I have explained earlier that the pit worked a week in hand as regards wages. All work done was paid at a Union contracted rate. Any extra work done, above and beyond our contract, had a rate attached to it.
Examples of extras were
- If the previous shift workers had not completed their tasks, we would have to do their work before we in turn could begin ours. The agreed rate would be ‘booked’ by the deputy. The extra pay to be shared by the team.
- If there was a fall of roof in the gate and the deputy wanted us to clear it away then we would negotiate a ‘rate’ for the job.
- ‘Wet money’, many times the face was wet. At certain times the face could be in inches of water. The worker then had to lay in this water and work. Men working in wet conditions, providing they finished their allotted task, could finish up to twenty minutes early.
The deputy would issue a hand written note for them to be able to exit the pit before time. Three shillings (15p) extra for wet conditions, would be added to his shift money. Working in water is a horrible experience. The water was salty and contained chemicals that penetrated into every cut and opening. ‘Wet’ skin rashes and boils were quite common among miners who worked regularly in wet conditions.
Powder money. Often we would have to carry a five pound canister of powder. For this the rate was nine pence (4p) per canister. The powder carried is explosives as used by a shotfirer. Many was the time as a shotfirer when I had experienced a greater explosion than was normal for the amount of powder that I had put in. Sometimes a coal filler will ‘acquire’ a few pills of explosives and feed them into the holes within his piece. He did this in the mistaken belief that the extra powder would greater dislodge his coal. It would, the first time.
When a shotfirer suspects a miner of putting extra powder in his own holes he would automatically deduct a pill from his intended amount throughout that piece. Consequently that piece did not get the required amount it would otherwise have had. Less powder would be put in for at least a week. It soon taught the offending collier to stop messing about with the holes.
All extras had to be paid. Every Monday morning all face teams would congregate outside the lamp room prior to their descent. Each team had what we called a ‘puffler’ or team spokesman. His job was to go to the mine secretary’s office and get the details of pay and the extras that were to be shared by the team, the following Friday. The details were contained in what was called a ‘day note’
Because George Cullen had a ‘big mouth’, he was our elected ‘puffler’. George was too thick to understand the figures contained in the day note. It was even doubtful if George could read properly. When he picked up the day note he would pretend to read and understand the figures, occasionally nodding or shaking his head at them. Then after a short interval he would hand the note to Harry Dinsdale and say, “What do you think of it Harry?” Harry was the brains of the team. He forgot nothing. Every canister of powder or wet money or other extras had to be accounted for.
Because Deputies were accountable to the manager, they had to keep a tight rein on costs. They tended to ‘forget’ certain promised payments. More often that not something minor would be wrong and Harry would immediately spot it. He would say “George we haven’t got paid for…. whatever.” This and that would be explained to George. He would return to the secretary and complain. The secretary could only promise to look into the matter. That would not do; in the past these promises to look into the matter were forgotten. Unless we were promised payment we were not going down the pit. This scenario happened almost every Monday, with one or other team’s puffler.
At that time the National Union of Mineworkers were very strong. If one man refused to go down, all would refuse. It was all for one and one for all.
The secretary was not in a position to promise payment. He would then contact the under manager who may already be underground or even at home. He would have to be contacted to sort the matter out. In certain cases when the item was disputed by the under manager then the manager would have to be called from home. By this time two to three hours could have elapsed.
The manager even knowing that the men were at fault had to decide; to ‘give in’ to the grievance or stick to his principles. He knew that if the day shift did not go down, then it was certain that the afternoons and nights would refuse to work. A whole twenty four hours would certainly be lost. All for what probably amounted to a matter of a few pounds. Always the management gave in, they could not afford not to. A minor strike at a pit could easily escalate to other pits.
The manager would then agree to a settlement as long as the miners went down now. Then the men would say, “Yes we’ll go down now providing we get paid for the time we have spent arguing this grievance”. The time elapsed could easily have been three hours. The Manager would have to give three, or lose twenty four. In circumstances like these the manager was over the proverbial barrel.
I have been in a position, as above, where we have all gone down the pit and travelled inbye for about a mile. Had our snap and when that was eaten it would be time to walk back for the shift was over. We would be paid for the full day. Sometimes the miners had a genuine grievance but more often than not, they were in the wrong. The Union just liked to show its muscle. At that time we enjoyed it we were being paid for doing nothing.