Background of the British Labor Crisis

May 7, 1926

Report Outline
Reorganization of British Coal Industry

The present labor upheaval in Great Britain, involving between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 organized workers in the principal industries, is the culmination of a long standing dispute in the British coal industry. The immediate issue which brought on the general strike was the demand of the mine owners for a reduction of 11 per cent in wages upon the withdrawal of the Government subsidy May 1, and a lengthening of the work day from 7 to 8 hours, which was met by the Miners' Federation with a refusal to concede “one penny off wages or one minute on working hours.”

The fundamental cause of the present labor crisis lies in the inability of Great Britain's basic industry, in the existing world situation, to pay what British workers regard as a “subsistence wage,” and the realization of workers in other industries that their wages will follow the same course, if miners' wages are permitted to go below the “subsistence level.”

Due to a steady falling off in British coal exports, Great Britain's mines have been operated at a loss for almost two years. To relieve this situation and permit continued operation, the mine owners demand reduction of wages and lengthening of hours. The miners solution is nationalization of the coal resources, and a thoroughgoing reorganization of an industry which is hopelessly inefficient by comparison with its principal foreign competitors. At the basis of the conflict is this difference between the programs of the mine owners and the miners for rehabilitating the industry, and bringing down the price of British coal to a point where it may again compete in foreign markets.

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