Hide Articles List

4 articles on this Page

DIPORTAXT TO MERCHANTS & SHIPOWNERS,…

The Great Strike of the Colliers.

News
Cite
Share

The Great Strike of the Colliers. ABERDARE, THURSDAY. Since the list publication, when we gave some delaih in connexion with the unfortunate difference which has arisen between the colliery proprietors and their work- men, owing to a reduction in wages, varying from 10 to 15 percent, rendered necessary by the deplorable state of commerce, nothing of great importance has occurred. On Friday a lar4e body of the county police arrived, under their able Superintendent, Mr. Wrenn, and at once formed a guard for the protection of the different pits, at which the engineers were threatened if they con- tinued to work the pumps. This has had the desired effect, for at all the pits, with one exception, the pumps have b^en regularly kept going, and no material damage, as far as we can ascertain, has been sustained. In the instance referred to however-that of Messrs. Shepherd and Evans's pit-the engineers themselves struck, and we are credibly informed that the pit is fast filling with water. The consequence of this must be deplorable even to the colliers themselves, because whenever a settle- ment of the dispute may be arriverl at, it will perhaps take weeks before the pit is again in a state to commence operations, and during that time the colliers usually working there can have no chance of employment. Urgent applications having been made to the Secretary of Slate, in cousequence of the threatening attitude as- sumed by the colliers at the beginning of the strike, and I the names of certain influential persons having been posted as fit objects for vengeance, Sir George Grey or- dered a detachment of the 22nd foot, to Aberdare, and they arrived on Saturday evening. In the absence of suitable quarters, the military occupied the Town-hall, the front of which was daily crowded by hundreds of spectators, principally colliers, many of whom had before never seen a body of "red coats," and it was somewhat amusing to hear the criticisms of the crowd. One fellow in particular, ignorant no doubt of the invincibility of the British bayonet, was talking to his companions about licking" half-a-dozen of them. However, as things continued to wear a more peaceable aspect, and the quarters of the soldiers were far from agreeable, they were on Tuesday evening removed to Cardiff barracks, there to await orders, and arrangements have been made to bring them up at a minute's notice should their services be requited, which we sincerely hope will not be the case. On Tuesday there were some symptoms of the men re- turning to work, and in one or two of the collieries this was rumoured to have actually taken place, but unfor- tunately this was not so, for although many of the men were anxious enough to return, they were overruled by their more violent and less wise companions, and the result was a determination to continue the strike. On the same day a meeting of the coal proprietors was held, at which it was iutended we believe, to make a still further reduction under the supposition we presume that as the colliers were determined to stand out, the re- duction may as well be 20 as 10 or 15 per cent.—and the losses which the masters must sustain in the interval is the re ison alleged for this greater reduction in wages. At the urgent suggestion of H. A. Bruce, Esq the hon. member for the borough, who with his usual good na- ture has been doing everything in his power to bring matters to an amicable adjustment, it was determined to give the colliers a few days further for consideration be- fore any alteration in the terms, was decided upon. Saturday, however, is the last day which will be so al- lowed, and in the meantime Mr. Bruce has met the col- liers on several occasions, entered fully into their views and feelings, and discussed with them calmly and delibe- rately the position of affairs which has rendered this reductions matter of absolute necessity. On Wednesday a very large meeting was held at the New Markets for the purpose cf hearing Mr. Bruce on the subject, he having been requested hy the colliers to meet them on that occaMon for the discussion of the sub- ject. There was a very large attendance, and nothing could exceed the orderly conduct of the workmen — not an attempt at interruption occurred from the commence- ment to the end of the meeting. MR. BRUCE'S SPEECH. H. A. Bruce, Esq., M.P., rose and said I hope we shall be able to discuss these matters which so deeply I affect our interests as reasonable men (hear, hear). Let me say a word for myself before I begin. I ought not to be here to-day. My place now should be in London on matters of the greatest importance, with which I am pri- vately connected, and also in reference to matters of great public importance, occupying the attention of Parliament. At some inconvenience, however, I complied to a request made to me by a number, both of the masters and men, to appear before you to discuss the nil-important question of the strike, alllll do so, because both parties have been good enough to say that they have confidence in me, that I was a fair man as between the two, and that I had no interest on the one side more than on the other (hear, hear), and that, therefore, I might probably be of some use in bring. ing the masters and men together. I know that some of you may say that I am notaltogethei on-intereem(I-thitai my father is a large coalowner, 1 am necessarily an in- terested party but if you turn the matter over in your minds, you will see the fact of my father having this large interest in the parish, is the very circumstance which renders me impaitial in the matter. For what is the interest of a proprietor like my father! Why, that the coal should be worked as quickly as possible, and in order to do this, it is essential that a thorough agreement should exist between the masters and the men, for unless there be a just and fair agreement—just to the men as well as to the masters—there must and will be strikes (applause). My interest, as far as my father is concerned, is that there should be no strikes. I am speaking now of my interest as connected with the coal proprietory but I have an interest also as a friend and a neighbour of many of you, with whom I have been on terms of intimacy, and indeed I have received nothing but kindness from the people of Aberdare and it is my interest to endeavour to keep upon those good terms. As to the question immediately before us ,1 do not know whether you have called me here to speak to you, or to answer your questions. If any of you wish to put questions to me, to ask me whether I think you are right or wrong in the course you are pursuing, I shall be delighted to answer them. I have already met a considerable number of colliers on this subject. The even. ing before last I addressed some 250 of them at Mountain Ash, and last night again I met a number of men belong. ing to Abergwawr, and had a frieedly talk with them for some three-quarters of an hour, and I think I know pretty well the views and feelings of the colliers in this matter. You have struck-you have refused to receive the terms offered by your masters. Are you wrong because you have struck 1 I do not say that a strike in itself is a wrong thing. A strike is wrong, according as there is jnstice or not on your side. If the masters try to take unfair ad- vantage of the men-if they try by some false excuse to force down wages below what they ought to be—then the men are right to strike, and under such circumstances, I wish the men success. But if the masters have not taken an unfair advantage—if the masters have been compelled to do so by the pressure of the times-if they have only lowered the wages of the men when forced to do it, in order to save themselves from ruin, then the men are wrong and the masters are right. In the present instance, then the simple question is, are the men or the masters in the right! I shall be very glad to hear anything the workmen may have to say to prove that they were justified in striking. But I own, from what I know of the existing state of affairs, not only here but throughout the whole country, that it is unfortu- nate the workmen should have struck upon this occasion, because I do nut think that the colliers of Aberdare, whom I de3ire to see stand w II in the opinion of the world, will, in this instance, make the woild think that they are right. You see I am not afraid of speaking the truth. If you listen to me it is because you believe that I have not been in the habit of deceiving you, bat of saying what I think whether you like to hear it or not. In this very room I have given opinions which were not the opinions of the majority you have let me know that, but your opinions have always been given kindly and civilly, and I am sure this will characterise your conduct now that I am about to express opinions from which I know by experience many of you will dissent. I have put the question whether the masters or the men are right. If you are right, then by all means go on atriking-if wrong, I call jupon you as just, as reasonable, and as Christian men, not to inflict wrong upon your masters, upon your families, and upon yourselves; but own that you are wrong, and like manly fellows go back to work. Now, what are the causes of the wages being lowered 1 The causes, I may say, are threefold. The first is, that the trade of the district is altogether slack and bad-that not only in the coal works, but in the iron works the quan- tity of work to be done is small, and therefore the value of labour has fallen. Bear that well in mind, for you will always go wrong if you start with a wrong principle. There are many among you who think that the wages of colliers should rise aud fall with the rise and fall in the price of coal. If in this district and in Monmouthshire there were nothing but the coal trade the argument would be quite correct, because the price of coal depends upon the demand for it. and when the demand is great, and prices therefore high, there is a greater demand for labour, which makes that more valuable also, and hence wages go up. But the coal trade is not the only branch of industry,—there are the ironworks, and if the iron be down and the works partially stopped, it does not matter what the price of coal may be, the wages of the collieis must cjme down too. To make the matter clear to you, supposing during these terrible times some of the great works which have been threatened with ruin—say Ebbw Vale, Dowlais, or C)farthfa-(an(1 if the monetary crisis in all its severity had continued long theie is no telling what might have happened)—supposing, I say, that 20,000 or 30,000 men had been thrown out of work by the stop- page of these houses, and had to seek emj lojment in this district, do yeu think, if had been at 1 h. per ton, that this great it,flux of lab-lur would not have brought down wages T Of course it would. The rate of wag -s depends upo-i the quantity of work on the one side nnd the numtei (if workmen on the other. If you have plenty of work and few workmen you have high wages: if plenty of work and plenty of workmen, moderate wages if little work and plenty of workmen wages will be low. Bear the-e principles in your minI) for they are true principles. I am sorry any master should have said that he would give his workman wages according to the price of coal. This is not a safe principle, and once start from a false basis, and you will be sure to get into difficulty. Let me put the matter in another way to you. Supposing the price of iron to go up, the colliers at the iron works would be in demand, and would be receiving high wages; but supposing at the same time that iron was up the price of coal went down, would you be content with a reduction of wages under such circumstances 1 "No;" you woul,1 say, "the co liers are every where else getting high wages," aud you would not li-ten to y-ur masters if they told you that coal was down, but would tell them that you could get good wages elsewhere, and would not submit to any reduction. I mention this to show you that the rate of wages ought not to depend upon the price of coal, but upon the demand for labour throughout the whole dis- trict. What is the'meaning of wages having been lowered 20 per cent. at the iron works 1 Why, that the masters cannot find work for their men, and that they would be glad to get rid of many of them if they could, though they do not like parting with good workmen, and would rather lose a little money in order to keep them together. Although the principle I have explained to jou is the right one, there is no difficulty in proung that the price of coal has fallen. I am certain you may find at this mo- ment that contracts have been taken as low as 8s lOd. per ton, and there are none above 9s. GJ. Formerly coal was at lis., now 9s. would be the full average; and, there- fore, upon your own principle—that wages shoull rise and fall with the price of coal, you ought to submit to this re- duction. But supposing the piice of coal were really in reittity the masters would not be receiving more than 9s., aud would be glad to receive that sum. There is such a demand for money now, and so difficult is it to obtain, that many rich men have failed, and been unable to pay their debts; and discounts are now ranging at a higher rate than wa'3 ever known io the history of Eng- land. Payments aremadetothecoalmasterseitheritti ready money—that is, in about a month after the coal is delivered, or else in three months' bills. These bills, iu good times, are taken to the bankers, who give the lull amount for them, with the exception of 3 or 4 per cent. for discounting. Now the price of money is so high that the richest men cannot get their bills discounted under 10.1, and I have known many cases where 12 per cent. was refused upon good billi and instances have even come to knowledge where people under the pressure offered their bills at 15 percent, to London bankers with- out being able to get them cashed. Beside, I will under- take to say that there is not one single coal owner in this Valley who has not in his box bills which he cannot at any price get changed into money. You expect your wages every week: do you ever think of the sacrifices the masters have often to make to accomplish this ? I well know the sacrifices the masters are obliged to make to meet the weekly draws and monthly pays in times like the present, when for every 1:100 in the shape of biils they take to their bankers, they only receive JE88 in hard cash. You have, therefore, beside the low price of the coal, the difficulty of converting bills into money. Under this double pressure, then, the masters have lowered your wages from 1, 9,1. to Is. 6d. per ton. Is that an unrea- sonable reduction! I should be glad to see the price of cutting coal at 2s. or 2s. Gd., if the masters would realise a profit, because your interests are indirectly involved in that question. See what the coal owners have done in this district. You will say, what money they have accu- mulated but supposing there were only half the em- ployers or pits that there are, and all you men were seeking for woi k, do you not think wages wouldcom« down directly; or supposing you were twice as many colliers as you are, do you not see that there would be a scrpc.rabundanceof labour, which would equally hffect your earnings 1 Thus the more pits there are in the country the better it is for.vo.u, because tbe greater the demand for labour. Now, if the masters have accumulated money out of the profits, which many of you think ought to have gone into your pockets, many of you think ought to have gone into your pockets, they have uot put it into banks or invested in the pur- chase of landed property, but they have empiojed it in sinking new pits and extetnimg their works. All this must benefit the working men, and through this course you obtain higher nages than you would otherwise have done, so that you see the profits that the masters make are benefiting you by their being laid out in sinking fresh pits, and creating fresh demauds for ltbour. A number of you say, Well, we own the times are bad—it is very difficult to get money, and the price of coal is not very high, but why don't the masters make it Its. instead of g,. If they can afford to give us Is. 91. with puces at lis., why don't the masters combine to keep the price up, then thtre would no necessity for a reduction." That has been tried by the masters and it has failed. No doubt if the masters were to be true to each other, and strictly adhere to a resolution not to sell coal below lis. per ton, they would be able to get a good profit, and pay the present rate of wages; but they cau only do it upon one supposition, viz., that nobudy else outside the Aberdare Valley can produce steam coat. ftow you know that from Aberdare coals are good, perhaps the best in the country, but there is a great deal of coal very little worse. The Monmouthshire coal, and the coal from the Swansea Valley make very good steam coal, and there are my friends, Messrs. Vivian, raising about 500 tons per day, which if a little softer than yours, is very much liked for steam purposes. There is also anthracite coal, which with a little alteration in the boilers, can be used as steam coal, and if you make the price of your coal too dear, the result will be that vessels, instead of going to Cardiff, will be sent where they can ship the coils whicii I have named—and instead of the regular trade which you of late experienced, the demand will disappear, and you will be half your time out of em- ployment. You see, therefore, that though at first sight it seems plain that the price of coal may be kept up arti- ficially, by a combination of the masters, it can never stand, for it is against the laws of nature in matters of commerce. In all dealings there are two people inter- ested, and it is not selier only but the buyer who has something to do in fixing prices, and if buyers fiud that coal is dearer at Cardiff than at other places to other phces they will go. Another thing has happened, and a very strange and interesting one it is in this general dis- turbance of commerce. Amongst those I am addressing are some who have come not only from the twelve coun- ties of Wales, but also England, Ireland, and Scotland and what has brought them all here? It is from the de- mand for labour on account of the coal, and it is the par- ticular value of this coal that has made Aberdare the rising and prosperous place it now is. Well, now what is the particular value of Aberdare coal 1 You all tell me it is good steam coal, but that is not the point. Its great value consists in this, that it has been ascertained by experience that eighty tons of Aberdare coal will take a vessel as far to sea as a hundred tons of the best coal from the north of England. A vessel, therefore, going from Liverpool to New York would have to put in a smaller quantity of Aberdare than of north country coal, and the room thus saved in the vessel can be filled with merchandise. It was, then, to save room that the vessels from Liverpool paid some 20s, per ton for your coal, instead of lb. or lis. 6d. for the best north country coal. In consequence of the disturbance of trade with America, the vessels have no cargoes to take out, and room is no longer an object. The consequence is, that they are buying north country coal for crossing the At. lantic, and the coal proprietors of this valley, who formerly sent 200,000 or 300,000 tons per annum from Cardiff to Liverpool, are now sending hardly a ton. That is one of the many ways in which the state of America tells upon the coal trade of this district. I might tell you, but that I am reluctant to use names in public, of the frightful losses which men in this district have lately undergone. Men—the very first in the iron as well as in the coal trade, are driven to all kinds of shifts to meet their demands, which in good times they would be ilsharn.ed to have re- course to. I know that my father has some of the best tenants, and they say they cannot pay their rants because they don'treceivetheirmoney, and however inconvenienced I be has been obliged to submit. Then, gain, you know that coal cannot be got away without being carried by railway, and railways are very expensive things to keep up, and insist upon being paid but last week, when in London, I saw the banker of the Vale of Neath Railway, when he said, How is it that the Vale of Neath Rail- way, that used to keep so good an account, has got into our debt 1 You must go and put things right." I pro- mised to go down to Neath to see about it; and I found there were more than £14,000 due to the Vale of Neath Railway from some of the richest men in the country. I asked the secretary if he had written for this money, and his reply was-" I have written, but cannot get it." Do you think that these men would have been "damned" by the secretary of the Vale of Neath Railway, if they could find the money 1 The fact is, they were obliged to pay their workmen, even if the railway suffered but notwithstand- ing all, the pressure at last came—with all these shifts, it was impossible to go on—and as a last resource, the masters ask you to submit to a reduction in your wages. You refuse to comply; and you are perfectly right in re- fusing, if you think you have justice on your side; but if the masters cannot afford to pay you the wages you have been receiving, I ask you as fair and just men to ac- cept the terms offered, to go to work, and trust to the honour and justice of your masters to give you higher wages when better times come. I have now said what I believe to be truth you have taken it calmly and reason- ably, and I do hope that your resolution this day will put an end to this miserable state of affairs. To me who have watched the steady development of the neigh. bourhood, it is lamentable to see the valley which formerly rung with the echo of your forge?, the activity every where displayed, numberless trains rattling down the vale, the steam engines bellowing away-to me, I say, it is lamentable to see all this transformed into death-like stillness-to see your streets filled with men in broad- cloth doing nothing, until a stranger would think you were the laziest population in Great Britain, instead of honest, hard-working men. I implore you again, if you think you are wrong, to confess it like men, by returning to your work, and earning thereby the gratitude of your I masters and the good opinion of your neighbours. Rev. D. Pr ee then gave the substance of the above in Welsh, for the benefit of the collier" unacquainted with the English language, after which Mr. Bruce stated that he hal omitted to montion a complaint made by the colliers a' Mountain Ash that their masters had refused to see them, and that hali the explanation which he (Mr. B ) had given been offered by the masters the strike would never have occurred. Ha felt bound to say, that at a meeting of the masters which he attended yesterday, they all expressed their readiness to see the men whenever they thought proper to call upon them, and several of them stated that they had given repeated explanations 10 their respected workmen, and had still every disposition to do so. Da.id Williams (a collier) then addressed the meetiog in Welsh, and after alluding to the disadvantages under which he and a majority of those present laboured in very imper- fectly understanding the English language, expressed his regret that the masters had attended none of the meetings of the colliers The workmen were ready to submit to the reduction if the masters would give any good reasons tor lowering the wages; but if the value of money had risen to 10 per cent., 15 per cent, had been reduced upon the workmen. The colliers of Aberdare were quite willing to Uke a share of the burden, but they were under the im- pression that if they took 3d. per ton reduction now they would never get it back again. Ilt-re was difficulty enough in maintaining one's famijy before the reduction, and they were unwilling to work without earning enough to buy food for themselves and their families. It was a very hard thing after a man had been at work all day, to return home and find nothing for him but herrings and potatoe-. There were many weeks when they did not earn a penny, and he had been a fortnight or tluee weeks out of the mouth without working, because the coal was not wanted. The speaker then called upon John Jones (Gwah-h), and one or two others, to speak in English, and after waiting for someti ne without their appearing, Mr. Bruce rose to reply. He said I was waiting, because I expected one of your number, John Jones, was to address us in English. If John Jones is the work- mall I met last night, I should be glad to hear him, for seldom have I heard a more sensible or reasonable mat), and I am sure he would state the case on behalf of the workmen fairly. I wish all the woikmen of this valley ha,l as good heads on their shoulders as John Jones, though I have no doubt many of them have very good ones. Until he comes, I should like to say a word or two as to what fell from David Williams, who just now spoke to you. He says that jou have had time enough up to the present -that it was difficult to live upon your pre- vious earnings, and that to live upon less is impossible. I know that many among you have difficulty in providing for your families —that you work hard, and want good food—and it has sometimes been no easy matter to make both ends meet. But you must not make too much of that. Never since Aberdare has been a valley, has work been as regulir as during the last year, and never such high prices, and if you cannot live upon regular work and high prices, how in the name of Heaven did you live before 1 Why, you have had tOalpncounter much worse times—this time last year flour was 60s. per sack, now it is only 44! so that even at the reduction, you will be able to live better than you did last year. I recollect the time when you were only getting Is. 4,1. per ton, how did you live then, if you will starve now 1 You are quite right to get as much as you can but do not, in attempting to get Is. 9d., take a course which will make wages fall be- low Is. 6d., for that is reilly what you are doing now. He sap, the collier's dinner is one of potato and herring, but if you ruin the masters, you will have to live upon the potato without the herring. My advice to you is, to do as well as you cau, and in course of time you will be able to add to the potato and herring a muttou chop or beef stake (hear, hear). He also alluded to the stoppage which has taken place-that they had sometimes been able to work only one week out of four. Now I know that there are occasional stoppages, but do not let us have the case unfairly stated. I asked Mr. Powell yesterday what the stoppages came to! I said, "you must stop your pits very often,—sometimes the machinery gets out of order-sorne- times the east wind Mows, and you have no shipping at Cardiff-sometimes you have accidents -do not all these things throw your men out of a great many days' \vork 1" Mr. Powell replied-" No doubt these things happen sometimes, but I am certain that, during the whole of it year, the stoppages have not been more than two days in the inth." When I was at Mountain Ash yesletday, I asked tbe wun. ,n what the earnings of sober, steady men amounted to one wee. with another. One man, who 's aid he was a good workman, said he only earned 158., but I do not think that a good workman could earn so little as 15s., if he worked the whole week. An honest fellow got up and said, that he earned 24"" and could not li\'e UP,)!J less. Well," I saitl, "leI me ask you one question; many of jou come from Caermarthen and the vale of Glamorgan your fathers were working men, and there are working men there now bringing up their families as your fathers brought up yon, upon lis. or 12s, a week, at the very outside; and you say that if you get only 20s., you and your families will starve. Now, is that very reasonable 1" I will tell you another thing. Mr. Powell told me, of the truth of which you will know better than I do, he said— "The wages that the colliers are getting are so high, that I can hardly induce a steady, respectable collier to take the place of fireman at 4s. Gl- a-day regularly throughout the year." Now, 4s. 6d. a-day is 27s. a-week, and yet when asked to take this work the repty Wat, "I can make much belter wages than that as a collier." Another compUint of the colliers wa*, that too many men were put into the pit, which prevented the men earning such good wages as they would otherwise do. Well, I asked the masters why they did not put fewer men into the pit that they might work as much as they pleased. The reply was, ,u

CORRESPONDENCE.

MERTHYR AND NEIGHBOURHOOD.