1930s >> 1935 >> no-376-december-1935

Justice for the Miners

Outstanding among the election results, admittedly disappointing in the main to the leaders of the Labour Party, are those of the mining areas, particularly those of the South Yorks, field, which embraces North Notts, and North-East Derbyshire. In spite of expressions of sympathy with the miners on the part of the Government’s nominees (some of whom went down pits and came back converted to the justice of the present demand for an extra 2s. per day), the Labour members’ majorities in these constituencies range from ten to thirty thousand. .One outstanding exception, the Bassetlaw seat was won from the Government candidate, Malcolm MacDonald, by only a small margin. He considered he would have held it but for a local strike.
For months past such strikes have expressed the ferment in this area, and the overwhelming majorities for strike action from every pit in the district supply eloquent testimony to the fact, that, if the four years of National Government has resulted in improved conditions, the miners have not noticed it. In face of this the weak-kneed attitude of the miners’ leaders calls for some comment.
Before taking the ballot they openly advertised their readiness to compromise their demands and suspend the vote if the owners would negotiate on national lines. As was only to be expected, their offer was treated with lofty aloofness. Their next move was to approach the Government with a request that the provisions of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, for the setting up of selling agencies, should be applied. The Government’s reply was to request the coalowners to set them up by July 1st next.
The advantages of these agencies to the miners must remain a mystery. They (the miners) do not sell coal, but labour-power, and they would need to be childish indeed to assume that any reorganisation of the distributive side of the coal industry is to be undertaken for their special benefit. Capitalists who invest money in distributive undertakings accept the “risks” which such enterprises involve in order to gain a proportionate share of the gross profit, and if the colliery proprietors decide to invade this sphere it will be for the purpose of enriching themselves.
The miners’ only hope of gaining their immediate demands is in being better organised in their trade unions. Even existing wage-rates are difficult to maintain in the face of the ever-increasing encroachment of the machine, and the resulting intensification of the competition for jobs. Under such circumstances delay favours the masters. They can afford to wait till next summer, and beyond. If action is to benefit the miners it must be taken swiftly. The existing epidemic of local struggles is exhausting funds to very little purpose. A month will, in any case, probably decide the issue, and the most the miners can hope for is some slight check to the downward tendency in their condition.
Even complete victory in securing the present demand cannot alter the general line of development. So far from putting a stop to the introduction of machinery it will provide an added incentive.
This being the situation, nothing is more ridiculous than for the miners’ leaders to declare, as several of them have done quite recently, that they “want justice, not sympathy.” One can readily understand the barrenness of mere sympathy to men and women in the plight of the miners and their wives; but will “justice” prove more fertile?
Obviously it is not legal justice that is invoked. From the standpoint of the law, all contracts or bargains are just which are arrived at mutually and voluntarily, providing nothing criminal or “contrary to public policy” is involved. The law knows nothing of wage-slavery. In its eyes the worker is a free citizen voluntarily entering into a contract with his employer. He surrenders his ability to work in exchange for a wage, and the law will, if needed, enforce the payment of the wage.
Few workers know better than the miners, however, that collective agreements, signed, sealed and delivered by parties representing both sides are more honoured in the breach than in the observance, precisely because of the ever-present fear of the sack.
Perhaps, then, it is to moral justice that the Miners’ Federation officials refer. If so, we invite them to tell us where they draw the line. Is an extra 2s. per day their conception of a “just” wage? On what is this notion of a just wage founded? Between the minimum limit, below which the miners cannot exist and work, and the total wealth produced by their efforts there is a very considerable difference. Out of this the colliery proprietors draw their profits, landowners their royalties, and coal-dealers and merchants get a living. These people enjoy comfort, while the miners endure misery. We can, however, rest assured that every one of these sections will resist an attack upon its income, and they will attempt to explain their resistance by saying that the attack is “ unjust.” This, quite irrespective of whether the miners demand an extra 2s. per day, 2s. 3d., or half-a-crown. The cry for justice is, therefore, as futile as the appeal for sympathy.
The miners, in common with the rest of the working class, need to rid their minds of self-deluding cant. Let them not imagine that they can delude their masters. In common with the rest of the workers, they have a commodity to sell, to wit, their power to produce wealth. So long as capitalism exists they are under the necessity of struggling for the best possible price they can get. This applies whether they are inside or outside of trade unions. In this struggle mutual sympathy and support are imperative. The struggle, however, cannot end here.
Labour leaders, political and industrial, are busy trying to persuade us that the essence of capitalism is competition, and that if only industries can be controlled by national boards, paying interest on bonds to the owners, all will be well. Apart, however, from the difficulty of establishing national control of industries depending upon international conditions for their existence, this leaves the antagonism between the classes untouched. If royalties and profits are “unjust” when appropriated privately, by what miracle do they become “just” when the Government guarantees them, which is what the Labour Party proposes should be done?
The capitalist class cannot be got rid of by any scheme of nationalisation. Their existence is based upon their ownership of the national resources and the instruments fashioned by the working class for their utilisation. These means and instruments must be made the common property of the whole people, irrespective of race or sex.
The effort to establish such a system will involve the conscious co-operation of the workers of the world. Only when they are successful will they free themselves from the need to sell their energy to masters, and become able to produce freely for the common good.
In the meantime every effort at compromise on the part of the workers’ leaders weakens the workers’ resistance, and delivers them still more into the hands of their enemies—the master class. Unremitting hostility to those enemies on political and industrial field alike is the only policy consistent with a clear understanding of the situation. Justice as a watchword must be replaced by emancipation.
Eric Boden

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