The Cautious Revolution: Britain Today and Tomorrow

By Ernest Watkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
The Coal Mining Industry

Why were the coal mines in Britain nationalized?

The simple answer is that the coal mining industry had reached a state of development in which reorganization and unification were essential if it was to survive, and that it was politically impossible for this to be done while the industry itself remained in private ownership. A minority of the population, the Labour party voters, may have desired nationalization on ideological grounds, but technical reasons made the essential difference. They induced many of those opposed to nationalization to accept the fact of unification because they considered that to be a necessity in the national interest. I doubt very much if the majority in the country would now like to see the industry revert to private ownership, granted that very many, including some who have always been supporters of nationalization, would like to see the existing administrative machine remodeled.

What are the technical reasons that rendered private ownership of each pit an impossible barrier to efficiency? In one mining area it is water. The following was written in 1934, concerning the South Wales coalfield: "In the past . . . water has not created sufficient widespread difficulties to make it a question of general concern to the majority of colliery companies in the area. . . . The position is now assuming a different aspect . . .

"It only requires that the collieries on the rise side of the coalfield shall stop their pumping operations for those who are now in the happy position that the water does not trouble them to find the burden transferred to their shoulders. . . . The Tredegar Company are in 1934 pumping large quantities of water . . . coming from an area in which another colliery company worked the coal."

By 1943, the annual quantity of water which had to be pumped

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