1930s >> 1931 >> no-323-july-1931

Lives and Profits

A glaring example of the worthlessness of the Labour Government to the workers was afforded at a conference on “Safety in Mines,” held recently in Sheffield and presided over by no less a dignitary than the egregious Mr. Emmanuel Shinwell, His Majesty’s Minister of Mines. The proceedings were reported in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph for April 13th.

The participators in the “confab” included colliery owners and managers, mines inspectors, and union officials. His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Henry Walker, placed his finger upon the core of the problem as gently as possible when he pointed out that “he was not satisfied that conditions in the mines were such as to induce the men to be as careful as they should be in relation to the risks they ran’’; and then, to mollify owners and men in one breath, suggested that it was all due to the miners’ reckless British pluck. Other contributions to the discussion dealt with the special risks attaching to different phases of the miner’s tasks, such as shot-firing, hauling, roof shoring, etc. Finally, however, Mr. E. Hough, Vice-President of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association, introduced a breath of reality by pointing out that the basic economic factors had not been dealt with. His remarks are not reported in extenso, but readers would have to be dense indeed not to perceive that the risks of mining are largely bound up with the piece-rate system, which is maintained because it is most profitable to the owners. When men have to work hell-for-leather in order to make their wages cover the cost of bare subsistence, they cannot afford to behave as daintily and cautiously as if they were in a ballroom. The risks of mining can be got rid of only when it is no longer conducted for profit, but that involves the introduction of Socialism.

Then up spake Mr. Shinwell. “It took him all his time to refrain from strong comment upon the speech they had just heard.’’ He was “much perturbed at the suggestion that the conference had avoided anything’’ or been animated by any other desire than to get at the truth about accidents. He emphasised the need for cooperation of masters and men, “Economic factors could be discussed in the proper place.”

One can equally well imagine a bespectacled professor discovering the mangled corpse of an antelope upon the veldt and thus addressing the retreating form of Mr. Felix Leo: “Respected Sir, I have not the slightest doubt that the laceration endured by this unfortunate animal is purely accidental. I earnestly solicit your co-operation in removing the risk of its re-occurrence wherever possible. At the same time I strongly resent any suggestion made by vegetarians that it has any connection with your healthy appetite.”

Eric Boden