Monday, April 24, 2006

Agricultural Workers Union in Middlesex 1872

Agricultural Workers
in West Middlesex

The agricultural workers in this part of Middlesex were not immune to the ebbs and flows of the agricultural workers struggles.
While many local agricultural workers were forced into migration to Australia, New Zealand and Canada because of poverty. (especially from the Yiewsley area)

Other workers did try to resist the Land owners. Swing riots came to close Hayes and while no riot took place locally, a man arrested for “agitation’ in Hayes was released because no one in Hayes would testify against him.
This at a time, when even owning a print of the Peterloo massacre was an imprisonable offense.
However, when in February 1872 Joseph Arch set about organising Agricultural Workers in what Karl Marx referred to as the “great awakening” the response was huge.
Arch spoke for over one hour and recalled "These white slaves of England with the darkness all about them, like the children of Israel waiting for someone to lead them out of the land of Egypt"

On May 29th 1872 a meeting of sixty delegates from England and Wales at Leamington, Temperance Hall, Warwickshire to establish the National Union of Agricultural Labourers (NUAL)

The local Uxbridge newspaper reported that
“The agitation amongst the agricultural labourers is now spreading into the remote parts of Buckinghamshire un-traversed by railways and far away from large hives of industry Editorial 25th May 1872.


One of those leading the union campaign locally was Uxbridge radical and former Chartist leader John Bedford Leno. he spoke on behalf of the union in many villages in the home counties including, Middlesex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire.

It was John Bedford Leno, who along with Robert Clay spoke at the inaugural meeting of the Denham branch of the National Union of Agricultural Workers when it was established on 12 April 1872 . When some 40 local agricultural workers joined the union .
Leno stated “John Ploughman had awoke”
But joining the union was not without consequences and a number of agricultural workers were victimized and sacked.
Another union, the Buckinghamshire Labourers’ union led by School teacher Edward Richardson of Dinton was also active in 1872 in recruiting agricultural workers into unions.

In July 1872 John Bedford Leno spoke to agricultural workers in West Drayton
“If the masters feared the union, it was a reason why the men should cherish it, he did not advice them to strike that was a very serious thing but if necessary…he had been accused of being a disturber of the public peace he had been into several counties in England and was happy to inform them that the rights of the agricultural labourer were beginning to be recognised”.

In January 1891 the Dock and Riverside Workers union reported that the position of the Dockers was seriously prejudicial by the great influx of into the metropolis of individuals from agricultural districts who, dissatisfied with conditions of life there or having no employment at all flock to London and are in due course at the dockyard gates ready to do the work at any price statement by Dock & Riverside.
As a result the Dockers union (and the local branch of the Gas Workers union who were active amongst the brick makers) tried to organise the burgeoning market gardening workers in the West Drayton area
Meanwhile, in Berkshire, Lorenzo Quelch (brother of Harry Quelch of the socialist SDF (Social Democratic Federation) organised the Berkshire Agricultural & General Workers Union around 1893.
Joseph Arch’s union collapsed towards the end of the eightieth century (1896), however a new union was established in Norfolk in July 1906 changing its name to the National Agricultural Labourers & Rural Workers Union in 1910 , of which a branch was established at Longford, West Middlesex in October 1913. The speaker was Mr Harry Maskell who pointed out that local agricultural workers were paid just 18s 7d a week in West Middlesex while in Lancashire they were paid 19s 2d.
As a result of the meeting a branch of the union was established but was followed by the inevitable victimisations, when six Longford members were sacked for daring to join the union.
Another branch of the National Agricultural Labourers and Rural Workers Union was established at Harmondsworth, West Middlesex on 23 August 1918 and meet at the Five Bells .
The inaugural meeting speaker was F.W. Paul organising secretary for Essex who stated
“The labourer was waking up, already a hundred thousand members were enrolled in the twelve hundred branches, and members were coming in at the rate of a thousand a week”

”Education was largely a sham to the sons of labourers who had to leave school at ten and who had no opportunity for continuing their studies”
“The housing condition s of agricultural labourer’s in many parts of the county , he did not say Middlesex was an absolute disgrace".

In 1920 the union changed its name to the National Union of Agricultural Workers and in 1982 became part of the TGWU now Unite