Bedford munitions workers c.1916 [Z725/1]
Tuesday 29th May 1917: The munitions workers of Luton have worked through the Whitsuntide Bank Holiday weekend to make up some of the time lost due to their recent strike action. The strike had disrupted munitions work across the country until the arrest of seven strike leaders triggered the Prime Minister’s intervention and an agreement that there should be a return to work with no victimisation, and that formal negotiations should take place between the Executive Committee of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the Government. The Luton men returned to work last Monday following a unanimous vote.
Private A. Nicholls of the Bedfordshire Regiment, who was wounded on the Somme, has little sympathy for the strikers. He writes:
“Go among our line regiments today and you would be surprised at the number of men who have trades in their hands – men who have had one, two and three winters in the trenches. If there is going to be all this bother, why not give these men a chance, and place all the grumblers out in their places? I think the strike is a most cowardly thing. Here are men losing their lives for one shilling a day; going through the hardships of winter in the trenches, which I can assure you makes you at times wish you were dead; standing up to their hips in water for hours, getting stuck in the mud, and having to be dug out, and, as often is the case, with your stomach playing ‘Rule, Britannia’ for the want of what it won’t get. And then these men want more. Look through the line, and give our boys a chance – good workmen, who know what hardships are. Give them a rest by sending these poor, hard-done-by men out. I will bet after six months out there they would come back sadder and wiser men. I am indeed very sorry for all these men. £3 to £4 a week! Shocking! All the pounds we get are in lead.”
Sources: Luton News, 24th May 1917; Leighton Buzzard Observer 29th May 1917