FRIDAY, JANUARY 31, 1936 HEAD OFFICE: 110-111, Fleet St., London, E.C.4. (Central 6264-5) BRANCH OFFICES Jordan Street, Knott Mill, Manchester, 15. (Central 5818)
30, Manchester Se, Liverpent.
(Central 2461) 6, Vernon St„ Leeds. (Central 24891)
32, Clayton Street West,
Neweastl eQ111,•Tyne. (Central 27993)
An Uneasy Peace
Remembering the tragic course 'of the last great coal-strike, to say nothing of the general strike that arose out of it, even the greatest sticklers for principle on either side must feel some relief that an agree
ment has been reached between the miners and thc coal-owners. The compromise is of the kind called very English (though it could with equal accuracy be called very Chinese). Each side has given way on what it had termed a matter of principle and each has saved its face by being enabled to claim victory on another question of principle. The owners have given way least. They asserted from the first that their balance-sheets made any increase of wages impossible, and they only conceded one after some of the biggest buyers of coal offered, under circumstances that are obscure, to pay is. per ton more for it. They declared that in any case the increase could not be uniform, and it does in fact vary frorn district to district.
On the other hand, after refusing for years even to negotiate nationally with the national Mineworkers' Federation, they have agreed to be represented on a permanent joint consultative committee to discuss all matters of common interest, "not excluding general principles applicable to the determination of wages by district agreements." But they have not given much away by this. • Some kind of national action on their part has been a
physical necessity even in the recent negotiations; and they have insisted that their representatives on the joint committee shall represent, not the Mining Association which is their national organisation, but the separate districts. Moreover, the elaborate phrase that has been quoted rules out carefully national agreements on anything more than general principles.
Nevertheless, this concession, such as it is, has enabled the Mineworkers' executive to recommend acceptance of the compromise and obtain it from the delegate conference by a large though not overwhelm ing majority. This was no small feat. For the conciliatory speech by the Mineworkers' president that was the prelude to the agreement had been fiercely criticised, and not in South Wales only. The president of the Lancashire and Cheshire Federation described it as throwing the towel into the ring. Moreover, there were suspicions and angry murmurs that the King's death was to be used as a pretext for keep
ing the miners on starvation wages. Indeed, the suggestion that it ought to be the occasion for peace-making seems to have been tactfully dropped before the actual settlement was announced—we use the word "tactfully" sadly hut deliberately.
Besides, suspicions and animosities apart, it is a matter of plain fact that the miners' leaders have receded very far from demands that, considered in themselves, were perfectly reasonable. Not only did they accept increases of which the greatest is only half what they demanded for all districts, but they accepted considerable differences between the districts. They thus abandoned what was ethically very strong ground. The principle of uniformity means that the right to a decent minimum standard of living belongs to men as men and not as residents in a particular locality. The agreed schedule of increases preserves the distinction between the exporting districts and those producing for the home market, and workers in the former, whose need was the greatest, receive bOth absolutely and relatively the smallest advances. What were, owing to chronic short-time, almost literally starvation wages for many, remain well under the level of decency.
The truth is that, as we pointed out two months ago, the almost certainly permanent falling off in the foreign demand for British coal has placed the industry in a position in which, within its own resources, there is literally no solution that can give both sides what is due to them as a matter of abstract justice. And schemes for subsidising the exporting districts by artificially raising home prices are no more constructive than direct subsidies out of taxes. We were glad to see that while the recent negotiations were in progress there were several who frankly recognised these facts and said so in letters to the press. One of these, a coal-owner, wrote that the regulation of production under the Coal Mines Act of 1930 had failed to effect what was required, which was nothing less than a concentration of production in the most favourable areas that would displace 150,000 men in addition to those already unemployed, all of whom would have to be given a fresh start in life.
We said something of how this might be done for them when we last wrote on this subject. We may be told that few are ready for such measures. That is quite possible. But so long as men easily dismiss justice as impracticable, so long will what they term practicable be unjust.