An indication that all was not well in the industry, came in 1951, when there were extended stoppages at the September holidays. The situation worsened sharply in 1952. Many mills closed for extended periods, and five ceased trading. The number of weavers in Blackburn fell from 10,890 to 9020 in the year. Coronation year, 1953, brought an improvement, and predictions were made that exports of cloth would exceed 1951. However, the special orders for export and in connection with the Coronation were not repeated. In subsequent years the industry in Blackburn declined.
The large amounts of cloth being imported free of duty started to affect the home market. By 1955 imports from India were in excess of our exports to that country. The number of young people leaving textiles because of greater security of employment in other industries meant that the work force became composed increasingly of middle aged or older weavers. England was becoming a dumping ground for cheap subsidised textiles produced by low-paid labour with which no Lancashire mill could compete, said Mr. G. R. Bury, President of Blackburn Mill Managers Association at their annual dinner on 23 November, 1955.
The decline continued all through the 1950s. 20 of the 50 working mills in Blackburn closed, and 2,500 textile workers were displaced. The events of the next few years were to change the entire structure of the textile industry, but Blackburn was largely a spectator to the board-room battles, take-overs and company mergers. The net result was the creation of four giant groups, later reduced to three, which were engaged in the entire field of textile operations, from manufacture of new "man-made" fibres, to dyeing and retail distribution.
Blackburn mills affected were Imperial Mill to the Courtald Group; Haston Lee Mill to English Calico; and Roe Lee, Salisbury and Ewood Mills to Viyella International. This movement, which placed some mills on a sound financial basis, was offset by the closure of others, and many more textiles jobs were lost. Competition now came from Portugal, which could produce cotton goods 40 per cent cheaper than Lancashire, as well as continuing competition from Pakistan, India and Hong Kong.
As a result of all these cheap imports, there was a sharp crisis in the industry in 1967. Matters were brought to a head locally when Eclipse Mill at Feniscowles closed in April 1967. This was an efficient, well-organised mill, which was forced out of business by imported cloth being sold for 9d. a yard (32p) cheaper than the Lancashire firms could manufacture it. By the end of 1967, 65 per cent of textile jobs in Blackburn had disappeared since 1950. There were 26 mills running. Early in 1970, the Labour Government announced a loan scheme to start in June, which would enable smaller firms to modernise their plants, but the Conservative Government, elected in June of the same year, brought the loans to an end. The end of the scheme coincided with the most serious crisis and recession in textiles since the end of the Second World War.
Atlantic Mill closed early in 1971. In November it was announced that the Birtwistle Group would be closing several of their mills, including Abbey Mill at Withnell, and Florence Mill in Blackburn. The Abbey Mill closure received wide coverage in the national press and on television. The Birtwistle Group was taken over by the Manchester based Granston Group. Blackburn mills were now reduced to 20.
A petition was organised, and, signed by the workers affected by the Birtwistle closures, taken to Downing Street by local Textile Trade Federation leaders. The Prime Minister replied that immediate attention would be given to the appeal, but before a reply could be received the closure of Audley Hall Mill was decided upon by Eli Heyworth's, a fresh batch of petition forms were sent to the Prime Minister. Sixty more workers lost their jobs when Gordon Mill closed down in December. A pressure group, the Textile Industry Support Campaign, led by Mr. Edmund Gartside of Royton, produced a booklet, "The death of textiles".
One of the things worrying the textile workers and employers was what would happen in 1972, when quotas for textiles imports into Britain were replaced by a tariff. Imports already stood at 53 per cent of home consumption, and the fear was that this figure would be exceeded. As a result of the petition and action by Mr. Gartside's group it was announced that quotas would remain after January, 1972. In October, 1972, new quota restrictions were worked out, polyester-cotton sheets imported from the Far East. 1973 was a better trading year, but the end of the year was affected by an energy crisis. Petroleum, the basis of man-made fibres, was quadrupled in price, and supplies even at these new prices were uncertain.
In January 1975, the number of textile workers in Blackburn was around 6,000. At the end of the month, 2,000 were temporarily laid off, and other mills were working short time. Blackburn Textile Trades Federation drew up a fresh petition to be presented to the Prime Minister, on February 12th. At the same time Mr. Joe King, Joint General Secretary of the Amalgamated Textile Workers Union was accompanying a deputation from Rossendale. Mr. King said the situation was so serious that the industry could collapse completely with a loss of 70,000 jobs. Imports were coming from Brazil, India, Hong Kong, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Blackburn's deputation arrived in London on F ebruary 12th. They wanted a Government inquiry into the industry, and the reasons for the slump; the Government to purchase Lancashire cloth for internal use in Government Departments; and to know what reciprocal trading agreements existed with Taiwan and other countries. However, nothing concrete emerged from all these petitions and meetings. More Blackburn mills closed down during the year. As late as October, 1976, Union leaders were still trying, unsuccessfully, to get the imports restricted to forty per cent of home consumption.
THE COUNTRY'S BREAD NO LONGER HANGS BY LANCASHIRE'S THREAD.
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