Wages

 

"Wages" is always a very controversial topic. What is a "fair wage." Who is earning "good money" and of course who is working for "nothing"

The situation 100 years ago was not any different to the situation today when it comes to the issue of wages. People are going on strike today for more money. They claim they are being exploited and over worked and are not getting a just wage. It was the same in the time of the mines, strikes were frequent and miners always fought for better pay.

You very seldom hear somebody saying that they are getting well paid or that they are "well off". Human nature seems to dictate that people will never be happy with their lot - they will always want more. As the old Irish Seanfhocal (saying) says "Is glas iad na cnoic bhfad uainn" - far away hills are always greener or the grass in the next field is always greener.

We have tried to establish whether or not the miners were on good money. When coming to such a conclusion you have to consider the general conditions at that time, the wages of other professions and the value of money. We know how much the miners earned for a weeks work all those years ago but what we are still trying to establish is how much other professions were paid at that time. These are the comments we got from some old members of the community when asked about the miners' wages. We will let you decide for yourselves as to whether the miners pay was good or not but then of course having never been two miles under the ground, lying on your side in the dark and dust it will be difficult for you to come to any clear conclusion.

A retired Farmer When a farm labourer was earning 2 a week for a tough weeks work the lads in the pit were bringing home around 10 a week.
A retired Sergeant I remember when 'Comer had a Superintendent. He was one of the wealthier people in the town and would always be "dressed up to the nines". It was common knowledge at that time that the miners and the roadmakers (not the jobbers, trammers etc.) were on better money.
A retired Shopkeeper The miners always wore the best of clothes, the best suits, the best shoes. They could afford it. They were my best customers. They had "the money" when no one else had it.
A young retired Miner We were poorly paid for the work we did. The work and conditions were terrible. No money would pay you for that work.
An old retired Miner / Road Maker The money was good. If you worked hard at the coal face you could make very good money. As a road maker we did very well. You were paid by the yard. You had so much to do each day and when it was done you could go home.
A retired Publican  The miners certainly had plenty of money. The work was hard so many of them spent a lot of money in my pub. However, many of the miners were wise, earned good money and did not squander it. Their families were well looked after.
An old retired Butcher The miners bought the best of "Mate" (meat) They bought steak when everybody else was buying stewing beef or corn beef, if they were lucky. The work was hard though and those men needed good mate to keep up their strength.
A Butchers Boy I remember as a young fellow delivering the meat to the "Colliery" every Saturday. The back seat of the car was taken out and loaded with parcels of meat. There would be a label on each parcel with names on them. The blood from the meat would seep out through the brown paper. Some of those parcels were very big with plenty of steak and chops in them. My job was to jump out of the car and run in with the meat. Sometimes I was afraid as there were some mad dogs in some of the houses and they would go crazy for the meat. I remember some people coming into the "Stall" (butchers shop) and ordering "a few bones for the dog" for the weekend. The butcher always put a few pounds of "shin beef" in with the bones. I did not understand it at the time - but the bones were not for the dog and the shin beef was an "Angel" working behind the scenes in the stall. 

The "Colliery Round" was never complete without the big bag of sweets. There were so many to be dropped off with the meat to each house and sweets were often dropped off to houses that got no meat.  

Conclusion:

Our conclusion is that the miners did earn very good money in the mines. The higher skilled men at the coalface and the road makers were on very good money. A young boy of fourteen years, jobbing, could bring home as much or more money than a man three times his age working at other labouring jobs. Sure, the work was hard, the danger was great. To put the work into perspective for the times that were, you should consider the conditions of the farm labourer at that time. He had no rights, no hours, no baths, no union, no insurance, no clinic, no ration, no housing allowance, no bonus and the boss did not usually show him much respect. He usually worked from sunrise to sunset, walking a few miles to work, milking cows out in the field, rain hail or snow. He had to plough with a horse, thin turnips, pick potatoes in all weathers, sprong  and spread dung among many other difficult  duties.

What put many people in hardship in those days was not particularly the wage that they brought home, which was often quite good, but the size of the family they had to support. Thirteen or fourteen children in a house was not unusual. It would take a very good wage even today to keep a family of that size fed and clothed. If you fell on bad times through sickness or loss of work, then you were in real trouble.

It is very difficult to compare earnings from different times. Have a look at this link to see what we mean. 

Calculate the Value of Money from days gone by.

Wages in the 1920's (Click)

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