'Small makers' invited to join Trade Board

Hat Trade Board notice

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: September 13th, 1919]

Last night what are known as the “small makers” in the straw trade were invited to attend a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce in order to select one of their number to sit on the recently established Trade Board for the hat industry.

The constitution of this Board gives Luton several seats, and accordingly recognises Luton as one of the most important centres of the hat industry. In allotting Luton its number of seats, however, the authorities definitely laid down that one seat was to be filled by a representative of these small makers, and as there was no organisation through which they could be approached, the Chamber of Commerce representatives at the conferences which have been proceeding in London undertook to call a meeting of this particular branch of the trade.

It is not the fault of the Chamber of Commerce that the small makers were too apathetic to turn up in sufficient numbers to warrant those present selecting a representative. Rather is it one more example of the apathy which attends so many of the efforts to secure any measure of organisation in connection with the staple industry, but this at any rate in so far as the bigger manufacturers and merchants are concerned, is now gradually but surely becoming a thing of the past.

In this trade, as in so many others, war conditions compelled a certain amount of joint action, and the problems attending the period of reconstruction are having the same effect. This one particular branch of the industry has apparently still neglected to realise this, but from the tone of some of the few who were present last evening, and who realised what an important effect this Trade Board was going to have on their individual businesses, it appeared possible that they might set to work as missionaries, and set on foot some movement to initiate an association of small makers.

At any rate they secured a few days of grace in which to make an effort to whip up a more representative meeting of their trade, and this will be held early next week. Unless the meeting then feels empowered to make a nomination, the trade will lose its opportunity, and the Ministry will take it out of their hands and appoint someone to sit on the Trade Board on their behalf, after which time it will be too late to complain that they had not had fair opportunity to select their own representative.

Already Mr Keens, the Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, has obtained 14 days of grace before sending in the complete list of Luton's representatives, and more consideration than this the small makers cannot reasonably expect.

Mr C. H. Osborne, who has been attending the preliminary meetings in London and who is to be one of the representatives of the Hat Makers' Association on the Trade Board, explained the present position of the meeting. He stated that the hat industry was one of a number of trades which it was considered by the authorities required to be regulated by a Trade Board, and a Board had been constituted with jurisdiction over the whole Kingdom.

Its membership was to be five members of the felt industry, of which one had to be appointed from Luton; five representatives of the straw hat section, of which one was to be from London and four from Luton – the four to include one representative of what were called by the authorities sub-contractors, but which were known locally as outdoor or small makers; five representatives of the cloth hat and cap manufacturers; five retail vendors; five wholesalers; and one representing cork hat and helmet manufacturers. There were also to be 26 representatives who were operatives.

The Board would decide minimum wages and hours, conditions of work, and other things related to the trade, and their decisions would be of far-reaching effect. The importance of this matter, said Mr Osborne, was not yet fully appreciated, as was indicated by the few who attended this meeting.

One of the outdoor makers said he thought very few understood that the Board was going to have these wide powers, and Mr Keens replied that it was an absolute revolution in the conditions of the trade. He added that a very stiff fight had been put up by Luton for full recognition on the Board, and as a result they had been allotted one-fifth of the seats.

The Luton representation, both in capital and labour, would be sufficient for these members to work more or less as an independent Board, so that from the beginning the trade should be governed locally. The effect of this would be that any decision arrived at would be arrived at by people who understood the industry they were dealing with. The retail shops with a millinery workroom attached could probably claim to have the greatest number of people, but as a specialised industry centred practically in one spot, Luton was able to convince the Ministry that they were able to claim consideration as the largest single industry.

It was stated by Mr Osborne that if the outdoor makers did not select their own representative it would be done for them by the authorities. It was then stated that other members already selected were: straw hat manufacturers, Mr C. H. Osborne and Mr F. G. Higgins; Men's Hat Manufacturers' Association, Mr S. C. Dillingham; felt hat manufacturers, Mr James Squires.

Referring to the necessity of outdoor makers having some form of organisation, Mr Osborne said these new Acts were drawing trades together as never before, and the only hope for the future was co-operation in every way. The Trade Board for this industry was already authorised, so it was too late to criticise the necessity.

Having regard to the fact that when a minimum wage is fixed, workers who are on piecework must be paid sufficient to enable them to earn at least the minimum wage, the opinion was expressed that it would be impossible for many manufacturers to keep their hands on during the slack season, and consequently the trade would be revolutionised.

There would also be a serious effect in connection with aged and other workers who could only manage to do a small amount of work to help towards their living, and these would probably have to fall out altogether unless some form of exemption could be obtained to meet such cases.

The decisions of the Board would touch the trade in every way, and there were many things which would require very careful handling.

In reply to other inquiries, Mr Keens stated that when a minimum wage was fixed notices would have to be posted in all the factories, and failure to post such notices or to pay the wages fixed would render employers liable to heavy penalties. The Board was going to be in a position to rule the trade.

Mr Osborne, however, was inclined to think that when the Board got into proper working order manufacturers would not find it much hardship, if matters were arranged wisely in the interests of the workers and there was mutual co-operation.

It was agreed by those present that they were not strong enough to take the responsibility of submitting the name of anyone to be their representative, but they were fully alive to the fact that any representative appointed must be a man able to attend the meetings of the Board when necessary and capable of expressing the views of this branch of the trade.

It was accordingly suggested that the meeting should be adjourned until early next week, and an endeavour made to get a bigger attendance.

At the adjourned meeting held in the Castle Street Hall on Tuesday, September 16th, Mr W. Skinner, of Park Street, was elected to represent the small makers on the Trade Board Council.