Dispute Week 3 – Unsuccessful Attempt To Settle The Difficulty

16 January 1885

Unsuccessful Attempt To Settle The Difficulty

A deputation, accompanied by Mr. W. Chappell, waited upon the manager of the colliery on Friday afternoon, as arranged at the meeting held in the morning.

The letter which had been received from Mr. Buckingham Pope, the chairman of the company was read, and found to be in substance, similar to the one sent the men by the manager, as reported previously.

The deputation fully discussed the question again with the manager, and in the course of the dialogue he admitted that, with the present results of production, the proposed changes would mean a reduction of not less than 8s. 4d. on the getting of 100 tons of coal, but, on the other hand, he was sanguine in his own mind that 10% more round coal could be made.

Taking that for granted, the desired change would not mean a reduction, he contended, but would make matters about equal.

The deputation again urged that, if the manager had such confidence in his scheme, it could be settled to the men´s satisfaction by arbitration, and they agreed, as they did before, to abide by the result.

The proposals made by the men on a former occasion were renewed, but the meeting resulted in no different understanding to that already arrived at.

Much regret is expressed by all who understand the phases of the question that the proposals of the men have not had more weight with the owners.

The Strike At Denaby Main.

At present there seems not much chance of a settlement of the dispute between the Denaby Main Colliery company and their employees. A dead-lock has arisen in the negotiations, a resolution having been passed to the effect that for the time being no more deputations wait on the manager.

The district committee allege as their reason for passing this resolution that it is useless to put the men to the expense of sending any more deputations until the aspect of affairs is altered.

A meeting, which was attended by between 300 and 400 miners, was held at the Mason´s Arms, Mexborough, on Tuesday.

One member of the deputation which waited upon Mr. Chambers on the last occasion stated that the gentleman had acknowledged that 25% of small coal was being made at the colliery, and that, as Mr. Chambers´ calculation had been based only on 15% of small coal to 85% of round coal, the men had the best argument in that respect.

The men urged however, that under the new system at least 40% of small coal would be made, and to remunerate them for their work 2s. per ton should be given for round, and 1s. for small.

A resolution confirming the action of the district committee was carried unanimously.

The action of the union section of the miners took no one by surprise, and the non-union men, realising their situation, are betaking themselves to other fields of labour.

By getting rid of the non-unionists the members of the Miners´ Association will be enabled to continue the struggle, as apprehensions were at first felt that the non-union section would resume work to the detriment of the remainder. The non-union men have made no attempt to go to work under the new system.

The statement respecting an association of coal owners for the purpose of the prevention of strikes, excited some interest and no little uneasiness amongst the men.

Confidence has been restored in a great measure by the following statement which appeared in Mr. Pope´s letter, and which has been extensively referred to by the men during the past few days :-

” Whatever may happen, it is my earnest wish that the friendly feeling which has hitherto existed between the company and the men will in no way be interfered with. I suppose the men are aware that we have nothing to do with the association of masters, as I have always been under the impression that we can arrange our affairs with our men without any interference from outside quarters.”

The recent cold and snowy weather had the effect of greatly heightening the distress at Denaby Main. Men have been told off to visit the surrounding villages to solicit assistance, and numbers of children are to be seen in Mexborough and Swinton obtaining a few pence by selling rhymes in which allusion is made to the struggle between labour and capital.

The miners still continue to be very orderly, affording a striking contrast to the behaviour of the Denaby Main men in years gone by. The labours of the one policeman stationed in the village are reduced to a minimum, and on the Monday not a single case was brought before the Rotherham Bench from the village.

From a statement made by one of the leaders of the Denaby Main miners, an explanation of the principal matter now in dispute, that of the relative pro- portion of coal and slack, has been obtained.

Under both the old and the proposed arrangement all pieces of coal above an inch square are reckoned `round´ and all below that size `small´.

Up to the 31st ult., when the notices expired, a uniform rate of 1s. 4 ½d. per ton was paid for coal and slack by the company, the men filling the large and small coal together, the two kinds being separated during the screening process.

If the proposed system comes into operation, it is contended that a percentage of the mineral in the tub set apart for small coal would in reality be `round´, after it had gone through the screening process.

The miners state that it would be a matter of impossibility for them to pick up pieces of even three or four square inches with profit to themselves and the company. These pieces, which would be shovelled into the tub with the `slack´ proper, would be paid for by the company at the reduced price, and yet on the arrival at the screens would be placed amongst the round coal, and charged the higher price by the company.

This is the great bone of contention at Denaby Main.

The manager at the first meeting in the colliery yard stated that only 15% of slack was made, but has now modified his views to the extent of 10%, stating that 25% of slack is made.

The men express a decided opinion that 60% only will reckoned as round coal under the proposed system, in addition to the 25%, there would be about15% more which would be unavoidably shovelled into the `slack´ corves, as it entail a great amount of labour to attempt to fill round corves with pieces of coal above one inch and less than four inches in size.

Mrs. Henry Waddington, of Market Street, Mexborough, generously distributed on Thursday, over sixty quarts of soup to the wives of the Denaby Main miners, and to a number of poor widows.

A similar quantity will also be distributed today ( Friday ).

The following appeal has been addressed by Mr. Chappell to the various trades and the public :-

” 1,200 hands locked out, 5,500 stomachs to feed.

The terms suggested by the employers imply 25% reduction. The manager admits a reduction of 12% in one department, yet they say they want no reductions. In six years the Denaby Main men have made concessions at times when no general reduction was sought to the extent of 10%, amounting to £18,000 to £20,000.

The last concession was made to help the Company in their struggle against the supposed injustices of the railway companies, and was to be returned, but this has not been done.

The change they propose is to fill the round coal by hand, and that which cannot thus be filled to be called slack, and to be filled at 3d. per ton. Not less than 30% of the product of the mine will be set down to the item of slack or small coal. These terms were never submitted to the men before the notices were issued. We say to the manager, ` Prove what you say by arbitration, and whatever the results we will loyally abide by them.´ The owners are not in the Coalowners Association, but if they succeed in lowering the wages the thing will go round the district.

The company is nearer all the important seaports than any other company, and has easier rates for all the south-south-eastern and eastern trade ; therefore, whatever change they seek to adopt in the way of sending out coal ought not to be accompanied by a reduction.

In conclusion, we want your assistance, as much sickness prevails in the village.

About ten children have died in eight days, and many more are in a critical condition.

On behalf of the men,

I am yours faithfully,

W. Chappell,

General Secretary.”

The distress caused by the loss of wages is aggravated by the prevalence in the village of Denaby Main of a savage epidemic of measles, which has claimed a large number of victims. It is now thought that the lock-out will be of long duration, and preparations have been made by the miners for a lengthy continuance of the struggle.