Extract from Mining District Report 1845 (part 3)

by the Commissioner appointed to inquire into the operation of the Act 5 & 6 Vict. c99, (Mines and Collieries Act 1842)  and into the state of the population in the mining districts

The large sums earned by the colliers in the few works where they have had the good sense to abstain from the self-imposed restriction upon their powers and industry may be exemplified by the following instances.

Extract from pay sheet of a pit at Gartsherrie, where colliers do not limit each other's labour, December 19, 1844
Father and son (12 years) £5 2s. 8d. per month
Father and son (16 years) £5 18s. 0d. per month
Father and sons (16 and 12 years) £6 16s. 11d. per month
Single man £3 12s. 10d. per month
Single man, and drawer £5 8s. 1d. per month
Father and sons (17 and 12 years) £9 12s. 2d. per month
Father and son (20 years) £11 13s. 3d. per month
Single man £4 0s. 6d. per month

No one can look at these sums, or calculate the annual income which they represent, without regretting that so few among the entire class of colliers possess the intelligence or strength of mind to emancipate themselves from a system of restriction, which causes them to forfeit these present advantages, and inevitably entails upon them future distress.

The manner in which the places of those colliers who will not do full work are filled up, and the mode and amount of loss to employer and workman, are clearly described in the following evidence.

A. B., of the Clyde Iron Works :-
"About four months ago our men reduced their darg from seven to six hutches. They have not, however, adhered to it altogether. In our works those who choose have opportunities of putting out more coal than others, and frequently take advantage of it, notwithstanding that they profess to be in the Union. Their reductions of the darg have often obliged us to introduce new men into the pits. At the first stand they made, in 1825, we took in 100 colliers. In 1836-37, 150 more. In 1842 about 80; principally Irish labourers. They were greatly injured by their last attempts to force up wages ; and if I ask a sensible collier if he belongs to the Union he denies it. Unfortunately for themselves the opinions of the more sensible among them are overborne by the majority. A collier begins to make man's wages at 17. The number of years that he continues in his vigour is different at different works, and depends somewhat on the habits of the men and the state of the work. If they are much given to ardent spirits, or if their place of work is ill ventilated, or if their mode of life is generally irregular, they will go off in their strength earlier. With us they continue able men till 45 and upwards, and are old men at 55. Consequently three men out of four could do much more than the small darg without inconvenience. When the darg is large the failing men get assisted by their sons, or others, so that they are subject to no disadvantage. Our colliers are now in full employ, and are making 3s ., 3s. 6d, and 4s. a-day ; some will make 5s. a-day. If they would all do full day's work at present, we should sell coal, (we now consume all we raise in the iron-works.) We should extend our market, and the colliers would get the same price for what they raise as there is now a demand. They are, therefore, throwing away a chance which may not occur again for some time, as well as injuring us. If by their restriction they attempt to force up wages again beyond what the price of iron justifies, we shall either fill a pit with new men or purchase. The amount of their present loss, through their restriction, is as follows : - Two or three years ago the darg was eight hutches. They have now reduced it to six. They get 6d. per hutch. Every man, therefore, between 17 and 45 years of age, that is three-fourths of the whole, (supposing the older men not to be able to work more than six,) is throwing away 1s. a-day.

The loss to us, by their restriction, is this: - The expense of keeping the pits free from water is the same, whether we raise a large or small quantity of coal. Again, if our pit-head men and drawers, who are paid half wages, can work 4000 carts of coal in a given time, and our colliers will only hew 3000 carts, we are paying the former 25 per cent, more in proportion to the work done, than we should if they were kept fully employed."

Mr. Buttery, of the Monkland Iron and Steel Works : -
"We have been obliged to take in men since the reduction of the darg. Some of these men have come from as far as the Falkirk district ; others from distant works in this county. Some were drawers before, and are now become colliers. These men cannot return to their previous occupation, when the demand for coal declines, because their places have been supplied by other men, generally Irish labourers. The drawers' wages are from 6d. to 1s. a-day. So that having once learned to use the pick and become colliers, they would rather remain such at reduced wages than go back to drawing. The obvious tendency and actual effect is to reduce the general rate of colliers' wages, when demand declines, to what these men will consent to work for.

With regard to the iron-stone miners, their darg varies. They are paid by weight. Each man puts out what he chooses. They are not in the colliers' Union, but have a Union among themselves, keeping each other to a uniform darg as much as they can, under fear that the masters would regulate their wages by the greatest amount of work turned out by the strongest among them. In this they are in error, because if the masters were to attempt to fix the wages by the amount of work which the strongest men could do his men would leave him. The masters must estimate the rate to be paid, according to a fair day's work of a man of average strength and capability.

The iron-stone miners are earning 3s. and 3s. 6d. a-day. Their Union being imperfect forcing up the rate of wages, and have consequently offered no temptation to an undue influx of labour into their field of employment. Their wages are regulated in the natural way, by the demand for ironstone. The colliers, on the contrary, by reducing their days work and forcing up the rate of wages are offering an inducement to the iron-stone miners and their drawers to become colliers, because as colliers they would earn more at easier work."

In whatever way this combination among the colliers is looked at, by whatever indifferent spectator, capable of applying to it the ordinary principles, which regulate the dealings of men and the movements of capital and labour in all business transactions, great or small, it will appear undeniably evident that it must share the fate of all similar combinations that have yet been tried, and in the end lead to nothing but serious disadvantage to those who engage in it. They are now imposing upon themselves a great loss, in refusing to profit by the present prosperity of the iron trade, which would enable them to earn large wages, to fill their cottages with comfort, to clothe themselves and their families abundantly, to send all their children regularly to school, and keep them there till they are of an age to receive impressions of lasting good. Unfortunately for themselves, they have opened their ears to advice, that falls in with natural indolence and the desire of gain. In their present state of intelligence they seem to have but two teachers, whose lessons succeed each other, and are in turn forgotten; the flattery of unwise advisers, and the adversity that it brings upon them. It is at once the reproach and the punishment of those who are responsible for their low degree of intelligence, - namely, their employers, and the upper classes in general, - that they equally suffer, in purse and in comfort, on every occasion of these unwise moves made by the classes below them, and yet that so little is done to instruct them, or to make them feel a community of interest with their superiors. There is one argument which, I believe, has been mainly instrumental in cementing the combination, an argument addressed to their generous sentiments, (never appealed to in vain,) and by which they have been led to hope that in bettering their own condition they will also improve that of others. They have been told that by restricting their labour they will cause the whole body of colliers (those bred to the trade and those who have been brought into it by the frequent strikes) to be permanently employed at good wages, and that thenceforward there will be no collier seeking work. This generous error has taken great hold upon their minds, and I fear it will be only another lesson of experience that .will teach them its fallacy. Their true course would be to take advantage of the present demand for labour in every species of employment, which would enable those who would be displaced from the pits by a return on the part of the rest to a free system of labour and a full day's work, to get into other occupations. A fair understanding with their employers, on the principle that wages are regulated by the demand for the article and the numbers competing to furnish it, would enable the master to dispense with many superfluous hands, and give to the colliers retained (who would be chiefly those bred to the trade, and consequently the best) a full participation in the profits of a prosperous state of trade, while it would secure them against so low a degree of depression in bad times as now threatens them.

In my last year's Report I gave details exemplifying at some length the general characteristics of the population of Airdrie and Coatbridge, and the surrounding portion of the central mining district of Lanarkshire. I had to bring forward, on unquestionable evidence, facts similar to those that had forced themselves on the notice of previous official inquirers. Those facts exhibited much moral and social disorganization. They showed a great prevalence of the neglect of those household duties and virtues - of fathers towards their families ; mothers towards their children ; servants towards their masters; masters towards the large numbers in their employ - which can never be set at nought without bringing, in some form, their own retribution. The common and prevalent characteristics of that population, with, of course, many creditable exceptions, were dirt and discomfort in their homes, general habits of intemperance, unthriftiness in the expenditure of high wages, carelessness about the welfare of their children, shown either in unwise indulgence or heartless neglect, indifference to, and often gross ignorance about, religion and its ordinances, ill-feeling towards their employers, and a tendency to insubordination, encouraged by mistaken views of their own interests. I have just shown the pecuniary losses which these erroneous views and calculations are causing the colliers, through their wide-spread combination. It may be not altogether useless to exhibit, in immediate juxtaposition with the state of things above described, the condition of a collier population under circumstances favourable to their general well-being ; where they have been happily exempt from the many sources of evil that abound in newly and rapidly-peopled districts, and have been subjected to the salutary government of wise regulations and customs. It may serve to make clear, by the force of contrast, how far the condition of things in the Airdrie district is removed from a wholesome state of society, and at how great a loss of happiness and comfort to all parties.