On Monday 24th September at 3pm a public meeting of colliers was held in a field at Smallthorne, there were about 12 hundred persons present, three fourths of them colliers. There was between 30 to 40 policemen, with Captain Lance on horseback, at their head, observing the proceedings. Thomas Mayer was called to the chair and opened the meeting by observing to his brother “black slaves,” as he termed them, that he hoped they were peaceable “black slaves,” and come with a determination to unite with the men of the north. He hoped that while they were determined to unite, they would give no man a handle to lay hold on them. It was oppression that had called them together.

For his own part he had decided to unite with the men of the north, and he would tell them the reason why: he had 5 children, nearly naked and had hardly a bit of bread to put in their mouths. He then called on a collier named Stevenson, who moved a resolution to the effect, that it was the opinion of the miners of the Potteries, that the hours of labour were too long and that the wages received by them were not sufficient to support their families. The resolution was seconded by another collier. The chairman then called upon David Swallow, a delegate from Yorkshire, to speak in support of the resolution, before it was put to the meeting.

Mr. Swallow was cheered on rising and commenced by saying, he was happy to see so good a number present, as he had not expected to see so many. All of them, he trusted had made up their minds to join the union themselves: and as each lived near to somebody they could relate to what they had seen or heard, so as to influence others. He could not go to every house and communicate with every man, women and child, but they could and so carry on the agitation. He was glad to see that here were police officers there to keep the peace and prevent persons from breaking the fences, although he had no idea of breaking the peace himself.

He had addressed meetings of 80,000 persons, but had no idea of rising among them. He was but an unlettered man, having been sent down the pits when he was but 8 years of age, he went to a day school but a fortnight and the little he had learnt, was at a Sunday school. Grammatical speeches must not be expected from him, as he was a plain, blunt sort of a man and speak to them in plain, “pit-matic” fireside talk; and he trusted that if he let a word slip that was nit quite proper, that no one would take advantage of it. He then went on to say, that he was sure the public was not aware of the grievances under which the colliers were labouring. Had he time to narrate what he himself had experienced, the hearts of Englishmen would bleed at the very ideas. Some might have read the report of the commissioners (of inquiry into the labour of women and children in mines) which was bad enough, but they did not tell the whole truth. All other trades, callings and professions had a voice in determining the price they would have for their work; but colliers were not allowed to do so.

In the North the men were stripped naked at their work and send up tubs of saleable coal and not knowing if they would be paid for them or not. Besides they would have to find there own candles, powder and tools and often after all had the honour of doing it all for nothing. Yet the masters did not give their coals away, but sold them as dear as any others. This he denounced as a species of robbery towards the men, who had some chance against a highwayman, but none in the case he had referred to. They were compelled to work at the bidding of any tyrant; and if the poor collier made a complaint he was called a grumbler and disturber of society. Even since he had been in the neighbourhood he had been told of a collier saying,” we shall lie as bad as Sparrow’s (coal owner)men soon” which being reported to the master, the man was speedily told if he said so again, he would have no more employment there.

The colliers in the North were determined they would not be murdered as too many had been in consequence of the pits not being properly ventilated. And why were they not so? The reason was, it would require expense and the man’s life was less valuable than gold. They would sacrifice a hundred men than spend a hundred pounds in repair of the pits; for if the money was spent it could not be replaced the next day; but if a hundred lives were sacrificed, their places would be filled up directly. The master had no feeling for the men.

He was once speaking to a gentleman about the suffering of colliers in the pits and the gentleman would not believe him, but on going to witness them himself the gentleman declared the whole had not been told to him; adding that to those who endure such grievances, the term Englishman was a nick name and a stigma upon their forefathers, who would have let the green fields run down with their blood rather than have borne such things. He advised the men to agree upon a plan of Union and no power would prevent them having redress, as they would, when properly united.

In Wigan, in Lancashire, the men were getting coals at less than 6p per ton which were sold at any price the masters thought proper; and yet a good many were complaining that they could not give more wages. It was very strange that when the master was going down, he began to sink more pits and employ more capital. He had known men who at one time were working colliers; but finding that they could not get by working, they had borrowed a little money and become petty masters, afterwards commenced sinking pits.

The coal in Staffordshire was selling at prices that could enable the masters to pay a reasonable rate of wages. Of the peculiar grievances of the Staffordshire colliers he could not speak, as he did not at present understand them. But he was informed they were working long hours; and so long as they did so, their conditions would not be bettered. It would be to the interest of the masters to work less, for they were overstocking the market, and thus compelled by competition by other masters to try who could sell the lowest, and then they went home and gave the poor colliers another screw.

This was not the case with all masters some he knew were not willingly screws, but were compelled to do so though competition. there was a class of men called contractors, he did not say that men had not a right to contract, every man should do the best he could for himself provided he did not interfere with other men’s rights; but it was wrong for any man to take work at an under price knowing that they could not pay good wages, for the work. This was done by many. There were some good contractors, but not many. Most of them being lazy and too idle to work, and contractors got others to work for them. Colliers must be determined to work for themselves and not for such men; but he only complained of those contractors who gave less rises than the masters.

The object of the association was three fold; first, to form a union the length and breath of the land. Some might say there never was a union that did any real good. The reason was, they had been partial, and it was not possible for a partial union to do a permanent good. He would suppose the colliers in Staffordshire alone be united to a man and that they were to succeed in obtaining an advance of wages, it would been impossible for them to maintain it for a month, as colliers in other parts of the country, would soon hear of it and leave the places where they were sufferers, would speedily become competitors with them for their good places, as labour, like water would gravitate and find its level. Men would go where they could sell their labour to the greatest advantage; for they would be fools to stay and starve at home and the consequences would be, masters would, little by little make their conditions worse than it was at first.

If they wished to have a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work and obtain bread for their families, work and wages must be provided for every man at his own home. This was the object of the union; and it would be accomplished, men would not have to go bowing and scraping to the masters for work. It was a disgrace to them to be placed in that position. God did not make one man so much superior to another, he would have things so arranged, that when one door shuts two should be opened.

Former miners had failed because they had been partial. Men had stuck at one place and others being ignorant of the other matter had been fetched by boat loads by the masters and their places thus supplied. But they were determined not to play that game again; and if there must be another strike, which God forbid, they would put down every pit in one day and then there would be no fetching men to supply the others place.

At Wingate Grange colliery (up North) Lord Howden did not like to be beaten by a lot of ignorant colliers who had turned out (on strike) to the number of 480, because they would not go down into the pit by a rope they considered unsafe. The master’s agent offered one man £20 to persuade the men to go to work, but they would not and after 7 weeks, he was oblige to have a new rope and give each man a sovereign to go to work. Colliers were now were determined they would not work except they had good wages, safe ropes and well ventilated pits. The second objective of the miners was; the equalising and diminishing hours of labour. There should be no real union while some were getting all and others none. Those put out of work durst not join the union, for they fear they should be kept out of work and those in work durst not, lest they be turned away. All should be getting alike.

It was said “equal burdens break no backs.” He observed several before him that could not stand upright like other men, because the burden was too heavy. It was said men would never be content with a reasonable thing, but when they were united they would be obliged. If they did not stick to one another there was nothing but starvation and death for them. They must unite and be kind and loving to one another. He knew an instance when one poor old man got lamed, and the young men said one by one “never mind old chap I will do thy work tomorrow.” They wanted this principle of love and union, and this would drive away all the hatred that at present existed amongst them. It was well know that many men felt happy when they would do their neighbour an injury, but with union they would find that while protecting their neighbour, they were protecting themselves.
The third object of the union was to obtain the highest possible amount of wages. In conclusion, he would observe that they identified themselves with no political party, their object being to form a union of colliers, every one of whom might belong to what political party he pleased. All he asked of a man was “are you a miner and a union man?”

The third object of the union was to obtain the highest possible amount of wages. In conclusion, he would observe that they identified themselves with no political party, their object being to form a union of colliers, every one of whom might belong to what political party he pleased. All he asked of a man was “are you a miner and a union man?”

A resolution was then moved and seconded, to the effect, that: It was the opinion of the miners present, that it would be in their interest to unite with each other for their mutual protection; and that they approve of the rules of the Miners’ Association of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Chairman called upon John Lomax a delegate, to speak in support of it, which he did at great length, denouncing agents who tyrannised over the men, detailing the grievances of the colliers and urging them to unite with their brother slaves in the North in order to obtain their rights. The resolution was passed unanimously.

After a vote of thanks had been passed to the Chairman, he took the occasion to express a hope that all were peaceably disposed, as he had been told on Saturday night that the colliers were an ignorant and dangerous set of men. He would admit they were ignorant, but he would call upon all who were peaceable to hold up their hands, which all immediately did. “There (said the Chairman, addressing Captain Lance who sat on his horse a short distance.) They are all peaceable Captain Lance.

After some further contributions the meeting closed.

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