|The Rushden Echo and Argus, 25th January, 1953, transcribed by Jim Hollis
Shoe Veterans Rewarded - 31 Union members to receive diplomas
Thirty men and one woman who have completed 50 or more years as members of the Rushden and District branch of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives will to-morrow receive diplomas and free membership cards, entitling them to full benefits, from Alderman Arthur Allen, M.P.
Between them they have contributed 1,781 years’ service to the shoe trade of the Rushden district from the time of its early struggles, through half a century of progress, to a day when the area’s output maintains a unique position in the world’s market.
A member since 1896, Mr. James Henry Smith, of 29, Newton Road, Rushden, now retired, advocates the benefits of trade unionism…”Trade unionism is good for any job; we should be in a poor way without it. With it you can fight,” he told our reporter.
Despite the amenities of the present day in the shoe trade Mr. Smith observed: “I still like the old days, when you could do the work in your own time and make a really good job of it.”
Strikes? “They were fun to me then I was only a boy, and they meant a holiday. I don’t suppose they were for Mother, but we managed.”
Only woman to receive a diploma will be Mrs. Kate Clarke, of 169, Newton Road, Rushden. Aged 67, she started work at 11 in the factory of Messrs. Wm. Green and Son and is still employed there in the afternoons. Until three years ago she was a branch collector, a job in which she succeeded her father.
Although no written records exist to provide us with a definite date of the formation, a local branch of the union was formed “about” 1886. There are those who contend that Irthlingborough was first in the field, and others Higham Ferrers. Certain it is that enthusiasts got together with a view to the branch covering the Rushden, Higham Ferrers and Irthlingborough areas.
The 31 veterans who will receive their diplomas to-morrow hail from Rushden, Higham, Irthlingborough and Raunds. At least three, all Rushden men James Peacock, 4, Roberts Street, William H. Lett, 74, Crabb Street, and Thomas Burfield, 141, Queen Street were members in 1890.
In the early days exploitation of women and children was not unknown and often they had to work long hours at the end of the week to make up the time lost in the observance of “St. Crispin’s Day” by the head of the household. The late Mr. Charles Bates, who became president of the branch, related how he was knocked off his stool for falling asleep at midnight.
Those years saw many struggles and disputes, one of the earliest and bitterest being the 1890 dispute over the 7-16 edge.
Eventually a strike was declared, but the men were urged to be of peaceful behaviour and if they met their employers in the street to treat them with as much courtesy as previously.
About 120 men went on strike pay, but clickers and closers were deprived of all means of sustenance. Trade was almost at a standstill and some men left the district with their “kit” under their arms in search of work elsewhere. By the end of the second week there were 5,000 people out of work in the district out of a population of 14,000.
After a three-weeks struggle the dispute was referred to arbitration and the men resumed work. An award was subsequently made in favour of the employers, and the operatives could not be said to have improved their position, but they had at least demonstrated their determination and solidarity.
First warning of the upheaval to be caused by the machine age came in 1893, when owing to the severe depression in the Army hand sewn boot trade, particularly at Raunds and Ringstead, it was arranged for a deputation representing the men to meet for an interview at the War Office. It was then stated that Ringstead alone could produce 55,000 to 60,000 pairs of hand-sewn boots annually, and Irchester 10,000 to 15,000, not to mention Raunds and smaller places.
The most publicised event in local trade union history was the “Great Strike” of 1905, when 115 strikers marched to London from Raunds and brought nation-wide attention to their scheme to present a petition in the House of Commons.
In addition to those who will be honoured to-morrow, the half-century list names Mr. James Robinson and Mr. Joseph Webb, both of Higham Ferrers, who died during the past year.