Meeting of Miners – 10% advance – Mr. Cowley “Kicks Off.” (picture)

September 1888

Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Saturday 29 September 1888

Mr. Cowley “Kicks Off.”


Last night, at the Lodge Room, Doncaster road, Mexborough, a largely-attended meeting of Denaby Main miners was addressed by Mr. B. Pickard, M.P.(picture – from wikipedia). and Mr. E. Cowey, president of the Yorkshire Miners Union.

The chair was occupied by Mr. J. Dixon, who, in opening remarks, said, most of them were aware, there had been conference at Manchester during the week, the delegates attending which represented 200,000 men. That conference resolved to demand a 10 per cent, advance, and Mr. Pickard and Mr. Cowey had come down to Mexborough commence the “plan of campaign.” (Cheers.)

Mr. E. Cowey said he and Mr. Pickard had come down that night for the “kick off.” (Cheers and laughter.) They had come down satisfied that there was a sufficient advancement in trade to justify them in asking for increase in wages. (Hear, hear.) The Colliery Guardian admitted that trade was hardening all round, but, they said, that had nothing to do with it; the advance of wages solely depended on the demand for labour. That was doctrine with winch he could not possibly agree. (Hear, hear.) It was also said that if they went in for an advance they would drive trade away. (Laughter). They, as coal miners coal miners, produced motion in every other trade, and yet they could not share the advance which every other trade is now undergoing. He believed that miners had the most arduous and the most dangerous employment in the world. (Hear, hear.)

The colliery owners had met during this week Sheffield and Leeds, and their business had become known pretty much as they (the owners) got to know the miners doings. The owners had agreed put Is. per ton on best coal, but nothing whatsoever upon engine fuel and slack. That, in his opinion, was a “monstrous inequity that the consumer of best coal should be called upon to pay extra, and that engine fuel and slack should be sold for less than it cost to produce it. If the owners were not getting profits why did not they increase the price these two classes of coal? The owners were selling an article below its value, A thing could be produced too cheaply when was produced at the cost human suffering and human life. (Cheers.) He had attended conferences all his life, but he never remembered attending such Conference as the one at Manchester. The time had now arrived when the men, after all their suffering, should come out their shell and demand their rights. There were no “ifs” or buts,” no hanging fire in the matter. If the owners would not raise the price of the stuff, and thus increase their profits, the miners would step in and make them. (Cheers.) He was the last man in the world to resort to violence or physical force, but a desperate case needed a desperate remedy, and the men knew that only as they were prepared would they get what they wanted. (Hear, hear.)

The Conference had come to one determined result, that unless the 10 per cent be conceded, the notices be given in all over the counties represented on the 27th October, and that the steamship’s and railway engines of the country shall stand until the miners got a fair day’s wage. (Loud cheers.) He believed that the state of trade at the present time could afford an advance; he would not advocate the getting anything if it were not there to be got, but now he was assured that it was he was prepared to advocate the men’s claims. (Hear, hear.) The association officials must be terrible fellows. (Laughter.) The owners of Yorkshire did not care to meet them, which in his opinion was very discourteous, very high-handed, and very wrong. (Cheers.) If stoppage took place it would the fault of the owners; they had thrown down the gauntlet. They refused meet the association officials; they were receiving deputations of their own men. Did not the men see what that meant? Divided they were not strong; and the owners now tried to tackle them single-handed. (Hear, hear.) The owners had left the men alternative but to take the field, and they were breaking in at Denaby that night. (A voice, “We are stayers,” and cheers). The speaker then referred to the weakness which was caused by those men who refused to pay to the Union. If the miner wanted a 10 per cent, advance, had a right help to pay for it. (Hear, hear.) He was firmly convinced that if all the counties stuck together they would get the advance. In conclusion he hoped, with Mr. Pickard, that there would be no “funking.’ (Cheers.)

Mr. Pickard, M.P., said some years ago the men asked the owners for an advance but were refused, ‘the men were prepared to put in their notices, and the owners, seeing that, gave the advance. (Hear, hear.) The owners to-day were as equally prepared to give the advance of wages they were at the latter part of 1881. (Hear, hear.) Were the men prepared to similar course, if need be, that adopted by them in 1881? (Hear, hear, and “Yes.”) If they were they would get the advance; he felt as firmly convinced of that he was in 1881. (Cheers.) He confessed that at the beginning is fear was not so much of the state of trade as of the state the men; whether or not they were anxious and determined to go for an advance. The Yorkshire coal owners took different course to that pursued almost all the other northern Counties. In Northumberland, in Durham, in South Wales, in Cumberland, and in even in Lancashire the owners were quite prepared to meet the representatives of the men and talk matters over. (Hear, hear.) But in South Yorkshire the owners snapped their fingers at the men and their representative, and in effect they said, “We are first, the devil take the hindmost.” (Hear, hear, and laughter.) That was all the sympathy miners got from the colliery owners. (Hear. hear.)

He was not surprised at the colliery owners refusing to meet the men’s representatives. They said they inveigled into a trap in 1881, and that they were not going to be led into it again. They said they gave an advance of wages, but did not get commensurate advance in the price coal. That he denied absolutely. If they could point to one colliery owner who gave an advance and lost money by this transaction he  would one of the first to say, “We will give you a breathing space.” (Hear, hear.) One thing happened since the 10per cent, was taken off. The coal-owners promise that if a new line were opened to Hull, and brought down the rates by 6d or 7d. per ton, they would quite willing in the southern portion of Yorkshire to share with the men in that advantage. The colliery owners now said that the price of coal was now lower than ever it had been.— (A Voice: “Let them put it up then.”)

Supposing that were so, he asked what about the sixpence per ton reduction in the rates the Hull and Barnsley, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the North-Eastern Railways, because he had it record, in the speeches of Mr. Dent and Colonel Smith, that these railway rates actually went down on all the lines, for when one railway did it the other railways brought theirs down, too. (Cheers.) If the price of coal was lower, how was it that dividends were beginning to be paid? (Laughter and hear, hear.) There was one great firm that had not paid a dividend for some time paying 5 per cent, this year. (Hear, hear.) Were they paying dividends out the profits of their losses? (Renewed laughter.) Messrs. Cammell’s paid a dividend, John Brown and Company paid dividends, and he would like to know how many firm- didn’t? (Hear, hear.) It was all very well to say that dividend was not being paid when they were wiping off £250,000 debentures. (Hear, hear.) The colliery owners said trade was bad. Nevertheless it was a fact that, so far as Yorkshire was concerned, it now stood higher in output than at any other period in its mining history. (Hear, hear.) The owners bad been telling them for years that if they could only get an increase of the output that alone would put the trade in a better position. The trade had improved, and the contracted prices for coal for the year ending December, 1888, were higher some coppers per ion than at the beginning of the year. (Cheers.)

He did not think there was one colliery company in Yorkshire that had been existence for fifteen years that could honestly say they had not been making a profit in the sale of coal. (Hear, hear.) They said they paid no dividends; but as a rule, they had managing directors and managers and other high-paid colliery officials to pay out the profits. That was quite different to what it was 25 years ago; what would satisfy a colliery owner 25 years ago did not satisfy a manager now. (Hear, hear.) The managers did not forget to pitch into him when he told them that they were apparently better off than the owners,that they lived in large houses, and they did not like him saying that some of them had cobs and hunters. (Cheers and laughter.)

The colliery owners had a trinity of objections to the advance. They said, in the first instant, that their wages had nothing to with the price of coal. The Colliery Guardian used to give the prices of each year, but when he (the speaker) began to use them, they gave over publishing them, not that he should trust them altogether, for that paper made its own political economy. (Hear, hear.) It’s political economy was “to-day”. Whatever suited the employers for the time being was its political economy, and also the political economy of the representative press connected with the employers’interest.

The best argument which they used was that they should not take any notice of trade. (Laughter.) They were not take any notice of prices or the output, but the demand for men. The miners were taking them at their word. (Cheers.) The owners of Yorkshire had thrown down the gauntlet, and by that means had fanned what was only the beginning of the weak faint spark into fierce flame. (Cheers.) The men were to the treated, not as dumb driven cattle, but as the flags that were walked on in the street, or the coal that was taken out of the pit, and they were compared, as an alderman of Leeds once compared the men to him (the speaker), to the skin a beast.” They were only suffered the face of the earth so long as they could minister to the wants of those who had money, and who put them in the way of using their bone and muscle to produce a living. (Cheers.)

The colliery owners would not meet Mr. Pickard. (Laughter.) ’What had he done them? He said at the council m meeting the other day that, in order to take the staying out of the owners this time they ought to do the thing in gentlemanly manner. (Hear, hear.) He advised the council to meet the owners courteously, and to let there no threat in the business. (Hear, hear.) The council took the advice, and he sent up a courteous circular to every owner in Yorkshire. He believed no man could take exception to word in that circular. (Hear, hear.)

What was the result: it appeared to him that the men and their representatives could be courteous as they knew how, but the owners did not care for any means unless they were beaten with sticks and stones. (Cheers.) He did not mean stones pulled out the road and sticks out of the hedge, but the conduct of the owners Yorkshire had led him to this conclusion —that was not a lack of courtesy, but that they were going to take every bone and muscle out of the men to secure for themselves everything which they thought right, so that they could enjoy their luxury while the men waddled to the pits and news their bone and sinew until they dropped. (Loud cheers.) In fact they told them that they had got the steam out of them. At the Manchester conference he never saw the delegates so earnest or harmonious his life. They were determined that when the notices were put up they should not be withdrawn. (Cheers.) There were no men in Yorkshire who had done the hard fighting that the men of the Denaby Main had done, and if there was any excuse for any pit not Joining this movement Denaby Main had the prior claim. But he did not suppose they would “hedge.” (Cheers.) If the owners would not concede the advance there would be such a strike cop in this country as there had never been witnessed before. (Cheers.) There would be no pending settlements,” and no single pit worked in until the whole country went. (Loud cheers.) It was shame that in this Christian nation should be treated as they were being treated. Talk about the awaiting that have been enquired into London: he did not think anything would be so bad as the miners lot if fairly looked into. (Cheers.) The bugle had sounded; would they rally to the standard and win the victory? He believed they would. (Loud cheers.)

The following resolution was then carried unanimously ;

“That this meeting hereby agrees to carry out the resolution adopted at the Manchester Conference, via., that  we demand  a 10 per cent advance on our present rate of wages, and unless the same be conceded, give in our notices to try and obtain the same; and farther we are of opinion that if the miners of the present day are to receive fair share the profits accruing from their industry they must belong a strong organisation; and therefore pledge ourselves to make the Yorkshire Association what it once was by belonging to the association.”