23 February-1 March 1915: Wages arguments

Following his concerns in last week’s Tooting and Balham Gazette, the Wandsworth Borough News reported on 26 February that Councillor Hurley had been the subject of a letter of complaint to the Relief Committee.  The full Relief Committee met a few days after the paper was printed and the Mayor read aloud a letter from the secretaries of the Women’s sub-committee.  The letter accused Cllr Hurley of disturbing the workers and “assuming an offensive tone towards the supervisor”, and said that the women who were cleaning the floor had volunteered to do so and had not done the full working day.  Cllr Hurley did not take kindly to the suggestions that he was stirring up trouble in the workroom, particularly when the vice-chair of the Workroom Committee assured the Committee that the women had volunteered and there was no hardship, visitors to the workroom were welcome as long as they “behaved in a proper way…it would be very difficult to manage over a hundred women if people come in saying they ought to revolt”.  The Mayor told him off for interrupting to declare that this was not true.  Eventually, after a lot of arguing, the matter was referred back to the Women’s Employment sub-committee.

The argument over pay was not reserved to the Women’s Workroom in Tooting – Battersea Borough Council were also considering it at their meeting on 24th February, as reported in the South Western Star.  A letter from the Battersea Trades and Union Council had been received by the Highways and Works Committee, asking that labourers should receive an increase of one half-penny per hour (approximately 10p today).  The Committee had referred it up to Council without comment, and many of the Councillors argued that it should go back to Committee in order for them to fully discuss the reasons behind a proposed wage rise.  Councillor Lane pointed out that the Council had not given a payrise when the London master builders had done so in 1913 and that there was likely to be a slump after the war “the moneyed classes were reaping huge profits from the swollen prices of commodities and the working classes were entitled to their share of the profits, they being the people who suffered most”.  Councillor Mutter noted that Silkstone, a more expensive type of coal, had gone up in price by 4s a ton, while the cheaper type had gone up by 10s a ton, meaning that poorer people had a larger price hike to deal with.  His knowledge of Silkstone apparently caused much amusement in the chamber, but he made clear that he felt the wage rise should be considered.  The decision was referred back, whilst the same Committee’s decision to grant a payrise requested by the London District Committee of the Associated Blacksmiths’ and Ironworkers’ Society was agreed.  It didn’t go through smoothly, as some councillors felt that the timing was not right and that it should also be referred back to the Highways and Works Committee, but it was adopted.

The rise in the cost of fuel was not only used as a justification for a payrise, it was also causing budgetary problems for the Baths and Washhouses Committee.  Free entry to Council baths had been granted to members of the Territorial Forces, which now had to be withdrawn and replaced with half-price entry as the cost of fuel had increased.

South Western Star and Wandsworth Borough News available on microfilm.