Courtesy Reuters

An American Engineer Looks at British Coal

WITH every passing month it becomes increasingly clear that the rehabilitation of the British coal industry is a prerequisite not only of Britain's own industrial recovery but to a large extent of that of all western Europe. The majority of observers find it increasingly difficult to understand why this rehabilitation fails to materialize. The necessity for drastic reorganization has long been recognized, the technical problems analyzed and cures recommended over and over again. Why, if the course is charted, and agreement reached by everyone in authority to embark on it, does production fail significantly to increase? Many foreign observers attribute it to the Labor Government's nationalization program, others to the dislocations of six years of war. Comparatively few realize that the present situation has been at least 25 years in the making. It is the product both of avoidable stupidity and unavoidable bad luck; the problem it presents is social and psychological as well as technical, the result of general economic and social conditions which have influenced not only mining but other basic industries, and not in Britain alone but in all the "older" European countries. The state of affairs has been so long in evolving that no amount of hard work, efficiency, goodwill or determination, from any source, governmental or private, can remedy it overnight, however great the need.

Let us look at this crisis in the making. The First and not the Second World War marked the beginning of the decline of British coal mining; it was in 1919, not 1947, that remedies should first have been applied. In the 50 years before World War I, the industry expanded phenomenally in response to an ever-increasing demand from a rapidly industrializing world. It increased its work force four times, its production three times and exports almost six times.[i] In 1913 it was the largest British industry, next to agriculture. In that year it produced 287,000,000 tons, of which 94,000,000 were exported -- a level which has not been reached since. This output required a work force of 1,107,000

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