A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



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Manpower is the immediate key to the problem of increased coal production. It has declined rapidly since 1938 and the following figures show the number of workers under 18 years of age who were engaged in the industry in 1938 and in succeeding years.

1938 70,500
1939 67,500
1940 67,500
1941 61,500
1942 56,900
1943 49,700
1944 41,300
1945 37,700

A steady flow of boys is vital to the Mining industry, and in the long run is the only solution to the manpower problem, yet in eight years the number of boys in the mining industry has been halved. The recent increase in the number of workers entering the mining industry has been due to abnormal factors which will not last, and does not affect the basic problem of recruitment. The raising of the school leaving age will not only reduce the number of boys entering the mining industry in the immediate future, but will also mean greater competition for the services of the boys when they leave school.

This inquiry was concerned with the general reasons why boys have not been entering the mining industry and has studied the opinions of parents and their children. It was carried out in the late summer and autumn of 1946 and the events of this year may have altered the attitudes óf both groups, but the situation revealed is not such that it could be fundamentally altered by anything other than a change in the industry itself. That is to say, although a sense of the importance and urgency of the problem may have persuaded many to enter mining who would not otherwise have done so, it does not follow that they will also forget their objections to the industry or that they will wish to remain in it once that sense of urgency is past.

At the time of the inquiry 33% of the boys in mining families and 7% of the boys in non-mining families were engaged in the mining industry in the six coal-fields visited. Boys from mining families who were employed outside the mining industry were more frequently employed in the unskilled jobs than the boys from non-mining families, yet for both groups of boys, as for their parents, the desirable thing was a skilled job, which meant to them good pay and prospects and a secure future. Mining was ranked with the unskilled jobs in undesirability, and it is clear that to advance the status of mining both parents and boys must be convinced that it can provide the same pay and prospects and the same security for the future as a skilled job.

A comparison of the proportions of boys who wish to enter mining with the proportion of boys engaged in the industry suggests that a considerable number of boys become miners against their will even at present, and it may be of considerable importance to the future of the industry to take steps during the training course to shown them, on the basis of facts, that mining is a worthwhile job.

The majority of parents and boys in the coal-fields had considered mining as a possible job, but most of them had rejected it. The belief that wages and hours are good was in favour of mining, but this was heavily outweighed by opinions that it is unhealthy and dangerous, that the work is too hard and prospects poor. Lack of alternative employment in case of injury, low social standing, poor housing, lack of social amenities, were also associated with opposition to mining. Lack of alternative employment was also associated more frequently than the other factors.

It is clear that the opinions of parents on mining as a job, and the opinions of boys also, are largely formed as result of a comparison of mining with other jobs. Material incentives, such as wages, welfare arrangements and hours of work, are thought to be better in mining than in other jobs, but such psychological aspects of the occupation as prospects of promotion and the interest of the job were thought to be worse in mining than in other industries, while the physical conditions of the work were thought to be much worse.

Prospects of promotion, security, the interest of the job, and the nature of the work carried out, are the factors most unfavourable to mining in the eyes of those opposed to it as a job, even though they frequently agree that material incentives are better in mining. Even so the there is a feeling that pay needs further improvement.

‘Danger to health’ and ‘Danger from falls’ are most frequently mentioned as the worst things about working conditions underground, and ‘Hewing by hand’, ‘Boring and ripping’, and ‘Cutting by machine’ as the worst jobs underground.

The majority of mining fathers recognise that there have been improvements in conditions in mining in the last twenty years, but those opposed to the industry are on the whole doubtful if the further improvements that are needed will be carried out. Most suggestions for improvements are concerned with conditions underground and systems of payment that will recognise skill.

In general, if recruitment is to increase, those against mining will have to be convinced that prospects of promotion and security are not less than in other jobs, that the interest of the work will increase in the future, that the nature of the work to be done will be altered by new methods, and that the steps being undertaken to reorganise the pits will result in healthier conditions and less danger.

The greater proportion of parents and boys consider that mechanisation will make mining a better job - a high proportion of those opposed to mining agree with this. Mechanisation may, therefore, be effective in making mining recognised as a skilled job and an interesting job. Whether it will alter the attitudes of parents and boys toward mining in the near future is problematical, however, for even greater proportions thought that the nationalisation of the mines would make mining a better job in many ways, but only a small proportion said that it altered their attitudes toward mining in that they would be ready to let their boys enter the industry. At the time of the inquiry, however, nationalisation was only just about to become an accomplished thing, and the events of the past six months may have helped to make them change their minds by showing them that nationalisation was not only a promise of better things but an instrument which would bring them about.

The differences which existed between coalfield on all the subjects outlined above were differences of degree only. On the whole, South Wales would appear to be the most dissatisfied coalfield, and Lancashire the least dissatisfied. For most purposes, however, the conclusions of this report can be considered to apply to all coalfields.

The positive points which emerge from this report are as follows:-

(a) Parents and boys must be convinced that mining compares with a trade in that

The pay is good

The prospects are as good

Security is as great

Its prestige is as great

The problem surrounding promotion might be met in the long run, partly by the recognition of skill and experience - that is, by grading jobs at the coal-face and paying extra for certificates and the time spent in a job.

(b) At the same time, however, it must be shown that active steps are being taken to improve working surroundings, safeguard the health of the miner, particularly in dust suppression, and protect him against falls. The introduction of any particular measure might well be used to inform the population at large of the nature of the problem it is designed to meet*, and so enable them to put the problems of coal-mining in their right perspective

(c) All general improvements in working surroundings and the introduction of new machinery, should be used to show that Nationalisation means action, not just promises, and to argue that conditions underground can be greatly altered by modern methods of coal getting.

(d) Boys entering the mining industry should be shown during their training period that there are solid reasons, based on the three paragraphs above, why they should regard mining as a worthwhile job.

(e) The differences between various groups of parents are differences of degree, but it is evident that the most hopeful prospects of recruitment still lie in mining families. Schoolboys are, also, a better field for recruitment than working boys.

[1] Scottish Mining Communities, N.S.61. A report by the Social Survey. This report shows that bad housing is a most important factor in causing dissatisfaction with mining in Scotland. Better housing would, therefore, be a help to recruitment.

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