Robert Ascroft, Oldham – a Tory trade unionist

Oldham’s Robert Ascroft statue commemorates a Tory MP who was a trade unionist.

Robert Ascroft Memorial Statue, Alexandra Park, Oldham.
A bronze statue of Ascroft was erected in 1903 by public subscription in memory of ‘The Workers Friend’ who acted as the legal advisor to the Association of Operative Cotton Spinners * (AOSC) that represented male mule spinners between 1870 and 1970 and which had 18,000 members at the time of Ashcroft’s sudden death in 1899 at aged 51. The high density of union membership amongst cotton spinners meant AOSC members could negotiate significantly better wages and working conditions than other British industrial employees such that mule spinners became known as the Barefoot Aristocrats.
Ascroft was a skilled negotiator who ensured that the 1892 Brooklands Agreement – one of the earliest and most famous of the agreements between capital and labour for the purpose of providing machinery for the settlement of disputes without having recourse to strikes or lockouts – that emerged out of a bitter dispute helped place industrial relations in the cotton industry on a more balanced footing.
Ascroft was also a leading campaigner for better working conditions and between 1895 and his death he was one of Oldham’s two Conservative MPs.
Many thanks to Alan Bedford, a Unite safety rep at BAE Systems in Middleton, Manchester for information on Ascroft. “I can’t imagine in years to come that anyone in a trade union will want to put up a statue to the current lot of Conservative MPs,” said Alan.
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