THE VEINERS AND HEMSTITCHERS STRIKE
Last evening, at eight o'clock, a meeting of the veiners and hemstitchers out of employment was held in the Town Hall. There were between 500 and 600 females present, and the proceedings were conducted throughout, with the utmost decorum. There has been no new development since yesterday, but the general feeling seems to be that a satisfactory arrangement for all concerned should be arrived at as speedily as possible. A number of the employees of Mr. Baird are stated to have expressed their willingness to return to work, the employer having virtually conceded to all that was desired; but this statement is regarded as remarkably doubtful. Some of the workers are on strike for three weeks, and complaints are general of the hardship which the prolonged want of employment involves. The real crisis did not arrive until last evening, when the veiners and hemstitchers employed by Mr. Malcolmson came out on strike. At present there are six factories closed, and about the same number are working, but under what circumstances those in active operation are employed has not been permitted to become known.
Amongst those present on the platform at tonight's meeting were - Messr. B. M'Glynn, J.P.; Thomas Reburn, chairman Town Commissioners; Wm. Livingston, T.C.; Robert Thompson, Charles Maguire, John Fleming, J. Cousins, Hugh Livingston, Hugh O'Hanlon, Richard Kennedy, and Joseph Webb. Mr M'Glynn, J.P., was called upon to preside, on the motion of Mr, Wm. Livingston.
The CHAIRMAN, in opening the proceedings, said he was exceedingly obliged to Mr. Livingston for proposing him to take the chair on that all-important occasion for the town and trade of Lurgan. He hoped the resolutions which would be proposed to them would meet with their entire approval. He would not detain them longer with any remarks, because he was not conversant with the differences of opinion between employer and employed, and he would, therefore, at once call upon Mr. Webb to read the first resolution. Mr. WEBB then read the first resolution as follows:-" That, to restore confidence and good feeling between veiners and their employers, it is absolutely necessary that a uniform mode of paying wages be adopted, by classifying the size of the work by the number of inches it contains, and the set by the number of stitches in the inch, and that an arbitrator be appointed by the veiners, with full power to settle this question with their Employer." (A Voice-" Mr. Livingston for an arbitrator.') (Applause.) The speaker, in proposing the resolution, said the different modes of paying wages in Lurgan by different employers led to strikes in general. The fact that no one employer knew what the other was paying, and also the fact that the veiners themselves in any factory scarcely knew what the one next to them is paid - in this way one employer did not know whether or not the man he was competing against was able to get the work done for a less sum or not. This led, in his opinion, to the employers generally reducing the price as low as possible, and the only thing open to the workers, when there was no end to this downward course, was to suffer patiently until they put themselves in a position to assert their rights. To arrest this it was necessary that there should be a more uniform mode of paying for the work, When every man was paying at a uniform rate for a certain size and a certain stitch, everyone would know what was paid; but when the workers did not know the size that a neighbouring factory was giving out for the number of stitches required to be put on that size, one firm did not know how it stood as regards the other. The workers generally were dissatisfied, and thus matters got into confusion. When one employer endeavoured to put on a larger size, or another stitch, and reduced the wages, workers were not satisfied, and a strike ensued, because from one factory to the other a report got abroad that such an employer was lowering the wages, and complete and disastrous confusion was the result. There were false reports and false statements made, and this was causing continual uproar and continual annoyance in the trade, The best way then, he thought, to settle the question in a general way would be to pay wages on a uniform principle. He had much pleasure in moving the resolution, (Applause.)
Mr. Wm. Livingston, T.C., in seconding the resolution, said he was surprised on receiving an invitation from the veiners and hemistitchers yesterday asking him to attend their meeting this evening, but he need hardly say that he was still more surprised when he was selected to be their arbitrator in the present dispute. (Applause.) They would not wonder at his surprise when they considered his innate bashfulness, which was only the common bashfulness of a Lurgan man. (Laughter.) He trusted that before he left the platform that night they would be able to say that he was on the side of the workpeople when their demands were just, honest, and fair, and he hoped that he would be able to prove before resuming his seat that the cause of those present was so. In the present state of affairs it was the old story of over paid capital against underpaid labour. Capitalists or employers were overpaid in the veining trade. That was a strong statement, but he was sure every right thinking person would agree with him when the following facts were taken into account. Would anyone contradict the statement that these capitalists inhabited palatial residences, and their homes appeared doubly so when the dwellings of the workers were compared with them. Then, let them think of the men who had amassed fortunes within the past few years, men whose names appeared on the share lists of their banks and railways, and not only that, but most of the names appeared on those lists as being eligible for directorships, and everyone knew that it required a good round sum opposite these names to entitle them to such a position. They had the case of persons in that town retiring from other lucrative businesses, and entering the veining trade. Would anyone dare to argue that these men deliberately did such a thing to pose as philanthropists, and to give employment to their fellow beings? Such men were hardened, their consciences seared, and they never performed an act without considering what profit would result. With them money meant everything, money was their god. Thenl again, let them look at the extravagances perpetrated by these men in their dress and furniture. Some days since he saw an overcoat on one of these employers which for fineness, pattern, and faultless fit eclipsed anything Oscar Wilde ever dreamt of, and a coat which would stamp anyone wearing it as a dude among dudes. (Laughter.) And another of these employers made the statement that he would not pay wages such as he had been paying, as it seemed he was hurt and offended at the girls wearing feathers in their hats (laughter) and even trying to outdo his own daughters in the matter of personal adornment. Wages with him meant the bare necessities of life; not what the workers were honestly entitled to. He would now tell them that he knew of some of the grievances which they were suffering from. To his mind, they were nothing short of downright swindles. First, he understood that some firms in the town were handling goods to their workers to be sewn, marked as 3-8's, when the goods were actually 4-8's, and 4-8's when they were actually 5-8's, and so on. That meant one penny on every dozen of I goods sewn. In the next place, he was credibly informed that these same firms demanded that the sewer should put two stitches over sett to the inch, when the fixed rule of the trade demanded but one. By this means 10s were sewn as 9s, and so on down the list. This meant 1½d more per dozen, making 1s 1½d per dozen in all. He called this high-handed and high-class pocket picking, and he challenged contradiction regarding that definition. (Applause.) There was no doubt, that, every influence had been brought to bear by the employers, so that the workers would agree to these practices and be treated as mere machines, and as the capitalists pleased. He was sure there were women before him who were burning to tell their wrongs to the public and to the Press, but they dare not, as they would from henceforth be boycotted and refused work in the factories of Lurgan. Influences had been brought to bear which would not have been the case had the employers had a just cause. In this instance he might refer to the present attitude of the Lurqan Times (not this one!) and its editor. Some time since, about three years ago this editor took a very prominent and decided stand against the factory owners. It ventilated the grievances of the veiners, and showed them what was right, and pointed out their just demands. At that time he (Mr. Livingston) believed the factory owners were using a short inch. At present it was sorrowful to see that it had not reassumed its old attitude and come to the front on behalf of the working classes of Lurgan. Religion, he was sorry to say in the shape of the secretary of the Girls' Friendly Society, had been introduced with the object of influencing some parties. She had, he was informed, taken up cudgels on behalf of capital, and had actually threatened any veiner who was a member of that society with immediate expulsion if she dared to join the strikers. He (Mr. Livingston) asked any sane person in the audience if it was within the jurisdiction of any secretary of the Girls' Friendly Society , to make such a statement.
Several - It's not true.
Mr. Livingston said he was very glad to hear that such was not the case - that the lady to whom he referred had not acted as he was informed. Looking calmly at the broad principle of the question, he asked was it not monstrous to see little girls, from ten to fifteen years of age, pitted in that unequal struggle against these Cotton lords, as he understood there was more of that article sewn than of linen. (Hear, hear.) In many instances these children were away from home, and had no means of subsistence. Hunger and starvation were in their cases inevitable, and if no way were taken to effect a settlement, how long could the contest last. They must remember that all this time the capitalists would have not only the necessaries of life but also every luxury. To his (Mr. Livingston's) mind the great point to be decided was the effecting of a fair and just settlement between employer and employed, and that could only be done in this way - let the employers select a person who was an entirely disinterested party, and let the strikers do the same. These two persons so selected could appoint an umpire with power to take evidence, find a verdict, and by this means effect a settlement. Honest men had nothing to fear from such a course, and the employer who refused to adopt such a course of procedure never deserved to have a worker. (Applause.) There were certain trade delineations in the veining and hemstitching business, but these were simply designations, They meant nothing when dealt with on the basis of a standard yard of thirty-six inches. What he (Mr. Livingston) would advise the girls to do was to try and effect a settlement, but he would say to them that until there was a settlement let their battle-cry be "'Payment by inches and may god defend the right." (Loud applause.)
The speaker then read the following letters: Queen Street Veining Factory, Lurgan, 23rd January, 1889. Should a form for the payment of veiners' wages by inches and stitches become general I will be very glad to adopt it, I believe it is the only honest and straightforward way to pay for this kind of labour. George A. Crawford. A table was submitted showing Mr. Crawford's requirements.
January 22, 1889. To Mr. Livingston, Lurgan, Dear Sir. In reply to your inquiry we beg to say that we are quite prepared to put the sizes in inches on the cloth instead of the terms, 4-8, a and ¾ size, as is the custom at present. Yours truly, J. Faloon.
Mr. Livingston, in conclusion, said all honour was due to these two firsts for taking the initial step towards a fair, a just, and an equitable settlement of the dispute. (Applause).
Mr, Hugh O'Hanlon, in supporting the resolution, said he was sure the proposal which had been made, if adopted would work admirably. It would prevent such disputes as the present occurring, and thereby secure constant employment for the workers. He was sure they were all aware that such strikes had very injurious effects, not only to those immediately it affected, but to the public at large. The system proposed - a general system of payment would bring all the employees to one level, and he commended it to them as the best and wisest they could adopt, It would enable the employers and employed to know their position, and give the one party confidence in the other, (hear, hear.) As an instance of the injustice of the present system of payment, he might mention that a few days ago he was in a house in Lurgan, when two parcels of handkerchiefs from different firms in Lurgan, were brought in. One was marked " three-eighths'' and the other "four-eighths.” Hie stretched the first named on the table and placed the latter on the top of it, and found that the handkerchief marked " three eighths' was the larger of the two, He sincerely trusted that amicable relations would be soon established between employers and employed, and that the means proposed with that view would be successful, and that strikes in future would not have to be rosorted to. (Applause.)
The resolution was passed unanimously.
Mr. Webb moved - “That the Veiners' Society of Lurgan be reorganised, and a president, secretary, and two trustees appointed." He said it was now two years since this organization had ceased to exist, and he was of the opinion that had that society been in proper working order at present the present unfortunate state of affairs might have been averted. Such an organisation protected the interests of workers, and should affairs assume a serious aspect it would enable them to occupy an independent position. (Applause.) There were twelve firms in Lurgan, and they could appoint one capable worker in each concern to look after the interests of those employed in the establishment, and when a trade dispute arose these twelve persons could carry on negotiations with the employers without the workers being under the painful necessity of stopping work. (Applause.) Mr. Livingston cordially seconded the motion, and said such an organisation would be of great assistance to the workers in a crisis such as the present. (Applause.)
The Chairman inquired if any of the girls present wished to say anything on any aspect of the question which had not been touched upon, and there being no response, The resolution was put and carried by acclamation. Mr. Livingston proposed a vote of thanks to the chairman, which was seconded by Mr. Charles Maguire and passed unanimously. The Chairman, acknowledging the compliment, said he had attended the meeting for the purpose of showing his sympathy with the workers in the present unfortunate dispute in which they were involved. (Applause.) He advised the girls not to be in any way unreasonable in their demands, and hoped the employers would exhibit a conciliatory spirit. (Applause.) The proceedings then terminated.
2 February 1889
RESUMPTION OF WORK
Lurgan, Monday Night - This evening a substantial advance was at length made towards a settlement of the dispute between employers and employed which led to the unfortunate strike. The veiners of Messrs. George A Crawford & Co, Vicioria Street, were the first to make a settlement. A number of the workers obtained an interview with Mr Crawford, who offered to adopt the principle of the resolution parsed at the recent meeting agreeing to compute the workers wages to the imperial inch. The workers accepted Mr. Crawford's terms, and shortly after six o'clock this evening resumed work in the factory. The news rapidly spread through the town and before long the workers of Messrs. Thomas Faloon & Co. and of Messrs. J. Hanna & Co. had arranged with their employers to begin work tomorrow morning on the understanding that they shall be in future paid by the inch and the stitch. The firm of Messrs. John Maxwell & Co. have also made an arrangement with their workers on similar terms - payment by inches and stitches. At the request of representative workers of J. Ross & Co., Mr. W. White and Mr. R. Maguire called on Mr. Ross, this evening in an endeavour to bring about an understanding between the firm and their employees, and we are glad to be able to state that the firm agreed to settle with their worker on the same terms on which Messrs. Thomas Faloon & Co., and Messrs. G. A. Crawford & C , had come to an arrangement with the veiners in their employment.
The strike among the veiners and hemstitchers of a number of the factories of Lurgan may be said to have now terminated. A number of workers of Messrs- J. Ross & Co went back to their business on Wednesday and it was expected the remainder would be at work the following day. The six factories affected by the movement are now accordingly at work again.