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THE MINXES FEDERATION CONFERENCE BE WAS BONUS
THE MINXES' FEDERATION CONFERENCE BE WAS BONUS. MR. SMILLIE'S CASE FOR THE MEN. By Mr. Albert Thomas, C.C., Member of the Executive Council of the South Wales Miners' Federation, also sub-Agent and Secretary of the Rhymney Valley Miners' Association.) As indicated in our last issue we now have pleasure in submitting a verbatim report of Mr. Smillie's case for the work- men as delivered at the conference before the Rt. Hon. H. H. Asquith, K.C., M.P. Mr. Smillie: Mr. Asquith, at the out- set I would like to thank you on behalf of the miners for having been kind enough to undertake to endeavour to arrange a National Conference. You are deserving of our thanks at any time; but you are especially so at a time like the present when we are passing through a national crisis which must, I feel sure, bear very heavily upon you and your colleagues. I would like to say further that our side is in whole-hearted agreement with you on the two main points which you have indicated here to-day. Especially do we think that if a settlement is to be effected between the mine owners and the miners, it would be preferable that it should be now; because I feel sure, aside from the strain which the mining crisis must be on the mine owners' side, on our own side, and on the nation, a far worse effect must be the uncertainty which is bound to weaken our prestige and our position in the present grave crisis. On that ground we are particularly anxious that there should be a speedy settlement. I would like to say, also, that if we are 01 able to settle, that settlement will be all the more useful if it can be accepted by both sides in a friendly spirit and enable both sides to work whole-heartedly to try and improve, if possible, the position of the nation so far as the supply of coal is concerned. Mr Runciman was kind enough to point out to us, and I think you emphasised it somewhat, that the uncertainty of the re- ports which are appearing from time to time in the newspapers are n6t only un- settling to ourselves, but are being used by other people to our disadvantage- We regret that it should be possible to have reports of that kind, and we hope that this Conference will be able to wipe out once and for all any necessity for any such reports. I am afraid that it is not, at the outset, a question of machinery. I think at the outset it will be a question of whether or not the advance in wages which the miners have claimed will be conceded. There is not the slightest difficulty about machinery. The demand which the miners have made is for an increase pf 20 per cent. on their present earnings. If that were settled nationally then we would expect that at the end of the pay, when it came into force, that percentage would be added to the wages of the work- men. It would not upset in any way the present existing applications for the pay- ment of increases in wages in the various districts. Now, sir, this claim, I can assure you, is not made because the nation is in diffi- culties. Advantage is not being taken c* the national difficulties in order to enforce claims by the miners. The miners are of the opinion that it is unworthy of any body of people or of individuals to make use of the present national crisis to ?r- rich themselves. We are of opinion t-liat this is a time when advantage should rot be taken of a national crisis in which to enrich ourselves or to improve our own position. The claim was not made on that ground. The claim was made on the ground that there. had been a very large increase in the cost of living. Now sir, we believed that the increased cost of living ranged from 25 to 30 per cent. We hesitated as to what our claim should be, but after a considerable am- ount of discussion, the moderate couiso was adopted of claiming 20 per cent. jo "crease on present earnings. We are doubt- ful indeed whether that would meet the real increase that has taken place 111 the cost of living. That increase in <*ie cost of living has been recognised in many directions. It has been admitted in speeches made in the House of Com- mons by the political leaders of the co :1,- try. It has been admit.til by the em- ployers in many large ani important in- dustrial concerns, and increases in wages have been granted. It has been admit- ted by public authorities who are respon- sible for the supplying of food, clothing and other commodities to large bodies of people entrusted to their care. So that I think it cannot be gainsaid that there has been a very serious increase in the cost of living to all classes of the com- munity at the present time. But, sir, there is another reason which probably affects the miners more than any other class. It affects the miners more than other classes because of the fact that a large number of miners have joined His Majesty's Forces. I need not repeat to you again the extraordinary number of our people who have joined the forces, but I would like to remind you, sir, and to remind the employers here, that in many cases, one, two or three young men, who had been living .with their parents, and who have been earning reasonably high wages, ranging, it might be, from 35s. to J62 5s. a week, have en- listed, so that the increased cost of liv- ing in a house such as that is not the only thing that bears on the home. The mother and father, where there may be other children at home, have not only to face an increase of 25 per cent in the cost of living, but they have to face a loss, it may be, of 93 or C4 a week which was being contributed by those who have gone to the front, and which helped them to keep their house in a stetfe ot decency. In my statement to Mr Ituncimari and your- self, I did not emphasise that point, but it is a point of enormous importance, and, the consequence is that the more freely i our people have joined, the more they have suffered at home from that cause itself. We have not gone very widely into the figures, nor asked for much information in order to prove that there has been uu increase in the cost of living. But a very large number of our members are con- nected with the co-operative movement, and they are able at any time to find out what the increase in the cost of liv- ing has been, so far, at least, as most of the necessaries of life are concerned..1 have been supplied with one list made out from the books of a Co-operative So- ciety, which shows that some commodi- ties which could be secured for 19s. lid. in April of last year, are now priced at 26s. 2 £ d.; and I want to say, the Co- operative Stores, being governed by com- mittees of the workers themselves, do not raise the cost of their commodities, until they are forced to do so by a rise in the wholesale prices; they are not generally in competition with private traders to the extent which makes it necessary that they shall lower or raise the prices of their commodities with them. So that they do not usually put up the cost of an article until the cost of the article has been put up by the wholesale producers of that article. That, I think, sir, proves that our claim, is a fair and just one, and a necessary one. The income- of the miners, gener- ally speaking, under mormal conditions is not much more than enables the family to be kept in a state of decency and re- spectability, which all the colliery own- ers, I think, would like to see their people living in; and it is not in the national in- terest, if it can be avoided, that anything should take place at the present time which will lead to the deterioration of our class. Now, sir, the miners, because they are fairly well organised, are not always the last members of the working class com- munity to receive or to press for improve- ments in their condition, or to defend themselves against their condition being made worse. But I think it cannot be said that on this occasion they have been in any great hurry. There has not been any series of great maas meeting* in which the minds of the miners were to be inflamed by their leaders; as a matter of fact it has been all the other way. For some months now the leaders of the miners have been standing between them and taking a forward movement. That was chiefly because of the fact that there was a national crisis, apart altogether from our own crisis. I feel, sir, that had we been under normal conditions, there would have been a series of mass meet- ings held all over the country at which inflammatory speeches would have been made which would have been likely to lead to stoppages and disturbance. That has not taken place on this occasion. This matter was raised first at a Con- ference of miners' delegates held in Lon- don on February 25th. By that time in- dustrial conferences of various branches of the working class movement had been held in many centres, at which the ques- tion of the increased cost of living had been gone into; but this was only men- tioned at a miners' meeting on February 25th. On that occasion it was remitted to the Executive Committee of our organ- isation to fully consider the whole matter and to bring a proposal before a further conference. To let you see again that there was no hurry, so far as we were concerned, although there was need for hurry, that conference did not meet until the 16th or 17th of March. At that con- ference a proposal was put before the delegates emanating from the Executive Committee, which proposal was that there should be a national claim made for an increase in wages to the extent of 20 per cent. Now, it is a considerable time since the 16th or 17th March, but nothing of a drastic character has been done by the miners or their representatives down to the present time. We are at the end of April, and for over two months this mat- ter has been before our people, and no- thing further than the passing of resolu- tions in some of the districts has taken place, proving that we have been fairly patient. But side by side with this de- lay we have had substantial increases in wages given in very many industries in- deed. Now, I would like to emphasise very strongly the necessity for this movement being of a national character. The wages of the miners in nearly all of the districts have been governed by Joint Conciliation Boards in localities. It must be remem- bered that the English Conciliation Board governs the wages of a very large num- ber of mine workers, and that the condi- tions are pretty varied as between district and district, even in that area. The Scot- tish Miners' Conciliation Board governs the wages of the whole of the Scottish miners, and of course the conditions in Scotland vary almost as much between east and west as the conditions between Scotland and Yorkshire or Scotland and any district in England vary. But wages have been governed by, or at least regard has been had to, the selling price of co-i!, and the selling price of coal was taken out from the average returns returned by the employers as to pit bank prices. In some cases they are only taken out once in three months, so that the price, say, for January, or the three months ending with January, might not be secured be- fore the end of February, and then it will be three months from that time before another quarter's figures will be taken out. In a crisis such as this, the current increase m the price of coal goes up very rapidly sometimes, but it takes a consid- erable time to reach the miners if there is a monthly or a quarterly ascertain- ment. Those ascertainments, whether they are monthly or quarterly ascertainments, are mutually agreed to between the work- men and the employers; so that in a way I am not finding fault with or objecting to that. But, sir, this is not an ordinary increase in wages. It is an increase in wages demanded, because the increase in the cost of living strikes the miners in every part of Great Britain, and on that ground it was necessary that we should aim at endeavouring to secure by a na- tional conference, that a national increase in wages should be given all over. I want to repeat here, before the employers, what you have quoted and what I said to you. There has been for a considerable time a desire on the part of the commun- ity, to set up one Central Wages Board for the whole Kingdom. When the mat- ter was discussed by employers, either as individuals, or at any Boards, they held that it was unworkable: that they did not think it was possible to set up such a Board. We do not agree with them on that. We had hopes that such a Board could and would ultimately be set up. But this movement of ours at the present time is not an attempt to force the employers to set up such a Board as that. I frankly admit it, and all my friends agree with me, that we have given up hope in the meantime that any such thing for the regulation of the miners' wages in Great Britain can be set up) and this meeting is not be found- ed upon by ourselves in any shape or form as a proof to the employers that in the future if we ask them to meet us on that question-and I feel sure it must be some years now before such a suggestion is again made-it is not to be the basis in any way, of trying to force the employ- ers to regulate wages nationally in the future. This is for a special object; it js- for a special time over which none at us have had control at all. The most im- portant thing to us is that we do not think that a satisfactory settlement of this claim could be secured in all the dis- tricts if negotiated locally. We do not think that that could be secured, and, if it were not secured, then the movement would have to go bac kagain to a national movement, and would have to be worked for nationally. Now I am not sure that the gravity of the situation has been grasped by the nation or by the mine owners. I am not sure, indeed, that the whole of the miners' side has grasped the gravity of the situation—not the situation arising from the war, but the situation arising from the claim that we have made being unsatisfied up to the present time. I do not wish to say anything at all which may be taken in the nature of a threat, but I am receiving" letters., from districts widely apart containing resotutions passed by the men that they are tired of the delay which^has taken places that they are anxious that there should be a settlement of this claim, and that if a settlement is not oome to the probability is, whether we like it or not, that there will either be warfare at the collieries in the district, or that the whole of the country will be affected by a stoppage. • • I want to put one reason be- fore the employers why this advance should be conceded, and conceded to-day. Thert, is a Committee on Coal Supplies sitting at the present time. There are three mine owners and three miners sit- ting as representatives on that Commit- tee. I think the proof we have at the present time is sufficient to justify us in saying that there is a serious shortage in the coal supply, and that the probability is we may not have reached the worst stage so far as that is concerned. But there is a feeling which I think is more or less well founded, that it ought to be possible, even with the present number of workmen, to increase the supply, and to increase it very considerably. Now if an appeal of that kind is to be made, it cannot be made unless the em- ployers treat the miners at the present time fairly and justly. The miners do not know as much about the coal trade as the coal masters or as the miners' leaders do They do not give it the same careful study. They have not met the gentlemen on the other side again and again on the wages question. They do not go too closely into the fact that the current price of to-day requires some considerable time, it may be, to get into the books in oider to bring out the real. ised value of a month or two months hence. He knows that he is paying 25 per cent. more for his food, clothing and other things, and he puts those two things together and says, "I am entitled to an increase in wages, and he does not think that long negotiations will be necessary in order to convince the employers that that is so. Aside altogether from what the prices are, our claim was not and is not at the present moment based on the question of the in- creased values of coal at all. That, sir, r is our case, and I sincerely hope that this joint meeting of representatives of the owners and ourselves will be able to settle this matter, and settle it in such a way as will knit more closely together, at least at the present time, the interests of the colliery owners and the interests of the miners, so that we will be able to go forward as a united body in the pre- sent crisis. The case for the employers as presented by Mr. Adam Nimmo will appear in our next issue.
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IWELSH BAPTISTS SINGING FESTIVAL AT ABERBARGOED
I WELSH BAPTISTS' SINGING FESTIVAL AT ABERBARGOED. On Tuesday last at Caersalem, Aberbargoed, a singing festival was held under the auspices of the Lower Rhymney Valley Welsh Baptist Union, which comprises the following churches :—Saron, New Tredegar; Bethania, Cwmsyfiog; Caersalem, Aberbargoed; Tabernacle, Deri; Noddfa, Bar. goedj, Ainon, Gilfach; and Horeb, Gelligaer. The musical conductor was Mr. David Thomas A.C., Deri, and the accompanists were Miss L. Gabriel and Mr. T. Gabriel, F.T.S.C., both of Bargoed, while the chair was taken at the re- spective meetings by Rev. D. R. Johns (Ainon), and Messrs W. Griffiths (Horeb), and D. Jeremiah (Saron). In the course of the day recitations were ren. dered by Miss Annie Bowen (Ainon), Masters Emlyn Davies (Tabernacle), and Redvers Phillips (Horeb), each of whom did their work in a credit- able way. The Festival was throughout of a very spirit- uous nature, and the choristers and conductor were in concord all day, especially in the render- ing of the two anthems, "My Father's Home," by Mr. T. Gabriel, and "Yr Arglwydd ywfy Ngoleuni," by Mr. Thomas the conductor. These showed great preparations, and careful render. ing by the choristers and excellent skill and dis- cretion by the conductor. As mentioned by one of the chairmen of the day, singing is an important part of the service of the church, and as such needs to be more en. couraged by the churches generally, and it was a great pleeasure to find that these festivals which have given the Principality the title of "The Land of Song," are again coming of note and im- portance. The success clearly showed hard work by the churches in preparing and working for the day, and particularly on the part of the Commit. tee who have worked so assiduously to make the meetings a financial and musical success. Al- though we are at present in the turmoils of war, we must not at any time let the music of the land die; far more should we spread and widen the art. We trust that this Union's festival on Tuesday last is but one ray of the sun that will in the future shine on our homeland.
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