This great article appeared over on the Beyond Guardian Leeds blog.
We know our readers like their local history, so we thought we’d reblog it here. Many of the events took place at the gas works on Meadow Lane (the gas holders are still there), the adjacent Midland Goods Station (now Crown Point Retail Park) and the New Wortley gas works by the Armley Gyratory.
The strikers win. That’s not something people have read in several decades. It was even rarer in the high capitalism of Victorian times. But there was a memorable instance when the workers beat the bosses. In 1890. And it happened it Leeds.
Leeds Corporation had bought the private gas companies that supplied the homes, factories and street lamps of the town at the end of the 1860s, and, with prices going down to consumers, there’d been pressure to cut costs. Everything was run by the Gas Committee, and in 1890 they came up with an idea that could slash expenditure.
The year before, the workers, most of whom belonged the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers of Great Britain and Ireland, had demanded a shorter working day and the committee had been forced to give in. But they were plotting their revenge. With summer around the corner there would be less demand for gas. If they put the stokers of the furnaces on four-month contracts, many could be laid off during the warm weather, then rehired when needed. The committee also decided to twist the knife by refusing to pay the men for the Good Friday holiday. They refused to even negotiate with the union.