Dispute – May 22nd e – Address by Benjamin Pickard

May 1885

Denaby Main Miners
Address By Mr. Benjamin Pickard
New Terms Offered

A meeting of Denaby Main Miners was held on Tuesday afternoon, in the Congregational schoolroom, Mexborough, for the purpose of hearing Mr. Pickard´s views on the situation.

The Rev. T.J. Leslie occupied the chair, and, in opening the proceedings, said he was very pleased to meet the men that afternoon, not so much on the magnetude of the business on which they had met, but simply to show them the goodwill of his people and himself in relation to the struggle then going on, in that that building had been without murmuring placed at their service. ( Hear, hear)

He was exceedingly pleased to meet Mr. Pickard that afternoon. They had been doing what Abraham Lincoln described as ” swopping horses whilst crossing a stream.” They had `swopped horses´ but they had not been carried away down the stream. He had thought that during the last few days that, however ably they might have been served by their own committee, they needed the guidance of others connected with the great society in Barnsley. A local committee simply looked at matters from a local standpoint. Gentlemen in Mr. Pickard´s position, having to do with all the collieries in the neighbourhood, having to meet in the council from time to time, were able to take a broader and more correct view of the question, than men living in the locality. He hoped the counsel that Mr. Pickard would place before them would be such as they would see their way clear to accept, and, if they accepted it, he hoped by some means or other that he would also be able to bring some power or influence to bear on the owners of Denaby Main, that they too might be led to accept it.

He felt all through that struggle, as a Christian Minister, that he must stand by the men, especially when they had a firm conviction that they were only fighting for that which was right and just. He could not, as a Christian Minister ask any of them to go to work for a wage which they believed inadequate and unjust. He had no sympathy with the old adage that `half a loaf was better than no bread´, when it related to men who were working hard from day to day by the sweat of their brow.

He was not there that afternoon to say anything disrespectful of Mr. Pope, and, if there had been any disrespectful inference drawn from his words, it had been simply in reply to his own disrespectful utterances.

Mr. Pope complained in some of the daily papers that he had said that the men were praying to God, and that he had failed to tell the public that they were also throwing brickbats. His ( Rev. Leslie´s ) remarks were simply called forth in reply to Mr. Pope´s profane jest that he was helping them pray to the moon. He had no personal knowledge of Mr. Pope, but what he had heard concerning that gentleman made him desirous that they might never be brought into close quarters. ( Laughter )

He did not understand the technical phrases of their question, but he did under -stand that the owners of Denaby Main were very anxious the men should go to work at a very large reduction on their wages. ( Hear, hear )

That he thought was very undesirable, and if Mr. Pickard could bring about a better state of things in the minds of the owners he would be only too glad. When the struggle was over, he hoped every man connected with Denaby Main and all the other collieries in the neighbourhood, would be in the Union and stand shoulder to shoulder as one man. ( Hear, hear )

Mr. Peter Hatton proposed, and Mr. E. Beardsley seconded, the following resolution :-

” We agree to the following scheme for the settlement of this dispute :

( 1 ) We are willing to fill coal in future with a `frank´ at the same rate as is paid to the men at Messrs. Pope and Pearson´s ( Altofts ) for coal filled with franks t their firm.
( 2 ) We are willing to arbitrate the question on the prices paid at :-
Manvers Main, Mitchells Main, Cortonwood, Wath Main, Wombwell Main, Aldwarke, Thrybergh Hall and Roundwood colliers.
( 3 ) We are willing for Mr. Burt, M.P., to be the umpire.
( 4 ) We are willing to resume work, pending the decision arrived at by the umpire and arbitrators, on the old terms prior to the lock-out.”

Mr. Pickard, after expressing the pleasure it gave him to be present, said he was a little struck when he read in the papers that the prayers of the Dissenters were nothing better than praying to the moon. Some of their employers were connected to the Plymouth Brethren, and if the members of that sect carried out their doctrine Mr. Pope would not be head of the firm. The Plymouth Brethren were not allowed to take part in trades unionism or anything else. The sooner the employers of labour applied the words ” Give us this day our daily bread,” to others as well as to themselves, the better for all concerned. Mr. Pope said they were praying to the moon. He thought that it was a great shame that any man who had passed through a course of education should say a thing like that.

It was said that ” in trade their is no conscience ” and it was quite clear that some of the coalowners that they had to deal with did not obey the dictates of their consciences.

He gave an anecdote of a woman who asked for a little piece of bread and took 35 ¾ inches, and said when their consciences would stretch like that in trade matters it was a serious matter.

His experience was that all employers of labour – he was speaking in the aggregate, there were a few quite different from that – had no conscience or care beyond paying the smallest amount possible for work done.

The only consideration which came in was how much or how little could the work be done for. He had heard employers of labour in Leeds, in the presence of thirty or forty persons, say that they did not provide work and wages for any other person than those directly engaged in their work ; wives and families did not come in their consideration at all. ( Shame )

Mr. Baxter, a great philanthropist, said their was no conscience whatever in trade. If there was no conscience whatever in trade then there was none in the trader, because it was the trader who made the trade, and if there was no con -science in the effect there could not be any in the cause.

He wanted them to clearly understand their positions. For nine weeks they had been disconnected from any society, and they had been `warring´ a little. They had had a few words sometimes with each other, and sometimes about those who led them. He had not come there to take up the thread of that portion of the business, but to say point blank that the same person who had been at the head of little society was doing certain things that he ought not to do. Whatever might be said by outsiders, theirs had been a voluntary act in going to the Yorkshire Miners´ Union. He had not the slightest doubt that, with their facilities which had been given to them for collecting, they were receiving as much as the men who were paying into the Union. He wished them clearly to understand that he had not come there to force anything down their throats – he had not come there with one resolution in his pocket and another before him on the table. It had been his practice, ever since he had been connected with the Miners´ Association, to know the mind of the men, and whatever it was to try by all fair and honourable means to carry it out. When he found the men to be really unfair and unwise hitherto he had the courage to place his views before the men, and contrast them with theirs, and if after examination they could adopt his proposals, or any portion of them, in preference to their own, to do so by all means. Having mingled those views together he had thrown all the energy he was capable of into the men´s cause. Any person accepting the responsibility of the negotiations had no right to exceed his instructions. He knew what the work of a trades union secretary was, and he considered that, having accepted a position like that, that was the very thing that would send him out of office quicker than anything else he knew of.

In the Church of England there were men who took their wages to preach orthodox sermons, but instead took wages and preached heterodox sermons – any sort of sermon rather than that which they ought to preach.

He did not think their Chairman was a man of that description.

The first part of the resolution was in favour of filling coal by `frank´.

They appeared to be at a deadlock. Mr. Chambers intimated to them at the outset of the difficulty that the company meant no reduction in wages – it was a mere matter of trying to change the mode of filling in order that they might get more customers for trade. It was not a question affecting whether they should be paid 5s. 6d. per day or 4s. per day, or any price other than the prices that were paid to them.

The Company´s suggestion was ” So much and so much, and that will be equal to what you have had before,” the men´s contention throughout had been that the alteration meant a serious reduction in wages.

He wished to ask one question. Did the Yorkshire Miners´ Union – did anyone connected with that association – help them get into that trouble ?

The society that they were connected with and the man at the head of that society were in one boat, and they all said it was a serious reduction, and he ( Mr. Chappell ) could not recommend them to accept it. This went on for a time. He was not going into the reasons why they fell out. The time came when they said, ” This man shall not be connected with us – and we will manage our own business.” As soon as the business was taken out of his ( Mr. Chappell´s ) hands their position was `untenable´ and Peter Hatton was everything that was bad. It was his opinion that if it had been anyone else it would have been the same. Their course of procedure up to about Easter was right, but directly afterwards it was wrong, and everyone wrong who was taking any part in that work. If it were right to say they were justified in the course they took at the start and for weeks after, and they had only been carrying on the same procedure since, who in the name of commonsense had the right to say they were wrong other than Mr. Pope.

Mr. Pope and Mr. Chambers had said they were wrong all the way through, but the parties who landed them into the difficulty and helped to fight, so long as they had money to fight with turned round and said that the whole thing was wrong, because it was not in their hands. That was the worst thing any leader could do. ( Hear, hear )

When the man who helped them said they were wrong, after publicly stating by letter and speech, which appeared in the Press, that they were right, it was enough to make any man at a distance doubt as to whether the whole thing was genuine or not. If it were wrong to begin with, then the man who entered into a struggle, knowing in his heart it was wrong, ought to have had the courage to have said so at the commencement, and advised them to take what the company offered. He thought that disposed of any opposition from that quarter. To spot out Peter Hatton in the way it was done was simply gibbeting him – it simply meant that Peter Hatton should simply have written on him, if Mr. Pope refused to take him back, ” Send the fool further.”

When it comes to the question of helping the little ones, their noble chairman is snubbed in every newspaper. They had given a tenth of their earnings for several years to Mr. Pope and Co., and he had proof of that in figures. Now that public sympathy was deep and generous they should keep themselves right with the general public. ( Hear, hear )

Denaby Main seemed to be a household name in the Midland counties, and people were in the habit of saying, ” If you are not collecting for Denaby Main you need not come here.” They saw the effect of the bad treatment they had received on the counties outside of Yorkshire. ( Applause )

Some of those present had perhaps worked at Pope and Pearson´s – they used to have twenty-two members of the West Yorkshire society working at Denaby Main, and he had met Mr. Warburton several times on account of questions. Pope was a household word in Yorkshire, and it had never been more of a household word than now. It was not a symbol of peace and contentment – it was not the great Pope who wrote poems – it was a Pope more in the form of a dictator, arrogating to himself the right to think and to feel for every workman at the Denaby Main colliery ; he took for granted that they had no right to express an opinion, that they had no right to know and understand how much work it would take to earn so much money. The only thing they had a right to do was to go down the pit, work hard all the day, and when Saturday night arrived they should have what was for them. ( Laughter )

Mr. Pope was willing to give them 5s. 6d. per day and 4s. for trammers. That was a position he did not wish to urge them to place themselves in. He knew what that meant in the course of a few weeks. They could always give the men a fortnight´s notice. If they could have a guarantee for twelve years or twelve months that no coal-getter should be turned off, he would have some pleasure in recommending them to accept the terms offered.

He would be very much inclined to think that the 2s. 10 ½ d. men of whom he had previously spoken would be turned off.

There was another thing, apart from the question of wages, which he would not refer to. He would not even mention it – he hated and abominated it – and if they took his advice and could get work on any reasonable terms they would not accept the vague terms offered by Mr. Pope. ( Cheers )

Where `franks´ were used in Altofts 3d. per ton extra was paid for their use. By `frank´ he meant an implement like a potato fork, with a protector round the prongs. Every ton of coal filled by means of a `frank´ entitled the filler at Pope and Pearson´s to 6d. extra. If Mr. Pope would allow them to work with these `franks´ they would still receive 1s. 4 ½d. per ton with 10% on, and 3d. per ton extra, in all 1s. 7 ½ d.

He thought they would lose nothing by the adoption of that course. It was not a question of hand-picking with him. He simply said they ought to try to find out a means whereby the men would not be subjected to more hardships than was the case before the owners sought the alteration, and that was the only reason why he spoke in favour of the work being done by the `frank´, instead of the filler having to put his hand to every lump of coal.

The Denaby Main owners should try to come to terms and get the men to work.

With reference to arbitration, Mr. Pickard said the prices paid at the collieries in their immediate neighbourhood were such as the Denaby Main men could fairly accept. They could fairly put their case to arbitration. He was sure there would be no dissent in the room to that proposal if he understood what the prices were.

He quoted from Mr. Pope´s letter on the subject of the appointment of Mr. Burt as arbitrator, and said Mr. Burt must not go to the colliery offices and hear what Mr. Chambers had got to say as to how many shifts had been worked, unless it was in the presence of the men´s representatives. ( Hear, hear )

The men should have a chance to bring their pay-notes and place them side by side with the employers´ statement, in order that Mr. Burt might hear both sides of the case.

He did not see how Mr. Pope would get out of arbitration after his statement. Even if a reduction were brought about it would be a wiser thing to accept it, than to take a reduction forced down their throats, as was the case then.

Respecting the last part of the resolution, he said if Mr. Pope meant what he had stated, he would allow his men to go to work on the old terms, and if there were to be any change it would be found out in a month.

He concluded by stating that the men who had fought a battle such as that had been sturdily and honestly would conduct themselves in a fitting manner.

The resolution was then put to the meeting and carried amid much cheering.

On the proposition of Mr. Hatton, seconded by a Miner, it was decided that the resolution be forwarded to the manager by Mr. Pickard, and that all of the ensuing correspondence should be entrusted with the latter gentleman.