The Greater War
WITH the huge death-roll at Gresford still fresh in our minds comes the news of still further disasters of substantial proportions at South Kirkby and North Gawber, substantial enough to be classed as “acts of God,” and absolve the colliery proprietors from liability for compensation.
The daily loss of lives in the mines, in the course of any given year, exceeds considerably that due to these occasional wholesale accidents. Thus in one industry alone the lust of capital for profit is satisfied only by the annual sacrifice of a thousand workers, with a correspondingly large number permanently maimed and diseased. Expensive machines for saving miners’ wages have been adopted widely since the war; means of saving miners’ lives take second place. There are plenty of regulations to make mining safe, if that were possible, under capitalism, but the application of these regulations takes place under conditions which make “accidents” a practical certainty.
Miners, like all other workers under the present social system, are wage-slaves. They are employed in the production of coal only in so far as that can be done at a profit to the colliery owners. This is the primary consideration, and miners’ lives are cheap.
If miners were scarce enough to command £10 per week, other things remaining equal, a much more strict observance of safety regulations would speedily be enforced. As it is, men holding deputy certificates are ten a penny, and deputies who report the presence of gas with conscientious regularity soon find themselves out of a job. It is not necessary to have explosions, however, in order to kill miners. The Barnsley Chronicle of September 14th reported the inquests held upon the deaths of two youths employed at different pits in the district. In each case the victim succumbed to secondary infection arising from a minor injury. The similarity of the two cases led the Coroner to ask the medical officer concerned if there was any connection between these deaths and lack of nourishment.
“Yes! definitely!” was the reply. “Healthy individuals have falls and nothing happens to them. The boys’ power of resistance must have been low to allow secondary infection.”
Arduous toil, under conditions of risk comparable with those of warfare, fail to guarantee to the miners a sufficiency of food. They are regarded by some as heroes, by others as reckless fools, but it is neither folly nor bravery that sends them to their doom.
Like the sailors who go down to the sea in coffin-ships, the men in the shunting-yard, whose entrails are exposed to the tender mercies of the buffers, or the pottery-workers, whose existence is shortened by lead-poisoning, the miners are just poverty-stricken slaves. They are victims of the class-war, in which all the casualties are on one side and the arms and financial resources are on the other. Their social position was neatly expressed in a prosecution reported in the issue of the Barnsley Chronicle previously quoted.
Two out-of-work miners had used their unemployed abilities to drive a heading into a seam of coal from the back of an outside cellar on a hillside. They laid rails and lit the place with electricity. The inevitable air-shaft, however, gave them away, and the agents of the mineral owners speedily brought them to “justice.”
These men had demonstrated their willingness to work in a practical way. They also appear to have astonished both the police and the mining engineer, who inspected the workings, by their up-to-date methods and ingenuity. Doubtless, in childhood they had read the parable of the talents, and heard sermons preached on the demoralisation that overtakes the idle. They determined to find occupation for body and mind and, incidentally, in a true British spirit of sturdy independence, find an alternative to relying on the public authorities. They reaped their due reward—three months’ hospitality from His Majesty!
The means of mining coal, among other things, belong to the members of the master-class, and the workers can apply their energies only by permission of these masters. The machinery of Government, including magistrates, police and prisons, exists to protect the property of the masters. In other words, it enables them to prevent the workers from working unless they agree to keep their masters in idleness and luxury by producing far more than they, the workers, require for their subsistence.
Capitalism is a system of robbery maintained by force. It is a war of parasites upon society, dealing out poverty, disease, injury and death to the producers of wealth in order that the balance-sheets may show a profit.
While numerous actual and would-be leaders of the workers try to interest them in wars in foreign lands, we of the Socialist Party call their attention to the greater war at home, from which there can be no peace till the day of their emancipation.