The difficulties experienced by the coal industry between 1914 and 1925
There were many difficulties for the coal industry between 1914 and 1925 which I will be discussing in this essay. Industries in Britain at this time were privately owned, mostly by English people. In April 1914 the ‘big three’ Unions met together to see how they could strengthen their claims in the future. The Miners Federation of the MFGB represented over 1 million men working in 2500 pits, the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) and the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU).
A Trade Union is a organisation which gives protection for members, fighting for better pay and compensations and protecting workers rights. The Unions altogether represented one and a half million Trade Union members, and were certainly not going to make life easy for the industry owners over the next couple of years. The alliance of these unions meant that they could now have ‘sympathetic strikes’. This meant that if one group had a strike then other industries would strike in sympathy even though the problem going on has nothing to do with them.
An example of this is in 1984 when a miners strike threatened the steel workers job. The unions were very important for workers in the coal industry because conditions were very poor as they were working for long hours underground with nothing to protect them from things falling from above them etc. Because the mines were privately owned they were nationalised in 1914 because of the war to break down the differences in conditions and pay to make the miners happier so there would be no problems during the war.
However, during the war the demand for coal was enormous and the industry had an ‘economic boom’. Because of this boom workers were in a stronger position to bargain as their job was so important for the war cause, this meant that the government would be willing to give them much more money since they could not afford to have a strike in the coal industry. Relationships between workers and employers were strained because they wanted a lot more. They wanted much greater rewards for their role in winning the war. Many workers also wanted to keep ‘state rationalisation’ that evolved during the war.
Another key point was due to the fact that there was rapid inflation after the war, prices went up by 25% in 1919 and wage increases could not keep up the pace of the inflation rate. By 1921 members of trade unions had rapidly grown to 8 million and the strength of the unions would make it very difficult for the employers as well as being more organised through the triple alliance. Because of the unhappiness of the workers and the influence by the workers taking control in the Russia meant that strikes were bound to happen.
In 1921 an outstanding 86 million working days were lost through strike action. This was the worst amount of work done. Before 1914 the largest had been 41 million which only seems small compared to the 86 million working days lost with the 35 million working days lost just 2 years before. This shows ignorance from the employers as they did not solve the problem after the first strike and paid the price for it. The strikes were becoming so bad that 12,000 soldiers and 6 tanks had to be sent in to keep peace in Glasgow 1919. Strikes were mainly held due to the workers wanting higher wages.
In Early 1919 the MFGB demanded for nationalism to continue, in answer to that the government inquired into the future of the coal industry and was determined that nationalism should not continue but pay should go up and working hours decreased. The miners however were still angry because individual ownership meant that the hours and pay were likely to change. The government eventually gave up ownership of the mines earlier than expected due to the fact that it was spending 5 million a month to balance the coal budget. The mine owners immediately cut wages on a district basis.
The MFGB wouldn’t accept these terms and therefore the mine owners locked out over one million miners. The triple alliance had agreed to support them but as the MFGB would not negotiate terms with the government they left them and the triple alliance collapsed. Therefore the miners had to go on strike on their own but then started work again after 3 months as they could no longer go on strike anymore for obvious reasons. They were now worse off than they were before the war and the trade union’s support dropped by 2 million.
However, even with these bad terms the coal industry were no longer making a profit and were losing about a million a month. Many miners were also now unemployed because the owners could not afford to pay them. The owners could no longer run the mines the way that they were going so they made a further wage reduction and increased the hours. The MFGB wouldn’t accept these terms either and the Triple Alliance was re-joined once again. Something had to be done as there was a clear lack of communication between the employers and the workers.
Stanley Baldwin then offered the MFGB 24 million to counter the owners wage cuts until 1st may 1926. However this was only a short-term solution because it would only postpone the problem for the nine months. However the government used this time to try and find a way to solve a general strike if there was one when the subsidy ended. They held weekend courses to train ordinary people to drive railway trains and vehicles. They arranged to take over the BBC to publish a government news sheet and used propaganda to stress the threat to parliamentary democracy from the general strike.