For over four months the mine workers have struggled against the attempt to increase their hours of labour and reduce their wages. Their main means of resistance has been tightening their belts. In face of privation, daily becoming more intense, they have shown solidarity and resisting-power that is amazing, and a good omen for the day when they learn that the real solution of their difficulties lies in the organisation of society on the basis of common ownership of the means of production, and not in a struggle over wages and conditions of labour.
We have seen five pay-tickets of a South Wales coal-hewer (the hewer is the best paid man in the industry) who has been in the mines for nearly forty years. The tickets were taken at random between March and May, 1926, and the amounts he drew for each week were as follows :—
£1 11s. 9d.,£3 9s. 2d.,£2 4s. Id., 18s. 2d., £1 9s. 5d., and he had to pay a boy 4s. 6d. a day for part of the time. The actual pay-tickets of a miner disposes of the tales of the fabulous amounts they are alleged to earn.
Out of the total amount a coal-hewer, working on piece-work, gets for the coal obtained, he has to pay assistants and various charges—check-weigher, hospital, mine-examiner, stores, doctor, insurance, hall funds, etc.—all of which considerably reduces the actual money he is to receive for his work.
The attempt to worsen the miners’ position is backed by the plea that the industry cannot afford to pay the present wages. This plea is put forward by the pretended friends as well as the avowed enemies of the miners. Yet if ever there was an industry that had power for the wealth in abundance for idle parasites that industry is coal-mining. Mining companies during the last ten years have made large additions to their capitals and reserves without drawing a penny out of shareholders’ pockets. The profits of the industry have been enormous.
Here are one or two illustrations taken from recent years :—
North’s Navigation Collieries, Ltd., declared dividends of 20 per cent. a year for the years 1916-17-18-19, and 15 per cent. for 1920. In 1918 they also distributed a bonus of 25 per cent. For the five years ending in 1920, therefore, they paid, in all, 120 per cent. on the capital invested. In other words, the whole of the capital the investors put in was returned to them with an additional 20 per cent. as well—and they still had their original capital in the company on which to draw future dividends.—(Daily News, 11/4/21.)
The Weardale Steel, Coal & Coke Co. declared dividends of 19 ⅓ per cent. per year for the five years to 1920-21, 6 per cent. for 1922, and 10 per cent. for 1923, which makes a total of 112 ⅔ per cent. for seven years—all their money back with an additional 12 ⅔ per cent., and still the original capital to draw dividends on. On top of that, the company had a reserve of £610,000 which is equal to 84 per cent, of the issued share capital.—(Financial News, 16/11/23.)
The Old Silkstone Collieries, Ltd., an amalgamation of several other colliery concerns, sent out a prospectus which was printed in the Observer (10/12/22). This prospectus contains particulars of profits and output from 1913 to 1922 ; an examination of it gives very interesting information. The following list contains some of the figures :—
Note the steadily declining output with a steadily increasing profit ! 1913 was a record coal year for the United Kingdom, according to the Daily News, 24/6/14.
The annual average of profit for the nine years ending 1921 was £143,000, a total for the period of nearly one million three hundred thousand pounds. This profit was obtained on a total invested capital of £590,565. And they would have us believe that the industry is too poor to pay the present wages! !
What to the capitalist is yearly toll of diseased, maimed and killed in the mines? The interest on capital invested far outweighs the cost of its production, because the interest is taken by the capitalist while the cost is borne by the worker.
Whatever the result of the struggle in the mining districts may be, it is for the miners themselves to decide how far they are prepared to go, and what conditions they are prepared to accept. There are plenty of busybodies with full bellies who are urging them to make concessions in one direction or another, instead of leaving the sufferers to make what arrangements they themselves think fit.