Cork Independent, 13 April 2017 The Wheels of 1917: The Carpenter’s Call
The history of Cork unions and the labour movement is not an overly researched topic in Cork history, but relationships between employers and employees regularly appear in the newspapers across the years. This month, one hundred years, coincided with strikes and union meetings in the city. A dispute on pay between the Cork Carpenter’s Society and the Builder’s Federation was ongoing. A fully attended meeting of the Builder’s Federation was held on 2 April 1917 with the proceedings being private. The situation was discussed at length and the meeting approved of the reply drafted to the declaration of the carpenters. A Cork Examiner article on 3 April 1917 reveals that it was hopeful that the matter would be resolved: “a much more hopeful aspect is believed to prevail, and the hope is expressed that the spirit of broadmindedness, which is being displayed on both sides at present will have a good effect; the time is ripe for mediation, and that it would be a great pity if the present favourable opportunity were allowed pass, with the danger of the delay giving rise to a more embittered situation”.
The members of the Cork Masons and Plasterer’s societies also struck work on 2 April 1917, the former on a demand equivalent to an increase of 9s a week in their wages, and the latter equivalent to an increase of 6s a week. Both bodies pointed out that their claims were made independently of the Carpenter’s Society. The builders’ attitude in reference to the masons’ demand was that they were prepared to grant them a war bonus of 3s a week and an increase of wages represented by 6d a day subject to a guarantee, to abide by certain modifications of rules. They offered similar terms to the plasters as from 2 April and promised that when “certain matters in the course of settlement with another trade body” were adjusted, their demand would be fully considered.
A week later, the masons, plasterers, builders’ labourers, and munition workers on strike attended public meetings hosted by the Lord Mayor, Thomas C Butterfield to speak about arbitration measures. At the meeting of 8 April it was discussed that the men involved have already appointed their arbitrator, and the masons would soon appoint theirs. The Chairman, Mr P Lynch, was glad to be able to announce that negotiations were proceeding with a view of bringing the dispute to an end and breaking the resolve of employers in the building trade; “If the employers in the building trade had been left lo themselves he was convinced that there would have been no trouble between the men and employers, but unfortunately outsiders intervened and tried to force the employers in the building trade to smash the men’s union. I trust that the men would be able to return to work next week after winning a successful but short fight”. On the motion of Alderman Cllr Kelleher, a resolution was unanimously adopted, hailing the attempts being made to bring about an amicable settlement, between employers and employees.
By 16 April 1917, the outcome of many discussions was that a joint conference of the representatives of the South of Ireland Master Builders Association and the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners under the chairmanship of Captain Fairbairn Downie at 4pm, at the Cork National Shell Factory on Corn Market Street, now the Bodega. After an exhaustive discussion of all the phases of the dispute, arbitration under Captain Downie was unanimously agreed to. The employers present were Messrs T Goodall of Cork Timber and Iron Co, Ltd and William O’Connell, of Messrs W O’Connell and Son and Charles F Hayes of Messrs Meagher and Hayes.
On 30 April, Captain Downie published his proposed award scheme, which did settle the dispute; Working hours to work were to be from 8am to 6 pm from Mondays to Fridays inclusive with an interval of one hour from 1 pm to 2 pm for dinner. Working hours on Saturday were to be 8 am to 1 pm; all carpenters and joiners would work 50 hours per week. Overtime from 6 pm to 9 pm was to be paid time and a quarter. Half an hour for refreshments was to be allowed, and the time to be mutually agreed upon. From 9 pm to 12 midnight was to be paid time and a half, and from midnight to 6 am, was to be double time, with one hour break by arrangement. The rate of wages was to be l0d per hour as and from the 1 April, 1917, until the first day of May, 1917. From that date the wages were to be increased by a further halfpenny per hour, making a total rate of wages from that date to be 10½ d per hour all the year round. Country money was to be paid at the ratio of 1s 3d per day. The sum of 3s was to be added if working on two different jobs in the one week. Train fares to and from jobs were to be paid by the employer. However, a workman leaving his job in the country without permission, or through misconduct, was not to be paid his return fare.
890a. The operative society of Masons & Bricklayers have been residents of Carpenters Hall on Fr Mathew Quay since 1950, before that they were residents in Mechanics Hall from 1870, which was used by the volunteers during the Irish War of Independence (picture: Kieran McCarthy)
890b. Carpentry tools on display at Cork Carpenter’s Hall during a recent Cork Heritage Open Day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)