At its founding conference, the MFGB had decided that it must work to bring an end to the iniquitous ï¿½sliding scaleï¿½ agreements; this goal would not be achieved until 1902.
The fight to eliminate the ï¿½sliding scaleï¿½ was therefore long and bitter, marked by the struggle of mining communities against outright starvation. During these years, miners vowed that never again would they be party to such a divisive agreement.
While it set about winning a number of vital demands in the early years of the twentieth century, the MFGB at the same time extended its influence and membership.
In 1990, the minimum age of entry into the coal industry was raised to thirteen years. In 1906, the Union participated for the first time in a Royal Commission on safety in the mines. It was incessant campaigning alongside industrial action that brought about in 1908 the Eight Hours Act for mineworkers underground.
By example and leadership, the MFGB was winning into membership all the remaining District Unions; between 1900 and 1909, membership rose from 363,000 to over 600,000.
It was Bob Smillie, President of the Lanarkshire miners, who represented the Federation on the Royal Commission on Safety which in 1911 produced the Mines Regulation Act - still a cornerstone of protective legislation for underground workers.
In spite of the increasing health and safety legislation, however, the death toll in the industry remained dreadful. Disasters like that at the Oaks Colliery in Barnsley, Yorkshire, in December 1866, which claimed 361 lives were being surpassed.
The worst ever explosion in British mining history occurred on October 14, 1913, when 439 miners were killed at Senghenydd in South Wales. It was a grim reminder to the MFGB that alongside higher wages, shorter hours and the issue of nationalisation, the industry must be made safe as a matter of urgency.
In 1909 the Union, becoming ever more involved in the wider labour and trade union movement, affiliated to the Labour Party and within a year was sponsoring eighteen members of Parliament.
Then, economic crisis hit Britain. The coal owners were swift to take steps which produced another momentous clash between mineworkers and the State - one of the sharpest conflicts since Featherstone in 1893.
In September 1910, South Wales miners employed by Cambrian Collieries Limited were locked out following the ownersï¿½ decision to cut wages. Subsequently, 12,000 men voted to take strike action.
State alarm at the minersï¿½ resolve led Home Secretary Winston Churchill to order troops into the Rhondda Valley where, in the community of Tonypandy on November 21, they charged striking miners with fixed bayonets.
The brutality and violence of troops and police ensured that, like Featherstone, Tonypandyï¿½s name would become synonymous with working class struggle against a State prepared to use any means to suppress workersï¿½ rights.
The strike lasted ten months and although the Cambrian Combine men were forced back to work through starvation, their struggle had sowed the seeds of determination even deeper than before. Less than a year after that dispute finished, the MFGBï¿½s membership came out on strike for a fixed minimum wage.
At a special conference held on November 14, 1911, Federation delegates voted for strike action unless the principle of a minimum wage - a cornerstone of the Unionï¿½s foundation - was conceded by the coal owners
By a massive majority of four to one, the membership voted to take strike action at the end of February, 1912. This would be the first time a coal dispute was to affect the nation as a whole; even the great lock out of 1893 had hit no more than the central coalfields.
By March 1, over one million miners were out on strike. The wheels stood idle. From other sections of workers all around Britain there was substantial support for action taken to secure a fixed minimum wage.
The dispute lasted six weeks; it was called off by the Federation when the then Liberal Government promised to introduce protective legislation on pay.
But when the Government, having secured the miners; return to work, decided there would be no actual minimum wage figure in its Bill. MFGB members gave vent to anger and revulsion at such trickery. Another ballot saw mineworkers voting by nearly 54 per cent to continue the strike - but on the basis that there was not a two-thirds majority in favour of that, an MFGB conference agreed to a resumption of work.
Commenting on the strikeï¿½s importance, no less an observer than Lenin point out:
The 1912 strike had been fought on a basic issue of trade union principle, and whilst there was much dissatisfaction among the miners who felt that the Government had cheated them of an assured victory the struggle had welded the Federation together. It had not been in vain.
Despite shortcomings, the Minimum Wage Act of 1912 was to remain on the statute books until 1947 when the mines were finally nationalised.
The MFGB was now campaigning not only for higher wages, but for a five-day week, a further reduction in working hours and, significantly, nationalisation of the coal industry.
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