Monday, February 1, 2010

The Music Hall Wars of 1907

(This is a poster designed to canvass support for the strike. Wikimedia Commons)

In 1907 there were no standard rules for employers and workers in the crowded and smoky music halls. Contracts were variable and the courts were filled with law suits between the workers and employers. The Variety Artistes Federation was formed in 1906. By 1907 the Federation, designed to improve conditions, had almost 4,000 members.

The final straw for artistes came in 1907 when many music-hall owners demanded additional shows for little or no extra money. Artistes, musicians and stage-hands at over 22 variety theatres decided to go on strike.

The most successful music-hall star in Britain, Marie Lloyd, was sympathetic to the plight of the workers. She understood that she was in a position to negotiate for better conditions but many of the people who worked in music-halls weren't.

The music hall owners tried to break the strike by engaging acts that were not well-known and retired workers. The union decided to picket the theatres. When Marie Lloyd saw a girl that she knew she shouted, ""Let her through girls, she'll close the music-hall faster than we can."

Eventually the dispute was referred to arbitration at the Board of Trade. Surprisingly, this was suggested by the author, Somerset Maugham. The Board solved the issue by holding hearings involving more than 100 witnesses and several meetings. The music-hall workers received more money and they were granted a guaranteed minimum wage and maximum working week.

1 comment:

Hels said...

Owners of businesses will always exploit their workers, minimising the workers' pay and maximising their own profits. But artists, musicians and stage-hands seemed even more vulnerable, didn't they? If they didn't accept the work available in the theatres and music halls, what else could they do?

Hopefully their negotiated guaranteed minimum wage and maximum working week were decent.

How many people went to music halls and variety theatres in Edwardian days? I am assuming it was very popular.