Dispute Week 1 – Meeting with W.H. Chambers

2 January 1885

Mexborough & Swinton Times January, 2nd, 1885.

The Strike at Denaby Main

A joint meeting of the deputation appointed to wait on Mr. Chambers, the manager of the Denaby Main colliery, and the executive committee of the South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire Miners’ Association, took place on Monday evening last at the Masons’ Arms Inn, Mexboro’.

Mr. Chappell, the secretary of the association, said after a three hours interview, during which time the subject had been looked at from every possible standpoint, Mr. Chambers still contended that it was not a reduction which the company were seeking. (A Delegate: It’s not an advance.) It came to this, that Mr. Chambers based his observation on his own ideas that if the terms he suggested in the notices were acted on by the men they would get no less than 10 per cent. more coal out of the pit. He admitted that at present there was nearly 30 per cent. of small stuff made, including nuts and smudge, but making what he regarded to be a fair allowance for breakage in filling, tramming to the bottom, and shooting down the screens, that quantity would be reduced to 25 per cent.

Mr. Chambers also said he was sanguine that 10 per cent. more round coal could be made, thus making it appear that only 15 per cent. of small would be made to 85 per cent. of round coal. There was no man in that room, and questioned whether there was any man in South Yorkshire, who was prepared to maintain that statement. The best colliery in South Yorkshire was making no less than 25 per cent., including nuts and smudge, and he was sure if that rule applied to the collieries where the strongest section of the Barnsley coal was obtained, it would apply to Denaby. In view of the statement that he did not want a reduction they said that falling back on the document they had in their possession, the price of that kind of work ought to be at present 1s. 6½d. for round, and 10½d. for small. The difference between those rates and the position now was ½d. and 2½d. They said the proper prices were 1s. 6½ for large and 10½d. for small. Mr. Chambers still repeated his own conviction. While admitting that it might be correct that the improvement which would be brought about by the fact that 10 per cent. more round coal would be made, for which the higher rate of 1s. 6d. per ton would be paid, would place the men in a better position than they had been, they all knew that while it was a matter of opinion on Mr. Chambers’, and untested, it certainly could not be accepted.

They placed the matter before the manager in another way – if he could give 1s. 6d. for round coal and 1s. for small, and let all other questions drop, the deputation were prepared to recommend that. Mr. Chambers could not do that, however, but wanted the men to go to work and give his suggestion a trial, and said it would be soon enough for the men to object when they found they could not make his terms. That would be a very dangerous thing, and it would be open to all sorts of objections, as it could be said by the owners ‘You haven’t done your best.’

They offered a third suggestion. In a much as there were grave doubts concerning Mr. Chambers’ statement as to the results of the trial, and they disputed his statement, they said ‘Let us put aside two or three stalls and appoint a couple of men on each side to watch the holing of those stalls, and let the results be sent out, and the prices fixed accordingly. The manager would not agree to that. He (Mr. Chappell) told the manager that at other places in the district where disputes had arisen they had in some cases an arbitration of inspection and in others an arbitration of work, and told him the names of parties who had engaged to settle disputes by working a week on the new systems, while in others a more investigation had been made to settle the question. Mr. Chambers said he was not in a position to alter matters – in fact he had no power. The deputation suggested that the notices should stand over for 14 days or three weeks, until the terms had been fairly discussed. Mr. Chambers was not in a position to agree with that, but promised to communicate with the Chairman, Mr. Buckingham Pope, who was at St Maritz,a four days’ post. He thought no men could have tried harder or offered fairer conditions. Of course they admitted that if the Company wished had a mind to instituted could not say ‘You shan’t,’ but they wanted payment for their work. There was not the slightest doubt that they had the best of the argument. Mr. Chambers was, however, in such a position that he could not do anything either in the way of postponing the question for a fortnight or in accepting the conditions named, as he had to lay it before the owners.

Upon the packing question all he could say was that he did not want the men to do it but to get coal. They said that men very often could make a pack when there was nothing else to do, and that the best regulated collieries in any district were not free from intervals of stoppage arising from causes over which they had no control. The deputation fell back on the original agreement. The packing was interwoven or made a condition of the colliers’ work, on condition that the prices for getting coal were fixed at a certain rate. They were connected together, and their relationship could not be served without serious damage to the men, unless compensation were made in the direction of giving higher prices for coal. They said that the timbering and the packing were connected, and that four years ago that every day Mr. Warburton offered, if the men would give up the packing, to take the timbering with it and give up an additional ½d. per ton as an acknowledgement of the concession made by the men.

A long discussion followed.

A Miner said if Mr. Chambers had the good men he talked about him ought to be able to trust to two men as well, and a little better, then the miners could trust to theirs. It was considered that it was the intention of the masters to take the packing off and to get a reduction in coal if it could be obtained.

A Miner said the coal should be riddled in the pit, and if they were as good as they could be there would be more small coal than what had been stated. It wanted to be ‘iron coal.’

Another speaker said they would have done anything in reason rather than have had a strike. There were not many men in Denaby who cared for a strike not think the men could accept anything like the terms proposed.

During the course of the discussion it was stated that if Mr. Chambers had withdrawn the notices for three weeks and given the matter a trial it would have looked more creditable, as the matter stood is seemed arbitrary. Mr. Chambers thought probably that he would get some men to work, but the men were unanimous about stopping. They could depend on the men, and they would mend roads with cinders again. The opinion among those present at the meeting was that the deputation had offered fair terms. As for the new prices a large reduction would be effected. Mr. Chambers was hemmed in as fast as any man in the world, and had got a ‘boss’ over him as well as the men had. – One speaker questioned whether the pit would stand for three days. Another, however, spoke less hopefully, and after hoping that they would all ‘be men,’ said if the pit stood it would stand above three weeks.

Another Miner said it would be warm weather when the pit starts again. No one could do the packing better than the colliers. It was stated that very likely fresh men would do it. Mr. Chappell said the manager had stated that of the men took his suggestion and accepted his terms the results would be so revolutionary in their character that they would get 10 per cent more coal. The men could not do that anywhere.

A Manvers Main delegate said there was a higher percentage of small coal at his pit, than what Mr. Chambers had mentioned yet Denaby coal was smaller than Manvers. –

The Chairman of the meeting said the question erase whether it right to take a reduction or not. He said it was not. – A Miner said the ‘iron’ would come out of the pit on Wednesday. (Another Miner: ‘I’m sure mine will,’)

The men said there was 25 per cent. of slack, and the manager put it at 15. Several were of opinion that it was not a question of bad filling but of a reduction. Their secretary knew as well as any men at Denaby that it was the question of 10 per cent., and the Company would have it back if they could . There was not a collier in the district who could concur with Mr. Chambers’ statement confirming the percentage of round coal and slack. They had got it in their heads, that if even the men came out they would get a number of them to work.

A Miner said the men should have spoken about the screening at the meeting in the pit yard. The Company would not have allowed the statement about the loss of trade to go to the papers if it had not suited them.

Eventually the following resolutions were carried:-
‘That this committee, along with the deputation which has waited on Mr. Chambers, the manager of the colliery, regards the suggestion which has been made by the deputation and reported to the committee as showing the strong disposition on the part of the men to avoid any rapture between the owner and the workmen of the Denaby Main colliery.’
‘That this meeting is also of opinion that the terms mean a serious reduction in the wages of the men, and that, considering the conduct of the men during the last six years towards the company, the terms are unfair, uncalled for, and therefore cannot be accepted.’
‘That this committee is of opinion that considering the terms offered imply a reduction in wages the men are entitled to the support of the association.’
‘That this committee is of opinion that there is no way by which the questions at issue can be settled so equitably as the one suggesting that the differences shall be put to a reference of four men, two to act on each side, and the rates for round and small coal to be fixed by the results found by the parties referred to.’
‘That this committee strongly urges that another effort be made to got postponement of the notices until the terms of the men have been fairly considered by the directors.’
‘That this committee believes that the packing question is so interwoven with all the other kinds of work that to separate one from the other would be a very serious reduction in the wages of the men, besides being very inconvenient, and the committee regard their opinion as being supported by the late manager, Mr. Warburton, when he agreed if the men would give up the packing to take timbering and drawing and increase the rate for coal getting one halfpenny per ten by way of compensating for its sacrifice.”