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Wartime in Rushden - Shoemen Called

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 15th August, 1941, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Boot Operatives and Quarry Labour
Rushden Men Assured There is No Compulsion
Service to Nation

New light was thrown on the Northamptonshire iron-ore labour scheme at Monday’s meeting of the Rushden Branch, Boot Operatives’ Union.

Alderman A. C. Allen presided, supported by Mr. Charles Baxter (branch secretary), and the large attendance included many of the men affected by the scheme.

Mr. Allen said the Government needed more men in the local iron quarries and were looking to the boot industry to provide them. They proposed that the labour should be drawn from the group of men in Stage C of the reservation schedule – men between the ages of 30 and 35 who would normally be called up for the fighting Services round about October. Men in this category were being asked to volunteer; there were about 2,100 of them in the county, and it was thought that 600 could be drafted into the iron ore quarry work if they were willing.

The Union had agreed to give the voluntary scheme its backing, and the manufacturers had promised that any man who volunteered would be treated exactly as if he had been called up for the Services – his place would be reserved for him after the war.

Many of the boot operatives, said Mr. Allen, rather resented that they had been chosen for this campaign. Most of them had never handled a pick or shovel, and they felt there were alternative sources of labour supply. They also knew there were younger men still in the factories – men with lighter domestic responsibilities.

Certificates Promised

Dealing with criticisms of the manner of approach, Mr. Allen said it had been arranged to tell the men that if they volunteered for quarry work they could rely upon being employed in this neighbourhood and would in all probability be exempted from military service. Any threat of compulsion would not be in accordance with official promises.

The Ministry of Labour was also prepared to issue letters certifying that the men were doing service of real national importance – an effective reply to any criticism of their retention in civil life.

From Rushden the Government still needed about 20 per cent of the men in Stage C. The men who volunteered would be paid 64s. per week.

During the meeting there was frank discussion of the scheme, and members pointed out the disadvantages that they saw from their own stand-point, especially as between civil employment at the ironstone wage standard and military service. They pointed out that men entering the Services obtained certain allowances and forms of relief, and that men who were buying their own houses – a considerable class – would be worse off on quarry work than in the Forces.

Mr. Allen again emphasized that the scheme was on a voluntary basis, but that it was hoped to make it successful in view of its importance to the nation.

The Rushden Echo and Argus, 29th August, 1941, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Shoemen As Ironstone Workers
No Grumbling at Kettering
Rushden Views

Considerable interest is being taken by Northamptonshire boot and shoe operatives in the progress of the Government’s scheme for transferring operatives aged between 30 and 35 to work in the ironstone mines. Rushden, like other shoe centres in the country, is closely concerned in the scheme.

Probably well over 200 men in the whole area have already been transferred in this way and many more are expecting to be transferred shortly.

Many hundreds of operatives have in addition been interviewed by Ministry of Labour officials in the last fortnight or so to see what is their attitude to being transferred, the object of the Ministry being to operate the scheme voluntarily.

Labour Shortage

The scheme, which was launched by the Ministry of Labour a few weeks ago, aims to transfer about 600 men in stage C of the reservation schedule into ironstone working where there is an acute shortage of labour. Stage C consists of boot and shoe operatives between 30 and 35 who would normally be called up for the Services about October. There are about 2,100 of them in Northamptonshire.

An official of the Boot Operatives’ Union at Kettering told a reporter that 75 members of the union from Kettering had already started in these new jobs, most of them having begun last week. It was a little early to say how they were getting on as he had not seen many of them.

“The few I have seen,” he added, “seem to be settling down fairly well. There was no grousing.”

Rushden Critical

A number of operatives are, however, it is understood, somewhat critical of the scheme, this being the case particularly at Rushden.

Alderman A. C. Allen, J.P., president of the Rushden and Higham branch of the Union, said that some of the operatives in that district were inclined to question why the boot and shoe industry should be called upon to supply the ore mines with labour seeing that the work was of such a different character, and so much heavier than most factory work.

Some men, previously reserved, had in the past been refused the chance of joining up in the Forces because they were reserved, he said. Now they did not wish to be forced into the ore mines when many of them would much prefer to be in the forces and might be financially better off there.

Mr. George Chester (general secretary of the union) told a reporter that he expected 400 operatives from Northamptonshire would have been transferred to the ironstone mines by the end of this week. The remaining 200 needed would probably be transferred within about a fortnight.

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