11, Teashop waitresses' strike

A Committee meeting was called to make plans for a strike of the teashop waitresses. My friend called on the committee and I fought hard and earnestly against the foolish conduct of the strike by the Committee. We pointed out that the food was cooked at the Head Depot and before you called the girls out you had either to get the cooks at this head depot in the union, or make an arrangement with them, in case they should blackleg. The same applied to the bakers and the carmen who brought the food to the teashops – if you did not have an agreement with these unions you would fail. It was no use.

Next evening at the Memorial Hall, Tom Cann said something like this. “The time has come for action. I am not telling you now, but when I give the signal, not one girl must go to work.” Well, those girls obeyed orders, and as I pointed out, that is why they would fail. The Syndicate members controlled their own union, their own actions and took no orders from officials. They did not come out of their jobs. They stayed it and won.

These simple girls, inexperienced in the trickery of TU officials, came out and marched up and down the Strand and Regent Street, singing that the firm “had got the wind up, but they can’t put the wind up us.”

What was the scene at the teashops, though? Carmen with trade union cards in their pockets delivered all the food as usual on the morning of the strike. Telephones rang and every agency in London was soon sending girls. Head Depot and other places of the firm drew girls to fill the strikers’ jobs. Next morning every London paper had big advertisements for girls as waitresses, no experience necessary, and the firm paid them nearly double the wages the strikers had got.

Now Tom Cann had his union affiliated to the London Trades Council. As we were the only two who could speak, he asked me to come with him to complain to the Council about the workers’ unions blacklegging the strike. We both spoke, but I could see that it was nothing new for unions to blackleg unions, and we got no satisfaction. The strikers got no help from the TU movement or the public. They, the public, just wanted to be served, and did not care who served them. Gradually the strikers got disheartened – they left in twos or threes till finally only Cann with a few cronies remained. The strike was broken.

I was already sacked when I attended the meeting prior to the strike being called. So now I was both out of work and with no revolutionary union. After thirty years of learning and struggle I found myself, except for knowledge and experiences, back where I was at ten years of age. Thanks to the employers’ organisation I never got another job after I was sacked from the luncheon club.

For months I walked the City and West End streets, but not even a fried fish shop or a coffee shop would let me put my nose in. I had a fish-and-chip barrow built and went round the streets at Southwark where the people knew me. I carried on for ten years like this, when my wife died from cancer in 1930. During those ten years I was active in the unemployed movement. It was while working on my own that I met my only friend and comrade of the late union committee. He said I could help him to put the only position. He would propose me as a member of the new union if I agreed. So once again I was in the fight for the catering worker. All went smoothly until speakers were chosen for the May Day demonstration in Hyde Park. My friend nominated me, and I was third speaker on No. 2 platform. What I said on that platform does not matter here, but I was expelled from the General Workers Union. So ended by catering trade activities.

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