« VorigeDoorgaan »
period of the shift when he was informed that coal
winding during the shift was stopped. (c) 'If from shortness of wagons on the surface it becomes
necessary to knock off at an earlier hour than that at which the shift would ordinarily terminate, e.g. one-half or three-quarters of a shift, and the men are informed of the same, he shall only be entitled to the minimum wage for the one-half or three-quarters.
The time to be taken on the men reaching the bank. (d) That the exceptions from the arrangements as to the
minimum wage shall extend to men incapacitated by age or infirmity, and also to men who do not attend some agreed percentage of the time the pit works each week, unless prevented by sickness or accident, provided the owners also shall agree to find each
man attending the same percentage of work. (e) That an agreed number of trams shall be recognised
as the measure of the work which shall be sent out of each stall working under normal conditions in proportion to the number of men working in each
stall.' In my opinion these proposals for safeguarding the owners' interests were adequate and reasonable.
As a measure for stopping the strike, the Government have now carried through legislation laying down the general principle of a minimum wage, and setting up District Boards in the different coal-fields of the United Kingdom. The new Act is based on the principle of differentiation between districts, and between groups of mines in any one district; the Government opinion being that, owing to varying conditions, any uniform wage would operate adversely on the owners of the poorer mines. In point of fact there is no real minimum wage under the Act at all, for the minima vary according to the character of the mine. The owners and men will be represented on the District Boards in equal numbers ; but it is unlikely that the two parties will be able to arrive at any agreement as to the amount of the minimum wage to be paid to the various classes of workmen. If this turns out to be the case, the independent chairman becomes an arbitrator.
As a result of the Stockport and Birmingham conferences, the miners put forward a schedule of minimum
rates (see above, p. 558) for the various districts, and pressed for their insertion in the Bill. It was, of course, impossible for any self-respecting Government to accept these rates without enquiry or investigation, still less to embody the same in an Act of Parliament. The schedule rates submitted by the miners were approximately the average day-wage rates paid to stallmen called out of the face to work on the roads at present prevailing in the different coal-fields, though in some instances the schedule rates were higher than the existing rates. It is clear that the Miners' Federation were misled in connexion with these schedule rates. The resolution of the Federation was to the effect that the average district rates in force before the strike should be the schedule minimum rates ; but some districts, without the knowledge of the Federation, put in rates which, after examination, were shown to be higher than the existing rates.
The miners were fully aware that, if a minimum district wage were established in the various coal-fields, certain of the old mines where the men are paid at a very low rate would have to be closed. I firmly hold the belief that the Ricardian theory of rent applies to mines, and that the rent and profits of all mines necessary to meet the needs of the community are determined by the lowestgrade mines.
The miners do not trouble their heads about doctrines of political economy, but they have, in a roundabout way, arrived at Ricardo's theory. They appreciate the fact that, if wages are to be reduced to such a point as will enable the lowest-grade mines to pay, the standard of living all round must necessarily be low; and they shape their course accordingly. The same principle applies to other trades. No one would pretend that a badly-equipped cloth or linen factory, with out-of-date machinery, should form the standard by which the wages of men engaged in those particular industries should be determined. In these days of keen
. commercial rivalry, no one can successfully compete in the markets of the world with an antiquated plant; and the employer who neglects his business, or produces uneconomically, has eventually to withdraw from the trade.
The mine-owners contend that, in order to enable them to work inferior mines, they must have cheap labour irrespective of the cost of living; and the Act in effect
concedes this vicious principle, for, since owners of old and badly-managed mines are to be allowed to work such mines with cheap labour, the tendency must be to reduce the general standard of living of the men employed in the industry. Under the Act the District Boards must take into consideration the circumstances of each mine, with the result that the old, badly-equipped and badlymanaged mines will have the advantage of a low rate
The difference between good management and indifferent management of mines means, even where the natural conditions are equal, that the owners of the well-managed mines make substantial profits, and their men earn good wages, while the owners of the indifferently-managed mines actually incur losses and their men earn low wages. I know of numerous cases where the conditions in mines contiguous to each other are very similar, yet the results, chiefly due to management, are astonishingly different. The Act in effect gives a subsidy to the owners of the badly-managed mines, for the independent chairmen of the District Boards can only group mines by the results of working.
The special minimum rate' provided for in the Act ($ 4) is, moreover, fair neither to owners nor men, for an owner who starves his property and spends all his profits is permitted to pay a lower minimum rate of wage than another who may spend half his income on improving and maintaining his mine in a high state of efficiency. Especially is this an injustice on the workman, for in a well-managed mine the men get good clearance of the coal gotten. In the badly-equipped mine the reverse is the case; and low wages are paid, because the men are unable, through bad roads, shortness of tubs, out-of-date haulage, etc., to get clearance; for it must always be remembered that hewers of coal are invariably paid on the tonnage of minerals gotten. Doubtless the chairmen of the District Boards will have to face this problem of the badly-managed mine; and it is to be hoped that they will refuse to grant low group rates unless they are satisfied that the natural conditions of the mines justify a lower minimum.
I am unable to see how this provision of the Act can be defended; but feeling in the House of Commons is overwhelmingly in favour of the principle, on the ground that injustice would be done to the men who would be thrown out of employment if the mines were closed. Parliament is thus protecting the men in the old mines against themselves. Owing to the great development in the coal-fields of this country, I have no doubt that the men who may be displaced by the closing of old mines will readily find employment in the new; and I am confident that no reduction of output, on the whole, and very little, if any, consequent increase of cost, will be occasioned by this closing of old mines and the operation of a minimum wage, because the men transferred from the old pits to the new will produce, under better conditions, a larger output than before.
Against this contention it is urged that it is unjust that an Act of Parliament should inflict injury on a local community by destroying the trade on which such a community exists. But, after all, it is by no means clear that these old mines will be closed, for, if a certain quantity of coal is necessary to meet the needs of the community, and the cost of producing coal is artificially increased by Act of Parliament, it follows-in a protected market such as ours practically is—that the increased cost will eventually be borne by the consumer and not by the producer. It is astonishing in these days that the ordinary man of business still clings to the old eighteenth century fallacy that supply and demand regulate prices, whereas it is primarily the cost of production, in conjunction with supply and demand as secondary factors, which determines the prices of all commodities. If, owing to the introduction of a laboursaving machine, the cost of producing a commodity is diminished, the price will ultimately fall in direct proportion to the reduction of cost effected by the machine, though the demand may be increased tenfold, supposing the wages paid to the labourer to remain the same.
In this country over one million persons are engaged in mining. Owing to the prolific bounty of Nature in these islands there are no mines in the world, except perhaps in America, where the natural conditions are so favourable for producing a high-class quality of coal at a low cost. In the home market there is, of course, no foreign competition. American coal can be produced at a considerably lower cost than in this country, but the American mines are at the disadvantage of being situated some 300 miles from the ports. The quality of coal produced from some of the Virginian mines is nearly equal to that of best South Welsh coal, but the fiscal system of the United States prevents her being a serious competitor with us, even in the South American markets. The American who ships coal to South America is unable to get a cargo for his ship on the homeward passage and consequently has to return in water ballast, while British ships carrying coal to South American ports obtain remunerative homeward-bound freights of corn, meat and other produce. For these reasons the rates for carrying coal from British to South American ports are invariably less than those ruling from Virginian to South American ports.
The total production of coal in Great Britain in 1910 was 264,000,000 tons. Of this total, 180,000,000 tons were used for home consumption, 62,000,000 tons were exported, and 22,000,000 tons were used for bunker purposes. The average selling price of the 264,000,000 tons at the pit's mouth was approximately 8s.; and this price yielded the owners of mines a fair margin of profit. The owners contend that, if the cost of producing coal is increased, the export trade will be diminished, and injury will be inflicted on the general trade of the country, particularly on the iron trade. Doubtless this would occur if the cost were unduly inflated; but I contend-having an intimate knowledge of mining conditions in many of the coal-fields of the United Kingdom-that the extra cost occasioned by paying a minimum wage will be comparatively small. Considering the large fluctuations that take place from year to year in the selling price of coal, it is to my mind ridiculous to suppose that even an average increase of from 2d. to 3d. per ton-which would be the maximum-could injure our industries or export trade under the extraordinarily favourable natural conditions we enjoy. It is the owners themselves who are in fault in this respect; for, whenever the demand is ahead of the supply, they do not hesitate to raise the price of coal, regardless whether trade is damaged or not.
When this strike is over, the coal-owners will exact from the consumer the utmost sum they can till the supply is again equal to the demand. It is already settled by the