The “Bag Dirt” Strike – Meeting with Mr Chambers – 6th Week of Stoppage

August 1902

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Friday 08 August 1902

Denaby and Cadeby Strike
Sixth Week of the Stoppage
The Chappell Agreement.
Full Text Published for the First Time.
 Mr. W. H. Chambers on The Price List.

The stoppage of the Denaby and Cadeby collieries has now continued for nearly 6 weeks, and there appears to be no prospect  whatever of an immediate resumption of work. The men are more than once expressed their determination to maintain the present attitude until they get a revised price lists – “one that every man can understand. “

Judging from the lack of definiteness the presently, there are some grounds the proposed revision; as to who is to blame for the wording of the presently question which ought not to be left out of consideration.

The original resolution , in accordance with which the pits were set down , was passed on Sunday, June 29, the mass meeting of the men held at Conisbrough, and it we just follow:

“That this meeting is of opinion that the time has now arrived when some steps should be taken with reference to the deductions from men’s wages for quotes bag dirt,” and fines for different things at the Denaby and Cadeby collieries; seeing that we have tried all in our power to come to some amicable understanding and failed, the only thing that is left for in to do is to stop the wheels at both collieries.”

At a later meeting of the men, a list of grievances was drawn up, containing the following matters .

(1) The “bag dirt” question;
(2) The discontinuance of the imposition of fines on miners for that are described as petty matters;
(3) A full adherence to the arrangement entered into on July 22nd, as to the pit lads’ wages;
(4) The company to make up the earnings of men employed in difficult places to a fair days wage, as is done at other collieries; and
(5) The fixing of a price list for contractors to work to.

These matters  were discussed, and ten delegates were appointed to wait upon Mr. W. H. Chambers, the managing director An interview with Mr. Chambers took place during the afternoon of Wednesday, July 2nd and on the evening of the same day the members of the deputation reported to a mass meeting of the men what been done.

In regards to the “bag dirt” Mr. Chambers maintained the same position he has held all along, and he would use no undertaking as to the non-imposition of fines. On the other three points, Mr. Chambers attitude was more satisfactory to the men. He was willing that the question of the boys’ wages should be submitted to arbitration; he said he was always willing to make up the wages of fair-working men, and had given instructions that that should be done: and if the contractors wanted a price list, and would submit it to him, he would consider it.

It would appear from this that the only point in regard to which there can he differences serious enough to warrant stoppage is the question of the payment for the work of dropping and removing “bag dirt.” In effect, the only remit of the interview with Mr. Chambers was to bring the men back to the original starting point. The men’s officials contend that if Mr. Chambers will adhere to the price list signed by himself on behalf of the colliery company, and by Mr. Ben Pickard, M.P.. on behalf of the men, on June 18th, 1890; he will pay the miners extra for dropping and removing “bag dirt.”

On the other band, Mr. Chambers has on several definitely stated that the miner are paid strictly according to the price list, and that therefore they are paid for dropping and removing “bag dirt.” This, the men’s officials will not admit; and it is open this very point that the management and the men are in conflict.

Now, which side is in the right on this particular point, and which side is in the wrong? This is a question in which the people of the district who are not miners are interested, because it is the public to whom the miners on strike look for support. If the men are really paid under the present price list for dropping and removing “bag dirt,” then it is clear that the men’s representatives are labouring under a grave misapprehension. If, on the other hand, they are not paid, the sooner they can obtain an amicable agreement on the point the better, because the sooner will the public—tradespeople and others—be relieved of the anxiety which the strike involves.

The difficulty hitherto has been to make people understand what the strike is all shout. The men began, as we have seen, with a complaint in regard to the payment for “bag dirt,” and the imposition of fines. Then a list of grievances was drawn up in regard to three points in which the men have been fairly met by the management.

If The grievances and complaints of the men have now been crystallised, as one might my, in one sentence. The resolution passed at the recent main meetings been in this form “That we stop out until we get a fresh price list.” The men’e officials in their speeches have urged upon them to remain united and not go back to work until a revised price list has been agreed upon. Of course, it is understood that in any revised price list provision is to be for payment for dropping and removing “bag dirt”. The management, on the other band, contend that provision is already made in the price list of 1890 for payment for this work, and they further contend that payment has been actually made.

The price list for the Denaby Main colliery, which applies to both Denaby and Cadeby pits, has already been printed in our columns, and we reproduce it here for the purpose of showing how very indefinite and unsatisfactory it is, so far as the wording is concerned. A list, or agreement, which regulates the wages of over 2000 men and boys ought to be clear and definite in every particular item, and ought not to be so vague as to be in constant danger of being interpreted differently by the men and the masters. The whole trouble arises out of the indifferent wording of the prim list agreed upon in 1890.

The price list is published separately

A reference to this that the fourth item the bottom reads. – Cutting tops in gates (including dropping bag dirt) 11d per yard. The men say that at Denaby and Cadeby the company have not paid 11d. per yard for the kind of work specified, nor indeed have they paid anything at all. The contention of the management is that payment for the work is included to the item, which reads: ‘Coal getting, wooding, packing and top cutting, large coal, 1s. 4 ½ d per ton.”

The company have paid the men in accordance with that interpretation of the list, and in support of that interpretation they rely a document signed in 1885 by Mr. W. Chappell, behalf of the men. As against this the men’s officials argue that document signed in 1885 or at any time previous to 1890, is set aside by the 1890 price list, which ought to be operative. The men’s officials now go further than that even, and declare that as the 1890 price list in unsatisfactory they will have a revised list.

With the object of obtaining information as to the real meaning of the 1890 price list, a representative of this paper sought an interview with Mr. W. H. Chambers, which was courteously granted, on Tuesday evening.

Mr. Chambers expressed his willingness to give any information that would the “Times” to place the public in possession of the facts.

The 1890 price list, he said, was based on agreement at between himself and Mr. Wm. Chappell. by which the great strike of 1885 was ended. For some time the officials of the Density Main branch of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association doubted the existence of this particular document. In the discussions that had taken place as to the payment for quotes bag dirt.” Mr. Chambers had refused to produce the document on the grounds that officials of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association were in possession of a copy in his own handwriting. His point was that if the local officials wanted to see the document they had only to get the copy from Barnsley. In February, 1901, at a meeting at Sheffield, at which Mr. Fred Hall, Mr. W. Annables. Mr. F. Croft, Mr. J. Nolan, and Mr. Rounds were present. Mr. Chambers argued that the tonnage rate included the dropping and removing of “bag dirt.” and he added, I have it in black and white.”

Mr Chambers was challenged to produce the document, which he did. The authenticity of the document was called into question, but Mr. Chappell attended a meeting a week later, and after examining the documents declared that the whole of it, with the exception of Mr. Chambers’ signature, was in his own handwriting, that he did himself write some words that were underlined, and that he signed it on behalf of men in 1885.

After this this officials of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association had to admit that the document was genuine; at any rate, they could not contest its validity. It is a document that has not been seen by than more than two at the concerned in the present strike; it is the document upon which Judge Masterman gave his decision against the men in the “bag dirt” at the Doncaster County Court : and it is, fact, so far as “bag dirt” is concerned, the agreement under which the men at Denaby and worked since 1885, and at Cadeby since 1894.

Mr. Clambers very readily showed our representative the original of the 1885 agreement, and also furnished him with a copy.

The Memorandum of Agreement is published seperately

“You do not,” said our representative, admit that the 1890 price list puts on one side this agreement of August 12th, 1885?”

“The 1890 price list,” said Mr. Chambers, “is based on the 1885 agreement. Before 1890 the price list was precisely the same in wording the exception that in 1890 several items were added, such as: ‘Shifting-up that sheets,’ ‘Setting bars; ‘Colliers’ day wage’, Trammers’ day wage,’ and the paragraphs , about packing cross gates and the deduction for small.”

“But the wording of the items relating to coal getting and so on is not the same in the 1890 price lit, as it is in the 1885 agreement. How is that to be accounted for?” asked our representative.

In reply, Mr. Chambers placed his hand on the original document, signed by Mr. Chappell nearly 17 years ago, and said, “This is the agreement, and in it the items relating to “bag dirt” are set out separately. When the men drew up the list based on this agreement they summarised the items, and put several under one head; besides that, they left out some of the words, as you will see by  comparison of the agreement with the price list.”

“But this 1890 price list is signed by you, on behalf of the colliery company, although it is not an exact copy of the agreement,” remarked our representative.

“That is so, replied Mr. Chambers. “The price list that was in me between 1885 and 1890 was similarly worded; it was well understood what was meant to be conveyed, and the same phraseology was adopted in the 1890 list.”

Mr. Chambers said this price list bad been adhered to by the colliery compsny since 1885, and he further pointed out that if the men were right in their contention that the 11d. per yard should be paid in addition to the 1/4 ½  per ton, they might just as consistently claim that the yardage price for double packing (6/4 per lineal yard) should be added to the 1/4 ½  per ton, which already includes 2d per ton for this very work.

Our representative again commented on the difference in the wording of the 1890 price list and the 1885 agreement, and Mr. Chambers said the idea no doubt was to condense the list as much as possible, as even the word “lineal” in the yardage price was left out in 1890. Whatever may he the differences in the wording, there can be no doubt that the 1885 agreement is the document by which the wages have been paid. It is plain enough, as far as it goes, and the price list contained in it is one that be understood by every man,” which is more than can he said for the 1890 price list.

Such is the position of the colliery management in regard to the price list. The 1890 list is as obscure as any of the dreams of Pharoah and the 1885 agreement is the interpretation thereof. One would think that in order to remove a possible came of unpleasantness in the future, the colliery management would be willing to accept revision of the 1890 list as it now stands as would bring it more into conformity with the 1885 agreement.

It is a pity that the general body of the men have not been made more fully acquainted with the 1885 agreement. Those who carefully read the above will see that that agreement is the real, legal basis of the wages question at these collieries. Had that fat been recognised and admitted earlier, there would have been less occasion for controversy. It may as well he admitted now and a fresh start made. By handing in their notices the men have put an end to their contracts under both the 1890 price list end the 1885 agreement, and both documents have ceased to be operative for the time being. If the men are dissatisfied with the 1885 agreement as well as the 1890 price list —and there is ample evidence that they are—the best course now would be to endeavour to secure another agreement and list, by which as amicable settlement can be arrived at.

With such thoughts as these running through his mind, our representative asked Mr. Chambers if the men’s had made any intimation since the stoppage as to the character of the new price list they wished to have adopted. Mr. Chambers replied that he had not received any communication of that kind, and only knew front the newspapers that the men were striking for a new price list. At the same time, he produced a price list submitted jointly by the Denaby and Cadeby branches about a year ago, which, he said, had been the subject of discussion from time to time between himself and the men’s representatives. There were items in that list which be not set, and be had already told the men’s representatives so. He had had no intimation since the stoppage that that was the revised price list which the men wanted, nor indeed had any price list, reviled or otherwise, been submitted to him.

“lf the price list the men submitted some time ago were accepted by the company, what would be the effect upon their wages?” “It would mean that they would receive and the colliery company was be paying wag equal to an advance of 14 per cent., which is more than the 10 per cent. that has been recently taken off.” replied Mr. Chambers “If the men do not want to contend with the bag dirt, they need not do so. The colliery company will do the work if the men agreed to allow the ½ d per ton this is been paid since 1885 to be taken off their wages. The men have that option.”