Thursday, 3 December 2009

The colliery and trade unionism

The Emlyn Colliery and Brickworks collection not only reflects the technology and business processes behind anthracite mining, but is also a comprehensive resource for social aspects, and particularly the manpower behind it. The collection has an impressive amount of records relating to employees of the company, including weekly wage cards, employment cards, medical and compensation cards and contract books. Collectively, they are useful in showing the mining companies’ wage scales, pension schemes etc. As individuals’ records they would be enlightening for the family historian whose ancestor was at anytime employed at Emlyn.

Staff and employment records are not always considered historically important within a business collection. Whilst cataloguing these records in the Emlyn collection, I have been surprised at how much important background information they provide to crucial events in the company’s history. A clear example of this are the weekly wage cards, pay sheets, and price lists, which could be viewed in relation to the 1934 stoppage. The stoppage lasted for two months, and was organised by Arthur Horner, executive committee member (and later president) of the South Wales Miners’ Federation (SWMF), and a founding member of the Communist Party. The strike was a battle between the SWMF and company unionism. One of the main grievances of the striking miners’ was the companies alleged dishonouring of price lists, and minimum wages.

The collection holds a box of papers containing correspondence, reports, newspaper cuttings etc concerning the 1934 stoppage. There are letters between the colliery owner, G E Aeron Thomas, and the Miners’ Federation; anonymously written reports on Arthur Horner, and his influence on the stoppage; employee reports of their experience at meetings; and verbatim accounts of discussions at a meeting held in Aug 1934, following the end of the strike. Although inevitably a lot of the papers are obviously biased against Horner and the stoppage (portraying him as a manipulative dictator, looking to further his own political ends), it is actually a rather inclusive set of records for both sides. In particular, an anonymous report from a meeting where Horner and Evans (a Federation leader) were speaking, although written with an obvious anti-Horner bias, shows the range of feelings amongst the miners. It describes how men between 35 and 60 years were fed up with the strike, worrying about lack of pay, their own homes, and the bad feelings between employer and employees. Conversely, younger men aged between16 to 25 were;

‘…Horner and Evans mad. Their God undoubtedly, whatever they said was right. The profits that the Thomas’s family had been making on their backs and robbing them of the fruits of their labour.’

These papers provide evidence of both the employees’, and owners’, experiences of trade unionism in the anthracite colliery.

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