Extract from Mining District Report 1856 (part 2)

Restriction of Darg (cont.)

It is one of the unfortunate consequences of almost every strike, that the masters take new men into the collieries or ironstone pits, as fast as they can procure them, while the old hands are " on strike'' These new men, who have been agricultural or other labourers, earning in Ireland or elsewhere not half the wages of a collier or miner, with far more bodily labour, find themselves, for the most part, so much better off in their new occupation that they willingly remain in it, having become, after a month or six weeks' practice, sufficiently expert as colliers or miners. A surplus of hands is the consequence, and the restriction of the darg has for its object the division of the amount of work required to be done among the increased number. But they aim also at restricting the quantity raised, in order to increase the price, and thereon to justify the claim to the same amount of wages as before. The employer is compelled to resort to means to defeat this purpose ; he opens more pits, employs more men, more horses,; more machinery, and obtains the quantity of coal and iron stone he has need of for carrying on his trade, although at an additional cost to himself, for which he must be remunerated by the public. He in many cases adopts an additional mode of attaining the same end ; the men say they will only put out ____ tons per week; he argues, on his part, that he must call the ton, not 20 cwt., but 22 cwt., 25 cwt., or 30 cwt., as his case may require, and the men are paid accordingly. This is one of the grievances put forward by their paid delegates on the subject of weights, and arises, in very many instances, primarily from the original mistake of the men in adopting the restricted darg.

In complaining of being obliged to give full weight, whatever the weight may be which they agree to on being admitted to work, and of being fined, without appeal, for sending up light weight or refuse mixed with the coal or ironstone,, they complain of that which is absolutely necessary for the discipline and proper conduct of such works. A very reasonable concession is, I believe, in nearly every instance that they require it, granted to them, namely, that they may place at the pit-head a man of their own, called by them their " Justice man'' to see that the hutches are not condemned without cause, for want of weight or any other defect. But, in asking that the pit-head man, who is the servant of the master, should be subject to the interference of the man appointed by them, or that their man should be of equal authority with the servant of the master, they exceed what they have any title to. Many instances have been mentioned to me of their having been allowed, at their own request, to appoint a man of their own for those purposes, and to have all their hutches weighed in his presence, and of their having very soon given it up, either from being satisfied that they were fairly dealt with, or because they found that the lenient judgment of the pithead-man in regard to the weight sent up was more favourable to them than the rigid accuracy of the scales.

Nevertheless, whenever complaints as to their not being allowed their full weight are frequent among the men, it would seem desirable to remove this source of grievance, by placing steel-yards upon the pit-head, and weighing every hutch, as is common in Fifeshire and the Lothians, and practicable in all cases.

The practice at the Govan collieries was explained to me by Mr. Allan, as follows : -

"An average hutch is weighed, sifted, and the dross taken out of it, and the whole of a man's day's work is estimated to him at the rate of that hutch.

Twelve years ago a difference arose between our men and ourselves as to this practice. I sent for some of the men who invariably put out good weight and clean coal, and some whom it was necessary occasionally to fine for putting out light weight and foul coal; and I said to them, ' Who puts Mr. Dixon to this expense of weighing, &c., the men who put out good weight, or those who put out light weight?' The matter was soon arranged, and we have had no difference since''

I believe the mode above described is a very common one in Lanarkshire. But the manner in which this or any other system is carried into effect appears to be the principal source of the complaints which are made by the workmen, or by those who speak in their behalf.

It is obvious that the manner of carrying any regulations into effect must differ with the character of the employers, or the persons representing them. At one work it may be harsh and arbitary, at another it may show a proper degree of consideration for the men, without sacrificing the interests of the master. At one work, if a man sends up light weight he may be admonished, or one hutch may be forfeited ; at another, the value of his whole day's work may be taken from him as a fine. But, at the same time, considering the very mixed character of the colliery population of Lanarkshire and other new districts, or centres of mining labour, it must not be inferred that severity is always undeserved or unnecessary. It may be impossible for one employer to obtain what he is entitled to, or to maintain discipline, without the occasional exercise of that species of severity. If it is more than occasional, it is a proof of some defect in the tone and character of the management, which may with justice be complained of as harsh.

The practice, however, above described, of judging of the value of the day's work, consisting of seven hutches, from the weight, &c., of one, affords but a rough approximation to the truth, and must often give rise to a feeling among the men that they have been mulcted more severely than they deserve.

The following observations of experienced managers of extensive collieries, both for sale and in connexion with ironworks, prove that there can be no difficulty in adopting the plan of weighing every hutch as it comes from the pit, and giving the men the benefit of the gross weight they produce, with a small deduction to make up for contingencies which deduct from its value to the master.

Mr. Gibson, manager of the Marquis of Lothian's collieries, near Dalkeith, stated to me:

" We have about 400 men and 100 boys in our employ. Our practice for thirty years has been to weigh every tub as it comes out of the pit. The tub is passed across a steel-yard. When the engine is going at full speed we bring up two tubs a minute. This is in our largest pit, and is a considerable out-put for one pit in Scotland. In such a case a man must be kept for the purpose at 2s. a day. When the out-put is smaller and not so quick, the banksman, or pithead man, can easily do it. The banksman takes the tub after it is run across the steel-yard, and empties it into the trucks, or on the hill. The pit-head man receives the tub as it comes up the pit.

If the tub weighs 7 ¼ cwt. it is counted as 7 cwt., and if it is 7 ½ cwt. full, that weight is allowed. We cannot stop to weigh quarters of a hundredweight. Some of the tubs are 5 cwt., some 7 cwt., and some 8 cwt. In some of our seams the men put out a ton a day ; this is in the thin coal of 30 inches. In others they put out 2 tons, 2 ½ tons, and a few 3 tons. Our thickest seam is 3 ½ feet. There is no restriction of the darg in this part of the country, every man works as we wish. They go down from 5 to 7 A.M., and come up in about 8 hours, some in 10 hours. The pit goes every day, and the men generally work ten or eleven days a fortnight, some twelve ; they are very regular, and have done this for years. They have no man of their own on the pit-head.

In every colliery in the Lothians, I believe, every tub is weighed in the same manner as our own.

As regards the number of hundredweights reckoned to the ton, our practice is to reckon only 20 cwt. Others reckon 22 cwt. But the unfairness to the men is only apparent, as the rate of payment is adjusted accordingly''

At the Kinneil Ironworks, near Linlithgow, about 1,000 miners are employed raising ironstone for the large works of Dundyvan, near Coatbridge, Lanarkshire. I was informed there that the practice was to weigh every tub. And in order to test the day's work, one tub belonging to each man is .selected by the pit-head man at hazard, and examined, and if " dross " is found in it, the amount is deducted from each tub sent up during that day. Each man sends up from four to six tubs a day. The men have always been allowed to place a " Justice-man'' on the pit-head when they wish it, and if they choose to pay one. He is seldom kept long.

The practice of the Forth Iron Company, near Dunfermline, a company that has been conspicuous for its regard for the best interest of the people in its employ, - was thus related to me :-

"At Cowdenbeath, where we have a large colliery, - about 200 colliers, - every hutch is weighed. We put out a hutch a minute. The pit-head man attends to the weighing; no extra man is required.

If a hutch is seen by the pit-head man to have dross or stone in it, it is put aside for the man who sent it up to see. This is the fairest way. We usually deduct a hundredweight or half a hundredweight from his day's work for it, as a fine. I never knew a whole day's work forfeited for that in any of our works.

Weighing, in the manner above-mentioned, is general in this county (Fifeshire). At our colliery here we are an exception, we have no weighing at all. It is left to the judgement of the pit-head man. If what appears to him a light hutch is sent up, he desires the man to make up the weight in the next. We have about 500 colliers working under this arrangement, with which they are quite satisfied. We should do the same at Cowdenbeath, but as it is near Lochgelly, where weighing is practiced, we could not very well adopt a different practice there''

This lenient practice in regard to weighing is possible where the men are of the character of those of the Forth Ironworks, but manifestly inapplicable where there are a number of men who do not hesitate to seize any opportunity of taking advantage of their employers.

The following is, I believe, all that need be added to what has gone before, to give a fair view of this question, which has. been recently revived by the men or their delegates, as to weights and fines and it describes the practice in the Lothians.

Mr. Moore, manager of Mr. Dean's collieries on the estate of the Dowager Lady Ruthven, stated to me:-

"We employ about 250 men and boys. Up to within the last month there was no question raised by our men on the subject of weights. They were satisfied that they were fairly dealt with. The pit-head man is able to judge within a few pounds the weight of each hutch. His experience enables him to do so pretty accurately. If he saw that the hutch was designedly under weight, the price of it was kept off the man. Some men might go for years without this occurring; others might have hutches condemned every week or month. When the delegates came down here and agitated this question, we said, if the men wished every tub weighed they might send a man to look to it and we would pay half his wages and they the other half. He is paid 15s. a week. He is chosen from among themselves. There is our pit-head man besides. The tubs come up about one a minute. The pit-head man alone could weigh and mark the weight easily. The result has been that we have found that we are now getting better weight than before the steel-yard was put on. Generally, in the Lothians, the practice is to weigh every tub, or, at all events, to have steel-yards on which to weigh them if necessary. In some places one tub only is weighed and all the rest are averaged by that. The banksman and the colliers' man ('the Justice-man') determine as to the quantity of dross, and whether it is enough to cause a deduction to be made. This was done before by the banksman alone. The men are saying they intend to discontinue their man already."

It is very much to be desired that the lenient and considerate and just practices above described were, as far as possible, adopted in Lanarkshire and all the new districts, and thereby a subject taken out of the hands of the agitators, and the employer placed in a favourable light before his workmen.

Truck System

The Truck System was again denounced by the delegates, and represented as one of the grievances from which the people employed at most of the large works suffered. The question has been so recently before a committee of the House of Commons that it is unnecessary to touch upon it further in this place. The bill which was prepared in accordance with the recommendations of my report upon this subject, was last year again brought forward, but appears now to wait for some expression of opinion from those whose interests it was designed to protect.


One species of tyranny exercised by one portion of the colliers and miners of Lanarkshire upon the other, - namely, the restriction of the darg or day's work, has been adverted to. Another was also put in action during this strike, which was not less unjust and injurious to a large portion both of men and masters. Many of the latter were from the beginning willing to go on paying 5s. or 4s. 6d. a day, and their men were desirous of continuing to work at those rates, without joining in the strike. The men on strike were led on to oppose this; and in their measures for so doing, it was manifest that their organization had become more complete than it had been in previous strikes. Wherever men were known to be at work, even for the rate which it was the object of the strike to obtain, namely, 5s. a day, or either at work or known to be willing to work for the reduced rate of 4s. 6d. or 4s., large bands of men from a distance assembled in the early morning, and by intimidation, sometimes accompanied with violence, sometimes without, prevented the men proceeding to their labour in the pits. Wherever this proceeding was accompanied with actual violence, there could be no doubt as to the mode of dealing with it, by the civil power aided by the military, which was in considerable force in that county. But I am bound to report to you, in the interest of the great body of the population so seriously affected by this great interruption of labour, that a strong opinion exists among many of the principal employers in Lanarkshire, that had a different view prevailed among some of the civil authorities of Lanarkshire as to what amounted to intimidation where no actual violence was committed, and more vigour shown at decisive moments, the strike would have been stopped at an early period. In many instances the tactics of the men on strike were, to assemble suddenly in large numbers before some colliery some miles distant from their own, at the time when the colliers were going to work, and placing themselves across their path, either to obstruct the way altogether or to ask the men in a civil and friendly tone "whether they were not going to attend the colliers' meeting on that day ?" or some other equally simple question, in neither case using any actual violence or even menacing expressions.

On this subject, a Procurator Fiscal of Airdrie (the centre of the mining portion of Lanarkshire) thus stated to me his opinion :-

"If the men are only asked civilly whether they are going to attend the meeting to-day, I don't consider this intimidation."

I found, upon inquiry, that other law officers in Scotland entertained a different opinion, - to the effect, that in such cases the question of intent was to be inferred from all the circumstances, and that they should have felt themselves justified in taking into custody some of the most active among the intimidators and dispersing the rest. This was, in fact, done in some instances in the Airdrie district, where the employers had applied for adequate means for protecting those of their men who were willing to work at the rate offered. These were escorted to their work by the civil power, aided by the military, and all opposition on the part of the men on strike overborne. But in other cases, where the kind of passive intimidation above described was resorted to, it was successful, not being interfered with by the Airdrie authorities.

The success of this passive intimidation, if the term may be used, exercised by men coming suddenly from a distance, often in the dusk of the morning, and when, therefore, it is doubly difficult to identify, is a subject of much concern to many of the principal employers in Lanarkshire, inasmuch as they foresee a considerable probability of another strike taking place before long, when it is likely to be again practised.

I found among those same gentlemen an impression that it was some defect in the Act against illegal combinations (6 Geo. 4. c. 129), as applicable to Scotland, which prevented its vigorous application in the instances which they adverted to. It did not appear, however, on inquiry among several of the officers charged with the administration of the law in the different mining districts of Scotland, including that of Lanarkshire, that they considered this to be the case. Both the Sheriff Substitute and the Procurator Fiscal of Airdrie stated to me, that, although the above-named Act provided no forms of procedure applicable to Scotland, and that, therefore, there was a disposition to proceed under the common law, and not under that Act, in cases of intimidation; yet that they did not consider the Act as otherwise defective in reference to Scotland.

" They preferred proceeding at common law because they then drew up the proceedings according to their own form; whereas if they proceeded under the statute, one slip might render the whole liable to be set aside. The disadvantages of proceeding at common law were, that they were obliged to prosecute within six days ; whereas the limitation was three months under the statute. The punishment was also different. Under the statute no fine was allowed, the penalty being imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months. Under the common law, the punishment, on summary proceedings in a similar case of intimidation, without violence, would be a fine not exceeding £10 or sixty days' imprisonment."

The Sheriff Substitute informed me that he had never tried a case of simple intimidation ; they were always cases of intimidation accompanied by assault; and that he did not know of any case in which intimidation alone had formed the subject of the prosecution. He did not think that there was any necessity for amending the law, for the purpose of adding to it the forms of procedure applicable to Scotland, as so many Acts were now passed with a similar omission.

It is worthy of observation that although so many employers suffered from the consequence of their men being intimidated, in the entire or partial interruption of their large works, none, as the Sheriff of Airdrie informed me, caused prosecutions to be instituted against any of the offenders, either under the Statute or at Common Law. I found that this arose partly from the habit in Scotland of resting upon the Procurator Fiscal, as the public prosecutor, in cases of this kind; partly from an impression that it would have been necessary to sustain any prosecution by the evidence of a certain number of the men to the effect that they were intimidated. This, according to the opinion expressed to me by all the Scotch legal authorities to whom I mentioned the point, was a misapprehension on the part of the employers, no such evidence being necessary ; the fact of such an amount of intimidation having been exercised as would reasonably cause an apprehension of violence or injury, "timor qui in hominem fortem et constantem cadere posset'' being one to be inferred from the facts, and sustainable by the evidence of by-standers, or, as provided by the Act, of some of the offenders themselves. But I believe, also, a very strong reason to be the difficulty of identifying the intimidators, who appear suddenly at early morning, as above described, from a distance, in a locality where they are not known, surround a colliery or way-lay the men going to work in it, cause them by this demonstration: of force to return,, and then scatter themselves and go back to their homes.

It is this practice which many of the principal persons in Lanarkshire look upon as a new and serious feature in the recent strikes, and requiring immediate steps to be taken to enable the authorities to be prepared against its recurrence.

The state of the mining district of Lanarkshire is exceptional; Where such a vast mass of labouring people has been collected together within a few years, without local ties, unacquainted for the most part with each other, with a very small proportion of the middle class and scarcely any of the upper class of society residing among them ; where the relation of the men with their employers is such as renders frequent collisions probable, and for a time almost inevitable, measures of precaution for the support of the well-disposed, and the defence of that portion of the inhabitants which has nothing to do with these disturbances, but which is a sufferer by them, are justifiable, which in parts of the country where the growth of society has been regular, and the masses of population collected on one spot not great, could never be required.

When I was first called upon to make a report to the Secretary of State on the condition of this portion of the mining districts of Scotland, in 1843-4, among the measures which I felt called upon to suggest, and which were very shortly after adopted, were a considerable increase in the number of the police for the borough of Airdrie and the mining district of Lanarkshire, and their better organization; the separation of the mining portion of that county from the purely agricultural, for police purposes; the establishment at Airdrie of a Sheriff-Substitute's Court and a Procurator Fiscal for that portion of the county so separated. The effect of these measures has been very useful and satisfactory. The time, however, has arrived when they require to be extended.

The numbers and character of the population in that part of Lanarkshire, the vast interests directly concerned in all that relates to the smooth and regular action of that great mass of labour, and the extent to which the whole community around, including the population and the manufacturing and commercial concerns of Glasgow, are directly and indirectly involved in the same, all appear to point to the conclusion that every guarantee of security that can be derived from the administration of the law and the character of the police force should be given to such a district. I venture to state to you that it would be desirable that a Sheriff, instead of a Sheriff-Substitute, should be placed at Airdrie, and that a certain number of mounted police should be added to the existing police force. The gravity of the occasions that arise during periods of disturbance, and the good effects that often flow from immediate and decisive action at the right moment, would appear fully to justify the placing in the midst of such a district an officer of the rank and experience of a Sheriff, who, by residing in the district, and being thus brought into immediate contact with the population, would learn, their character, become acquainted with all that was going on, and be better able to judge when those decisive moments arrived.

The habitual presence of a few mounted police in those districts where the large villages, filled almost entirely with colliers and miners, are found at every two or three miles apart, would have at all times a good effect in support of order, and in ensuring the capture of persons amenable to justice ; but they would be particularly useful on the recurrence of a strike. Living in, or patrolling, these villages, they would soon become acquainted with the faces of their inhabitants. If, during a strike, the practice which baffled the authorities and the employers on the last occasion was repeated, and large bodies of men belonging to one village assembled and marched to another some miles off, for the purposes of intimidation, the mounted police would be able to give early intelligence of their movements in the proper quarter; would afford time for an adequate civil or, if necessary, military force to be brought to the spot, ready to support the well-disposed in their desire to proceed to their work, or would follow and be ready at the right moment to identify the intimidators, and thus lead to their apprehension and punishment. It is the confident belief of many gentlemen who were among the greatest sufferers by the late strikes, that its extent or duration were greatly due to these assemblages of intimidators from a distance not having been adequately met and put down in the first instance.

Probability of more strikes

The cost of a certain number of mounted police would be well incurred if, as appears very probable, their presence led to the prevention or the earlier termination of any one of these disastrous interruptions of labour.

It is the more desirable that the employers chiefly concerned should adopt, without delay, measures that may tend to abridge the duration of strikes, because it is little likely that their recurrence can be altogether prevented in those districts, partly in consequence of the state of circumstances already mentioned ; partly from the opposition of views and interests that appears, from time to time, to arise between the Sale Collieries and those that supply the ironworks. It may sometimes seem to be the interest of the owners of the former, or the necessities of their trade may require it, that they should offer a higher rate of wages than the latter. When this is the case the workmen belonging to the latter become dissatisfied, and demand a rate of payment which the state of the iron trade may put it entirely out of the power of the ironmaster to grant. This dissatisfaction in the present temper of the men's minds and the present state of their relations with their employers is almost sure to lead to a strike. The master, in vain, asserts that he cannot afford a higher rate than the one offered, and the fact may be (as was mentioned to me confidentially by more than one employer) that the rate which the men had insisted upon at the termination of the last strike had absorbed the whole profits, and could not possibly be continued. As the relation between the masters and the men in general are carried on at present there are no means of convincing them on such a point as this, and they follow their own course accordingly to the injury of themselves and their masters. Neither has the proved futility of a strike any effect upon those who are its chief abettors. On the late occasion, although at first the price of coals rose very much in Glasgow, to the great loss of every consumer, and especially that of the large manufacturers, coal soon began to be brought from Clackmannanshire, and even from England. While the Scotch colliers were demanding 5s. a day those of Cumberland were working for 3s. 6d. ; and large quantities of coal were brought to the Clyde from Marypool and Whitehaven. These supplies together had the effect of bringing down the price at Glasgow, and enabled some of the ironmasters to keep a large proportion of their furnaces in blast.

At the same time, the Scotch coal trade with Ireland was greatly interfered with. That market losing its usual supply from Scotland, coal from Wigan was loaded at Fleetwood and taken to Ireland, from whence the vessels proceeded to the Clyde for another freight. Some gentlemen of experience in the iron trade also adverted to the very injurious effect of a strike upon the malleable branch of it in Scotland, it being a comparatively recent trade in that country, and, therefore, peculiarly liable to inquiry for any interruption or any unduly enhanced price of labour.

The men justify their combinations by the example of the masters who unite to establish as far as possible the prices and the rate of wages which they think attainable. Some employers, of whom Mr. Dixon is among the most conspicuous, refuse to join this combination of the masters, and thus place themselves in a position to insist upon every man who works with them becoming a member of their "Friendly and Free-labour Society" above described. The settlement of any difference that may arise on the question of wages becomes, in such a case as that of Mr. Dixon's works, a matter of comparative ease from the mutual confidence generated and long acted upon in the working of such a society, embracing the interests of the whole of his workmen. A species of arbitration arises out of it which soon leads to a right understanding and an agreement; while the arbitration advocated by the men or their delegates, embracing a whole district, is manifestly very unlikely to be tried, and if tried, to succeed. The masters very naturally refuse to submit their case to the kind of men usually acting as delegates, and the particular circumstances of different masters are so great that what might be a rate of wages which one could afford would be ruinous at the same moment to another.

Some consequences of strikes

The results of a strike are particularly noticeable in its moral and physical effects upon those engaged in it.

1st. The diminution of crime. This was satisfactorily proved to me by reference to the books of the superintendent of police at Airdrie for the "Airdrie Rural District of Lanarkshire'' The total number of police cases, during the strike from the 13th March to the 30th May, was 313. The total number for a corresponding number of days before the strike was 443 ; a difference of 130 or an average of eleven less per week for the eleven weeks of the strike. This diminution is attributed to there having been less money to spend on ardent spirits, and the consequent decrease of drunkenness and disorderly conduct.

2nd. The increase of disease. That this is the usual consequence of a strike was asserted to me by gentlemen of long experience in the mining portion of Lanarkshire, The low living produces low fevers, and if wet or cold weather comes on soon after a strike and before the stock of clothes which has usually been much reduced by being sold or pawned can be replaced or recovered, an increased rate of mortality is the consequence.

3rd. Demoralized habits. The same observers, having experience of strikes for upwards of thirty years, notice with regret the injury done to the habits of a workman and his family by a strike. The loss of their usual resource of wages drives them to resort to means of saving themselves from starvation, which an honest and well-behaved workman would not previously have thought himself capable of. Some get into debt to an amount which tempts them to become dishonest ; others, perambulate the country begging, or rather often extorting money or food; others, send their wives or children or both on the same errand ; in all cases their self-respect is impaired or destroyed, and when that is gone the descent is easy to crime and degradation.

Scottish Iron & Coal Miners Association

That there will not be wanting the organization among a certain class of the men under the guidance of their delegates, which will be fruitful in future strikes, is plainly shown from the four first clauses of " Articles and Regulations of the Scottish Iron and Coal Miners Association" of which I obtained a copy, recently printed at Dunfermline. They are as follows:

"Article I. - That We, the operative Coal and Iron Miners of Scotland, do form ourselves into a General Association, having for its principal objects the protection of each others rights and privileges.

II. That there shall be a general congress of delegates from Scotland at least once every three months, and oftener if an emergency should require it.

III. That every member shall, on entry to the association, pay the sum of 6d., and thereafter 1d. per week. Every delegate attending the Delegate Meeting shall carry with him such sums of money required to carry on the general business of the association. Every individual colliery to hold their own money, save such as may be required to cover the necessary expenses of the General Association.

IV. That if at any time the work, or the workmen therein, find it necessary to strike for an advance of wages, or from any other necessary cause, the District Committee shall refer the matter to a working arbitration. Should the masters refuse this, the men to be supported till the matter is adjusted. Should the men refuse that, they place themselves beyond the pale of the association''

This proposed Association, holding out by the subsequent clauses, certain supposed benefits of a Friendly Association to those who may join it, aims at regulating the proceedings of all the collieries in Scotland in regard to wages and all other matters that are involved between the workmen and their masters through the intervention of a Committee of Delegates. They will, in all probability, not succeed, but the circumstance of such a combination being under consideration points out to the employers generally how desirable it would be that the example of the admirable "Friendly and Free-labour Associations" of Mr. Dixon's works should be extensively copied, and the power of regulating all these points kept in the hands of the men and the masters of each work, without any extraneous inference which aggravates instead of allaying disputes and difficulties.