COTTON CONTROL BOARD, THE. The Cotton Con trol Board, which controlled the Lancashire cotton industry during the later phases of the World War, was appointed by the Board of Trade in June 1917. For some time previously imports of cotton from the United States had been drastically curtailed by the ship ping authorities, in order to conserve tonnage for more urgent needs ; and an acute shortage of American cotton had developed. To deal with the problems arising from this situation, the Control Board was set up, a body representative of the various organized trade interests, the employers and trade unions in spinning and weaving, the Liverpool Cotton Association and the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, together with two representatives of the Board of Trade. The dominating figure in determining the Board's policy was its chairman, Sir Herbert Dixon, who, though the largest employer in the industry, commanded in a remarkable degree the confidence of the operatives.
The problems before the board were twofold. First, it must pre vent a chaotic scramble for the limited supplies of raw material, and secure for each concern a fair and steady share. This was a problem with which many "war controls" in other industries had also to deal. But the peculiarities of the cotton industry gave rise to a second important problem. The reduced scale of production which was inevitable would throw out of work a large number of operatives, who could not readily be absorbed in war-time employ ment, on account of the highly-localized character of the industry.
The main features of the scheme of control were as follows: Spinners and manufacturers were forbidden to work more than a certain percentage of their machinery except under licence from the Control Board. After some months licences were required to work any machinery at all. These licences were granted only on payment of "levies" of so much per spindle or per loom ; and the funds which were raised in this way were used to finance a system of unemployment benefits. The details of the scheme varied from time to time as conditions changed with a prevailing tendency, as shipping difficulties became more acute, to more drastic curtail ment of output. At first, spinners of American cotton were re stricted to 70% of their machinery, while manufacturers and spinners of Egyptian cotton were allowed (on payment of the levies) to work i00% if they desired. But by March 1918, spinners in the American section had been cut down to 5o% and manufacturers to 6o% ; while in June compulsory short-time was added to these restrictions, with the result that production in the American section was reduced to less than 4o% of its normal. Under these conditions of restricted supply, the trade became extremely profitable. While the price of raw cotton was limited by the enforcement of maximum prices, no control was exercised over the prices of yarn and cloth, which soared to unprece dented heights; and the profits reaped by spinners and manufac turers during 1918, though they were to pale before those of the post-armistice boom, were the highest recorded hitherto.
The system of unemployment benefits was worked on lines which made it extremely popular with the operatives. The trade unions were entrusted with the task of paying the money out in accordance with rules laid down by the Control Board. The scale of benefits was, by all previous standards, high. At the outset, the scale was 25s. for a man, 15s. for a woman, and 12s. for young persons; and these benefits were soon supplemented by allowances of one shilling a week for dependent children. In August 1918, the whole scale was increased by 20%. But the most popular feature was the so-called "rota system" which became established in the greater part of the industry. The "rota system" meant that none of the workpeople, to whom it applied, were unemployed in the ordinary sense, but all took it in turn to "play off" for periods of a week. Thus, in a mill which had only work for 75% of its avail able operatives, each operative would work three weeks, and for the fourth week would "play off" and receive the Control Board benefit. This system was naturally highly congenial to the opera tives ; it had the effect of turning unemployment from a hardship into a positive blessing; and the rota week, breaking the monotony of factory life, became a cherished institution.
This arrangement was, however, open to the objection that it served to check the tendency for surplus cotton operatives to ob tain other work; and this objection, at a time of national emer gency and shortage of labour for urgent tasks, was formidable. In May 1918, accordingly the Control Board decided to abolish the rota system. This decision which took effect in August, caused widespread resentment among the operatives, and dissipated a large part, though by no means the whole, of the remarkable popu larity which the Control Board enjoyed among them. It led indeed to a strike on the part of the spinners which lasted for a week.
The Control Board exercised its authority by virtue of orders made from time to time by the Board of Trade under the Defence of the Realm Regulations. In February 1919, these orders were revoked, and the Cotton Control Board ceased to exist as such, being converted into an advisory council under the name of the Cotton Reconstruction Board. When the system of levies and un employment benefits came to an end, the Control Board had accumulated a large surplus—it had budgeted to meet the pos sibility of grave developments—of no less than 1I,5oo,000. This money was converted into a special fund, the Cotton Trade War Memorial Fund, administered by a body of trustees appointed by the Board of Trade to be used for purposes of general benefit to the cotton trade and its employees. (H. D. H.)