Polly's Pride

Polly's Pride by Freda Lightfoot

Book: Polly's Pride by Freda Lightfoot Read Free Book Online
Authors: Freda Lightfoot
as if the industry was in its death throes. Cotton districts began to resemble ghost towns.
    And then, to the dismay and terror of the entire street, Dove Street Mill announced its intention of laying off more than a quarter of its workforce. The workers were instructed that in future they’d be expected to run six looms, instead of the usual four.
    Even Joshua’s job was at risk.
    Matthew was astonished. ‘But you’re well thought of, a tackler no less. Why would they lay you off? They’ll still need you to fettle the looms.’
    ‘I was told that since I’m a single man, my need is not so great as a married one with a wife and family to keep. They’re the ones, apparently, who need the work while I don’t. In addition I live with my mother who has a pension of ten shillings a week, so you see how well off we are.’
    Polly listened, appalled, for it seemed like the beginning of the end. But at least the two brothers were in entire agreement for once regarding the selfish greed of the bosses and politicians. Who else could they blame?
    ‘If we’d had time to get a decent union going,’ Joshua said, ‘they’d never have dared do this to us.’  
    The union was new and raw, a mere fledgling power against the might of the bosses. And since not every cotton worker was a member, largely ineffective. Many folk were only too willing to operate six looms rather than face the alternative of no work at all. It caused dissention between families, open brawls in the street, even a near-riot on one occasion outside Dove Street Mill.
    Joshua stood proud on his soap box, gesticulating wildly and shouting at colleagues and neighbours, many of them women since it was they who normally did the weaving. But there were men there too, supporting them, needing the money their wives brought in; spinners with a deep knowledge of the industry; and other tacklers employed by the mill to be in charge of a number of looms. In addition there were those whose jobs were linked in some other way to cotton, perhaps in engineering, chemical dyeing or transport.  
    Joshua brandished a fist. ‘You should have listened to me in the first place. Now we must all stand firm, as one against the bosses.’
    ‘It’s all right for you,’ one woman shouted. ‘My husband’s unemployed and I’ve childer to feed, which is more than you have Joshua Pride.’  
      A chorus of agreement rippled through the angry crowd, the words pricking deeply at Joshua’s rawest spot. As a young man he’d enjoyed walking out with one or two attractive girls but those relationships had come to nothing. Women, he’d discovered, were fickle creatures and although he enjoyed, and took, his pleasures like any normal male, he didn’t regret his single state. It gave him more time to concentrate on the business of the chapel which was far more important to him. But he hated this lack of a wife to be used as a weapon against his perfectly sound arguments. He stuck firmly to his argument.
    ‘If nobody agrees to take on six looms, the bosses can do nothing to make us.’  
    ‘Aye, they bloody can!’ a man at the back of the crowd called out. ‘They could sack the lot of us and there’d be no shortage of folk ready to take our places.’
    The Dove Street managers did indeed win the day as sufficient workers agreed to operate six looms. The rest were sacked, including Joshua himself, by way of retaliation for his ‘incitement to riot’.
    It was a glum if united family who, for once, sat together long into the night, talking over possible ways out of their troubles. No immediate solution presented itself and they all finally retired, red-eyed and weary-hearted, to their respective beds.
    Only Joshua had the strength to make a resolution. He didn’t want simply to survive but to progress, to achieve power and sway over the community; to make everyone listen to what he had to say and carry out his orders without question. He did not believe in meaningless dreams, only

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