Brass Pickers Strike

On Monday 9th May 1898, the girls at Bardykes Colliery, Blantyre went on strike.

Between 30 and 40 young girls, employed by Coalmasters Merry & Cunningham put down tools and refused to work. The youngsters were employed as brass pickers. (Brass pickers were essentially dirt pickers, manually picking out unsuitable coal from moving picking belts. This was usually above ground work and the girls were trained to look out for and sift through looking to remove coal which contained pyrites or impurities.)

That Monday, their grievance was that they had not been included where all other employees had been given a pay rise of 1 shilling per day.

However, there was no satisfactory outcome to this situation. The Coalmasters had indeed paid the miners and other employees a raise, but I suspect they viewed the efforts of these young females differently. Merry & Cunningham stood their ground and by the Friday, a week later the girls still hadn’t returned to work.

However, by that time, 5 days on, Merry & Cunningham were heading towards another outcome to solve the strike. They had already employed new labourers to replace the girls, making not just an example of them, but reinforcing their control by forcing redundancy upon most.

The questionable ethics of 19th Century Employment law (or lack thereof!). AI illustrates this story exclusively for Blantyre Project.

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