A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


Attitudes toward coal-mining as a Job

The coal industry has been the subject of so many inquiries, and so many statements, stories and articles, by the miners themselves that it may be thought that knowledge of the conditions which have made mining an unpopular job has become common currency. But a further analysis of these factors by statistical methods is not superfluous, particularly since their relative importance has rarely been discussed or examined. Such a study, resulting in a more accurate diagnosis, is first step towards cure. Consequently, an attempt has been made in the following pages to discover what factors are uppermost in the minds of parents and boys when they are considering mining as an occupation.

For the purpose of discussing this problem with informants a careful distinction had to be made between coal-mining as a social phenomenon remote from themselves and coal-mining as a possible occupation for their children, or in the case of children, for themselves. At the outset, therefore, informants were asked if they had ever considered mining as a possible occupation. This question served the double purpose of indicating, on the one hand, how many parents and boys had given some thought to the matter, and, on the other, of facilitating the direction of subsequent discussion on realistic lines.

(i) The proportions who had considered coal-mining as a possible occupation

Most of the mining parents had thought of mining as a possible occupation for their boys, but only half the non-mining parents had done so, although they were interviewed in colliery districts. Only half the boys interviewed had thought of mining as a job for themselves, although they too were all interviewed in mining districts.

The majority of both boys and parents who had thought of mining had rejected it, and the proportions of parents and boys who had thought of mining and decided in favour of it were small, amounting to one in five of mining parents, and one in ten of non-mining parents, and one in twenty of the boys.

Mining fathers were more favourably inclined toward mining than mining mothers, while mining boys were more favourably inclined than non-mining boys.

An encouraging side to these results is not absent, however, since it is apparent that a considerable proportion of both parents and boys have not dismissed the possibility of mining as a career without some thought. To some extent, therefore, the arguments advanced in favour of mining will receive consideration. This suggestion is given support by the fair number of parents and boys who, by the end of the interview, were no longer opposed to mining but were prepared to say that they were neutral toward it as an occupation. Thus it was found that nearly all the parents who expressed a favourable attitude at the beginning of the interview retained the same opinion at the end of it, while, conversely, a fair proportion of those who had been unfavourable at the beginning, (12%), had changed their view by the end of the interview. Similarly, many of those parents who had never considered mining, or were vague in their replies at the beginning of the interview, also replied in terms fairly favourable to mining when they were asked for their final opinion at the end. The same process was observed among the boys interviewed, although the proportions involved were rather smaller.

No persuasion of any kind had been used by the interviewers, and the change of attitude may have been due partly to the suggestion, as the interview progressed, of future improvements in mining conditions, and partly to the fact that informants felt that they could discuss their feelings about mining with a sympathetic listener.


(ii) The advantages and disadvantages of coal-mining

As a first step toward the discovery of what factors were dominant in the minds of parents and boys they were asked to say what they thought were the chief advantage and chief disadvantage of the occupation. It is apparent from analyses of the

results of these questions that a campaign devoted solely to emphasising what are thought to be the good things about mining would not be successful.

It seems clear that the problem must also be regarded from the point of view of the unpleasant coal-mining, and that an attempt must be made to improve those characteristics simultaneously with an increase in positive incentives. Recruitment will depend upon the balance that is achieved.

The evidence for this view lies in the comparative proportions of good and bad points mentioned by parents. Something in favour of coal-mining was mentioned by 55% of mining fathers, 48% of mining mothers, 21% of non-mining parents and 24% of the boys - mainly good pay, good hours, good prospects and the importance and necessity of the job. But the proportions who found something disagreeable to mention were far greater, ranging from 83% of mining fathers, 81% of mining mothers, and 82% of the non-mining parents, to 89% of the boys. Here the main characteristics mentioned were that the job is unhealthy and dangerous, that the work is too hard and the prospects poor. It is clear that, quantitatively, the disadvantages of mining outweigh its overall advantages. It seems likely, also, that the emotional strength of the disadvantages would be so much greater than that of the advantages that the latter would be outweighed in this way as well. These emotional disadvantages are not, perhaps, given due consideration.

Comparisons between the various groups interviewed suggest that, first and foremost, steps should be taken to indicate the ways in which the pits are being made more healthy and less dangerous. The fact that mining was unhealthy and dangerous was instanced by more than half all parents and boys, and the proportions making the point that it is unhealthy and dangerous increased from 34% among those in favour of mining to 448% among those against mining. The fact that prospects are good in mining should also be emphasised, since the argument that prospects are bad is used by none of those in favour of mining but by 6% of those against mining, A contrast could be made, perhaps, between the good prospects in mining and the poor prospects in the unskilled work that boys from mining families often go into when they take a job outside mining. It has been shown earlier that boys from mining families are more often engaged in unskilled work than boys from non-mining families. Finally, additional emphasis should be laid on the good pay and good hours which prevail in coal-mining.

In view of the small proportion of boys in favour of coal-mining, and the fact that their wishes come first in parents’ minds, it would appear to be as necessary to address these argument to them as to their parents. Schoolboys were, on the whole, less antagonistic to mining than working boys. The policy of approaching schoolboys which has been pursued in some areas would, therefore, appear to be justified in all respects.


(iii) The Social Standing of the Coal-miner.

It has been known for some time that mining families feel that they are regarded as of inferior social status by people not engaged in mining. It was thought important, therefore, to discover the extent to which this feeling affected their attitude to mining, and how far non-mining families in fact considered miners to be their social inferiors. Parents and boys were, accordingly, asked how they thought the social standing of the skilled coal-miner compared with that of other skilled workers.

More than half the non-mining parents thought the social standing of the miner the same as that of other skilled workers. Rather more than a third thought it inferior. The mining fathers thought their social standing the same as that of other workers somewhat less frequently than the non-mining parents, however, and thought it inferior somewhat more frequently than they did. Mining mothers were somewhat less positive in their opinions, and a large proportion were unable to offer a judgment. Boys were, on the whole, were more inclined to give equal status to the miner than were their parents. A number of parents and boys commented that the social standing of the miner has improved in recent years.

These attitudes had a close connection with the informant's general approval or disapproval of mining as an occupation since, among parents and boys those who were not in favour of mining were very frequently those who considered miners to be socially inferior, This being so there appears to be at least a prima facie case for assuming that the inferior social status of the miner has had a deterrent effect upon recruitment.

(iv) Housing, Social Amenities and Alternative Employment

Poor housing, lack of social amenities and poor prospects of obtaining alternative employment in case of injury in the mines, have all been suggested as causes of dissatisfaction in the coalfields. All parents were therefore, asked to compare these things as they existed in their own district with what they knew about similar conditions in other, non-mining, areas. They were asked to say, in fact, whether they thought they were worse off or better off in these respects than non-mining families outside the coalfields.

In the case of housing more than a third of mining parents, but lower proportions of non-mining parents, thought that housing was worse in coal mining than in other areas. In addition, although the views of mining fathers on mining are not associated with their views on housing, there was such an association on the part of mothers. 24% of the mothers in favour of mining thought housing worse in coal-mining areas, compared with 34% of those against mining.

Social amenities were also considered to be worse in coal-mining than in other areas by more than a third of mining parents, and there was again a slight tendency for mining mothers' views on mining as a job to be associated with their views on lack of social amenities. This association was not so marked as in the case of housing, however.

Chances of alternative employment were thought to be less for injured men in the coalfields than in other areas by nearly half the non-mining parents and mining mothers and by more than half the mining fathers. There was a marked association between this view and disapproval of mining as an occupation. Thus, 40% of the fathers in favour of mining thought chances of alternative employment were less in coal-mining than in other areas compared with 63% of fathers against coal-mining. A similar, but smaller, difference existed among mining mothers.

Of the three factors considered in this section, therefore, lack of alternative jobs would appear to be the most important in relation to recruitment. In view of the plans for balancing industry in coal-mining areas, however, it is clear that assurances of alternative employment in case of injury could be given widespread publicity with considerable effect.

(v) Attitudes toward compensation for injuries.

Compensation, like housing and social amenities, has also been a source of dissatisfaction in coal-field, and a natural source, perhaps, in view of the high accident rate in mining. Parents were, therefore, asked for their opinion on compensation as it existed at the time of the inquiry. The majority of both mining and non-mining parents thought that compensation was poor and needed improvement, although a small percentage thought it was getting better and was not too bad now. Nevertheless, compensation does not appear to be so closely associated with opposition to mining as some of the factors discussed above, since there were few differences of opinion between mining parents, who were either in favour of mining or against it.


(vi) Summary

The majority of parents and boys who had considered mining as a possible job had decided against it, but there are possibilities that argument and example would persuade them to change their minds.

Wages and hours were the chief factors in favour of coal-mining, but were outweighed by opinions that it is unhealthy, and dangerous, that the work is too hard and prospects poor.

Of the remaining factors discussed, social standing, housing, amenities, chances of an alternative job, and compensation, only one was mentioned spontaneously as a factor against coal-mining, and this one was social status.

A comparison of the extent to which these factors were associated with opposition to mining as a job shows that lack of alternative employment was most closely associated, followed by social standing, housing, social amenities and compensation.

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