THE MINERS' STRIKE. T HE miners had their opportunity at the
end of last week of falling in with the very fair offer which had been made by Mr. Bonar Law, and they rejected it. Mr. Bonar Law had said that if the miners would undertake to produce more coal and not to strike during the next three months, the Government would postpone the raising of the cost of coal by 6s. a ton. In a strict sense Mr. Bonar Law had no right to make such an offer. It was a real concession, framed to conciliate. It was truly a kicking against facts, for the price of coal had been put up 68. higher, not by the act or decision of the Government, but by the force of events. To continue the plan of allow- ing the public to be misled about the real price of coal was risky, but in the circumstances we think that Mr. Bonar Law was right to take the risk. He was right, at all events, on the assumption that those miners' leaders who are really powerful at the moment had vestiges of reason left and would be guided by them. The assumption, however, was mistaken. In such a situation as this WI cannot see that anything is gained by continuing to mis- lead the public about the gravity of the whole industrial and financial position of the country. The Government would do well to bring to an end as quickly as possible the procedure by which the true prices of things—bread and railway rates, for instance--are hidden away under Treasury subsidies. Why let people march to bank- ruptcy without knowing where they are going ? We think we understand the complacency or mental lethargy of our countrymen fairly well, but we have been astonished in observing how little people seem to appreciate the true meaning of this coal strike, and all that it threatens to the trade and health and solvency of the country.
One could laugh, if the matter were not so serious, at the list of reasons which have been given for the miners' strike. The war in Russia seems a rather remote reason for inflicting suffering, that may become intense before long, upon every family in the land. But even this is not equalled in futility by the excuse that food and coal coat too much. In other words, some of the men are striking because of the conditions which they themselves have created, and which they are now doing their best to perpetuate. Nevertheless, in spite of the madness and wantonness of this strike, with its very un-English recourse to sabotage, it would be a mistake to say that it is one of those familiar strikes in which the men have clearly revolted against Trade Union authority. Authority in the miners' Unions is, unfortunately, very much divided and confused. The Miners' Federation are evidently alarmed at what is happening, and, if they were allowed to control events, would probably be in a fair way to settle the dispute with the Government within a few hours. They do not ask for more wages. The strikers, however, acknowledge no authority but that of their local Unions, and it is an undoubted fact that the leaders of these individual Unions recommend the strike. Chief among the leaders is Mr.- Smith, of the Yorkshire Miners' Associa- tion, who does not hesitate to say that he will advise his men to fight to a finish, whatever the results may be. The results already are that, owing to the flooding of some of the mines and the breakdown of much of the machinery of ventilation, the strikers have done just that sort of destruction which the German armies did to the mines in France and Belgium, and which British soldiers lost their lives in trying to prevent.
If it be true that some of the miners genuinely believe that they have been deceived by the Government with regard to piece-rates, the sooner they are disillusioned the better. The Government case as presented by the Coal Controller is perfectly clear and perfectly sound. even though it may not have been laid properly before the rank-and-file ( f the miners, whose strong point is not economics. Any one who takes the trouble to read the Sankey Report will discover that when the miners' working hours were reduced from eight to seven, the rearrangement of wages w: s suggested on the explicit assumption that men who were working shorter hours would win coal at a rather quick(r rate. This assumption of course invariably underlies ti e argument for shorter hours. In a general way ti e principle is true, and we have no thought of disputing it. During the discussions at the Sankey Commission Mr. Sidney Webb, as might have been expected. used this assumption as a very potent weapon. What the men who are now striking against the piece-rates ask, however, is that no such assumption should be allowed ; they ask that -they should be paid during shorter hours at the same rate as they were paid during longer hours. This would mean in practice that not only would their hours be shorter, but they would be paid much more than was contemplated by the Sankey Commission. This, after all, is not a complicated matter to understand. If it is placed clearly before those who have hitherto been in doubt about the matter, and they still persist that they have a grievance, we shall know exactly where we stand. It must not be forgotten that several of the coal-owners, anxious to save their mines from destruction and to prevent a national industrial disaster, have expressed their willingness to meet the demands of the miners and raise the piece-rate by 14.3 per cent. instead of the 125 per cent. offered by the Coal Controller. The Sankey Report suggested only 10 per cent.
We should be the last to suggest that the Prime Minister should not meet reason with reason at every point where he can do so. The situation is far too grave for any one • to deprecate a settlement if it can possibly be reached.
• But what we can and do deprecate even at this solemn time is that the Prime Minister should throw over the Coal Controller if he is not himself convinced that reason is moving the other side. Such a policy would be quite fatal. Serious though things are now, they would become much worse. It would mean that the Prime Minister was yielding to blackmail in order to secure a temporary immunity. Immunity of that kind is always temporary because the blackmailer can never refrain long from using the weapon which experience has shown him never fails against a certain type of person—the person who always yields.
The community has a right to exist. This right is being challenged by the strikers. The experience and skill of the strikers at their work of mining have put them in posses- sion of a monopoly. They are behaving like monopolists of the most cynical and selfish type. What would they say if another sort of monopolist, say a landowner, when called upon by the Government to produce more food for the country, declared that he would not only refuse to plough up his park, but would open the banks of a neighbouring canal and flood all his land in order that corn should not be grown by anybody else ? Words would fail even Mr. Smillie to describe the wickedness of that landowner. Yet that landowner's case would be exactly analogous to what the strikers are doing now.
What a tragedy the whole thing appears when one reflects that if only the workers all over the country would put their backs into their jobs, they could within a year re-create much of the exhausted wealth of the country !
Prices would fall, and wages, which no one talks of reducing, would have so much higher a purchasing-power that the ' comfort of the workers would be enormously increased.
Instead of raising their wages in this practical way, which simply could not fail, the miners on strike prefer to paralyse the country while they discuss a rise of 3s. or 4s., when all the time the price of necessaries is rising in the shops against them by 'many shillings. Moreover, this process of the shops, which affects every domestic budget, is going on at a rapid rate, to our disadvantage all over the world. Our trade, instead of being built up again, is slipping away into the hands of otherit. We have stated the .case from the point of view of the whole nation, but if only the migers could be made to understand it, they are destroying their own livelihood. Other important trades have been destroyed internally before now. If the miners persist, they will write the doom of their own industry. Men who are not miners cannot be prevented from saving themselves, and they will replace coal by using other means of motive- power and warmth—water-power, alcohol, benzol, peat, and so on. Even the house-builders will make their cottages of sun-dried clay, and coal will no longer be used to bake the bricks in the kilns. If the miners bring down the nation, they will also kill themselves, strong though they are. as Samson did in the temple.