Lanarkshire Railways - Extract from Truck Report 1871

Mr. John Waddell is a contractor on the North British Railway, and has sometimes as many as 800 men in his employment on a new line between Glasgow and Coatbridge. He pays monthly and gives advances. He has three stores at different parts of the line and two or three pay clerks. The stores are all under one storeman, and are taken in his name, though they belong to the contractor. The storeman is paid by salary.

The masons, quarrymen, and tradesmen are treated differently from the navvies as regards advances. The former receive cash once a fortnight, but the navvies, if they want advances, must get goods from the store. The storeman is instructed to allow the navvies perhaps 1s. or 2s. in cash. But they seldom ask for it. "I believe," said Mr. Waddell, "they do ask for it sometimes, but I don't know whether the storeman gives it them or not.  They generally get a ticket with "cash" printed on it instead of goods, which they take to the store and exchange for goods. Mr. Waddell's store subsists on the advances thus made to his men.

It is stated there are between 5,000 and 6,000 navvies under this system in Scotland, which exists equally in remote districts and in the neighbourhood of towns. Mr. Kyle, superintendent of county police in Lanarkshire, considered that the stores which caused the greatest hardship were stores in connexion with railways. Railway contractors, as the law at present stands, are not within the Truck Act. The question was put to Mr. Waddell whether he saw any reason why they should not be brought under its operation.

Q If you disapprove of stores, is there any reason why in your opinion railway contractors should not be brought under the operation of the Truck Act, or why the Truck Act should not strike at the compulsory system in connexion with their stores ? - The only reason I can suggest is that in some districts where railways are made, they are sometimes 30 or 40 miles distant from any place where a man could get provisions, and I don't know very well how you could do without stores in that case.

Mr. Waddell also stated that advances in cash to navvies would lead to their drinking the money instead of buying provisions with it; "and then," he said, " they come back to you starving and unable to work." He further added, "there is another thing which you ought to look at with regard to paying weekly or fortnightly, and that is that contractors, as a rule, only get payment once a month, and sometimes not so often. In such cases you very often require to pay the men their wages before you get them yourself.''

The effects of short payments on intemperance will be found discussed in another portion of the report, and in the extract from the Parliamentary Paper hereafter mentioned. With respect to the supposed necessity for the truck system in remote districts, it appears sufficient to remark that if a railway contractor's store in a remote district possesses a natural monopoly, the additional support of a compulsory system is unneeded. If the store does not possess a natural monopoly, it is difficult to see why the navvies should not be allowed freely to select their own market. Mr. Waddell allowed that his best men "are generally those that don't go to the store." And he stated frankly that beyond the moral argument he had adduced, there was no financial reason why his trade should not be brought within the Truck Act.

Q Then I suppose I may take it that there is no reason why your trade should not be subjected to the same legislative restrictions as other trades with respect to the compulsory store system ? - I don't see any reason beyond what I have given you.

Q Which is a moral reason evidently ? - Yes.

Q But there is no reason connected with the financial condition of your trade, or its working ? - No, no reason in the least.

We felt relieved from prosecuting the enquiry into truck among the labourers on railways and other public works in consequence of the attention bestowed on the subject by a Select Committee of the House of Commons on railway labourers. An extract from their report will be found in the Appendix, from which it will be seen that the committee were satisfied of the evils of the present system, and recommended the extension of the Truck Act to this class of labour; while they indicate a strong belief in the moral advantages of weekly pays. In this recommendation we respectfully concur.

Abstract of Evidence

John Waddell

I am a railway contractor and made the railway between Glasgow and Coatbridge. The number of men varies, the greatest number was about 800. The pays are monthly. We give advances without poundage. Masons and quarrymen are the only ones who get money as advances. When navvies want advances they are paid in goods. I have several stores all under the same storeman. I had four at one time, but only three now. One is at Langloan, one at Baillieston and one in Glasgow. They are my stores. If a navvy wants an advance I do not give it to him in cash, but I give him a ticket on the store. My instructions are that if they want cash the storeman should allow them 1s. or 2s. It is very seldom they ask for it. We generally have a ticket with cash printed on it instead of goods which they take to the store and get the goods with. This system is exactly the same all over Scotland. I may state that railways are constructed often in very wild districts, perhaps without a shop within five or six miles of the works. Of course that would not account for the stores existing in such places as Langloan and Glasgow. There must be not less than 5,000 or 6,000 navvies employed in Scotland. There is a distinction between the navvies and the skilled men. The masons, and so forth, are never required to go to the store. I have never had any complaints about the store, except frivolous ones. I think the stores were not a hardship to the navvies, because it frequently happens, indeed almost every day, that they require to get something at the store before they can begin work at all. I do not encourage the stores. I give them up as soon as I possibly can. I think with such men who do not take care of their money the seldomer they are paid the better. The store system operates for the advantage of the morals of the navvies. It subsists upon the advances. You must remember that contractors, as a rule, only get their own payments once a month, and sometimes not so often. Very often you have to pay the men's wages before you get them yourself. In some places I do not see how stores could be done away with. The only reason I can suggest why the Truck Act should not be extended to railway stores, is that sometimes they are 30 or 40 miles distant from any place where a man could get provisions, and where private persons would not set up shops for a few months, unless they had security for getting their money. There are a great many reasons, which those who do not know the railway trade, do not very well understand, why stores are more necessary in our trade than in others. When navvies get money, instead of going to buy provisions with it, they very often go and drink it, and then they come back to you starving, and not able to work. The only reason why I think the compulsory system ought to exist in our trade is the moral reason that I have stated. Except in very wild districts, there is no reason connected with the financial condition of our trade, or with its working.