War I farm-workers were in a strong position to negotiate for better wages and
conditions. Both labour and farm horses were in short supply due to the war and
there was had been a series of poor harvests. Bringing in soldiers and POWs to
help with the harvest was very unpopular - especially as it kept wages
depressed. A strike threat in 1915 led to an historic meeting between
representatives of the Union of Agricultural Labourers and farmers, resulting
in a wage rise and union recognition.
from Fakenham, was leader of the Union, and Norfolk was particularly heavily
unionised. In 1916, Mr. Edwards appealed to women to help with the harvest -
though farmers were not particularly keen to employ women. The women themselves
were not keen on agricultural work - those who could get to towns or cities
could get better-paid work in factories, transport and hospitals.
1917 was a year
of shortages because of poor harvests and the German U-boat blockade. The Board
of Agriculture tried to improve supplies through its Food Production Department
by encouraging new crops (such as sugar beet) and mechanisation with tractors
from the USA. In August 1917, the Corn Production Act led to guaranteed minimum
prices for 6 years, minimum wages for farm-workers and an Agricultural Wages Board
with representatives of both employers and worker. These measures helped to
stabilise prices. To help with labour, farm-workers were among the first to be
demobilised in 1918, along with mineworkers and transport workers.
(Information based on
'Land and Labour' by Nicholas Mansfield in 'Norfolk & Suffolk in the
Great War', Gerald Glidden (ed), pp.74-7. Norwich: Gliddon Books 1988)