Ted Grant

Stop Threatening the Miners—Capitalist Coal Board must be replaced by Workers’ Control

Source: Socialist Appeal, no. 46 (Mid-July 1947)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008

Lord Hyndley, on behalf of the Coal Board, has written a letter to the National Union of Miners as part of a prepared campaign of threats and intimidation against the miners. In this letter he threatens “unofficial” strikers with prosecution.

The Daily Telegraph of July 17th, remarks with satisfaction: “The policy of prosecuting unofficial strikers would be a reversion to the practice of the colliery companies before the industry was nationalised.”

And indeed, there can be no surprise at this. Largely, the same old managers, and even in many cases, the same old coalowners, continue to run the pits. This is exemplified by the situation in South Wales where the administration has been criticised by the South Wales Executive of the Miners’ Union as a result of the dissatisfaction of the miners. The officials on the Regional Coal Board are General Sir Reade Godwin-Austen, Mr. G. E. Aeron-Thomas, former coal-owner, and Mr. Iestyn Williams, formerly Secretary of the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coalowners’ Association.

The arrogant ruling class attitude of these people is shown in the Daily Telegraph report of an interview in its July 7th issue with a “high official of the North Eastern Division of the Coal Board,” when he said: “he is seriously considering the prosecution and dismissal of the ringleaders concerned [in unofficial strikes—EG]…The ringleaders and all the undesireables in the industry must be weeded out and got rid of ‑ sacked.”

“The official described the position as ‘desperate’, and added ‘The time has arrived when miners must properly appreciate their obligations’.”

The whole of the capitalist press as one pack is in full cry against “unofficial” strikes, especially among the miners. The Daily Telegraph, organ of the former coalowners, remarked with satisfaction in its editorial of July 7th in commenting on this threat made by the North Eastern Coal Board:

“Such a statement from the mouth of a private employer would be denounced in unmeasured terms as a threat of ‘victimisation’, sufficient in itself to cause a strike. It does not become less formidable in its implications from the lips of an executive of a great nationalised monopoly.”

Instead of denouncing these monstrous threats and explaining the reasons for “unofficial” strikes, Will Lawther, the President of the N.U.M. gave an interview with the reactionary Daily Mail in which he gave the green light to the Coal Board to go ahead: “Disciplinary action would not lead to trouble in the coal fields. There would be no sympathy with the offenders [unofficial strikers—EG].”

He repeated his warning against unofficial strikes in his Presidential address to the Miners’ Union Conference in Scotland. He did not have a word to say about the insolent challenge to the rights of the workers by the spokesmen of the Coal Board.

The Ministers in the Government, including Shinwell, Minister of Mines, are also making veiled threats. In dealing with absenteeism, Shinwell said: “work or get out” at a speech in Cannock.

None of these Labour leaders ever raise the real problem: Shinwell uses the term “parasite” but never in connection with those capitalist parasites who have been so lavishly compensated as a reward for ruining the industry.

Every worker knows that miners, no more than other workers, [do not] indulge in strikes for fun. Only when they have a genuine grievance and their patience has come to an end and there is no other means of redress, do workers organise strikes ‑ official or “unofficial”. The responsibility for these strikes is on the shoulders of the management of the Coal Board ‑ and on the Union leaders for not paying sufficient attention to the grievances of the workers.

What is the real cause of the trouble? The Daily Mail in its editorial of July 7th remarks with malicious glee:

“So far the magic of Nationalisation has not worked. Before the war this policy always meant ‘the mines for the miners’, but as it has turned out the men have no direct voice in the industry at all.”

They use this to discredit the idea of nationalisation among the workers. But it is true that the Labour leaders are operating not a socialist policy based upon workers’ control and management, but one of State capitalism.

If the Labour leaders continue on this course it will not solve the coal question. It will mean bigger and more bitter strikes in the coalfields. It will assist the capitalists to discredit the Labour Government.

The only progressive way out lies, not in restricting the right to strike, but in eliminating the root cause of the trouble ‑ capitalist control of the mines.

The miners must counter this propaganda barrage by the simple demand: Away with the capitalist Coal Board! The miners must themselves manage and control the pits through elected committees.