In February 1901, 26 employees of John Wilson and Company, which owned the Wilson Cement Works, met in the library at Warkworth to consider wages and other issues. They decided to form a lime burners union. A committee was elected to obtain union rules. In March, intended members of the Mahurangi Limeworkers Union met and passed the draft union rules. Mr T. Walker was elected president, Mr C. Rayner, vice president and Harold B. Moore, secretary and treasurer. Nathaniel Wilson, J.T. Wilson and T.H. Wilson were invited as trustees of the Union, which they later declined. A request to Wilson & Co. asking for an increase in wages for certain classes of work had not yet been answered.
Nathaniel Wilson later wrote on the company’s behalf saying that it was unable to give the requested rise in wages, but would offer to pay overtime. He disagreed that the cost of living had risen. Flour was cheap, if not meat, and firewood less than half the price of Auckland “when you have to pay for it at all”. As for rent, Mr Wilson asked whether secretary Harold B. Moore’s rent had been raised, or if the company had raised rents on those living in the firm’s cottages or tents. Regarding conditions, Mr Wilson said that the company admitted the general unpleasantness of the work to some extent, but it was being mitigated. He did not agree at all that it was unhealthy.
“I worked in the mill for years when the dust was far worse than now, and it has not injured my health,” he wrote. He went on to say that Mr Moore “deliberately chose the dustiest place in this establishment, and whereas he was sick and weakly when he came here, now he is very much improved in health”.
The Union met again in the library in May 1901. Procurement of stationery and printing of rules and membership cards was still being discussed. However, by November 1901 the Union’s last meeting resolved that in view of the little interest taken in it by the bulk of its members, the society be wound up. Surplus funds were dispersed: £2 to the secretary as an honorarium and £1 7s 2d to the James Darroch Fund.
Ten years on, in 1911, the cement workers had joined the Warkworth branch of the General Labourers Industrial Union and made a two-year agreement with the directors of Wilsons’ Portland Cement Co. that fixed conditions of work and pay. When that agreement expired in August 1913, over 100 cement workers went on strike for more wages. The strike was settled at the end of September, with most receiving sixpence a week more than before, instead of the shilling that had been asked for.
Harold B. Moore was now secretary of the Mahurangi Public Library. In March 1912 discussions had begun, asking Warkworth Town Board to take over the library. In August 1912, a meeting of the Warkworth Town Council, chaired by Nathaniel Wilson, unanimously passed the motion to take over the library.