During the Coal Inquiry Mr. Evan Williams, chairman of the Mining Association, has made certain admissions that disposes of the miners’ “Big Wages” myth. He stated that 60,000 earn from 45s. to 50s. a week, 56,000 from 60s. to 65s., and about 12,000 from £5 to £5 5s. The Chairman of the Court of Inquiry drew attention to figures showing that in North Wales 72 per cent. of the men working full time earn less than 55s. a week. (Daily News, 30/4/24.)
While we are by no means prepared to accept figures as high as these yet, as they stand, they knock the bottom out of the claim, so often put forward, that miners earn fabulous wages.
Is it a matter for wonder that men who risk their lives daily in a miserable and toilsome occupation for such a beggarly return should now and again become restive and revolt against the conditions of their existence? It would be a matter of wonder if they did not. It would be worse. It would be a matter for despair, for they would have sunk to such a level as to be beyond the hope of salvation.
Mr. Williams made a further admission. We have often heard of the overpowering kindness, thoughtfulness and humanity, that occasionally moves our masters to keep industries going at a loss in order to provide their ungrateful slaves with employment. How often chairmen of companies, in their reports, have weaved romances around this special kind of benevolence. But Mr. Williams presents the matter in a different light which converts the benevolence into a necessary consideration of £ s. d.
“He declared that it took a great deal of money to close a colliery, and that up to a certain point it was less costly to work at a loss than to shut down. It might even be cheaper to continue working at a loss of as much as 2s. 6d. or 3s. a ton in the hope that there might be revival of prosperity later.“He referred in this connection to the owners’ commitments in relation to coal leases, and to other obligations which placed serious financial obstacles in the way of suspending operations. He mentioned specifically the whole district of North Wales, where, he said, the collieries were kept going because the owners could not afford to shut down.”—Daily News, April 30, 1924.
You see the motive changes with the case to be proved. Mr. Williams was endeavouring to prove that the mines do not pay well enough to meet the mine workers’ demands and hence he had to admit that benevolence was not the motive preventing the closing down of concerns that he alleged did not pay.
The coal companies made huge profits during the War and placed huge amounts to reserve. Their capitals were enormously increased by the issue of bonus shares without the payment of a penny piece on the part of the shareholders, and the price of shares went up tremendously. Bearing this in mind, examine the dividend results over a reasonable period, the enhanced prices of shares, the amounts put to reserve; note the constant formation of new companies (Mr. Williams would have us believe that they were floated to work at a loss !) and the gloom will disappear from Mr. Williams’ statements, leaving a much more rosy interpretation than he would have us make.