Monday 28 May 2012

Close the Coalhouse Door

Last Saturday in Huddersfield I watched Northern Stage's splendid revival of Alan Platter' musical drama on the history of mining. Although I rather balked at the £3 price, the programme is packed with valuable nuggets of information.  It took a strike in 1831 to bring the length of a shift down form 18 hours to 12hours (which puts today's mutterings about austerity, in Greece or here, in perspective.)  These shifts often involved children as young a s six. In spite of regular deaths on an almost daily basis (only major incidents hit the headlines) there was no official inspection of mine safety until 1842.  After an accident in 1862 which killed 220 boys and men aged 10 to 71, largely through suffocation,  mines were forced to have two shafts, so that if the way to one was blocked air might still get in and there was a possibility that trapped miners might be able to get out by  the other.

I have no doubt that, had the phrases then been invented, mine owners would have muttered about the "nanny state" and the "red tape" which interfered with the free operation of the market and hampered their competitiveness.

A major grievance of the miners in the early 19th century was the "Bond", which gave he coal owners the "power to lay men idle and discontinue their wages  on the most trifling of pretexts."  Nearly two centuries later, from 6th April this year,   the period during which an employer can sack someone  without recourse to an industrial tribunal has been extended from one to two years, and  there are provisions in the Queen's Speech   for "consultations" regarding the removal of all employee protection from companies with 10 or fewer staff..

As economic professor  and former member of the Bank's monetary policy committee  David Blanchflower confirms, "There is absolutely no evidence to support the idea that sacking people boosts the economy."  Liberal Democrats in the government should take heed rather than take our labour laws back into the dark ages just to placate those guided by the whims and anecdotes of the tabloids


  1. There was a massive loss of life at Thornhill colliery in the 1890s after an explosion.
    The coal industry was at the heart of the General Strike in 1926 when lord Birkenhead made his famous commentthat he thought the union leaders the stupidest man he ahd ever met until he met the coalowners.
    Not to forget 1984 and Thatcher's brutality against the enemy within. The present Beacroft proposal on the right to sack is disgraceful

  2. Adrian Beecroft did we Liberal Democrats a favour by accusing Vince Cable of being a communist. So that's more evidence that Vince must be doing something right. I've just spent ten minutes on Google trying to find out whether Beecroft came up from nothing or was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but his origins seem to be obscured. I'd happily award him one of Aditya Chakrabortty's ASBOs (= Antisocial Business Order)