Wednesday 4 April 2012

The Dundee Jute Strike, 1912: ‘We will never be content - Till we get our ten per cent’ – sinister discovery in the University Archives!

The years 1910 to 1914 were a year of militancy and strikes across the whole of the United Kingdom. In Dundee, a city dominated at the time by the textile industry, one of the local responses included the jute workers leaving their looms and mills to take to the streets in1912. The early days of the strike were marked by a spirit of good-humoured defiance and good natured gatherings. Although a local newspaper, probably the Evening Telegraph and Post, reported that the striking workers had marched through the city singing ‘war songs’, the primary concern for the reporter at the scene seemed to be the hats and masks of the strikers that enhanced the initial carnival atmosphere.

As the strike wore on tensions began to rise, with the employees of Cox Brothers in Lochee becoming particularly militant. On one occasion Baxter Brothers’ Dens Works was besieged by four hundred masked strikers from Lochee who were brandishing sticks and other weapons. They succeeded in preventing the Dens Works workers from entering the mill by throwing stones and missiles at them, although eventually the police were able to open a passage to the gate.

Records in the Cox Brothers collection may indicate how seriously the company treated the demonstrations. Filed with a volume of newspaper cuttings on the strikes compiled by the firm, are gun catalogues and correspondence with Harrods relating to an order for revolvers.  Cox Brothers requested around twenty revolvers, of the type that would fire up to 32 shots without reloading, but were informed that there might be a delay due to ‘a very large demand’. Perhaps the company, and other employers across the country, were so alarmed by the depth of feeling amongst the workers that they took serious measures to protect themselves and their factories in the event of riots.

At one point during the strike a total of 30,000 millworkers in Dundee were locked out. In the end, however, the employers gave in to the demand for a wage increase, although the 2½% increase was far short of the 10% and 15% demanded. The final settlement was agreed on April 14th and the following day the workers at Cox Brothers voted to return to work, an event that marked the end of the dispute. Coincidently this was also the day on which the Titanic sank.

The Cox Brothers collection in the University Archives contains a wealth of material relating to the strike and is part of the larger Sidlaw Industries collection (MS 66). Sidlaw Industries was originally 
Jute Industries, a company formed in 1920 by the amalgamation of several leading Dundee jute manufacturers including Cox Brothers, J.& A.D. Grimond and Harry Walker. The records are available for consultation in the University Archives and relate to a broad range of subjects including finance, wages, accidents, strikes, shareholders, and stock – in addition the collection also contains a number of photographs and plans.


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