The Coal Industry: 1914-1921 (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: The Coal Industry: 1914-1921

Q1: How do sources 4 and 13 help to explain what Tom Hughes says in source 2?

A1: Tom Hughes (source 2) explained how the miners had to pay the boys out "of our money". Sources 4 and 13 show boy miners.

Q2: Read sources 3, 5 and 8 and explain why the police (sources 6 and 9) kept a close watch on Arthur J. Cook during the First World War.

A2: Arthur Cook was opposed to Britain's participation in the First World War (sources 3, 5 and 8). Captain Lionel Lindsay, Chief Constable of Glamorgan, sent regular reports to the Home Office about the content of his speeches and his articles. However, the decision was taken that if he was arrested it would lead to strikes and coal production would go down.

Q3: How does source 7 help to explain why so many young miners joined the armed forces on the outbreak of the First World War?

A3: Posters issued at the beginning of the war used a variety of strategies to persuade young men to join the armed forces. This poster suggests that men who did not join up, would feel guilty later if their children asked them what they did in the war.

Q4: Why were miners exempted from the 1916 Conscription Act during the First World War?

A4: The Military Service Act that introduced conscription specified that single men between the ages of 18 and 41 were liable to be called-up for military service unless they were widowed with children or ministers of religion. Conscription started on 2nd March 1916. The act was extended to married men on 25th May 1916. The law went through several changes before the war's end with the age limit eventually being raised to 51. As coal production was so important, miners were exempted from conscription.

Q5: Study sources 10 and 15. Explain why there was a decline in the amount of coal extracted per man-shift in 1917.

A5: Source 15 shows that coal output dropped from 287.4 in 1913 to 227.7 in 1918. This was mainly due to the number of miners who joined the armed forces in 1914-1916. However, the output per man went up during this period. J. F. Martin (source 10) points out that by 1916 the military authorities did what they could to stop young men joining the armed forces. However, "the decline in the amount of coal extracted per man-shift" took place in 1917 and 1918. The reason for this was that they had an older work-force and therefore "the decline in the physical ability of the male workers in the industry".

Q6: Study source 11. Nominal Wages refers to the amount of money paid to workers such as the miners. Real Wages on the other hand takes into consideration the effect of factors like inflation. For example, if someone's wages went up by 10% (e.g. from £120 to £132 per week) but the cost of living, including Retail Food Prices, went up by 15%, the person would actually be 5% worse off than they were the previous year. How did the First World War effect "nominal wages", "unemployment", "retail prices" and "real wages"? Give reasons for these changes.

A6: The nominal wages increased dramatically during the war (107.4 in 1914 to 189.9 in 1918). The main reason for this was the high number of men who joined the armed forces created a shortage of labour. This forced employers to increase wages in order to attract staff. The shortage of labour meant a significant drop in unemployment. Increased wages meant an increase in the costs of employers who responded by charging higher prices for their goods. Worker's wages therefore could purchase fewer goods. As you can see from the chart, although "nominal wages" increased during the war, their "real wages" fell from 90.7 to 78.2.

Q7: Arthur J. Cook, was general secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. Why did Cook and other union members demand the nationalising of the coal industry after the war?

A7: Arthur Cook gives two main reasons for wanting to nationalise the mines. In source 16 he points out: "for the sake of economic security, and secondly, because we want safety". He claims that "under private ownership our men are murdered" because "sixty per cent of the accidents are preventable". He adds that "the men who run the mines... simply for profit, and safety is the last consideration".

In June 1919 the Sankey Commission (source 17) came up with four reports, which ranged from complete nationalization on the part of the workers' representatives to restoration of undiluted private ownership on that of the owners. On 18th August, the prime minister, David Lloyd George used the excuse of this disagreement to reject nationalization but offered the prospect of reorganization.