IGNITING THE FLAME OF UNITY

THE HISTORY OF THE

BRIGHTON BRANCH OF A.S.L.E.F.

 

 

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  What I mean by socialism is a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master’s man, neither idle nor overworked….....

 ........in which all men would be living in equal condition, and would manage their affairs unwastefully

William Morris (1834-1896)

 


 "LONG LIVE THE SPIRIT

OF THE REBEL RAILWAY WORKERS"

 

(This was a slogan that was graffitied on the wall of the Hollingbury abbtoir in the 1970s,

 does anybody of this piece of graffiti?) 

For its time, the LB&SCR was regarded as a good employer. In 1851 it created a benevolent fund for members of its staff who had become incapacitated, and from 1854 operated a savings bank for employees. 

The Daily Telegraph said in 1860 that : “The reason why there are not 10 accidents where we have 1 is the praiseworthy pluck and perseverance of thousands of poor fellows, who, with noble sense of the enormous trust imposed upon them, have not permitted either abuse, tyranny or oppression to impoverish their integrity or honesty.”

 

 BEFORE THE DAYS OF THE RAILWAY TRADE UNIONS


Twelve railway strikes are recorded between 1831 - 1871, most were of fairly short duration and of which seven involved enginemen, and four by porters. The strike of enginemen on the North Eastern Railway in April, 1867 lasted two weeks and was broken by the N.E.R. employing blacklegs recruiting from other railway companies and giving special payments to those grades not joining the strike. 

During the early days of unions sectional unions which were formed were short lived because of the lack of power to combat the methods of the railway company directors.

IN STILL SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE

Most companies thought it desirable to employ only literate men. Even in the literacy test applicants for employment were required to pass, the attempt was made to install a spirit of obedience. Those seeking employment on the Great Western Railway in 1837 were required to write these words:

‘Zealous strive to excel. Industry is commendable. Perseverance deserves success. Quietude of mind is a treasure.

FINES AND SUSPENSIONS

An elaborate system of fines and suspensions kept the discipline of the railways service as severe as it was in the Army. On the Eastern Counties Railwa, in August 1850, two drivers were fine 2s.6d. each because a cotter pin broke in a drawbar on their train of 56 wagons. The cost of a new counter pin was 3d.

BLACKLISTING AND EVICTIONS

Thousands of railwaymen lived in cottages owned by the companied that employed them. For these, joining a trade union might mean not only the sack and “black-listing” - which precluded similar employment with other companies - but also eviction and ultimate resort to the workhouse, In May 1871, some of the engine drivers who struck work on the London North Western Railway were evicted from their company owned homes in Camden Town.

DISCIPLINE

Discipline was severe and there was an elaborate system of fines for every sort of alleged misdemeanour.

Discipline on the Taff Vale Railway was perhaps the strictest to all. The rules of that company included the warning that

‘not an instance of intoxication, singing, whistling or levity while on duty will be overlooked, and besides being dismissed the the offender will be liable for punishment.'

LONDON BRIGHTON AND SOUTH COAST RAILWAY CIRCULAR 1857

The directors are in principle opposed to combination of any description for the purpose of interfering with the natural course of trade. They think that masters and men should be left in every establishment to settle their differences without foreign interference or dictation. 

 

During the 1860s, Enginemen and Firemen around the country started to realise that they had industrial muscle and by standing together they might be able to resolve various grievances within the many railway companies that made up the increasing size of Britain’s Railways at the time. 

Many of these companies during this period faced industrial unrest with Enginemen and Firemen in their employment who where trying to improve their often appalling working conditions. With Enginemen striking for better working conditions they run the risk of  being sacked and in some cases the Railway Companies when bankrupt as a result of their action. It was not uncommon for Enginemen and Firemen at this time to be expected to work for up to 16 hours a day often for 7 days a week.   

The History of the Brighton Branch of A.S.L.E.F. can be traced back to the formation of The Engine Drivers and Firemen’s United Society established in 1865, and one of the earliest branch’s being located at Brighton.  Its object was to assure friendly society benefits for its member’s. By 1866, the Engine Drivers and Firemen’s United Society  claimed to have a membership of over 10,000 nation wide.

The Engine Drivers and Firemen’s United Society held it first conference in November 1866 and the Brighton delegate was Engineman J. Slater. Engineman J. Slater is pictured No. 58 which is the last man seated on the right hand side.

At this conference a motion was passed to petition each of the Railway companies for a number of improvements to Drivers and Firemen’s working conditions.

The Engine Drivers' and Firemen's United Society was founded in 1865 and claimed a membership of over 10,000 by 1866 when they made initial demands for a 10 hour day and payment of overtime as well as an increase in pay. With the esatblishment of the ASRS in 1872, there was some dilution of membership but the ASRS was regarded as too conciliatory and eventually the demand for a more militant and focused union led to the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen which was formed in Leeds in February 1880. 

A maximum of a 10 hour day.

Payment for overtime with time and a half for Sunday working.

Daily limits of 150 miles for mainline trains and 120 miles on local trains 

An immediate increase in basic levels of pay. 

 

 The First Conference of Locomotive Workers, November 1866.

 The Engine Driver's and Fireman's United Society.

  

 Brighton Engineman J. Slater is pictured No. 58, which is the last man seated on the right hand side.

 A number of the biggest railway companies conceded some or all of these conditions rather than have a costly dispute. This was such the case on the London Brighton & South Coast Railway, were a little known strike took place in March 1867. 



For an account of the 1867 Enginemen’s strike, please click on the Icon

 

 

 

 On the 26th November 1871 a group of railwaymen held a meeting in Leeds, they made the decision which resulted in the establishment of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants.

Within the next two weeks, further meetings in London enthusiastically endoursed the launching of the new Society such as that at the Winchester Arms, 63 Southwark Street, London.

"A meeting will be held at the Winchester Arms, 63 Southwark Street, on Sunday December 3rd (1871) to further the objects of securing ten hours for a day's labour, payment for Sunday duty and weekly payment of wages. Chair to be taken at 6 o'clock. Please inform mates and solicit them to attend. "

Printed on tiny slips of paper four inches by two inches, in order not to attract the attention of the employers, this was the message passed between railwaymen that led to the forming of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants.

Despite the justified caution of the founders (there was an early proposal for a secret sign and password for the union) the union found a substantial support from railway workers and even "progressive" Member of Parliament such as Michael Thomas Bass (Derby) and his agent Charles Bassett Vincent who helped and encouraged railway to organise and fund the influential "Railway Service Gazzette" forerunner of the " Railway Gazzette"

By 1872 the Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Society had been amalgamated with other Friendly societies and become apart the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants to protest to parliament over the excessive hours Railway workers were expected to endure. However as this Society was made up of all grades of railway workers it became very ineffective in achieving any improvements and its membership very quickly decreased.


 STORIES FROM THE SHOVEL

extracted from RTCS book on locomotives of the LBSCR


THE LOCO WITH A MIND OF IT'S OWN

 

On the 29th May, 1867 when Driver Marley (New Cross?) was unable to close the regulator of a 'Craven Standard Passenger 2-4-0 loco' No. 185  as it run into Brighton station with the 8.0 a.m. down express. Despite a full application of the tender brake, and assistance from the guard, the speed could not be reduced below 20 to 25 m.p.h. Fortunately, this train was booked to call at the ticket platform before running on to the terminus, which gave just sufficient time and distance for both crew members to force the regulator closed, and then reverse the engine and apply steam. The buffers were hit, but only at a walking pace and no serious injuries were suffered. Subsequently the driver, fireman and guards were fined for ‘running into the Brighton ticket platform dangerously and at too high a speed’, the regulator on No. 185 having been found in good order.

Driver Marley, however was not satisfied, and found on other occasions that the regulator failed to close completely as well as at times opening slightly on its own. Complaining of this eccentricity, he was not believed and no thorough investigation was made until there came the day when No.185 had to be moved on New Cross shed by the Staff. The regulator opened with ease and then stuck. Moving quite smartly the engine bumped into a line of coke wagons and propelled them towards the foremen’s office, from whence this gentleman appeared at high speed, warned by much shouting that all was not well. He just managed to leap clear before the coke wagons and the gently puffing loco enveloped the area. Halted by the debris, the culprit’s regulator was closed. The offending item was removed forthwith, and since nothing could still be found amiss a new one was fitted with apparent success, since no further mentioned appears in the accident reports. One hopes that those fined received a full pardon and their money back. 

 

 

 

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