Industrial Militancy in Perthshire prior to the 1926 General Strike ~ a few snippets

17 May 1849 – Perth city carters organised a one-day strike to protest against the impact that the railways was having on their livelihood, and to demand that the city corporation provide relief.

2 May 1855 – Masons in Perth went on strike for increase in their wages, which they obtained. They marched through the town led by a piper.

October 1871 – Mill workers in a number of factories across Perthshire became active over the demand for a decent length of lunch-break. At Erich Linen Works, they achieved a 1p per cut rise, an hour for lunch and a 50 minute breakfast period. At McIntyre and Co., the hour for lunch demand was accepted, and at Saunders & Sons of Blairgowrie, workers were successful with their demands.

1870s – Six Perthshire shoemakers on strike were imprisoned for staring at another shoemaker who was still working during the strike. The prosecution was undertaken using the civil offence of conspiracy.

8 March 1872 – The Perth Typographical Association put in a claim for group of their printers, of 2 shillings a week pay rise and a reduction in their working week to 51 hours. The claim took the form of a deputation to the owner of the printing firm, a Mr. Lyall. Although the pay rise was not forthcoming, the reduction in hours was granted. Similar claims were proposed and accepted, as many other Perthshire printing firms, excepting the Perthshire Advertiser, then owned by Samuel Cowan.

22 April 1872 – Ten printers at the Perthshire Advertiser came out on strike for one day and achieved the 51-hour week.

December 1877 – Dyers and Bleachers at John Pullars & Sons achieved a reduction in their working week.

June 1874 – After threatening to go on strike, joiners and masons across Perth were granted a halfpenny an hour pay increase.

1886/7 – The Typographical Association fought a battle at the Perthshire Advertiser to save their 51 hours from the owner he was attempting to raise it to 54 a week. Eventually after a long battle, the owner gave in, but then turned on the machine workers, many of whom were sacked.

12 October 1897 – The founding meeting of the Perth & District Trades and Labour Council took place this day at the Masons Hall in Hospital Street. Thence after it met every fortnight and took a leading role in trade disputes and local politics within Perth. Its members lobbied the local council on many issues that affected working people in Perth, especially housing and pay levels of council employees. The Perth & District Trades & Labour Council also stood candidates in local elections, and provided strike pay during disputes.

1898 – A strike by joiners employed by the local council, and supported by the Trades Council achieved its desired increase in wages. In the same year there took place a strike by bakers for time and a half overtime and a decrease in the standard working week.

1900 – Local painters struck to achieve a lodging allowance for jobs more than 3 miles from the city centre.

1912 – Strike by certain sections at John Pullars & Sons Limited.

1916/7 – Major strike at John Pullars & Sons Limited. This is covered in a separate section.

John Pullars & Sons Limited, Dyers and Cleaners:

Located at Burt’s Close, between 129 High Street and 19 Mill Street. The first manifestation of this Perth Company was in the early part of the 19th Century when Robert Pullar (1782-1835) set up a factory to produce cloth on handlooms. In the 1830s, the company employed 700 weavers and manufactured amongst other materials, gingham cloth for umbrellas. As the weaving industry began to decline, John Pullar, the founders’ son, in 1824 created a small dying (yarn and silk) business to link into the cloth manufactured by the parent company. Slowly, this aspect of the business moved into dominance, especially with the development of colour-fast synthetic dyes. By the 1910s, Pullars employed nearly one in six of Perth’s 18000 workers. The company experienced its first organised industrial action in January of 1906, when women workers at the plant sent a deputation to the management to request an increase in pay. The action fell short of a strike, but still the owners of Pullars were forced to address the issues presented to them.

Six years later in 1912, 240 employees staged a walk out after an agreed pay deal was reneged on – the year before the annual pay rise was not granted after the management sited economic issues to delay the June rise until November. For the workers at Pullars increases in food and the cost of living gave them no choice but to fight. When management attempted to bully these men back to work, another 300 (from the ironing section) came out in support, and a mass meeting was held on the North Inch on 4 June. The plants at Tulloch and in the City Centre were picketed the next day. At this meeting, the assembled strikers listened to speeches from David Bruce, president of the Perth Trades Council and from members of the Labour Party. The Pullars’ management threatened to sack strikers, and with the failure of other workers to join the action, those on strike were forced to give in. The positive consequence of this action was the politicisation of many of the company’s workers who joined trade unions such as the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW) and the Amalgamated Society of Dyers, Bleachers, Furnishers & Kindred Trades (ASDBF&KT). Union meetings mostly took place at the Co-operative Hall in Perth – now demolished.

During World War I, food shortages and rising inflation acted as a catalyst for industrial militancy at the Pullers dye works, which culminated in the largest trade union demonstration ever held in Perth. The Association of Dyers, Bleachers, Furnishers & Kindred Trades negotiated in 1916, a pay deal for an increase in the weekly wage of 3s for men, and 1s and 9d for women. Locally this was accepted but nationally it was not. The union National Conference in November 1916 went on to insist on 10s for men and 6s for women. The next stage in Perth was arbitration over the demand, which the arbitrator, Sir Thomas Munro found in favour of the union. Pullars rejected this decision and a mass meting was organised at the Lesser City Hall, at which the speakers were David Bruce and Jessie Jardie. All told four meetings were held, one of which saw 2000 people in attendance. The union now increasing in strength offered strike pay to its members, and the Perth railwaymen gave solidarity.

Pullars followed their standard tactics and attempted to undermine the protests by dividing workers and using the local press for propaganda. The response from workers was a mass walkout and the setting up of pickets at the factory gates. The strike began 28 August. Police officers were placed at the entrances to the Pullars’ works both to protect the factory and strike-breaking workers. At one point at the Kinnoull Street plant fighting broke out as a group of strike-breakers attempted with the aid of the police to gain entry. Several marches consisting of hundreds of strikers took place in Perth led by a brass band. On 5 September, fighting again broke out in Perth between strikers and strike-breakers, with the police defending the latter. The battle raged for 4 hours and mounted police were brought in. Eventually the strikers held the field and the strike-breakers were forced to leave. Both Pullars’ plants now closed and the victorious trade unionists held a victory dance at the Co-op Hall followed by a picnic on Buckie Braes.

A number of strikers arrested during the picketing appeared at Tay Street Court. During their hearings, hundreds of supporters stood in solidarity outside.

Rufus Pullar the family member charged with dealing with the strike collapsed under the stress and died and Pullars threatened to sell their factory. The unions managed to get negotiations restarted and an agreement was reached. On 1 October after 32 days, the strike was over. When the strikers did return to the factory, the deal signed fell far short of what had been demanded. In 1918, Eastman Brothers from London bought Pullars as a growing concern. Although, the company agreed to collective bargaining with the workers, by 1922 the firm moved on the offensive sacking hundreds of workers, many of whom had 40 or more years of service.