Women workers at Vauxhall on strike for higher pay, 1916 [X498/175]
Thursday 1st June 1916: Seventeen girls employed by a Luton firm have today appeared at a Tribunal at Westminster where they were charged with leaving their work at a firm under Government control without leave on Friday May 26th and Monday May 29th. Fourteen of the girls were from Luton, two from St. Albans, and one from Harpenden. Mr. Edward Bolton, the manager of the department in which the girls are employed, appeared for the company, but it appears he did not make a good impression on the Chairman of the Tribunal.
Mr Bolton stated that the company employs 467 girls, who are engaged entirely in manufacturing items for the Government. He complained that on Friday 427 girls had stayed in the works yard after the midday meal, singing, booing and demonstrating. On Monday 29th only 86 had come in to work; the rest had stayed outside the works entrance. After questioning Mr Bolton admitted that on the Friday the girls were effectively sent home until Monday morning when they had not returned to work after ten minutes grace. He also admitted that a number of the girls had wished to see him on Monday morning, but denied that they were turned out by policemen. A union representative had tried to get to the works early on Monday morning to meet the girls before they went in, but his train was late and he did not arrive in time to do anything before the gates were shut. He thought if he had more time he would have been able to get the girls back to work. Mr Bolton had told him that the girls were suspended for two days and notices were put up to this effect. A meeting was held between the girls and the labour representatives and they returned to work at 7.30 on Tuesday morning.
After some prevarication Mr Bolton admitted that he had heard that the girls intended to come out on strike unless they received a halfpenny an hour pay rise. The Union representative complained of lack of tact and breach of faith by Mr Bolton and suggested that the strike was the result of a genuine misunderstanding by the girls, who had only wanted to discuss their grievance. Instead of doing so Mr Bolton had sent the girls home. When asked the amount earned by the girls Mr Bolton gave unusually high figures which were the exception rather than the norm. The Chairman of the Tribunal agreed that the girls had a grievance, and felt their wages were not very high for the work they were doing. The employer had acted arbitrarily in shutting the girls out on Saturday, and with a little tact most of the girls would have returned to work on Monday morning. He therefore did not regard the failure to go back to work on Monday as an offence. The refusal to work on Friday did clearly constitute an offence against the regulations. However, in view of the blame which should attach to their employer, their low wages, the cost of their fares, and their loss of income over the two days, he proposed to fine them only one shilling each. In any future dispute he urged them to rely on a Union leader to settle the matter in a proper way.
Source: Luton News, 8th June 1916