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The trade union and political activities of the North Wales slate quarrymen in relation to their social and working conditions, 1870-1905

By R. Merfyn Jones


The slate quarrymen dominated a cluster of communities\ud in North-West Wales, stamping them with their own distinctive marks; characteristics many of which originated in the customs of a group of industrial workers albeit a\ud group with some very close relationships with the land.\ud These were also Welsh communities and the quarrying villages\ud reflected many of the concerns of Welsh society in the\ud 19th century - culturally, politically, and in religion.\ud The slate quarries and mines themselves were responsible\ud for forging much of the quarryman's identity, the nature and\ud organisation of work and wages determining much. The\ud question of control at the point of production was the major\ud point at issue in the industrial relations of the slate\ud industry in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.\ud The North Wales Quarrymen's Union was established in\ud 1874 following an earlier and unsuccessful attempt in 1865.\ud The first five years of the union's existence witnessed\ud some heartening successes but following the depression which\ud set in to the industry from 1879 onward the union's path\ud became an increasingly difficult one; this became especially\ud true after 1885 when employers strove to reduce their\ud costs and increase their control. A series of major disputes\ud followed in 1885,1893 and 1896-7 culminating in the\ud set-piece battle in the Penrhyn Quarries from 1900 to 1903;\ud a dispute of national importance-which witnessed many\ud attempts - peaceful and violent - to maintain the solidarity\ud of the workforce and which drew on all the resources of the\ud community.\ud The quarrymen largely accepted the leadership of the\ud active local middle-class but they also came to develop\ud a consciousness of themselves not only as craftsmen but\ud also as workers, a consciousness encouraged, though by no\ud means crystallised, by the Penrhyn experience

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