There is nothing more painful than the birth of a ï¿½new ideaï¿½; the creation of the MFGB in 1889 was no exception to this rule.
The miners had by now witnessed the election of the first ever working-man town councillor. John Normansell, General Secretary of the Yorkshire Miners. In 1874, they had finally secured representation in Parliament, with the electoral victories of the Liberal Alexander McDonald, President of the Minersï¿½ National Union, and Thomas Burt representing ï¿½radical labourï¿½ from the North East.
Yet, despite these advances, there was a reluctance on the part of the District Unions to come together in a formalised way.
Six national conferences were held during 1889 until finally, in the Temperance Hall, Newport, South Wales, the Minersï¿½ Federation of Great Britain was born. It is worthy of note that among the delegates from Scotland at the inaugural conference was one James Kier Hardie.
Within a year, this new national, federated organisation had won a 30 per cent increase for its members, and established itself also as a major force in the labour movement. Recruits began to flock in, and by 1890, when the MFGB joined the Trades Union Congress, its membership numbered over 250,000.
This new Federation brought together a splendid array of talent which included Ben Pickard of the Yorkshire Minersï¿½ Association who became the MFGBï¿½s first President and Thomas Ashton of the Lancashire Minersï¿½ Federation who became the MFGBï¿½s first National Secretary.
The MFGB did not, however, cover all the coalfields. South Wales, Durham and Northumberland - where district associations were still bound by the deadly ï¿½sliding scaleï¿½ agreements which linked wages to coal prices - remained outside the new organisation. Indeed, the MFGBï¿½s founders felt that until those agreements were abandoned, no amalgamation could take place.
In 1893, the young Federation found itself involved in what became the most widespread struggle between workers and employers that Britain had yet seen. The mine ownersï¿½ demand of a 25 per cent cut in minersï¿½ pay escalated into a massive lock-out subsequently involving 300,000 workers.
The lock-out was in progress for six weeks, when there was an event at Featherstone in the West Riding of Yorkshire which has left an indelible mark on history.
The forces of authority deliberately turned out soldiers from the local barracks and marched them to Featherstone Colliery; there, following the reading of the Riot Act, the soldiers opened fire on the crowd.
Two men were killed and sixteen wounded in what became known as the ï¿½Featherstone Riotï¿½. The action of the soldiers, calculated and deliberate, showed the naked face of the capitalist State.
During the course of the 1893 conflict, womenï¿½s committees were formed around the country to support mining communities, and in London, Beatrice Webb, the famous labour campaigner and historian, chaired a national meeting aimed at raising funds for the families of the striking miners.
After fifteen weeksï¿½ united action, the miners forced the owners to restore the wage cuts they had tried to introduce.
This was indeed a ï¿½baptism by fireï¿½, with the MFGB tried and tested in industrial action, many of its members badly injured, and a number killed.
The national Union, however, had now established itself on a firm footing, and its position inside and outside the coal industry had been strengthened. It had proved that united action could defeat the employers.
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