Hunger Strike and Hostage at Dixons

strikeA report from the Dundee Evening Telegraph, Friday 11th September 1936. Pictured is (non Blantyre) but similar “stay in strike” from the same era.

“About 5000 miners in the Blantyre district of Lanarkshire are idle to-day. They are taking part in a one-day strike in sympathy with the stay-in strikers. This follows a midnight meeting of over 4000 men, which it was intimated that the Blantyre Area Committee would picket all the mine collieries. There are 49 men still underground at the colliery of William Dixon, Ltd. There were 54 men and three, boys when the stay in strike began yesterday, but, early to-day five men and three boys returned to the surface.

The Lanarkshire representatives of the County Miners’ Union, Mr William D. Small, secretary, and Mr Hall M’Kenna, agent, have been recalled from the T.U.C. at Plymouth. Meetings have been arranged throughout the district, and there will be a mass meeting in the vicinity the colliery.

The dispute concerns rates of pay for back stripping. The stay-in strikers contend that the rates were agreed 11 years ago, and do not meet present day requirements owing to the highly mechanised conditions in the colliery. A better agreement in case of breakdowns is also demanded.

Hostage Rumour. A report circulated in the district that Mr Alexander M’Call, local manager of Dixon’s Collieries, was being held hostage underground by the strikers. He went down this morning, and when he failed to return after almost two hours some of the men at the pit head said he was being held until food was sent down. No confirmation of this, however, was available, and officially it was explained that Mr M’Call had gone below to examine a machine round which water was gathering.

The men underground are without food, and the management refuse to allow any to be taken to them. The management refuse to enter into negotiations until the men come to the surface. An attempt was made to provide food last night, and several baskets were brought to the pit head, but the men were refused permission to send it down. Several men descended No. 1 Pit, which is a short distance away, and working along the connecting road underground, handed the food over a barricade. A high fence of railway sleepers surround the grounds of the colliery and some of these had been damaged last night. One of them had been completely upropted. It is feared that other damage may be done and precautions are being taken. Policemen are patrolling the ground and the roads in the vicinity.

Perishing Cold. One of the men who came up last night said it was ” perishing cold ” down below. Another one said that everything down there was ” all right.” The men were prepared to wait for weeks if necessary. ” We settled down to spending the time sing-songs, and play cards and dominoes. Even when the electricity was switched off, it did not matter as we were ready for it with spare lamps, and managed along by burning six at a time. Our only trouble was food. We finished what we had taken down with us about five o’clock, and when I left, the rest were waiting for fresh supplies. ” If I had had work to do down there it would have been all right, but it was the awful waiting that made me come up. I almost fainted twice. I tried to carry on, but it was useless. ” They got word through to the top, and some men came down for me right away.”

The strike lasted a week, when eventually, defeated, some unconscious and weak from hunger, the men came up of their own accord, many close to dying. The last straw had been when the spare lamps failed and left the pit in darkness.

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