Hundreds idle in Skefko dispute

Skefko works, Leagrave Road, c1919

  • Skefko works, Leagrave Road, extended during WW1.

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: May 20th, 1919]

A serious difference arose yesterday at the works of the Skefko Ball Bearing Co, Leagrave Road, as a result of which between 600 and 700 operatives are idle. It is really difficult to describe the position as a strike on the one hand or a lock-out on the other.

For some time, it is said, there has been considerable discontent among the employees, who complain that their hours of working have been cut down so that their bonus rates have practically ceased,and also that while a machine is out of order and not running the man must go home and lose his pay.

In some cases, it is stated, machines may be taken down for long periods for experimental purposes. It is contended that in such an event men should be kept employed, and that in regard to machines being our of order, spare parts should be kept in readiness.

Matters came to a head yesterday. An interview was requested with the manager, but the men took direct action and the power was cut off. The operatives came out yesterday afternoon, and the night shift came out later in sympathy.

This morning, at 10am, a meeting of the men was called by the shop steward on vacant land opposite the works, and after a speech from Mr Brewer, one of the shop stewards, it was agreed that a deputation should wait upon Mr Armitage at the works.

This morning a representative of the employers gave the Telegraph his version of the situation. He said that the machines of several men broke down, and they tried to find the men other work, but there were no machines available. As the repairs would take some time, the men had to be sent off and, as is the general practice, lost their pay for that period.

The same trouble arose last week with the whole works when the electric power failed. The man had to leave work and, of course, lost their pay.

“Yesterday,” our informant added, “the shops stewards sent a representative to the office asking for an interview with the works manager, Mr Armitage. He had just returned from Sweden and was very busy indeed. He could not see the man at that time (10am yesterday), but promised an appointment for 11am today. The representatives went away, but about an hour later five or six returned and asked for an immediate interview and used various threats. They were, of course, informed as to the manager's instructions, and were told he would go into the whole question with them this morning.

“Subsequently it was found that certain men were taking it easy in the works, and that machines were running idle, so the power was shut off. There are about 600 or 700 out. The men will be given the interview this morning, and we simply await their approach to carry out the promise. We are quite straightforward in the matter.”

At 2.30 this afternoon we were informed that the Union representatives met the manager and the secretary of the Employers' Federation in conference on the various matters, but the discussion was adjourned on the undertaking that the men returned to work in the morning, and the night shift to continue as usual. A conference will be held on Thursday at 11am.


[A picture of the whole facade of the new works of the Skefko Ball bearing Co, planned and designed by Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas, was about to be exhibited in the architectural section of the Royal Academy in 1919.]