The Miners’ Leaders and the Labour Press have hailed the outcome of the mining dispute as a tremendous victory for the Miners.
The Daily Herald, in large letters, blazoned it forth as “the greatest victory in Labour’s history.” Mr. Cook described it as “a great victory” and Mr. Purcell added that it was the greatest victory for trade unions in 25 years.
Black Friday compensated for by “Red” Friday
is the style of jubilation quite common in “labour” papers.
When we seek the nature of the victory we find that it is a victory for the mine-owners.
The Government have agreed to secure the profits of the mine-owners by subsidising them to the tune of 20 odd millions. The miners are to continue working at the old rate of wages for nine months pending reports of a Committee of Enquiry appointed by the Government.
Mr. Cook’s colleagues in the minority movement announced during the dispute that “The miners’ officials have promised to fight for the 1914 standard of wages plus cost of living increases. They must be kept to that promise and the whole Trade Union movement must support’ them.” (The Worker, Aug. 1.)
The “Great Victory,” however, means that the miners are to work at a wage 10 or 15 per cent. below that of 1914 and under conditions where there are 300,000 miners workless depending on insurance benefits or poor law doles when they can get them.
This happens in an industry where Mr. Cook admits the owners have made admitted profits of over 58 millions since 1921. So what the miners have won are wages (when they can get a job) far less than the 1914 level of poverty.
The long-continued demand of the miners for higher wages was swept upon one side by the owners insisting upon a reduction and the result of all the negotiations is that the miners will get no increase for at least nine months. The employers will get the profits they asked for. An inquiry will be held by “reliable gentlemen” and their report will be binding upon nobody. In the meantime the coal will be accumulated by mine-owners who can afford to wait till it is disposed of. During the nine months the Governing Class can make all preparations to deal forcibly with a strike on a large scale.
What can the miners prepare! At the very best they can arrange to entirely stop work and face the almost empty exchequer of the Union. Strike pay would last a very short time for in these days of reduced wages and unemployment the unions’ funds are heavily depleted. Faced by want and menaced by force the miners’ outlook will be a black one.
Even with practically an industrial union like the Miners’ Federation and threatened by few blacklegs, their ability to cope with the worsening effect of capitalism has been nil. With all the experience of years of struggle the Miners’ Leaders understand little of the situation they are in and so they are unable to advance the only remedy.
How little they appreciate the class struggle is shown by the speech of the President of the Miners’ Federation at the Scarboro’ Conference. The Sunday Worker (July 19) gives the following report:—
Mr. Herbert Smith, who presided, in his opening remarks, declared that the present crisis in the industry was largely due to the fact that the mine-owners had not attempted to take the miners into their confidence. Whether or not the country believed in nationalisation, he said, it would be driven to adopt that as the only way to save the mining industry.
He hoped the owners’ attempt to lower wages and lengthen hours would be opposed by the whole trade union movement.
Continuing, Mr. Smith said that more than one in every four of the miners were unemployed, and two out of every three were earning less than £2 a week (italics ours).
The idea that the conflict between owners and workers is caused by the workers not being taken into confidence by the owners is a stupid one. What are the mine-owners to confide to the workers ? This is the old idea of conciliation between robbers and robbed and those who preach it are blind to the facts of economic life.
Mr. Smith’s foolish notion of nationalisation “as the only way to save the mining industry” is another idea that is injurious to the workers’ welfare and its advocacy by the leaders, including Mr. Cook, and supported by the Communists, shows how little they have learned of the system.
The demand the miners’ leaders make that the mines be re-organised and made more efficient is one that all capitalists can support.
All the demands the miners can make upon the system will leave their position fundamentally the same. The shortening of hours, upon which they banked so much, has been accomplished, the 12-hour day has become 7, and there are infinitely more miners unemployed than ever before. Their past victories and the mining legislation have left them with wages that mean hopeless poverty and a greater struggle to make both ends meet than in the past.
The very efficiency of re-organisation of the mining industry will mean that fewer miners are required to get the same quantity of coal. Therefore, more unemployment.
Nationalisation will be a boon to owners of many mines, but to the workers it will mean a stabilising of their poverty with no greater chance for work than now. Actually, less workers will be required, because the wasteful methods under competition that labour leaders criticise will be abolished and with their abolition the men who do this wasteful work will be eliminated.
Examine these schemes and plans of the Miners’ Leaders ! Do they touch these causes of the miners’ present position? The stronger position of the owners due to combination of firms and rings; the development of substitutes for coal reducing the number of miners required; the markets abroad absorbing reparation coal under the Versailles and Dawes schemes, supported or arranged by Labour Leaders; and, above all these, the fundamental cause, the dependence of the miner upon the owners for permission to work with the resulting robbery of the worker.
Trade Unions, financially bankrupt, are faced to-day by the wealthy owners, made wealthier by the enormous surplus wrung from labour in the years of “good trade.” The miners, like other workers, may “gain” some sudden concession in a competitive system by striking when there is a danger of losing trade to competitors. But in the long run the fact remains, as Marx put it 60 years ago in Value, Price and Profit, that on the economic field labour fights where capital is strongest. Trade Union leaders ignore the economic development of the system which, by its concentration of wealth and evolution of industry, makes all real and lasting improvement for the workers impossible within capitalism.
Instead of preaching nostrums such as conciliation and nationalisation, Socialists teach the working class to understand the class struggle and the causes of their slavery with the object of organising them as a class for the abolition of capital, and the establishment of Socialism.
Not the “Mines for the Miners” but the World for the Workers.