Chapter I

CHAPTER I

OLD POLICY OUTWORN

The present policy of the Federation since 1900, may be called the Conciliation policy. We have to briefly examine its usefulness as a wage getting policy, for that is the best and the only real test of any policy.

HAS CONCILIATION SECURED WAGES?

From the year 1900 there has been an enormous increase in the price of coal, averaging nearly 6/- per ton. This would have in itself automatically secured for us 60% on the standard, whereas we are only paid 50%. The argument may be used that our policy of minimum percentages has kept the price of coal up. This is sheer bunkum. Here are two reasons sufficient to dispel that illusion. The owners are more concerned to sell all their coal than to get exceptional prices for some of it. To put it in a glaring way, if they can sell 20 tons at 15/- per ton, and only 10 tons at 20/- per ton, they will prefer to sell the 20 tons at 15/-, because it puts more money in their pockets, and they will be called upon to pay less out in wages. The second reason which also amplifies the first, is that competition, and not the sweet will of the owners, fixes the price of coal. If it were not for this fact the owners would be foolish to wait for our minimum percentages before increasing the price of their coal, and so putting huge profits in their pockets. They love profits too well to wait for us to compel them to accept them. No! No! they charge the highest penny that American and German competition will allow them. If they put a higher price on their coal to-morrow they will sell less than today. This is surely quite obvious. The price of coal has increased from the same cause that has increased all other goods, namely the cheapening of gold through richer yields and labour saving appliances. Dismissing then the illusion that our policy has kept up prices, how are to account for the 10% reduction we have suffered? By the facts, and here they are. When Sir David Dale gave his award in 1902, he increased the price which was the equivalent of 30% (under the Sliding Scale) from 11/3 to 11/10. A direct reduction of over 5% in all our standard rates. There goes one Chunk. When the last agreement (1910) was arrived at we allowed 9d. per ton over 14/- to be free from percentages. There goes another 6% (?) reduction. These are facts. It is a fact (from reasons we have already explained) that the price of coal has never gone down to 11s. 10d. since the great (?) principle of minimum percentage was established. Thus, while we were clapping our hands in enthusiastic joy over the securing of a great principle the employers were quietly pocketing the 5% proceeds. This is a distinct feature of our recent reductions. The other serious reduction was granted on grounds, that if logically carried out, would mean the final end of progress, and the commencement of a battledore and shuttlecock game, of changing the persons to whom we were paying our reductions. The owners said that the cost of legislative reforms had increased the cost of production. So we relieved them to the extent of 9d. on the ton after 14/-, i.e. 6%. This means that if we get any improvements, we must pay for them. We can go on like this for centuries securing great principles and legislative reforms, while all the time our pockets grow emptier. This is a fiendish principle that no sane man can countenance. Yet these are facts. That is one part of our indictment against the policy of conciliation.

Space prevents us from going into exhaustive detail as to the "tying up" and "delay" character of conciliation. But they are so well known, that it is superfluous really to detail them. We shall briefly summarize our objections. First the process.

DELAY

A dispute occurs in a colliery. The ordinary lodge negotiations are carried on, resulting in failure. The Agent is called in. Still failure. The matter is sent to the Executive and finally the Board. Here it takes its place with other matters on the agenda. In the course of time, after some months of waiting, it is reached and brought up for discussion. It is then referred to a sub-committee. These take time to see the management, and the colliery. Then they negotiate. Sometimes, as in the case of Rhymney, they negotiate for two years. Even then the owner's side refuse to report failure to agree. Eventually this may be done. Then, and then only, the colliery may give a month's notice. Need we say anything more in condemnation of this? We think not.

BASIS OF CONSIDERATION

On the Board all things have to be considered from the employers' standpoint. They alone have the inside information. We don't audit their books, and we have no means of judging the truth of their assertions. They say the colliery won't pay. We must accept their word. When we are considering principles, they have only to show that some wretched little colliery employing 10 men will have to close if we insist on our demands. That silences us. The little colliery belongs to a method of production that is almost a century old. Yet we must allow their conditions to govern us. Reason in such a case means, in plain English: the Employers' interest and outlook. After 10 years of such a game, we find our customs broken down, and our price lists a farce, and in the face of a very serious rise in the cost of living (which many of us have nick-named prosperity) we have been reduced 10% in the standard rates. Is this enough?

CONCILIATION AND LEADERS

Here is perhaps after all our strongest indictment. The policy of "collective bargaining" will be dealt with later on. But we have here to point out why there is discontent with "leaders." The policy of conciliation gives the real power of the men into the hands of a few leaders. Somebody says "What about conferences and ballots"? Conferences are only called, and ballots only taken when there is a difference of opinion between leaders. The conference or ballot is only a referee. Can this be denied? In the main, and on things that matter, the Executive have the supreme power. The workmen for a time look up to these men and when things are going well they idolise them. The employers respect them. Why? Because they have the men - the real power - in the hollow of their hands. They, the leaders, become "gentlemen," they become M.P.'s and have considerable social prestige because of this power. Now when any man or men assume power of this description, we have a right to ask them to be infallible. That is the penalty, a just one too, of autocracy. When things go wrong, and we have shown that they have gone wrong, they deserve to be, and are blamed. What really is blameworthy, is the conciliation policy which demands leaders of this description. For a moment let us look at this question from the leaders' standpoint. First, they are "trade unionists by trade" and their profession demands certain privileges. The greatest of all these are plenary powers. Now, every inroad the rank and file make on this privilege lessens the power and prestige of the leader. Can we wonder then that leaders are averse to change? Can we wonder that they try and prevent progress? Progress may arrive at such a point that they would not be able to retain their "jobs," or their "jobs" would become so unimportant that from their point of view, they would not be worth retaining. The leader then has an interest - a vested interest - in stopping progress. They have therefore in some things an antagonism of interests with the rank and file. The conditions of things in South Wales has reached the point when this difference of interest, this antagonism, has become manifest. Hence the men criticise and are discontented with their leaders. But the remedy is not new leaders. But - well, we shall see.

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libcom
Apr 9 2005 12:53

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