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Art. 11.—THE WAR OF THE MINES. In the voluminous annals of industrial strife, whereby the present stage of civilisation is distinguished from all others, the year 1921 will surpass all previous records -has already done so though it is but half run-not in the number of disputes, but in their magnitude and duration and in the consequent loss involved. For this invidious prominence the coal-mining industry is chiefly responsible. It does not stand alone, but it supplies by far the largest item in the account. Both in itself and by reason of its effects on industry in general the coal dispute of this year stands out as the greatest effort yet made by the forces engaged in the production of wealth to destroy their own function by turning what should be co-operation into conflict. It is the highest peak yet climbed in that particular mountain range of human folly. Other people, who have other ideals and regard the production of wealth rather as a necessary evil than as a good in itself, are free to excuse or justify and even applaud these interruptions of the process, as men find virtue in armed warfare; and those who hold that adversity is good for the soul may view national impoverishment with equanimity. But it is not open to men whose object in life is the production of wealth to defend their own failure by any such argument. Folly has many forms, as we have learnt from the witty satire of Erasmus, and for some of them much may be said ; but action which defeats its own object is folly absolute. A man making for some destination who takes a road that leads elsewhere is held to be unwise or ignorant; but one who deliberately proceeds in the opposite direction is justly thought insane.
If it is argued that the object is eventually served and production advanced by these conflicts the answer is a flat denial of the fact. A school-boy tussle, a fisticuff encounter, a duel on a question of honour, may allay ill-feeling and lead to friendship, though it often does not; but in such cases the cause of quarrel is subjective, and the only method of allaying passion is an appeal to force. The object is, in fact, secured by the vindication of self-respect; nor is any material loss incurred. But industrial differences are objective and can be settled by other means than a trial of strength, which causes material loss to both sides and almost always leaves a legacy of bitterness on one side or on both, which keeps open a running sore to the detriment of the common interest. The object is not attained but made less attainable. In some important industries and localities there is a standing feud reaching back to old conflicts, and many disputes of to-day have their roots in former ones.
A' victory' for either side leaves the other silently determined to get its own back and watching for a favourable opportunity. The best result follows when no decisive advantage is obtained by either and the conflict ends in a standing arrangement for settling future differences. In that case the trial of strength may be said to clear the air,' but at a heavy cost, which might have been avoided, for it is obvious that the same arrangement might have been reached without any cessation of the work by which both parties live.
But there is no need to labour the point. The principle of conciliation, on which so much pains are spent to-day, and all the machinery of joint boards, councils, arbitration courts, public inquiries, and so forth, are a recognition of the folly of industrial strife. So, in another form, are the various theories of an ideal state from which it would be banished by removing the causes.
Yet we are witnessing to-day an unprecedented outbreak of this very folly, at a time when the nation can less afford to indulge in it than at any previous period in its history. It has crushing debts to liquidate and current expenditure to meet; it is in deeper financial waters than ever before. There is only one way out-the way of work, Other nations in a similar position have taken
. it; they are at work and working hard. Here less work is being done than ever before. Employment had been falling rapidly for six months prior to the coal stoppage; and by March the trade union returns, which have for many years furnished the basis of the official statistics of unemployment, reached 10 per cent., which has never been equalled in the past, since the record began, except during the coal strike of 1912. It was plain enough that Vol. 236.-No. 468.
we were sinking deeper into the hole, not rising out of it. Expenditure was increasing while the only source from which it can be met was drying up. And this was the time chosen to cease coal-getting, which could have no other effect than greatly to aggravate all the conditions of economic decline and to accelerate the process. All the parties concerned-including the Government, whose responsibility for precipitating the crisis cannot be evaded-plunged into it without any regard to the national situation or appreciation of the inevitable consequences of their action. That is clear from the subsequent change of attitude forced upon each of them by the actual circumstances which have compelled recognition.
Nor is that all. Right up to the decision of the Miners' Federation on June 10 to take a ballot, partisan spectators who had nothing to do with the quarrel stood round the ring urging on their own side with loud shouts of encouragement to keep up the fight and in no wise to give way an inch. Further, a desperate attempt was made to bring all economic activity to a standstill by a sympathetic strike of railwaymen and other transport workers, and it failed only by a hair's breadth at the last moment. The object was to compel submission to the miners' will or rather to the will of the strategists directing their policy-for they had not been consulted-by causing a complete economic collapse and making life impossible all round. The effect would have been quite different. A general strike of the Triple Alliance' would have bound the rest of the community together in active self-defence to resist with the utmost determination the domination of the irresponsible clique controlling the action of these large organised bodies. It was the climax of pugnacity and would have led to a sort of civil war.
The failure of the proposed Triple Alliance strike is an extremely significant fact; it set a limit to the extension of industrial strife. It was due to no action by the mine-owners or the Government, who simply made preparations to fight, but to the refusal of the other bodies to be dragged into a quarrel not their own and one entered into without consulting them. The official apologia presented to the Transport Workers'
Federation by their Executive at the annual conference held on June 9 charged the miners quite as freely as any capitalist' newspaper with considering their own interests only without regard to any others, and with disunity in their own ranks.
'It was discovered,' said the Report, that inside the ranks of the Miners' Federation there was a lack of cohesion and a want of that unanimity which was necessary if the other three sections were not to be jeopardised.
The Alliance never acted as one body. The three sections sat in different rooms as three different organisations, taking their own decisions, and yet were expected to keep intact to fight the organised power of the Government and the employers.
Yet up to the very day of the rupture the Labour' Press declared with an air of superior knowledge and certainty that perfect solidarity prevailed and that at 10 o'clock that night over a million workers would strike in support of the miners. We know now that there was no solidarity between the executives or even in the Miners' Federation itself. This is the official reason given by the representatives of the transport workers for abandoning the strike. But, if there was unanimity in the higher councils, much less was there any in the rank and file, who were not consulted in any way. Mr Ernest Bevin admitted in the discussion on the Report that some of their members would not have come out; and among the railwaymen the probability of refusal was still greater. There was, in short, a revolt against the militant policy strong enough to convince the leaders of both organisations that it must be dropped. Prudence guided them, for nothing is so injurious to trade unionism as a call to strike which is disobeyed by any considerable section of members (as this would have been) or is obeyed only with reluctance. A little inquiry would have taught any one experienced in these matters that a strike order to railwaymen and transport workers would have been obeyed with extreme reluctance by a very large number and would not have been obeyed at all by considerable sections. I came to that conclusion, and was not at all surprised when the strike was called off by the leaders, who include men of great experience. In the circumstances it could not possibly have succeeded;
and the result would have been not only a more resounding failure of the Triple Alliance than abandonment of the strike, but also disintegration in the railway and transport unions. Withdrawal kept them intact, though temporarily shaken; and the leaders responsible for that policy were wiser and truer guardians of trade unionism than those who would have wound it up too high and broken it. Its enemies, who welcomed the failure with jubilation as a blow to trade unionism, do not understand these matters.
Here, then, was a limit put to industrial strife on the labour side. It had no immediate or visible effect on the coal dispute, which was carried on with apparently unabated determination for two months afterwards; but it had a silent effect and played a part in that gradual curvature from left to right which went on beneath the surface, and led eventually to a chance of settlement through the ballot. And it was not alone. In recent months a remarkable amount of work has been done in the arrangement of differences without a rupture. The public hear nothing about it because general publicity is reserved, to suit their taste, for exciting events only. They hear of large strikes that take place but nothing of those that are averted by reason and goodwill, though they outweigh the others in volume and variety. Consequently the inveterate habit of generalising from a few instances, and even from a single one, creates a false picture of the state of things.
In spite of the great disputes which catch the eye and swell the statistics, a large change for the better has taken place in the relations of employers and employed in these difficult times. The most severe test is imposed by the onset of a trade depression entailing a reduction
It is then that the most prolonged and determined disputes occur, as George Howell pointed out twenty years ago in his book on 'Labour Legislation, Labour Movements, and Labour Leaders'-an admirable record by a life-long but sober-minded and practical agitator, too little known and consulted to-day. The reason for the stubborn character of depression disputes is obvious. Wage-earners resist demands for reductions