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with greater determination than wage-payers resist demands for advances in a period of rising trade, because the latter can recoup themselves out of the market and can afford to make concessions, whereas reductions fall flat on the wage-earners, and men are ever reluctant to relinquish a standard of living attained. It is, therefore, the more remarkable that in the present exceptionally severe depression, following suddenly on a period of abnormal but artificial prosperity, so many arrangements should have been concluded by agreement. Speaking in the House of Commons on May 6, the Minister of Labour said, in reply to a question about reductions of wages :
'In nearly every case of reductions of wages affecting an industry or part of an industry-indeed I know only one to the contrary-the reductions now in force have been agreed after consultations between employers' and work-people's sides of joint industrial councils, or between associations of employers and trade unions in those trades in which no joint industrial council exists. . I may add that I am greatly impressed by the way in which joint industrial councils and other similar bodies have with mutual goodwill and respect reached a satisfactory settlement of these difficult and intricate questions.'
I have before me a list of more than 50 recent cases of such agreements concluded in industries of the most varied character, and affecting over two and a half million wage-earners. These facts, and many more that might be cited to the same effect, throw into stronger relief the failures, the great disputes that have not so been settled. What are the causes of the exceptional pugnacity exhibited in these cases, which stand out in such marked contrast to the more general practice and colour the situation black by reason of their prominence in the public eye, particularly in foreign countries, to the great detriment of national credit? The failure to agree cannot be attributed to lack of machinery for discussion. The two great conflicts during the last three months in the coal and cotton trades were preceded by lengthy negotiation and many joint conferences by representative bodies; and this applies also to the engineering dispute which proved very intractable. We must look elsewhere than to lack of conciliation machinery for the cause.
This needs to be stated with emphasis because so many well-meaning but not clear-sighted persons are continually demanding more or different machinery, in which they have unbounded faith as the sovereign remedy for disagreement. Such machinery has its uses ; it facilitates agreement and tends to encourage a habit of agreement; but when it is most needed it breaks down for lack of the necessary antecedent condition, which is the will to agree. No machinery and no intervention can replace this. Popular opinion – which means the newspapers—has from time to time credited some Minister or departmental official with wonderful powers of conciliation and established his reputation as a 'great conciliator.' There is this much in it, that
' intelligent and tactful intervention may assist opposing parties who are in their hearts prepared for agreement to get out of the difficulty of retreating from a position taken up with much show of finality, without too marked a loss of dignity ; but when men are determined to fight the most ingratiating conciliator is as powerless as the best-devised machinery. The present hard cases are of this character and particularly the coal dispute, with which I am here chiefly concerned; and what we need to know in order to understand the situation is why it is so.
The mining industry has for several years been accumulating a bad reputation for industrial strife. In 1912—to go no further back-it provided the world with the greatest strike on record, previous to the present dispute, and one which required the intervention of the Legislature to bring it to an end after it had lasted for four weeks. Even then a majority of the miners voted against a resumption of work under the new Act, though not a majority sufficient to justify continuation of the strike. Yet there were then conciliation boards and an Industrial Council in existence, and negotiations had been carried on for months. That Act was the Minimum Wage Act, and it was passed to meet the demand of the Miners' Federation, formulated in October 1911, for an individual minimum wage, which should not be confused with a minimum standard. It is the first instance of a minimum wage established by Parliament in an industry in which the workmen are well organised and able to protect themselves.
I think that in this Act and the conditions that led up to it may be found the key to the peculiar susceptibility of the mining industry to discontent and disturbance. The demand for an individual minimum wage turned on the question of abnormal places, and this gives the clue. Abnormal places are peculiar to mining; they are a particular form of the fundamental difference, imposed by Nature, between mining and other industries. No two mines are quite alike, and the differences are as wide as they are varied. Further, conditions in the same mine are continually varying, as it is worked out; and the changes are often sudden and unexpected. Seams may run thin or exceptionally thick, which require scaffolding ; stone, water, or gas occur; the coal itself varies in quality and the roof in character. These variations are infinite, and they affect both owner and miner. They make mining, in which a large amount of capital must be sunk before any return is made, often for several years, highly speculative, and they cause extreme variations in earnings. This uncertainty of the returns, both to capital and labour, seems to me a root cause of the exceptional strife that distinguishes the industry. It makes both parties stand stiffly by their own, because they are never sure of what may happen next.
Of course other industries are subject to changes of fortune, and those that have to do with Nature share in some measure the character of mining. duction of wealth from the soil and from the sea is carried on under varying natural conditions, which are matters of luck, that is, beyond human control. Soil and weather and the habits of fish vary; and uncertainty
; does in fact tend to make employers hard and tenacious. But these occupations differ essentially from mining. The nature of the soil is a standing condition, for which allowance is made. Small variations are susceptible of modification and large ones entail corresponding differences of work, whereas in mining no modification is possible, and the work is essentially similar in character. It is the return that varies. Seasons, again, can be calculated on and allowed for within limits; what is
bad for one crop is good for another. Luck in fishing may turn at any moment and evens itself out.
I stress the unique character of mining because I am sure that it is at the bottom of the exceptionally troubled state of the industry, which cannot be understood unless the facts are realised. About that state there is no room for doubt; it is on the record. Other industries stand out pretty frequently as fields of agitation and strife-railways, engineering, building, cotton-but the miners are always in the picture, and generally in the centre of it, while the others come and go. It was the miners who forced a Minimum Wage Act from Parliament and before that an Eight Hours' Act, which has since been superseded by a Seven Hours' Act. Yet they are always in a state of ferment, and there is no other factor to account for it but the peculiar character of the industry just indicated. They are not worse off than others, but far better than most. No class of workmen-or any other class, for the matter of that-enjoy life more. For controversial purposes they have been repeatedly held up these last two years to public commiseration as leading a wretched existence. The only ground for it is the extremely antiquated housing in certain districts, chiefly in Scotland, and the special risks attending the underground workers. Otherwise the picture is false and wholly at variance with the miners' own views of their calling. They are proud of it, very independent, and envy no man; nothing is farther from their minds than whining for pity.
Nor are they more oppressed by employers than other wage-earners, but rather less. Of course they are under orders and subject to rules and regulations, but they escape the hierarchical system of the railway, the factory, the post-office, and other public services. They have had their own representatives to speak for them in Parliament far longer than any other workmen, and they still have far more of them; they are the backbone of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Slaves' is a ridiculous
• misnomer for them. As for revolutionary propaganda, if it has gained a special hold over miners, as it has in certain areas and in a sense over their organisation as a whole, that is not because it has been directed more to their conversion than to that of others, nor because they
are more open to specious theories or revolutionary ideas, but because of some special disability in the conditions of the industry for which those theories appear to offer a remedy. And this is none other than the wide and capricious variability described. Its existence has been
more clearly realised and the psychological effect more acutely felt, as the industry has grown more homogeneous by organisation. It is to be noticed that miners are always demanding legislation which tends towards uniformity of conditions or is expected to have that effect. This tendency has kept pace with the process of welding together local organisations into federations, and finally into a single one, which was consummated in 1912. The strike of that year was the united action of the whole body and the first of its kind. It took place on the question of the minimum wage, which had been brought to a head by the inequalities arising from abnormal places, as already explained. South Wales had previously become the storm centre it has been ever since, through discontent arising over this very question, and extending over several years in consequence of attempts by coalowners to reduce costs by altering the former system of paying .consideration' money to men working under abnormally difficult conditions, or otherwise unable to earn a standard wage through no fault of their own.
The movement towards uniform wage conditions had found particular expression at the annual conference of the Miners' Federation in 1910, when it was resolved to make every effort to secure a single conciliation board to deal with wages throughout Great Britain. Here is the policy of a national wages board, which has figured so conspicuously in the recent dispute, formally adopted eleven years ago. There were serious riots that year in the Rhondda and Aberdare Valleys in connexion with a strike on abnormal places, and one outcome of the agitation there was the celebrated Syndicalist pamphlet The Miners' Next Step.' The Act of 1912, following the general strike, conceded the principle of an individual district minimum, to be fixed by district boards, but not the national minimum demanded by the Federation. That is to say, the variability of conditions within each district was so far met, but that between