Pit Labour Has Lost Its Appeal
By a Durham Miner
At one time it was a big recommendation for a miner seeking work at a colliery to have some sons ready, or almost ready, to start in the pit. Often such a man was not only given a job straight away, but a free house as well. It may soon Le so again. Several Northcountry colliery managers have recently expressed alarm at the small number of boys of fourteen who present themselves for work in the pit.
Lads still come to the manager's office every day at 4 p.m., but most of them are over sixteen and many are sons of nonminers. Neither of these are much wanted. Despite a safety move to make sixteen the lowest age for admission to the mine most managements hold that a lad is much more adaptable to pit work at fourteen than at sixteen. Nor can anyone work in the mine for long without realising that miners' sons—boys who are " bred and born to the pit "--are much more at home there than any others.
But, " Don't go down the mine, lad," is the pitman's latter-day advice to his
offspring. He declares that there is " nowt there for anybody—nowt but hard work and danger for poor pay." He points to the fact that last year one in every ten pit-lad.s. under .sixteen was killed or injured—compared with one in every twenty other workers. If his son can get a job anywhere else the pitman does not advise him to go to the pit for less than half-a-crown a day.
The miner's wife is of the same opinion. She does not like the thought of her son working in the pit. She feels uneasy all the time he is there. And it is much better for her when young " Geordie " has a regular day-time job and is not (as under the three-shift system) constantly going out or coming in at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.
Young Geordie himself is not keen on going to the pit nowadays. Often he attends a secondary school until he is sixteen. Then he wants a job in a store or an office, or to " serve his time " as an elec
trician, joiner or bricklayer. Invariably his parents encourage these ambitions, and the building boom especially provides many openings. Even when he leaves school at fourteen he can usually get a job as an errand-boy, or a van-boy. In the vicinity of every pit village, too. there arc plenty of farmers who employ boys. A lot of these jobs are " blind alleys" ending in " the sack at sixteen." but the miner's son rushes into them in preference to going to the pit. One even hears of young lads trekking to London in search of work rather than go down the mine.
Pit work has lost a lot of its glamour of late years. No longer is the boy who takes it up sure of getting a dapper little pony to drive and look after. More likely his task is mere mechanical haulage— coupling tubs together and affixing ropes to them all day. Or he may soon find himself on the coal face helping with the machinery there — work that is both arduous and monotonous. " I feel sorry for the lad that has to start in the pit nowadays," said an experienced. childless miner to me recently with much sincerity.
Still it must be admitted that the pit still has something worth while to offer the boy leaving school. Notably a pertnanent job with a progressive wage which rises a little every six months. When he is eighteen or so he may have the opportunity of a piece-work job and be able to earn as tnuch as his father. lie is sure of a rise of 5s, per week (rent allowance) plus free coal when he marries.
Moreover. should a pit-lad study the technical side of mining, as he may do by attending evening classes (though the threeshift system is a barrier to regular attendance), he may eventually become a colliery manager or agent. True, his chances of doing so are slimmer than they used to be. Most of the plums of the pie go to premium apprentices nowadays. But one still hears occasionally of a man rising from the ranks to management. There are, moreover, at every colliery a host of minor official posts (under-managers, overmen. master shifters, etc.) which are usually worth £4 or £5 a week, plus free house, light and coal.
While it is comparatively easy to become a deputy-overman or shot-firer and have a regular daily wage for work which though highly responsible is seldom really arduous. But the " deputy " receives only about 9s. per day nowadays. And the ordinary miner often barely beats £2 for a week's hard graft. Machinery has added a lot to the unpleasantness of pit-work. Shifttimes for many classes of workers vary almost every day, and danger does not diminish much.
Hence the miner says " there's nowt in the pits for anybody " and advises his sons not to go there. Give him the wage and conditions he is entitled to and he may soon change his tune. And pit lads may again follow in their fathers' footsteps with the same readiness as in the old days.
THE IRISH ROSARY.—Among the many good features of the January number of this excellent sixpenny is an important article by M. G. S. Sewell on "Catholic and Communist Social Ideals." This is a somewhat fly-blown subject, but the writer, largely through taking the trouble to read documents which most others quote at second hand, has some interesting points to make. No one could be more anticapitalist than he, yet he sees " the Irish Free State, Austria, Portugal and Spain (under General Franco) blazing a trail for social health. If Muscovite-Hebrew Communism is defeated in Spain it may prove to be mortally wounded." In England, he says. " the outlook is dark." It is interesting to see so complete a reversal of the views of British social reformers, even many Catholic ones.