Glassmakers, their strange shift pattern, and pay

Flint Glass Makers’ Friendly Society – Founded 1844

The strange shift system worked by glassmakers was known as a Journey and divided into Turns and Moves. The pay system was complicated, and production was capped by Flint Glassmakers Union, to ensure that workers earned a minimum wage for their skills. The innovative use of hand-made tools, and a proficiency in mental arithmetic, ensured that they increased their earnings known as overwork. They completed their contracted work in less time and were free to Journey and work elsewhere. In 1858 this led to the Long Strike and Lockout.

The prosperity of the industrial manufactory was a fine balance on the Hot Side, the function and running of the furnace, the pot filling and fusing the melt, and the efficiency of the annealing process, all vital but non-productive; both for the Glassworks owner and for the Chairs of glassmakers

The Flint Glassmakers Friendly Society, the glassmakers’ union, founded in 1844 often prevented progress in the industry, they opposed the installation of more efficient furnaces saying faster production would lower the quality of the product. It would also change the traditional shift pattern which was part of a glassmakers’ skill and status.

Preparing to work

Over the weekend, the dry materials were carefully weighed and mixed and the pots were filled, the mouths of the pots were then ‘stoppered’ to hold the heat. Founding the glass took about 12 hours, followed by 2 days of intense heat to complete vitrification, to ensure it was homogenously mixed and expel all air bubbles. This filling, founding and fusing time of three days was non-productive.

Journeys, turns and moves.

The glassmakers’ Journey, or working week, started on Tuesday1 morning at 6am, these were the making shifts,called turns. The teams or chairs, of journeymen, comprising the gaffer, servitor, footman and tekker-in, worked the turns of six hours on and six hours off, continually until their contracted quota was produced; or their pot was depleted. In Stourbridge it was traditional to work 33 hours, divided into 11 x 3 hour moves for fulfil the quota or contracted amount

Earnings

Payment for work done was complicated, it was piecework but for an agreed quantity rather that a single piece.  The Move was translated as an agreed value for the purposes of calculating pay. A six-hour turn was two three hour moves, with 11x 3hour moves per journey. For standard designs the Union capped the number of pieces to be made in a 3h move, sufficient for the chair to earn the minimum wage. This was to ensure that the labour was not exploited by factory owners to demand higher production for the same pay.

In the 1860s those capped numbers were 100 ordinary tumblers or 40 best stemware per move. For example, to earn the minimum wage for a week’s journey, 33h, 11 moves, 40 best per move was 440 pieces.

Tools

A chair would start work at 6am on a Tuesday1 as the start of the week. There would be a short period of unproductive time as they set out and organised tools, then work their first turn which ended at 12 noon. In their time at home between turns noon until 6pm, they would set to, making handmade wooden tools from fruitwood. Most had fruit trees in their gardens, apple, pear, plum, cherry, the fruitwood holds a lot of water so did not char easily. These tools helped them to work more efficiently ensuring consistency of size and shape.

More efficient working meant that they made more pieces than the number capped by the Union.

Overwork

To increase their earnings, glassmakers worked ‘OVERWORK’

Glassmaking is a skill, an artistic artform, pieces were made by eye, measured with callipers, and needed to match for quality. This was the skill of the chair. It was said that a glassmakers took seven years of apprenticeship to learn to competently and efficiently make a piece of stemware, and ten years to be accomplished in making two of the same.

Their pay was based on 11 moves making 440 pieces. And their time was confined by their work pattern and the constraints of downtime while the pots were refilled, and furnace temperature was raised to around 1800deg. C to ensure vitrification, then reduced to the top of the working range of glass of around 1100deg. C. Efficient working, with the clever use of bespoke hand-made tools, meant that they often increased production by as much as 60%

For example, after making the designated 440 pieces, their journey or contracted work was complete. Working at the rate of 40 pieces per move, this would take 11 moves, therefore would be completed by Thursday afternoon. By working quicker, more efficiently, production increased by as much as 60% or 640 pieces in the same time. Meaning that in the same 33 hours they worked 16 moves of production, 200 pieces or 5 moves, which would be paid as OVERWORK.

Wages

Making glass is teamwork, they shared the work, depending upon their skill level, this is reflected in the hierarchy of the pay scale. The gaffer of the chair was the most skilled and earned the highest share of the payment for the work done. The servitor, the second highest paid earned about two-thirds of a gaffer’s wage; and footman, one third; and the tekker-in, one tenth. In 1860 the National subsistence wage, or minimum wage was 14/- (70p equivalent) per week. The Flint Glassmakers Union ensured that the highest earner, the gaffer earned this as a minimum for his weeks work, or journey. Glassmaking as a trade was known to be poorly paid and the facts exemplify this, because the rest of the team as a consequence earned less that minimum wage without overwork. If production increased by 60% a gaffer would take home £1.2s 4d. (£1.12p equivalent), a substantial increase provided the quality was maintained. The Chair were only paid on the count of perfect pieces. Following the annealing process, in the Shrower, all pieces per chair, were inspected for quality and tallied before going to the Cutting and Decorating shops.

The Hierarchy of the pay scale 1850-1900

 Rate %Basic Pay (shillings)With Overwork
Gaffer10014/-22/5d
Servitor669/3d14/9
Footman334/8d7/9
Tekker-in101/5d2/3

Footman with Overwork were paid 7/9d this was far less than subsistence wage and less than labourers of the day were paid, as a class of workers earning so little they couldn’t mix with their peers as they didn’t appear ‘respectable’. In the second half of the 19th century the average age of a footman was 28 years old and 73% were married with families

The 1858 Long Strike and Lockout2

Working faster meant that their contracted pieces, in this case 440, for the journey,

were made, they considered that they were no longer bound by their contacts. Working quicker their contract was fulfilled in less that 2 days. They could either stay and get paid as overwork, or they could take time off. If nearby Glasshouses were producing pieces paid at a higher rate per move; they could Journey and earn more for their time and skill.

Needless to say this caused problems for the manufactory owners who were then unsure if their workers would return for their next journey, and decided to invoke the law.

In October 1858 five flint glassmakers were charged in Wordsley Police Court of ‘Illegally Absenting Themselves from their Place of Work’, Grazebrooks Glassworks.

The Courts ruled however, that after their contacted 11 moves the journeymen were free to work elsewhere.

Stourbridge glass factories owners were all affected by this and united forces, agreeing that they would refuse to employ Journeying workers. The remaining workers eventually went on strike in support and the factory owners LOCKED them out. It was a stand off that caused much distress and hardship in the area and, although the locked-out workers were supported by the Flint Glass Makers Friendly Society, and a fund was started by workers still in employment to help the militants, the lockout continued. The battle between Unions and Management lasted SIX months. The Long Strike and Lockout eventually ended when the Union funds were exhausted and poverty and suffering prevailed.

1 Saint Monday: In the 1800’s the idea of leisure was not recognised as a concept. The only day-off that workers had was the Sabbath, and after attending Church or other religious activity, workers enjoyed themselves. This usually involved workmen gathering in public houses and drinking copious amounts. It was not unusual for many workers to not turn up for work on Mondays, and this was an accepted part of the work regime; so much so that Mondays became known as ‘Saint-Monday’ the day when you recovered from the activities of the Sabbath, before commencing work on a Tuesday.

2 For a full account of the Long Strike and Lockout see:

Matsumura, Takao (1976) The flint glass makers in the classic age of the labour aristocracy, 1850-1880, with special reference to Stourbridge. PhD thesis, University of Warwick.

Published by Kate Round

My name is Dr Kate Round; I am an outreach presenter and tour guide for Dudley Museum Service In my previous life, I was a research chemist so understand the chemistry of glass having worked on the synthesis of ‘zeolites’ (silica based materials) with my work published in International Journals. I have always lived in the Black Country and have a strong industrial family heritage.

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