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Brass and Metal Workers' Crusade

Illustration showing women metal workers

In 1909 the National Society of Amalgamated Brassworkers and Metal Mechanics responded to the passing of the Trade Board Act by launching its own Birmingham-based 'Brass and Metal Workers' Crusade Against Sweating'. The increased mechanisation of the metal working industry had led to the replacement of skilled craftsmen with semi-skilled workers (including women and children, who were paid lower wages than men). Promoters of the 'Crusade' were strongly opposed to the employment of women as metal workers, arguing that the women were depriving family men of work and being forced into an occupation "unfitted for the sex". The 'Crusade' ran until March 1910, when a Board of Conciliation (containing representatives of both employers and employees) was established. Bulletins and ephemera relating to the campaign are included in a bound volume in the archives of the National Society of Metal Mechanics, and links to digitised versions are given below.

Some of the principal points in an Act to provide for the establishment of Trade Boards for certain Trades, [1909]

Summary of the 1909 Trade Board Act, produced for members of the National Society of Amalgamated Brassworkers and Metal Mechanics.

Announcement of the start of the union's 'Crusade against sweating in the metal trades', [1909]

The printed circular includes a rousing statement by the union's General Secretary W.J. Davis. It includes the assertion that "the age is against sweating" and puts forward the proposal that, in order to get a "living wage" for semi-skilled machine workers, "all men who earn less than 28/- per week shall be advanced one half-penny per hour".

Report of a mass meeting to approve and endorse the campaign, 19 October 1909

The meeting of "all sections of the Brass and Metal Trades" was held at the Bristol Hall, Birmingham. The proceedings are described as being of "an enthusiastic character all through". The Chairman's speech includes the comment that "the introduction of machinery has played havoc with our trade; highly skilled mechanics have been forced on to the streets, and women, girls and boys have been taken to fill their places".

Report of meeting at the Royal Hotel, Redditch, on 28 October 1909

The speech of W.J. Davis includes references to the history of trade unionism, arguments over the 1909 Budget and increased unemployment due to mechanisation. The back page of the report contains an illustration of women metalworkers, reproduced from the Sunday Chronicle, with an appeal to "end this scandal".

Report of the 'Third Crusade Meeting of Brass and Metal Workers' on 2 November 1909

The meeting was held at Moseley Road Council Schools, Birmingham. W.J. Davis responds to comments by local clergymen, gives "concrete cases" of sweated labour, and praises working conditions at Lucas. A speech of support was also made by Rev. G.H. Moore.

Report of the 'Fourth Crusade Meeting of Brass and Metal Workers' on 4 November 1909

The meeting was held at Lingard Street Council Schools, Birmingham. The report includes speeches calling for trade union unity and support of the Labour Party, and comments on "slumdom" in Birmingham. The back page contains a Labour Party cartoon of a worker chopping down the tree of 'land monopoly' and 'sweating'.

Report of the 'Fifth Crusade Meeting of Brass and Metal Workers' on 9 November 1909

The meeting was held at Steward Street Council Schools, Birmingham. The speech by W.J. Davis includes references to the organisers' meeting with the Bishop of Birmingham, the 1905 Revolution in Russia, support for the crusade from employers and political campaigning. The National Federation of Women Workers representative Joan Varley also spoke.

Report of the 'Sixth Crusade Meeting of Brass and Metal Workers' on 11 November 1909

The meeting was held at Mary Street Council Schools, Birmingham. Speeches include appeals for workers to unify to "kill the demon" of sweated labour.

Christmas Greetings, 1909

Christmas campaign card calling for people to "come forth and help the Crusade".

The Anti-Sweating Crusade: Employers and workmen agree on a remedy, 1910

The circular reports on the first meeting of the new Board of Conciliation on 7 March 1910. The Board contained sixteen representatives of the Employers’ Association and sixteen representing the National Society of Brassworkers (previously known as the National Society of Amalgamated Brassworkers and Metal Mechanics). One of the first actions of the Board was to request "the Board of Trade to schedule the Brass Trades of the country under the Trade Boards Act of 1909". It didn't.

Report of meeting in the Birmingham and Midland Institute on 20 October 1910

Speakers at the meeting reflect on the anti-sweating crusade and the work of the Board of Conciliation. The Board's proposed scheme for minimum wages is presented to the meeting for approval.