In March 1960 Northern Ireland was in the midst of a bread strike and as the shortage of bread became an increasing concern the province’s Minister of Labour and Insurance, Mr Ivan Neill, was forced to intervene to prevent the state of affairs in the country deteriorating.
It was reported by the News Letter three days after the strike had begun that Mr Neill was due to meet with officials of the Bakers’, Confectioners’ and Allied Workers’ Union in Belfast officials of the Bakers’, Confectioners’ and Allied Workers’ Union in Belfast to discuss the strike.
Following a meeting with the secretary of the union, Mr J Morgan) after the House of Commons had concluded business on the Monday after the strike had begun the minister issued a statement which read: “At the request of the secretary of the North of Ireland Bakers’, Confectioners’ and Allied Workers’ Union the Minister of Labour and National Insurance had an informal talk with him this evening.
“Arising from this discussion arrangements were made that a further meeting would take tomorrow with the minister after the position had been explored by union representatives and the ministry’s officers.”
Earlier in the House of Commons Mr Neill had said that when his conciliation officers had met the unions on previous Friday their final words had been: “We shall be available at once if you think our services can be of any value in either preventing a dispute or bringing about a settlement.”
He added that he “regretted that it was not possible under his auspices, or of his conciliation officers, to secure an acceptable basis of settlement to that unfortunate dispute”. And he continued that he hoped that “wise counsels” would prevail that an early settlement could be achieved as rapidly as possible.
Meanwhile, Lord Glentoran, Minister of Commerce, said that the government was continuing to keep the supplies situation constantly under review and assured the Ulster House of Commons that should the strike begin to effect the general public that they would not hesitate to “take any action they thought necessary in the public interest”.
The first “incident” involving trade union pickets since the bread strike began when the police had to be called to the Lisburn Road branch of the Eglinton Bakery, Belfast. The bakery proprietor alleged “unnecessary interference” by the pickets, who had searched a van as it was leaving the premises.
The pickets carried placards saying: “This bread is black,” and “Scab labour is employed here”.
Mr John Davidson, director of the firm, said that friends had gathered round to help his family to produce bread, and they were operating at about one-third of their capacity. He was not prepared to say how many men were working.
“We have a right to bake bread and we will go on baking it,” said Mr Davidson, who claimed that the pickets had been interfering with the bread vans. He alleged that the pickets had tried to pull a driver from his seat.
The Eglinton bakery controlled the Carlton and Baines’s and had 10 shops in Belfast.
A spokesman of the Bakers’ Union stated that the Eglinton Bakery was producing bread by a make-shift staff of non-union labour, and that it was “a family affair”. Home bakeries were also supplying bread with recruited labour but all union men had been withdrawn.
Large queues at home bakeries in across the city of Belfast had begun to appear. The News Letter reported that loaves were being rationed at all the shops with regular customers being given preference. Wheaten and soda farls were in great demand.
The News Letter reported: “Housewives experiencing most difficulty are those whose menfolk carry packed lunches to work at the shipyard and other industrial establishments. Others seem to get over the bread shortage by home baking using whatever flour is available.”
To cope with the extra demand for bread, bakers at Omagh Model Bakery were working extra shifts and their van men were also working overtime. Extra shifts were also being worked by three home bakeries in Omagh, “and there was no shortage”.
Meanwhile, it was reported that there was no acute bread shortage in Fermanagh, “although one or two outlying districts expect to find themselves short in a day or two”.
It was reported that Enniskillen, with its two main bakeries closed, was “getting enough” to satisfy immediate needs from home bakeries. Hospitals and schools had so far been able to secure adequate supplies. While along the border there is no difficulty in securing bread from southern Ireland.
In Londonderry breadservers employed by Eaton and Co Ltd where directors of the firm are baking bread were cheered at the by breadservers of other firms and by pickets as their vans left the premises. Breadservers employed by the other firms, who had already been put on their notice, sent a deputation to Eaton’s premises in an attempt to persuade breadservers there not to make deliveries but they refused to agree to the demand.
Because of the deliveries made by Eatons and by others there was no real shortage of bread in the city.
With only restricted supplies from two Derry bakeries the Tyrone town of Dungannon had begin to feel the shortage.
The News Letter reported: “Small home bakeries were besieged by housewives. Local industrial canteens were able to produce sufficient supplies for the workers, but in cafes homemade pancakes figured largely on the menu.”
Archbishop criticises ‘materialistic megalomania’
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, travelled to Northern Ireland in March 1960 to take part in a number of engagements to mark Saint Patrick’s Day.
In his main engagement at the first afternoon service in Downpatrlck Cathedral Dr Fisher stressed the importance of “little peoples” and criticised the form of “materialistic megalomania” which dominated modern society and which “thought nothing was good unless it was impressive”.
Taking as his text, “Fear not, little flock, for It is your Father’s; good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (St Luke 12), he said he wanted to dwell on the importance of little peoples, because it was an essential part of the Christian way of life that “we should be little men and women in the presence of God”.
He remarked: “The strength and power was God’s, not ours. It is one of our glories, as Christians, that there are little groups all over the world living as vital parts of the social structure.”
He continued: “At the same time it is distressing to find men among us terribly consumed by a form of materialistic megalomania. They think nothing was any good unless it was impressive and large.
Dr Fisher asked: “What are they trying to do at the present to the little county of Rutland?” He answered: “They are trying to cut it up, for what – efficiency. I do not; want to decry the urge for efficiency, but this urge has done little to abolish poverty and other human wants. Efficiency is only safe when it is, kept firmly under control of the spirit of man and God.”
Dr Fisher said he could not see how God was glorified by – “cutting up the smallest county in England and giving it away, when it has its own essential grace through littleness which brings both comfort and satisfaction”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury declared: “This is an example of the threat of megalomania when it gets out of hand. The fault is partly due to covetousness and idolatry which is next door to covetousness.
“There is peril in the threat of megalomania. The Church itself in its long history has fallen victim to this lust for greatness – greatness of political, spiritual and theological power.
“When the Church surrenders to the quest for power it loses the virtue which Christ gave to little folk. There is no harm in littleness if it did not mean the threat of losing heart and hope.”
Dr Fisher remarked that the promise contained in the text from which he preached assured that there was nothing to be afraid of, “as the Kingdom was ours”.
He said: “All was to the glory of God and no human thing can deter or defeat us. Notwithstanding the fears of the materialistic world around us we can find security in the love of God.
The service was conducted by the Dean of Down (the Very Reverend W H Good), and the lesson was read by the Bishop of Meath (Dr Pike). The Dean of Belfast (the Very Reverend C I Peacocke) acted as chaplain to the Archbishop. The Primate of All Ireland pronounced the Blessing.
The Archbishop of Canterbury also preached at the second afternoon service, which attracted almost as large a congregation as the earlier one.