It took a long time for some mill owners to realise that workers were not simply extensions of the machines, to realise that not only did they need time to recover physically from their labour, but that they needed time for recreation. Pubs were the first to cater for this need, but later came organised sport, the music hall, excursions on the canal, excursions on the railway, public concerts and the cinema.
The Factory Act of 1850 prohibited the employment of women and children after 2.00 pm on Saturdays. Reluctantly the mill owners gave way and men too were granted the same privilege. The situation for shop workers however didn't improve until the 1880s when shop owners finally granted an early finish during the week: on Thursday in Blackburn and Tuesday in Darwen.
In 1847 an act was passed to reduce mill hours to ten a day, though not all mill owners took any notice of it. The 1871 Bank Holiday Act introduced the concept of holidays with pay and created holidays on Boxing Day, Easter Monday, Whit Monday and on the first Monday in August.
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In the 1840s hours at the cotton mill were from 6.00 in the morning until 5.30 at night, with half an hour for breakfast and one hour for lunch. It was a six day week. Six days a week came the dreaded tattoo on the bedroom window as the knocker-up did his rounds with his long pole. Six days a week you had to get out of your bed at 5.00 in the morning, get dressed in the cold and dark and turn out into the street to join the huddled mass tramping the cobbles in silence towards the brightly lit mill. Six days a week you'd enter the weaving shed and hear a lone loom start up, thrashing away in the corner, then another would join it and then another, until the whole shed was a roar with a monstrous din; the legacy of industrialisation, a din that would be ringing in your ears long after you'd left the place almost 12 hours later. Working conditions for shop workers may have been less harsh, but the hours were longer. It was 7.00 in the morning until 11.00 at night, and 7.00 until noon on Sunday. Often a shop owner wouldn't shut until his competitors did, and he would send an assistant out to make sure.
Recruitment would traditionally have been an informal procedure, particularly within the textile trade. A typical way of finding work would be to have a family member working there or to know someone who could put in a 'good word' for you. Workers who had been employed there for a long time and were deemed to have the right level of skill needed to teach young people a trade carried out training. These skilled workers were often paid more money for looking after their trainees.
Blackburn Labour Exchange first opened its doors in 1910. It operated from a building in Darwen Street. This was the first time that an attempt had been made to formalise the recruitment process in the town. The Labour Exchange did not make work but endeavoured to bring the prospective employer into contact with people seeking employment. This would stop workers having to make a weary walk from town to town, company to company seeking work. The new Labour Exchanges were also to have the powers to defray costs in resettling workers in areas where they would gain employment. This sum would be paid back when the employee was settled in full-time work. When the Exchange opened it was inundated with men seeking work, unemployment was high and the first influx of men consisted mainly of foundry workers and general labourers. Interestingly, the Labour Exchange did not deal with the employment of women until 1921, before this the employment of women was dealt with separately at the People's Mission.
Employment levels in Blackburn seemed to be in a constant state of flux with work either available in abundance leading to shortages of labour or huge shortages leading to people either being laid off or underemployed and working short-time. In 1951 Lancashire industrialists were concerned about imminent labour shortages as a result of the armaments drive, there were only 284 people without jobs in Blackburn, which was the lowest figure on record and the textile industry in particular was having problems recruiting skilled labour. The led to the first influx of Asian immigrants, who arrived to take up these jobs. By 1955 however, there was a textile recession and many were again working short-time.
By 1957 there was again deemed to be a shortage of workers and labour exchanges in smaller towns were closing, as they were under-used. In 1961 there was again an influx of Asian workers into Blackburn, many looking for unskilled jobs in the engineering or cotton industries, however, many employers were reluctant to employ them because of difficulties with the language barrier.
There was an announcement made in 1964 that a new Labour Training School was to be built at Philips Road mainly for use by the engineering and building trades. It would offer apprenticeships to school-leavers as well as training facilities for adults and the chance to earn a wage whilst training. The training school excelled at training candidates for relevant fields of work and was hailed as a great success, training people from many areas of the North-West including the Fylde coast and Manchester. Many who graduated from the school and became successful returned the favour by themselves recruiting staff directly from the centre.
During early 1973 there was a huge boom in the textile trade accompanied by a huge shortage of workers. The British Textile Employers' Association held seminars about the job shortages and began recruitment campaigns using exhibitions and fairs as a way of encouraging school leavers to join the industry. Also in 1973 there was a new scheme that planned to recruit retiring ex-servicemen into the industries of East Lancashire to boost its shortage of workers. However, this was short-lived as the energy crisis of 1973 began to bite and many find themselves out of work or once again working the dreaded three-day week. Things in Blackburn were hard with over 5,000 people out of work and thousands more working short-time. In 1974 there was a quick recovery from the crisis and once again labour shortages threatened the town. This boom and slump trend was to affect the town throughout the 1970s but worse was to come in the 1980s when mass unemployment and the failure of businesses hit the local economy hard.
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