Showing posts with label miners. Show all posts
Showing posts with label miners. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Workers safety?

The father of a Fife miner who was killed at a mine in New Zealand said he was "disappointed and angry" to hear the gas blast was preventable.

Scots Malcolm Campbell, 25, from St Andrews in Fife, and Pete Rodger, 40, from Perthshire, were among 29 workers killed at the Pike River mine in 2010. The miners' bodies remain in the mine

An investigation has found multiple warnings were ignored. Safety systems at the mine were inadequate, and reports of excessive methane levels were "not heeded". Workers were exposed to "unacceptable risks" because health and safety was not adequately addressed in a drive to achieve production created the circumstances for the tragedy, the report found. "In the last 48 days before the explosion there were 21 reports of methane levels reaching explosive volumes, and 27 reports of lesser, but potentially dangerous, volumes," the report said. "The reports of excess methane continued up to the very morning of the tragedy." The Department of Labour did not have the "focus, capacity or strategies to ensure that Pike was meeting its legal responsibilities. The report called for a new regulator to be established to focus solely on health and safety issues and for mining regulations to be updated.

New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key apologised to relatives of those who died for regulatory failures, but hit out at the mining company, saying it "completely and utterly failed to protect its workers"

Malcolm Campbell snr, said  "Unbelievable in this day and age"

Socialist Courier is sorry to say that such tragedies are part and parcel of the capitalist system

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fife Anarchism

Socialist Courier continues its occasional account of Scotland's radical past. We do not lay claim to its working class history, or claim that it represented the views of the Socialist Party but feel that in many cases, our political history has been hidden away and needs to once again come into the open to spur debate and discussion.

Lawrence Storione
(1867–1922) was a Fife miner. He is best known for founding the Anarchist Communist League in Cowdenbeath.

Lawrence Storione was the son of the Italian stonemason, born in Italy in 1867. Storione later lived in Liege and participated in several miners' strikes in Belgium. It appears he was given pamphlets on anarchism in this period by the noted French anarchist Elisee Reclus, who was lecturing at the University of Brussels and Storione now began to identify as an anarchist. He ended up in Scotland in 1897 arriving in Muirhead, Ayrshire. He moved on to Hamilton in Lanarkshire where he was to marry Annie Cowan in 1900 and stayed until 1906 when he travelled to Canada. He returned to Scotland in 1908, where he lived in Lumphinnans, Fife.

His coming to the pit village of Lumphinnans and his employment at No1 pit there introduced revolutionary ideas among the miners in that area. He soon set up an Anarchist Communist League which, according to Stuart MacIntyre in his" Little Moscows" preached a" heady mixture of De Leonist Marxism and the anarchist teachings of Kropotkin and Stirner, a libertarian communism which was fiercely critical of the union”. Among those who appeared to have joined the League were the miners Abe and Jim Moffat and Robert (Bob) Selkirk. All three were to join the Communist Party in 1922, Abe Moffat having an important position within it and Selkirk serving as a CP town councillor in Cowdenbeath for 24 years. In his anarchist years, Selkirk had been a member of a Scottish branch of the IWW, and publicly polemicised against Guy Aldred’s rejection of work-shop organisation, as well as denouncing Kropotkin for his pro- First World War position.

Storione’s children were given good revolutionary names: Armonie, Anarchie, Autonomie, Germinal and Libertie! The sole exception to this was his daughter Annie and she was a leading light in a Proletarian Sunday School in Cowdenbeath, which used the Industrial Workers of the World's Little Red Songbook, far more radical than the Sunday School set up in the area by the Independent Labour Party.

 Bob Selkirk wrote that the League sold copies of Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, Stirner’s The Ego and His Own, and De Leon’s Two Pages From Roman History. The main slogan of the League was, again according to Selkirk, “Trade Unions are bulwarks of capitalism and all Trade Union leaders are fakirs”.  On the League’s critique of the trade unions Selkirk remarks that: “We thus sowed defeatism and pessimism instead of strengthening the organisations of the workers. Actually most of the members of this Branch became successful businessmen, accountants, dance band leaders, insurance agents, etc. They had lost faith in the workers” (Bob Selkirk, The Life of a Worker, 1967).

Both Abe Moffat and Selkirk mention Storione as an inspiration. However as members of a Party that was virulently anti-anarchist they had to re-write history. So for Moffat, Storione, (remembered as Storian in his book) was no longer an anarchist but “an ardent Communist,” who had convinced he and his brother Jim to a militant anti-capitalist position (My Life With The Miners, 1967).

Stevenson in his biography of Davie Proudfoot, Communist and then Labour activist, says that he was influenced by the League, although carrying on the CP tradition conveniently drops the "Anarchist" from the League's title

The League set up a bookshop in nearby Cowdenbeath in 1916, as the result of the subscriptions of twelve workers subscribing £24 each. It sold Capital, Ancient Society and other Charles Kerr publications. “We sold anything considered progressive, even “The Strike of A sex”. We sold the anti-war literature of the time and became familiar with police warrants and police searching of our houses”

Lawrence Storione died in 1922 after a pit accident invalided him during 1917. At a compensation hearing that year the Sheriff gave a decision in Storione's favour. However, police were to challenge this, saying that he was fit to work. They said that, along with Jack Leckie and Willie Gallagher, he headed a demonstrations in Kelty when 5,000 workers struck during the Three Weeks Strike. He was eventually to lose his fight for compensation.

Mary Docherty - A Miner's Lass.

'They always talk about how red Clydeside was, but Fife was just as radical,' she says. 'It seemed revolution here was just round the corner. Middle-class people were terrified. You had to lie to your employer about attending marches and hope they did not see you. The London headquarters of the Communist Party even got in touch with Fife to say slow down. We were so far ahead.' Her father became a member of the Fife Communist Anarchist Group and later a founding member of the Communist Party in Britain. 'Before he became political, like many miners, he was searching for reasons for poverty. He became a member of the temperance movement, but soon realised drink was not the cause.'

Song of Sixpence:

'Sing a song of labour
Boys and girls do try
For the master's children
Have got all the pie . . .'

Thursday, October 25, 2012

When miners were chattel slaves and not wage slaves

A system of servitude once existed in Scotland, sanctioned by the practice of two centuries, by virtue of which colliers and their families were fixed to the soil almost as effectually as if they had been bought in the slave-market of New Orleans or born in the hut of a negro on some Virginian plantation. It was not a relic of the social system of the Middle Ages, but was the result of express enactment by the Scottish Parliament.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, coal miners in Scotland, and their families, were bound to the colliery in which they worked and the service of its owner.  This bondage was set into law by an Act of Parliament in 1606, which ordained that "no person should fee, hire or conduce and salters, colliers or coal bearers without a written authority from the master whom they had last served". The cruel edict reduced the Scottish collier to the position of a serf or a slave. By that Act, workmen in mines, whether miners, pickmen, winding-men, firemen, or in any other service of the mine, were prohibited from leaving that service either in hope of greater gain or of greater ease, or for any other reason, without the consent of the coal-owner, or of the Sheriff of the County; and any one receiving a runaway into his service and refusing to return him within twenty-four hours was to be fined one hundred pounds Scots. A collier lacking such written authority could be "reclaimed" by his former master "within a year and a day".  If the new master did not surrender the collier, he could be fined and the collier who deserted was considered to be a thief and punished accordingly.  The Act also gave the coal owners and masters the powers to  to apprehend "vagabonds and sturdy beggars" and put them to work in the mines.  A further Act of 1641 extended those enslaved to include other workers in the mines and forced the colliers to work six days a week. The Habeas Corpus Act of Scotland, in 1701, which declared that "the imprisonment of persons without expressing the reasons thereof, and delaying to put them to trial is contrary to law"; and that "no person shall hereafter be imprisoned for custody in order to take his trial for any crime or offence without a warrant or writ expressing the particular cause for which he is imprisoned" specifically stated "that this present Act is in no way to be extended to colliers and salters."

In the early centuries of our country's history, while yet the forests were extensive and wood abundant, there was little need for coal. The early coal-workings were of a superficial character, being chiefly of the nature of quarries; indeed, the primary meaning of the word heugh - the name given in past times to a coal-pit - is a steep bank or glen. The labourers on the coal-producing estates, assisted by the members of their families, performed the work when it suited their convenience. Such was the state of the coal-mining population in the sixteenth century, when the country was awakening to a sense of its commercial capabilities. There was a rise of an extensive trade with foreign countries, leading to the wider development of existing coal-works, and the opening up of new fields to meet the demand. The owners of new coal-works, having no trained colliers on their own estates, sought them at established collieries, and induced them by means of gifts and promises of higher wages to leave their employment. This was naturally resented by their masters, who had difficulty in getting sufficient workers for their own pits. The aggrieved coal-owners made application to Parliament to put a stop to the practice. Primarily designed to prevent desertions, the Act authorized a coal-owner to retain his colliers as long as he had work for them. From the fact that many collieries were then in constant operation, and that some have worked continuously to the present day, it is apparent that the colliers attached to works of a permanent character were bound for life, and from generation to generation. And even in the case of collieries where work was not continuous, the worker found that he could not oblige his master to give him a testimonial on leaving, and that he was liable to be recalled as soon as work was resumed. Indeed, it appears to have been the rule for masters to withhold a testimonial, in order that they might the more freely reclaim when need arose. James Gray of Dalmarnock gave up a coal-work and allowed his colliers to go where they pleased, but took the precaution to reclaim them every year in order to preserve his right to them if he should set up his colliery again.  It was customary also for the parents of a child to receive a gift from the master at the birth or baptism of the bairn in token of the child's being bound along with the parents.

For the first hundred years after the passing of the Act of 1606, it seems to have been the general belief of both masters and men that if a deserting collier succeeded in evading pursuit, by going over to England, or keeping in hiding elsewhere, for a year and a day, he was then at liberty to work where he chose. This was deemed a grievance by the coal-owners, and they sought to have an Act passed in the year 1700 making their title effectual and not subject to lapse if they, within a year and a day of desertion, cited the fugitive at the market cross of the chief burgh of the shire in which he had his residence. The Act was not passed, for what reason does not clearly appear, but decisions of the Court of Session in 1708 and later had the effect of giving the masters what they desired in this particular. The Lords of Session found that colliers could not be hired without a testimonial from their former master, and that Sir Thomas, having now a going coal-work, might well reclaim them; and, although away several years from him.

The system could not survive the industrial revolution that the country underwent consequent on the development of the use of steam.The process of emancipation began with an Act of Parliament of 1775 which freed the colliers in age-groups - those under 21 and between 35 and 44 were to be freed in 7 years, those between 21 and 34 were to be freed in 10 years and those over 45 were to be freed in 3 years.  The liberation of the father freed the family.  However, gaining freedom required a formal legal application before a Sheriff and a great many colliers continued to be bound until 1799 when an Act was passed that all colliers in Scotland were "to be free from their servitude".

Monday, October 22, 2012

No one is forgotten and nothing is forgotten

A few hundred yards from where missionary David Livingstone was born, stood five pits run by William Dixon Ltd. Together they produced hundreds of thousands of tons of coal and made wealthy men of the mine owners. In 1871, the first two pits were sunk in High Blantyre and by 1876 there were 8 pits in production in the area. The demand for an increased labour force was high, and there was reluctance among the local mill and farm workers to work in the new mines. This labour force was found principally in Irish emigrants who were refugees from the suffering and deprivation caused by the potato famine in Ireland (and later many Lithuanians both of whom the coalmasters exploited to full advantage, particularly in times of industrial unrest).  Blantyre was at this time; "a district of pits, engine houses, smoke and grime" and led to the nickname "Dirty Auld Blantyre". The miners and their families carried out back-breaking work for little more than a pittance and were housed in cramped tied cottages. The High Blantyre pits were known locally as "The Fiery Mine" because of the heavy presence of a gas called firedamp, which consisted chiefly of methane.

The Blantyre mining disaster, on  22 October 1877, in Blantyre, Scotland, was and remains Scotland’s worst mining accident. Pits No. 2 and No. 3 of William Dixon's Blantyre Colliery were the site of an explosion which killed 207 miners, the youngest being a boy of 11. The accident left 92 widows and 250 fatherless children.

Repeated complaints about the working conditions at High Blantyre had been ignored. In fact, a year before, Blantyre miners had been so fearful for their safety in the mines that, when Dixon's refused them a wage rise to compensate, they went on strike and were immediately sacked. They and their families were evicted from their homes, with police officers using clubs on hand if necessary. Just two months before in Dixon's number 2 pit,  Joe McInulty had died of severe burns after an explosion of "firedamp" which had also injured his two younger brothers Robert and Andrew, leaving them also badly burnt. Despite this tragic occurrence and the concerns of the miners themselves, Dixon's pits were not considered by the management to be particularly dangerous, all the pits in this area were subject to "firedamp" and it was accepted as being part of everyday mining life. The mine was known to be very gassy but complaints by miners a few days before the disaster were fobbed off by the foreman, Joseph Gilmour. He told the miners 'There'll not be a man fall in this pit, I'll guarantee that'.

Six months after the accident, Dixon's raised summonses against 34 widows whose husbands had been killed and who had not left the tied cottages which they and their husbands had rented from the mining company. The Sheriff stated that it was out of kindness that the company had allowed them to remain in their houses for so long. One widow claimed that they had a cruel way of showing their kindness. They were evicted two weeks later, on 28 May 1878. No-one knows what became of these unfortunate widows and their children. In all probability they had to seek accommodation in the Poor House. The ejection of the Blantyre widows was a disgraceful end to the tragic story of the Blantyre explosion.

On 5th March 1878 at Dixon's No. 3 pit six men were killed in a cage accident.

On 2 July 1879, there was a second explosion at Dixon's Pit No. 1, with the loss of 28 lives.


By Clyde's bonny banks where I sadly did wander
Among the pit heaps as evening drew nigh,
I spied a young woman all dressed in deep mourning,
A-weeping and wailing with many a sigh.

I stepped up beside her and thus I addressed her:
"Pray tell me the cause of your trouble and pain." Weeping and sighing, at last she made answer;
"Johnny Murphy, kind sir, was my true lover's name.

"Twenty-one years of age, full of youth and good looking, To work down the mines of High Blantyre he came,
The wedding was fixed, all the guests were invited
That calm summer evening young Johnny was slain.

The explosion was heard, all the women and children With pale anxious faces they haste to the mine.
When the truth was made known, the hills rang with their mourning,
Two-hundred-and-ten young miners were slain.

Now husbands and wives and sweethearts and brothers, That Blantyre explosion they'll never forget;
And all you young miners that hear my sad story,
Shed a tear for the victims who're laid to their rest. 

The list of victims

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Red Union

"We will support the officials just so long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act independently immediately they misrepresent them" - Clyde Workers' Committee

The United Mineworkers of Scotland - The Red Union

The United Mineworkers of Scotland (UMS), functioned for some six years in the few areas in which the Communist Party had a credible industrial presence. None the less, the UMS never recruited more than 4000 members and this had  fallen to 2000 by 1932, of which 65% were in Fife. Once again, as so often in Scottish labour history, religion had an influence. The UMS was strong in the pits with a history of more militancy but also with a higher level of Irish workers. Protestant Harthill was weak in Communist Party membership, whereas Catholic Blantyre support for CPGB ran high. Abe Moffat, the UMS leader, recalled that during a strike in the Shotts coalfield in 1930 that Catholic miners didn't want to offend the local priest by marching in front of his house. The "Red Union" was dependant upon the strength of Communist Party support and flourished in Fife and Lanarkshire, rather than Ayrshire and the Lothians. Its office was initially in Glasgow but very soon moved to Dunfermline.

Wullie Adamson, the Fife miners' leader ruled with an iron rod, but his post-war trade union position became increasingly beleaguered. During the First World War, a critical left-wing current had developed within the Fife miners' union. These radicals were critical of Adamson's flexibility to coal owners' demands and the lack of democracy within the union. Following the miners' defeat in the 1921 lock-out, criticism focused on the democracy issue. The culmination was a split at the end of 1922 with the formation of a separate Reform Union among the Fife miners under Philip Hodge of the Independent Labour Party. When a general election was called late in 1923, the Reform Union decided to run Hodge as a parliamentary candidate against Adamson, also a Labour MP, in the West Fife constituency. Hodge ran as a Reform candidate and in a straight fight he polled 6459 votes (over 34 per cent), an indication of many miners' disillusion with Adamson. The enmities meant that reunification of the two unions was achieved only in 1927. Several influential members of the Fife Left-wing were now in the Communist Party and that body favoured reunion. The lengthy dispute of 1926 placed a premium on solidarity, but the reunited union had to deal with the consequences of a thorough defeat. Reunification meant new elections both for posts in Fife and for the coalfield's representatives on the Scottish executive. The Left made a significant advance and Adamson and his allies endeavoured by creative use of the rule-book to evade the consequences. The Mining unions in Fife, and Lanarkshire, descended into chaos. The Fife county board suspended Adamson as secretary on the ground that he had broken his mandate, whereupon he resigned and set up a new union, the Fife, Clackmannan, and Kinross Miners' Union. Significantly this new body became the official Fife union within the National Union of Scottish Mineworkers and therefore within the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. The lack of constitutional procedure involved in creating the new union counted for little against a broad agreement among miners' union officials that communist growth must be blocked at all costs. The Communists moved towards their "Class Against Class" policy, which was to produce yet another union, the United Mineworkers of Scotland. But to the radicals in Fife, the creation of a  separate ‘red’ miners' union was seen as the only credible response to Adamson's contempt for union decisions and his new union. The historian John Saville wrote; “The history of the Scottish miner's after the General Strike is a grim record of crooked dealing by the Right Wing officials who, voted out of office by their members, refused to give up their positions to the Left Wing which had triumphed. Whether the Left was correct in allowing itself to be provoked into the formation of an independent union is quite another question...” Perhaps, in retrospect, it was something of a mistake but participants at the time felt that legitimacy was on their side and it did not feel wrong. The creation of the United Mineworkers of Scotland in mid-1929 was not so much a result of the left-turn in the Comintern  but a natural development to local circumstances. In short, the UMS was as reaction to election fraud, exacerbated by the unhealed frictions over attitudes to taking strike action. It had grown out of an initially successful but, in the medium term failed attempt to reform corrupt union districts in the earlier Reform Union. Several villages were now Communist strongholds. A twelve-week dispute at the Valleyfield colliery saw members of Adamson's own union ignoring his pleas to return to work; instead his members co-operated with the ‘red’ United Mineworkers of Scotland.

What was happening in these years in many industrial localities all over Britain was a general challenge to the local hierarchy—not just the extraction of wage increases, the reduction of hours, nor even the emergence of Labour in local government and at Westminster. The wave of local and partial struggles that have broken out throughout the minefields was symptomatic of the revulsion of the working class against the policy of the Labour Government and the sabotage of the trade union bureaucracy. The success of the Communist Party in such areas could be explained by two intersecting causes. The first is the prior existence of a sense of solidarity serving to knit the inhabitants of these working class localities together. The second is the capacity of the local Communist leadership to maintain that solidarity and transform it by giving it a more precise political definition. Unlike most other sections of the working class, these "Little Moscows", as the historian Stuart McIntyre labels such communities, were able to fight for and win improvements in unemployment relief, housing and public health; they doggedly defended work-customs that were destroyed elsewhere and they maintained a fight against wage cuts. They were not always successful but they did sustain a sense of morale in defeat amongst the working class and a belief in its own capabilities when such qualities were in short supply.

In Scotland, under the leadership of the United Mineworkers of Scotland, these feelings  found expression in the number of struggles that have been conducted successfully by that union against the reactionary union officials. In Lumphinnans the miners' lodge was pivotal, and here again an initial coalition of young Communists and ILPers had assumed control. Such was their success in Lumphinnans that most of the miners were carried into the new Reform Union of the Fife miners set up as an alternative to the undemocratic old union. The militants roots had grown deep in Fife, largely as a result of the role of those Communist Party members in the mining industry. The Scottish miners' unions, which were county based, were largely in the hands of Labour's right wing and Adamson but such a leadership was severely challenged by the Left. The Labour-led executive of the Fife miners' union refused to support the popularly supported strikes between 1919 and 1921 and, a 'Reform Union' had been formed in 1923. This was not largely a consequence of action by Communists but arose from a personality conflict between senior officials of the union. In 1926, Fife miners held out longer than the rest of Britain. The split was overcome during the General Strike and the nine months lockout of miners. The two unions reunited briefly in 1927 but at the end of the 1920s a new union, the United Mineworkers of Scotland, was set up when Adamson and the right in other Scottish mining areas refused to accept the result of union ballots. The continued tensions arising from bureaucratic repression of Left forces and the manoeuvring of the right led to yet another split. Nor should sectarian excesses be thought of as all on one side. If the militants sometimes advocated policies that were too far ahead of popular opinion, their opponents on the right of the labour movement went much further in actually seeking to destroy any united front. It was Adamson's union in Fife that refused to accept majority decisions

Once again Lumphinnans took an active role and became a leading branch of the UMS. Abe Moffat was born in Lumphinnans on 24th September 1896. He and his brothers, notably Alex, and Dave, were leaders of the Scottish miners and life-long Communists. They came from a strong tradition of mining unionism; their grandfather had been a pioneer of mining trades unionism in the Lothians during the 1860s but had been forced to move to Fife due to victimisation. Abe Moffat worked in the pits from 1910 until he was victimised in 1926 and was active in all the miners' strike actions from the moment he joined the industry. By late 1922, or early 1923, he had joined the Communist Party. He was involved in the publication of the `Buzzer', a bulletin for militant miners at the Glencraig Colliery, Lochgelly. This was a Communist Party publication, produced on a typewriter and duplicator and costing a penny. Within two years of joining the Party he was elected as a Communist councillor on Ballingry Parish Council. Parish councils had up to then proved to be a useful form of entry by Communists into the elective arena where the main challenger was Labour, by virtue of their small sized and concentrated electorates. They were abolished as a form of local government in 1929. Whilst there were UMS members elsewhere in Scotland it was based mainly in Fife. Just before the formation of the UMS both Alex and Abe were elected checkweighmen (a position of some importance to miners since it encompassed a legal role in overseeing the amount of coal cut and hence the value of earnings). Abe and Alex Moffat in Fife, achieved their leading trade union positions through the support of the members in the traditional trade unions. The leading Communist miners justifiably felt uncomfortable about carrying out the Comintern instruction, which went against the grain of traditional trade unionism, and could not be realised as an effective force in the conditions at the time. Nor was Abe Moffat, contrary to some claims, a key force in the creation of the UMS. He was, at the time of its foundation, a pit delegate - an important but not leading position; however, he was UMS secretary from 1931 to 1935. His leadership of the UMS was primarily devoted to finding a way to achieve organisational unity amongst miners once again. In 1933 attempts to merge with the official union were rebuffed and, in 1935, arising from a proposition by Abe Moffat himself, UMS members balloted to apply for membership of the official Fife union, to maximise the possibilities for unity. Their overtures were rejected and the UMS went into voluntary liquidation.

Davie Proudfoot Proudfoot, like all Communist miners, found himself in the United Mineworkers of Scotland. He was a local miners’ leader in Buckhaven & Methil an activist during the 1926 strike and lock-out. So much so that, when elections for the miners’ union in the Fife coalfield were held, Proudfoot was one of the Communists who won positions. Proudfoot’s father had been a member of the SDF and BSP. He became a Communist a short while after foundation and had been influenced by the Fife Communist League, which set up a bookshop in Cowdenbeath in 1916. He was the main force behind the establishment of `Spark’, the highly influential pit paper produced by the Methil Communist Pit Group, both Party and YCL. Its first issue in 1925 sold 240 copies and a year later it was up to a thousand copies. Initially a fortnightly and then a weekly publication from 1927, it ended its days with the last issue in December 1931. The increasingly vitriolic nature of the publication after 1926, in common with most Communist pit papers of the time, seems to have become an issue for Proudfoot. The bitter internal divisions were, of course, associated with the period of Class Against Class  with the Communists denounced their former allies as "social fascists". Some idea of the scale of such problems is provided by a letter written by David Proudfoot to Allen Hutt at the end of 1928. The Cowdenbeath comrades used their pit-paper to denounce some local miners as hypocrites and traitors solely because they had not supported Communists in a recent ballot. Proudfoot appears to have thought that it all needed toning down. When challenged by Proudfoot, the Cowdenbeath "hundred per centers" claimed that "no personal reflection is being cast on" such traitors, and that the sole purpose of this language was to bring its recipients closer to the Party. Proudfoot's critical position is in some respects close to that of Arthur Horner, the leading Mardy Communist, who also ran afoul of Party purists during the same period because of his refusal to carry out the policy of establishing an alternative miners union in Souh Wales. Proudfoot became the General Secretary of the UMS in early 1931 but only lasted seven months. He did not prove either popular or successful. He then withdrew from activity and Abe Moffat took over, making much more of a success of events and, in 1935 helping to lead the way back towards unity of Scottish miners by the dissolution of the UMS.

Other participants to mention in the passing are CPer Willie Allan also served as general secretary for the UMS as well as with Minority Movement. John McArthur was another miner active in the United Mineworkers of Scotland. McArthur was elected as a Communist councillor for Buckhaven on Fife County Council in the 1930s. Jimmy Shields was born in January 1900 in Greenock, Scotland, of Irish parents and joined the Communist Party in 1921. In 1925,  in search of work, Jimmy moved to South Africa, where he soon became Chairman of the South African Communist Party until 1927 when he moved back to Scotland. He  played an active part in supporting the United Mineworkers of Scotland before moving to become editor of the Daily Worker and on to spy for the Soviet Union!

According to one commentator the UMS leaders in Lanarkshire had a tendency to inflate their successes and became notorious for recklessly placing "far too much emphasis...on getting a pit idle...[using] any kind of issue, real or get the men to walk home, so that they could report that a strike had taken place." During one strike in late 1930, they invited strikers to "demand the death penalty for the 'Industrial Party plotters' then on trial in the Soviet Union."

 The United Mineworkers of Scotland were, in the words of one delegate to the 400,000 strong  Miners Federation of Great Britain conference in 1930, "loud speakers and very few listeners in".

In 1938, Abe Moffat was  elected a County Councillor, making the Communist Group of councillors five strong. He remained unbeaten as a councillor until 1944, when he left public elective office to become a full-time official for the miners  union. His brother, Alex Moffat also became an elected Communist Fife County Councillor, serving for 19 years in a seat that was held by the Party for 40 years. In 1938, with the discreet connivance of a full-time union official, both Alex and Abe were able to obtain work at a small private mine, not part of the county owners' association, largely due to their reputation for hard work. Fortunately, the union was then structured on localities not pits, so, in 1939, Abe Moffat was elected delegate for Lumphinnans, amicably replacing another brother, David, who had kept the seat warm for him! The following year he was elected to the EC of the Scottish miners' federation. He was elected President of the Scottish miners in 1942, and then proceeded to lead the campaign for a single Scottish miners' union to be created out of the county associations. After the formation of the National Union of Miners (NUM) in 1944, across the whole of Britain, he was elected the Scottish President, a position he held until his retirement in September 1961. By that time, he served on the Scottish Communist Party District Committee for at least 25 years and the Party's national Executive Committee for 30 years.

Proudfoot appears to have stayed with the Communist Party for the next decade or so. Nonetheless, his eventual break with the Communist Party became very public when he supported Labour Party candidate Tom Hubbard in a by-election in February 1944 for the Kircaldy parliamentary seat. David Proudfoot was himself elected in 1945 as a Labour Party councillor in Buckhaven & Methil and was prominent in the post-war planning and development matters; he died in 1958.

See SOYMB for history of the Communist Party Third Period and the creation of the United Clothing Workers Union

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Free Colliers - the original Bravehearts

Continuing our little bit of Scots history

Until the end of the 18th century the Scottish collier was a serf, bound in servitude to his master, the coal owner, almost as tightly as any slave on the cotton plantations of the Americas. Although he could not actually be sold as an individual, he and his family were ranked with any other article attached to the colliery to be bought and sold along with lengths of rail or stacks of timber. Once bound to a pit they had no right to move to another place of work and could be brought back to face severe punishment if they tried. Many did just that and were returned in manacles to face the wrath of the owners. Convicted criminals, beggars and other homeless people were gifted as 'perpetual servants' to the masters and, children born to collier families were, on payment by the owner of a small sum of money, bound like their fathers to the owner and his pit for life. No surprise then that few outsiders would volunteer to join the ranks to labour in Scotland's dangerous pits even when the industrial revolution increased demand for coal and pushed up wages. It was with a good deal of reluctance that the colliers were granted their freedom in grudging stages, first the new recruits in 1775 and twenty four years later the whole workforce.

But their new found freedom did not bring justice.

 In the early decades of the 19th century conditions in Scotland's mines were deplorable with women and small children working long hours alongside the men in dark, cramped and dangerous conditions. Attempts by the colliers across the country to organise into trade unions were strenuously opposed by the authorities and the owners and even the repeal of the laws forbidding union activity did not protect workers and their families from the threat of dismissal for taking action or encouraging others to do the same. In 1856 the coal owners combined to reduce the colliers' wages from five to four shillings per day and a widespread strike followed. In the Falkirk area the Redding (In 1923 40 miners lost their lives in a pit disaster) colliers took the lead and on more than one occasion troops and special constables were sent to the area to disperse marches and demonstrations. Amid great hardship the strike dragged on for twelve weeks before the defeated colliers returned to work for the lower rate. Similarly, in the early 1860s, the establishment of a General Association of the Operative Coal and Ironstone Miners, Reddsmen  and Drawers* in Lanarkshire was crushed by an employers' lockout which lasted for six weeks and ended in a humiliating return to work and reduced wages. * reddsmen clear the way for the colliers, drawers transported the coal.

Soon after the anniversary of the Battle of Falkirk which had been fought near their homes in 1298 colliers they began an annual march from pit  to pit under the banner of their hero, William Wallace,  to the spot near their village, the Wallace Stone, where he is said to have viewed the battle. Such associations or brotherhoods among the miners were not unusual at the time but the annual demonstration and the association with Wallace marked out the Redding colliers from the rest.

It was obvious that a new defence was needed to mobilise the colliers and reassert their rights and this came about the following year. In 1863, at Redding, James Simpson who had been a trade union activist in the area before and during the 1856 strike, realised that he had in the annual William Wallace marchers a ready made army of volunteers, and on February 3rd he and his colleagues constituted themselves as the first Lodge of Free Colliers pledged to take up the struggle. Within nine months there were lodges in Slamannan and Bo'ness and the movement spread to the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire coalfields. By the end of the following year there were sixty-five lodges in a network covering the whole Scottish coalfield and uniting miners by the thousand. Some areas like Stirlingshire and Lanarkshire were more enthusiastic than Fife and Midlothian but no area was without its lodge. The lodges usually bore the name of a Scottish noble from  the romantically remembered  past  - John de Graeme and Robert Bruce, the Lord Andrew Moray and the Young Boswell, the Duke of Gordon  and the Sir William Baillie

One of the weaknesses of previous union activity had been its openness, which the masters had exploited. Many miners claimed they were frightened to speak out at open meetings for fear of their employers. To ensure that the actions of the Free Colliers remained secret and the new lodges adopted many of the trappings of freemasonry, binding each to the other by oaths of loyalty and using coded signs and language to preserve their unity and secrecy. Simpson himself became Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. 

The actions of some of the Free Collier lodges especially in the west of Scotland led to considerable internal argument and many union members outside the movement felt that the secrecy associated with the lodges could be counter productive. Their very Scottishness was seen by many as potentially devisive in an industry where a growing number of the colliers were immigrant Irishmen and where solidarity of all workers was essential. The Free Colliers insisted that their ranks were open to all miners but hostility and suspicion remained. Just four years after their birth Free Collier membership began to decline and many of the lodges which had bloomed so quickly began to wither away. In east Stirlingshire, in the last of the lodges,  the role of representation passed and eventually to the National Union of Mineworkers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Not legal eagles but legal vultures

Two solicitors who took millions of pounds from compensation payouts given to sick miners have been struck off.
The Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal heard the men acted "unacceptably" by charging clients even though the government was paying their fees.
Beresford, 58, said last year to be Britain's highest-earning solicitor, and Smith, 52, made millions of pounds from personal injury claims for miners under the government's coal health compensation scheme. Tribunal chairman David Leverton said: "If ever there was a group of persons who needed the full care and attention from solicitors, it was these miners. Mr Beresford described himself as an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, his attitude allowed himself and Mr Smith to put commercial goals before his clients' best interests."
The lawyers were also accused of not giving adequate advice and entering into contingency fee deals against their clients' best interests.The tribunal heard that up to 30% of a miner's damages could be deducted by Beresfords. In one case, the firm deducted a "success fee" from the widow of a miner, leaving her with a total payout of just £217.73, the tribunal heard.
Beresford and Smith's joint earnings went from more than £182,000 in 2000 to £23,273,256 in 2006.
Perhaps , Socialist Courier wouldn't go as far as Shakespeare's "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" but we are sorely tempted .