Editorial: The Miners’ Eight Hours Bill

Once more the position of the S.P. is vindicated when they point out that “‘palliatives’ don’t palliate.” The first result of the passing of the Miners’ Eight Hours Bill was the threat of a general miners’ strike if the employers insisted upon the terms they laid down.

The trouble started in South Wales, probably because, as the Manchester Guardian suggests, “a large number—more than half it is said— of the men are paid by the day” in that district. Hence the shortening of the working day, if all other factors remained as before, would amount to a rise in wages for the day hands. The mine-owners however, were not prepared to allow all other factors to remain as before. They demanded first an alteration of wages. The men resisted. Then they claimed that clause 3 gave them power to extend the working day within certain limits. The clause reads :

“The eight hours per day may be extended as respects any mine on not more than sixty days in any calender year by not more than one hour a day.”

The employers demanded that this provision should be enforced, saying that its enforcement was within the owners’ option. On the other hand the miners claim that it cannot operate without their consent—a claim that the wording of the clause in no way supports. However, it has been decided to take a test case to the courts for a judgement thereon.

Then the owners claimed the right to introduce a double shift, which the men again opposed on the grounds of it being unhealthy owing to the gaseous nature of the South Wales coal. This idea was, naturally, scouted by the owners. “Perhaps, however,” says the capitalist paper quoted above, “the main root of the miners’ objection is economic—the fear that the double shift may end in lower wages. The wages of the miners depend on the price of coal, and if the double shift meant a considerable increase in output, it might involve a drop in wages without a corresponding drop in profits.”

This is certainly evidence from the enemy in support of our contention that the time occupied in fighting for these reforms is a sheer waste as the general conditions of wage slavery still remain, and the evolution of capitalistic production in economising the methods employed, more than compensate the masters for the apparent benefit conferred upon the men by such reform. On this point what is called a compromise has been effected and the miners are to have a share in deciding in every case whether the double shift is to be introduced. It may be left to the employer to see that the “share” of the men in this decision will not go against the owners’ interests.

Further evidence comes from Staffordshire, where the pit lads came out on strike because the masters wanted to reduce the meal time to an extent that meant practically working the 8 hours right off.

Here again a compromise has been effected whereby the men are to be allowed 20 minutes for their mid-day meal. If as the tale told of Gladstone relates, it is necessary to chew one’s food thirty-two times before swallowing to keep one’s digestion in order, then the miners will have to measure their mid-day meal by troy weight instead of avoidupois to keep in health. For years past the miners have been asking for a legal 8 hours day. Now they have it their first actions are, in one direction to threaten, and in another to acutally, strike against its effects. What stronger evidence can be given of the correctness of our position on palliatives?

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, August 1909)

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