A strike by engineers engaged in the munitions industry that had begun in Rochdale, Yorkshire, and spread to other parts of the country, had reached Luton by May 1917, leading to a flashpoint involving soldiers at the Labour Club in Bute Street on Friday, May 11th. The Luton Reporter newspaper took up the story:
News of the cessation of work by engineers at various local establishments on Friday afternoon - some at five o'clock, some an hour earlier - led in the course of the evening to some very heated encounters between soldiers and munitions workers which, unhappily in some circumstances, did not stop at words.
In the main these were personal quarrels between small groups - and in some cases the sufferers were innocent munition workers not affected by the trouble at all - but a more serious affair was what had the appearance of being an unofficially organised raid on the Labour Club and Institute in Bute Street.
Just after nine o'clock there collected in the vicinity of the Labour Club an appreciable body of men in khaki, variously estimated at anything from 100 to 200, and the drift of their conversation left no doubt as to the object of their assembly.
On inquiry the Mayor (Alderman John Staddon), who had made a call at the factory of Messrs Vyce, Sons & Co, learned from a prominent Labour man that the soldiers appeared to have formed the opinion that te strike was being held in the Labour Club, and had determined to take matters into their own hands and enter the club premises. He straight away proceeded to get into touch with the military authorities connected with Biscot Camp.
Within a few minutes anticipations were realised. There was a khaki rush for the club entrance and, brushing aside what civilians there were about, a party of soldiers mounted the narrow winding staircase and burst into the various club rooms, demanding in forcible language to know where the meeting was, and where the shirkers were.
There had been in progress a trades union branch meeting, and also a committee of the engineers, but those concerned had been forewarned, and the soldiers found no trace of any meeting. There were some 40 or 50 soldiers, and their attitude was such that one of those present says there would unquestionably have been a serious disturbance if the club members had offered any sort of resistance.
By an effort, however, they managed to keep their heads and showed a readiness to listen to te invaders, and as a consequence nothing more untoward had occurred when the Mayor appeared on the scene with an officer from the camp. Getting all the men together in one of the rooms the Mayor made an appeal for peace and order, pointing out that it would not be either to the credit of the military, however aggravated they might feel, to adopt an attitude whereby a breach of the peace might be caused.
Some of the soldiers made pointed requests for information as to the reason for the strike, and the Mayor replied that it was obviously impossible for him under the conditions under which he was labouring at the time, to go into any questions of detail with an irresponsible body of men.
The District Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, however, offered a brief explanation of the causes of the trouble, and, after further appeals from the Mayor, the soldiers responded to the request of the officer that they should retire orderly and quietly from the premises, and a normal state of affairs was resumed without disturbance of any kind.
The Mayor, whose handling of the situation was described by Labour men as having been splendid, told a Luton Reporter representative that most of the men were soldiers returned from the Front and wearing wounded stripes, and from talks with them it was evident they resented very keenly any prospect of delay in the supply of munitions, the need of which some of them had felt so much at Festubert a year or so ago.
[The Luton Reporter: Monday, May 14th, 1917]