evil to
manufacturers as well as to operatives, for cheap labour
has intensified competition among the makers of pottery,
who are now harder pushed by a greater number of
needy competitors than ever before.

" This present condition of the trade had its nearest
parallel more than fifty years ago, and it was then met
and conquered * by the very same action that we now re-
commend namely, a combination of manufacturers and
workmen to keep up wages and selling prices. If you refuse
us what we ask, you force us to make an appeal to the
Board at Martinmas, and even if you are able to again

* The attempt was only partially successful, as shown in Chapter I.


convince an Umpire that the time had not come for an
advance, then you would only be proclaiming the weak-
ness and poverty of the trade, and every argument you
adduced against the workmen would only tell against
yourselves in any effort to obtain that advance in selling
prices which you desire.

"On the other hand, if we succeeded in obtaining a
verdict in our favour by arbitration, it would not carry
the stipulation binding upon us which we are now pre-
pared to agree to, that we should assist you in the manner
we offer in the effort to raise selling prices. In every
way, therefore, it is the best for you, as it is for us,
and the whole trade, that the plan we have sketched
out should be adopted to ensure fair profits for em-
ployers and reasonable remuneration for labour."

It was a proposal ideal in its object, and
capable of being put into practice, for there can
be no doubt that, with an improved organisation,
which must further have been stimulated by the
condition attaching to the proposal of a 10 per
cent, increase in wages, the men would soon have
possessed a power which would have brought any
recalcitrant manufacturer, under-selling his fellows,
to his knees. The employers, however, refused the
offer of co-operation and the suggested increase
in wages. Probably they refused the offer because
of the condition which attached to it possibly
they felt some repugnance at the proposal of co-
operating with their workmen against their own
class. They gave no reason, however, but merely
declined the proposal. The men were keenly dis-
appointed, and the manufacturers appear to then
have been prepared for a more peremptory request


from their men, for they passed this resolution
in September 1890 two months after the meeting
at which the proposal for co-operation had been
submitted to them : " That this meeting, having
considered the expected demand of the operatives
for an advance in wages, is of opinion that the
present state of trade does not warrant any such
advance being conceded, but, on the contrary, im-
peratively calls for a reduction." To go back a
few years, the employers appear to have viewed
the approach of successive Martinmases with much
apprehension as to the possible demands of their
men, for in 1886 they passed a resolution declaring
that " although this meeting is of opinion that
present selling prices are low enough to call for a
reduction in workmen's wages, it is unwilling to
disturb the existing relations between capital and
labour, and recommends that no alterations be
notified at Martinmas next, leaving to each
member the modification of prices in any depart-
ment that may be considered necessary in order
to establish, as nearly as possible, uniformity ; but
should any representatives of the operatives give
notice for an increase in wages, in that case this
meeting recommends employers to ask for such a
reduction as the state of trade imperatively re-
quires." It is an instance of remarkable forbear-
ance on the part of the manufacturers to have
thus restrained themselves, and made the asking
for that which the trade " imperatively required "
conditional upon the temerity of some bold and
insistent "representatives of the workmen" dis-


turbing the serene calm of the "existing relations
between capital and labour " ; but the points more
worthy of notice are that the employers evidently
expected a demand from their workmen, and that
they still looked upon a decline in selling prices
which they had bound themselves not to make
any united effort to raise, and which their own
competition continually depressed as the one
factor which should govern the wages of their
workmen. In 1887 and 1888 they passed similar
resolutions. In 1889 the same substance came out
in slightly different form : " That this meeting con-
siders that if any alteration is to be made in
workmen's wages, it should be in favour of the
employers, and recommends that if any intimation
be given by the workmen for an increase, manu-
facturers should give a counter - notice of a like
reduction to the workmen." The manufacturers
therefore seem to have experienced, for five con-
secutive years prior to 1890, an annual throe of
apprehension as to the intentions of their work-
men, but to have refrained from "wounding" unless
their workmen "struck." As we have seen, how-
ever, the workmen had been engaged in perfecting
their organisation, and, besides, they had come to
the conclusion that arbitration, under then existing
conditions, was of little promise, but that a radical
effort to change those conditions was necessary. If it
succeeded, so much the better ; if it failed, then they
would have strengthened their position by having made
the effort. They made it in the proposal to which we
have referred, and, as we have seen, it failed.


To leave this retrospective digression, and to
return to the position in September 1890, the
manufacturers showed "an intelligent anticipation
of events" in "expecting" a demand of the opera-
tives for an advance in wages. Each branch sent
in a separate appeal for an increase in wages,
all demanding 10 per cent, and some branches
making a further claim for improved prices on
certain defined articles which, in the course of the
previous ten years, had been gradually reduced.
The employers immediately sent in a counter-notice
for a reduction of 10 per cent. The workmen
complained that the counter-claim was not seriously
advanced, but had only been put forward to com-
plicate and prejudice their own claim ; but, in the
light of the successive resolutions to which we have
referred, it is clear that the manufacturers were

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Online LibraryHarold OwenThe Staffordshire potter; → online text (page 15 of 24)