Pit Lads Strike – Sunday Afternoon Meeting

Mexborough and Swinton Times May 14, 1897.

Meeting of the Pit Lads on Sunday Afternoon at Mexborough.

The streets of Mexborough were thronged by people.   In addition to the usual religious services and meetings, the M. S. And I. Railwaymen had a meeting in the theatre, which was addressed by Mr Dison and other local leaders.

The subject of discussion was the pit lads meeting in the market Hall, called at 3 p.m. Before the time, however, the room was packed with “lads,” from 14 to 24 years of age; about 200 assembled. A few prominent trades unionist leaders gathered outside and discussed excitedly at the turn of events. No person was admitted but pit leaders. But our representative obtained a copy of four resolutions passed, and the substance of Mr Wright’s speech. Judging from the applause which reached the ears of those outside, they had an enthusiastic meeting. The resolutions were moved and seconded by the lads themselves, and supported in a body by their leaders. They were as follows:

Resolution 1. That this meeting condemns the action of those responsible for the report, which appeared in a contemporary on Saturday of the account of last Friday’s proceedings, inasmuch as importance matter was admitted, calculated to give the public a wrong impression of what transpired at the meetings, against the interest of the lads concerned.

Resolution 2: That this meeting condemns the action of Mr Parrott in refusing to see our representative, and the deputation we sent, and for ordering Mr Wright out of the room. This meeting is also of opinion that if the leaders of the Y. M. A. would make more earnest endeavour to better the position of pit lads, and lecture them less when they do see them, better results would follow.

Resolution 3: This meeting of pit lads pledges itself to use every lawful effort to obtain better conduction of work and wages, and the redress of their grievances now affecting the lads throughout the country. We hereby call upon the lads at every colliery to hold meetings amongst themselves – but not to stop the pits – to consider the decision of the joint Board on May 17, and prepare to send delegates to a meeting of lads to decide the question.

Moreover, in order to obtain their demands, this meeting is of opinion that the time has come to appoint a responsible and capable man to represent the lads and to hereby request Mr W. Wright to undertake the work. That in order to further this object, this meeting suggests that a pit lads demonstration be held at Rotherham, on June 21st, 1897, the day the men meet at Barnsley, and hereby call upon lads in other districts to send in their decision before May 20th, 1897, to Mr Wright. Hirstgate, Mexborough.

Mr Wright addressed the meeting and said:

“We are holding this meeting today because Sunday is the only date when all the lads can get together, owing to the system of shift working at force in this district. The time has come when pit lads must keep themselves. Their welfare and interests have long been neglected. He should speak for a short time on the resolutions passed.

The first dealt with a most important matter – perhaps more than they, as lads realise. It appeared, they had arrayed against them, not only the employer, but the local and central leaders, whose duty it was to have made this question their business years ago, and a section of the press as well. The newspapers were a powerful influence for good or evil, and the account of what took place on Friday had been clipped and cut and mutilated to suit the ends of their leaders; giving the public a false impression of what happened. Their battle would be hard enough without public opinion being set against them unjustly. He was ashamed of any man who could take advantage of youth and weakness in this way. This was another proof of how they were betrayed.

With reference to the second resolution, Mr Parrot’s action was unaccountable. They had known each other for years; they had been on deputations together; they had met on several occasions, so that he (Mr Wright) could claim acquaintance, if not friendship; and yet he was not civil with him, though civility becomes everybody. Their fathers were killing the leaders with kindness. (Laughter) They paid them high salaries, sent them to Parliament, allowed them to drive about in cabs and first-class railway carriages, while they starved and pinched at home. He was of opinion their leaders did not understand the lads question; it was so long since they had left the pits or driven a pony below, or lifted a tub on, their memory and imagination needed refreshing with their actual daily life of a pit lad. (Applause)

He was prepared to meet on that or any other platform in the country, any man, including their leaders, Messrs Picard and Parrott, and prove to any unprejudiced person the conditions of a pit lads life was a disgrace to their society. That was in fair offer. And that was meant seriously. If they could do aught why didn’t they?

This question of wages had been considered since 1894 at the least – (hear, hear) – but as far as his memory of pit life carried him (more than 20 years), the lads had always been neglected. They would now try themselves, and if they failed, they would be no worse than today. And they might succeed. They had a just cause to fight, and he hoped and believed they would win in the end.

That brought them to the third resolution. If they were to succeed, they must make it a county question. They must not fight single pit-steads, but as one body. Unity is strength. Take a bundle of sticks one by one, and you could snap them easily. Bind them together in one body. And you are powerless: so with lads. Fight Denaby Main with the most just cause, and success is doubtful. Make it a county question; demand a priceless for all lads, and uniform rate –onus means one – one rate for all pit lads on an age basis, formulate your demand as a body, and don’t rest until you get it, and oh, let it be soon.

He had not much hope of the question being settled by the joint Board, in a satisfactory manner, anything less than a substantial advance in wages was useless, and their leaders were too timid to ask for what they ought to have. But they must wait and see. If the joint boards offer failed, they must then state what they wanted and should include a reasonable standard of comfort. They were entitled to live by their labour – food, close, shelter, recreation, room for growth, and he would be a rash moment that undertook to provide for growing lads on their present wages; 1s 3 ½ d a day for a lad 18 years of age was splendid. (Laughter.)

He doubted whether any colliery manager or checkweighman would like to maintain and clothe them on their present wages. He was not out of a job, and had not sought them; but he sympathised with them, and was sorry their welfare had been neglected as it had. But it was necessary to appoint someone. He must obtain and maintain what they got. The excitement would pass, and he did not want to begin and then be left stranded in a short time. There were plenty to induce them to toss him over, and revile him behind his back, and men – so-called – would try and split them up. If they meant business, and they were now old enough to decide. He must ask them to vote upon this question about himself again. It was then put, and every hand went up.

The fourth resolution suggests a pit lads demonstration at Rotherham. He had never known an effort to reach the lads at any annual meeting in the past. They would have holidays, and perhaps be as successful as the men. They could get some good speakers – not employees of labour. They must get the opinion of other lads in the district. Stand together, shoulder to shoulder. But go to work; don’t stop the pits, and use no threats to anyone. Don’t discuss these questions at work, fight a good fight, and victory would finally crown their efforts. (Loud applause)

The boys returned to work on Saturday, and the colliery accordingly worked until Saturday dinner time. There was the usual large crowd in the yard, and around the pay office at 2 o’clock on Saturday afternoon. Summonses, some of which are returnable at the Rotherham West Riding police Court, a week today. Have been taken out against the strikers for leaving work without notice, and were served on the offenders on Saturday.