Imagens das páginas

Even anxieties of this kind could not excuse the reference by the president of the Swansea congress, Mr. C. W. Bowerman, to the decision of the Lords as of a “semi-political ” character, and the less so as in the report of the Parliamentary Committee of the congress, of which he was chairman, attention was called to the decisions of the same tribunal as having been uniformly favourable to the interests of the workmen in cases arising out of the Compensation Act passed a few years previously. One or two other speakers at the congress also employed unjustifiable expressions about the Taff Vale decision. On the whole, however, the action and temper of the congress in regard to the new situation created by the judgment were marked by prudence and self-restraint. A resolution was brought forward on behalf of the Parliamentary Committee, which was to the effect that a test case should be taken through the courts to settle how far picketing might be carried without infringing the law, and so rendering the funds of trade unions liable for damages ; and also that the rules of the unions should be amended in order to secure protection against some of the consequences of the Lords' decision. This was amended, with the concurrence of the committee, by the addition of words urging each society to promote such an improvement in the law as would meet with the approval of congress, and, after further debate, was unanimously carried. In supporting the amendment Mr. Bell, M.P., secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, which was involved in the Taff Vale case, said that, in his opinion, it would be hopeless to attempt ever to get back the status quo before the Lords' decision, but that an amendment of the Trade Union Act must be secured to protect all funds raised for benevolent purposes. The resolution just mentioned was supplemented by another, declaring in favour of the establishment of a fund under the control of the Parliamentary Committee, to fight actions involving points of law affecting the general position of trade unions.

The strong Radical colour usually predominating at trade union congresses showed itself at Swansea in the adoption of resolutions condemning recent action of the Government and the Board of Education as imposing hindrances to the development of education, and also condemning the new taxes imposed in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget. But it was significant that when an attempt was made to suspend the standing orders in order to discuss a pro-Boer resolution, demanding the immediate cessation of hostilities in South Africa, the permission was refused by votes representing 724,000 against 333,000 constituents. This was not the same, indeed, as a rejection by the same preponderance of representative votes of the stop-the-war resolution, but at any rate the votes of the congress displayed somewhat more of an aversion than had been shown on some former occasions to the employment of its authority in support of resolutions entirely disconnected with industrial objects. The conservative temper of trade unionism in England within its own sphere was illustrated by the rejection by 676,000 to 366,000 of a resolution in favour of compulsory arbitration in labour disputes. The adverse majority, indeed, was not as heavy as in the previous year, but when the unions furnishing it were taken into account, and also the speeches in the debate, there seemed to be abundant reason for the con. clusion that there was a large and influential balance of opinion among the organised working-classes of England against the State regulation of the remuneration of adult labour. Among the other resolutions passed at the Swansea congress were those demanding further legislation on the housing question, and pressure from the Board of Trade upon the railway companies to issue cheap tickets (including third-class season tickets) to all classes of workmen, and a condemnation, opposed as usual by the representatives of the Lancashire cotton industry, of the practice of sending children to work in factories before the age of fifteen.

Attention had been called in the Annual Report of the Labour Department of the Board of Trade, which happened to come out a few days before the meeting of the Trade Union Congress, to the gratifying fact that while there had been a great amount of alteration in wages, almost entirely in an upward direction, during the year 1900, those changes were arranged for the most part without any stoppage of work, only 5 per cent. of the workpeople whose wages were changed being engaged in disputes on that account. This was “ largely due,'' as the Labour Commissioner (Mr. H. Llewellyn Smith) pointed out, “ to the extent to which wages in the coal, iron, and other staple trades were now adjusted by conciliation and wages boards, sliding scales, or similar machinery.” A like remark, doubtless, applied to the general absence of strife with which in the first six months of 1901 declines in wages of nearly 30,0001. a week, the fall being most marked in the mining and the iron and steel trades, had been arranged.

The only labour dispute which was of sufficient magnitude to excite general attention in the autumn of 1901 was one in the fishing trade of Grimsby, which caused much distress and was attended by somewhat serious disorder. It was mainly, at least on the face of it, a question of wages. These the federated owners of the Grimsby steam trawlers held that it was necessary to reduce, but in the scheme for a reduced scale, which they put forward on August 15, the principle of a share in the profits of the fishing operations, which hitherto had only been enjoyed by the skippers and mates of the vessels, was proposed to be extended to the engineers and all the other members of the ships' companies. To this principle the men had no objection, but they were dissatisfied with the rates actually offered ; other grievances were brought up; and the result was a stoppage of work for many weeks, during which some 400 trawlers were laid up, and between 10,000 and 11,000 men and boys were idle. In the third week of September an appeal issued on behalf of the families of the men by the clergy and Nonconformist ministers of Grimsby estimated that the number of persons whose means of subsistence had practically come to an end could not possibly be computed at less than 20,000. As the weeks passed the employers put forward once or twice rates of a somewhat more favourable character to the men, but the latter were only willing to resume work on the suggested basis if it were understood that the whole of the wages question should be remitted to an arbitrator to be appointed by the Board of Trade, whose award, whenever delivered, should be retrospective to the date of the resumption of work. On the day following that (Sept. 17) on which a resolution to that effect was passed by some 2,000 of the men, there broke out a serious riot, in which the offices of the Owners' Federation were wrecked and set on fire. The disturbances continued in a menacing form on September 19, when a fire broke out at the docks, and the fire brigade was stoned while putting it out. It was said, however, that these disorders were in no respect encouraged by the men's organisation, and the great body of those out of work were exonerated from complicity by the clergy and ministers, who said that "a nondescript rowdyism was to blame " for these riotous proceedings. The owners (Sept. 24), while proposing the establishment of a joint conciliation committee to deal with wages questions in future, adhered to their terms and refused arbitration, from which at an earlier stage of the dispute they had not seemed averse. They also insisted that the men should always "sign on” at the Federation Offices, a demand which they justified by the contention that it was necessary to protect themselves against the practice on the part of many mariners of engaging themselves to several employers, getting money advanced on account of such engagement, and then leaving all but one in the lurch. On a ballot (Sept. 27), the men again declared themselves against resuming work without arbitration, and against signing on at the Federation Offices, which, apparently, was looked upon as a sign of subjection. The deadlock appeared complete, the distress was great, and there seemed every prospect that the fishing trade of Grimsby would be permanently ruined, when the Earl of Yarborough beneficently intervened. By bis influence, aided by that of Lord Heneage and local clergy, all the various sections of the men and the Owners' Federation were brought to an accord on the basis of a resumption of work on the owners' terms, but with arbitration to operate retrospectively to the date of such resumption. The arbitration was to cover all questions relating to the fishing trade which were in dispute, including that of the proper place for signing on, and in the meantime that function was to take place at the local office of the Board of Trade. Peace was thus re-established

early in October, and it was not very clear why it should ever have been disturbed.

No record of this period of the year would be complete which did not take note of the very genuine and widespread sorrow which was exhibited in Great Britain on the occasion of the tragic death of President McKinley. The messages sent by the King during the brief period through which it was hoped that the wounds inflicted by the revolver of the Anarchist assassin, Czolgosz, would not prove fatal, and again after the end had come, were very well chosen expressions of manly sympathy, and drew acknowledgments of very special warmth from the American Ambassador. The participation of the British nation in the mourning of their kinsmen across the Atlantic was shown in many unmistakable ways, and culminated in very impressive memorial services on the day of the murdered President's funeral, in Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's, and many churches and chapels throughout the country. There was good reason to believe that the American people were gratefully conscious of this reciprocation of the sympathy which they had manifested so freely with English grief at the loss of our beloved Queen at the beginning of the year.

During the latter part of September and the first half of October an appreciable amount of anxiety and dissatisfaction was shown, even in some of the newspapers which had been among the warmest supporters of the Ministerial policy in South Africa, at the slow progress of the war. Not only had Lord Kitchener's proclamation of August 6 entirely failed to bring about any kind of collapse of the Boer resistance by the date (Sept. 15) fixed in it as that after which any leaders still in the field would be permanently banished from South Africa, but there were for two or three weeks a succession of small disasters, insignificant in themselves in every case from a military point of view, but yet involving collectively the loss of many valuable lives, a sensible if quite transient diminution of prestige, and a corresponding encouragement to the malcontent Dutch in the Cape Colony to join the bands of invaders which were raiding up and down the country, and to the Boers generally to hold out on the off chance of foreign intervention or of failure in the persistence of British purpose. Free expression was given here to doubts as to whether the War Office had supplied Lord Kitchener with all the trained men and horses he required to follow up and crush the Boer bands when they had been, as so constantly happened, defeated in action. Not a little surprise and irritation was also caused by the appearance of a statement in the Globe—which was not denied by the War Office—that Lord Kitchener had found occasion to issue to the commanders of columns in South Africa an order impressing on them that mobility was the prime requisite of those columns, and that the carrying about with them of * furniture, kitchen-ranges, pianos and harmoniums” could not


of nection with the home. On Buller had Abder

therefore be allowed. It was maintained by the Spectator that any commander of a column who had permitted such hindrances to its mobility ought to have been disgraced and sent home, and many persons here felt that severity of that kind would have been the best means of securing that there should be no more slackness in places of military responsibility. This feeling was entertained the more strongly in view of the certain knowledge that the vast majority both of officers and soldiers in South Africa were ready for any sacrifice in order to bring the war to a triumphant conclusion.

It was while the public mind was thus uneasy that a series of incidents of an extraordinary and distressing character occurred in connection with the principal military position, under the Commander-in-Chief, at home. On different dates in September it was announced that Sir R. Buller had been appointed to the command of the First Army Corps, at Aldershot; Sir Evelyn Wood to that of the Second Army Corps, on Salisbury Plain ; and the Duke of Connaught to that of the Third Army Corps, in Ireland. In regard to these appointments, the test which was immediately applied was a reference to the assurance which Mr. Brodrick had given prominently in the exposition of his Army reorganisation scheme, that only those officers would be appointed for peace commands who were certified by the military authorities as fit for command in war. There was no question in any quarter, and could not conceivably be any, of the soldierly qualities of these distinguished officers, of whom the first two wore the Victoria Cross. Nor was much attention aroused by the objection taken to Sir Evelyn Wood's appointment on the ground of his age (which, it was strenuously replied, had not in the least impaired his vigour) and his supposed deafness (which, it was replied, was not such as to in any way impair his efficiency in counsel or action), or to that of the Duke of Connaught, on the ground that, however competent, a Prince so near the throne was not likely to be employed in active warfare. Criticism concentrated itself on the appointment of Sir R. Buller to command at home the Army Corps which would be the first to be sent abroad in case of a great war, and on that subject probably gave expression to a widespread feeling. The public could not profess to have any opinion worthy of attention on points of tactics, but they knew from published despatches that Lord Roberts had expressed himself severely (see ANNUAL REGISTER for 1900, p. 98) as to the share of responsibility borne by Sir R. Buller, as the officer in supreme command, for the deplorable reverse at Spion Kop. Again, they knew that early in 1901 other despatches had appeared showing that Lord Roberts had received about a month after his arrival in South Africa a telegram from Sir R. Buller couched in such terms with regard to the difficulties of the task before him, and the sacrifices which a fresh attempt

« AnteriorContinuar »