Posts tagged ‘xenophobia’

November 3, 2017

There’s nothing like the smell of xenophobia in the morning

The Telegraph has run a piece by its digital editor on something very topical, or would have been more than 300 years ago,  under the title  “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” – not many pejorative terms used here, well, not quite all pejorative.

How much the derogatory title is down to a sub-editor with a grudge or the author I’ve no idea and quite why this piece was run is curious for it adds nothing of historical value to the account of this centuries-old venture but with its disparaging title appears as an excuse to have a go at the incompetent Scots. I was not impressed by the character Oliver has chosen to quote in his article on the subject of the Panama isthmus -“you can’t trust the Indians” he says, “with a glint in his eye” as he describes the deaths of hundreds of illegal immigrants in the area. I’m getting that smell again.

The Darien venture runs something like this. Towards the end of the 1600s a group of Scots with some cash behind them planned to establish overseas trading posts with the intention of colonising just like their neighbours the English were doing only the English had got in first and had erected barriers to other nations trading by the imposition of its Navigation Acts.

England’s Navigation Acts of 1651 were protectionism on the high seas. By applying them English colonies and places not colonised had their commerce restricted and were banned from trading in most circumstances except through English vessels and companies. The Acts were enforced by England’s powerful gunboats. The intention was to accrue more wealth for England and to develop London as the world’s powerhouse. Needless to say not everyone was happy with England’s high-handed policies which, in part, stoked resentments among the colonists in America eventually leading to the American declaration of independence from Britain.

While England sought to dominate trade Scotland endeavoured to establish its own merchant enterprise abroad and in 1695 the Company of Scotland for trade with Africa and the Indies was created with monies raised in Scotland and in England. Immediately alarm bells rang in London at the prospect of this mercantile challenge that might impact on the East India Company and aware of the unease south of the border the Scottish company looked at setting up a merchant colony on the other side of the world, around Panama.

The description of the Darien isthmus had been greatly misrepresented by a Welshman with a huge imagination and proved not to be the opportunity he sold it as. If the land was challenging for the Scots who sailed there to establish their trading post the determination of the English to scupper them was as great if not greater for England’s colonies in America and the West Indies were forbidden to trade with the Scots. There is no mention in the piece of the vehemence of England’s active opposition to the Scots e.g that survivors of Darien were denied help when they landed at Jamaica, an English colony, seeking help. When Oliver states “the English still refused to offer any support” he doesn’t quite get to the nub of its wrecking policy.

Oliver refers to the Scots angering “the enemy” not in his view the English but the Spanish who had colonised what England hadn’t in this part of the world. And he can’t help reveal his surprise that in a naval skirmish between the Scots and the Spanish the Scots came out victorious – “an unlikely victory” writes Oliver, dispassionately. Aye, too wee, too feckless.

Vast amounts of Scottish wealth were lost with Darien. Lost to those who had money which excluded the majority of the Scottish population and if there’s something that drives those with fortunes it is the need to preserve if not build on those fortunes so they were open to persuasion to offer up Scotland’s independence as a nation in return for personal gratuities. Even today’s tawdry politicians neck-deep in sleaze and corruption might not quite sell out a whole nation. Well, might.

What the people of Scotland wanted did not come into the reckoning when there was an opportunity to recoup some of the assets lost through Darien. What the people wanted was for Scotland to retain its independence but when did the people matter?

Oliver ploughs on. “The English were blamed for the expedition’s abject failure.” Perish the thought. Surely they must have looked at the evidence. Perish the thought twice.

As I wrote at the outset I don’t know why this article was written other than to take another pop at Scotland – to highlight the ineffectual Scot not quite up to the mark. As for that misguided rascal William Paterson, a director of the Company of Scotland, he went on to found the Bank of England – but Oliver makes no mention of this – well it would be a shame to spoil the damning narrative.

Oliver dismisses suggestions from historians that Darien might have been a success were it not for the fierce opposition it faced from England- he doesn’t explain why so readers are left to surmise it was because Scots have failure built-in.

Not highlighted in the piece:

1) England’s wars with France had seriously damaged Scotland’s mercantile economy.

2) England’s Navigation Laws were aggressively protectionist and rigorously upheld on the high seas by its vast navy preventing Scots pursuing trade.

3) Initially individual English people were found keen to invest in Darien (presumably they weren’t all ineffectual failures) but were strongly pressurised by the government in London to withdraw their money so that England could keep Spain as an ally while it (England) was at war with France (again.)

The financial shock felt in the pockets of Scottish nobles, many of them parliamentarians, took Scotland into a Union with England. There was no popular support for this, quite the contrary, and it was a cynical self-serving betrayal of the Scottish people. As for the London government it was keen on the union because Scotland was too friendly with France for England’s liking and Scotland was seen as a potential backdoor into England for France. And for those who argue the union was of greater value to Scotland than England the response is that if that were true England would not have entered into it. England was fiercely protective of its own power and status. England wanted to shut down Scotland’s relationship with France, it wanted to absorb Scotland’s exports and it wanted that immensely valuable resource it has been exploiting for 300 years Scotland’s strapping young men to fight in its never-ending wars with the enemies it kept making.

Those same people sneered at in “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” went on, as Paterson did, to start up the Bank of England and become core administrators in the vast East India Company till eventually Scots ran it along with many of the colonies that shaped the British Empire which is strange for a nation that was a ship of fools a few short years before.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/central-america/panama/articles/darien-scheme-scotland-only-colony/

July 30, 2017

Archibald White Maconochie Part 2:

In Part 2 of the account of Archibald White Maconochie we find those issues affecting his business and the country are redolent of today’s headlines.

Guest blog by Textor

1907

Nearer to home, in the waters of the Moray Firth, Maconochie complained that local fishermen, in particular line-men, were having their fishing grounds destroyed by trawlers both British and foreign. Steam powered vessels were out-competing older fishing technologies and something needed to be done; trawlers should not take the bread out of other men’s mouths complained Maconochie. Just as he called on the state to intervene in overseas markets he also wanted it to be active here; with strong policing to protect the three mile limit even if this meant prosecuting skippers from Aberdeen. Here we can see a clearer expression of self-interest (or perhaps a hint of sentimentality) on the part of Maconochie for his business at Fraserburgh was dependent upon older less technologically advanced fishing methods.

Maconochie’s stance seemed to fly in the face of his deep-seated belief in progress and competition. He had, after all, enthusiastically adopted mass factory production in his food preservation business employing the latest technology and would (as we shall see) lead a campaign to introduce American business techniques to Fraserburgh but he failed to accept trawling as just another leap forward in competition, albeit one that would leave associated industries and communities managing to survive as best they could. Surely this was progress in his own terms? Interestingly Maconochie did favour some seasonal restriction on fishing as a means of preserving stocks a stance which further alienated him from trawling but which found support amongst line fishermen.

Salmon and Shrimp Paste 1926

Returning to international competition, Archibald began to realise that the Liberal dogma of free trade was problematic in situations where rival nations were introducing tariffs to protect young enterprises or where they had developed industries which could compete on a cost basis with British goods. He allied himself with Joseph Chamberlain’s protectionist politics, denouncing the dumping of foreign imports on the home and colonial markets as unfair – that the free market had broken down and British industry needed protection through the state imposing tariffs to stop such surplus products finding their way onto the British market. In his view such a tax policy would not, as the Free Trade Liberals claimed, result in shrinkage in commerce but on the contrary would encourage foreign manufacturers to open businesses in the UK and so competitors would be forced to employ British labour.

This has a familiar ring about it as the very competitive nature of capital at one and the same moment brings success for some and ruin for others. The squaring of this particular circle, up until post 1945, involved variations of protectionism as each industrial concern and national capital struggled for solutions to failing competitiveness. The British had the advantage of an empire which not only could restrict foreign competition through tariffs on some imports to local markets but also put up barriers to prevent penetration of the colonies; the latter question of colonial markets being open to all-comers became a bargaining chip between debt-ridden UK and the solvent USA after World War 2.

In his six years as an M.P. Archibald Maconochie was constantly harassed by the liberal Aberdeen People’s Journal. Apart from being damned for having no political depth he was also criticised for his frequent absences from Parliament including several visits to the USA where he met with major industrialists including Andrew Carnegie. Being a kingpin in the preserving industry his travels in America took him to Chicago the home of a vast beef slaughter and packing industry famously documented by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle. AWM established business contact with The Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company and eventually he became a director of its British division.

Peoples Journal Nov 29 1902

Impressed by American industry, in 1903 he began negotiations to open a “steel works” in Fraserburgh. This was a radical proposal which would extend modern mass production to the fishing-rural economy and introduce a factory system that exploited advanced machine tools and in turn give birth to a concentrated industrial working class in part mirroring the setup already operating at the Kinnaird Head Works but unlike the tinning plant labour would largely be male. The liberal Press’ dismissal of the idea was misplaced as the proposed “steel works” was not a steel mill that required vast quantities of iron and coke but a tool-making business, as stated in the company name.

Criticism fell by the wayside still Liberal opinion fulminated against the new works and Maconochie’s role in bringing it to Fraserburgh. The Unionist M.P. was accused of buying votes with promises to hire local labour but Archibald remained undismayed by the criticism. Neither was he perturbed by the notion of American capital, a “Yankee Trust,” getting a foothold in Britain. So in 1903 plans were advanced for a 50-acre site for the venture and eventually by 1905 Consolidated Pneumatic Tool Co. (better known as CPT) was up and running in the fishing town.

Maconochie had hoped that tariffs would be placed on imported European-made pneumatic tools giving a competitive edge to the US firm but in this he was disappointed. Nonetheless the enterprise proved to be profitable.

Pneumatic Works ADJ March 14 1903

However this achievement was undermined by a scandal which threatened to destroy Maconochie Brothers’ reputation when military authorities in Pretoria condemned thousands of cases of their preserved food as unfit for human consumption. Maconochie was not the only firm involved but it was by far the most prominent and the only one whose owner was a sitting M.P.; elected on the basis of his commitment to empire. The well-being of troops in South Africa and millions of tins of contaminated rations appeared to tell a different story.

Maconochie was confronted in Parliament by Keir Hardie. The socialist member for Merthyr Tydfil turned his anger on the member for East Aberdeenshire accusing him of threatening the welfare of troops as well as wasting tax payers’ money. Maconochie acknowledged that some discolouration of rations might have occurred but this, he claimed, was no fault of the manufacturer rather it was due to storage in tropical conditions. He maintained that Maconochie’s good name was being tarnished to a greater and unjustified extent than the canned meat and vegetables for irrespective of who tinned the rations Maconochie was global shorthand for tinned food. Speaking for the Government Lord Stanley sided with AWM on the stringency of testing of military rations and pointed a finger at the commanding officer in Pretoria for hastily condemning foodstuffs which Stanley claimed were probably edible (although there was no indication any government minister might be prepared to sit down to enjoy a Maconochie for lunch.) In debate Stanley gave voice to the ingrained and prevalent casual racism of the period when he spoke of natives stealing the condemned rations and apparently displaying no ill effects. And he drew laughter from the Chamber when he said it was questionable whether a thing which agrees with a native would always agree with a European. Archibald Maconochie then asked fellow members to give all manufacturers of rations the benefit of the doubt.

Chinese Labour

An issue which has resonance in 2017, namely migration, was of concern to Archibald Maconochie towards the end of his political career, in 1906. Not that he held to an absolute yes or no on the topic. In response to the question of whether migration was good for Britain and its empire he said it depended upon the immediate context – for example in 1904 he favoured the importation of Chinese labour to the mines of South Africa. At the end of the Boer War private capital and the British state were keen for the systematic extraction of minerals, particularly gold. War had disrupted production; local black labour had drifted to rural areas and towns and was showing a disinclination to accept the harsh conditions of mine owners. A suggestion that white labour might be imported from Europe and beyond to support mineral extraction was opposed on grounds that whites working for wage rates and in conditions formerly the preserve of black labour would undermine the racist division of South Africa. Cheap Chinese labour was the answer. As one commentator for the gold interest put it the greatest hopes lay in China where vast hungry populations vainly sought outlets for their energies. Poor wages, harsh conditions, racism and exclusion from civil rights would be the lot of the Chinese labourer who faced expulsion from the country when its energies were no longer required.

Jewish Pogrom

This type of migration was favoured by Maconochie who like so many of his contemporaries did not mind Chinese labour being imported into South Africa yet he had no wish to have Eastern European Jews admitted to Britain.

The Jews in question were not simply migrating on a whim in search of a different life but were refugees fleeing the bloody pogroms overwhelming Russia and Poland. A report in Aberdeen People’s Journal on a pogrom at Homel (Gomel) in September 1903 described the destruction of hundreds of homes with Jews beaten, bayoneted and stabbed as police, the military and civilians ran amok and again comparisons with today are clear with women, men and children fleeing similar persecution. Many thousands sought safety in the USA whilst others came to Britain seeking sanctuary only to find a growing wave of anti-Semitism which culminated in the landmark Aliens Act of 1905. This weasel-words measure couched its ant-Semitism in terms of undesirable immigrants, travelling steerage and landing at British ports without means of “decent” support and those arriving owing to a disease or infirmity . . . [who were] likely to become a charge upon the rates were to be summarily shipped out. A wall of officialdom was built around Britain’s coasts. Humanitarian need found no place in this legislation.

In an election address of August 1900 Archibald Maconochie had told his audience at Maud –

“I have visited many parts of the world, and I know of no part I go to where strangers, no matter of what nationality, are treated equally, the same as every British subject. Can we say that of any other country, and can we point to any other country where strangers are so well treated as in ours? We cannot.”

1905

Constable John Bull: We’ve admitted a good many aliens before now – in fact I’m a bit of an alien myself. But in future we’re going to draw the line at the likes of you!                                                                               1905

Liberal, we might say, to a fault and of course Maconochie found the fault in 1905 when migrants who travelled first class were quite acceptable but the poor, the disabled and the sick in steerage were altogether another matter – that is if they were east European-Russian Jews. His rhetoric, typical of so much at the time caught the vile spirit of the Act. AWM contrasted the historical example of the Huguenots (significantly Protestants) who he held up as having provided yeoman service in the development of our trade with those immigrants then landing in Britain. According to him these new asylum seekers were criminals, paupers, lunatics, or diseased persons and altogether were not the types of people who were wanted in this country and to allow them in would open the door to crime and moral degeneration as well as threaten the livelihood of British workers. The “Aliens” were willing to work for starvation wages, he complained. He recognised that there were no boat-loads of immigrants coming ashore in Buchan and that the “sweat shops” found in London were unknown in Peterhead but he told his constituents that it remained their bounden duty to keep them out. All this apparently said without using the word Jew, the weasel word “foreigner” standing in for open anti-Semitism.

This was a last hurrah for East Aberdeenshire. Standing on a clear pro-Tory Unionist platform and without the benefit of war psychosis to rouse the electors Maconochie’s racism and protectionist politics were insufficient to see-off the Liberals. On a bigger turn out, although with a far from universal adult electorate, the constituency reverted to its trust in Liberalism. James Annand received 6149 votes to Maconochie’s 4319.

may 1905

Nelson and Britannia May 17 1905
Shade of Nelson – What do you call these, Ma’am?
Britannia – Oh, they’re some of my alien pilots.
Shade of Nelson – What, in British waters? H’m – in my day we kept our secrets to ourselves!
(59 foreign pilots were employed on British coast while British ships abroad were compelled to take native pilots let to calls for an Act to prevent aliens from being granted pilotage certificates for English [sic] waters.)

In 1910 the “Lipton of tinned fish”, as he was once called, asked the voters of Partick to support him. As he’d done ten years earlier he hammered home the message of the German threat. On this occasion Archibald emphasised Germany’s growing naval power as a dangerous challenge to Britain. Germany was after colonies and Maconochie feared a mortal injury would befall the British Empire. Four years later he might have found electors more willing to listen to his woeful prognosis but as in 1906 the electors of 1910 decided to go for the Liberal.

July 26, 2017

 Archibald White Maconochie: Tinned Fish, Tariff Reform & War – Part 1  

A W Maconochie (2)

Guest blog by Textor

At a time when political rats of all descriptions are scuttling to fight for or against Brexit it’s worth bearing in mind that ghostly shadows of today’s dogmas, bigotries and self interest are to be found in the past. Not because the world never changes, but because the stresses and strains of capitalism presents supporters and opponents of different factions with a limited bag of solutions. Eerily for today the brief party political career of Archibald White Maconochie (AWM) mixed the “common sense” of a businessman, ill-trained in politics, with bellicose aims, scandal, racism and demands for something to be done about unfair international trade.

Ad of 1877

 

 Archibald White Maconochie’s business was canning; putting fish, meat and vegetables into tins as well as preserving fruit and making pickles. In the early 1870s with his older sibling James he became one half of Maconochie Brothers. Based in Lowestoft the firm initially dealt in handling and curing fresh herring; a massive trade in late Victorian Britain and supplied fish to the British and European markets. Business grew and by 1878 the brothers had developed a network of contacts around the British coast and in Ireland. Skippers and their boats were contracted as sole suppliers of herring while at the same time the brothers bought fish on the open market.

Pan Yan Pickle ad

Keeping an eye out for opportunities the brothers turned to food preserving – an industry pioneered by Pasteur’s science of sterilisation and with expanding global urban markets the commercial potential was enormous. The Maconochie Brothers while still curing food by older methods enthusiastically entered the new world of tinned foods so much so that by 1878 they were promoting themselves as The Largest Fish & Meat Preserving Factory in Great Britain. Thriving and struggling to cope with the demand for preserved fish James and Archibald decided to go to the heart of the Scottish herring industry, to the Buchan coast and specifically to Fraserburgh where they built Kinnaird Head Works. There at the factory’s two-acre site literally millions of herring were filleted, cleaned and washed by fifty “girls” and either packed into wooden barrels or preserved and canned using up-to-date scientific methods. Above the fish processing area was the tinplate department where men manufactured cans for the busiest season, July and August. The store had capacity to hold up to 2 million tins. With smooth continuous factory production being one of the keys to the profitability of the new industry the empty tins were carried by a shoot to the processors below. Five herrings were packed into 1lb tins by women and lids were soldered on by men prior to entering high pressure steam vessels for sterilisation. It’s worth noting how important female labour was in this system and how up until mechanisation was introduced the handicraft skills of the tinsmiths were crucial in the early days of the trade.

unnamed.jpg

Archibald White Maconochie (AWM) was aware of the potential for tinsmiths to hobble his business for he knew these skilled men could withdraw labour at the height of landings, and with herring being highly perishable there was a real threat of losing fish, losing profits and customers shifting to competitors. This could be managed either by introducing new technology or taking a hard line with workers. In 1888 at Lowestoft the extent of AWM’s enthusiasm for stopping fractious labour showed when he grabbed tinsmith David Brown by the throat, knocking him down with the apparent intention of strangling him and shouting I’ll have the life out of you yet. Violence was his negotiating stance when workmen had the temerity to question the rate of work and the tools supplied for soldering. The boss was charged with assault and at the Police Court he was found guilty and  fined £2 with the option of one month imprisonment. He chose to pay the fine. But the Maconochie Brothers had the last laugh as they vindictively sued men who walked out in sympathy at the Lowestoft factory at the time of the assault. The company claimed men had broken a legal contract and that under the conditions of the Employers’ and Workmen’s Act of 1875 they, the company, were entitled to £10 compensation from each of the six men pursued. In the event the firm was awarded £1 damages from each man with the tinsmiths also forfeiting two days wages. Not difficult to see who came out of this affair least affected.

An endnote to this tale is that machinery had been developed in the 1870s to put lids on tins which removed one component of the canning process to semi-skilled status. This was not enough for AWM and in 1901 he still fretted over the canning operation and eventually came up with a machine for beading tin lids and so doing away with the need for soldering. With a single operator the mechanism could manufacture 2500 containers per day but this was further improved by his design of a 4-man operated beader which could deliver 6000 tin an hour. These machines he said gave the edge to employers and tinsmiths could no longer hold up the trade.

Maconochie's Ad 2

And trade was not held up. The world became the company’s marketplace especially countries of the empire and as provisioning of British military forces became a necessity Maconochie found the State an enthusiastic customer for his products. Late Victorian imperialist wars were fed by Maconochie and what better to supply the troops than rations with a shelf life of at least two years. According to Baden-Powell

With morale and Maconochie the British soldier can go anywhere and do anything.

 “Maconochie” had become a global brand  Unsurprisingly when Archibald Maconochie turned to politics the problems of the British Empire were central to his campaign.   

Political cartoon AWJ election Sept 26 1900 p.7

It was the General Election of 1900 that achieved a small political profile for AWM when he was elected to represent the constituency of East Aberdeenshire. He’d stood on a Liberal Unionist  platform against the sitting Liberal member T. R. Buchanan a man who favoured Gladstone’s Home Rule for Ireland agenda. In Maconochie’s eyes Irish Members of Parliament, and by extension their supporters, through their demand for Home Rule threatened the very existence of Britain and its empire (it seems that his anti-Irish bias extended to him having a condition in his will that should any of his sons marry a Catholic they would forfeit their inheritance.) As much as he loathed home rulers it was not this that brought him to politics but the more immediate and bloody struggle being fought out in southern Africa, the Boer War. Fought essentially over who would control the area’s goldfields and get access to the strategically important ports round the Cape this, the final war of Victoria’s reign, was a sure indication of mounting international tensions which divided liberals such as Buchanan and socialists like Keir Hardie from bellicose defenders of the rights to empire.

Maconochie fell into the pro-war camp and found a ready supporter in Aberdeen’s conservative paper the Daily Journal. However, regardless of the fact that his business was selling vast amounts of tinned food to the army it would be wrong to attribute his support solely to self-interest. Like so many others of the time his notion of what was best for Britain inextricably linked business and politics with Britain bringing civilisation and some form of material well-being to the rest of the world: plant the flag and let business follow and so native populations could be given proper  “care and protection”. He believed what he described as the Anglo-Saxon race had a great and heavy responsibility. If we look at the way Maconochie treated his own white labour, from direct assault to paternalism, we can conclude how he thought the colonised should be handled. Archibald had in fact a very straight forward way of addressing politics. Sophisticated notions of negotiation, of moral authority and international law were beyond him. In his view all government required was application of business principles to the nation’s affairs.

Maconochie Accident APJ Aug 22 1903

Mr A W Maconochie, MP, had a nasty motor spill on his way to political meetings at Tarves and Methlick last Saturday. The Liberals of East Aberdeenshire are doing their best to effect another spill later on.

 Britain was not alone in the imperial chauvinist dream; Germany and France in particular envied and challenged her as the then premier world power. Archibald Maconochie recognised these growing threats; to take an anti-war position was to open the door to competitors. The only way of confronting commercial-political enemies he said, was the extension of the Empire in order to keep open markets for British trade. Supporters of AWM stressed his local connections and in particular the hundreds employed at the Fraserburgh works pointing to the fact that full employment meant no need for a soup kitchen in the town. Addressing electors Maconochie said Boers needed to be defeated, integrated and made part and parcel of our Imperial Empire. His rival the anti-war Liberal Buchanan fought to retain his seat but he was denounced for his support for Home Rule as giving succour to the enemy and of not supporting troops who were dying on the battlefields of the Transvaal and despite Aberdeen’s liberal newspaper the People’s Journal condemning AWM for having no other platform than being anti-Boer Buchanan lost the election by 73 votes.

In local terms this was a big event as liberalism had long been backed by the area’s agricultural and fishing electorate. The conservative Press was ecstatic; Maconochie had broken the evil tradition of Aberdeenshire Radicalism. In Fraserburgh Kinnaird Head Works declared a half-holiday and workers marched through the streets shouting Maconochie forever. We can imagine that the local anti-war and pro-labour voters were all but silenced at the unionist success but we can only wonder what they thought when in the midst of Fraserburgh celebrations the new Member of Parliament found eager workers willing to unhitch horses from his carriage and yoke themselves to draw Maconochie to his factory. It is undoubtedly the case that Archibald’s victory was down to his opposition to the Boers and defence of British troops then dying on the veld. Fourteen years later a similar febrile, pro-empire mood also had men swarming to the flag.

1900

Columbia to Britannia: You mustn’t mind those noisy boys of mine, it’s election time. May 16 1900

Maconochie’s anti-Boer view reached fever-point in 1901 when he told the good folks of New Deer that it was for every man to do his utmost to support the Government . . . If a man encouraged the enemy he was no patriot, and was not fit to live among us . . . kid gloves must be taken off and war ended as speedily as possible a sentiment endorsed by the editor of the Daily Journal who described Radicals as a cause of humiliation and shame to Scotchmen in all parts of the world. Addressing constituents at Strichen AWM went so far as to sympathise with the view that anybody expressing support for the Boers should be shot.

 With the end of the Boer War in 1902 the central plank of Maconochie’s platform fell away. He was a bit like Donald Trump left with a rag-bag of opinions and prejudices which mingled commercial instrumentalism with half-digested economic theory. For example on taking his seat in Parliament he was astonished at how backward and hidebound by tradition the process of parliamentary voting was, with walking in and out of yes-no lobbies. This he said could be made easier, more efficient by giving each member electric bells to register approval or disapproval of motions resulting in more or less instantaneous results. In a similar rejection of tradition AWM wanted to throw out aspects of the humanist education syllabus in particular he saw no need for Greek and Latin to be taught. These languages served little purpose in a world of competitive commerce he claimed, better that students spoke German and French. Maconochie did fall in with fellow liberals in his support for old age pensions and as for trade unions he judged them okay so long as they did not actually interfere with employer’s right to set the rates of production. Too often, he said, unions were implicated in ca-canny policies, robbing management of its rights and undermining competitiveness. In other words they might be fine as friendly societies but unacceptable if they challenged the distribution of property and economic power.

MB ad 1877

As manager of a business with international reach Maconochie’s view of the world was saturated with notions of competition. He saw the world in terms of struggles, between firms, between nations and also a social-Darwinist hierarchy of racial division. And there’s no doubt that he was correct to identify deepening international competition as being profoundly important to the well-being of the British Empire. Times were changing, the historical advantage industrial and commercial Britain once had was under threat. Across the pond the USA had emerged as a growing power with its state providing protection to some home-grown industries. In Europe Germany in particular was aggressively pursuing industrialisation and colonisation with the intention of promoting what it regarded as its national right. In Britain these antagonisms highlighted the need for an active and even aggressive defence of national interest. Private capitalism and state institutions were in deep embrace, or as Archibald put it trade followed the flag, for trade was sustained by the flag, and the trade led the flag. So it was with some prescience he predicted that this competition would lead to war with Germany.

unnamed

Planting the flag

Part 2 to follow

The demonisation of foreign workers; the emergence of the Consolidated Pneumatic Tool Company; dodgy war rations; continuing xenophobia- Chinese, European Jews and threat to the Empire.

April 28, 2017

“Up Fittie down with the Hun”: 1920s xenophobia and trade

Guest post by Textor

On April 2nd as many as 3000 gathered at the fish market intent on stopping all landings. Fish was dumped, boats cast adrift and strike breakers intimidated. At one point police threw a cordon between Torry and the town in an attempt to stop fishermen moving en-masse to the centre. Baton charges were made. Not to be outdone the women of Torry gathered bowls, jars and stones to pelt the police. When police cleared the streets men and women took refuge in tenements reappearing as the waves of law and order moved on, all the better to attack from the rear. Meanwhile across on the north side of the harbour the families of Fittie gathered crying Up Fittie Down with the Hun. With creels and baskets full of stones they proceeded to pelt boats entering or leaving the harbour, forcing skippers to the south side of the channel where they were met by a barrage from the Torry men and women. The police were undone by this pincer movement.

German Trawlers 4

At a time when the unpleasant whiff of xenophobia drifts over the stinking frame of crises ridden economies it’s worth recalling that there is nothing new in this. It’s what the class divided beast does; cling to backward-looking, mythologised national identity; to blame others for what are in fact consequences of the endemic conditions of international competition is so much easier than seeking out the social foundations of crises.

This is not to say that xenophobic opinion has no location in objective reality, that it is necessarily the manifestation of mad psychologies. No. The current spectre haunting Europe and beyond draws on ways in which the “free movement” of labour has increased competition between workers and helped keep wages down. In other words “foreign” workers are in a sense a threat to older labour markets. But it is the underpinning forces which mobilise them.

In the 1920s Aberdeen was hit by problems and disputes across two of the most important sectors of the local economy: trawling and granite. The foundation of both lay in intensification of international competition and the legacies of the Great War, and both centred on foreign labour undermining British industry.

 

German Trawlers 5

Trawling

It was hardly surprising that when the German trawler Bremerhaven attempted to dock and land fish in Aberdeen in 1919 that there was a wave of revulsion. The war had just ended and Aberdonians, like so many others, had suffered deeply in the slaughter of 1914-18. Men gathered at the quayside to refuse the Germans the right to land. Following its search for a berth the trawler eventually grounded and its crew stoned with the demand the German flag be run down. The local paper described the skipper’s attempt to land as brazen insolence and sinister and making clear its animosity to German trade said it was an unfriendly act of a nation not penitent but revengeful. The editor went so far as to sneer at the country’s Kultur of dried raw fish as a delicacy. Bremerhaven was forced out of Aberdeen, eventually landing at its home port where the Social Democrat Party came to its fishermen’s defence and denounced the Aberdeen men as an English rabble claiming Aberdonian screamed Baby killers. Pigs. Shoot down the Huns.

Three years later the trawler Else Kunkel II steamed into Aberdeen hoping to land its fish; again there was opposition to former enemy, now called alien exploiters who were threatening the livelihoods of local families. Aberdeen’s fishermen were said to hold bitter hostility against their former enemy. However their fish was landed and so the trade was continued sporadically through the year. Skippers and mates appealed to the Government for enforcement of the Reparations [Recovery] Act and that it applied 26% duty on German fish. No help was forthcoming. Matters were made more difficult when the particular interests of buyers and fish processors opposed the embargo demanded by trawlermen; and there was local bitterness when Peterhead harbour offered to give room to German boats, not through internationalism but for the money to be made. The local newspaper acknowledged the need for Europe-wide trade in fish but realised with more powerful trawlers and crews able and willing to fish dangerous Icelandic waters the local industry faced a serious threat: A German monopoly of the fish trade of Aberdeen would leave the consumer in the grip of alien exploiters and would mean a disaster to a great local industry.

German Trawlers.jpg

 

So matters simmered until February 1923 when skippers and mates voted to strike. Once again the rhetoric of wartime found a voice: you are fighting the Hun a second time for your rights. By the end of the first week of March 100 boats were tied up with hundreds of men out of work. Share fishermen, skippers and mates, led the dispute fearing for their livelihoods. Waged men, deckhands and engineers, were what you might call victims rather than being instrumental in this strike. Although local communists mobilised meetings around the notion of the internationalism of the working class as distinct from men such as skippers and mates there is no evidence that any significant animosity split the ranks nor that the waged men felt kinship with the German crews despite rumblings about some share men having avoided service in the war and making money out of wartime demand.

In fact solidarity within and across the fishing communities of Torry and Fittie was strong enough to draw them together to fight German landings, strike-breakers and police. When one local boat decided to scab hundreds turned out from Torry to confront the skipper and turn him back. Boats were sabotaged including the German trawler Senator Sache; while its crew slept the moorings were cut; eventually saved from grounding by the local pilot. Porters landing German fish were threatened with violence and police were defied. On April 2nd as many as 3000 gathered at the fish market intent on stopping all landings. Fish was dumped, boats cast adrift and strike breakers intimidated. At one point police threw a cordon between Torry and the town in an attempt to stop fishermen moving en-masse to the centre. Baton charges were made. Not to be outdone the women of Torry gathered bowls, jars and stones to pelt the police. When police cleared the streets men and women took refuge in tenements reappearing as the waves of law and order moved on, all the better to attack from the rear. Meanwhile across on the north side of the harbour the families of Fittie gathered crying Up Fittie Down with the Hun. With creels and baskets full of stones they proceeded to pelt boats entering or leaving the harbour, forcing skippers to the south side of the channel where they were met by a barrage from the Torry men and women. The police were undone by this pincer movement.

But so much conspired against the lcoal trawling industry, both men and forces of international trade. Trawl owners looked for compromise, buyers needed the Icelandic fish brought by Germans, the herring industry needed access to the German market and the British government was unwilling to hamper this sector of international trade. From the German side it made so much sense to continue coming to Aberdeen or failing this perhaps Peterhead. With the German Mark devalued, and the hyperinflation of 1923, the prices realised at British ports easily covered the costs of labour and coal. Stones and insults were little compared to the high explosives of the Great War.

 

Granite Yard

Granite

Much less militant but driven by very similar forces Aberdeen’s granite industry also found itself in 1923 under threat from German competition. It is probably the case that much of the militancy of the fishermen and their families was born from the closeness of their communities with so many of them living together in the tenements of Torry and Fittie. Granite workers had a much more fragmented life style.

Granite like fish was as open to international competition. And like the owners of trawler Bremerhaven German manufacturers could and did take advantage of the opportunities afforded by devaluation. Selling in the British market was more profitable and vitally gave payment in Sterling, then an important international currency.

Just as the trawler dispute had at times adopted a stance of being anti-German as opposed to anti German competition so also did the dispute with foreign granite traders. Not that Aberdeen’s stone trade was against the import of foreign granite in fact since the later 19th century the trade had depended on imports to meet the fashion for greater variety of colour in memorials. What disturbed Aberdeen’s granite manufacturers was the threat of dressed stone being sold to British customers.

The first hint that there might be competition coming from Germany was reported in 1921when the defeated nation was found to be trading in France. Bad enough there being a competitor on the block but made worse by the belief that monuments made by the one-time enemy were to be erected over the graves of dead French soldiers. In the following year one Friederich Hagelauer of Fürth was said to have been offering memorial crosses for British graves.

German Granite Leaflet 1923

By 1923 the “scandal” was being highlighted in Aberdeen’s Press & Journal with German’s accused of dumping fish and dumping granite. The Sunday Post took up the cry of an insult to our heroic dead the stones being erected where woman pray . . . and children weep. Aberdeen’s granite manufacturers sided with the newspapers and led the way in Scotland to enforcing an embargo on this foreign stone. However, it was one thing to achieve success in the home country it was another to get English dealers and customers to agree to a boycott. For customers there was the incentive of cheaper stone, if they were willing to turn a blind eye to origins; and for dealers there was the carrot of more profit. With the English market still accepting German imports Aberdeen’s trade with the south was threatened.

The difficulties Aberdeen’s stone trade faced were nothing compared to the chaos hitting Germany as it struggled to meet reparation demands of the Versailles Treaty. Its economy had all but collapsed, made worse when France occupied the Ruhr bringing its vast coal industry to a halt. Compared with the French the British state favoured a more conciliatory attitude to the defeated enemy, favoured international trade and stabilisation of the German economy.

Consequently when the granite traders approached the Government and asked for an increased tariff on German stone, like the trawlermen they met with refusal, indeed they faced the prospect that the existing tariff might be cut. The Press & Journal argued the local case, believing (and this sounds eerily like opinion in 2017) that by giving up free trade and enforcing tariffs the grave menace of foreign competition could be brought to heal. Regardless of the clout the local press had in the North East its opinion failed to sway the government and into 1926 imports continued.

Employers led the way in this dispute. There were no bands of granite-cutters and families guarding cemeteries, dinging doon German memorials; the nature of the trade simply did not lend itself to this form of action. But labour did have a voice which put itself behind the demands of the masters. George Murray, who lost a son in the Great War said it made his blood boil that German stone should even be offered as suitable material for British graves. Putting a stop to this, he said, was not only the correct thing to do but also good for the industry and what was good for business was good for workers: We in Belmont Street [offices of the Trades Council] are always favourable to the bosses . . . but of course we expect a good living wage from them in return.

 

 

Apart from the notable success in Scotland the best legislative advance made was to seek the protection of the Merchandise Marks Act, at one point speaking to Sidney Webb at the Board of Trade arguing that the granite imports should be marked “Made in Germany”. Eventually in 1929, after extensive evidence given including opposition from granite retailers, the Government decided that stone should be marked with its country of origin. Although important to local communities across Britain the Government had decided the granite industry was of no great significance in the national economy hence refusal to “safeguard” it from overseas competition. Marking stone was the most it would concede but even here it was niggardly in the eyes of merchants as only the slightest of marks-stencilled- was insisted on, not the heavily-cut lettering asked for by manufacturers.

The year after being given nominal protection the complaints continued. Germans were accused of stealing designs, appropriating the names of granites made famous by the Aberdeen industry and despite the legislation they palm off cheaply produced monuments . . . as British made.

British made; a rallying cry of the period as the United Kingdom hoped to engender patriotism in consumers and at the same time draw from the still important empire preferential treatment for manufacturers. But even here, with the cold wind of protectionism blowing across economies dealing with slump and the fall-out from the Crash of 1929, even here Aberdeen’s granite merchants struggled. Canada, for instance, did a curtsy to the “Mother Country” but refused to bow the knee. Canada gave some slight advantage to British granite but it still bore a tariff of 27% thus favouring Canadian manufacturers.

 

Cheyne Nellfield granite Works 1915 (2)

And so the Aberdeen granite industry, along with other British manufacturers, found the battle largely lost, found its markets shrinking and in an increasingly unstable world was forced to look to improving its competitive position by reorganising the use of labour and introducing new technology to raise productivity. And where in 1936 did Aberdonians go to see how granite could and should be handled? Germany.

Under the auspices of the British Institute of Quarrying a deputation representing the trade plus engineer Frank Cassie were content to take lessons from “the enemy”. At one site near Dresden they visited a quarry where 2000 men were said to be employed, where 250 men working at stone-splitting machines produced thousands of granite setts. Although Frank Cassie believed Aberdeen granite was unsuitable for mechanical sett-making overall the deputation was impressed by the thoroughness with which the German does the job, and the importance attached to organisation. Three years into Hitler’s rule the British deputation was envious of Germany’s road and bridge building – a policy they said the British government should put in hand. Whether the deputation witnessed other aspects of the young Nazi regime is not recorded.

 

Pneumati Tools

The pressures of social disruption and global economic crises exposed the trawling and granite industries as poorly equipped to meet the threat of external competition. Trawl owners were content to fish middle-distance waters using an ageing fleet and granite merchants managed an industry characterised by a few large employers in a sea of small businesses, far from ideal when foreign competition became very keen.