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GOVERNMENT AND MINERS' DEMANDS

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GOVERNMENT AND MINERS' DEMANDS Unsatisfactory Interviews I THE PROBABLE OUTCOME I (By Vernon Hartshorn.) I 7 1 The mterviews this week between tha Executive Council of the Miners' Federa- tion and the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have a highly important bear- ing upon the proposals for a co-operative understanding between the Miners' Federation, the National Union of Rail- waymen, and the Transport Workers' -Federation. The attitude adopted by the Prime Minister upon the proposals put forward by the Miners' Federation with regard to amendments in the Minimum Wage Act and the extension of the Act so that it may include the surfacemen employed at the collieries in the country ought to throw a flood of light upon the industrial situation and its relation to political partIes. The Prime Minister tells us that no reason has been given, why the surface workers should be brought under the Act, and he adds I do not at present see any answer to the question that if we were to ex- tend it to the stokers, screenmen, and labourers working on the pit surface, how could we deny a similar privilege to the same class of labour working in connection with factories and on the land. There is no possible line of de- marcation in point of principle or policy between these classes of work- men. ARTIFICIAL DISTINCTION I Une has only to study these words in connection with the circumstances in which they are uttered to realise that this is the statement of a, lawyer politician setting up artificial distinction for the purposes of political expediency. It is an illuminating revelation of the fact that the Government have no ciear and logical constructive policy for dealing with the minimum wage question on a national scale. The whole of the recent history of the minimum wage campaign, both by the Labour Party in the House of Com- mons and by the Trade Unions outside proves that the principle of a minimum wage for the working classes is not an intrinsic part of the economic or political theories of the Government, but will only -be adopted by them in face of extreme pressure and for purposes of political ex- pediency. "THIS ARGUMENT WILL NOT I DO." The Prime Minister is now, in order to obstruct all extension of the minimum wage benefits to other workmen, setting up the highilv artificial contention that underground workers are a special class with a special claim to the minimum wage, a claim which the surface workers have not proved they possess. This line of argument will not do. It rooks with a spirit of political expediency which must repel not only the working classes but all sincere and logical social reformers as well. The claim of the workers that the wage system shall be governed by the principle of a legal minimum is based upon the natural right of all to a secure minimum standard of comfort. That is a universal principle which admits of no exceptions. There may be differences which justify the grading of the mini- mum rates for different classes of work- men. These were recognised in the schedule of minimum rates drawn up by the Miners' Federation prior to the national strike. Owing to the arduous and dangerous nature of their calling underground workmen may be entitled to higher minimum rates than, surface workers. But the principle of the mini- mum applied to all. That the arguments of the Prime Minister are inspired by political expediency is proved by the proposals of the Government with regard to agricultural labourers. POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY. I It is proposed to give these men a mini- mum wage. On what grounds can it be argued that agricultural labourers should have preferential treatment over the col- ciery surface workers? Is not the dis- tinction again highly artificial ? Does not the distinction point to political ex- pediency, and the absence of a clear constructive and comprehensive theory of wage reform? When the higher cost of living in the industrial districts is taken into consideration—the higher rents and so forth—there can be no doubt that many of the colliery surface workers are as badly off as the agricultural labour- er. But the, Government draws a great deal of its support from the great cap- tains of industry in the country, from the owners of mines, factories, etc. On the other lumid, the great landed pro- prietors are, in the main, opponents of the Government. The votes of the agri- cultural labourers have to be won for use against the landlords. Thus the minimum wage is used as a political ex- pedient instead of being applied by Par- liament as one of the guiding principles of wage reform. The lesson the workers have to lea rn from the political outlook of the Prime Minister is that, pending the time when the Labour party Z;.Il have acquired a sufficient numerical strength to enable it to compel Parlia- ment to accept the minimum wage prin- ciple as something to be applied generally to wage employment, the workmen must rely mainly upon the strength of their Trade Unions to win recognition for their claims. As far as the Government is con- cerned, the claim of the colliery surface- men to a minimum wage remains in the same position as the claim of the vast "bulk of the workers. POLICY OF THE WORKERS .11 .¿. The common interests of we majority -of the workers in this question thus be- come clearer, and the result will be to hurry on the !)lan for a common under- standing between the Trade Unaons in -support of one another's demands. The same considerations apply to the eight hours' question. The Home Secretary asked the deputation from the Miners' Federation, who approached him with a proposal to extend the Eight H^rs Act to colliery surfacemen, to wait for his Iw to the Trade Union Congress de- putation which would wait on him shortly to discus the general <1^™- His answ,efr then would apply to the col- 'liery surface wOTk«S in oom= with ^l thyo?er worker, of   interests of the worker, on  questions are thus common practically to all. The Governments ideas are not too favou?le to the demands n0^ we made by the Trade Unions. WhaJt |e1^ have to do, therefore, is to  our strength and apply more pressure, so rocotlimad at bottom of next column.)

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GOVERNMENT AND MINERS' DEMANDS