Friday, October 06, 2006

Bexley Asylum 1901 (unionisation)

The Original Asylum Workers Union!

A Resume of 1901 at Bexley Asylum

It was a very earnest little band of workers that first hatched the plot, and decided to form an association for their own and their fellow workers mutual benefit.

Judicious discussions at the mess table and exaggerated ideas of his own importance on the part of the Medical Superintendent, somewhat hastened the project.

So we bide ourselves to a neigbouring tavern, coffee tavern, and made arrangements with the proprietor for the use of the club room.We were a poor lot, so the landlord kindly allowed us to use the room rent free, providing we paid for the gas consumed.

There were few enthusiasts, Tim Bobbin, Harry Lee, and W. Dutton, as well as your humble servant, and a host of passive supporters.

We had good attendances, at least thirty, and some-times nearly fifty came to our weekly meetings, and poured out their woes, and we even got as far as suggesting the appointment of a deputation to visit other Asylums, " with the view of forming one huge Association!!" .

In the meantime differences of opinion had arisen between the Medical Superintendent and several of our pioneers, with the result that they sought fresh pastures. Duty prevented their getting away to an occasional meeting (even if their pockets could have stood the expense).

Some months afterwards I visited the old place- there stood the heath in all it’s beauty, and the coffee tavern in all its grandeur—but the association and its members, alas ! were no more. Practically an entirely new staff had arrived at the large institution, and I turned wearily away to continue my wanderings.

Since that day one has tried many callings and places, and finally settled down in another branch of lunacy work, but it is refreshing to see the number of Attendants and Nurses who have taken advantage of the Asylum-Workers' Union in order to improve their conditions of service. For your own sake, try to rouse the others who have not yet joined; surely the low subscription is more than covered by the advantages of belonging to such a Union?

Are you aware that Asylum Attendants are worse fed and worse treated than any of the Attendants at our workhouses? There is no comparison between the two dietaries, and the conditions of service and chances of promotion which the latter has are infinitely better than the former " enjoys." The head of affairs at the workhouse is the Master—a man who has risen from the ranks—-and the doctor is subordinate to him. The result is, there is an appeal beyond the Medical Officer and one gets justice.

The Poor Law Officers' Association members are always speaking of you, and your grit, in forming a Trade Union, and admire you for it, but, if you are compelled to spend your life among the insane then get "the other fellow" to help to brighten and lighten the conditions of service. Let. your committees "know the dietary provided for officers at the workhouse nearest, to where you are engaged, and I'll guarantee your bread and butter three mornings and bacon 'four mornings per week" (this was in force at Birmingham City Asylum in 1900) will compare very poorly with the “Grubber " fare.

Mr. Editor, I have trespassed on your space for which I apologise, but I feel so convinced that many improvements could be made if members would only bestir themselves to help to make one strong body of Attendants and Nurses. Many of the Asylum Committee members are sympathetic—if you could get at them and put your side of the grievance as clearly as the Medical Superintendent puts his

Think it over


The National Asylum Workers Union Magazine April 1914