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Fifty-four hours constituted the work week until 1919, when by an agreement between the employers and workers the 48-hour week was established. In the acute conditions brought on by the depression of 1930–32, an attempt was made by the master spinners to restore the 54-hour week. This effort was only partially successful and was one of the major causes of the strike in the spinning trade in 1932. At the end of the strike a 48-hour week was again agreed upon.
This depression also led numerous firms in the weaving section to withdraw from their federation and endeavor, by longer hours or lower pay, to secure business. This action of many firms threatened to disorganize the entire industry, and led, at the request of both sides, to the Act of June 28, 1934, under which it was made legal to establish for the entire weaving industry definite rates of pay. The terms of the act are illuminating and show the British desire to leave the greatest possible control of industry to organized employers and organized workers. The act provides that on the petition of organizations of workers and employers representing the majority of the industry, an agreement reached between them regarding rates of pay may be legalized for the entire industry. Upon the receipt of such a petition the Minister of Labor appoints a committee of three, no one of whom is to be connected with the industry, to investigate the matter. If the committee unanimously concludes that the petition represents a majority of the employers and workers in the industry and that the agreement is expedient, they so report to the Minister, and he may then issue an order making the agreement binding upon all in the industry. By its terms the act was experimental. It was passed in 1934 to expire in 1937. At the request of both employers and workers it was renewed.
The cotton industry presents no exception to the general feeling which we found among employers and workers that agreements as to hours, wages, and the settlement of grievances should be by collective bargaining rather than by compulsion. While the Act of 1934 authorized a certain degree of Government intervention, it was enacted as a last resort to prevent the entire disorganization of an important section of the cotton industry.
6. COAL MINING
The coal-mining industry is geographically decentralized and consists of many fields, the largest of which are in South Wales, Durham, and Yorkshire. A great many of the towns and villages in these areas are almost entirely dependent on the industry.
The chief characteristic of the collective bargaining relationships is that they are on a district rather than a national basis. With few exceptions the employers are members of one of the 24 district associations, all of which, except one or two of the smallest, are affiliated to the Mining Association of Great Britain. There are nearly a million workers (including unemployed), over a half a million of whom are members of the mine-workers unions. These unions, whose origins go back to the 1840's, consist of local lodges grouped in district associations. These associations in turn are affiliated to the Miners Federation of Great Britain, but retain
a considerable degree of autonomy. They are organized on industrial lines and are open to all who work in or about the mines. There are, however, a number of craft unions in the industry, some of which are affiliated to the miners' federation and others to independent national craft unions or to federations of craft unions.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century agreements began to be made between the district employers' associations and the district associations of unions, and except for the period of national agreements from 1921 to 1926 the industry has been regulated by district agreements. No two are identical, or have ever been identical, though their main features are very similar. These features, particularly in the formulae for the regulation of wage rates, are derived in part from the national agreements, and differ in some important respects from the district agreements which were in force before 1921. Here we can do no more than trace the general features of the district agreements which now regulate the industry, with il preliminary account of the laws which share in that regulation, and of the more recent events which have reflected and in part shaped the attitudes of the employers and unions.
Prior to the Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1908 the hours worked underground varied considerably in the different coal fields in accordance with the varying agreements. That act, which followed a governmental inquiry, fixed the maximum hours per day at 8. There were similar and still wider variations in wages, particularly in the earnings of piece workers; and complaints that these earnings were in many instances unduly low, coupled with demands by the miners' federation for minimum guaranteed time rates, precipitated in 1912 the first national coal strike. The conflict lasted for 6 weeks; it was settled by the Coal Mines Minimum Wage Act of 1912, which met in part the miners' demands.
That act, however, followed the district principle by providing for joint district boards with impartial chairmen, which were empowered to fix minima for their districts “having regard to the average daily rate of wages” paid to the underground workers of each particular class in each particular district. Thus no precise formula was laid down for determining the rates, and while some substantial increases were effected in 1912, the minimum rates then fixed have, in the main, remained practically unchanged, and we were informed that today the boards are regarded as of very little importance, since for many years the rates determined by collective agreement have been substantially higher than the minima laid down in 1912. In practice the joint conciliation boards which had long existed in nearly all the districts were designated as the boards to administer the act of 1912, and it is interesting to note that that act contained no enforcement provisions but relied on the strength of organization and the good faith of the parties as a sufficient safeguard for compliance.
From 1917 to 1921 the industry was under Government control. During that period wages were substantially increased in the form of flat-rate advances. Demands for further increase, coupled with the threat of strike action, led in 1919 to the appointment of a bipartisan commission under the neutral chairmanship of the Hon. Mr. Justice (later Lord) Sankey, “to inquire into the position of, and conditions prevailing in, the coal industry.” Following the commission's recommendations, a further flat-rate advance in wages was granted, and by the act of 1919 the daily hours of underground workers were reduced to 7, while by agreement between the mining association and the miners' federation the hours of surface workers were reduced from 49 to 461/2 per week. The chairman of the commission, with the workers' representatives constituting a majority of
a one, also recommended the nationalization of the mines-an ungained objective which is still officially the goal of the miners federation.
In 1921 the Government relinquished control of the mines; wage difficulties arose as a result of falling export prices and the cessation of the wartime pooling of profits, which were used to support the wage structure in the less profitable mines. A 3-month industry-wide stoppage was settled by the first of the two national agreements, by which substantial reductions in the wartime wages were brought about. In this agreement a formula for the determination of wages in relation to the proceeds of the industry was included, with a proviso that a basic minimum was to apply in any case. This agreement was terminated in 1924 by the miners' federation, with demands for higher wages. Following the appointment of a Court of Inquiry negotiations were resumed and a second national agreement was entered into, with substantial increases in the prescribed minimum percentage to be added to the standard wages, and with provisions for the protection of the lower-paid day-wage men. Shortly after the agreement was made, the price of coal declined and, with it, wages (since the wages were adjusted in accordance with the gross proceeds of the industry), so much so that the minimum rates were reached by 1923 in all the coal fields. Even these minimum rates were believed by the industry to be beyond its capacity to pay, and the owners accordingly notitied the miners' federation of their intention to terminate the agreement.
In this juncture the Government appointed first a Court of Inquiry, and then a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Sir Herbert Samuel, “to inquire into and report upon the economic position” of the industry; and at the same time granted the industry a 9-months' subvention to enable the existing wages to be maintained.
The Commission made a number of recommendations, including a downward revision of the minimum percentage additions to standard wages, and the continuation of national agreements; but no settlement could be reached, and on May 1, 1926, when both the Government subvention and the existing agreement expired, a national stoppage in the coal mines began.
On the same day, following a policy previously determined upon and with the affirmative authorization of most of the constituent unions, the General Council of the Trades Union Congress announced that a general strike would take place after midnight on May 3, if a settlement of the mining dispute had not then been reached. Discussions with the Government were unsuccessful in reaching an agreement and the strike began. It included a great majority of the railway, dock, and tramway and omnibus workers, and road transport was also seriously affected. Large numbers of workpeople also struck in the electric power stations, in the iron and steel and other metal trades, and in the paper, printing, and building trades. The strike was vigorously opposed by the Government, and was terminated by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress on May 12, after 9 days, without any settlement of the miners' controversy.
The miners remained out for another 5 months, and it was not till the end of November 1926, that work was resumed in the coal fields. The miners had to accept, instead of the national agreement and the maintenance of previous wage levels for which they had struggled, district agreements and wage reductions. Moreover, during the progress of their strike, the Coal Mines Act of 1926 was passed, permitting, for a period of 5 years, a working day of 8 hours underground; and the 8-hour day was thereafter substituted in most of the districts for the previous 7-hour day.
Some of these losses have since been regained. By legislation in 1930, and supporting legislation in 1931 and 1932, a 712-hour maximum day for underground workers was provided (until such time as the Draft Convention to limit the hours of work underground, adopted by the International Labor Organization, has been ratified by Parliament); and this reduction was effected without any reduction in wages. Moreover, since wages fluctuate with the proceeds of the industry, the workers, to some extent, have benefited by further provisions in the Act of 1930, setting up machinery under Government auspices and control for allocating quotas of output in order to avoid overproduction, and for fixing selling prices or (in the case of export districts) minimum selling prices, in order to eliminate intercolliery competition. This plan is still in effect. We were informed that when a national coal strike was threatened in 1935 the Government was largely successful in inducing holders of long-term coal purchase contracts to pay voluntarily an increase in price; although, in commenting on the working of this plan, a recent Government report" indicated that there has been some objection to the resulting increases in the prices of coal to certain consumers.
This brings us to the methods of regulating wages under the district agreements. Wages take the form of basic rates to which is added a percentage. The percentage, which must not, however, fall below a certain agreed upon fixed minimum, is generally uniform in each district for all classes of workers. It is determined as follows. The total proceeds of the industry in a given district are first ascertained by accountants jointly agreed upon for some agreed-upon period. The amount to be distributed as wages is then arrived at by (1) deducting from the total proceeds the cost of production other than wages, including fixed charges, and (2) allocating to wages a fixed percentage (usually 85 or 87) of the remainder. Since the wages consist of fixed basic rates plus a percentage addition, it is the latter amount which varies according to the total sum available for distribution.
This general scheme of wage payment, which differs in detail, but not in its main features, from district to district, derives in principle, as has been stated, from the earlier national agreements. Since the workers have a direct stake in the proceeds of the industry, it is natural that the unions should be favorably inclined toward measures which may help the price and output position of the industry. We were informed that within the past few years the miners' federation has joined with the mining association in seeking export subsidies; that a joint standing committee of the two organizations has been set up, not to deal with terms of employment (since the owners are still vigorously opposed to any resumption of national agreements) but to consider ways of bettering the industry; and that through this committee the mutual relations of the organizations, and their understanding of each other's problems and difficulties, have been markedly improved.
5 (1918) Report by the Board of Trade under section 7 of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, on the Working of Schemes under Part L of the act since the December quarter 1936 (Cmd. 5773).
The concilation machinery in the coal industry is relatively simple. It is set up by districts, and the agreements differ in detail, but there is generally provision for local negotiation and for final reference to a joint standing district committee. In addition, the Act of 1930 created the Coal Mines National Industrial Board, a large body of mixed composition, to which unsettled district controversies may be referred by either party thereto and which is then required to investigate and report its recommendations. The Board has been relatively inactive, and has conducted inquiries in only a few district disputes.
There has been no national stoppage since 1926, but there have been several severe district strikes, chiefly over questions of wages and hours. Despite the periodic conflicts which have troubled the industry, the owners with whom we met stated that they still preferred to have strong union organizations with which to deal.
By the Railways Act of 1921 all the roads in Great Britain were amalgamated into four large companies: The London, Midland and Scottish, The London and Northeastern, The Great Western, and The Southern. These are members of the Railway Companies Association which is the central agency for the companies in all labor matters and which deals with the Government in all matters of social legislation. The four companies employ some 600,000 men, of whom roughly 100,000 are in clerical and supervisory positions, 120,000 in shop work, 330,000 in road and traffic service, and the remainder in work connected with railway-owned ships, hotels, and docks.
In the clerical and road and traffic service a very large majority of the employees are in one or another of three main unions: The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, the Railway Clerks' Association, and the National Union of Railwaymen (an industry-wide union'open to all workers in or about the railways). These three unions are the parties to the national agreements and the conciliation machinery which will be described below. In addition, the shopmen, who belong to the National Union of Railwaymen and to various craft unions, have separate agreements and a separate, less elaborate, conciliation machinery under which matters not settled between the unions and the railways are customarily referred by consent to the Industrial Court, whose awards have all been complied with.
National agreements, and a fully developed system of national conciliation machinery, are of comparatively recent origin in the railway industry, dating effectively from the end of the war. Until