Penistone, Stocksbridge and Hoyland Express – Saturday 09 April 1921
Mr. Frank Hodges – A Grave Note.
Federation Secretary’s Sombre Outlook.
Appeal to the Yorkshire Men.
“You are asked for a Great Sacrifice.”
Mr. Frank Hodges, the brilliant young secretary of the Miners’ Federation addressed a meeting of miners in the Conisborough Picture House, on Sunday morning, on the present, great mining Crisis. Summer time caught a number of the miners of the district unaware, and the hall was only half filled when the meeting commenced, but it was crowded before Mr. Hodges began to speak. The meeting’ was extremely orderly, and Mr. Hodges was listened to in dead silence, broken from time to time by a storm of applause. There was a considerable contingent of miners present from the surrounding towns and villages.
Mr. Tom Hill, president of the Cadeby miners, was in the chair, and was supported by a number of local miners’ leaders, including Mr. Tom Williams, (Barnburgh), Mr. Paling (Bentley), Mr. Isaac Burns South Kirkby), Mr. Hugh Ross (Maltby), and Mr. Arthur Roberts (Denaby). Mr. J. T. Rowan, secretary of the Don Valley Divisional Labour Party, was ‘also on the platform.
The Chairman said there was something radically .wrong with the industrial or the political machinery of the country. It was all very well to laud the” man who won the war,” but he would have preferred to praise a statesman who could have prevented the war–(hear, hear)—and similarly those trade, union leaders who did their utmost to prevent strikes were worthy of the highest regard. He was sure that these continual industrial crises could not arise if the working-class movement were more fully and effectively represented on the political side.
The New War
Mr. Tom Williams, the prospective Labour candidate for the Don Valley Division, said they were met under very unhappy circumstances. Perhaps this was the gravest crisis they had ever known. No man could foresee what the outcome of this struggle would be. During the war, when the capitalists’ fight had to be fought, national services had to be brought under Government control in order to secure maximum efficiency from them. But now the war was over, the war between the capitalists and those who had fought the capitalists’ battles had commenced, and the present crisis was probably a stage of the new war. During the war the Government secured, by exploitation of the foreign market, hundreds of Millions from coal which rightfully belonged to those who had produced the coal. They had applied it, not to improving’ mining conditions, or improving the mines, or raising the standard of the mining community, but to financing Mr. Churchhill’s expeditions. This mis-government had slowly but surely brought us to the present state of chaos.
We had a million and a half unemployed in this country—excluding miners—very largely because, the capitalists were determined to put back the clock of the workers at least half a century. The crisis had been deliberately conceived and brought about, and was not directed specially against the miner’s, but against the whole of the organized workers of the country. If it succeeded, half-a-century of struggle and sacrifice would have been thrown away’: They ought to fight to the last ditch against such a possibility. Yorkshire was being asked to make a sacrifice which would call for all the courage and strength and determination and unselfishness of the Yorkshire miners, and he believed they would generously respond. If the Yorkshire miners went back to work on their own account, and on the superior terms they had been offered, their advantage would only be momentary. The Yorkshire coalfield would be flooded, with miners from other parts of the country, and sooner or later the employers would have them at their mercy. He appealed for steady confidence in the leaders.
Mr. Paling (Bentley), moved the following resolution:
That this meeting emphatically protests against the action of Government in decontrolling the mining industry. We are further of opinion that the position is aggravated by the fact that the House of Commons is composed of a majority who sacrifice human need to human greed, and we recommend the workers to increase Labour representation both nationally and locally.
Mr. Hugh Ross (Maltby), seconded.
Grave and Forbidding Situation.
Mr Frank Hodges, who had an enthusiastic reception, said that when, some months ago, he agreed to come to Conisboro’, he did not think it would be under these circumstances. As a matter of fact he had. been looking forward to that meeting as furnishing an opportunity to give some assistance to the Labour candidates in the big uphill fights they were undertaking in that and neighbouring divisions and his remarks in the ordinary way would have been in connection with political representation. But the wheel of time had turned and had revealed for them, on that very bright morning, a grave and forbidding situation. He hoped the bright weather would continue. There was nothing so cheering and helpful as good weather, and .most of the strikes in the those that were badly arranged and badly conceived—had always been held either in spring or early summer. He did not know how it was. (Laughter).
Cause For Gloom.
He did not think that anyone had greater cause for gloom than himself. He had known that this was coming, and he had tried to avoid it. His advice had been set aside, but that did not destroy by one iota his faith in the great cause they represented. (Cheers). He proposed to deal with the realities of the present situation, and would try to bring home the responsibility for that ‘situation to those to whom it rightly belonged. (Hear, hear). Last October they were engaged in an attempt to get some sense into the miners’ wages system. They had had no system, since Government control, that would adjust wages automatically. Sometimes they had an advance to meet the cost of living; sometimes as a share of the prosperity of the industry; sometimes to raise their admittedly low pre-war standard of life. But they never had any fixed, guiding principles in their wages system; it was all done under a haphazard, arbitrary, and indefinite arrangement; and they had begun to think that it was time they had some principle which would govern wages and profits, and which would operate automatically, giving peace and prosperity to the industry, with consequent relief and benefit to the community. That was what they had been trying to secure. They did not get it last October, and one was more profoundly disappointed than himself. But they immediately negotiated with the owners for a permanent and national wages basis. They found the owners anxious to take the matter up.
The owners said they wanted a re-organization of the industry that would make for peace and ‘quietness for a number of years, and the best brains available were brought to bear on the problem. The owners were substantially disposed to accept the broad principle that wages should be governed nationally. The owners’ could not escape responsibility for the fact that they were as anxious, as the miners to establish a national system wages, though they had fundamental objections, in which there was some substance, to a national pool of profits, and their whole mind was bent in the direction of arranging a National Wages Board until the Government suddenly decided to decontrol the mining industry on March 31, instead of August 31.
A Fateful Declaration.
“I sat,” said Mr. Hodges, “in the Gallery of the House of Commons with my old friend and courageous colleague, Herbert Smith., and we listened to a declaration which was destined to, create more chaos and ‘disaster than any declaration that has ever been made on the floor of that House, except, perhaps, a declaration of war—-“and then; they do not make declarations of ‘war on the floor of the House they make them in Cabinet rooms. (Hear, hear). . This declaration was made by Robert Horne—cold, deliberate, calculated —that decontrol must take place on March 31 and the industry must fend for itself. When he made that statement, he knew all the facts of the situation. I want to say very solemnly, that this so-called statesman — I say that advisedly for there are no statesmen in this country ,at the present moment worthy of the name—this so-called statesman knew of the disintegrating forces going on around us, forces that were’ going to afflict whole industries with creeping, deadly paralysis that would stifle the residue of economic life left to us. He knew that the markets were going to be curtailed, and that prices would break. I told the Government last November, that the high export price of coal could not endure. One would have thought that the government, knowing this, would have turned its whole attention to straightening out our internal economic situation. One would have thought it would have been keen on revising the Peace Treaty, and re-adapting it to our economic life. The Spa Agreement has done more damage to our coal trade than anything else. One would have thought the Government would have been interested in the development and revival of crush and ruined countries whose markets were formally opened to us, as ours to them. One would have thought it would have remembered that we were but a little island of 47 million people, unable under the conditions of modern industrialism to maintain ourselves without reliance on the markets of the world.
The Prime Minister
The British name stinks in the nostrils of the world, not only because of our internal administration, but because of our fatuous foreign policy.” (Applause). We had no statesman. We had a Prime Minister determined to retain his political prestigue at all costs regardless of the common life of the common people. He was so incapable of straightening out our national difficulties, that one hesitated to look to him in this crisis. There he sat at Chequers, and left the present situation in the hands of the man who created it! We had a Prime Minister who succumbed to external influences in a most remarkable manner. He talked about himself as the white-haired skipper of the ship of State, steering it through heavy and troubled seas, and he asked his crew to stand solidly by him until he landed the ship safely into harbour. “That is how he talks. As a Welshman, I can do it myself.” (Laughter). Where had he landed the ship? He had landed it in a French harbour. (Laughter and applause). He had succumbed to the influence of the Briand and Millerand. England the country that did so much to help France in a trial and tribulations, had been gradually succumbing to intense chauvinistic and jingoistic influences which were reacting in our everyday life.
The mining industry was in an unprecedented position. Treated nationally, it was bankrupt. “Fancy an industry at the base of all others being bankrupt! Fancy a key industry that has built up our national commercial prosperity being insolvent! It is an intolerable situation, and it is due to the mismanagement of the Government.” The government, exercising rigid control, took money from industry and put it into the Exchequer, as well as bringing relief to the people of this country by selling coal to them at less than the cost of production, being able to do all this from the proceeds of the export trade. Now that there were no reserves in either profits are wages, the industry was told that the nation would not render to it some part of what it had rendered to the nation.
Mr Hodges Scheme
He (Mr Hodges) had developed what he regarded as the only scheme by which the industry, and all industry, could be revived. Coal must be sold below cost for a time. If there was to be a general revival of trade in the country, we must have cheap coal. All other industries, to recover, must start by reduction of their principal item of cost – fuel. But was that to be done at the expense of the miners wages? That would be an absurd proposition. The government, until the return of normal times – and to bring about the return of normal times, – must make good the difference between the price and the cost of coal by establishing a national credit in favour of the mining industry, to the extent if necessary of £100 million. The Government were paying that amount per annum now in unemployment doles. Coal should be sold at £1 a ton below cost until industry was got going again. By that means unemployment would disappear, and hundreds of thousands of men now existing on doles would honest be in the market again with real purchasing power – honest wages. Unemployment would give place to production, and production, equitably distributed, would bring down the cost of living to such a point that the wages of the miners could then be fairly reduced. What is the miners required what the miners required were real wages. They did not mind a drop of 20 shillings a week in nominal wages if the cost of living had dropped by that amount. Very soon, he thought, under this proposal, the mining industry would be able to put itself on a sound economic basis. It would be able to determine what the real economic price of coal should be, and also to determine the principle by which wages and profits should be definitively shared. That scheme had been turned down. The government had said, “We will not reimpose financial control. We will not give you any financial assistance. You must get back yourself to an economic situation.”
Policy of Cheap Coal
So for want of imagination, and for fear of the Press, the British Government would not tolerate any financial assistance to the industry at that difficult time. Sir Robert Horne had argued with him that all the other industries would look to the government for financial support, and they obtained it the benefit will cancel out to nothing. If that were so, you would be right, but the shipowner, the steel manufacturer, the general manufacturer, were all crying out daily, that the only thing to save England was cheap coal, and he (Mr Hodges) was taking these people at their own word. But he objected to coal being make cheap by such a cut in workmen’s wages that would bring them below the present standard of living. These people advocated cheap coal through cheap wages, but he advocated cheap coal for the nation’s sake, because it was the only way in which the nation could get back to something like normal life.
Policy of Low Wages
For the moment, they must take it as a fact that the Government were absolutely opposed to that policy. They were backing a policy of low wages. “Well, I don’t think the miners, whether in Yorkshire are in south Wales, will objected to falling wages as long as it did not bring them below the cost of living, but when it is proposed that a man shall have a 50% “cut” in wages at one operation, if I were a miner – as I have been – if I were a miner, I would rather give up mining for the rest of my life, than have at one stroke such a cut in wages as would reduce my family to penury and poverty.” (Applause). It was impossible, he added, for any permanent solution to be arrived at which could be applied to existing conditions in the industry without further disaster.
A Sombre Prospect
“I think the Government count upon starving the miners into submission. I think that is the last card they have to play. They have no other card. They have played their whole hand except that one. It is a question of endurance, we may go down. If we go down, the nation is doomed. If the miners are starved back to the employer’s terms, in those districts where they are to have such a cut in their wages, believe me, this will be a very unhappy country to live in. It is not too late to avert that disaster. If the Government have that in their minds, the country should know it at once. Let the whole world know it at once. I venture to say that if that were known (which in my judgement is the fact), if it became the accepted view of the working classes of this country that the Government were preparing to starve sections of the community into accepting terms which are beyond acceptance, the lease that keeps the working classes from revolutionary effort would be unloosed. There would be upheaval. There was be revolution. And the greater the upheaval the more desperate would be our position. This may be the inevitable consequence of all this, but at this early stage let us keep our heads, let’s keep our brains cool and clear. Let us continue to insist on what we believe is necessary at the moment. Let us urge, at least, a temporary consideration of this problem until normality comes back. We will get through. It is a characteristic of the British mind that he gets through difficulties, but is also characteristic of the British miner they will revolt against any attempt to destroy the elements of British manual, or the principles of trade unionism and national organisation, which we have fought for and struggled for, and our grandfathers for generations before us. (Applause).
The Triple Alliance
“Other trades are considering the situation today. I don’t know to what extent the other trades will associate themselves with us in our struggle. But I’m sure that it is felt by the large mass of the population that if the Miners Federation gets a knockout blow, there is no other organisation that can stand upright. – (Hear, hear) – they all feel that. Perhaps that consideration weighs heavily on their minds. I believe it will. The only consideration that might tell against a clear-cut declaration in the others trades is, that they have been burdened with unemployment for so long that the heart has been taken out of their movement, and there is nothing that will take the heart out of the trade union movement quicker and to have a large masses of unemployed men and women on your hands. I shall not prejudge the situation. I’m convinced that they will render such assistance that seems best of them, and it is not for us leaders of the Miners Federation to dictate to them what they should do. We have asked them to help us, and I believe they will respond. What is more the trade union movement represents the population of this country, if that moment were to say that the national credit should be placed at the service of the mining industry, the only leg the government has to stand on will be knocked away.” It was said that the public were against the miners on this question. We should see. If the trade union movement was not against them, the population could not be against them. (Applause).
an appeal for sacrifice
“One cannot tell what the future will bring forth, but I want to say this while I am in Yorkshire: I know the position of the Yorkshiremen. I know that of all the districts in the Federation, you will be called upon to make the greatest sacrifice. Yorkshiremen, you are called upon to make a great sacrifice. You are standing for a great idea. You’re not resisting a great reduction. You are standing for a great idea – the unity and solidarity of the miners Federation. Believe me, the rest of the miners of this country are grateful to you, and I hope that, unlike the British Government, the rest of the miners will never be guilty of base gratitude towards you. You stand, as you have never been called upon to stand before, solid to a man, yet anxious that there should be a settlement. We are all anxious for an honourable settlement. You will be egged on and urged to consider only your immediate financial interests. There may be some among you who would listen, whose economic circumstances are such that you will find it very hard to resist, but we have been so accustomed to unity and solidarity, and we can only resolve inwardly that if we are to go down, we will all go down together. If we are to suffer let us suffer unitedly. If we are to go a step back, let it go back together. A wise general retires his whole line, if retire he must, to keep it firm and unbroken for the next advance which makes victory possible. We may have to do that even yet. We may have to go back, but we shall go back uniformly. The test is here. I think we shall be worthy of the test. The country thinks we won’t stand together. At least, the Press declares that we won’t stand together. But believe me, there’s never been an industry like ours. We have known for a hundred years what it means to fight and start. It is a part of our history, born with our children. They have inherited a tradition of fighting and suffering. (Applause).
The “Safety” Men.
A “Desperate” Decision.
“It is true that at this moment we are suffering very severely from the attack launched against us on account of the decision of our Executive Committee not to allow the safety men to work in mines. It was a grave decision. It was a desperate decision. It was a decision which would only have been taken in the most desperate circumstances. Even on that there could have been an accommodation. I am not a willing party to seeing the mining industry physically destroyed. Who can view the spectacle of a flooded mine with equanimity? Who can think calmly about the destruction of mines that will never re-open? No man can do it. The decision has been arrived at. The same characteristic loyalty will be observed in this, as in other cases. If that decision were upset at this moment, either by fear of consequences in the several districts, or for any other cause, it would have a more or less damaging effect on the Federation. The time will come when we shall analyse more calmly the elements that led up to that decision, but the decision has been taken, fraught with all the consequences attached thereto. But even so, even if the, decision in certain cases is fraught with consequences of a far-reaching character, it must he abided by. It must a stuck to until the Federation itself decides to the contrary, if ever it does decide to the contrary. I would urge you, in the big things as in the small—regardless of your personal judgment, may be, on this or that attitude — I would urge you out of loyalty to the great organization of which you form a part, to abide by its decisions, whether for the moment you approve or disapprove them. The time will come when the Federation, in its own mature wisdom and judgment, will give indications and instructions to the contrary it it thinks it good and proper to do so. Do not let individual groups of men in districts do anything that would embarrass the solidarity of the whole. That is a very strong appeal from me. Some of you, know what my views have been on these matters. A man is not worthy to occupy such a position as I hold unless he is big enough and comprehensive enough to set aside any little differences he has on this or that point for the interest of the whole.” (Applause).
Concluding, Mr. Hodges said he was previously persuaded of the loyalty of the Yorkshire miners, but he had been very much cheered and heartened by the tone of that meeting. If they kept a firm front, he thought they would have a speedy settlement, if they faltered, the trouble would be prolonged. He thought that they and the trade unions closely allied with them, would develop a moral force which would disintegrate the Government. They would emerge chastened and purified from this present ordeal, and better fitted for their future social and national task. (Applause).
The meeting ‘concluded with a vote of thanks to Mr. Hodges and the chairman, proposed by Mr. A. Roberts.