Important Meeting Of Denaby Main Miners. – The Five Percent Question

February 1880

February 6th 1880.

Important Meeting Of Denaby Main Miners.

The Five Percent Question – The Sliding Scale – The Coming Prosperity.

A meeting of the miners employed at the Denaby Main Colliery was held in the school-room, Denaby, on Monday evening, the principal object being to hear what Mr. J. Warburton, the manager, had to say in respect to the concession in wages recently made to the men.

Mr. John Dixon was voted to the chair.

Mr. Chappell also attended the meeting to address the men on the proposed sliding scale and the probable future of the coal trade.

The Chairman said at a meeting held at the Mason´s Arms a fortnight ago, to take into consideration the 5 % question, the Manager attended and spoke to them on the matter, as he did some time previously. He then explained why he could not give them the 5 % back again, and, at the request of the meeting a resolution was passed to the effect that they adjourn for another fortnight. They desired Mr. Warburton to state some reasons why he could not give them the 5 %, and he ( the chairman ) believed he was present that evening for the purpose whether he would give it to them, or to give them some reason why he could not, after which Mr. Chappell would address them.

Mr. Warburton said the all-important question evidently was that of the 5 %. He should be very pleased were he in a better position, or were he in a position to state better to them than what he did when they met at their lodge the other week. He regretted to state that since then matters had even got worse and worse, coal had gone down – both softs and hards – since then, and they were practically without orders in any shape or form whatever. But they still lived in hopes that trade would improve. They had reason to believe that it would, but at present there was stagnation. He must still ask them to leave the 5 % question where it was. He would be glad to show them the books and prices, and if there were any questions they would like to ask he should be glad to answer them.

A miner named Samuel Evans, said : I wish men would have the same feeling, and say the same when they got to a meeting as they do outside. I am quite surprised at the men at this colliery, they were going to do I don´t know what before they came, but now they are dumb. (Laughter)

I am forced to speak my mind ( Hear, hear ), when I got down to the pit-bottom this morning, I heard it said that the reason why we don´t get the 5 % is that we swallowed it at the Mason´s Arms last week. ( Laughter )

They say hadn´t we done that we should have had the 5 % before now. Then others say that it is the fault of the deputation who waited upon Mr. Warburton. Then, as regards the trade being bad. We hear different opinions in different papers. The iron, and even the coal trade in the North of England and Scotland has improved, and wages have gone up. Yet it is said to have a down -ward tendency here. That´s a mystery to me, I cannot understand it.

Mr. Warburton asked if these were questions which he was expected to reply to, but the Chairman said it was simply a hint to those men who had been circulating those reports spoken of.

Mr. Chappell commenced his address by observing that there was a great deal of danger arising out of parties representing the labour side, and gentlemen representing the other side, meeting together on occasions like this, because he presumed – by experience – that if Mr. Warburton in his speech touched upon matters in general, things that appeared to co-operate with what he had stated, then people were very apt to go away with the idea that they said the same things that others said, simply because they wished to be on their side.

Now, as regarded the North of England trade, it certainly was improving, but they must not allow the men to run away with the impression that the Durham or Northumberland men had had a rise, because they had not. The accountants found that the accounts did not average the point in the scale that would claim an advance. But the next time they went through the books – which would be in nine or ten weeks – they had no doubt but that they would be in such a condi -tion that an advance would be given to the men, because something like 3 % of the North of England – that was the county of Durham – coal was made into coke. He knew that the iron trade was still progressing – good rates were being obtained – and in proportion as that progressed, coke would be required and the good rates would be maintained. The coke business was included in the sliding scale, and therefore, if the coal business did not reach much better prices, the coke trade was improving, and the Durham men would no doubt get an advance at the end of two month or nine weeks, when the accountants went through the books again. Of course Durham being the centre, they would be governed by the same rule that they were.

There was another matter. After the strike, the Durham men launched a great quantity of coal into the London market, which to a great extent, interfered with South Yorkshire. A good deal of that coal which was sent to London was now being made into coke, and parties who were mixed up in the coal trade, as well as statistics, showed that they were gaining little ground. But there was one mis -fortune – great misfortune he was going to say – in connection with the thick coal business, this was : When the slack coal was wanted, then they could not get it at a place like Denaby or Manvers, or other large collieries where the output was something like 1,200 to 1,600, or 1.700 tons per day, without getting the house coal. And they might have a great surplus of house coal flung upon their hands, because a large quantity of steam coal was being got, which could not without the house coal being got, at the same time. But still there were bright rays about this matter. The Staffordshire people had flung many thousands tons of their coal into the general market, now being used for making iron, which was not during the depression in the iron trade. That was giving them a better chance of getting into the market. And they must admit an improvement in trade in their own district, because, whereas they were only working three and a half and four and a half days, which was the average throughout last year, at eight collieries which they took as representative of the pits, they were now mostly working six days. They need only have a little patience – for the demand was bound to increase. These great contracts had enabled the masters to hold up their heads, and the result would be, although the thing might fluctuate, as Mr. Warburton said, that they would have the opportunity to raise their prices. The time would come, and he did not believe it was more than two months distant, when an advance on wages based upon the great improvement in their rate would take place in South Yorkshire.

He was glad Mr. Warburton had named one thing. That was when the average for the coal got to 5s. 3d. he would return them the 5 %, and let the 5s. 3d. be the basis, and when it got to 5s. 7d. he would give them a 2 ½ % rise. If they could get that he would say, let every man in South Yorkshire have patience and wait. Of course those parties who had not sacrificed the 5 % could not expect it.

It was a hard matter for him to come and `drill and dog´ and try to persuade them to be patient, at the same time that they thought their patience had been exercised sufficiently long. They wanted something to steady the thing just now. The Scotsmen allowed their wages to be brought down, and even asked if might be, and that was where the row began – the restriction.

He might mention a circumstance, which if true – and it came from a very good source – was a very serious one. Mr. MacDonald, as soon as the iron trade began to improve in America, was in receipt of 30 newspapers a week from there. He saw there would be a great demand from England, and he commences and speculates himself. (Hear, hear)

He piled up a lot of pig iron, stacked in a certain place, and he (Mr. Chappell) did not blame him ; but he sold it again and cleared £2,000 without having removed it from it´s place. (Hear, hear)

This was partly the reason why he agitated the Scotsmen. He heard this on very good authority, and they could, therefore, understand the thing a little better now. (Laughter and cheers)

He was obliged to Mr. MacDonald for such statements that they saw in the papers which circulated in this district, as they were detrimental to the men in South Yorkshire. They should not let the Scotsmen influence them in the least, for our trade and theirs was very different. One good thing was that they kept their coal for home use, so that we had a better chance to send to the markets

He concluded by expressing his confidence that the sliding scale must become an established thing between masters and men as people become more intelligent.

Mr. Warburton could not promise the return of 5% at the end of six weeks, but he should be glad if he were able to do so, both in the interests of the owners as well as the men. He expressed himself quite favourable to a sliding scale, saying he believed it to be both advantageous to masters and men ; it seemed to him to have all the elements of co-operation. He hailed it with gratification as a most reasonable and rational way of settling wages, instead of having agitation, misery, starvation and everything that tended to debase humanity.

It was time such things were swept from the face of England – men pining their wives and families ; they starved and died before their very eyes. He never saw such scenes in all his experience as he had since he came to Denaby Main, and he hoped never to see the like again. If they could establish the sliding scale it would do away with all this misery.

It was decided to wait until the prices for coal rose, before they asked the masters for the return of 5 %.

The proceedings then terminated.