A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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This report is based on observations made by the Regional and Assistant Regional Intelligence Officers in Scotland during a recent tour of the coalfields in the Scottish Region.

At the moment there is a considerable difference between the target figure for Scotland and actual coal output. Before the war output per man was 24½ cwts. each day. Just now the corresponding figure is round about 20 cwts. The “man in the street” is inclined to explain this discrepancy by some such statement as: “The miners are taking advantage of the war situation” or: “All the good young miners are in the Army.” But the explanation is not so simple.

Even a cursory examination of coal-mining in Scotland shows how complex are the factors involved in output; there are geographical and geological differences entailing different methods of work and different results from the labour involved; different types of coal and different kinds of seams demand their own special techniques; there are small pits employing less than ten men, and large ones with over a thousand miners; some pits mainly use human energy for transport, while others are highly mechanised. (Comrie Colliery in Fifeshire, for instance, is the most highly mechanised pit in Europe).

These physical factors are only part of the story; sociological factors are just as important in determining whether the miner will “go to it” or “go slow”; his social and political background, his attitude towards the community and towards the war must be considered, as well as his age and physical capacity for coal-getting.

This report describes briefly some of the factors which are influencing the coal miner in Scotland to-day. It is based largely on visits to the chief mining areas in Scotland and informal conversations and discussions there with miners and some of their leaders. At the same time, note has been taken of the opinions of other interested people, such as coal owners, coal agents, and transport workers.


In 1939 over 88,000 men were working in the Scottish coalfields. Approximately 5,000 fewer men are now employed. The reasons for this drop are not far to seek.

  1. Before the war many young miners were conscripted for their army training. Many more were called up as Territorials in the summer of 1939 and many volunteered for the Forces at the outbreak of war. This loss of manpower in the pit has never been satisfactorily made up. In addition, after the fall of France, many miners left the pits to enter munition works in the belief that, since coal could no longer be exported to France, they would probably be unemployed if they remained miners. Most of these men were young and vigorous.

  2. Of recent months over 1,000 workers have returned to the pits under the Government's Registration of Miners Scheme. In the opinion of the miners everywhere, however, most of these workers are oncost men (all underground workers other than those actually engaged on coal production), and therefore cannot add materially to the total of coal produced. This is not to say, however, that their services are superfluous. The men are urgently needed, as is shown later on, for purposes other than coal-getting. It is to be noted that there is a good deal of discontent among this group as the wages they were earning in munitions and other employment were almost universally higher than their present rates of pay.

Recruitment of boys into the mining industry is insufficient to offset natural wastage through illness, disablement and retirement, and through abnormal war conditions. The reasons for this are first that miners as a rule have other ambitions for their children than that of becoming miners, for they have unhappy recollections of unemployment and insecurity. They also believe that mining is looked down on by the rest of the community, as is shown by the remark of one intelligent miner in the Lothians who declared: “Why don't they use another term to describe us, such as ‘underground workers’? The word ‘miner’ is not a well-respected word.”

Secondly, with the development of cheap transport linking villages and towns in Scottish industrial areas, there are now many other kinds of employment for boys leaving school. Mining villages are no longer the self-contained closed communities they formerly tended to be.

Thirdly, there are at the moment many opportunities for boys to enter a variety of skilled and unskilled trades, such as munitions, building, distributive work, etc.

The effect of this situation is that the average age of miners, especially those at the coal face, has greatly increased since the war and will go on increasing. These older workers are not always physically capable of keeping up with the high demands now made on them.


In a report on Scottish miners issued from this office in May 1941 (Appendix to Home Intelligence Weekly Report, No. 35, June 4th 1941) food and travelling difficulties were mentioned as two important obstacles in the way of increased production. In our present investigations at no time were either of these topics raised by the miners. It would therefore appear that neither is now a major problem.


  1. Bad organisation : Most of the men say that the main cause of falling output just now is the “hopeless state” that transport and general clearing up has been allowed to fall into. One of the men from a pit in Blantyre remarked sarcastically. “Production before the war was a thousand tons per week; now, since we have more men, the output is down to 400 tons.” Many times it was remarked that the pits are “absolutely cluttered up.” In all coalfields the miners complained that the surfacemen often could not do their work for dirt, nor could the bins be moved for the same reason. The men declare that bad organisation is the prime cause for this muddle.

  2. Key men : Especially in highly mechanised pits the lack of one or two key men can completely hold up production. At the request of the Trades Union, the managements were apparently asked to appoint and train substitute key men. In many cases this does not seem to have been done, although the substitutes themselves are keen and willing. The result is a general breakdown and confusion in the pit when existing key men are not at work.

  3. Contractors : Where the contracting system is in operation the contractors are almost wholehearedly disliked. The men claim that the contractors are often dishonest or even in league with the manager to cheat the workers. Several stories were told of alleged instances of dishonesty and double-crossing. One miner, for instance, told how his contractor had made false statements to the income tax officials regarding the miner's wages. Unfortunately the contractor piled it on too much, and when the suspicious miner visited the income tax authorities, the fraud was discovered.

The contractors are also believed to be making high profits and working very little. Lanarkshire miners claim that often they have to dig the contractor out of the local pub before they can get their pay. As an example, the men at Priory Pit complained about this habit. The manager sent for the contractor who turned up drunk and was promptly sacked. The men then went to work on the “pool system” and this pleased them considerably. Condemnation of the contractors is almost universal. In fact, only one voice was raised in their defence; a miner's son, who had never worked in the pits, said: “The contractors certainly display initiative. They see, too, that the men don't slack.”


There has always been a good deal of absenteeism among miners, some of which is accounted for by the nature of their work. It is significant, for example, that men at the coal face always have higher absentee figures than oncost workers. There is almost a tradition among coal miners that it is a good thing to take a day off now and again. Possibly because of this, miners do not view absenteeism as seriously as do the Government or Trades Union Officials.

At the same time, absentee figures may at the moment be misleading as they are calculated on a higher possible number of shifts than formerly. It is true, and miners themselves point this out, that the actual man shifts worked at the moment are greater than almost ever before. It is also to be noted that absentee figures are slowly decreasing, possibly because miners are becoming habituated to the longer week.

There is, among the general public, a common belief that absenteeism in the mines is largely due to a desire to avoid paying income tax. Our enquiries tend to show that, although there are instances where this occurs, such a belief is greatly exaggerated. Where income tax deductions are made weekly, absenteeism to avoid payments is on the decline. “They have become used to it” said one Trades Union official. In general, miners have never been great savers. Because of wartime restrictions, however, there are comparatively few ways of spending wages. This is especially true of the miners who take a pride in their homes. These men have not the same incentive to earn large sums since they cannot easily spend the money, and their wives fully concur with this attitude.


(a) Towards coal owners : The owners are almost universally disliked and condemned. This attitude is deep-seated and traditional and at the moment is expressed in a belief that the owners have prompted the managers to work poor and uneconomic seams so as to reserve richer, more accessible seams till after the war. Examples of such seams were given in Shotts and in Fife, lumps of inferior coal being produced at one interview in proof of this allegation.

(b) Towards the managements : The relationship between managements and miners compares not unfavourably with similar relationships in other industries e.g. in the Clydeside shipyards. Since managers are paid by the owners they are, in the miners' view, compelled to work to the latter's instructions, as, for instance, in exploiting bad seams. Most miners believe that pit management should be completely controlled and paid for by the Government.

(c) Towards Pit Production Committees : These Committees came in for much criticism. Many of the more intelligent, more stable miners disliked the present composition of the Committees. “It's the hot heided yins that get themselves elected - the blowhards.” The verdict of one miner at Roslin was that the management should select the workers' representatives. “They know best the hard workers, the intelligent men.” Though this opinion was an isolated one, it expressed, if somewhat exaggeratedly, the suspicion of many miners that the workers' representatives on the Committees do not always represent the best types in the coalfields.

Regarding the functions and operations of the Committees as at present constituted, we found no one with anything to say in their favour. They were generally termed “a farce.” When asked why this was so, the reply was, “Any recommendations that we make are ignored unless they suit the management.” Several examples were given of recommendations that had been turned down. One Lanarkshire Committee recommended that more and better coal could be got nearer the shaft; but, to quote a miner member - “They hunted us for our life.” At a colliery in Fife, the Pit Production Committee proposed that 10 men could work a certain section normally occupying 12 miners. In this way two would be released for working elsewhere. The management considered this proposal excellent until they discovered that the 10 men expected additional pay for their extra work. They then declared, according to our informant: “Not on your bloody life; fixing rates is our job.”

The general belief among the miners is that Pit Production Committees will never function properly until they have executive powers.

(d) Towards Trade Unions : The miners attitude towards their Trade Unions and their leaders varies greatly. In Fife and the Lothians there is considerable respect for the Unions and their officials; but in Lanarkshire, many of the miners are suspicious and occasionally hostile. One Lanarkshire miner declared, “There are no real Trade Unionists those days.” This man however, had, been recently “ticked off” by his Union for absenting himself. He felt that being reprimanded by the management was bad enough but to be told off by his Union - well, that was hitting below the belt! In Lanarkshire too, objections were made to Trade Union officials being on Pit Production Committees. “They tell us to produce more, but catch them going down and working themselves.” Several of the men were disgruntled, too, because they declared that the Trade Union officials had promised to deal with the contractor problem, but had never done so. This promise they considered “eyewash - like their other promises.” At the same time, even the detractors of the Trade Unions admitted that they do perform useful functions, and attempts to break them up would be strongly resisted.


Sociological differences and difficulties, which are reflected in conflicting views and attitudes among the miners, are probably major factors in problems concerning the industry. These problems seem most acute in Lanarkshire, which has an unenviable reputation with regard to output, absenteeism and disputes. The problems we came up against were:-

  1. Race : Where, as in Fife and the Lothians, the miners have lived in settled communities for several generations, and where there are no strong foreign elements, the atmosphere is less unstable than elsewhere. But in Lanarkshire, especially in mining areas near Glasgow, there are considerable Irish, Lithuanian and Polish elements which have established themselves there at different periods since the beginning of the century. The most disgruntled and vitriolic opinions on the Government, the coal owners, and on general conditions in this country come from the Irish element.

  2. Religion : Several times it was suggested to us that religious beliefs might be playing a part in the miners' attitude to coal production. It was stated, for example, that Roman Catholics do not have the same sense of loyalty to their Trade Unions as other miners, and it is certainly true that the present appeal of the miners' leaders to go all out to aid Russia, carries less weight with the Catholic miners. Definite examples of anti-Soviet activity or feeling were difficult to come by but the following instance was given. In one Lanarkshire pit the miners met to discuss whether the traditional day off for Trades Union elections should be taken this year. One miner, a well-known Catholic, proposed that it should. On an open vote being taken, this proposal was carried. Thereupon a secret ballot was asked for and the vote was completely overturned, over 80% voting for the elections to take place on a Sunday afternoon to avoid loss of time. This alleged Catholic point of view, however, is said to be less prevalent now than formerly.

  3. Politics : There is a strong Communist Party element in the Scottish coalfields, particularly in Fife and Lanarkshire. This element is not only strong but at the moment it is, of course, all out for maximum production. At the same time, there is a large disgruntled element who make use of political arguments to support their cause. It would be difficult to say which Party they adhere to, for they make use of the arguments of any Party as it suits the occasion. Some of those who are most vociferous in their demands for a second front, for collaboration with Russia, and for increased production, are chronic absentees because of their disinclination to pay income tax. The contradictions between their beliefs and practices does not seem to have dawned on them. In all districts the miners are suspicious of the official Labour Party. In general they are unable to agree that disputes should be settled without strikes. The Labour Party and the Trades Unions appear to them to be “organs of the Government.” The present method of dealing with disputes and absenteeism by the Trades Unions is considered a sign of this. Only the very enlightened and the politically informed miners see the benefits of the present method.


The general attitude is one of indifference except where relatives are engaged in the actual conflict. Miners seem to have been so thoroughly disillusioned after the last war that this colours most of their judgments. The Spanish Civil War and the appeasement period also made deep marks in their minds. Many of them seem to have only a very hazy knowledge of the causes and purposes of the present war and take the view that “we would be as well off under Hitler.” This is one of the ways in which their dislike and suspicion of the present set-up in Britain is expressed.


It would appear that several methods might be considered for tackling the various problems mentioned in this report:-

  1. Reorganisation of Pit Production Committees.

  2. Reorganisation of transport, etc. in individual mines. Pit Production Committees could, of course help in this.

  3. Overhauling of the contractor system.

  4. A systematic attempt to educate the miners regarding the issues of the war.

  5. To bring the war nearer to the minds and hearts of the miners it has been suggested that they might be organised as special “guerillas.” Since they are skilled in the use of explosives, and could assist in guarding the mines which are industrial key points, they should be trained in guerilla warfare, in miners' companies with miner N.C.O.s and, if possible, with miner or manager officers.

Ministry of Information, (Scottish Regional Office) and Public Relations Branch, St. Andrew's House, Edinburgh.

20th August 1942

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