March 6th 1885.
The Denaby Main Dispute.
The men have now been out of employment more than two months, Various rumours have been floating about the locality during the past few days with more or less no foundation. It is stated by the officials that there are numbers of men ready to work at the reduction ; but this is denied by the miners them -selves, who consider that the offer of the company to throw the pit open is only a `feeler´ thrown out in order that negotiations may again be entered into between the masters and the men.
It is said that a deputation of the men will be appointed to wait on the manager and bring about a speedy termination to the dispute if possible.
The following notice was affixed to the pit gates on Monday, and `cried´ through the streets of Mexborough at the insistence of the colliery officials :-
” Denaby Main Colliery – Notice – This pit will be open for resumption of work on Thursday morning. The prices paid for large coal ( hand filled ) will be 1s. 6d. per ton, and for slack ( shovel filled ) 8d. per ton. All day wage men and boys will be re-engaged at the old rate of wages, subject to a similar reduction ( if any ) made general in the district.
Ample police protection will be afforded to any who may go to work, and all intimidation or breach of the peace will be severely dealt with.
Application for work to be made at the office on Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Miners´ Meeting at Mexborough.
A crowded meeting of the Denaby Main miners was held at the lodge-room, Mexborough, on Tuesday morning.
The Chairman, in opening the meeting referred to the notice which had been affixed to the gates of the colliery, and he hoped no one would shift from the ranks and that they would stand together as previously.
The following resolution was put to the meeting and carried unanimously.
” That we, the miners of Denaby Main, are more determined than ever to oppose the revision of prices proposed by the company, as it implies a reduction of 30%, that we one and all remain firm as before until an amicable settlement is effected, and that we continue orderly as in the past and give the police that the company propose to bring to the colliery no work.”
It was also decided that Mr. Dixon attend the conference at Rotherham next Monday on behalf of the men.
Mr. Chappell, the secretary of the association, in rising to address the meeting was received with cheers. He said they had reached an important point in the history of the dispute. There had not been a time during the whole nine or ten weeks which had required so much care and caution on the part of the men as the present. He did not anticipate any one was going to run to work. ( Hear, hear )
But as he stated last week there could be no question that the officials at the colliery expected it – and he believed numbers of men in their own ranks.
He did not say that, for the purpose of probing their feelings, but as a matter of policy, because there were men amongst them who were anxious to get that wretched unfair `butty´ system at Denaby Main, against which there had been so many fights, and in antagonism to which there had been so much strength mustered and money expended.
They had approached a very critical point in the history of that struggle, and needed to be very careful.
There were a number of men concerning whom he knew nothing, who were not in the Union.
The meeting could depend upon it, the officials at the colliery had been told that there were a large number of men at the colliery who were ready to run to work at any moment, if they could see their way clear.
He thought they would bear him out when he said that, at the meeting in Mr. Slater´s room and the meeting prior to that when the tools were brought out there were a large number of non-unionists, and these men showed themselves as far as he could judge, as determined as any of the unionists not to accept the terms the company had offered, simply because they were unfair and uneven. ( Cheers )
It might have been a hard struggle – there was no question about that – for the families of the non-unionists – if they were still at Denaby Main contending against adverse circumstances into which they had been thrown by the strike or lock-out. That was a matter over which they had no control.
He wished to impress upon those men, however, that if the thing was wrong at the outset it was still wrong, and that no alteration had occurred in the position of the two parties to the dispute. ( Hear, hear )
Of course they were told that such and such a state of things occurred at other collieries, so far as the hand picking was concerned. There was not a colliery in the Leen Valley or in Derbyshire where the men were required to send every fraction of stuff out of the pit which was obtained. That was the reason why there was little or no percentage of small stuff to be put down in the pits of Derbyshire to the `little´ item.
At one colliery in the Leen valley where there was a very fair section of coal the miners could get under the coal in the soft dirt at the bottom, and consequently not more than 60 tons in 1,600 had to be registered as small coal.
None of the officials at Denaby Main would be prepared to say that such a state of things could be brought about at that pit. The men might, he had no doubt, produce slightly better results than had been the case in the past, but when the company wished to saddle the responsibility of the stoppage of the colliery on any misdemeanours of the men, they were `off the road.´ The pit would never have stopped for that. That could never be the case, and it was not the original cause of the stoppage, so far as his humble opinion went.
From the telegram he received from Mr. Dixon, the dataller´s wages were not to be interfered with. If the datallers could be trusted, from what he knew of their action on previous occasions, he did not believe any of them were going to get the miners´ coal. There was no doubt that if they went to work they would be pressed into coal getting in a very few hours after they got there.
( A Voice : No one ought to go up )
The company would not require a large number of datallers unless someone was getting the coal. The safest way would be for everyone to stand firm until something could be done in the way of a final settlement. ( Hear, hear )
What had been said in the past concerning the effect of the new prices they would not retreat from. Of course the owners had their side to the question, and might have a very different way of explaining it to the public than the men had, but they had not yet seen any explanation which would lead them to change their opinion.
That a very serious alteration would be made there could be no question, if they were to adopt a similar plan to that in the Leen Valley, where the plan had come from.
He was satisfied that what the officials at the Denaby Main colliery meant was that two men should have charge of a stall, and all the rest must be – ( A Voice : Donkeys ) – well, donkeys if they liked.
That was one of the worst phases of colliery working, and he had no hesitation in saying that it was one of the worst features of English industrial operations which it was possible to imagine. One man picking the bones of another was a thing which never ought to be tolerated.
It might be pleasant for a man to have charge of a place and have four or five men working there like horses, then at the end of the week to take the money which ought to go into the pockets of those who had really earned it. It might be pleasant, and no doubt there were men at the colliery who would, if they could, make it convenient. All the men had to go into the same market – there were the same prices charged at the butcher´s shop to everyone – and their was neither manliness nor honesty on the part of any man who had prompted the officials to believe that it was possible for them, if they were firm, to introduce the `butty´ system at Denaby Main and have matters all their own way. He hoped every man would resent as far as he could anything which tended in that direction. Every man should be able to stand on his own merits and have the benefit of his own labour. ( Hear, hear )
There were hundreds of `butty-men´ in the Leen Valley district who would willingly get rid of the system, and he had no doubt it would be stopped soon.
They did not want it in Yorkshire – ( Cheers ) – and the men in the Leen Valley did not wish them to have it. They were being confronted in Yorkshire with a demand for a 10% reduction. It was a strange thing that men could not afford 3d. for the purpose of stemming back some evil which threatens, but they could afford to pay 2s. if they only saw it.
It would have paid the collieries within a few miles of that district better to have advanced every item 10% for the purpose of stemming back the struggle, because at Denaby Main they had the largest output in the district, and the pit was the nearest to the markets in the South and South East of England.
If the owners of that pit obtained an advantage over other collieries in addition to what they had already possessed with respect to situation they would see what the tendency would be, they would be bored somewhere else, and it ought to be their policy to stop the matter where it was.
He hoped every non-unionist who attended the meeting on Thursday, so that it could be fully known, both to the owners and everyone concerned, that they still believed that the terms were inequitable and unfair, leaving out the question the of extra labour and inconveniences caused by the new system. If the owners had said they would pay the men as much money as they receiving before, it would have looked better. The new system meant more small coal, and that was something which no practical man could swallow.
He urged the men not to quarrel with each other. There would be a great deal of excitement and they did not know who would be engaged to go about to the weak places among them for the purpose of getting a few of the men to go to work.
He concluded by expressing a hope that every non-unionist would simply adhere to the principles which had already been adopted. If the terms were wrong at the first they are wrong now, and they must have fairer terms before they can resume work. ( Applause )
If the `butty´ system were introduced it would mean traffic in human flesh, and that was the mildest way in which it could be put.
Before he would work for any man in a pit at day wages he would suffer any indignity.
The principal business of the meeting then terminated. – It was decided that in future if the wives of unionists were found begging, their husbands would be placed on half pay.
The men were greatly incensed at a statement concerning the ample police protection which had been offered to those who went to work at the reduction and the Chairman at one point asked what the men had done at Denaby Main to call for the sentence in the notice given to the men.