Collinson was very politically minded. From suffering the intricacies of inner-city poverty to being one of the first members of the Organ Builders Trade Society, Collinson was aware that strength lay in numbers. Indeed, witnessing the early Suffragette meetings at ‘Speakers Corner’ opened a young Collinson’s eyes to the nature of considered political protest. These early meetings were pivotal in the construction of Collinson’s unwavering Socialist views.
“I began regularly to visit ‘Speakers Corner’ at Marble Arch and at this period of time the militant suffragettes were getting well organised. I took part in the 1908(June) mass rally in Hyde Park and saw the treatment dealt out to these pioneers for the rights of women” (14).
During a particularly hostile protest, Collinson stood strong with the Suffragettes:
“Except for the few of us who joined hands and formed a ring around the cart from which Mrs. Drummond and a number of others who were vainly trying to address the crowd, everyone seemed to be against and personally violent to the speakers” (14).
Even from a young age, he monarchy were not looked upon favourably either,
“On Sunday mornings my Father would take my brother and I on walks, sometimes along the Victoria Enbankment, at other times to Rotten Row to see the gentry on their horses. Often have I seen Queen Victoria in an open carriage and wondered why my father would say “raise your cap boy”, to this old lady who looked to me just like my granny and nobody raised their headgear to her” (2).
Not a contrarian, but an opponent of blinkered capitalism, Collinson strived for overall fairness. His ‘street education’ had also influenced his views. The energy and movement on the streets of London acted like a heartbeat for Collinson. He felt attached to the working people.
“During my mid-day break I would often go along to Berwick Market where I discovered some of the amazing ways man devises to earn a crust” (13).
Money was important to Collinson, not vast sums, just a living wage that provided enough for people to avoid the poverty line. Indeed, this pursuit of a fair wage encountered too much difficulty. After completing his piano and organ building apprenticeship, and being laid off – still a member of the Organ Builders Trade Society – Collinson went out looking for work. Work was quite plentiful but equal rights and fair working conditions were not. Whenever Collinson queried this, or mentioned the union, he was blacklisted. His name was passed around between building sites and other places of work. Employers were frightened of being questioned. In their eyes, unionism was a dirty practice.
Collinson’s collective message did begin to get through however, but it was not plain-sailing:
“Within a fortnight, the firm was working in accordance with the trade agreement and I had no difficulty in getting a Works Committee functioning. It was about this time that I became my union’s representative on the London Trade Council, which held its meetings in the Holborn Hall which was at the corner of Grays Inn Road and Theobalds Road. I was anxious too, now that a Works Committee had been established, to change my job, for I knew that I would be first on the list of redundancies which occurred very frequently in the pianoforte trade among the smaller manufacturers” (76).
Not won over by state politics, Collinson’s socialist views were to be to his detriment. Despite all of his good work and constant battles with oppressive employers and people in power, his unionism did not manage to have the desired effect. The (moderately) fairer conditions, wages and lifestyles seem quite insignificant when we consider that one of the loudest pushers of these ideals states (at the time of writing – 1966) that he was living in poverty.
‘Arthur T. Collinson’, in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography Brighton: Harvester, 1984, Vol.3, no. 30.
Arthur T. Collinson, ‘One Way Only: An autobiography of an Old-time Trade Unionist’ in Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 3:30