Editorial: Murder of 137 Miners and Death of a King

By far the greatest calamity that has befallen the nation this year took place early in May, when 137 workingmen were buried alive in a coal mine in Cumberland. Compared with this the passing away of Albert Edward Wettin, otherwise known as King of England, etc., is as nothing compared with everything.


On the night of May 6th this individual died, after an easy, useless life of nearly 70 years duration, and despite the endeavours of five prominent physicians, and the order is given FOR THE NATION TO GO INTO MOURNING. Then, as if to mock the hollowness and hypocrisy of the pantomime engineered by interested parties, and assisted so successfully by their allies of the Press that people were actually beginning to worship the inanimate form of one that had ever been wasted clay—came the shock of the tragedy in the Wellington Pit.


Throughout the mining districts a warning was published on the morning of May 12th, drawing attention to the existing dangerous atmospheric conditions. During the day these grew worse, particularly in the vicinity of Whitehaven, ’til they were practically similar to the conditions observed at the time of nearly all previous mining disasters. In such circumstances no one should have been allowed down a mine save those necessary to tend what animals might be below. And when it is realised that there was no life-saving apparatus near the mine, that the pit in question was a veritable deathtrap, extending four miles under the sea and having but one way of entrance and exit, it becomes increasingly difficult to charge the mineowners with anything short of murder.


According to Mr. Henry, under-manager of the mine, the fire started in quite a small way, and could probably have been easily extinguished. Valuable time was wasted, and when experts with life-saving appliances arrived from Sheffield and Glasgow, it was found that valuable coal and mining plant was being burnt. The experts could not reach the entombed men, but declare that had they been there earlier the latter could have been saved. And—horror of horrors !- despite the convictions of many and the assertion of one who had escaped, that the men below were alive and had fresh air and water enough for a month, it was decided to no longer try to save the men, but to save the coal.


“Alas ! that coal should be so dear
And flesh and blood so cheap.’’

The decision to brick up the mine in order to smother the fire (and the men) nearly caused a riot in the town —but the mine, if not the men, must be saved. So the mine was bricked up and the only possible means of escape for the men cut off, while preparations were also made to flood the pit should those who owned it deem it necessary.


We venture to suggest that had Teddy Roosevelt, the late King Edward, or even the latter’s pet dog Caesar, been down in that mine, there would not have been such unseemly haste to make it a tomb. But a few score of workmen—what of them! They don’t count: there are plenty more of them at a few shillings a week. And as for the heartbroken widows and. orphans—they are accustomed to such things, you know. A few pounds will solace them! Thus we speak the capitalist mind; and the capitalist Press cynically passes over the brutal murder of workingmen, the fiendish interment of living human beings in a flaming pit in order to save coal and plant, with a report that a relief fund is being raised and that work is being resumed in the district.


Thus the little town of Whitehaven provides an object lesson in the class struggle. To those who believe in the “brotherhood of Capital and Labour” the Whitehaven tragedy is inexplicable, but to us class-conscious workers it is as dear as noon-day. That capital may have its profits workingmen must be sacrificed. And so it will be until Socialism ends conflicting class interests by the abolition of classes.


In the meantime we go on with our revolutionary propaganda. Our sympathy, sincere, deep and lasting, goes out to our brothers and sisters in Whitehaven in this sad hour of trial. The Stoical bravery and fortitude shown by our women at Whitehaven under real grief and suffering, under the mental torture of knowing that even yet their loved ones may be lying in that blazing pit beneath the sea, staring laggard Death in the face through long weary hours— such fortitude as this, we say, we commend in other places, where what is lacking in grief is made up for, many times over, with hired mourners and a mighty show of hollow, pompous mockery and pretence, which could not be complete without Caesar—on a string.


And to add to our insults and our injuries, this triumph given to Caesar (if we may speak from Caesar’a point of view), is accompanied by the impertinent order that we, the working class of the country, shall exhibit such outward signs of grief as would move these superior mortals to derision were we to display them on account of our own dead. We fling the insult back with scorn and contempt. Between kings and queens and their capitalist henchmen (or should we say masters) and the working class there is a bottomless abyss. Woe to those of our class who forget it: we never can. Across that chasm we repudiate and absolutely reject the invitation or command to participate in the tomfoolery of national mourning for what is in no sense a national calamity. We are not on the same string with Caesar. Across that chasm we fling, in the name of our murdered brothers in that grave under the sea, with undying hatred and contempt, the gage of unceasing battle to the bitter end. That is how we consign a royal relic to its tomb; that is how [we] keep green the memory of the murdered miners of Whitehaven.