United States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce.

Consular reports, Issues 188-191 online

. (page 11 of 102)
Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 188-191 → online text (page 11 of 102)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a general stoppage in February. No words are needed to urge prompt and effective united
action. This was vividly demonstrated both by the bitter sufferings of the past year and the
loss of the list of 1874. I. look with confidence to every tin plater in this crisis to do his

Yours fraternally, THOMAS PHILLIPS.

Refuge Chambers, Alexandra BuiidingSy Swansea.

THE men's view.

The above manifesto appears in the Industrial World, the official organ
of the Tin-Plate Workers' Union, which says:

The new year opens badly to those who have deeply invested in Welsh tin-plate works
and to the thousands of workmen dependent upon the tin-plate trade. The recovery of the
1874 list, the improved prices of plates secured for a time, and the Christmas holidays have
tended to conceal the fact that the tin-plate trade is once more in a deplorable condition. At,
the beginning of this week 144 out of our 512 mills are idle, and it is computed that the first
mouth of the year will see 40 works idle. This can be contrasted with the state of affairs
before the McKinley Tariff came into operation. In January, 1889, there existed 444 mills,
41 mills being idle ; January, 1890, there existed 482 mills, 17 of which were idle. Thus the
serious position of affairs is made painfully evident. The policy now adopted by employers
is certainly wise, notwithstanding that, for a time at least, it entails loss of wages, and thereby
suffering, among workmen. As the result of the existence of certain conditions, not altogether
clear to our most astute makers, plates can not be sold at less than the cost of their produc-
tion. To stop producing at a loss, therefore, is to stop giving money away, a matter that
sooner or later would be forced upon the wealthiest firms.

In this state of things, it is a duty upon those interested to seek the cause, and, if possible,
provide a remedy. The Welsh mills, with the comparatively few tin-plate mills on the Con-
tinent of Europe, are capable of fully meeting the present requirements of the world for tin
plates ; that being so, every box of plates made in America means a box less made in Wales.
Now, the Americans claim that they have 153 mills at work. This probably is an exag-
geration, but it tends to show that at present we have over 100 mills in Wales over and above
what our trade demands. If it were possible to dismantle about loo mills and to turn over
those employed thereat into another industry, then the difficulty for the time would be met.
But that is impossible. Then it is said that what is called a natural law should be allowed
to operate, and the weakest be driven to the wall. Experience of past years has proved that
this also is impossible, as far as tin-plate works are concerned. Works that have been driven
to the wall and sold to satisfy creditors, have been bought up by strong companies who have
again set them going with a larger producing capacity than ever. Again, the workmen keep
in the neighborhood of stopped works, clinging to the hope of a start. Such was the case
until lately at the Moria, Llanelly, and now can be witnessed at the Avon Vale Works, Aber-

Tin-plate makers at last are moving with a view of securing new markets, but this will be
the work of years, and immediate relief is demanded. The work of the surplus mills, while
each maker is cutting prices to make sure that his mills shall not be a part of the idle hun-
dred, is a weapon that the great tin-plate merchants, who are adepts at " market rigging,'* use
poercilessly against makers, who are in their hands as pawns in a play. It would be highly

Digitized by VjOOQIC


interesling to know the exact price paid by an American tin-plate jobber over and above the
price paid for plates in Swansea. I am disjxjsed to believe that the extra charges, beyond
fir^ cost, freight, and a fair profit, would make the tin-plate maker's month water. If my
surmise is correct, Welsh tin plates do not get the advantage of sale in competition wiih
American plates tbey ought to have. American makers are already appointing their own
commissioners, and in this way hope to get further advantage over the Welsh makers, who
rest content to be at the mercy of a few firms who play the double shuffle with American and
Welsh plates.

Welsh makers are certainly entitled to the price that will cover cost ; this they now fail
to get. Convinced at last that the tri6e represented by any possible reduction of wages is
valueless to help trade, they quietly close their works and cease producing. Of these works.
It can not be said that they are not modem works, for some of them are the best equipped
and most advantageously situated in the trade. When this is the case, it may be taken for
granted that the works going, except possibly those who have lately developed a new trade,
such as black plate, circles, etc., are making little profit. If this is correct, it would be cer-
tainly better for even tliese to work short time on a profit than full time at no profit. Then
here we have a case made out in favor of a general stoppage, for since the productive capac-
ity is more than is required, it becomes a general interest to divide what work there is among
all the mills, and for all to stop producing a sufficient period to deplete the market of the
plates of the surplus mills.

To the leaders of the men, the only course that suggests itself to improve
the deplorable state of things is a general stoppage, and, accordingly, notices
have issued this week as regards a large proportion of the operatives for the
termination of contracts; but it remains to be seen whether the response will
be an encouraging one. Personally, I am of opinion that, as it is notorious
that the union of the tin platers is far from what it should be and they have
suffered so much during the past year, large numbers will refuse their consent
to voluntary idleness, while a great many will be simply "out of work*' be-
cause they will have no work to do.

The quarterly meeting of the trade was held yesterday at Birmingham,
and the press report thereof is as follows :

The quarterly meeting on Thursday had not so large an attendance of Welsh makers ps
usual and bosiness was very tame. The result of continental, South African, and American
complications added to the uncertainties attending the course of American trade this year.
Seldom has the outlook been more difficult to decipher. Liverpool, London, and west of
England merchants gave out few orders, and American buyers were reported to be acting
with caution, like everyone else. Makers quoted cokes at 9s. 3d. to 9s. 4^d., Welsh merchants
offering 9s. to 9s. I^d.; Bessemer coke squares were 9s. 6d. to 9s. 9d.; Swansea and Sie-
mens, 9s. 9d, to los.; low-grade ch^u-coals were los. 3d. to ids. 6d., and superior, 13s. to 15s.
At this time last year cokes were 9s. 3d. to 9s. 4^d., buyers' prices. Wales Bessemer squares,
9s. 7^d. to 9s. 9d., and charcoals los. 9d. upwards. Just two years ago cokes were los. to
los. 3d. Swansea, or los. 4^d. Liverpool; charcoals were lis. to lis. 3d. Bessemer tin
bars were quoted to-day at /^^ 17s. 6d. lo £4- It is reassuring that the total exports of tin
plates last year were 12,000 tons in excess of 1894, l)eing nearly 366,000 tons, against nearly
354/300tons in 1S94. To America the shipments were almost equal to a year ago, namely,
223^000 Ions, against 226,800 tons in 1894. Next to America, Russia was the largest customer,
taking 30,000 tons, against 24,000 tons twelve months back. Other countries unenumerated
are classed next, with 27,400 tons. Australia and Canada each took 16,000 tons, an increase
respecting Australia of 4»ooo tons. The purchases of France were 13,000 tons, an increase of

Digitized by VjOOQIC


3,000 tons; and of Tnrlia, 1 1, 000 tons, an increase of over 3,000 tons. On the month Amer-
ica's purchases are down 3,300 tons compared with I )eceml3er last year, Imt on December,
1893, ^" increase of 7,000 tons.

Hopes are entertained that, in the near future, prices will advance from
8 to 12 cents per box, in which case, it is argued, a general stoppage will
not be deemed necessary, and that, moreover, there will be, at least, a pos-
sibility of men who, in several instances, are now paid at 20 per cent below
the standard list rate of 1874, obtaining a slight advance. It is notorious,
however, that there are at least a hundred too many mills in existence here,
and the argument put forward by the men is that the only possible remedy
is to check the output.

At the instance of the Llanelly Chamber of Commerce, the operators
have directed the attention of tea importers to the advantages, as regards
cost, weight, and size, and consequently freight, offered by tin-plate boxes
over the heavy, wooden, lead-lined chests which are generally in use; but, so
far, what change has been effected in this direction has been of a limited
character, and even if it becomes general, which is possible in the course
of years, the quantity of tin plate necessary for that purpose would not be
very considerable. But it has for several years past l>een recognized by all
concerned that the uncertainty of the American trade emphasized the need
of opening new markets, and now that the American demand has fallen off
to an enormous extent, salvation seems to be possible only in that direction.
Hitherto nothing has been done beyond talk as to what should be done, but
at last it promises to crystallize into action, for the formation of a public
company with 1 100,000 capital is contemplated.

The following circular has been posted to all the members of the Tin-
Plate Makers* Association of South Wales and Monmouthshire:

Swansea, January 7, iSg6.

Gf.nti-EMEN: I l:)eg to inform you that a provisional committee, appointed by the large
meeting on the 17th ultimo, met yesterday, and were unanimously of opinion that in order to
develop new markets it would be necessary to employ agents in China, India, Ceylon, Africa.
Australia, and other countries to promote generally the consumption of tin plates for packing
and domestic purposes.

It would most likely l^e necessary to supplant the foregoing by sending out experts and
machinery to illustrate economical methods of converting tin plates to various uses.

To do this work, a large sum of money would be required, and it was strongly felt that
unless the scheme was fully supported by the trade it could not be carried through.

After careful consideration the following resolutions were passed:

"That the committee recommends the formation of a company under the companies act,
1862, for the purpose of promoting the uses and consumption of tin plates.

" That the capital of the company \y& ;^20,ooo, in £^\ shares.

*' That the calls be 4s. per share at intervals of not less that twelve months."

I am instructed to request the favor of your attendance at a meeting to be held at the
Mackworth Arms Hotel, Swansea, on Tuesday, the 2lst instant, at 2.30 p. m., for the pur-
pose of adopting the alx)ve resolutions or otherwise ; and it is earnestly hoped that you will
make a \td\vi\, of l)eing present.

Youre faithfully, W. R. QUICK,

Secretary pro tern.

Digitized by VjOOQIC



This step should have been taken earlier, in view of the present depres-
sion ; moreover, the subscriptions, although to some extent already guarantied,
will not be obtainable so readily during the present bad times. It is to be
hoped, however, that enough money will be forthcoming for the purpose
indicated. Nevertheless, what is most urgently needed is immediate relief,
as ever since the fall set in the figures ruling have been ruinous, and it is
said that scarcely one of the works in the trade has been running regularly,
there being at present nearly 1 70 mills idle, with a prospect of an immediate
increase of the number.

The following figures are taken from the British Board of Trade and
Navigation returns for the month and year just ended :

Exports of tin plates and
sheets to—





Portugal* Azores, and Ma-
deira^ «.

Italy .«


United Sutes„


Argentine Republic

Briti&h East Indies


British North America

Other countries..


Month of December—




3. "5







5* I3>




/as. 484
7. '46

8, "3







Year ending December 31-












226, 323










MS. 524


Z340, 440

3». '46
33. "3



The falling off since 1892 has been enormous, and compared even with
1894 there has been a considerable decrease. It will be seen from the fore-
going that whereas the total decrease reaches ;^93,99i, the difference with
respect to the exports to the United States itself is no less than ^202,808.
In spite of this, the United States remains the leading customer, for she con-
sumes even now more than half of the tin plates exported from Great Britain.
I should state further that prior to 1895 black plate was included in the iron
and steel statistics, but the returns now show that during the year black plate
for tinning purposes was exported to the value of ;^339,22i, of which the
United States took ;£89,938.


Cardiff, January 10^ i8g6.

Digitized by VjOOQIC



The present situation of the tin-plate trade here lends emphasis to the
statements made in previous re|>orts which I have had the honor to submit,
and notably in my January report of this year, wherein I endeavored to show
that even those who had been most sanguine as to the future prospects of the
trade had been compelled to recognize the hopelessness of the case and the
utter futility of recovering the American market.

On the part of the operators, nothing has been attempted, even the board
of control, which was to have been formed, having failed to secure sufficient
support for its formation, and the latest intelligence with regard to combina-
tion or the absence of it, is that the South Wales Tin-Plate Makers' Asso-
ciation is being wound up, and that what funds remain are to be distributed
among the parties entitled thereto, according to the rules.

The phenomenal condition of things which has recently obtained is re-
sponsible for a spirited competition for concessions from the operatives, aini,
consequently, there is less uniformity of wages than was ever known before,
the motto of the masters evidently and indeed necessarily being "everyone
for himself." The same remark applies to the men, for in spite of the most
strenuous efforts made by the Tin-Platers' Union, they have not been brought
into line, so that, while here and there the operatives have refused to concede
more than lo per cent off the " 1874 list" of wages, considerably larger con-
cessions have been made in numerous instances and the poverty of the union
under present conditions has rendered it practically powerless.

At the annual council held a few days since, the organizing agent an-
nounced that of the 491 mills in the district, no less than 253 were idle, while
91 were being run at a 10 percent reduction of wages, 40 at 12^ per cent,
91 at 15 per cent, 6 at 20 per cent, 5 at 22^ per cent, and 5 at 25 per cent.
Yesterday, settlements were effected at two of the leading works at 15 per
cent, work to be resumed next week; and I hear of similar arrangements
elsewhere. Therefore, it is probable that the number of idle mills will, to a
small extent, be reduced immediately. But it must be obvious to everybody
that there are too many mills for the trade. Allowing fully for the depres-
sion which exists, the American market has, to a great extent, been lost,
without any hope of its return, while, on the other hand, the mills were never
too few in number, and, under any circumstances, a considerable proportion
will no longer be required.

The local press has been very much exercised with regard to the woeful
plight in which all concerned in the tm-plate trade find themselves, and
many a wiseacre has wasted ink in trying to show causes and suggest reme-
dies. One hears less now, by the way, about American politics and the
awful disasters about to befall all engaged in building up the trade in the
United States; and what I have repeatedly urged is being brought home to
the minds of the people here — that American enterprise, skill, and ingenuity

Digitized by VjOOQIC


will oltiTftately meet all American demands with regard to tin plates, as has
been the case with steel rails.

There is a great deal of pathos in the case of a decaying industry, and one
can not refrain from sympathizing with the thousands of workmen and those
dependent on them who are forced to suffer want. I have seen it stated that
even in the record year 1891 (when an immense quantity of plates was con-
signed to the United States for entry before the McKinley Act came into
force), the 510 mills which, by that time, had come into existence had an
estimated production of no less than 14,000,000 boxes, whereas the demand
barely exceeded 11,000,000 boxes. At that time, there was money in the
business, and a large number of new mills had been erected to serve the
halcyon period. Certain it is, that there are now nearly twice as many mills
as are needed, and it is not surprising, therefore, that the decision of the tin
platers to enforce a general stoppage in March was not carried into effect.
This decision was arrived at in a convention which was described as being
the most important ever held in the history of the trade, and in the report
adopted it was estimated that 55 mills were then idle and 4,600 men out of
employment in consequence. Since then, the number of idle mills has been
nearly quadrupled. The report in question goes on to say that "we have it
on good authority that American production of tin plates during the year
1895 ^^ some 2,000,000 boxes, equal to the work of about 70 of our mills;
therefore, if no tin plates had been produced in America, our productive
power even then would be in excess of the demands of the world. Thus we
ex.plain the large number of mills idle." Again, "we hold that any reduc-
tion of wages in Wales would be followed by a larger reduction in America,
and our position would be injured rather than improved." The report then
goes on to suggest that an understanding was desirable with the employers
to make wages uniform, and adds, ** the wiser course, in our opinion, is to
arrange for periodical stoppages."

But the effort proved abortive, because large numbers of the workmen
refused to join the movement. Since then (a few days ago) the labor leaders
decided upon inviting the makers to confer with them, and the Western
Mail (a local daily paper) discusses the proposed joint convention as follows:

Wc congratulate the Ttn-Plate Workers' Union of South Wales and Monmouthshire.
They sat all day on Saturday at Swansea, and bad the courage to again face their difficulties.
It wanted the iisem bodied and distributed soul of a Mark Tapley anK>ng that council to ena-
ble them to cheerfully talk about this thing once more for hours, and then to arrange for and
hope much from a "conference." It may truly be said of the tin-plate oi^anization in these
latter days that ** of the making of conferences there is no end." We only wish we could
bdp them to bear their burdens by laying our finger upon any one conference in the past
which has produced any result. It. would be cheering to point to past instances of cooperation
among "merchants, masters, and men" — yes, the merchants, those who, according to the pres-
ident, ruined the trade, are to be in it thb time — and to say that solid amity and mutual
consideration for the welfare of the trade have ever prevailed in such a case. One thing,
too, is clear — ^never were masters and men more hopelessly apart than at present, for there
is no inducement in the shape of orders to bring them together. Masters do not bother their
heads iAwat men when they have no work, or, at least, no remunerative work, on hand.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Neither in America nor in England is there anything doing in the trade. The depression is
as dark and terrible as the Stygian pit, and men and masters have settled down to a Procrus-
tean bed. From figures produced on Saturday, less than half the mills are working, and at
these the reductions vary from I o to 25 per cent on the old list, showing that there is utter
absence of discipline, order, or control. Men like Sir John Jones Jenkins and Mr. Williams
declare the latter reduction the only possible one. The men confess their hopelessness to
regulate matters without "substantially augmenting their funds" — a point which sounds like
a little tinkling war alarm, but in reality is only another sad instance of impotence and hope-
lessness. The net result of Saturday's meeting is intended to be distinctly amicable. A
meeting of masters and men to regulate wages and bring about some fair standard might be
of use, but this is to be a conference of all sections, for the purpose of trying to " recover the
trade, which is fast leaving the country.'* There is little to be expected, we fear, from such
a conference, but it may be as well to see once more whether mutual adversity, which makes
strange bedfellows, will bring these very peculiar ones together, and whether out of their
woes may accidentally spring some useful suggestion on this at present seemingly hopeless
question. Let them confer; it won't do any barm, at any rate.

The best that can be said of the foregoing observations is that they offer
but cold comfort.

Sir John Jones Jenkins, M. P., who has for many years past been one
of the most prominent among the manufacturers, recently issued a circiilar
to the creditors of the Cwmfelin works, of which he was the chief proprie-
tor, intimating that work would not be resumed owing to the bad condition
of trade, and in a speech he blamed employers more than the men for the
present position, and deplored the fact that masters are so jealous of each
other that they can not be induced to take combined action for the benefit
of the trade as a whole by way of regulating prices and abstaining from
overstocking the market. The men he blamed, or rather their leaders, for
consenting to varied wage concessions. It is significant that this gentleman
has announced his retirement from a business in which he has been inter-
ested all his life simply that he may escape the anxieties which it involves.
Most people appear to have lost heart, and nothing is being done to speak
of by way of opening up new markets, the attempt to form an association
with that object in view having failed simply because a large proportion of
the makers refused to subscribe toward its funds.

Everything now points to continued depression for some time to come,
and the day is approaching when only such works as are abreast of the times
in turning out plates at the minimum cost can be run, for the survival of
only the fittest will be possible.

Nothing has occasioned so much surprise to me throughout this tin-plate
district as the restricted local use of the products of this national industry,
which is allowed to remain to a great extent dependent upon the enterprise
of foreign customers. In roofing, this is very noticeable, presumably be-
cause Welsh slates are abundant and give full satisfaction as regards quality.
But now that slates are being sent to Cardiff from Slatington, Pa., the fact
has forced itself upon the tin-plate manufacturers that there must be good
reason for the popularity of the terne roof in the United States, and at last
the idea of encouraging the use of terne at home is being seriously enter-

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 188-191 → online text (page 11 of 102)