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owners that for contracts extending over the next year the merchants will have to pay an additional 28. per ton. The coal-owners' reason for asking this increase is that they have to meet (1) the costs of insurance under the Insurance Act (calculated at d. per ton), (2) additional expenses under the Mines Act, 1911 (say 1d. per ton), (3) those under the Minimum Wage Act (say 2d. per ton), and (4) the increase of wages (due to the agreement made in the old Federated area) to take place when the price of coal reaches 8s. per ton; this would mean an additional cost of 4d. to 5d. per ton. The whole additional cost will therefore not exceed 9d. per ton, leaving the owners a clear additional profit of 1s. 3d. per ton. The public will do well to remember this fact, for they have been told by the coal-owners that they have been fighting the battle of the poor consumer.
The selling price of coal at Continental mines varies from 13s. to 10s. per ton at the pit's mouth; and, generally speaking, this coal is of a quality far inferior to what is produced in this country at a much lower cost. It is true that in South Wales the cost of producing coal has largely increased; but in the main this is due to two causes: (1) the bad system of working, and (2) the ill-feeling which prevails between the owners and the men. If a roundtable conference in South Wales could bring owners and men together, and if better methods of working could be mutually agreed on, there is no reason why the cost of producing coal in Wales should not be considerably lessened, with advantage to both parties.
The late Mr Toynbee very truly pointed out, in his work on 'The Industrial Revolution,' that the economists had invariably used the science of political economy as an argument against the claims of the workmen, and that in the main the economist had been wrong and the men had been right. Doubtless all economists will hold up their hands in horror at a Minimum Wage Act, and will assert that this is the beginning of the end. Surely it cannot be said that workmen are not entitled to withhold their labour, if they think fit to do so, in order to obtain better conditions from their employers. On the other hand, the State, having repealed the laws which rendered combinations of workmen illegal, and having placed Trades Unions in a privileged position in respect to their
funds, the nation may fairly claim that in trades and industries of public utility* these privileged combinations shall not be permitted to inflict grievous injury upon it. In these trades the State cannot allow the owners and workmen to fight out their battles to a finish, for this would mean her own destruction. But it naturally follows that the State cannot withdraw the right of combination from any class of workmen unless State control, or at least State-regulated arbitration, is established in such industries. On the other hand, it is very doubtful whether the workmen in any large organised industry would consent to surrender their one weapon of defence in exchange for State-regulated arbitration as to wages. The system of compulsory arbitration enacted by law in Australia is hardly applicable to the enormous masses employed in mining and some other industries in this country.
The rates of 58. and 28., which the Prime Minister told the House of Commons he considered 'obviously just and not excessive wages, were omitted from the Bill for fear that other trades might make demands which Parliament could not resist. Nevertheless it is a fact that, at an early stage in the recent negotiations, the Government made a definite offer to both miners and men to insert in the Minimum Wage Bill a clause under which the 58. and 2s. rates should be settled by arbitration on a national basis. If the arbitrators had found that the 2s. and 58. were, to use Mr Asquith's words, 'obviously just,' then these rates would have applied to every mine in the United Kingdom. Incredible though it may seem, the miners' leaders positively refused to entertain this proposal. Under the Minimum Wage Act the miners have now got far worse conditions than those which the Government actually offered their leaders, for not only is there no provision in the Act which secures the miner a reasonable minimum wage, but the District Boards have power to group old and badly-managed mines, and fix a special low minimum rate under which these mines shall be worked; whereas, if the miners' leaders had accepted the Government proposals, there is little doubt but that the rates of 5s. and 2s. would have been established in all
* I should define as trades of public utility those which in the main are of a monopoly character, such as railways, tramways, mines, gas and electric works.
the coal-fields of the United Kingdom. The fact that the Government made this offer has hitherto been kept secret; but it is only right that the miners and general public should be informed of the truth. As things are, the only instruction given to the District Boards is that they must have regard to the average daily wages paid in the district when fixing the minimum rates. It has been feared that this provision will tend to lower the output, by diminishing the incentive to the better worker to exert himself. This fear is, in my opinion, groundless.
It is idle to deny that the men have suffered defeat; but that defeat has been due mainly to mistakes and ignorance on the part of the leaders, and to a lack of subordination and unity of purpose on the part of the men. The ground of attack was ill-chosen; the men should have stuck to their original demand-the payment on account of abnormal places or losses due to bad management. If, in addition to this, they had asked for an increase of wages equivalent to 10 per cent. on the basis rates, to meet the increased cost of living, they would have occupied strong ground; and, if they had won (as they probably would, for the demand would have been obviously just), every man would have benefited, whereas very few will derive any benefit from the Act. The great mass of men came out to obtain higher wages, and for no other reason; and when they voted for the formula 'a minimum wage,' nine-tenths of them did not know what they were voting for. Secondly, this great industrial army was led out to fight the employers after giving them three months' notice of their intention to do so. From the point of view of the public this has doubtless been an enormous advantage; but, from the standpoint of the men, it is to me incomprehensible that the attack should have been made in such a manner. The miners and their leaders, in fact, entirely misconceived the position. The miners were told by some of their leaders that a national strike could not possibly continue for more than a week, and that a general strike was the panacea which would put a speedy end to all their grievances. They had, however, entirely lost sight, first, of the fact that the past winter was an exceptionally mild one; and, secondly, that, instead of working short time, as they would under normal conditions have done, the
pits were, owing to the fear of a strike, kept working to their utmost capacity, so that enormous reserves of coal were accumulated. The extreme men now say that, when the next general strike takes place, no notice will be given. Consumers of coal have already noted these observations, and will doubtless lay down much larger stocks of coal during the summer months than they have ever done before.
A general strike can never under any circumstances benefit the miners, while on the other hand it may benefit the owners, by causing a shortage of coal. High prices naturally follow; and many owners will, owing to this reason, soon make sufficient profit to wipe out the losses caused by keeping the mines open during the strike, while many men will be left penniless and impoverished. In these circumstances it is the poorest section of the community and the miners themselves who suffer most. A sectional strike, on the other hand, is very injurious and costly to employers, for they not only lose their markets, which are taken by their competitors, but their pits may lie idle for many months. The answer doubtless will be that the Welsh owners have a large fighting fund and can use it in the manner I have already described; but it must be borne in mind that, provided the miners act in a rational manner, the owners, whose interests are antagonistic to each other, will not continue to maintain solidarity, for those who possess good mines will not shut down their pits and incur losses in order to keep the old mines going. The owners have been forced to join hands in South Wales owing to companies which were outside the Coal-owners' Association being made the subject of special attack, which is madness from the point of view of the miners, because the result of such an attack is to drive the outside companies into the arms of the Association. An attempt has recently been made to form a general association of owners throughout all the coal-fields of the United Kingdom to resist the attacks of the Federation; but this attempt has not been successful, for many of the largest companies refused to combine. I have no doubt whatever that the sectional strike, which has been the weapon the miners have used in the past to improve their conditions of labour, will in the future again be their chief instrument; for, when judici
ously handled, it is the weapon by which the workmen can most successfully fight their employers. The folly of a general strike must be manifest to all thinking men.
Passing my life as I do among miners, I know the great majority of them to be a brave, upright and Godfearing body of men; and if they had but shown that subordination to and trust in their leaders, which is as necessary to an industrial organisation engaged in a great conflict as it is to an army in the field, the result to-day would be very different from what it is. In view of the great disparities of wealth on the one hand and poverty on the other-many men in some mines earning, through no fault of their own, only a few shillings a week, and under the stress of constant danger-those who know the mining class can but wish them well in their fight for a better share of the division of wealth. The fight has been in the main conducted against the ignorance and prejudice of the owners themselves. Such owners have from the commencement of this dispute failed to understand the economic law that any increase in the cost of production would not come entirely out of their pockets. Although on this occasion the men have been defeated, I am convinced that this is only the beginning of the struggle. If the Government and the public believe that, even after the passing of an inadequate Minimum Wage Act, men will continue to work in mines under the condition that the worst mines are to be taken as the basis of the standard of living, they are labouring under a delusion from which they will yet have a rude awakening.
Although I have found it necessary, in the course of this paper, to criticise the Minimum Wage Act somewhat severely, I cannot conclude without paying due praise to the manner in which the Prime Minister handled a very difficult problem. He displayed exemplary patience and persistency throughout the prolonged negotiations, and an astonishing grasp of the conditions with which he had to deal. He stood firm against severe pressure and behaved fairly to both parties. That he earned the thanks of neither was only natural.
ARTHUR B. MARKHAM.