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100 years ago: Farm labourers strike

06 April 2023

April 6th, 1923

IN NORFOLK both sides seem to be settling down to the prospect of a long struggle, despite the reports from various districts that the men are returning to work. The farmers at least are taking long views, and are proposing the abandonment of their root crops and of their hay crop, and the drilling of their land for corn, a policy which would make them independent of the labourers until harvest time. Much volunteer labour has come into Norfolk from elsewhere, the sons and daughters of farmers in other counties, whose help would make the course practicable. Yet the strike is not by any means general, it is estimated that fewer than a third of the farmers are at present affected, and that nearly two-thirds of the men are still at work, upon what terms is not known. At the beginning of the week it seemed unlikely that the strike would spread to the neighbouring counties of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. But in Norfolk the deadlock is at present complete. The workers’ offer of a truce has been rejected by the farmers, who have also declined to act upon the suggestion of the Ministry of Agriculture to submit the dispute to independent arbitration. The one hope of escape from the impasse is in the admirable temper which, with rare exceptions, both sides display. Sir Rider Haggard finds in it the possibility of arranging a breathing-space, in which “men of kind heart and good will” may discuss their differences in a softer light, and he supports the Bishop of Norwich in calling for a truce which might develop into a permanent peace. None knows better than Sir Rider Haggard that the interests of the owner of the land, the farmer of the land, and the labour on the land are inseparable; and the counsel of one who spent in Norfolk the best part of a lifetime of study and practice of agriculture is not lightly to be disregarded.

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