21st October 1915
Guernsey’s stone crackers demanded a pay rise
Quarrying has long been important to Guernsey. As well as providing the stone it needed for its own domestic use, the quarries also provided rock for export.
So, when Guernsey’s stone crackers demanded a pay rise, the matter was of sufficient importance to draw attention from the capital. On 21 October 1915, James O’Grady, MP for Leeds East and, later, Leeds South, raised their plight in Parliament.
Hansard reports that O’Grady asked the President of the Board of Trade, Ernest Pretyman, whether he had received “any communication… from certain stone firms in Guernsey respecting an application from the men in their employ (stone crackers) for an increase in wages…”
At that time they were paid either 17 or 18 shillings a week and the firms had “refused to submit the matter to arbitration”. O’Grady pointed out that the firms in question had a contract to supply the government with macadam.
As the First World War was being fought at that time, O’Grady wanted to know whether the Pretyman had considered using the provisions of the Munitions of War Act to force the company to arbitration.
Pretyman had bad news for the stone crackers. He said that the Chief Industrial Commissioner had already looked into the case and, to put it in simple terms, the stone crackers weren’t important enough to the war effort to be given their pay rise.
Of course, Pretyman wrapped it up in rather more official language. He explained that the quarrying firms had told the Commissioner that “the state and prospects of their trade were not such as to enable an advance of wages to be given… owing to lack of orders, it is only with great difficulty that the firms have been able to avoid closing their works [and] the men concerned are not engaged in munition work”.
James O’Grady, who raised the stone crackers’ issue in Parliament, was a trade unionist and member of the Labour Party. He was appointed 14th Governor of Tasmania in 1924 and, later, 17th Governor of the Falkland Islands between 1931 and 1934. He had previously accepted an offer to be British Ambassador to the Soviet Union for the first Labour government, led by Ramsay MacDonald, but when the posting was postponed it passed him by.