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Post by Stanley »

[A tribute written by Bessie Dickinson. “Bessie Smith was born in 1904 into a weaving family of parents and seven children. It was a socialist household and Bessie used to collect her father’s copy of Justice. Merrie England and Britain for the British were the first books she read. She entered the mill at 12 and worked as a tenter for half a crown a week. From 1922 she was active in the Young Communist’s League. She married Harold Dickinson (and took his name) in 1926 and they lived in Blackburn. Bessie rapidly became a leading cadre in the district. She stood as a Communist Party candidate in the Blackburn municipal elections in 1928 and 1930. She also wrote for the Party press on the labour movement in Lancashire and, …….. she was the author of the pamphlet on Women and More Looms. Like other activists, Bessie and Harold were unemployed for much of the period 1929-32 and took part in many of the mass pickets in the Burnley and Blackburn areas.” (see Gender, Class and Party: ‘The Communist Party and the crisis in the cotton Industry …. Between the wars’ Sue Bruley, University of Portsmouth. Published in Women’s History Review. Volume 2. Number 1. 1993)]

Jim Rushton was born at Stonefold, Haslingden which is in the vicinity of Rising Bridge. His family had been hill farmers whose common lot seems to have been destined for work in the cotton factories. His mother was a weaver but his maternal grandfather had been a cattle judge. Farming seemed to be second nature to Jim. One old photograph shows him standing proudly besides a cow whose broken leg he had set although he had been told he “would never do it''. He had a lasting love of the countryside and when he had time to spare would cycle the country lanes on his old boneshaker. He often had a small hen-pen near his home.

Jim attended the local Wesleyan school until reaching the age of eleven and then entered the factory. Later he married, his wife Mary Elizabeth coming from the same background of farming and weaving. There were eventually four children of the marriage, Mary, Annie, Margaret and Norman.

In the year 1912 the, family left the Rossendale valley to set up house in Barnoldswick, a small town on the Yorkshire border and in the West Riding. It was a town skirted by a softly-wooded countryside, apart from the “Weets” moors at its upper end. As hamlet it was mentioned in the Doomsday book. The family lived in Gisburn Street, Jim at first working at Kit's factory then at Albert Hartley's and later at Nutters’ Bankfield shed.

The last decade of the 19th century and the beginnings of the 20th century saw a marked increase in working class politics, the Social Democratic Federation, with its centre in Burnley. Dan Irving, coming from Huddersfield, came to fill the position as fulltime Burnley secretary and became well known in the area. H. M. Hyndman contested the seat many times until it was won by Dan Irving in 1918.

Jim became a member of the branch in those early years whose local headquarters were over a shop in Manchester Road, Barnoldswick and he played a leading part in the town. He was conscripted into the army during the 1914-18 war and was sent for training. That being completed he was offered a job as his officer’s batman on the grounds “That as the father of four children, it would incur less risk for him than if he went to the front lines”. Jim refused this offer because, as he said, he did not accept favours and did not relish the idea of “waiting on officers". He was later sent to France and whilst there had a narrow escape. He was the middle one of three soldiers, when a volley of German bullets came which killed one outright and severely wounded the other. Jim was the lucky one escaping with the loss of three fingers on his left hand. For this he was given his discharge and a pension of ten shillings a week. These war experiences made a lasting impression on him, and he was always to be found in the fore-front of activity in the cause of peace and included this question in all his propaganda. Because of his disability, Jim
was sent to a Leeds rehabilitation centre to learn the trade of electrician. While he was there, concerts wore occasionally given and the trainees stood up when the National Anthem was played at the end of the performance as was expected of them. Jim remained seated and on occasions was almost mobbed. Here Jim raised his wounded hand saying ''I gave these fingers fighting for King and country and I’m not going to stand up as well'', and he never did.

His training finished, Jim immediately became active in the Labour Party. Many May Day marches were organised and Jim with the local Quakers always highlighted the need for peace and the reductions of weapons of war. The local party was then a strong organisation and the centre of political life, contesting elections, having meetings and discussion classes in a friendly and comradely atmosphere. Jim Rushton and Jim Howarth were two of the leading lights at that time and were excellent propagandists.

The Communist Party was formed nationally in 1920 and the local branch for Barnoldswick about 1921. The two Jims and other members of the S.D.F. formed the core of the new local Party, and also remained members of the Labour Party.

Local people soon became aware of the newly formed Party and Jim was often outside the factory gates, and often his mealtime break would be spent talking to the workers or selling literature or distributing leaflets. These early days were hard for the operatives, but in 1912 and during the war, wage increases bad been won and after a three week strike in 1919 the 48 hours working week also came into operation, and wages were not ‘215’ on list, But not for long, events were to show.

Jim explained events and sold the “Communist,” on every possible occasion. Even on Saturday evenings he would be outside nubs or working men's clubs usually with n team of like-minded people holding forth on the topics of the day or selling literature. Jim always listened to the other fellow’s point of view and argued his with patient care. Always interested in young people he would encourage them to take part in whatever activity was afoot. This interest remained with him all through his life.


Another organisation Jim helped to form after the war was the ex-serviceman's association which seems to have been sponsored by the government immediately after the war to deal with the men’s problems. Jim and the local body met in the Ivory Hall working-men’s club, says Jack Pilkington, to discuss how to stop the eviction of one of their members, a tubercular ex-serviceman with wife and three children. So with the local band and union jacks flying there was a march through the town, with slogans on banners calling for ''Land and homes for ex-servicemen” ''Better treatment for ex-service-men”. The marchers picketed the man’s home and the bailiffs did not carry out the eviction. At the time of the march the Labour Party was holding a meeting on Jepp Hill in support of the ‘Hands off Russia campaign’. This meeting showed much sympathy with the aims of the demonstration and Jin was allowed to put its ease. Jim Rushton made a modest yet forceful speech which was received with sympathy from the crowd, was reported in the local press. A resolution was passed supporting their efforts. The eviction later was suspended for three months to allow the family to find other accommodation which they did. Unfortunately the owners of the house had great need as well. That was why Jim was always pressing for more house-building as an urgent need especially for ex-servicemen.

Although Jin had retrained as an electrician, he did not immediately follow his new trade. He went back to weaving to be with his elder children who were then entering the mill. In 1922 he was elected to the local Weavers Union committee. During these stormy years quarterly meetings were lively affairs. One resolution from Barnoldswick to the Weavers Amalgamation urged ‘the formation of Shop Committees as passed at the 1925 Trade Union Congress, held in Scarborough.” This was not passed. Another resolution raised, ''views with disgust the attacks on working class fighters shown by the arrest by the Government of the twelve communists", in January 1926, and this was passed after a change in some of the wording, the chairman thinking it unwise 'To adopt such a definite and compulsory resolution”.


May of that year saw the first prosecution in the Craven District under the Emergency Regulations introduced at that period by the anti-working class Tory Government. The Emergency Trades Council (remembers Jack Pilkington, who was himself a participant) issued a duplicated sheet with message, ‘Every man behind the miners’; ''Get the buses off the streets’ ‘Trade unionists, your duty is to boycott all buses’. ‘Don't support blacklegs, stand solid behind the miners’. These leaflets were distributed and Jim Howarth arrested in Manchester Road whilst giving them out there. This document was “calculated to cause mutiny, sedition or disaffection', and Jim was tried on these grounds. He was defended by F. W. Steele a local solicitor. Jim Rushton was called as a chief witness and replied that he was a member of the Communist Party. On being further questioned he stated that the trades council of which he was a member and Jim Howarth a co-opted member were responsible for the distribution of the leaflet, but he would not divulge who was its author or who was responsible for its duplication.

The solicitor defended on the grounds that Jin wasn’t listened to very much and therefore had no influence, and secondly the intent was only to prevent people using the buses by peaceful persuasion. After giving certain promises, Jim Howarth was fined £50 or two months imprisonment. The money was raised from donations, the Weavers Union being amongst the first to donate.


General relationships between these two bodies as stated had always been good but as early as 1924 discord began to show, the result being the banning of the Communists from the Labour Party as a result of that year's conference decisions. Despite this, the local party refused to expel the communists and joint activities on May days, and discussion classes still took place. Much of this united effort was built around the '’Sunday Worker’ which had a good sale in the town. A number of leading communists were on the local labour party committee, including Jin Howarth and Jim Rushton. This position continued until late 1926 when the right wing in the party, followers of Macdonald, broke away from the main local body, calling themselves the Labour League. This was done with backing of the backing of the Skipton Division of the Labour Party of which Barnoldswick was part. Undaunted, the official party carried on, paying outstanding debts and collecting membership dues, but eventually the divisional office stepped in and formed a new local branch excluding the communists. This happened soon after there had been a unity meeting, held to protest against the imprisonment of communists and South Wales miners and to uphold freedom of speech. A Mr. MacLean of the Burnley S.D.F. and Carradice of the Nelson I.L.P. were amongst the speakers.

After the new party had been formed the disaffiliated party carried on for a while but of course it was now splintered, so a decision was then taken to break up and either join the Labour Party or Communist Party which was done. But it did not prevent the Communist Party and Jim in particular from still maintaining close links with Labour members. One could visit Jim’s home almost any time and there would be people from the movement exchanging opinions on current questions or on Socialism


As a union committee member Jim [Rushton] became involved in this strike during March 1926. The workers had walked out in a body claiming compensation for ''bad stuff''. Jim had meetings at the factory gates and the workers had decided to stick up for their rights. The union would not give way so the employers locked out the whole town for three weeks.

The union committee issued a statement requesting ''no demonstrations, and disassociating itself from meetings held by the Communist Party, and further ‘that any official of the union taking part in such a meeting or making statements would do so on his own authority.’ The local press at the time reported that there were 1,000 non-unionists in the town. There was much hardship and Jim was agitating for relief. (The writer could not verify as to whether the locked out were allowed to draw unemployment benefit)

Negotiations between union and employers gave £30 which only amounted to some 15 shillings per weaver. The union secretary remarked that ''he was Glad it was all over, as he did not want the strike in the first place (Craven Herald).


Since 1912, cotton workers had received wage increases of larger or lesser amounts not less than nine tines, the last being in May 1920. In 1919 the workers claimed a reduction in hours also and 300,000 struck, winning a wage increase and a 48 hour working week, (from 55 ½ ). In 1921, after a strike lasting two weeks from June 3rd against a proposed wage cut, the Minister of Labour stepped in resulting in a 60% wage cut at once and 10% in December, (off list). Although there was a weak union leadership, many within the Amalgamation opposed the agreement and it was a week before the terms could be signed. In 1922, there was a further reduction of 40% and then 10% in April and October. (off list).

This wage settlement was extended to 1924, so then at the November Amalgamation meeting Nelson moved that a wage increase be demanded. This question was deferred, so at a similar meeting in March 1925, Nelson again pressed a resolution on wages. ‘The Wages of our members are below the cost of living, and if the list percentage was increased to 120% that would re-establish the 1914 status’.

Counter proposals were then proposed by the Central Committee, namely to demand a minimum wage of ten shillings per loom, payment for
underemployment at the rate of twopence a loom if stopped over two hours, weavers to be relieved of loom-sweeping, oiling and out-carrying and minimum payment to winders, beamers and reelers. This was the list of demands known as the ''Weavers' Charter”, accepted with enthusiasm and launched throughout the area. Jim as a Union committee member was naturally involved in this lively campaign. About a half-dozen leaflets were issued by the Unions or Weavers Amalgamation. The Nelson Weaver's ‘POWER LOOM’ gave a full page to its advertising. “Trade union efforts will increase your wage, improve your standards, enlarge your opportunities and limit the power of those who exploit your labour. Unity, the spirit and the will can secure these demands”. Everyone knew about the Charter. But
negotiations between Union lenders and employers dragged on and on for two years, and the employers showed no intention of budging. The Nelson delegates raised at the Amalgamation meeting of May and June 1927 the question of a wage increase, ‘As the Charter had got them nowhere’. They and Nelson’s supporters , pressed for a straight 25% increase without any other entanglements. This was opposed by the Central Committee at the June meeting on the grounds that it was inopportune. ''They had made a regular study of the situation and were in a good position to know the state of trade where looms and factories were stopped for months and years''. They were not going to argue the question from theoretical economics, because when the Committee had to face the employers it was not theoretical economics that would win our case''. Nelson and the militants lost on a show of hands. There the matter rested for the time being with the workers still on semi-starvation wages, on which Jim campaigned in his many meetings.


Despite the Anti-Trade Union Act of 1927 imposed by the Tory Government, most of the leaders of the T.U.C. fell for the ‘Soft sell of Mondism’ which was a continuation of MacDonaldism after the General Strike of 1926, the circumstances of which had shown, as A. J. Cook wrote, “that the new men and women are capable in an emergency of providing the means of carrying on the country''. This was something new, and the capitalist class did not like it, neither did most of the trade union leaders at that time. “Never Again” was to be the watchword of Jimmy Thomas, Walter Citrine, Bevin, Henderson and others, a slogan which was now intertwined with the Mondist Group of employers proposals of “let us all be partners in industry; we believe that the common interests are more powerful than the apparently divergent interests". The Mondists were a consortium of over 20 of the most powerful men in industry, including iron and steel, transport, oil, coal, cotton, shipbuilding and chemicals. Between them they held directorships in 189 companies half of whom sit in the chairman’s seat, some were presidents or vice-presidents and three were members or chairmen of the Federation of British Industries as well as in the National Confederation. All represented monopoly interests and rationalisation was the keynote, “prosperity to be won by all pulling together''. But as events were to show the workers in all industries were the sufferers.

It was at the July Amalgamation in 1928 that a resolution was discussed, tabled by the Nelson union. ''That this General Council meeting condemns the action of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress in entering into industrial peace conversations with the Mond Group of employers, instead of concentrating all their efforts in bringing to bear the whole power of the trade union movement behind sections of British workers who have been attacked. It further instructs the delegates to the T.U.C. “to press for a condemnation of
the conversations and a definite instruction for the General Council to abstain from any conversations with the employers or sections of employers”. This motion was defeated on a show of hands by the one from Todmorden “That this General Council approves the main principles of the Mond-Turner report''.

Jim’s expulsion from the union was carried out in the earlier months of the year, and the local press in April reported “that a ballot of union members in the town was in progress, but the writer could not find the results''. ''It was a substantial vote against expulsion'', recalls Jack Pilkington. Jim in his letter to the press makes his comments, (appendix) and shows the biased way events were conducted.

The year 1929 was another busy year for Jim. The local Communist Party branch started to publish the Barnoldswick Factory Worker, which was a duplicated sheet selling at a halfpenny. Unfortunately there are no known copies. Every Friday evening they [were] all assembled from the ‘hot’ news. Five hundred copies were printed every week. ''We could have sold more if we had had the time'' said Jack Pilkington.


This question had been a vexed one even before the present century and was more prevalent in such areas as Blackburn and South Lancs. It meant that water was sprayed from fine jets into the factory. This enabled short staple or cheaper raw cotton, when manufactured into ‘twist,' and given sizing and ''body’ to be woven in the loom without as many breakages of the warp threads. Arthur Henderson, the then Labour Home Secretary in 1924, appointed a committee on which sat employers, unions and scientists which after four years reported that there was no evidence that humid sheds (contrary to past contentions) gave rise to more sickness than in non-humid sheds. The total abolition of steaming would add to the difficulties of a portion of the trade by increasing manufacturers costs. A certain amount of humidity is essential in weaving but it should be controlled and there were certain ranges of temperature and humidity which gave [sic] more favourable for the weaver’s efficiency. These findings were embodied in an Act of 1924; ‘The Cotton Cloth Factories Act’, (Hopwood p.92.) Some manufacturers then started to introduce the system in other areas, and the question was asked “Why introduce it into areas which have all the time carried on well enough without it?” and it was opposed. Normanton’s factory workers in Nelson walked out several times and involved the union until later the system was stopped. In Barnoldswick Nutter's Bankfield Shed where Jim and Jack Pilkington worked in 1929 the employer tried to introduce the system and Jack Pilkington who was now a union committee man kept turning the humidifiers off when the wet bulb reached a certain point. They had a union meeting in the Palace Theatre but did not get any further with the question because controlled humidification was now an act of parliament. But there was so much opposition to the system and especially where there were militants in the factory, that the system never caught on in the new areas and the employers left it alone, probably having enough on their plate with the struggles developing around the more looms system and other breaches of

It was during this year Jim left the cotton factory for good. His war wound entailed certain difficulties when putting cops on, and doing other weaving jobs which in those years were not as mechanised as at the present time. He decided to put to use his training as an electrician and set himself up in a small way as an electrician, operating from his own home, but trade was not too good. However, his older children were now working and he was eager to give more of his time to political activity in the area. This was not easy for
the family to accept but they always remained loyal and he was always appreciative of this. He helped whenever he was needed in the house and if sickness occurred, which is the common lot of most families, he was always to hand. He was at his wife's bedside, often all night during an illness. His youngest daughter, Margaret, was at one time suspected of suffering from tuberculosis (later proved wrong) and every effort was made to get her well. Jim arranged that all the family drank goat’s milk as he said “he was down” on the purity of cow's milk, and he was right at that time.

In 1929, Jim went to Germany as a delegate from the Communist Party, and took part in [an] international meeting of cotton workers, which met when workers were facing bitter attacks from Governments and employers on a world scale. No records have come the writer’s way apart from a letter sent by Jim to her. On his return he was again in the thick of the struggle as events were to show. Jim Garnett, a cotton worker himself from Haslingden, and active with Jim in many of the activities of that time, remembers Jim on March 6th 1929 leading a march to Trafalgar Mill against the more looms system in Burnley. Jim with a big drum, beating out the first morning sounds as an omen of struggles to come. As one of the leaders of the National Unemployed Worker's Movement locally, Jim used to accompany unemployed workers when they were brought before the Court of Referees and was well known for his tenacity in winning their case. No matter who they were he would always do his best.

One such case involved Jack Pilkington himself. His employer at Nutters Bankfield shed was introducing the more looms system of payment but keeping in operation the four looms system because ''he didn't want to sack anyone'' This meant a reduction of wages per loom so there was a shop meeting and Jack led the opposition and the workers supported him. He later had to attend a week's union conference so the employer got busy and persuaded the workers to accept his system as it would mean less unemployment. On his return Jack was sacked because he would not accept the employers terns and so was refused the dole. The union became involved and he attended the Court of Referees accompanied by the secretary. After the second sitting Jack was allowed to sign on, “ after six weeks without a halfpenny coming into the home” remarked Jack. This decision by the Court became a test case and all unions were notified. A year or so later a further test case was given prominence in the Colne Times, August 28th 1930. It seems that a four loom weaver who had worked for the past ten years at the Spring Bank Weaving Company at Kelbrook, near Earby had been asked on the Saturday morning in question to run eight looms on the Monday after the weekend break, the wage to be £2-9s-4d. He agreed but the union advised him not to turn up for work in the Monday and he didn't. As a four loom weaver the man’s average wage over the last 35 weeks had been £1-11s-4d. This included holidays and underemployment. His possible average could have been £2 to £2-4s-0d per week. His wage on the eight looms if paid on the Uniform List (then in operation) would have been £3-12s-0d to £3-15s-0d per week, less a few shillings for helper labour under the eight looms system. Local union representatives and employers as well as a member of the Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers attended the Court of Referees. The employers claimed that the work offered the weaver was if anything a little easier, but that if the man had come on the Monday and asked for his four looms instead of the eight he had accepted then he could have had them, but at the lower rate of wages, which would be half the eight-loom rate they had offered, namely £1-4s-8d per week. The union claimed a breach of agreement, because more-loom experiments were confined to the Burnley factories. There was no objection to the more-looms, system so long as the employers paid standard list prices fixed first by the unions. But of course the employers would not agree to that. The Court emphasised its anti-unionism by its ruling that "by accepting work offered a claimant would commit a breach of rules of his union but [that] would not necessarily in itself justify the refusal of such work as
unsuitable''. In the end, the claimant was allowed the privilege of signing on as the work offered was not considered to give the same conditions as previously. This meant that those refusing the employer's terms, and being sacked, could perhaps sign on after a Court of Referees decision whose Umpires were establishment figures, but as Jack said, ''we didn’t want dole, we wanted reinstatement on the old terms”. Events were to show that breaches of agreements, based on this lack of fight by the unions, extended through the cotton areas.

It was in the year 1929 that the infamous Rigby Swift award was imposed. At the July Amalgamation meeting, delegates had rejected the employers demand for a wage cut of 25% from list prices. They were also given the information by the Amalgamation leaders that if there was a dispute, employers not in the Masters Federation and some others, would operate on the old rates of pay until the matter was settled and would confirm later to whatever rates of pay were decided. This was accepted by the assembled delegates. The partial stoppage of work then started on July 29th until August 17th pending arbitration.

Meanwhile, textile leaders had decided to interview Sir Horace Wilson, Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Labour, and the employers were subsequently drawn into the interview, but they refused to withdraw their wage demand or accept arbitration. Later in the conversations they did offer a more modified wage demand if the operatives would agree. The Spinning and Cardroom workers’ leaders did, but not the manufacturing side. At the August 17th Amalgamation meeting the information was given that the employers’ representatives had travelled up to Edinburgh to see the Prime Minister after which they accepted to go to arbitration. The union representatives met the T.U.C. General Council and again re-affirmed their acceptance of that policy.

All was then ready fur arbitration and Mr. Rigby Smith gave a wage cut of about 1/4 pence in the pound. At the union meeting and later Amalgamations, delegates were furious “ and did not think that a good case on behalf of their members had been put”… “the word weaver had only been mentioned once, and instead of dealing with wages, the whole subject of over-capitalisation and underproduction and things like that had been dealt with” Another delegate thought “that when he supported arbitration that such would reflect the influence of a Labour Government". James Bell, a leader of the Amalgamation offered the point of view “that the history of strikes and lockouts in the industry was far more disastrous than anything that had ever been done to us by arbitration''. He admitted “we had not got what we expected as he had been so confident of the case put, and thought our case was so strong that no arbitration court, however constituted, could have given a decision against us. The judge had come with his mind made up”. Even Mr. Luke Bates, the Secretary of the Northern Counties Textile Federation at that time, remarked ''It was in the domain of speculation, but he was of the opinion that we should have come out of the dispute better after a more prolonged stoppage. There was a large number of employers in the County in the balance financially, and to that extent we were in a favourable position”.

It was then moved by a delegate that this meeting expressed its disappointment with the award and that an immediate application be made for a wage increase of 25% on list. This was opposed by the leadership and so the matter was postponed but at the October Amalgamation meeting it was carried by 112 – 52. A ballot was taken towards the end of the year on this question which showed in round figures 94,000 in favour of ceasing work and 43,000 against. There was some opposition at the method used in taking the ballot. “They did not object to the secret ballot and the total number of votes being given for or against (said delegates at a later Amalgamation meeting) but they desired that each district should know its own strength” adding “That if the C.C. had been in favour of taking action on the wages question there would not have been the present departure from the usual method of taking a ballot''.

''In view of all the circumstances” wrote Edwin Hopwood (p. 94) (there were nearly 9,000 blank and spoiled papers and 20,000 papers not returned) it was decided not to proceed with the matter. The Communist Party had been active during this time campaigning against the threatened wage cuts and Jim, as usual, was to the fore. The Nelson Leader of August 16th [1929?] mentioned the distribution of a cotton lockout special which criticised “those TUC leaders willing to negotiate understanding that cuts would be involved”. “The leaders who desire peace in industry will negotiate a cut in the interests of that peace” and warned against mediation. ''It would disunite our ranks and would secure in n more ‘civilised’ way, the bosses' demands". "Yet the Government pleads that it is impotent to interfere.... what MacDonald means is that he is impotent to interfere on the side of the operatives… actually the Government

is interfering on the side of the cotton masters. It is not only refusing to keep the factories open by using the Emergency Powers Act but denying employment to hundreds of thousands of us who are on the streets through no fault of our own''. The same sources a week later drew attention to a meeting of members called by the Nelson Weaver’s Union where the Nelson M.P. Arthur Greenwood spoke in the Palace Cinema. It was a long plea for support for the Labour Government and arbitration. The leaflet claimed “Give them a chance, be patient, accept sacrifices, we shall be rewarded later... pie in the sky when you die” Mr. Greenwood must have known that arbitration was in the

offing. Such was the working out in practice of Mondism with the further deterioration in the standard of life for the cotton operatives.


The ink was hardly dry on the pen after the Rigby Swift agreement when the unions were confronted by the employers for a new basis of payment to weavers engaged on the more looms system in the ten or twelve experimental factories in Burnley. This particular experiment allowed by the Amalgamation started in April for twelve months up to March 1930 on eight looms per weaver, 4% of the looms with wages from about 46/- to 50/- a week and (now less because of the recent wage cut) arising from these experiments the employers proposed their new wages list in October 1930 and it was at a special Weavers Amalgamation meeting in November a resolution was passed “that we do not give powers to the Central Committee to negotiate on the proposals as submitted by the employers”, which was passed by an overwhelming majority. The leaders had wanted to meet the employers to pursue the matter further. In particular on the fall-back and minimum wage.

It was after this decision at the Amalgamation meeting when the employers issued notices to post in the experimental more looms factories and others where it was intended to run the system on and after January 5th all districts of the Amalgamation were then instructed to withdraw labour where this applied. The union had shop meetings at the factories involved and all had decided to strike on January 5th to which the Burnley employers replied by a lockout one week after. Even on January 2nd there was a last minute attempt to avoid confrontation when there were two meetings of the employers; first with the Northern Counties Textile Trades Federation and then with the Weavers Amalgamation leaders, asking the employers to revert to the four-looms system of working so that it could give a basis for more discussion of the employers' proposals and to seek power from the Amalgamation to do so. The employers did offer delay if the C.C. leaders could meet them “Clothed with authority” to negotiate terms, but none was given. Therefore in spite of the efforts of the Ministry of Labour there was a County lock-out of the manufacturing side of the industry lasting from January 17th to February 13th. Writing later in his Pamphlet ‘The Weavers Victory’ Zeph Hutchinson had this to say; “The posting of the above notices struck terror into the hearts and
minds of the Central Committee… The messages they have conveyed to the members throughout the district associations by way of leaflet and mass meetings were cast aside. Defeatism took complete possession of their mental outlook. They lamentably failed to correctly understand the economic weakness of the employers to enforce and hold a united County lockout; they equally failed to understand the temper and spirit growing with increasing momentum from day to day of the power of resistance of our own people to the entire system itself, regardless of any conditions that may be secured from its operation. The Central Committee quite frankly did not want to face a lockout. They feared it. They began to organise retreat before the lock-out commenced”.

For over seven hours at a special Amalgamation meeting on January 15th, the more looms' system was discussed and the debate was fast and often heated. Nelson's resolution “That we do not accept the principles of the more looms system” was withdrawn for that of a rider from Skipton “That the General Council is totally opposed to the more looms' system as proposed by the Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers Association and further expresses its opposition to any system of more looms to a weaver unless such looms be automatic or semi-automatic”.

This rider was not put to the vote by the chairman , and only Darwen’s amendment was therefore voted upon which stated “That the Central Committee be empowered to inform the employers that negotiations may take place upon variations in list prices for more looms to a weaver providing that satisfactory minimum wages and fall back wages be assured''. The voting was 100 – 63 in favour.

Many delegates thought that the Burnley strikers were being left high and dry so Bacup moved that the two motions previously submitted be put to a ballot vote of the membership so that they would be clear about what was involved. This was voted upon and accepted and the C.C. agreed to get such a ballot form out.
Two days later, at the monthly Amalgamation meeting, delegates were
informed that ballot papers were already out which read ''You are asked to declare whether you are in favour of empowering the Central Committee to negotiate with the representatives of the employers’ organisation upon variations in the price lists for more looms to a weaver system which the employers intend to introduce gradually and its extension jointly controlled, providing that satisfactory safeguards, such as fall-back wages and minimum wages can be assured”. There were strong protests from some of the delegates but the deed had been done and the ballot forms in the post. Alvery Barker the Secretary of Skipton Weavers' Union and one of the militants who later went on the “Rebel Delegation” to London had this to say when he spoke to 2,000 Nelson operatives as reported in the Burnley News February 11th (the day after), ''Did we receive the support of the men on the platform at the meeting for the ballot? You should have seen the antics of some of them when
the ballot was suggested and particularly when it was carried”. “It is the easiest thing to settle a dispute, any fool can give the employers what they like” “Just a week since today the dispute could easily have been settled if it had not been for the intervention of this publicity which the cotton trade, delegation set in motion”. Speaking in Colne and reported in the local press of February 13th he stated that '”before the ballot was sent out it was submitted to the officials of the Ministry of Labour and it has never been denied that it was also submitted to the employers”.

When the County lockout was pending the press as usual took a hand, whereby a cablegram was dispatched to James Bell, one of the leaders of the Amalgamation who was then out of the country on a trade mission to the Far-East which stated “Lock-out of weavers threatens hold-up of all Lancashire. Do you favour Weavers’ Amalgamation leaders being given full negotiation powers? Your lead would put great hope in possibilities of early settlement”. The reply to the Manchester Evening Chronicle being “Lockout would be disastrous, Amalgamation leaders should be given full negotiating powers, reason, not force should be used and a settlement secured”.

The result of the ballot showed 44,193 for negotiations with 90,770 against. Even Mr. Naesmith in the 'Daily Herald', February 27th of that year was reported as saying “That had the issue of more looms only been put on the ballot form, then there would have been a bigger majority”. The lockout itself was only partial one, and in Barnoldswick the factories never closed their doors. Here, Jim was advocating strike action in support of the striking Burnley workers, as it could be their turn next. Local union leaders attacked this as being “the less peaceful policy of the Communist Party.”

'Towards the end of January the Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald called together some members of the C.C. of the Weavers' Amalgamation including its Secretary and Chairman for the purpose of discussing how to get the more looms system accepted with “proper safe-guards” as suggested by J. R. Clynes a few days before.

This meeting was not to the liking of many trade unionists and the Burnley News reported on February 4th [1931] that this ''rebel delegation” was organised from Nelson. It seems that Zeph Hutchinson attended a discussion class in the union's rooms on Sunday February 1st where the C.C. of the Amalgamation’s attitude was discussed, and immediately got things moving, so that a cotton delegation set out on February 2nd bound for London. One of the “rebels'' was reported as saying, “I am afraid that if the Government does not do something there may be among the weavers of Lancashire political revolt against some of the Labour Cabinet Ministers. The weavers have said, through the ballot vote, that their Amalgamation is not to enter into negotiation over the system. We will not have the system and the Amalgamation knows it'”. This delegation was composed of Alvery Barker, union secretary for Skipton, George Brame, Clitheroe, and Zeph Hutchinson, Bacup, who were union secretaries from the smaller unions. Nelson composed the largest section, all were union committee men and from the factories, namely Jack and Ernest Williams, (father and son), Dick Martin, Charlie Chapman (union President) and William Gresty. From Burnley came Tommy Nutter a militant on the Burnley Weavers Committee, although probably not sent by the union. Many of these were to play a leading part for years in the cotton workers struggles and especially within the amalgamation.

The purpose of the delegation was to bring pressure on the Labour Government by seeking interviews with members of the Cabinet and impressing upon them the fact that the cotton workers had given no mandate for any negotiations to take place on the vexed question of more looms. Secondly, they asked for the setting up of a Cotton Control Board, for the purpose of re-organising the industry. They were not proposing capitalist rationalisation but advocating a Socialist solution with social ownership and control. Thirdly, they claimed immediate adequate maintenance for the locked out workers, and that the Government should make alterations in the Insurance Law which would enable the workers to draw immediate unemployed benefit.

At last, the delegation were 'ushered’, in to see Mr. Greenwood, then Minister of Health and Nelson’s M.P. who, after discussion, accepted the fact that re-organisation of the cotton industry was needed. Arthur Henderson, Burnley's Labour M.P. refused to see them, sending the information that Mr. Naesmith had sent a telegram (denied by him) to “ignore the cotton delegation” as it was 'unofficial'. The 'rebels' assembled with the Lancashire Labour and I.L.P. members who supported their aims. An attempt was made to get the matter placed for discussion in the House of Commons, but Ramsay MacDonald opposed it. But despite all setbacks the delegation claimed that “they had breached the wall of the Cabinet. Never in the history of the cotton trade unions has the voice of the Lancashire cotton workers been more clearly expressed at Westminster” wrote Zeph Hutchinson. The delegation returned home in high spirits, claiming they had won a great victory and there is no
doubt that their action had put heart into the struggle, and reporting- back meetings were well attended and enthusiastic. But there was nothing forthcoming by way of benefits to the locked-out workers.

When the matter of re-organisation of the industry was discussed within the Amalgamation shortly afterwards a resolution passed was for re-organisation, but as one delegate said it was on the lines of the Lancashire Cotton Corporation. Bacup’s motion “That no approach to a satisfactory settlement of the wages and hours problem within the industry and no restoration of its prosperity is possible without fundamental economic re-organisation designed to end wasteful competition and overlapping, to eliminate the effects of over-capitalisation, to re-equip many sections of the industry from the purchase to the merchanting of the finished cloth at home and abroad under the authority of a National Cotton Control Board, representing all interests including the trade unions and the nation as a whole, and invested with the full political power of the Government and the state for achieving the objects set out above.” This was defeated by 105 - 48.

At the February Amalgamation meeting the “rebels'' were taken to task because of their ‘unconstitutional’ methods of interviewing Cabinet Ministers and M.P.s and some leaders wanted top penalise them by forbidding them to attend Amalgamation meetings for a short while but this was turned down and they were admonished, the vote being 116-18 against their action, and it was then left at that. In February too the Amalgamation delegates turned the recommendation by the Central Committee that another ballot be taken regarding the more looms system and further scientific experiments. Outside the meeting, reported the “Burnley News”, were some twenty people demonstrating against such a ballot. The above local press, had, a few days previously, reported a meeting in the Co-op rooms in Hammerton Street, supported by Harden House Socialist Club, the S.D.F., I.L.P. and 'Organised Railwaymen', the Burnley Co-op Guild and Burnley Worker's Students Association. Arthur Riley a Burnley weaver was a speaker from the latter body and one of its founders. He was a long-standing communist and was in many campaigns with Jim. Known and respected throughout the Labour movement and interested in theory as well as in practice, he was a tutor for many years for the N.C.L. Colleges. Many of its members in those early years played a militant part in the cotton struggles.

A resolution passed at the meeting "that this meeting of Burnley workers expresses its sympathy and encouragement to the cotton operatives in their recent struggle and calls for its Public ownership and control by the Government” Copies of which were sent to the appropriate bodies.


February 13th [1931] saw the end of the lockout and the more loom experiments in Burnley were stopped. “We took the view” stated the employers, “that under the circumstances in which the leaders of the operatives found themselves it would be a long time before they were in a position to settle the dispute by arrangement during which time the industry would suffer irreparable damage out of all proportion to the object we had in view''. From all sides the employers were being congratulated for “putting the interests of the industry and the nation before whatever satisfaction might accrue from a victory of endurance over the operatives'' and that “To hold up an entire industry on this issue which affected only a small proportion of the whole and in view of the ballot of the operatives against negotiations, it was the only alternative as there was nothing to look forward to but a long and
bitter struggle”. With the issue at stake merely the extension of an experiment, the value of which to say the least, was extremely doubtful. Even before the lockout ended, the 'Burnley News’, February 9th, was giving reports of praise to Gray, the Chairman of the Employer’s Association, for keeping the issue to one of more looms and not wages and hours. "The clogs instead of brains idea is not confined to the extremists among the weavers. It is also to be found in certain employers". So it seems that the employers, in view of all the circumstances, made a tactical withdrawal preferring to fight another time. There was to be no “Backs to the wall, or diehard madness" and press headlines were to read - ''More looms not to be linked with wages and hours”. The Union leaders had not been able to meet the employers “Clothed with authority” and Mr. Naesmith had reported that the union districts were showing stronger feelings against the more looms' system.

Ramsay MacDonald, a week after the meeting with cotton unions leaders had sent a letter expressing his regret “after our conversations had been so fruitful, to let the matter drift”. It was claimed that four of the five points discussed had been agreed upon. The “Burnley News'', January 28th reported that the fifth point as to how many factories as a start should be allowed had not been received, the employers were pressing for 14 factories in 6 towns whilst the
operatives leaders had proposed 3 factories in 3 towns and in mills which were then closed.

Unable then to negotiate a more looms agreement as quickly as they would have liked, the employers were spoiling for struggle but now on wages and hours which united them all.

As early as January that year, the Secretary of Burnley Weavers, Mr. Hindley had warned: The employers had issued two notices, the first was a month’s notice to cease all agreements, the second that on and after a certain date such and such would be the wages paid. This would end all agreements under joint rules. The demand was for a 121 ½ % wage cut and a 55 ½ hour working week. It seems that these demands had been kept in the background pending a more looms' agreement, but it had not come off.

During the lockout, the Earl of Derby had sent a telegram as to the effect of an extended lockout on the London Textile Exhibition. With this ''gesture of goodwill'' questions in future, hoped the employers, would be conducted ''not as a struggle between two opposing forces but for restoring prosperity to the trade”.

But whilst the more-loom experiments had for the time being stopped in Burnley there were factories still continuing to operate, one of which was Haightons in Barrowford, near Nelson. It was only a small factory and it was the only one the Nelson union had been unable to stop, although pickets had been outside the gates for twelve months. At meetings organised by the Communist party and the Unemployed Workers Movement, Rose Smith and Saklatvala [Shapurji Saklatvala (1874 - 1936), a Parsi born in Bombay, became
a Member of Parliament in Britain in 1922 - 1923 and 1924 - 1929. He was the third Indian person and the second member of the Communist Party to become an MP. SCG] spoke as well as Jim and others. Increased interest was shown and more people assembled outside the factory gate to help the union pickets. Meanwhile Jim organised a march of the unemployed to the Lancashire County Council, starting with a dozen or so from Barrowford and increasing its numbers on route through Nelson and then to Burnley where they stayed in Burnley overnight in the unemployed rooms in Old Hall Street. The next day on to Blackburn where Amy Hargreaves remembers that the men stayed in the N.U.W.M. rooms whilst the women were given accommodation in the homes of sympathisers. They were met at the boundary by a contingent led by George Jane. He was a cotton worker more frequently unemployed than not, and an outstanding organiser and speaker, and had been in the Communist party for many years. As a member of the National body of the N.U.W.M. he was involved with Wal Hannington [leader of the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM)] in many of the great unemployed struggles of those years and became well known especially in his own area, and one remembers him outside factory or Labour Exchange or at a weavers union meeting using his talents to great advantage. What a great comrade George was. His wife Bertha, during 1930, served a month’s imprisonment with Maggie Nelson for their part in the unemployed struggles of that time and George was left with his two small daughters to care for. He was a comrade-in-arms of Jim.

The aims of this march to Preston was to claim relief for strikers, at the same rate as unemployment pay - relief without loan, no task work for those unemployed and receiving poor law relief, (this latter demand had the full backing of George Jane, as in many instances one would see George marching to the workhouse and leading a protest of unemployed who were so degraded that for a few shillings a week they had to do all manner of work and were often considered to be less than human. There were no trade union rates of pay here. George too had often been a recipient of this sort of treatment). The last demand was that trade union benefits should not be taken into account when assessing income for relief.

Jim, at the beginning of the march had been reported in the local press as saying – “if we cannot win these demands for the strikers that we have set out to do, the employers will use the starvation weapon and try to force a break-away”.

When the marchers reached Preston, a deputation chosen from a mass meeting was sent to the County authorities.

As soon as Jim arrived back from this march he helped to organise mass picketing outside Haighton’s factory and, from meetings held, a deputation was sent to the Council asking that the electricity for the firm be cut off and the withdrawal of police protection for the “knobsticks”, (strike-breakers). Such was the agitation over the weeks and so dense the crowd in Barrowford that it was left to the discretion of the drivers as to when to drive the trams to the village, “so as to ensure the safety of passengers and trams”.

'The local press of the time (Burnley Express, May 13th ) reported a meeting outside the Nelson union offices estimated to be from 4,000 to 5,000, attending a jazz band and big drum when local union officials spoke. Despite it "being frowned upon”, “Searching parties” left the meeting to look for “knobsticks” homes where some sods were thrown and windows broken. Mounted police were out in force and an arrest made. “Wearing a grave face” the mayor moved amongst the crowd asking them to disperse “As he didn't want to read the riot act''. But the Crowd went to the Police Station demanding that the arrested ''be fetched out of their cells'' and it wasn’t until after 11.00 pm that they were off home. Later, the town council criticised the action of the Police and it was arising out of such incidents that a councillor and two weavers' union officials were brought to court. They were let off with a caution and bound over.

A similar demonstration called by the union and to have been held the day after was cancelled and a notice displayed in the office window stated - ''demonstration for tonight put off, another demonstration will shortly take place”. It was reported that the Mayor had been seen earlier entering the union offices. This monster rally took place on May 16th and ''an orderly procession” numbering 3,000 marched through Nelson, the Mayor and union leaders at its head.

A crowd estimated at 20,000 was assembled on the Carr-Hall recreation ground on which were two platforms with Mr. Naesmith as the chief speaker. Local Labour councillors also spoke, one of whom was John Normanton, who later was to join the communist party and give years of service to the working class and especially the cotton workers within the Amalgamation and local union. Placards displayed at this mass event demanded from the Burnley weavers “Down with the 8 looms, systems”. ''The unemployed can't get 4 looms let alone 8”, ''Seven hour day, damn the 8 looms''. Even a few days before this demonstration, Jim had led a march past Haighton's house, carrying a big drum whose beats were heard far and wide, drawing attention to this hard-faced employer.

The Amalgamation had been asked a short while before by the Nelson Weavers Association to financially support an all-out Nelson Strike but had been refused, and so the factory was never stopped until the great strike of 1932 forced the issue.


On May 27th, the Burnley press had reported that Tertius Spencer the Burnley employer was equipping one of his factories to again start an eight looms experiment “as he knew that in Japan they were running many looms per weaver”. After a few days, this other factory (Imperial) was stopped because of
unruly demonstrations when thousands of people were on the streets and mounted police in force. Amy Hargreaves, an unemployed cotton worker and a communist, was arrested and followed to the Police Station by crowds of people. Refusing to be bound over she was later given a £5 fine, which was soon collected. She blamed the disturbances on the number of Liverpool police in the area. Spencer, who had already resigned his membership of the Employers' Federation, and, nothing daunted now opened his re-equipped factory (Queens Mill) which had been stopped for fifteen months. The main part of Spencer's workforce did not want the eight looms system, although there were hard cores prepared to tolerate it, so it was in the latter end of May that his unemployed workers met him and asked him to open the factory not on the eight-loom but on the six-loom system. They had also seen the weavers' union committee about the matter and generally propagated their views. The mill started to operate the system and the union organised mass picketing against. At a meeting near the factory, a rumour went the rounds that Spencer and the union leaders were meeting at the former's house and [the] local press of September 30th reported a march to the employer’s house of thousands of workers and unemployed, and one could hear the clatter of clogs above the din of the traffic as they marched up Manchester Road. When the crowd arrived they were met by police with batons at the ready so after a while the demonstrators withdrew and marched away. Actually the meeting was being held in the Mechanics Institute with the local union leaders, Amalgamation C.C. members, and to crown all, Spencer had brought along members of his knobstick factory committee. At this meeting agreement was made to the six-looms system in general as against the eight and wages and conditions fixed. The running of six looms was not uncommon amongst the men folk, especially on the bread and butter cloths, but whatever number of looms be run it would mean a reduction in payment per loom.

The employer agreed to “let things quieten down for a few days'” before re-starting the factory on the new terms, but all had reckoned without taking into account the October Amalgamation meeting. Agreements made behind their backs, with a low pick list and no guarantee caused so much ferment that the lenders had to quickly admit their mistake and the whole thing stopped and the pickets were out again on the Monday morning.

Police harassment then started with a vengeance. Rose Smith, a communist organiser then living in Burnley and originating from Mansfield, came with her two sons who went to school in the town. She was arrested and given a three months prison sentence, the headlines in the 'Manchester Evening Chronicle' reporting ''woman mill agitator sent to prison''. She was to have contested Burnley in the coming general election. Also Amy Hargreaves was given a fine of £8, but as a union member was defended. A few weeks afterwards Bessie and Harold Dickinson, who had come to Burnley from Blackburn in the hope of finding work were also arrested and given sentences of three months, along with Harper Harcher[sic], Abe Tickle and Dick Alford who got 14 days and a fine respectively. All punishments were for watching and besetting. As there was a shortage of cash, none were defended.

But police harassment didn’t end, as a few months later, Harold Dickinson, out selling the Daily Worker with others in Burnley Wood, was bundled into a waiting Black Maria, driven to the Police station, immediately tried in ‘Camera’, given a ten days prison sentence, and on his way to Strangeways before his family knew anything about it.

The communist candidate was now to be Jim, the 'Burnley News’ stating that the ''last minute nomination of Jim Rushton created a sensation in the town”. ''Communist in field” Very little press publicity was given Jim, apart from reporting a meeting of 2,000 on the cattle market with Ernie Woolley and Amy Hargreaves as supporting speakers, the latter at whose house he stayed during the campaign. Jim also spoke to the crowds outside the football field, and his mighty voice would come loud and clear through the megaphone, as the football crowds left. One of Jim’s first public engagements was to lead a deputation to the local authorities asking for increased relief for the destitution so prevalent and that the dole cuts should be made up by relief payments. Relief on local should cease claimed Jim and workers whilst on task work at the workhouse should receive their fares. They were promised that careful consideration would be given to their claims, but in the end there was a negative reply.

Jim carried out a strenuous campaign and with his election agent and helpers in prison, he carried on, reaching the length and breadth of the constituency. The Tory won the seat against Arthur Henderson and Jim only registered 512 votes. Nothing daunted he said in his after-the-poll speech, “Although we have had a small poll at the election, the writing is on the wall, I stand by my class, assured that the future belongs to them''.

Besides being active nearer home, Jim had more than a nodding acquaintance with events further afield, such as at the Perseverance Mill at Hapton, near Padiham whose employers were tampering with list prices, the union being involved. Mass pickets marched in from Padiham led by a jazz band, and a strike committee in the village met at the Bridge Inn. Miners at Hapton colliery helped to picket after they had finished work. There were several people arrested. The police eventually placed a cordon around parts of the boundary and all buses at particular times were vetted so that pickets were prevented from entering and the struggle reached a high level of militancy. Finally the activity petered out and it was left to the greater struggles of 1932 to stop the factories. Ernie Woolley played some part in this dispute. About this time, Crowther, a Harle Syke employer, had a strike on his hands by workers and union opposing shift working. A strike committee was set up and later the employer caved in. Unfortunately here, one or two of the militant union members were victimised which left a bad taste in the mouth. Earlier in the year an incident happened which was a little unfortunate for Jim and others. It seems that a leaflet on the Haighton's strike was to be issued and Jim approached a printer whom he knew in Burnley and had been a weaver just setting up in his new business who promised to do the job. Jim arranged that the finished leaflet be sent by tram to Nelson where Jim would pick them up and then deliver them around with helpers in the area. The printer did not include his name and address which was soon noticed by the police, who brought Jim and Walter Pilling to court along with the printer. The latter, explaining he had not agreed with the contents of the leaflet, was given a small fine, whilst the other two were fined £5 each. Jim was able to find the money but the latter could not pay immediately so was sent to prison until the money was found when he would be bailed out. Walter said - ''he saw some of the lads'' whilst in Strangeways. The printer it seems had got cold feet, as there was nothing brought up in court concerning the contents of the leaflet. During
the municipal elections, Jim had found the time to contest and so not

to split the vote had approached the Labour Party with a view to electoral agreement, Jim being willing to contest another ward than his usual one, but he was turned down. During this election and often before, Jim had led deputations to the local council asking that food and footwear be granted to needy children and was often listened to very sympathetically as these local bodies knew of the terrible destitution in the town. His election address included the request for a free room where the unemployed could meet for a little recreation; that modern homes be built and a work-scheme started to help the unemployed; the provision of stripping huts on the playing fields, and
lastly that the old tippler closets much is use, and emptied by workmen street by street in full view of those out and about, should be discharged at other times than daylight. [SCG note. I think this actually refers to pail closets. Tipplers were connected direct to the sewers and no emptying was involved]

For one reason or another, Jim only registered 41 votes and the local press hailed it “as a decisive blow to the communists”.

It was in 1931 that an agreement was negotiated on the more looms system between the firm of James Nelsons and the Nelson union. Here high grade cloths were involved. The speed of the looms was to be determined by experience and the looms were to become semiautomatic. There was to be a wage of 58 - 60 shillings a week up to a maximum of eight looms and with a bonus later to be introduced. Outside investigators would be allowed to give independent reports. There was to be ancillary labour. The employers claimed that any of the women made redundant would be absorbed as their factory was expanding. The union claimed it to be a good agreement, but some thought the wage too low and that the employer was on to a good thing. But on the whole it was well accepted by the workers.

So far as the more looms system on the ordinary Lancashire Loom was concerned, the Amalgamation finally did give their Committee power to negotiate, but no agreement was arrived at, the employers remarking that if they had to pay the wages proposed by the unions it would be better to end the discussion and ask them to agree to a 25% wage cut off list prices. This, said the employers, would ease the present situation without them being involved in the more looms problems. And so the scene was being set for the great 1932 struggles.


This year was certainly a momentous one. Employers were contravening agreements left, right and centre. “We are in the grip of remorseless competition” warned Mr. Naesmith. Trade had declined despite attacks on living standards. The local Blackburn paper during January was reporting that Grange mill was operating the same system as Spencer in Burnley, and had twice as many operatives as required, whilst Cherry Tree mill operatives had offered to work a 52 hour week for 10 shillings less. This mill was one of the Dugdale group of factories but strikes were in process in the others with most of the workers out. “There had been a poor turn up for work”, the press reported. During May the Blackburn Times gave the information that about 28 mills out of the 62 working were operating some form, of wage cut, with disputes in active progress in 14 of them. By June the same source reported, there was an extension of mills on separate agreements with no further withdrawal of labour, and now only 20 factories would be paying list prices. The Blackburn Times also mentioned a ballot which had taken place in Padiham showing a vote of 1,655 with 1,516 against, accepting a wage cut of 1/1 ½ in the £ pending a County wage agreement, which the local Textile Trades Federation had accepted as its policy. But it wasn't got away as easy as that because the three mills of the Church Street Manufacturing Company struck when a wage cut had been announced and restarted on the old Uniform List wages. Great Harwood, a nearby town, had its Premier Mill operating on a wage cut and had introduced a co-operative scheme with 500 operatives working and 70 on strike. In South Lancashire, at Chorley, reported the Blackburn Times, the workers had accepted a wage cut of 6 ½ % which was the outcome of a meeting between the local Textile Trades Federation and employers. The former body had made the “request for a joint meeting to discuss conditions under which an agreement can be made…. and there is
recognition on our part that a new agreement involves a reduction in wages” Luke Bates, who was the secretary of the Lancs. Textile Trades Federation blamed it all on unemployment.

But in Haslingden, it was another kettle of fish. Jim Garnett, Harry Fuller, Danny Mead, involving their own union families and friends, were in the thick of it at Syke mill. ''Knobsticks came from Great Harwood and there were mass pickets at the factory gates. Police were out in force and pickets harassed by them were allowed escape routes through the houses of workers nearby. One day a picket was arrested, where upon a meeting at the 'Big Lamp’ sent a deputation to the police station followed by the crowd demanding the prisoner's release. After there had been threats of rushing the doors of the Police station the police hesitatingly allowed the prisoner to leave on a surety of £5. Another mass meeting was held, and from the 2000 people assembled a collection was taken to pay for any possible fine and for legal representation. The day of the trial saw a demonstration outside the court house and a 'bound over’ verdict was given. But that was not the end of the matter, for when the knobsticks approached the centre of the town in their two buses, several of the demonstrators lay down in the way of the buses and forced them to stop where upon missiles were thrown. The mayor came and read the riot Act and received a noisy hearing. News flashes on the local cinema screen announced that Syke Mill would not re-open on the Monday morning. Working with Jim Garnett and Harry Fuller in this period and later in the cotton struggle, one remembers Danny Mead, a local spinner, and a well-known speaker and leader. The Fuller family, the Garnetts, Plaices and many others. Many of them had met and worked with Jim Rushton.


At the beginning of 1932 the local weavers union were requesting the Amalgamation to give them financial support so as to strike the town due to the many breaches of agreements. This was given a week later and then the matter was left in the hands of the Burnley Union and the C.C. of the Weavers' Amalgamation. A ballot was then taken by the Burnley T.T. Federation, resulting in 16,618 for a strike to enforce agreements and 1908 against, but strike action was postponed. At the February Amalgamation meeting it was reported that normal conditions had been secured at many of the factories concerned and that as there were only five now in dispute there would be no Burnley strike.


A dispute at this factory started in May [1932] when the employers posted notices for a wage cut of 1/6 in the pound and so the union called for strike action at the mill. Pickets were outside the gate. Only some 58 workers answered and 160 did not, which together with about 26 outside knobsticks enabled the factory to keep running. This factory was only a few miles from Jim’s hometown and Jim was able to hold meetings and so help the mass picketing which had already commenced. A strike committee was formed which met in the Weavers' offices. It also embraced many unemployed. The local weavers union secretary could often be seen on the picket line. When some two months later all Earby struck with Burnley, Shuttleworths were forced to close because the firm shared an engine with a factory now on strike. The strike committee was now extended and more people were now involved in collecting so that strikers could be helped, even including non-unionists. On Earby station almost every day one could see men and women, collecting tins in hand, leaving for areas as far away as Scotland. Jack Pilkington who was a member of the strike committee, remembers the Scottish Wholesale Society made up a five shillings food parcel for every 3/6d they collected. There were marches and mass meetings, and cricket matches organised and such like. One leaflet produced shows Jim heading a march through this small town carrying a small boy and with a banner proclaiming ‘Our fathers and mothers are fighting for our butties’. The town was known throughout the dispute as being militant and well organised. The police were often there in full force and on occasions spent the night in one or other of the factories in the area. At one factory gate meeting during the Shuttleworth strike, Jim was arrested and fined 10/- and a week later was again summoned before Skipton Court, when strikers and unemployed walked or cycled the six or so miles displaying banners which stated ‘Shuttleworth strike committee’ ‘Stop the police terror’ ‘down with the means test'’. In reply to the police witness who stated that Jim had gathered a large crowd causing an obstruction, Jim’s reply was that it was the bosses causing the obstruction and that if they withdrew
their notices everything would then be quiet in Earby. A list of fifty witnesses was presented by Jim but after three had given evidence the magistrate said that if all were giving the same evidence then it would be a waste of the court's time. A fine of £1 was imposed. A superintendent at the court remarked that if he continued “Rushton would have to be dealt with as a public nuisance”. Jim retorting that he didn't know if a threat was meant but he didn’t like the statement. Later in June Jim was again before the court and had been kept in Armley gaol for a day or two. It seems he was arrested in Barnoldswick in Station Road. “You wouldn't have done this if my lads had been with me, where is your summons?” “At the police station,” was the reply, and any eye witness then saw Jim handcuffed and taken away. During these troubled times Jim was hardly ever left on his own, and often used to stay at the homes of his numerous friends and would use devious routes to return home. He had made a small retreat in the foundations of his house which he approached by ladder, and although uncomfortable it served its purpose. Mrs Rushton gave her children strict instructions that if the police came to the door they had to “tell them nowt”. Brought before the court on the charge of intimidating and besetting, Jim was this time defended, and after a lengthy hearing was fined £25 with £4.13s-0d costs, which sum was soon raised from collections and such like. Jim Garnett remembers that the workers of Birley’s factory threatened strike action if Jim was sent to prison and that this employer retired from the bench during the trial.


Practically all factories in Burnley were threatened with breaches of agreement when in April the employers entered a claim for wage cuts which would have meant 3/4 in the pound [cut], and that claim they received no satisfaction they would end all existing agreements by June 11th. A ballot to be conducted by the Northern Counties T.T. Federation was then decided upon, which body was an amalgamation of all the unions comprising the manufacturing side of the industry, the Weavers Amalgamation comprising about three quarters of the whole. Along with the ballot form sent out was a separate statement from the Northern Counties Federation itself first giving the state of the industry and adding ‘that the circumstances call upon us either to resist or negotiate’, “We are asking for an expression of your will - let it be of a decisive character upon one or other of the two propositions - 1) Are you in favour of withdrawing your labour on June 11th against the decision of the employers to end existing agreements? 2) Are you in favour of your officials negotiating? Preparations can be made for resistance or negotiations”. It was to be left “to the unfettered judgement of members”, with no recommendations. Delegates at the May meeting of the Amalgamation had endorsed the recommendations of their Central Committee for strike action, but the Nelson Weavers' union had advocated that its members vote for the first , proposition on the ballot paper but not the second.

After the ballot figures showed that within the Amalgamation itself 79,000 were for strike action and 19,000 against and 51,000 for negotiations and 27,000 against. Taking the overall vote of the Northern Counties Federation figures gave 88,000 for strike, 24,000 against, 63,000 for negotiations with 29,000 against, all in round figures. This result was not considered to be decisive, so a further ballot was taken on the straight issue of strike action or negotiations, which resulted in 70,000 for strike and 50,000 for negotiations within the Weaver's Amalgamation, and for the whole Northern Counties Textile Trades Federation was 78,000 for strike and 61,000 for negotiations. There was still no decision for strike action. In the course of his review at the June 30th Amalgamation meeting, Mr. Naesmith gave the reason as to why no action had been taken stating ''The Central Committee had all along been in favour of strike action, but our members would not respond, and he was not going to ask our members in those areas where strike action was possible to sacrifice themselves in the manner advocated''. The C.C. asked that the matter of future negotiations be left in their hands ''with powers to deal with the situation as it arose”, to trust them and give them a lead. The voting was 81 - 69 for the Central Committee, and this despite the fact that the Secretary at one point in his statement had said, “he did not want anybody to be deceived, negotiations would mean a reduction in wages” But the employers were still pressing and despite telephonic communications between union leaders of Burnley and Weavers Amalgamation with the employers, the latter refused to budge and would not withdraw notices, nor attend the suggested meeting from which the union leaders hoped an agreement could be made on wages and conditions. Then the Burnley T.T. Federation met and voted for a Burnley withdrawal of labour by 39 - 16 votes. The strike started on the Monday, July 24th [1932].

During that week, reported the 'Nelson Leader’ (July 29th), strikers from, Burnley, Brierfield and Earby invaded the town where “speeches were made by strikers and communists”... and with bugles blaring and banners waving, they called for 'not a penny off the wages, not a minute on the day’. A deputation from the crowd was sent to the Nelson Weavers' Union Committee who were in session and was listened to very sympathetically. At the close of the meeting at 10.00 p.m. the union secretary addressed the assembled crowd saying ''We have taken steps to call for a requisition meeting of the general council of the Weavers' Amalgamation and have get the signatures necessary for the calling of such a meeting”. The resolution to be put being “That this special general meeting instructs the General Council to call a strike of all our members against the abrogation of agreements and the imposition of wage-cuts''. There was general disappointment reported the paper that Nelson had not been called out there and then.

Meanwhile the Burnley strike was solidifying. “A crowd of 2,000 - 3,000 strong gathered in the Bishop House mill area and broke the Police cordon” reported the ‘Nelson Leader’, that more mills were closing and that Spencer's Queen's mill closed in the afternoon and then the crowd moved on to Marles mill. Brierfield mill near Burnley was the next target. Out of a workforce of some 1,100 there was said to be about 700 knobsticks inside. Mass picketing commenced so in the ‘interest of law and order', the employer stopped the factory. There were seven arrests. The Burnley union had from 60 - 100 pickets positioned at the various factories and police from Manchester and Liverpool were sent in, just in case they were needed. Knobsticks were followed to their homes. The Nelson press reported on 21st August that there was another demonstration converging on Nelson to press Nelson to support a county strike. “A procession from Burnley to Nelson led by the communists was about 1 250 strong, but passing through thickly lined streets had grown to 3,000. Police stopped the march at the boundary, when the demonstration, led by a band, couldn’t be allowed through”. It was broken up and Mr. Page Arnot, says the report, proceeded on to Nelson where he spoke at a meeting there. Page Arnot was living in Burnley at the time, where from his vast experience especially in the general strike and amongst the miners he was able to give the benefit of his knowledge to the struggling cotton workers. He was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist party. Meanwhile the special meeting of the Amalgamation assembled in Manchester on 3rd August. Outside the hall was a deputation of workers who had been sent from a mass meeting carrying posters in favour of Nelson's efforts. They sent in a message asking if one of their number could say a few words but were refused. Jim and Amy Hargreaves pushed into the foyer of the hall to speak to the reporters and make their presence felt, but were sent out.

Despite the fact that it was a requisition meeting, the Central Committee claimed the right to place before the delegates the results of the negotiations With the employers to date, which had resulted in the proposal that if the latter would reduce their wage cuts demand to about 1/4 ½ in the £, then they, the unions, would accent the same, but were not prepared to go any further. They also requested the reinstatement of operatives and security of agreements. Nelson’s resolution then came up for discussion, strangely enough without comment from the delegates as to the Central Committee’s proposals to the employers. The debate lasted for 3 ½ hours, but the C.C. won the day on its proposal to adjourn the meeting and leave the matter in their hands, only carried by a majority of seven votes. The Nelson spokesman made it clear that they wanted action to maintain the status quo whilst the C.C. were willing to negotiate a wage cut.

The press were now jubilantly reporting that no county strike would now take place but during further joint meetings the employers were adamant that they would not reduce their wage demand below 2/1d in the £ and would not budge on the question of re-instatement. How could they reinstate asked one employer, when we are pressing a more looms system. Thus; delegates at the 11th of August Amalgamation meeting were told that negotiations were at an end and offers towards a settlement withdrawn. It was a fight now for what was considered to be in the best interests of the members said the C.C. namely the full price list, 48-hour week, re-instatement and the sanctity of agreements. Nelson pressed for immediate strike action, but it was delayed until the Northern Counties T.T. Federation could be consulted, the voting being 94-55. At the meeting of the latter body it was decided “after hesitancy” that there would be a withdrawal of labour “unless the employers were more reasonable” It was reported in the Blackburn press on the 20th August that the Burnley Strike Relief Committee distributed a leaflet outside the Blackburn meeting that “your discussions and decisions are being closely watched by every worker in Lancashire….. you will be judged by all trade unionists on the basis of your action. Your task is quite clear, endorse the call for an all county strike and see that the call is put into immediate operation.... if any other decision is arrived at, make no mistake, every worker will see that you are assisting the employers to break the Burnley strike”. Before the county strike on 27th August, workers in Preston and Haslingden were called out a week before by their union along with those in Earby.


So the County strike was now underway. By September 3rd nearly all Blackburn was out, and later four factories were closed by pickets, reported the local press. Some factories in Darwen did not at first stop work. Mr. Naesmith went down there to get the factories solid, mass pickets were in action and there were seven arrests. Later more factories stopped in the town. The small town of Rishton was solid whilst Jim was leading mass pickets in his own area. The local press reported mass picketing at Sough mill, Earby and at Dotcliffe mill, Kelbrook. Foot and mounted police were much in evidence. An eye witness reported that Jim managed to dodge down a side-road and so evaded the police although there were two arrests. At Long-Ing shed in his hometown there was much police harassment of which the local council complained to the Yorkshire police headquarters whose reply was that “it is common knowledge that on the day in question there was organised a very large crowd in the vicinity of Long-ing shed, for the purpose of intimidation and molesting certain people who had exercised their legal prerogative in going to work. They found it necessary to draw their batons, and the local police was quite insufficient to deal with it''.

''The response to the appeal for withdrawal of labour was remarkably loyal” writes Edwin Hopwood in his book ‘The History of the Weavers Amalgamation’, pp. 109-10, “particularly in N.E. Lancashire. So successful was the stoppage that it surprised a very large number of observers who had been watching the trend of events, and who did not think it was possible, in a time of industrial depression, for successful action to be taken by an operatives organisation”. South Lancashire seemed to be the weak link, where, reported the 'Blackburn Times’ of 3rd September, “there was a resistance to strike”. There were the usual ‘reds under the bed’ scares, when the same local paper, a week later, reported a reply by Luke Bates to a local employer using the scare that “the workers were of a high character and that Russia with her two and three shift system and her vigorous policy of repressing minorities etc. was, with funds belonging to the Third International, able to subsidise unrest all over the world. She had concerned herself about the destruction of the Lancashire cotton industry .... the people who were demonstrating in the market places were merely tools in the hands of able and subtle men”.

In the early days of the strike, the Nelson Labour party organised a mass demonstration primarily against the means test, the local paper reported that “at its head runs the big Silken banner of the Social Democratic Federation whilst smaller banners demanded ‘reinstatement for all weavers’, ‘Union pay for all striker’, ‘no talks on wage cuts’, ‘'This is a grand national government, 1914 heroes, 1932 zeroes’. The rest of the procession the paper reports was brought up by members of the rank-and-file strike committee who had been debarred by the organisers from taking part.


Edwin Hopwood gives the information in his book (pg 10) that at the Newcastle T.U.C. that year, efforts were made which produced some £12,000 in cash and all in all supplied over 256,000 food parcels worth 2/9d each and made into parcels worth 3/7d by the C.W.S. Money and footwear were also given from other union sources. It was distributed by the local unions. The local press on 2nd September gave the information that in Nelson a food centre was operating from William Street where about 250 were fed daily. It was organised by the Workers International Relief, the prime mover being the Communist Party. Walter Pilling remembers that the local council provided the rooms and ovens. Food and cash was collected from the local shopkeepers and Co-op. Colne made similar efforts, and the W.I.R. held a meeting where Jim, Rose Smith and Ernie Regan spoke, the latter lived in Burnley and had been N.E. Lancashire organiser of the C.P. for many years, his wife Eva, who was a weaver, played a leading part for many years in the movements of the day. Evelyn Howley remembers that there was then planned the opening of a small food kitchen. Evelyn had just entered the movement and joined the Communist party and as a cotton worker and union member was kept busy with the work it entailed. Her husband Jack was to join the ranks of the International Brigade a few years later.

But the largest food kitchen came from the efforts of the Labour party which, led by Bill Whittaker who was its secretary, made an all out effort and were able to serve 200-300 meals a day. Cannon Dempsey of Colne helped by gifts of money and goods. After the strike says Bill, the smaller body of the W.I.R. merged with the larger one of the Labour party and formed a Children's breakfast committee whereby breakfasts were supplied daily to needy children. Bill, who was a textile worker, became a member of the Communist party and has served the movement and working class well.

The Blackburn press reported that on 17th September a lorry load of food arrived in the town from Birmingham sent by the Workers International Relief, and that after a meeting on the market square the feed was taken to the Communist Party headquarters prior to its distribution. There were sacks of potatoes, fresh vegetables, crates of bread and packets of tea and sugar, which were thankfully accepted as a gesture of solidarity, which with other efforts for relief and such like helped to put heart in the struggle.


Behind the scenes many meetings were on hand involving the Ministry of Labour which finally resulted in the Midland Agreement. Sittings lasted from 13th September to the 24th, under the chairmanship of F. W. Leggett the Chief Conciliation Officer. The Northern Counties T.T. Federation conducted negotiations for the operatives. The re-establishment of collective bargaining, maintenance of agreements machinery, wages and re-instatement comprised the agenda. Even when these discussions were taking place the 17th September Amalgamation meeting reported complaints from some delegates that some South Lancashire districts such as Whitworth, Rochdale, Oldham, Ashton and others were not showing the solidarity required and that Bell and Nuttall should be expelled from the Central Committee. When the negotiators produced the results of their deliberations, which gave 1) A wage cut of 1/8 ½ in the £; 2) no firm guarantee of re-instatement but that “good will” should be shown; 3) there was to be early negotiations to finalise the more looms, system. On wages, both sides split the difference between their previous offers of wage cuts of 2/1d in the £ from the employers and ¼ ½ from the union.

At a special Amalgamation meeting on 27th September the agreement was accepted by a 97 - 53 vote after some bitter discussion lasting 2 ½ hours. Outside the meeting-place were assembled members of the Cotton Workers Solidarity Movement who confronted the delegates with “don’t sign” calls. Nelson pressed for a ballot and received much support as the voting showed in their opposition to the terms.

Weavers' officers were besieged by callers, reported the ‘Blackburn Times', asking about their re-instatement. Many became, part of the permanent unemployed. In N.E. Lancashire most of the Blackburn factories restarted on Wednesday the 28th September and nine mills in Darwen had already restarted before the strike ended, which caused some dispute with the then union secretary.

There was great bitterness in Nelson when a 28th September union meeting in the Imperial ballroom, which overflowed into the Palace cinema and the Weaver’s hall, and after a resolution protesting at the decision to return to work the following day which was Thursday. This was received with much booing and thousands left the meeting determined not to start, reported the local press. The local employers immediately forwarded a letter to the union claiming a definite breach of agreement, and that the mills would now re-open on the following Monday. Burnley on the whole, returned the same time as Nelson. The small town of Earby returned after there had been a meeting between union and employers on the question of re-instatement. Jim with the Earby strike committee had long since decided on the principle of “one back all back”. Jack Pilkington remembers this was adhered to, and the local press reported “that the terms of re-instatement would be carried out by all firms locally”. But there was no doubt about the bitter feeling throughout the County against the Midland Agreement, and this on top of the unrest in the card and spinning sections who had balloted overwhelmingly for strike action. Nelson union had met with some half dozen other union districts reported the local press and a resolution of protest was made. Press reports gave the main details of the Communist Party leaflet which suggested that not only union committees should come together but the rank and file from union and factory. As Nelson was the centre of the unrest in N.E. Lancashire, there is much information over the following weeks as to the results. The first week in October, reported a union members' meeting in the Palace theatre where a resolution was passed to withdraw from the Weavers Amalgamation and from the Northern Counties T.T. Federation and which the Committee and all militants opposed. The latter were pressing Nelson to call a broad conference for the purpose of discussing the Midland Agreement and how to fight it but this was not taken up by the platform. It was then decided to take a ballot on the question if staying in the Amalgamation or not.

Later, a further leaflet issued by the local Communist Party opposed a split within the union but asked “is our magnificent strike to be betrayed by the union leaders? This is a burning question”…. we came out on strike after Burnley and Earby had led the way,… our strike had aroused the admiration of the whole working class, it strongly influenced the ballot of the spinners and card room workers... but the leaders of both the weavers and the spinners have prevented united action….. we must have the final word. All that has been done against us in the Midland Hotel, our standing firm can undo. Insist

Upon a ballot vote on the terms of the Midland Agreement. The Nelson ballot resulted (in round figures) 6,000 for staying in the Amalgamation and 3.000 against.

The ballot forms issued by the union had included a statement from the committee which said “We cannot fight alone, and we cannot fight the Midland Agreement on our own ….. our great weakness in the past has been the craft unions, all having a constitution and policy of their own.... Nelson is needed in the Amalgamation to fight the leaders - we don’t need another Amalgamation, but unity in one” “The ballot is more important because the spinners and card room workers have repudiated their own leadership... and have learnt the lessons of the weaver’s strike ... the ballot in Nelson can be made the beginning of real unity.... that is why we want a 100% vote in favour for use for the calling of a conference of delegates to organise the fight for unity”. The local press, 4th November, stated that Communists were busy distributing thousands of circulars to “smash the Midland Agreement”. “No wonder there is such a demand for a break-away. But let us think, is this the best way.... it will split our forces”. Delegates from Burnley, Colne, Earby, Bacup, Clitheroe and Padiham also voted against the Agreement and thousands in other places had no chance of expressing their opinion... and the leaflet again stressed the calling of a conference led by Nelson. But after all the efforts the matter seems to have rested and no conference appears to have been called.


The more looms agreement terms arising from the decisions of the Midland Agreement were negotiated in December, and Mr. Leggett was again brought in. The final terms being, a wage of 41 shillings for standard cloths woven by a weaver4 of average ability, if earnings fell below 90% of that figure then a joint investigation could be made. As well as reduced loom speeds, there was to be larger weft packages. There was to be a minimum fall-back wage of 28 shillings a week but the employers reserved the right to lift warps out, and so, in practice, the fall back wage could be avoided, with the affected workers being put on the dole.

A somewhat similar draft, arising from previous union and employers negotiations had been rejected earlier in March by the Weaver’s Amalgamation by a 93 – 73 vote, despite the Central Committee’s proposal for its acceptance. Again, in December, they argued for its acceptance “not because of the employers but because of the action of the workers themselves who were already working on the system”. “The negotiating committee” it said “had been working with two pistols at its head, one from the employers and the other from the economic circumstances of our own people”. “How could the Amalgamation avoid the system, it was the best that could be got in the position they were placed”. Although Nelson pressed for a ballot it was rejected and a card vote gave 104 – 40 for accepting the terms. There was strong feeling at this meeting against the Northern Counties T.T. Federation who had negotiated the award. The card room and spinning workers although voting overwhelmingly for strike action were to get their cuts in December.
Since 1928, the Weaver's Amalgamation paid out in benefits about £700,000 which together with the union districts amounted to £1 ½ million. This was for disputes connected with the more looms system and wages. Allen Butt in his book 'The (short) History of British Trade Unionism” pp 127-8 quotes, “the preceding conflicts in Lancashire were entirely eclipsed by the weavers, strike in the summer of 1932, whose battles to pull out knobsticks and mass marches from town to town to close down all mills, recalled the insurrectionary General strike of 1842; despite police violence and repeated gaolings under the 1927 Act, the Weavers fought on to the end of September when the final enforcement of wage cuts and the more looms system left the cotton industry seething”.

Altogether, the year had been a hectic one for Jim as well as others, and as shown, there was much police harassment. Martha Kershaw remembers Jim one evening speaking on Jepp Hill in his home town, where the police were as usual milling around. He had not long been released from Armley gaol, and whilst in there had learned verses from a book of Shelley’s he had borrowed, namely, ‘The Masque of' Anarchy’, the last part of which he recited to the large crowd; “Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable numbers, shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep has fallen on you, Ye are many they are few”. So enthusiastic were the crowd that evening that they escorted him home en-masse. At another meeting at the same place and with the police still harassing, Jim was the first of two speakers and whilst the chairman was announcing the second speaker, Jim was spirited away and she never saw him again that evening. She also remembers during the hard times that Jim put up in his home a destitute elderly man for a week or two to keep him from being sent to the workhouse. He failed in the end, as the workhouse in those years claimed its victims.

But such was Jim’s humanity, It was in December of that year when Jim was fined £1 for collecting, as Evelyn Howley recalls, for the Ryhope miners, Durham, who were on strike. In court he asked why couldn’t he collect when the Salvation Army was allowed? Some of the miners down from Ryhope collected money by singing in the local working men's clubs, remembers Evelyn.

Earlier in 1932 Jim had contested the local elections and of course made his comments on the more loons' system. Dealing with the rating system Jim stated “I am in favour of a reduction in rates and so are the other candidates, but the difference between them and me is that as a communist I want lower rates for the workers and the higher rates for the rich.... I would go further and say that the workers should not be burdened with rates at all''. He received 266 votes.

Although it was claimed that the Midland Agreement would now guarantee collective agreements and collective bargaining, this did not prove to be so and there were complaints that on the question of re-instatement of operatives there was not much ‘good will’ in evidence. This was especially so in Burnley which had still, as was shown in the April 1933 Amalgamation meeting, 1,300 on the union books with lesser amounts in other districts, all of which was draining the union’s funds. Barnoldswick delegates were in a bitter mood, “they had a two shift system they hadn't been able to stop. [At] Clough mill their local employers [association] secretary was running his mill on reduced wages... last week another large firm called their operatives together in regard to a further wage cut... this week another large firm did the sane”. So many were the complaints that the leaders decided to call a meeting in the Palace cinema, Barnoldswick where some top leaders of the Amalgamation spoke. The leaflet advertising the meeting said ''This meeting is called to give the reasons why Barnoldswick should adopt the more looms system”. It was intended to show the employers as well as the workers that the unions were keen to enforce the 1932 Agreements. Later a ballot was taken in the town resulting in 1319 to enforce Agreements and 1013 against, with 470 neutral. “With these figures before us we could not recommend strike action, and the only conclusion we could reach is that the more looms system should be scrapped” was the report at the local quarterly meeting of July. But the months ahead would show that the system had come to stay.

The Clough mill strike began in September 1933. It was in August that Jim started to hold factory gate meetings because of the many complaints of underpaying at that firm. There was a double shift system at the factory, which had been frowned upon by the union which had expelled all those workers operating it. After agitation by Jim the night shift struck, so the union brought out the day shift a week later. A strike committee was formed which met in the union offices. Relief was fought for and collections taken throughout the town. The local press reported on September 9th a mass meeting at Butt's Top from which a deputation was sent to the Relieving Officer protesting strongly at the refusal to pay some young workers relief who had been given tickets for the workhouse. This effort resulted in the youngsters getting their rights. The strike committee organised hikes and social events, and there was a good spirit. Negotiations then went on between union and employers and eventually the strike was won and Jack Pilkington reported that some workers being underpaid received as much as 38 weeks back-pay. The double shift system was also stopped.


The National Conservative member for the Skipton Division had died whilst in South Africa and so caused a by-election. To everyone’s surprise Jim was fielded as the fourth candidate. “Mr. Rushton had headed several marches to the West Riding County authorities with the object of promoting work schemes for the unemployed, and also to bring about an increase in public assistance benefits'', ''Two years ago'', the local press report went on, “Mr. Rushton made a tour of the Soviet Industrial centres as a delegate from the Manchester area organisation (of the Communist party) and gave reports of his local election contests as well as the general election contest in 1931 in Burnley”. Ernie Woolley at a local meeting was chosen as his election agent, who during the unemployment struggles of the earlier thirties had served six months in Preston gaol. Jim was reported as conducting a very active campaign, speaking at some 10 meetings a day. Harry Pollitt came to speak in the constituency as well as Saklavata. The former pinpointed the war danger as the main issue of the contest, and explained how the capitalist system led to war. The war industries were fully employed he pointed out. This meeting was held in the Skipton Town Hall and by all accounts it was a packed meeting. Another speaker during the election was Maurice Ferguson, from Bradford, who in the early 1920s had been the Lancashire District organiser of the Communist party. With his wife Lily who had been a cotton worker, they both gave unstinted service to the movement. They both knew Jim well.

Further reports during this campaign imparted the information “Mr. Rushton spoke to the farmers on the cattle mart in Skipton following the Tory candidate, and addressed his listeners as ''working farmers”. It was a lively meeting by all accounts and many questions were asked especially as to the farming position in the Soviet Union and the ownership of land. Asked about the crisis in Britain Jim replied that “the best brains of capitalist universities had been enlisted but the problem hadn’t been solved because the present system had no soul above the scramble for profits". He dealt also with the problem of India during his campaign and advocated self-government and the withdrawal of the British troops.

Asked on one occasion how the money would be raised for his contest he replied that house to house collections were underway and “they were doing quite well” and that money would be loaned from friends and paid back as soon as possible. Nomination day, 3rd November saw the candidates assembled outside the offices of the Receiving Officer but Jim, whilst acknowledging the greetings of the other two candidates would not shake hands with them "because the election was not a game but a serious fight”. It would seen he had entered the contest in a bitter mood, feeling as he did the sad plight of the cotton workers suffering the means test, wage cuts and unemployment.

He had also remembered that Mr J P Davies, Labour candidate, a nice enough man of himself, had in September 1932 (as reported in the Craven Herald) stated that “We now stand at the edge of what might become an industrial tragedy….. negotiations have broken down on wages and re-instatement….. it was absolutely vital that every trades unionist should be loyal to his union and then trade unions would be loyal to them. Both sides seem to have realised that a strike might easily bring a serious and permanent curtailment of the industry. Faced with this a settlement must surely be made, and he was afraid that the workers must meet the views of the owners concerning wage cuts”.

One tense moment was when the election agent Ernie Woolley arrived with the nomination fee and was found to be £10 short and had to leave but was back in time to hand in the full amount. Jim received 704 votes and optimistic as ever in his after-the-poll speech said that the real victory had taken place a week earlier when the deposit needed to allow a candidate to stand ''in this democratic country of ours”, had been raised, and that despite having no election machinery and so short a time he had visited most villages. There was only one meeting he did not attend and that was where his car broke down. Earlier in the year Jim had contested the local election and received 318 votes. He claimed it was a vote on the issue of the means test, and the more looms system as well as the issue of workers being summoned for rate arrears. He opposed any attacks on co-operatives in the form of taxation and warned against the rise of fascism and the war danger, emphasising the need for a socialist system of society.

Ramsay MacDonald, during the election, sent a message of support to the Tory candidate, who later won.

It was in July 1933 that Jim led a march of unemployed to the West Riding County Authorities starting from Barnoldswick to Skipton with a Todmorden contingent and adding to their number en-route. A Barnoldswick Labour councillor, Frank Watson was also one of the marchers. Harry Kershaw, one of Jim’s right-hand men during this event, remembers it well. On arriving in Dewsbury, Ben Turner (later to be Sir Ben Turner) and a Yorkshire textile leader, met them and also helped in providing food and sleeping accommodation for the night. There was n crowd of 2,000 to welcome them, many of whom were unemployed miners.

One incident remembered was when some ''trouble makers” wanted to throw bricks through windows and make a scene but they were hauled before the march committee and kept in order. Harry Kershaw was a cotton worker who worked with Jim during these early years and later, especially within the union, gave years of service.

The demands of the march were for work schemes, restoration of relief schemes, milk and meals at school for all needy children where family income does not exceed the relief scales of the County Council as at present. The authorities paid the fares of the marchers for the return journey. So far as the relief schemes were concerned, two surveyors were sent to examine a prospective stretch of road from the Coates to Ghyll but it was much later before it was built and too late to provide the work which would have relieved the chronic unemployment of those early years.


During and after 1933 breaches of Agreements were on the increase and especially so in South Lancashire, and extended now to higher grades of cloth. Hope mill in Darwen was one such mill. Here the local union had brought the mill into dispute and towards the end of November had closed the factory. The firm re-opened in January 1934 when 75% of the looms were being run by knobstick labour, and 160 workers on strike. As there was unrest in some of the other factories the union approached the Weavers Amalgamation for financial assistance so as to strike the town. It was claimed that the main reason for refusal was the financial one as unemployment had caused a depletion in the amount of union dues collected, that support would entail a levy on other districts which they could not afford, and that Darwen itself was in the same position so far as dues payments were concerned. There was a factory strike committee fully behind the union in its endeavours to prevent the more looms system extending to higher grade cloths. One of the strike committee leaflets reported that the local Trades Council had sent out a County appeal for cash to support the strikers. The Communists were also active in this campaign as were the police who came out in force.

During this time, James Nelson of Nelson, the Nelson manufacturer who, since 1931 had operated a more looms system (8 looms) on semi-automatic looms, on fancy cloths, giving the wages and conditions negotiated with the unions had, in March, pressed his case for a further negotiated agreement. This was accepted at the Amalgamation meeting with a majority of about seven votes, and the Central Committee in full agreement. But lo and behold, the employers meanwhile had pressed the C.C. to hold the matter in abeyance because of the joint efforts being conducted for the future legislation in the industry of wages and more looms agreements. So at the April Amalgamation meeting the matter was agreed to be left in abeyance. There were 25 votes against this policy, mainly composing those areas with the higher grade cloth production, who claimed the James Nelson agreement to be a good one. Later, as a result of further joint meetings between all concerned, the Cotton Manufacturers (temporary provisions) Bill was agreed upon in June 1934. The vexed question now was what had to be legalised? The Unions claimed that the existing agreements should become law, but not so the employers, who made a ploy of the fact that a third of the looms in operation were at the present time working on some form of breaches of agreement. By July, a report given to the Amalgamation of the results to date of the joint meeting explaining the real meaning of the proposed terms. This action was condemned by some districts within the Amalgamation but Nelson, in a spirited reply, claimed the right to protect the interests of its members. It asserted that the Central Committee did not faithfully carry out the terms of the ballot as proposed. When charged that the Communists were involved, they said that they and they alone distributed the circular. Communists were of course busy within the villages and towns chalking outside the factory gates ‘VOTE NOW’, but the new agreement became law in July 1935 and was the first legalised agreement for cotton workers.

When the full meaning of the terms were felt in the wage packet there was great indignation shown amongst the operatives affected. A leaflet produced by a group of Nelson and Colne weavers and another by workers at Clover Mill showed the extent of their feelings. 'The Uniform list’, they claimed, is good enough for us''. A Communist Party local leaflet commented that all Nelson was furious at the cuts. The lightning strike at Spring Bank mill, and the deputations to the union from James nelson’s and other factories shows that the workers want action. It suggested the calling of a special Amalgamation meeting to decide the ending of such an Agreement and proposing a one day strike. ''Early this year'' commented the leaflet, “the South Wales miners assisted the unemployed and compelled the Government to withdraw cuts in benefits and hold up the unemployed Bill by the threat of a one-day strike in the coalfield” However, nothing happened in the cotton areas although pressure was now growing for an immediate wage advance of 15% but it was delayed, and substituted by ''commencing agitation for a wage advance” But pressure put on the union Amalgamation leadership resulted in a wages census (July 1936) which showed that average earnings were but £1.11s-5d weekly, made worse by the under-employment and by total unemployment as
well. The workers were poor indeed, and that is putting it mildly. The claim for a wage advance went before the Conciliation Board which met in December and gave a wage increase of about 1/3d in the £ (half the amount
asked for) with some percentage additions to the fancier cloths and lists. The employers refused to discuss a minimum wage. This Agreement was legalised in April 1937 and was the first general increase since 1920, since when there had been six wage reductions. From that time wages were slowly to rise, every year during the war and intermittently afterwards.

After about the middle of the 1930s, Jim’s main activities were on the whole confined within the Barnoldswick, Earby, Skipton area. He was elected to the local Co-op. Board of Management and gave years of service. Joining the League of Nations Association, he became a local committee member and was able to take part in the peace ballot of 1935 when 6 ½ million votes were collected for collective security through the league.

By the mid-1930s when fascist jackboots were parading the streets of Germany, Oswald Mosley had appeared on the British scene, and no less in Lancashire using large halls or cinemas for meetings. He was protected by as many police as there were Blackshirts. His was not a campaign for the low paid cotton workers or for higher unemployment benefits but he did promise pie in the sky once the removal of the Indian tariff of 25% against Lancashire cotton were lifted. (It was 50% against all other countries). Even this would have left Lancashire cotton exports well below the pre-war level. “The cotton industry is the only one developed on a large scale in India and even so, British interests skim off a good deal of the profits …. The 25% tariff is mainly protective and also partly for revenue purposes imposed by Whitehall as one of the ways of compelling India to pay interest on British loans.” So wrote Bill Rust (C.C. member of the Communist Party residing for a short time in the Lancashire area) in his pamphlet ‘Mosley and Lancashire’ "Prosperity” he wrote, “ cannot be measured by international competition and attempts to destroy the industry of rivals but only by raising the consumptive capacity of the workers and peasants by means of the organisation of production for use and not for profit. ….. The answer to Mosley must be very sharp and to the point; CLE.AR OUT''. He gave a warning that what Mosley is advocating is a sharpening of the fight for all the markets of the world, a policy that paves the way to war. Communists and all anti-fascists campaigned in their many ways, and questioned those in leading positions who unfortunately advised against demonstrating against the them and they would go away. Due to the mass opposition of the cotton workers Mosley never was able to get a firm base amongst the Lancashire cotton workers and the war put paid to their further efforts. In Spain, 1938 – 1939 during the Spanish Civil War, when Franco, with the aid of German bombers was fighting his cruel war against the democratic government forces many people were active in the food ships for Spain movements. In many parts of Lancashire, tins of food, clothing and such were collected on the doorstep. In March 1937 the Amalgamation meeting decided after much discussion to make a grant of £500 for a field ambulance to be dispatched to the Government forces. Many of the Amalgamation members showed little appetite for the project. A few months afterwards £50 was also donated to the ‘Milk for Spain’ fund.

Ever since Jim entered the political arena, mainly before the first and up to the second world war, there was a team of his comrades who played no less a part than himself. To mention only cotton workers, there was Tom Catlow, a Blackburn weaver and mill ‘Rep’ at Hollinshead Mill, joining the Communist Party before the middle twenties. From Preston there was Hetty Slater (later to be, Fuller) who was a weaver and a member of the weavers committee (her sister Mary served as a nurse in the International Brigade.) In Great Harwood there was Alf Ainsworth and Ted Stott, and although Ted was crippled he played a leading part in events and was a good propagandist.

Burnley in the 1920s gave to us George Fielden who at that time was elected to the weavers committee and Spencer Hudson, both of whom went to live in Blackpool and carried on activities there. Later in the 1930s there was Margaret Storey, a weaver and well-known as a, woman’s leader especially in the factory. Amy Hargreaves, previously mentioned was a speaker and agitator of great ability and told of the sufferings of the workers in language immediately understood. She had a great following in those years and had all her life had close connections with the Labour movement in the town. She worked with Jim many times, and it was at her house that he received hospitality when standing as candidate in the 1931 general election. Seth Sagar from Nelson was a foundation member of the Communist Party and was many times a member of the union committee. He gave unestimated service until a ripe old age and served on the co-op committee for many years. The very many others mentioned were leaders in their own right. Some were or became organisers and leaders in the unions and factories and such like.


In the year 1941 the seaside town of Morecambe became Jim’s new home living in Buxton Street. His son was now living there and the doctor advised Jim to take his wife there because of her health. He immediately found work at the I.C.I. works and later on left to work for the corporation. He joined the General and Municipal Workers Union. Joining the co-op Men's Guild he breathed new life into the organisation. At his first open air meeting in the town held on the market square a leaflet advertised that Jim Rushton, a leading trade unionist, would speak on the subject of ''Russia Our Allie”. Norman Walkington, who was his chairman, remembers that before the commencement of the meeting, both were taken to police headquarters and questioned as to the details of the meeting, after which they were allowed to leave. From then on all meetings were never interfered with. Norman stressed Jim's aptitude in working amicably with people of differing views so long as they were sincerely held, and that he was a mentor not only to Norman himself but to many more in the greater labour movement.

In the year 1950 Jim’s wife passed away, after giving many years of her life in factory and home and sharing the good and bad times with Jim. Later, he married Mary a life-long friend of the family who in earlier years had been a Nelson weaver and union collector and after, a member of the Co-op Women’s Guild in Morecambe.

From about 1929-33 Jim was elected a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, he also served on the Lancashire District Committee as well and in the earlier years played a leading part in the N.E. Lancashire District of the C.P. especially as practically all its members at that time were cotton workers. Jim died unexpectedly in 1956 when he was 70 years old, book still held in hand. So terminated the life of a well loved and respected comrade.

An excellent propagandist and agitator, he could attract large crowds, and his dominant appearance on the platform and resounding voice was used to good effect. He was also a showman in the sense that his propaganda was emphasised in a colourful manner, by posters, drums, jazz bands and such like, bringing life and enthusiasm to whatever was in hand. He breathed socialism and was always optimistic no matter what the set-backs were.

Standing at his graveside, one’s memories strayed to earlier years when after meetings, discussion classes, canvassing or other activities one would congregate in Jim’s home for a little relaxation, where often over a pot of tea and a slice of Mrs Rushton’s currant cake (ill afforded) Mary, his daughter would play the piano when Jim would lead the singing of his favourite ‘Rebel Song’. Where all would join in the chorus, “Then sing our rebel song, as we proudly march along, to end the age long tyranny, that makes for human tears. Our goal is nearer done, With each setting of the sun, And the tyrant's might is passing, With the passing of the years”.

The writer also remembers one occasion when speaking on Jepp Hill in Barnoldswick, in reply to a questioner replied, raising his left hand minus fingers, “I gave these for my king and country but I would give my life for my cause”. Such was the sincerity of this man, who gave years of unstinted service for the rights of the common man. No man could do more.


The Author’s personal recollections and interviews with Jack Pilkington and members of the Rushton family.

Letters from J Garnett, Haslingden, 10.5.72. N. Walkington, Heysham, 12.1.72 and 2.2.72

Election Addresses and other ephemera in the WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT LIBRARY, MANCHESTER.

Craven Herald, 20.5.32, 24.7.32, 2.9.32, 20.10.33.

Burnley Express, 12.10.32, 2.11.33.

Nelson Leader, 6.2.31, 13-2,31, 20.2.31, 3o.6.31, 6.5.32, 25.7.32, 29.7.32

Colne and Nelson Times, 9.1.31, 29.7.32

Labour Monthly, June 1930.




Manifesto of the "Shuttleworth" (Earby) Strike Committee. [May 1932]

To all Cotton workers,
We are now in the third month of our strike at Shuttleworth's Mill, fighting wage cuts. Although the strike was badly prepared and organised at the commencement, we are now going forward solidly, determined to win.

The weakness of the strike in its early stages was brought about owing to the weak lead given to us by the trade union officials. Practically all they did was issue a leaflet to resist the cuts, offered strike pay to the union members and were prepared to ‘officially’ picket the mill. This lead did not take into consideration the non-unionists or the unemployed weavers in the district. Thus, as a result of the division created in our ranks of the non-unionists who were not guaranteed anything and the unemployed weavers who were not brought into the strike (mass pickets), the strike weakened day by day for nearly a fortnight. At this stage of the struggle the Communists came to Earby with a policy that changed the whole character of the fight. They put forward a policy and a clear course of action to us which we accepted after a few day’s hesitation. The basis of this policy was to set up our own worker’s strike committee and run the strike ourselves. This we did and elected the Communists on, too. [sic]

Our strike committee 45 strong, got down to the job immediately of rallying all the strikers and unemployed workers to mass picket the mill and started to pull worker after worker out of the shed. We carried on agitation at the mill gates with the workers and visited them persistently at their homes. The Strike Committee, meeting every morning, organised relief for non-unionists who were standing solid because they saw this guarantee. Collections were taken week by week at all mills in the district. Mass meetings, socials, whist drives and a large gala brought in pounds to the funds. In this way the women have done wonderful work showing that given the opportunity they can manage almost any job most efficiently. In a very short time the Strike Committee had practically the whole of Earby behind the strikers and their policy.

The workers gave to the strike funds almost to their last penny. At the present time we have collected about £120. The Strike Committee sent its members to other towns to tell the story of the struggle and to take collections. By this method we have developed a number of speakers, men and women, who have never done this work before. Further, the Strike Committee sent its delegates to the cotton bureau of the textile minority movement meeting at Accrington where the joint struggles of the cotton workers were discussed by the 25 delegates present from other Lancashire towns our delegates showing how we were doing the job ourselves.

The unemployed have stood with us magnificently and are exposing by their actions the lying statements of the T U officials who say the unemployed are ‘strike breakers’. The police have done their utmost to break the spirit of the workers but have failed. They arrested one leader, Jim Rushton, but we demonstrated to Skipton on three occasions and brought him back finally into the struggle with a fine of £30 to pay. But we have raised £20 of this in two weeks. The police also tried to stop our demonstrations but the ex-servicemen of Earby turned out in force and defeated this move. Numbers of our lads have been summonsed and fined but in the face of this police intimidation we have set to and built up a defence committee 29 strong.

Since we have organised the strike ourselves we have made things ‘hum’ in every direction especially in the trade union which we used to leave to the officials. We hold all our meetings in the [illegible] Further, we have forced the officials to call mass meetings themselves, “all out”, to take a ballot of all the other workers and many other things. During our work when we organised our own Strike Committee the ‘Daily Worker’ has been really and truly our paper, giving strike news daily, letters and pictures of the Earby Workers and always a lead as to what we should do next. But our fight is not yet won. We can see now that the weakness of our strike was that it was not prepared at first. Every other worker must learn this lesson too. In order to defeat our employer we must get the support of other Earby workers. They must prepare to strike along with us and so prevent wage cuts, more looms and longer hours in their mills. The workers of other industries must help the Earby workers too by sending in cash to our strike funds.

Workers of Lancashire, we have found the way to win a strike ourselves. We have thrown off the deadening influence of the trade union officials and built our own organisation thereby releasing a wealth of working class energy to conduct the fight. We have seen for the first time the forces that we workers have within us and which is prevented from getting expression by “leaving it to the officials”. Learn from our experience. In every mill prepare now. Build up your own worker’s committee to lead the strike which we have balloted for. Don’t wait for the officials. In every town of Lancashire let this be our method. Drive forward to strike action and link up, one with another, until we are going forward in a general offensive against the employer’s attacks.

Build your own strike leadership. Read the Daily Worker which supports the strikers. Workers of other trades, send us cash. PRICE. ONE PENNY.


Reproduction of the front page of the ‘COTTON WORKERS’ LEADER’. July 1933.No. 10. Price 1d. Published by the Cotton Workers Solidarity Movement.


The militancy of Barnoldswick weavers has further exposed the Weavers Amalgamation leaders as openly working with the Masters to maintain the Midland Agreement and the More Looms System. A firm refusal to work 8 looms has been the stand of the workers in Barnoldswick. The employers have operated the 6 loom pick list for those workers who stick to 4 looms and no more. When this took place a storm of protest and demand for action resounded from every mill. The weavers demands were ‘four looms and the Standard Price List’.

In comes the Amalgamation leaders with militant words and talk of strike….. but not a strike for what the weavers demand. N, a ballot for strike to enforce the More Looms System. By this trick the Amalgamation Leaders broke the unity of the Barnoldswick weavers and spread confusion in their ranks as the following ballot returns show: In favour of strike action, 1,391. Against strike action, 1,013. Papers returned with no X, 470. Spoiled papers, 36(?)

Almost none of those who voted for strike action wanted strike action to enforce the more looms, but they wanted a strike against the employers feeling that when their strike started they could turn it into a strike for their own clear demands. Those who voted against the strike did not so much vote against a strike but against a strike to enforce what they were most bitter against, More Looms.

The 470 who voted by returning blank papers clearly showed that what they wanted, four looms and standard price list, was not on the ballot paper. The 36 spoiled papers were spoiled as a consequence of weavers writing in big letters across the paper “We want strike for 4 looms and the standard price list”. Before the ballot was announced the Barnoldswick weavers signed requisition forms for a special union meeting at which to make their demands official policy of their union.

This requisition meeting has not yet been called by the Committee but by the ready response of the weavers to the meetings of the Cotton Workers Solidarity Movement there is nothing more clear than that the confusion and division created by the Amalgamation leaders is being cleared up and unity developed for action to enforce the Standard Price List for Four Looms. In every weaving town, support for the Barnoldswick Weavers should be organised. Send resolutions in to Barnoldswick congratulating them on their stand and pledging to join them in their fight to end the More Looms System, the system of slavery which in the report of the Medical Officer of Health for Padiham has been responsible for a rapid increase in sickness among weavers, especially women.

[In a separate box on the page:- “What They Say” Spinning employers say, “Prices are too low, we must have organised short time to increase the price of yarn” Weaving Employers say, “Prices are too high, we cannot pay the fall back wage or sell our goods” The Daily Dispatch says, ‘it’s that Japanese competition”. Workers say: “Stop reducing wages now! Give us more to spend than we can buy”. (Cheers from the world’s workers.)


Letter to Craven Herald February 1928 [from Jim Rushton] re. Expulsion from the Weavers Union.

I was expelled from the Weavers' Union by the Weavers' Committee for
Alleged[ly] defying a resolution that the Committee has passed viz. that no
member should speak except the President at a special members meeting to discuss the resolution on the Mond Turner peace conference and for swearing at the President after the meeting was finished.

To cover themselves they (the Committee) took, a ballot of members in such a manner as to confuse the issue by introducing alteration of rules on the same ballot paper.

A requisition meeting was called for by 100 members but the Committee ignored it.

Later two resolutions were sent in for the agenda of the quarterly meeting on the same issue -- turned down.

In July another requisition meeting was called for by the required number of members to declare the ballot void, and again the Committee decided that the meeting should not be called. Why are the Committee so afraid to let the members discuss this question? Because the Committee know they have no case, they dare not let a members meeting, after hearing both sides, make a decision on the issue.

In the first place I did not defy the ruling of the Committee, dictatorial as it was. I asked the Chairman if I could reply to insinuations that he had thrown
out and he refused my request so I immediately sat down. I admit swearing at the President after the meeting was over.

The ballot itself was out of order because the Committee had no right to include alteration of rules, as this can only be done at a members meeting (see rule 40). They had no right to head the ballot paper “Communism or Trade Unionism” because politics were not involved. This matter had been consistently ignored at the members meeting since my expulsion. I challenge the Committee to give the members a chance to hear both sides of the case. I am prepared to abide by the decisions arrived at. J.R.


The “Leader” and the Communists. June 22nd 1928

Your last issue should have been advertised as your anti-Communist issue. Compared to other capitalist newspapers your previous issues have been free from silly ignorant and anti-Communist spleen but you have made up for lost time this week. Your correspondence columns also contain a series of anti-Red letters from red, white and blue scribblers who are too shy even to put their name. If, as you make your readers believe, the vast majority of the Nelson public are so virulently anti-Red, why are your correspondents so shy about identity? You make stupid comments about our MP Saklavata, yet you have not even the decency to report his speech. Your remark about “enjoying the hospitality and laws of this country” is a great joke. Saklavata "enjoyed" these laws and this hospitality in jail for three months for fighting on behalf of the workers during the General Strike. Twelve thousand Nelson weavers are “enjoying laws and hospitality” which makes it possible for them to be locked out and starved by the employers because a worker will not tolerate being treated like a dog. The same workers are expected to "enjoy" the hospitality and law under which the Burnley Board of Guardians of the Poor propose to refuse to relieve the poverty of a man and wife who are locked out, but propose to grant four shillings to each child, each a future boy or girl of the “Bull dog Breed”.

Two hundred thousands of the “Sons of the Empire” in India, mostly textile workers, are enjoying British laws and hospitality to such an extent that they have been in revolt for several months against the hospitable hand-full of rice wages per day, for a sixty hour week and housing conditions unfit for a rat. But there is no need to go on with a recital of the facts. I will make one suggestion and if you are a little bit fair-minded you will take it up. You profess confidence in the good sense of anti-Communism of the workers of Nelson. You genuinely believe that the Communist Party and its works should be exposed to the masses? Well then, I am willing to have a public debate with anyone you choose to secure. The terms I suggest to be “That the policy of the Communist Party is in the best interests of the workers” Or that Liberalism and Toryism are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the workers. Here is your chance to discredit us face to face with the people.


Craven Herald, October 12th. 1928.

Sir, at a General Meeting of the Barnoldswick Labour Party (disaffiliated) held on Wednesday October 3rd 1928 in the Co-operative Hall it was resolved unanimously to draw up a reply to reports of “Labour Split of Barnoldswick”, “Reds Busted at Barnoldswick”, “Barnoldswick Labour Party reorganised after Disaffiliation” etc. published in the Craven Herald and other newspapers. I reply to Mr Webb’s broadcasting of the alleged split and in justice to all the people who compose the Skipton Divisional Labour Party we beg your indulgence to publish the appended remarks. No doubt the mass of honest people who have read the reports referred to will be somewhat confused until they have had the opportunity to read the true facts of the case. All persons in the Labour Movement up to 1922 could proudly state that their movement was broad enough to embrace all shades of opinion so long as they recognised that they believed in socialism, and put briefly, they stood by the principle that socialism is the working class engaged in the fight for emancipation from the domination of capitalism. Since that time two main tendencies have manifested themselves clearer and clearer as each year has passed – one standing for democracy, ie. rank and file control, and the other reflecting a bureaucracy ie. opportunism. These tendencies reached their culmination point locally on July 27th this year. On that date the Barnoldswick Labour Party was disaffiliated and on the 18th of August the leaflet copied below was issued to all our members which speaks for itself and puts the case concisely.


Fellow Members,
At our last General Meeting held on August 15th at the Co-operative Guild Room, at which you were duly notified to attend, it was resolved that we carry on as a Disaffiliated Labour Party. As you will be aware, we have been disaffiliated because 1) We have refused to bow down to the dictates of Eccleston Square, who wanted us, as a committee, not to attend or take part in any other socialist organisation. 2) We decided to pay off all tradesmen’s debts (which were contracted at a time when prominent members of the Labour Guild held office in the Party) before we paid anything to the Divisional Labour Party. It was well worthy of note that neither the National or the Divisional Labour Parties took any steps to disaffiliate us before we had cleared off all those debts. We now stand as a disaffiliated party and our aim is socialism. We do not debar anyone from becoming a member of the party because they do not see eye to eye with us on every little question. We are out for Socialism and we want no Liberalising of the Socialist Policy.

We trust that you will remain a loyal member of this party and also do your utmost to get your friends to join us. We are intending having speakers during the winter months also socials etc. You will be duly notified of all these events, and lastly, we would like you to attend our General Meetings. It is only there that we can get the views of all our members.

Trusting that you will remain loyal to this Socialist Party. We Remain, Yours fraternally, THE COMMITTEE.
N.B. We are holding a General Meeting on Wednesday October 3rd 1928 in the Co-operative Guild Room and we hope you will be able to attend.

[What follows seems to have been part of the communication to the members but this is not made clear. SCG]

No heading.
Mr Webb speaks of the democratic basis of the Labour movement and infers that everything can be got by vote, then why the breakaway? We are entitled to ask him: Who elected the Executive of the Barnoldswick Labour Party? Was it not the rank and file, by majority vote, democracy?

When the personnel that is now the executive of the newly formed Labour Party held office in this party everything was alright, but as soon as their influence waned and the rank and file elected new officials, they like children flit away and form the so-called Labour Guild, and then try to break our Labour Party constitution (which definitely states that any organisation which declares affiliation must affiliate through the existing Labour Party) by making application for affiliation direct to the Divisional Labour Party. This application being refused they found themselves cut off and checkmated through their own foolish action. Did they admit they had been unconstitutional and had made a mistake and attempt to correct themselves by coming back as members and depending on honest democratic principles? No, they resorted to the very things that Mr Webb condemns, namely “underground methods”. They were guilty of approaching members of the Barnoldswick Labour Party (while still an official organisation) and through misrepresentation they were successful in many instances of winning our weaklings that now compose the present affiliated Labour Party. The irony of the situation is that it is these people beside himself, that Mr Webb speaks for and charges us with disruptive tactics. Mr Webb maintains that the right wingers left the party because they were dissatisfied with the policy. That is no excuse. Again we ask, who moulds the policy of the party and why did they not put their boated constitutionalism to the test and be constitutional by moving a vote of censure on the Committee and they themselves take office? The real reason is that these egotists (the bulk of which are now the executive of the newly formed Labour Party, the bulk of members they have taken are honest idealists with very few political theories) have continually obstructed and sabotaged every forward movement. To mention a few: 10 The establishment of a Socialist Sunday School, although passed by the rank and file on numerous occasions. 2) Organising to break-up the headquarters of the Local Party here in Barnoldswick, ie. the Labour Institute. 3) Sabotaging and boycotting the National Council of Labour Colleges. 4) By their bad management and inactivity they incurred a debt of £165. 5) Boycotting of the Miner’s Relief Concerts during the Seven Months Stoppage. Then by deserting they thought they could kill the Party. In this they were disappointed and the onus is on them for not retrieving themselves and debating out the whole question with the Labour Party here in Barnoldswick.

Those who had the Cause at heart (referred to by Mr Webb as disgruntled, bitter and disruptive persons) have worked hard and in a very short period had all the debts cleared and a good balance in hand. Not one of them has a wage above the average worker.

Another reason for disaffiliation is because we refuse to believe in getting socialism by deception. The best of us humans are very small creatures and any person who sincerely believes in Liberalism or Conservatism has a right to his or her opinions and is a decent honest person to be respected compared to the bureaucrats of the Labour Movement. We are straight and fearless and have the courage of our convictions and state definitely our aim is socialism. We shall work for it openly, ceaselessly and untiringly. We base ourselves on the broad mass of the workers and shall be open with them in all things. We have faith in our class and this precludes the necessity for a secret minority, but we must point out that it is this so-called minority who were responsible for the birth of the Labour Party in Barnoldswick and who have from the beginning been the live active core of the Party, always ready to do the work and lead the workers in their fight against existing conditions.

In conclusion, we may state that the disaffiliation of the local Labour Party is no new practice by the bureaucrats of the National Labour Party. It is being carried on intensively throughout the country. In London alone there are twenty three disaffiliated Labour Parties. Doesn’t this prove that it is not the active socialists who are the disruptionists, but on the contrary, it is the weak-kneed ones who cannot trust a democratic vote because of vanity and fear whenever the rank and file wants to get a move on and elect ore intelligent and active officials. “It’s hard to something; it’s easy to do nowt”.

Yours faithfully on behalf of the Committee. J T Fletcher, 26 Frederick Street, Barnoldswick.


[There follows an account of events in Nelson in 1928.]


The truck system and fining are as old as the textile industry itself. Edwin Hopwood ['The Lancashire Weavers Story: A History of the Lancashire Cotton Industry and the Amalgamated Weavers' Association', Edwin Hopwood,  Amalgamated Weavers' Association, 1969.] shows the extent of this iniquitous practice in pages 20 and 100-121. In 1821 a Truck Act was enacted which provided that a workman’s wages be paid in cash and not in kind. Amongst other legislation, an Act in 1896 provided against reductions in respect of damaged goods and payment of fines which covered other industries. The employers in the textile industry secured an alteration in Clause 9 of the Act so that from 1897 these employers could now deduct fines for damaged cloth as laid down in the Home Office Order. The attempts by the unions to get the practices abolished fell on deaf ears. On top of this, whether fining or not, there was generally more harassment of the weaver than was necessary in the matter of faulty cloth. The textile industry in these early years was labour intensive and technically backward compared to present day standards. There were many imperfections in the old Lancashire loom and very little re-equipping taking place so that overheads were low. The loom mechanics (overlookers or tacklers) did their best to maintain looms in as good fettle as possible 9and some didn’t manage it). As the weaver was the last in the line of the production of the cloth they bore on their broad shoulders all the imperfections and inadequacies of the system of cloth production at that time and they themselves were not super men or women. There was always the human factor to be taken into account. Many firms allowed for certain faults (at certain times) in the piece and if a weaver got the signature of the manager or clothlooker on the particular fault the onus was taken from the weaver for the spoiled cloth. Everything depended on the type of cloth woven and it was more exacting to weave in a factory producing the latter cloths than those of the ‘bread and butter’ types. The unions never succeeded in getting the system abolished and over the years it was a matter of friction between employers and operatives.


This concerned a weaver [John Husband. See below] at this factory of over thirty years standing who for half of that time had served on the Nelson Weaver’s Committee and was a shop steward at the firm. [Mather Brothers and Company Limited. Scholefield Mill, Nelson. {Manchester Royal Exchange Directory 1912} SCG] He was well respected and known to be a good workman. The quality of his work had rarely been questioned. One day in March of 1918 he was ‘fetched up’ into the warehouse and shown faults in a piece he had woven which he duly noted and then returned to his looms. Half an hour later he was again sent for, the faults again pointed out, this time he was told he would be fined one shilling which he refused to pay ‘on principle’ and again returned to his looms. Later in the day he was again called into the warehouse and confronted by a junior partner of the firm who asked him “What about this piece? What sort of cloth are you going to send up in the future?” The weaver’s reply being that his past years of service to the firm ought to answer that question. “Then come and see Dad” said the junior partner which the weaver refused to do and so was sacked.

From March to May all the Joint rule procedures were pursued and still there was no re-instatement of the man. The employers wouldn’t budge even though there had been a deputation from the man’s workmates to the employer. There was a deputation sent from the local union to inspect the cloth concerned and concluded that the cloth was slightly faulty but not beyond repair. Otherwise the cloth was well woven. It was a poplin cloth and all weavers have experienced difficulties at this time in weaving this type of cloth. The firm at first claimed that the weaver had been sacked ‘because of his attitude’ but later ‘faulty cloth’ was claimed to be the reason. “This is only one example of the interference by the Nelson Weaver’s Union in the management of the mills in the town in the last few months” said the employers and claimed that they alone should be the judges of the quality of cloth production without interference. But the Union replied “The employers deny absolutely the right of the weaver or his representative to have any say in the matter as to whether a piece is good or bad or whether a dismissal is just or unjust. Employers call this ‘interference’. A body of workers is not a body of automatons without rights but rather a collection of human beings with the same rights as their employer. A weaver is not simply a picking stick or a cog wheel”.


After every effort had failed, the local union struck the factory of 300 workers on May 21st and immediately the employers raised the ‘right of the union to make the dismissal of a worker into a trade dispute except in the case of alleged victimisation’. This was tenaciously fought for by the employer all through the dispute. After a week of the strike the employers locked out the grey section of the industry now involving some 12,000 workers. The employers were carrying out in practice what they were trying to deny the union, namely the right to make the dismissal of a worker into a trade dispute. From the very beginning, the County employers were firmly behind those in Nelson and stated that should the lock-out not bring a settlement then the Nelson employers would be entitled to ask for support from other districts and that might lead to a widespread stoppage. The County operative’s leaders during their early meetings with their counterparts had asked for the re-instatement of the dismissed worker and the appointment of a joint committee for joint investigation of the Mather’s dispute but the employers would have neither. From that time these questions were never discussed at county level.

All during the seven weeks dispute the Nelson Leader gave full coverage, giving from time to time extracts from ‘The Cotton Factory Times’ as to the opinions of the operative’s leaders on the question of fining and the Nelson dispute. The Nelson trouble had clearly revealed that the system of fining weavers for faulty cloth was a constant menace to the peace of the industry and the fundamental causes of faulty cloth were so many and varied that it is exceedingly difficult to apportion blame such as which were accounted for by bad twist or weft, loom defects and such like claiming that quite often weavers ought to have been compensated rather than fined. “All weavers at times make cloth that comes under the faulty category but for the unions the position of many operatives would be intolerable” Not all the employers imposed fines but most, in larger or smaller amounts did, so why couldn’t all employers refrain from such practices it was asked. But in another breath warned, as did the employers, that the abolition of fining would herald more dismissals and pointed out that often workers would agree to a fine rather than spend time and labour repairing a fault in the cloth which would have resulted in loss of earnings, or prefer a fine to getting the sack.

The question of fines is neither legal or illegal and therefore occupies a most anomalous niche in the relations between employed and the employers. But the C F T was definite on the policy to be adopted in the Nelson dispute, stating that the cotton trade must not be held up by any dispute, either serious or trivial, for such a course means that both employers and workers will be the losers in the end. The wages storm has been weathered and it would be the height of foolishness to wreck the good cotton ship on the comparatively small rock of the fining system. This referred to a ballot conducted by the employers amongst its members on the question of increased hours and wage cuts for its members but which resulted in less than the 80% required to place their demands before the unions.

As soon as the dispute started, the local Labour Mayor attempted to get the two sides together as he had been urged by many citizens to do. The Unions agreed to meet but not the employers who after some hesitation sent a deputation, both meeting in separate rooms in the Town Hall with the Mayor as go-between. The meeting broke down on the question of re-instatement after a seven hours exchange. The employers were prepared to recommend that the sacked worker be found work at another factory if the union was prepared in future not to make the individual dismissal of a worker into a trade dispute. The Union’s reply was that this question of the interpretation of Joint Rules was a question for the Waver’s Amalgamation and that the union locally was always prepared to discuss how to prevent disputes and especially on the fining situation.

At the beginning of June the attitude of the union was made clear in the local press stating that some fear is expressed that the dispute may spread throughout the county. The local union has been careful to do all in its power to localise the trouble and for this reason do not press for financial support from the Weaver’s Amalgamation as that might cause the Employer’s federation to widen the area of trouble. They claimed that they had the moral support of the Amalgamation.


In the early days of June, the Mayor, who was in close contact with Sir Amos Nelson, a leading Nelson employer, made efforts to bring both sides together, the agenda to be: 1) The re-instatement of the dismissed worker. 2) Future relationships to prevent individual disputes developing into trade disputes. Amos Nelson suggested that the second item be taken first so that the re-instatement could receive the last and main attention. The unions agreed as their main concern was to get the weaver back to work in his own factory. The employer neither agreed or disagreed with this but intimated that they would, in ten to fourteen days, lock out the coloured section of the industry amounting to a further 3,000 workers. During the next few days the employers still pressed the question of sympathetic action in disputes. Was the union prepared to submit the whole matter to the Employer’s Association and the Northern Counties Textile Trades Association and later tagged on “and will undertake not to make these dismissals into trade disputes unless you have the approval of the President and Vice President of the Weaver’s Amalgamation” to which the union agreed stating that if the employers are desirous of any alteration to Joint Rules they are at liberty at any time to bring the matter before the appropriate bodies.

The two sides met in Nelson on June 9th, the Union claiming that the dispute should now be settled as the unions had agreed to the employers request on procedure to be followed in the matter of future strikes and individual dismissals. This would mean that the present dispute is entirely called off, all the weavers returning to work including the dismissed weaver, he to remain there whatever the decision might be. This the employer refused and in a later statement stated that the re-instatement of the dismissed weaver was not conditional to the acceptance by the union of future procedure in the conduct of particular strikes and sympathetic action. On June 14th there was a meeting of Union members in the Palace Cinema the crowd being so large that there was an overflow meeting in the Grand where reports were given by the Committee and leading officials of the situation to date to the 4,500 members present.

This was the second mass meeting the union had called since the dispute started. A resolution passed; “Endorse the action of the Committee in conducting the dispute at Mather’s.” and only 30 votes against. In reports afterwards, the union spokesman stated “There was a number of cases of fining given and those present were absolutely shocked at some of them”. The officials were surprised at the tone of the meeting and far from there being a downcast tone the operatives showed great determination to continue the struggle. The press headline stated; “Deadlock in cotton dispute” The Master’s federation later let it be known that they approved of the Nelson employer’s actions and that if need be they would give financial assistance. Apart from the Mayor and Sir Amos Nelson actively engaging in ending the dispute the Free Church Council offered to assist naming prominent people as possible arbitrators but were refused. There was a bitter feeling in the town and the cutlooker who brought up John Husband at Mather’s factory and in the evening worked in a local amusement hall was made to feel so uncomfortable that he had to give up this job for the time being, “in the interests of the proprietors” he claimed.

A meeting of employers and union leaders at County level set up a committee of five persons from each side which met and on June 19th produced its recommendations, firstly that the dismissed weaver be found work at another factory and secondly accepted the decision by the Nelson Weaver’s Union and the employers in regard to future disputes. Thirdly, when work is resumed and in order to ascertain the truth or otherwise of fining at the factory, a joint commission be set up and during that time fining should cease at the factory. The employer had claimed that at his factory fining over the last 12 months amounted to less than £48. The reply given by the Nelson Weaver’s Union was that they had already agreed to item 2 but were opposed to 1 & 3 suggesting that a local joint committee to enquire into fining be instituted and that on resumption of work fining be discontinued in the town, the results to be discussed locally with the employers and themselves. There was a flat NO from the employers.


As the dispute lasted the matter of relief became an urgent question and towards the end of June the Nelson Town Council were making their voices heard. The Stinginess of the Burnley Board of Guardians in the matter of the hard-pressed cotton workers of Nelson. William John Thoupe, the then secretary of the Local Labour Party wrote a letter to the Board which said that “At the request of the Nelson Labour Party and also a public protect meeting of rate payers of Nelson I am instructed to place before you the feelings of Nelson towards Outdoor Relief” intimating that a deputation would attend the office on Thursday. As reported in the local press, June 28th, the deputation headed a march of an estimated 200-400 people walking the four miles from Nelson to Burnley in the rain. The large banner of the local Social Democratic Federation was prominently displayed inscribed with the words “Workers, why talk ye of wages. Whose is the wealth of the country but yours?” In the middle of the procession was a banner; “Workers of the World, Unite!”

At the head of the march which included the Mayor were textile union representatives, J. Spedding, Chairman of the Nelson W Union, Councillor Billy Bannister, Loom Twisters, Charlie Smithson, Soc. Of Warehousemen and John Husband, the dismissed weaver, Selena Cooper, a one time Suffragette, the Rev, Pugh, pastor Woodlands Road Chapel and many more. There were also many Communists including Bill Brain, marching with their colleagues in the trade unions.

On arriving at the Board’s headquarters in Burnley the deputation was refused entrance by a 23-11 vote and so set off for the nearby cattle market where an improvised platform was erected by placing a box on a wheelbarrow, Jim Spedding being the Chairman. Bill Bannister, in his speech, criticised the relief scales which ‘lent’ twelve shillings relief to the mother and four for each child and that if the income of the house exceeded 38/- then the excess would be deducted from the relief allowed. He called for stronger trades unionism calling the non-unionists the flotsam and jetsam of the working class. Beside the other speakers, Mrs Cooper made a strong speech and claimed to be the first working woman from Nelson elected on to the Burnley Board of Guardians and told of the struggle she had to get on that body. She said it is wicked that a number of people in Nelson should have the power to lock out thousands. At the present time the ratepayer’s money was being spent in tens of thousands of pounds at the Whalley Abbey Hospital where hundreds of children suffering from Rickets come from Lancashire homes where the effects of the relief policy meant that children were fed on margarine and treacle. Every child in England ought to be fed not on fourth grade milk but on first.

There was strong feeling at the meeting that although the workers had paid their rates and other levies they were prevented from drawing adequate relief. A resolution was passed “That this meeting, representing the people of Nelson, strongly condemns the inhuman attitude of the Burnley Board of Guardians. Three cheers for the Nelson section of the B B G.” Spedding announced that it had been decided at Nelson a day or two before to form a Unity of Action Committee and that a resolution to this effect had been sent to the Labour Party but nothing else seems to have been heard of it. The ‘Red Flag’ was sung at the conclusion. After the vacation of the platform Bill Brain was reported as speaking. At the B B G later, [the Labour members when ?] it was decided that relief to the able bodied should not be given if they were involved in the dispute and that relief was going to be on loan. {this section is unclear} Will John Thoupe shouting “Nelson people are not going to starve in the gutter!” One member of the Board said that the Nelson representatives would not be entitled to relief as they were even debarred from receiving unemployment pay. It was obvious that the powers that be were trying to starve the workers back to work.

During the last week in June the employers carried out their threat and locked out the 3,000 workers employed in the coloured section of the trade in their efforts to put a tighter screw on the union. The June 19trh decision as proposed by the County employers and union leaders allowed the weaver [John Husband] to accept work at another factory as offered “as it would be no hardship to him”, the employers asserted. By the first week in June the union had accepted just that providing the employers agreed to stop fining in the town for twelve months as a trial period and that future negotiations could be based on the findings of this experiment which would surely prove, the unions claimed, that fining was unnecessary. Bit the employers claimed that no fining would mean more dismissals.

“A dramatic turn in the lock-out” was the headline in the local press which reported that on June [July? SCG] 4th the Mayor and Amos Nelson had met with the Nelson Weaver’s Committee in Nelson Town Hall, the employer reporting that his hands had been tied and that pressure from the Employers Association had forced him to cease the part he was playing. The June 19th proposals still stood and that he as a member of the Association could not go against them as the settlement had now been taken out of the hands of the local Association. This prompted one of the local union committee [members] to comment that “It is not the local employers we are fighting but the whole County Association.”

It seems that Amos Nelson over the last few days had spent some time interviewing local employers, some of whom had agreed that they would suspend fining for twelve months so that there could be a return to work. But the County Employers put a stop to that. On July 5th the union and local employers met, the union again asked that fining be suspended. Again the Employers refused as the question should be left to higher bodies.


It was after this meeting that the union called together the Mather’s weavers who, after a long discussion, passed a resolution that; “Whilst we are of the opinion that John Husband was wrongly dismissed, we accept the recommendations.” Voting as reported 99-38 for a return to work. This was the beginning of the end and the dispute ended on July 12th.

Amos Nelson reported in the press “that he and the Mayor had made a strong plea to the union committee to settle ….. they are in a strong position today, why waste their strength on getting any modifications to the joint recommendations of the Central Committee, it is not worth prolonging the agony.”

The terms of settlement were that the dismissed weaver be found work elsewhere. [Actually he went to the Amos Nelson factory]. That Mather’s Mill be the subject of an enquiry by the County bodies. That there was to be no fining at the mill during the enquiry and the matter of sympathetic action in a dispute should now be left to higher bodies of unions and employers. Mather had claimed that his factory was modest in its fining, amounting to some £48 a year. Then many weavers asked, ‘Why fine at all?’ During the dispute it was noticed that Arthur Greenwood MP for the constituency never put in an appearance or publicly commented on the need to support Nelson weavers during the seven weeks struggle.

Even before the dispute started, Communists were active in the town and warning about the employers’ aims on wages and hours. Besides local speakers, Jim Rushton, Rose Smith and Saklavata added their voices to the general propaganda. It was during this time that Bill Brain made himself known a lot in this area as a leading propagandist. He was a speaker with a lot of humour and could attract large crowds. As the press reported, he hailed from Birmingham and was the prospective Communist candidate for Barrow in Lancs. Frank Bright, the Lancashire District Organiser for the [Communist] Party at that time came to Nelson from time to time and all along thought that Amos Nelson and the Mayor had too much to say in the policies of the union committee who never once raised the union’s demand for the re-instatement of the dismissed weaver.

There were two Communists on the union committee, Seth Sagar and Harold Bradley. The latter was elected secretary of the Darwen Weaver’s Union in 1932 and there, now an active member of the Labour Party, gave years of service to the movement and claimed that all through the years he maintained his friendship with Harry Pollitt and often corresponded with him.

During the dispute there were the usual “Reds under the Bed” scare and “Moscow Gold” scare the press invoking Walter Citrine’s [the then Secretary of the TUC] tirades, fresh from his talks with the Mondist big business group of employers. Bill Brain warned, as reported in the press that “When leaders talk about localising the dispute they generally mean paralysing it.” And advocated extending the struggle by forcing the Amalgamation leaders to back Nelson weavers in their attempts to get John Husband re-instated, but it didn’t turn out like that.

There were many arguments after the dispute. Some thought there ought to have been a ballot before the dispute was called off, others of the union committee and many outside stated that they had come up against a stone wall and had to make the best of the situation. Others put the blame on the County union leadership, but what stood out like a sore thumb was the fact that if the leadership had backed the Nelson Weaver’s Union as the Employers Association had done their counterparts then there might have been a different ending to the dispute.

Saklavata who spoke in the Weaver’s Hall during the dispute was the subject of comment in the local press and they queried the right of the union to allow its room to be booked by the Communists at all. Bill Brain replied to the attacks in the local press stating the Communist point of view.

In July the weavers discussed a resolution from Skipton that in view of the Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers Association giving financial support to the Nelson Cotton Manufacturers Association, this General Council instructs the Central Committee to give financial support to the Nelson District. It was pointed out by the mover that Nelson, during the dispute, had not asked for financial support so as not to extend the dispute which was in line with Central Committee policy of keeping the dispute localised. Bacup seconded the resolution stating that Nelson was in a good position to fight fining but that immediately the Nelson Employers passed the question to the County Employers who had decided to render financial assistance a strong card in the hand of the Nelson Weaver’s Association was taken away. Another factor, stated the Bacup seconder, which militated against the Nelson Association being successful was when the joint sub-committee was set up and the June 19th recommendations issued. The delegates wanted to know if “we had arrived at a time when all local autonomy was taken out of the hands of the local association if they wanted the support of the Association”. The Secretary of the Amalgamation stated that Nelson had treated them with indifference, financial assistance had been applied for, and that only. But the Amalgamation couldn’t give financial support without some controlling influence over the spending of that money. The Amalgamation isn’t an insurance society. The voting resulted in 25-131 votes against the resolution. At a further meeting of the Amalgamation, Colne and Burnley unions, who had been involved in the Nelson dispute with over 1,000 members involved, asked for a re-imbursement from the Amalgamation saying “If Nelson had put the recent dispute in the hands of the Amalgamation there would have been no question of liability” It was agreed to pay the unions.

At the October Amalgamation meeting there was an appeal by the Nelson union which stated that the sum of approximately £69,000 had been distributed in benefits and they appealed to the General Council the desire of the District Committee to localise the dispute, which was done and asked for a grant towards the large mount of money spent in benefits. The Nelson spokesman putting the case that “as a result of Nelson’s fight, that there would be improved conditions throughout Lancashire so far as fining was concerned, and their resistance to the employers demonstrated the possibilities of similar resistance to any actions they may contemplate on other industrial questions”. So Nelson had to bear this huge burden alone. But they had shown that in future, fining would not be taken lying down.


Tom Sagar refused a fine and was sacked and was taken to court. He worked at the Nelson factory of H Ridehalgh and Sons. The case was tried at the Chancery Court in London and as Edwin Hopwood states, counsel was Stafford Cripps KC and Mr Neville Lanski KC. The judge was Mr Justice Farwell. At the full hearing on May 6th he decided that the deduction of the fine was illegal. The Employers objected and made an appeal which went before the court in the middle of November. Stafford Cripps could not attend and so another KC was briefed. The decision of this court was that it was legal to fine for so-called unmerchantable faulty cloth. The Central Committee of the Amalgamation then approached the TUC with a view to the possibility of taking the case to the House of Lords but after consultations with KCs it was decided against.

Tom Sagar was the son of Seth Sagar and was out of work pending the court findings and had to be reimbursed by the union. The young man, during the anxiety of these months suffered a nervous breakdown and it was many weeks before his health was restored.

These two cases on fining are but a few of the many which occurred over the years and all those involved were human beings who risked their jobs and peace of mind by pioneering these struggles and deserve our unstinted recognition.

In 19311 the More Looms Agreement at Amos Nelson’s firm included a clause suspending fining at the firm. After the middle of the 1930s and on the basis of a fining case in Colne, Harry Kershaw who was a member of the Colne Weaver’s Committee remembers that this committee together with that of Nelson met the employers of the two towns whereby a tacit agreement was arrived at that there would be no fining but if a weaver persisted in producing bad cloth the employer could sack the worker involved.

Fining, especially after the war, gradually more or less faded out, especially when workers over the years have left to join the new industries. There was often a shortage of workers, factories were closing and new methods of weaving were being introduced especially the automatic loom (and the employer couldn’t fine a loom for faulty cloth). Then of course union membership increased and workers weren’t prepared to tolerate pre-war conditions. But fining, so far as the whole industry was concerned, was never legislated against and the 189 Clause 9 stood.

[The account ends here with no attribution for the appendices beyond what can be inferred from the texts themselves. Transcribed by SCG 27 November 2005 from an copy of the text supplied by A Clayton of Barrowford to whom my thanks are due.]
Stanley Challenger Graham
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Post by Stanley »

Bumped after writing an article on black lists..... Well worth a read!
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Post by PanBiker »

A comrade friend of mine digitised this tribute a number of years ago and has recently sent me a PDF version which I have attached for download.

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Post by Stanley »

Nice one.... The more copies there are about the better.
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