The Lot of the Miner

Deep down in the efficient modernised, mechanised and electrified mines men still grovel, sweat and inhale black dust. But they should not grumble; the wages are high, the hospitals that treat their special diseases are bigger and better. They have all the public’s sympathy for any small inconveniences met with while extracting Our Coal. What more could a miner ask? The gentlemen of the Board have done everything. In their clean trim offices where the supporting beams never collapse, they think mining has reached the millenium.

The miners apparently do not. In spite of fantastic changes, pit head baths and the like; in the face of every improvement, free coal, and more pay, the fellows still complain. There are better jobs outside the pit they think—which only shows the extent of their ingratitude. For just who saw salvation in bureaucracy and clamoured for a Coal Board?

In an age that reaches for the moon, the mining of coal a mile under our feet, without turning men into moles, would seem rather a small order. But ours is a paradoxical society; aspiring to dizzy heights we plumb the depths of human exploitation. At the end of the last century after a life-time of study that saved untold millions, Louis Pasteur commented regretfully on this terrible and characteristic feature of our advanced civilization. Just as large numbers of medical workers all over the world are busy curing diseases and wiping out plagues and fevers while other men are devoting all their skills to designing bombs which can shrivel whole cities, so also in the field of commerce as one interested group tries to solve problems which may free men from degrading toil, another section of the industry sees profits threatened and resists progress. The complexity of the antagonisms and contradictions in any one trade would fill a book.

The miners’ employer, anonymous shareholder though he is, views the goose as coldly and dispassionately as the former mine-owner did; he levels the machine against the worker as keenly as his nineteenth century counterpart did, when he secs the possibility of increasing profits. What! with this steel navvy at his beck and call surely the miner’s life is easier? Surely the old. back-breaking toil is gone? But the machine, simply because it is a machine does not tire. To tend it the man must go at the machine’s speed and this proves a great strain, physically and mentally. He may work fewer hours but the pace during those hours has become fiercer. The man now works for the machine, he has become the appendage of a machine.

Delving in dark places, the miner has at last seen a glimmer of light; like the rabbit in the trap he longs to be free. And in these boom-times jobs are waiting for men. Here then is freedom. What strange freedom though! Freedom to work; freedom to work overtime: freedom to do exactly what the boss says; freedom to draw national assistance when job-less; freedom to send wives out to work to pay for things men’s wages cannot buy. The miner is free to change his occupation and let us admit he is the best judge of whether the change is a good one. But it is a sad, as well as a safe thing to say, he has only thrown off some of his shackles. A sensitive ear can still detect above the din of the bright and busy factory, a rattle and clink of chains.


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