At the age
of thirteen Hodge left school and became a solicitor's clerk.
He also worked in a grocer's shop before settling down in the
same trade as his father. Hodge worked in Coatbridge and Motherwell
and it was not until he was nearly thirty that he became involved
in trade union activities.
Hodge and his fellow workers at Colville Works in Motherwell,
were told they had to accept a 20% wage reduction. The workers
responded by forming the British Steel Smelters' Association
(BSSA), and elected Hodge as their secretary. Although there
was a National Amalgamated Association of Ironworkers in existence,
the union had no members in Scotland.
of Hodge's union was rapid and by the summer of 1886 virtually
every smelter in Scotland had joined. Hodge now began recruiting
workers from England and Wales and by 1888 the union had 750
members and had joined the Trade Union Congress. With so many
members Hodge was in a good position to negotiate good wage
increases with large firms such as the Steel Company of Scotland.
The BSSA was rarely involved in costly industrial disputes and
Hodge's considerable success at persuading employers to accept
his demands encouraged more men to join the union. The BSSA
was particularly strong in Lancashire, Lincolnshire and the
had ambitions to enter the House of Commons. He failed several
times as a Liberal but in 1906 General Election he won at Gorton,
Manchester, for the Labour Party. In Parliament he was mainly
concerned with trade union issues but at the outbreak of the
First World War he took a strongly patriotic position and derided
Labour Party leaders such as James Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald
that called for a negotiated peace. Hodge was also a sharp critic
of those unions that went on strike during the war.
Lloyd George replaced Herbert Asquith as Prime Minister in 1916,
Hodge was appointed as Minister of Labour in the new government.
Hodge was a useful acquisition as he was now arguing that any
industrial action in wartime was equal to treason. When a group
of Liverpool boilermakers went on strike, Hodge sent them a
telegraph warning them he intended charging them under the Defence
of the Realm Act. The threat succeeded and the men went back
a member of the Cabinet, John Hodge retained his position as
leader of the BSSA. With a membership of 36,000, the union moved
its head office from Glasgow to London. Other unions is the
steel and iron industry had complained for years about Hodge
poaching their members but in 1916 they accepted defeat and
agreed to form the British Iron, Steel & Kindred Trades
Association. Hodge was elected president of this new union.
Party in Gorton was unhappy with the way Hodge had behaved in
government and in the 1918 General Election selected another
candidate to represent the constituency. Hodge now used his
negotiating skills to persuade the constituency party to change
its mind in return for promises made about future behaviour.
The Conservative Party, declined to put up a candidate against
Hodge so he was returned by a large majority.
Hodge was also elected in the 1922 General Election his attendance
in the House of Commons after the First World War was poor and
he rarely spoke in debates. He retired from Parliament at the
1923 General Election but retained his position as president
of the Iron & Steel Trades Confederation.