Glasgow Ironworks - Extract from Truck Report 1871

The company to whom these works belong carry on considerable operations. Their principal work is at Motherwell, where about 1,000 men are employed. A store is maintained in connexion with the Motherwell works , which is let for a large sum, stated by the book-keeper of the company to be £560 a year, and by Mr. Cassels, the managing partner, to be £650. Only a small section of the Motherwell workmen, Mr. Cassels stated, come for advances, but they are expected to take these to the store, and their advances are stopped if they slope.

In the Wishaw works, belonging to this company, poundage at the rate of 5% is charged; but at their St. Rollox works in Glasgow, a system is carried on which was new to us but of which traces appeared elsewhere.

There are about 200 men in the St. Rollox works and the pays are fortnightly. About 50 men, according to Mr. Paris, the pay clerk, obtain advances. They do not get these from the pay clerk, but in the shape of lines or credit for goods from a grocer in Glasgow -McAra by name, who keeps two stores- one for drink, the other a general provision shop.

The company, it seems, bought the St. Rollox works from a firm which had failed, to which McAra had been storeman. Shortly after the Glasgow Company started, McAra came to Paris to procure his assistance in keeping the custom of the works in McAra's shop; and between them, and with the advice of Mr. Cassels, the managing partner, they devised the system now in operation. Once a fortnight Paris furnishes McAra with a list of the advance men, and the amount of the money due to them. On the day before pay McAra sends to the pay office his list of the men to whom lines on his shop have been given for provisions or drink between the pays, and the pay clerk deducts the amount from the wages of each. Before opening an account of this character, the workmen sign a document in the following terms:-

"I,________ , a workman employed by the Glasgow Iron Company at St Rollox works, hereby give Mr. John McAra my permission and authority to have the value of all goods of whatsoever kind received by me from his store retained from my wages on the first pay day, or any pay day following, after having received such goods. And I agree to accept the balance of my wages after payment of my account has been made to Mr. John McAra, as in full of the amount due me by the Glasgow Iron Company. Should any dispute arise as to the sum or sums due by me to Mr John McAra, either as regards the amount for the current fortnight, or any balance still due him for any previous time, I agree to sue him, and hold the Glasgow Iron Company free of any responsibility. Whereof witness my hand. Signed."

This document was drawn up by McAra and Paris several years ago, and has been employed in the dealings between McAra and the workmen. Paris received from McAra until lately 5% on the business done. The arrangement went on for about four years, when the attention of the company was directed to it by an action in the small debt court, where a workman sued Paris for wages which the latter had refused to give up because the man was in McAra's debt. The result was a change by which the company took for their own share 4%, out of the 5% commission paid by McAra to Paris, and 1% only was left to Paris. This fresh arrangement was in operation at the time of the inquiry.

The only way, as a rule, by which a workman can get an advance from the company, except in special circumstances, is by coming to McAra for a line. If he wants 5s. in cash, he must take a line for 20s. and receive the balance in provisions, and the pay clerk admitted that if a man asked him for an advance it would not be given without consulting McAra. But he said that the object of this was to prevent the men getting their wages twice over, from McAra in food and from himself in money. Some of the men had grumbled about the store, but went on dealing there ; why they did so Mr. Paris could not explain.

The father of Mr. Paris is the general manager, and has the power of discharging the men, and Mr. Paris himself also exercises that power.

McAra carries on business on a smaller scale with men from the Blochairn Company ; with some from the Caledonian Railway and with 15 to 20 men from the Blochairn sand quarry, belonging to a widow lady who receives 5% from him. Her workmen obtain goods from McAra, giving him IOU's in return, which he takes to their employer and charges for cash.

In addition to the 4% and the 1%, paid respectively to the Glasgow Company, and to Paris, the clerk, McAra allows 5% to his brother-in-law, an overseer in the Glasgow ironworks, who procures custom for McAra from among the men, and receives the men's money at pay day. McAra also pays 2 ½% to two contractors of the names of Smith and Shaw and 4% to a Mr. Marshall, at the copper works of the Copper Extracting Company, with whose hands McAra does business.

Great difficulty was experienced in extracting the history of these transactions from McAra and Paris, and there is some reason to doubt if the whole truth has been admitted.

Another grocer of the name of Bell carries on a system of a similar nature with the men employed at the company's Glasgow ironworks. About 60 of them come to him with lines, signed by William Foster, one of the managers, and the only way as a rule in which the men can get advances is by going to Bell with lines. Foster receives from Bell 5% commission on the business done, and last year a sum of about £1,400 went through Bell's hands from the company's men. It is an illustration of the system that Foster himself is privately and for some time has been in debt to the shopkeeper Bell, a debt which amounted last September to £78.

Abstract of Evidence

John McAra

I am a grocer in Glasgow. Some of the men at the Glasgow ironworks come to my shop. I give them a line. I do not furnish the cash clerks or pay clerks with lists of the men; I have never done so. About 40 or 50 of the men come to me. The clerk gives me once a fortnight a list of the men, with the amount of money due to them. By looking at my list the clerk can see what number of the men have got advances at my shop. I made the arrangement with the pay clerk. I have nothing to do with the company. The clerk gets no commission whatever. If I like to make him a present at the, end of the year, perhaps I may do so. I may give him £5 note or so perhaps twice a year. (Pressed.) He got, I suppose, 1 ½ %, which is not fixed commission; it varies. (Pressed.) It is 1 ½ % fixed. This arrangement was made 18 months or two years ago. He gets nothing more. His name is James Paris. I pay the company a commission of 4%. At one of their other works there is a brother-in-law of my own a sort of overseer. I have no fixed arrangement with him. I have seen men giving him 2 ¼ %, and sometimes 5%. (Pressed.) He gets 5 per cent. The company get 4 per cent, for their trouble in furnishing me with information as to how much the men have earned. There is no fixed arrangement with the pay clerk. It will come to about 3d. in the pound. I have no similar arrangements with my other companies. (Pressed.) I have an arrangement with the Blochairn Company. Two come from there. There are some from the Caledonian railway, three or four, and from the Blochairn sand quarry 15 to 20. That belongs to a widow woman who gets 5%. Those are the only ones. I show the clerk at the Glasgow ironworks the list every day, every morning. This paper I make the workmen sign before I deal with them. I drew it up with Mr. Paris two or three years ago. If a man has credit with me for 20s. I would not give him cash to that amount, but I would give him 4s. in cash, and 16s. worth of goods. The only way, as a rule, by which a workman can get an advance from the Glasgow Iron Company, except in special circumstances, is by coming to me for a line. If a man wants 5s. cash he must take a line for 20s. in order to get it. This IOU is one of my inventions. It is customary in Glasgow to carry on trade by means of them. I deal in this way with James Smith's men, who gets 2 ½ %., Shaw's men, who gets 2 ½ %, and Mrs. Meikelham's men, who gets 5%, and no others. (Pressed.) I also deal in the same way with William Marshall's men, who is to get 4%. I have two stores, one for drink, and the other provisions. The Glasgow company's men come to me for drink as well as provisions. When I give a 7s. line I always give Is. 6d. of it in cash. I am not interested in the company. The company have been receiving 4% from me for 18 months.

James Paris

I am cashier at the Glasgow Iron Company. We have about 200 men. We pay fortnightly. I get one per cent from McAra. Before this year I used to get five per cent for the last four years. The company now gets four per cent, instead of myself. About 50 of our men are advance men. They get their advances from McAra. I have never spoken to any of the men about going to McAra's store. I have heard the men grumble about the store, but still they went on dealing there. I do not know why. If one of these men who are in the habit of dealing with McAra asked for an advance, I would not give it him without consulting McAra, to see if he had overdrawn his credit. It is in my discretion to grant or refuse an advance. The men who get advances are not expected to take them to any store whatever. This list represents that in the course of a fortnight 120l. had been spent by the advance men with McAra, and that he has paid the company 41. 16s. I do not receive commission from any other store. I believe the system at these works is unique.

Alexander Russell

I am book-keeper of the company. We have a store at Motherwell, where we have about 1,000 men. We get .£560 rent from the lessee of the store. I was not aware of McAra's connexion with our works till lately. I knew something of the kind was going on. 1 suspected that there was a system by which men were influenced to go to him for lines. At some of our works we make advances for nothing. The company receive nothing more than the 4% from McAra. Mr. Cassels is a partner. He has been aware for the last year of what has been taking place. The Glasgow works are the only place at which this system is in use. At the Motherwell store the same system prevails which has been described with regard to other stores. I was not aware till today that Mr Foster was receiving a commission of £70 a year from Mr Bell.

Robert Cassels

I am a partner in the company. Our store at Motherwell is let to Mr. Campbell for £650. The store building there must have cost close upon £2,000. At other works we have poundage. Only a small section of the people at Motherwell get advances. They are expected to take them to the store. When I found out what was going on with McAra I stopped the advances entirely. I said it was a thing that I could not tolerate at all. It was then represented to me that the works could not be carried on unless the men were supplied with advances in some way. I said, "Well, do what we have been in the habit of doing at the Glasgow works at times, give the men a little money, but, not too much, to allow them to spoil themselves by drinking and not attending to their work. Give them a little money between hands, and get them weaned of this system of requiring advances, and get them into the system that we have at our Glasgow works." It was represented to me that the men preferred having goods instead of partial cash for this very good reason that we were very chary about advancing cash while, of course, they could get what goods they wished from the shopkeeper. I do not remember that I asked Paris what commission he was getting. (Pressed.) I asked him how much he had got. He told me at the time it was a hundred or two, but I do not recollect the figure. Paris told me 4% was the arrangement with McAra. I cannot explain why our company, which charges 5% poundage, at other plates allows the men here to get their advances upon a consideration of only 4%. At our Motherwell works the men who get advances are stopped if they slope the store.

Robert Bell

I am a grocer near the works of the Glasgow Iron Company. About 60 of their workmen came to my shop last week with lines signed by William Foster. This system has been in existence about four years. I pay Mr. Foster five per cent. I do not know if the arrangement is known to the company. I believe it is. I have no such arrangement with any other company. I paid Mr. Foster about £70 last year. As a rule the only way in which the men get advances is by coming to me with those lines. Last year the sum that went through my hands from the company's works was about £1,400. Mr. Foster has been in my debt for some time.

William Foster, cash advance clerk

For the first 12 or 18 months of the arrangement I took no commission, but afterwards he said that for whatever I could send him in that way he would give me five per cent. I get no commission from any other person