During the first decade of the twentieth century, the Union was able to yield ever greater power and continue its quest to improve conditions for musicians (especially theatre ones) thanks to the growth in membership and the introduction of more favourable Trade Union legislation. It also saw JB Williams adopting an increasingly outward outlook, strategically combining with other unions both at home and abroad when it was seen to be to the benefit of AMU members.
The Union in Numbers
The Union’s membership fluctuated between 3000 and 4000 in the first part of the decade, with a high turnover of members. Many subscriptions lapsed, only for the members to rejoin later. However, in the wake of the Music Hall strike of 1907, membership of the Union grew from 3839 in 1907 to 6182 in 1910.
AMU petition King Edward VII against the increasingly widespread importation of foreign bands – another recurring theme of Union policy throughout the twentieth century.
AMU joins the General Federation of Trade Unions and moves general office to 135 Moss Lane East in Manchester.
JB Williams attends the Congress of French Musicians
Williams attends the Congress of French Musicians again – this time in Paris – at which the International Confederation of Musicians is formed.
Parliament passes the Aliens Act, which for the first time gives government power to limit the number of immigrants to the UK.
Formation of the Variety Artistes’ Federation representing Music Hall artistes and solo performers. Most singers joined the VAF rather than the AMU.
The Trades Disputes Act of 1906 offers trade unions immunity from civil actions from employers to recover costs incurred as a result of strike action, and in doing so strengthens the hand of Unions taking industrial action.
The three main unions involved in the Music Halls: the AMU, VAF and National Association of Theatrical Employees (NATE) form a ‘National Alliance” for negotiation in their dispute with the owners of the Music Halls.
The Music Hall strike began on 21st January – major stars of the time like Marie Lloyd and Little Tich joined musicians and stage hands on picket lines closing down 22 of the London halls. Like many of the early disputes involving the AMU, this one centred on working conditions as much as pay levels in themselves: the ending of barring orders preventing performers from appearing elsewhere; seeking payment for matinees for the performers; the setting up of a board of arbitration for future disputes and for it to be conditional that all musicians subsequently employed in Music Halls to be members of AMU.
The strike lasted for just over two weeks and was eventually referred to an Arbitration Board headed by G.R.Askwith.
Askwith conducted a hearing taking evidence from the Music Hall owners and representatives of the Unions, culminating in June with the publication of the first Askwith Award – a 32 page document – which attempted to clarify the appropriate “rules, regulations and rates that are applicable to variety theatres in Great Britain and Ireland.” The Award guarantee musicians in London 30/- per week as minimum pay although drummers only received 28/-.
Within months the Unions were complaining about the attempts of management to act in ways contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the agreement.
Formation, in Manchester, of the National Federation of Professional Musicians (NFPM), which registered as a trade union rival to the AMU. It required members to be known in the profession or to undergo a test of competence before a board of examiners. Their rules “debar from membership the ineligible amateur and semi-professional two-jobbers”
J.B.Williams is elected to the Parliamentary Committee of the TUC.
The Nottingham branch becomes the first in the Provinces to open its own clubhouse for members – something other branches were to do in subsequent years.
Williams moves a motion at the TUC Congress on Non-Civilian Bands which is passed unanimously. He subsequently writes to the Ministry of War arguing that ‘Army officers are running a musical bureau – without regard to trade union rates or anything like them, and simply pay the bandsmen any sweating rate they see fit.”
A 23 week long dispute at the Northampton Opera House begins on Boxing Day over the owner, Milton Bode’s sacking of musicians and reduction of wages. The dispute was bitter with reports in the Musician’ Journal of the homes of ‘blackleg’ musicians being visited and The Dead March from ‘Saul’ being played “double forte” on their doorsteps. After audiences at the opera house dwindled, the dispute was resolved and musicians reinstated and additional fees paid for matinees.
A levy of 1/- per month was applied to memberships for 6 months in an attempt to improve the Union’s struggling finances.
Police launches intervene when the Union organises a floating protest about the use of military bandsmen on the Thames alongside the Houses of Parliament.