C.L.R. James

National Stay-In Strike?

How the miners could win an increase – What I learned in Wales

(November 1935)

Source: New Leader, 1 November 1935.
Transcribed: by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

South Wales has been squeezed almost dry by Capitalism, but the weaker the workers, the more ruthlessly Capitalism strikes at them. Harassed by an unceasing offensive, some of the miners have retaliated by means of the stay-in strike.

I happened to be in South Wales last weekend, and knowing by experience the lies, omissions, and evasions with which the Capitalist Press would have reported the strike, I took the opportunity of getting a first-hand account from Comrades William Mitchell and Bert Kear, who were mainly responsible for it. This is what they told me.

Before the Strike

The Ocean Company owns eleven collieries in South Wales, employing some 10,000 men. Between 1926 and today the Ocean Company has steadily reduced wages and abolished privileges. But the greatest danger that faces South Wales miners is the employment of scab-Union labour, drawn from unemployed men in South Wales, and financed by the companies.

To stop the steady growth of this blacklegging, all the miners’ lodges of the Ocean Company made the Executive of the South Wales Miners’ Federation tender to the company fourteen days notice to get rid of the scabs from Nine Mile Point and other collieries under the Ocean Combine. These notices terminated on September 28, and the men came out on strike.

The Ocean Company concentrated on Nine Mile Point. From a radius of 20–25 miles away they collected well over 70 men. They were paying these £4 to £4 10s. a week. The weekly wage of the Federation miner averaged £2 9s. a week, and for piece-work £3 5s. Furthermore, the scabs produced only one-third of the average output of the men regularly employed. But the owners did not mind paying. The scabs could be dealt with later.

The Blacklegs

During the whole of the nine days the Strike Committee was out every morning from 5 until 7 or 8, using peaceful means of persuasion to try and prevent the scabs working. The Strike Committee was anxious to prevent bloodshed, for day after day the temper of the Federation men rose, and near the end of the strike there were some 400 policemen escorting the blacklegs to work.

On Thursday, October 9, the Federation advised that the strike be abandoned, and the men obeyed. Here, however, the company showed its teeth.

There are three shafts at Nine Mile Point Colliery: the East Pit, the West Pit and Rock Vane. The company only permitted the men at Rock Vane and West Pit to work. No one was to be allowed to work in the East Pit.

The company offered an excuse that there was no work to be done, but at the same time it allowed the scabs who had been working there during the strike to continue. The rumour spread that on the Monday they were going to do the same at the West Pit.

On the Saturday at 1.30, just before the men in the West Pit were due to come up from below, first Mitchell and then Kear addressed them. After outlining the situation they pointed out to the men that feeling was rising so high between the scabs and the Federation men that if they went up as usual there would probably be in the coming week rioting, bloodshed, and perhaps terms of imprisonment, as had happened before. They had to fight, and it would be better to fight below than above.

The Men’s Demands

The men agreed: 74 of them decided that they would stop under for a month if necessary. They insisted that the younger boys should not stay, and these, on coming up, made known the demands of those below. These were:–

  1. That all scab-Union labour should cease.
  2. That there would be no victimisation; and, knowing the capitalist code of honour, they demanded the promises in writing.

The decision taken at 1.30, they made for the warmth of the stables, where they stayed until 3.30 on the Sunday morning, with nothing to eat, nothing to drink. At 3.30 they were informed by one of the officials that food had been sent. Mitchell and Kear asked by whom; if by the Ocean Company they would have refused it, but it had been sent by the officials of the S.W. Miners’ Federation. After that they had three meals a day, and parcels from friends and relatives.

But the company censored every parcel, even opening the sandwiches to look for messages. The men were thus kept in complete isolation.

On the Monday morning, the West Pit and Rock Vane were opened for work as usual by the company. Thirty comrades went down the West Pit, ostensibly to work, but really to join the strikers. In the East Pit, over a hundred scabs were working on the Monday morning. Twenty three of the Federation men were allowed by the company to work in connection with the haulage of the coal produced by the scabs, but when these twenty-three got down they refused to work, and stayed below.

More Miners Out

In Rock Vane, the third pit, 72 men went down on Monday, but they also refused to work, and stayed down in support of the West Pit. The scabs came to work on the Tuesday in the East Pit, but when coal came up the brakesman refused to handle it and went home. By Wednesday the scabs were less than half and dwindling (it was said in Merthyr that the engine-driver and staff had refused to man their train).

By this time, all over South Wales miners were stopping work in sympathy with the men below. On Thursday morning, at four o'clock, officials of the Nine Point Lodge came down the West Pit to try and bring the miners up. Asked by the men if they had brought the acceptance of their demands in writing, they said no, and were told to go up and stay up, and not to make any attempt whatever to fetch the miners out until they had the required document.

On Saturday, at 1.30, Marsden, the local miners’ official, came down and interviewed them once more. The agent produced a letter from the management stating that when the pits resumed work no scab labour would be employed at the colliery in future, and there would be no victimisation.

A New Weapon

The letter also stated, however, that the Nine Mile Point Colliery would be closed down indefinitely, because the company had an obligation to the non-Union men to give fourteen days notice to them. So that the colliers who have fought and won are now out of work.

However, Mitchell and Kear have done better than the leaders of the stay-in strike in Hungary. He was interviewed in one of the upper storeys of a police-station. He was picked up later on the pavement many yards below, and the public was informed that he had thrown himself down. What in all probability happened was that he was beaten to death, and then all marks of the crime got rid of by this simple expedient. South Wales miners, however, have still some way to go before the class struggle in this country reaches that high pitch of ferocity.

The stay-in strike is not a mere novelty.

The miners may soon wake up to the fact that is this kind of strike they have a weapon with which they can break the resistance of the colliery owners through the length and breadth of the country.

The miners have an overwhelming case. The National Government will be fruitful of windy promises until the election is over. If miners all over the country were to go down and refuse to come up they would focus the attention of the whole country on their just demands, and would have a great chance of victory.

Towards Revolutionary Action

But for Revolutionary Socialists what is most significant in this whole strike is the way the minds of the workers move towards revolutionary action. The sudden speeches of Mitchell and Kear at the bottom of the mine, the immediate acquiescence of the men, the response from thousands all over the coalfield, the awakening of the whole country – these are the steps (on a larger scale) by which a revolutionary period suddenly boils over into a revolutionary situation.

Last updated on 11 March 2017