[From the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: January 11, 1919]
It is fairly well known that there has been discontent among the employees at the Luton Corporation Electricity Works for some time. Just before Christmas, in referring to breakdowns at the works, Alderman Wilkinson, as Chairman of the responsible committee, made an appeal to the men for loyalty, and to give of their best to assist the staff to overcome the difficulties arising from the shortage and poor quality of coal.
The men recently put in an application for an improvement of wages and conditions – namely, that they should be within the scope of the award made to the members of the Electrical Trades Union in the London district. It was stated at the meeting of the Town Council that the district was confined within a radius of 20 miles from Charing Cross.
The Council, on the recommendation of the Electricity Committee, declined to adopt that rate, but it was stated that certain matters were developing which would enable the matter to be discussed again.
Meanwhile, the Town Council increased the salary of the Electrical Engineer, and the men have voiced the opinion that if the Council could afford to meet the Engineer's request, they could also afford to meet the men.
“We do not begrudge Mr Cooke,” it was said. “The Council may give him £2,000 a year if they like, but we expect to receive consideration on the same lines.”
Between 60 and 70 men are concerned, and they belong to various unions, all of which are parties to the London district award. The members met this week and decided to inform the Electricity Committee that if their request was not approved when the committee met on Thursday night, they would hand in their notices yesterday (Friday) morning.
The committee sat for nearly three and a half hours, and the men's requests were not conceded.
Yesterday morning there were persistent rumours that the men had handed in their notices.
Alderman Wilkinson (Chairman of the Electricity and Tramways Committee), Mr W. H. Cooke (the Engineer) and the Town Clerk (Mr William Smith) met the men yesterday morning, and eventually suggested the matter in dispute should be referred to arbitration. The men accepted this proposal, and any further developments will remain in abeyance pending the award.
The men belong to the Electrical Trades Union, the National Union of General Workers, the Workers' Union, and the National Amalgamated Union of Enginemen, Firemen, Mechanics, Motormen and Electrical Workers.
Mr H. J. Stearn, the secretary of the local branch of the Electrical Trades Union, was present, and in a statement to a Telegraph representative he said: The public really should know all the facts, and then I am sure they will agree with the men. The trouble has arisen over the trade card. There has never been any system of working rules and conditions at the Electricity Works. We have put the matter before the authorities, but it has been put off and deferred until the men are sick of it.
“They decided to take drastic action, and to hand in their notices today unless their demands were conceded last night. We want the award received by London men to be shared by Luton.
“This morning we met the Chairman of the Electricity Committee, the Town Clerk and Mr Cooke, and as a result the men decided to defer handing in their notices until January 31st, so that it can be settled by arbitration.”
Meanwhile, a breakdown in high tension feeders to a sub-station at Beech Hill on Saturday resulted in about 800 men and 1,000 girls at the George Kent's Works and between 400 and 500 hands at Commercial Cars in Biscot Road being unable to work from Monday to Wednesday, January 7th to 9th.