Unemployment dilemma in the straw trade

[From the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: April 8th, 1919]

Speaking of the effect of industrial unrest in trade, the local correspondent of the Hatter's Gazette said: “As far as St Albans and Luton are concerned, the action of the workmen in the trades that talk of striking is producing unemployment on an unprecedented scale.

“Not only are the regular hands that have never left their employment during the war thrown out of work, but hundreds who went to munition factories, now out of that job, are unable to find any work with their old employers, and the streets of the sister towns are a striking illustration of the great extent of the slump in trade.

“Practically the whole of the low and medium departments of the boaters trade are at a standstill, and it is only in the better class, or in the special departments, that any real life may be said to exist.

“It is true there are still some firms who have still to complete their autumnal orders, but one serious feature in the trade in the amount of cancellation of unexecuted orders that has taken place. And here one may, again reverting to the demands for more wages and shorter hours, ask how these higher prices are going to be paid if the consequences of such action causes unemployment in the trades which use the products produced by those who are threatening to strike?

“And that has certainly been the case in the straw trade, which, although one of the minor industries of the country, is fairly typical of all non-essential trades. One must have coal to bake bread for the community, but if orders are absent one cannot buy coal for the straw trade purposes, and therefore if our trade is typical, as it may fairly well claim to be, the stagnation of trade experienced all round will result in a diminished use of coal and of transport.

“March in the ladies' hat trade is generally 'full steam ahead,' and this year has come as an unpleasant surprise to many ladies' hat manufacturers. One learns also that the export of ribbons from Switzerland has been made very difficult; one firm complains of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of ribbons lying in Switzerland that cannot get a licence for export to Great Britain.

“Some such difficulty has been experienced in certain sorts of plaits, of which Switzerland is practically the sole maker, and the reason given for the hindrance is that the materials of which the plaits are composed come from an enemy country – Russia. The writer of this report has seen the letter from Switzerland quoting the official report on the goods, but he has yet to learn that Russia is an enemy country. But such are the many hindrances that inefficient and ignorant officialdom put in the way of legitimate and anxious traders, and while such ways prevail it is hopeless to expect any material increase in our export trade.”