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East Cowes

Strike by Shipwright’s in Cowes November 1912

A strike has been called by around 180 shipwrights working in Cowes area who are members of the Associated Society of Shipwrights in a dispute over rates of pay. Negotiations have been ongoing for some time with employers, and notice of intention to strike was given three months ago, it stated that, if no agreement was reached to increase the hourly rate from eight and a half pence per hour to 9 pence per hour by 25th October, a strike of member could take place. An improved offer amounting to one farthing per hour was tabled by the employers starting on the 1st December 1912, with the stipulation that no further request for wage increases should take place for three years. A meeting of shipwrights took place to discuss the offer and a vote was taken, the result of which was 120 for strike and 35 against.

On Saturday morning the men gave the employers two hours notice of intention to withdraw their labour if their request were not met, no new offer was made, and the men downed tools and left the their places of work.

A statement on behalf to the shipwrights stated that the rates of pay for men employed at Cowes did not match those paid at Southampton, London and other ports. An official of the men’s union said that rates in Southampton were 39s.6d for 53 hours for new work and 40s.6 for old work, this was against 37s 1d for 54 hours in Cowes.

The men had chosen their timing well, there was a considerable amount of work at the shipyards in Cowes with full order books and shipwrights were in demand country wide. A spokesman for the employers said the strike was a serious blow to them as they had to meet contact dates, and had already been hit by other strikes and the rise in material and transport costs.

The strike would have very serious implications for John Samuel White and Co. who had contracts which included six ocean going torpedo boat destroyers for Chile and two for the British Admiralty. Other boat and shipbuilding firms in the Cowes area affected by the strike are Mr George Marvin [yachts] Messrs. W. White and sons, Mr. H. Gale, Mr. C. Lallow, Mitcham Motor Co., Messrs. S. E. Sanders and Co, Mr. Joe White and Messrs. Groves and Guttridge.

Picture of H.M.S. Botha built at J S Whites
H.M.S. Botha built at J S Whites

Mr John Smith, director and shipyard manager of Messrs. J. S. White who has had considerable experience in shipyards on the Clyde and other locations was the chief negotiator on behalf of the employers. As a result of the decision by the shipwright the employers offer had been withdrawn.

A spokesman for one of the companies affected in an interview said the rates of pay for shipwrights in Southampton had always been higher that almost every other place on the south and east coast. He accepted that rates of pay in Cowes for shipwrights for over 10 years had been considerably lower than those paid in other southern ports. However on the 1st January 1911 the shipwrights had entered into a formal agreement with the employers and has a result had received an increase of 2s.1d a week, this brought their wage up to 37s.1d a week and compared well with Southampton at 38s.6d.

He then gave a list of current wages at various ports, Southampton, 39s .6d., Goole, 34s. 6d., Hartlepool, 38s.0d., Ipswich, 35s .4d. Lowestoft, 36s .0d. Stockton-on-Tees, 38s. 0d., The Tyne, 38s .8d.,Wivenhoe, 33s. 9d and Yarmouth, 33s.0d., the hours in most cases were 54 hours per week.

He then said that when the original formal agreement was signed the shipwrights were very satisfied, and this allowed employers to bid for work with a high degree of confidence in their quotations, yet within 12 months the men were back asking for a further increase in rate. When questioned about the strike the men said it was a good time to strike as they were in a strong position because of the full order books.

Another employee said the men had been offered a change to earn additional money by having piecework rates, however this had been turn down.

Source: Isle of Wight County Press, November 1912

This page was last edited on: 4th March, 2015 06:17:17

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