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Like all big industries many of the workers were in a trade union. From time to time the unions and the company management found themselves in dispute. In 1890 a strike across the entire industry in the Leeds area was averted when management backed down and gave workmen a 2s per week pay rise.
LEEDS OPERATIVE ENGINEERS - THE ADVANCE GRANTED.
Nearly all the large engineering firms have conceded the demand on the part of their workmen of 2s. per week increased pay. This, in brief, was the information given at a meeting of the committee representing the several engineering organisations in the town, held last evening in the rooms of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Park-square. Naturally, the news was regarded as most satisfactory by the workmen, and it was generally considered that the masters had met them in a considerate manner.
Had such a strike across the industry gone ahead it would likely have led to a huge loss of orders in the city and would have been disastrous for the companies and their striking workers alike.
Strikes did happen from time to time and these created great tension in an area where many where busily engaged in engine making while others were striking. If workers withdrew their labour there would be no shortage of people willing to take their places, conflict was inevitable.
THE STRIKE AT MESSRS. KITSON & CO.'S
ANOTHER CHARGE OF INTIMIDATION
The strike of the mechanics employed at the works of Messrs. Kitson, Hewitson, and Thompson, locomotive engine makers, we regret to say, still continues. The firm have, we understand, supplied themselves with a considerable number of hands from other towns, some of whom, it appears, are subjected to annoyance from the men on strike."..."Wm. Blackett Richardson said, on the 10th September, he was employed as an engine-smith at Messrs. Kitson and Co's and had been so for two or three weeks previous to that date. On Wednesday, the 10th September, he left his work at the usual time, half-past five o'clock; and, when near the road which leads from Hunslet-lane to the Railway Foundry, he was met by three men, one of whom was named Martin, and they all began shouting him as a black sheep and cried bah / bah / bah and said he was one of the b_____rs who was working at Kitson's."
The report goes on to say how Richardson was later led to the Aire and Calder Inn, the union house, and the men tried to convince him to leave Leeds altogether."Dakin wanted him to go to the Aire and Calder Inn (the union house), stating they had a letter from Hull, wanting a smith, and he should have the job. Witness said he had work, and did not want a job. They pressed him to go to the Aire and Calder, and Dakin and Martin took hold of him by the collar of his coat while the others surrounded him."
Richardson went to Hull after threats on his life were made but Dakin even went so far to follow him to Hull before matters came to a head and it became a matter for the justice system.
External Website Links
Much more about daily life in the Hunslet area of Leeds can be found on the Hunslet Remembered website.
Steamindex's reproduction of extracts of David Joy's diaries
Leeds Mercury, 6th June 1890
The Basic Industries of Great Britain, Lord Aberconway, 1927 
Pease, J. (2003). The History of J&H McLaren of Leeds. Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, UK. ISBN 1-84306-105-8.Look for this book in Amazon.co.uk
Displays in Leeds City Museum
The Leicester Chronicle, September 17th 1864
Leeds Mercury, 17th August 1850
Leeds Mercury, 7th July 1856
Leeds Mercury, 6th June 1890
Leeds Mercury, 15th October 1851
The Foundries, Machine Shops, &c. in Leeds and other Towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Report and Evidence published in British Parliamentary Papers, Child Employment Volume 15, 1857-8.
Leeds Mercury, 12th January 1850
Leeds Mercury, 19th June 1895
Proud Heritage, A History of Thomas Smith & Sons (Rodley) Ltd, Frederick H. Smith 1947
Leeds Mercury, 24th May 1851
With thanks to Sheila Bye for providing some of the material used in this article and pointing me in the right direction for other sources of material.
This article was produced by Andrew Johnson and Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.