[Diggers350] Scottish Farm Servants' Union - Established 1913

Simon Fairlie chapter7 at tlio.org.uk
Wed Dec 5 20:17:50 GMT 2012

Thanks Tony this is very interesting.

However the description of hiring fairs as "a relic of barbarism"  
conflicts with other testimony suggesting that they helped collective  
bargaining because all the workers were assembled in one place.
For example:
"The Scottish workers were engaged for a year or half year, and those  
changing jobs did so at the many half-yearly fairs, which provided  
excellent opportunities for local organizers of the Scottish Farm  
Servants Union to set minimum wages on an agreed pattern. The vast  
majority  of farmworkers south of the border were engaged  
indefinitely, subject to a week's notice; there was therefore a  
trickle of disengagements and re-engagements , and there was no  
formal market for unions to organize."  ( Edith H Whetham, "The  
Agriculture Act, 1920 and its Repeal — the Great Betrayal." Ag Hist  
Rev, 45, 2. www.bahs.org.uk/AGHRvolumes.html

I would be interested to know  what the Union's arguments were  
against hiring fairs. The "relic of barbarism" comment possibly  
reflects  an orthodox Marxist viewpoint that might view the hiring  
fair system as an obsolete pre-capitalist institution and therefore  
not appropriately proletarian.

We have an article on farm servants in next issue of The Land out in  

Simon Fairlie


On 5 Dec 2012, at 18:38, Tony Gosling wrote:

> Country Standard - The Progressive Journal for Rural Communities  
> since 1935.
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> Scottish Farm Servants' Union - Established 1913
> http://country-standard.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/scottish-farm- 
> servants-union.html
> Farm workers in Scotland had attempted to establish a union  
> throughout the agricultural "boom" years of the 1860's and early  
> 1870's.
> A Farm Servants' Protection Association was formed at Slateford,  
> Edinburgh in 1865 and many other local farm labourers unions  
> appeared in areas such as Kinross, Forfar, Perth, Kincardine,  
> Stirling, Clackmannan, Peebles, Roxburgh, Berwick and East Lothian  
> and as a result wages were improved and seems to have finally ended  
> the "bondager system" on many farms.
> The bondage system was one where the male farm worker had to  
> provide a woman worker for a stated number of day's in the year a  
> practice that continued in to the twentieth century as did the  
> distinctive dress of the Scottish farm labourers.
> Like wise the hiring fare or "Feeing mart" held in the open street  
> once or twice a year in larger rural towns were where a great many  
> farmworkers were hired. later this practice was described by  
> Scottish Farm Workers union, leader Joseph F Duncan as "simply a  
> relic of barbarism".
> James C Thompson (1848-1904) established the first national union  
> in 1884 (Scottish Farm Servants Union) and became it's General  
> secretary in 1889. Thompson was the son of a harpooner in the  
> whaling fleet, He had been born at Peterhead but his family moved  
> to Aberdeen,  when  young he travelled to Dundee for work and then  
> onto Glasgow returning to Aberdeenin 1875
> The Scottish Farm Servants Union began life in 1884 as the Scottish  
> Farm Servants', Carters' and General Labourers' but merged into the  
> Scottish Ploughmen's Federal Union ten years late.
> Scottish Farm Servants Union
> The Scottish Farm Servants Union was formally registered as an  
> independent union in 1913 with 7,477 members
> It is said that the events at Turra in North East Scotland (wages  
> cuts at hiring fairs and refusal of a farmer to pay the new  
> National Insurance) was the catalyst for the formation of the union  
> in Aberdeen in late 1912 and registered in 1913.
> However, the union was more likely the result in an upsurge in  
> militancy across Britain,
> The Union's motto was "Unity is Strength"
> Scottish Farm Servants Union Offices at Queens Gate, Sterling
> The Union campaigned for
> • Job length to be longer than 6 months
> • Monthly payment, not six monthly
> • Half day holidays per week
> First General secretary was James Rothney, he was tradgically  
> killed in August 1914
> The union launched early on,  high profile campaigns in West Fife,  
> Arbroath, Dundee, Mid Atholl, and amongst the Forfar ploughmen.
> Early campaigns included reduction to 50 hours a week, half day a  
> week off and in 1917 a campaign to end "Feeing Markets".
> The union campaigned to improve the pay and conditions of the  
> Potato harvesters "hokers" The Scottish potato harvest was  
> dominated by "tatie hokers" from Ireland (Donegal and Mayo), The  
> Harvest took place between June and October and the "tatie hokers"  
> could spend up to 6 weeks on a farm. The Union forged strong links  
> with the Irish union ITGWU and in particular the great Donegal  
> Socialist and trade union organiser Peadar O'Donnell. One joint  
> campaign included a boycott of the 1918 potato harvest.
> The union was one of the first to employe a women as an organiser,  
> Mary Sutherland (1895-1972) a native of Aberdeenshire, she was  
> appointed union organiser between 1920 and 1922
> The 1924 bi annual conference was held in the Labour Rooms Perth  
> with Mr Thomas Denholm of Mid Lothian as Chairman and Dr Gavin  
> Brown Clark (former Crofter's MP for Caithnesshire)  as Honory  
> President. Delegates from Sutherland to the borders.

> Joseph (Joe) Forbes Duncan (1879-1964) - Scottish Farm Servants Union
> Born in Banffshire, Scotland
> Left school at 15 and became a clerk
> General secretary Scottish Sea Fishers' Union 1904,
> Scottish Independent Labour Party (ILP) Organiser 1906-1908
> Founded the Scottish Farm Servants Union in late 1912 registered in  
> 1913
> Joseph F. Duncan was to fight for Labour in a number of elections  
> in rural Scottish constituencies. He stood on platform stood for  
> land reform, better wages, holidays, hours and social life for  
> agricultural labourers
> He stood as Labour candidate for Moray and Nairn at a General  
> Election in April 1916 and secured 26% of the vote, later at  
> Aberdeenshire and Kircardinshire central
> Labour party Advisory committee on rural problems 1918-1919
> Member of the Royal commission on Housing in Scotland 1912-1917
> Royal Commission of Agriculture 1919-1920
> President of Intentional Land workers Federation 1924
> President of Scottish Trades Union Congress in 1926
> Chairman of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture,
> Doctor of laws honour conferred on Duncan by Glasgow University  
> contribution Scottish culture and to improvements in Scottish  
> agriculture.
> Joseph Duncan and  wife was Jessie Mable Duncan (Saunders) lived in  
> retirement at Foveran, Newburgh, Aberdeenshire
> Joseph Frederick Duncan died in 1964
> Mary Elizabeth Sutherland (1895-1972) born at Burnhead, Banchury- 
> Terna, Aberdeenshire organiser and the editor of the Scottish Farm  
> Servants Union journal "Scottish Farm Servant"
> The Scottish Farm Servants Union joined the TGWU in 1933  --
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