Tuesday, 19 April 2016

In Queens Park Bolton in September 1937 during the National Apprentices’ Strike

You might be forgiven for passing over the picture of these policemen standing in Queens Park Bolton in the September of 1937.

And yet there is a story here and its one that connects my mother who had been working in Derby with the young men and women in Bolton.

The caption with the image provides part of the answer for this was the “Apprentices’ Strike meeting in Queen’s Park. 

The national strike by apprentices was to demand fair wages, the right to union representation and an end to victimisation. 

Apprentices’ wages were extremely low, despite them often been asked to do jobs for which adult workers were paid danger money.  

It was also standard practice for companies to sack them when they became fully qualified and replace them with new apprentices who were much cheaper. 

The apprentices’ slogan was `All out together, all back together’ and they were successful in gaining union representation and fairer wages.”

My mother always spoke with some bitterness at the practice in the silk mill in Derby where she worked which as in Bolton took on young people as apprentices, on low wages only to finish them when they qualified.

Apprentices were 'bound' to their employers for several years by indentures, which strictly forbade any indiscipline, including strike action.

By the mid-1930s, young workers in engineering and shipbuilding were complaining at the lack of adequate structured training and the low wages. Under the slogan 'all for one and one for all', a strike started on Clydeside, Scotland in spring 1937 and by April, there were 3700 apprentices out.

The strike was ended after national negotiations started between the unions and employers, only to break out again in Salford in September, when talks were seen to be non-productive. The strikes spread to Yorkshire, the Midlands and London and only ended in October, when the Amalgamated Engineering Union secured the right to negotiate on behalf of all apprentices. Many local agreements gave boys large increases, and their wage rates were tied into advances won by adult skilled men.”

The photograph was part of a Mass observation “project founded in the late 1930s by a group of young writers and intellectuals, led by Tom Harrisson. They believed that British society was deeply divided, with very little understanding or consideration given to the lives and opinions of ordinary people.

The first focused study carried out by Mass Observation began in 1937 in Bolton, which they called Worktown.

Bolton was chosen as a ‘typical’ northern working class town, and Harrisson recruited a team of men and women who tried to capture a vast range of information about the local population using observation techniques."*

They remain a wonderful and powerful record of life in the industrial north during the late 1930s.


Pictures; courtesy of Bolton Library Museum Services, from the collections, Apprentices’ Strike meeting in Queen’s Park, September 21st 1937, 1993.83.25.37

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