Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

‘A Kind of Elysium Where Nobody Has Anything Difficult to Do’: H.B. Higgins, H.V. McKay and the Agricultural Implement Makers, 1901-26

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2001), 80, (1), 99–119.

Abstract

The years 1907 to 1913 were a period of bitter industrial relations at the Sunshine Harvester Works. It was here in 1907 that H.B. Higgins handed down his famous needs based wage for unskilled labour. However, the same award rejected the use of improvers and offered large pay increases to skilled and semi-skilled employees. For this reason it was opposed by the industrialist, H.V. McKay. Intent on introducing modern manufacturing methods, McKay was determined to resist wage rates comparable to those prevailing in general engineering. Failing to win wage rises through arbitration, his employees attempted to introduce a closed shop in 1911. McKay in turn locked out his workforce. At the end of bitter strike, McKay not only broke the union but he was also free to introduce piece work. He also kept the Commonwealth Arbitration Court from investigating his workplace. In the decade after the strike, McKay heavily invested in plant and by the early 1920s Sunshine was a modern factory with machine tools, work study practices and piece work. Yet in winning this battle, McKay had to make concessions. To keep his plant at full capacity, McKay had to offer high earnings and secure employment. Sunshine also had an important impact on Higgins, and his objection to the use of improvers, first encountered at Sunshine, remained with him throughout his career as an arbitration judge.

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Details

Author details

Fahey, Charles

Lack, John

Table of Contents

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