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History of the Strike

When does the history of the miners' strike really start? There are many factors which contributed to the complex situation preceding the strike.

 

Does it start with the Ridley Plan in 1977 -- the plan in which Nicholas Ridley set out the guidelines for a future conservative government to take on the trade unions, the weakest first, the strongest last? Much of the detail of the strategy we saw in the miners' strike – the build-up of coal stocks, the use of the police, the use of lorries to transport coal – was prefigured in the Ridley Plan.

 

Or does the history of the strike really start with the election of the Tories in 1979? Or with the infamous cabinet minute shortly afterwards, which spoke of the ability to massively increase reliance on nuclear power in order to minimise the industrial and political strength of the National Union of Mineworkers? Was the strike the inevitable Tory revenge for their defeats at the hands of the miners in 1972 and 1974?

 

Could the strike really be traced back to the election of Arthur Scargill as President of the NUM – an almost unique trade union leader whose commitment to fight for the policies of the NUM Conference was utterly unswerving?

 

Many people would say that the setbacks suffered by other major trade unions – the steel workers, ASLEF over flexible rostering, the Health Service workers, and the NGA in the Warrington Messenger dispute – gave the clear indication that neither the TUC leadership nor the Parliamentary Opposition had recognised the outright confrontation being provoked by the government nor had the guts to stand up to it. Moreover, the experience of the trial runs in those disputes showed that the use of the police and the courts against working people would be grudgingly tolerated by some of the Labour movement's leadership. It could be argued that it was then inevitable that Mrs Thatcher would see the NUM as a prize to be coveted and the stronghold of the miners as a bastion to be stormed.

 

Or could one identify the appointment of Ian MacGregor as the moment at which the strike became inevitable? Given his record at British Leyland (appointed by a Labour government) and later at the British Steel Corporation, it was quite clear that he was appointed by the Prime Minister as Chairman of the National Coal Board with a mandate to butcher the mining industry.

 

In an immediate sense, the strike was provoked with MacGregor's announcement that another 4 million tonnes of capacity – leading to a loss of 20,000 jobs – was to be taken out of the industry, and then announcements of the closure of Cortonwood Colliery and the four other pits under immediate threat at that time, without reference to established procedure for closures.

No-one should have been surprised at this development. Arthur Scargill had repeatedly warned of the government's intentions and of the NCB hit lists, and he was right.

 

Indeed, it is instructive to note how many times what appeared to be key Government and NCB arguments against the NUM subsequently turned out to be issues on which the NUM was proved correct. One only has to trace the propaganda offensive that accompanied the NACODS agreement', with Mrs Thatcher and Peter Walker continually urging the NUM to settle on a similar basis. But the NACODS leadership rapidly recognized that their agreement was worthless. And in the spate of pit closures which followed the end of the strike, none was subjected to the new independent review procedure which had been hailed as a great breakthrough by the Government in the NACODS agreement.

 

An even longer historical memory will find it staggering that the Tory inspired issue of a ballot could be turned into such a serious matter by the NCB and the government – and unfortunately by some leading members of the Labour Party and that it could be used by Mrs Thatcher's friendly Tory judges as a basis for Common Law decisions against the NUM at National and Area levels. All this despite the fact that under Joe Gormley's leadership, the National Executive of the union defied a National Conference decision and a national ballot that went overwhelmingly against productivity deals, and allowed the Nottinghamshire Area to negotiate such a deal with the NCB. And all this despite the fact that a High Court judge had responded to the South Wales and Kent Areas of the union by ruling that ballots and conference decisions in no way bound the union's executive.

 

Any serious study of the strike will have to conclude that the strike was not about ballots, not about violence, not about trade unions and the law, but about jobs and communities. In a sense, it was remarkable that so many could struggle for so long and for no gain to themselves. It was not a selfish strike, but one based on the finest principles of the strong defending the weak. And as time passes, it becomes increasingly more obvious that the miners were right to make their stand; week by week, it becomes increasingly more apparent that it is the clear intention of the NCB and the government to achieve the destruction of the mining industry, the miners' union and in turn to deal a mortal blow to organised resistance by working people to their policies of the New Right.

 

And no historical view could fail to observe the unique situation of a major national trade union being put into Receivership, deprived of all its funds, and operating for over a year on the basis of goodwill and donations from sympathisers and supporters in the Labour Movement. The ability of a Conservative government to get away with such a threatened elimination of its opponents will he something which for many years to come will lead people to ask why the wider trade union and Labour movement could have allowed such things to happen without retaliation.

 

Before the miners' strike, there was a view that was becoming increasingly fashionable, particularly among those who talk of a re-alignment of the Left, that class struggle was a thing of the past.

 

We even heard it said that the present generation of industrial workers, including miners, many with mortgages, hire purchase commitments, foreign holidays and cars, would never again endure a strike of such length and proportions. The miners' strike showed that such a view was nonsense. Not only did the miners themselves, particularly the younger miners, show an almost historically unparalleled determination to win, but another remarkable phenomenon of the strike was the equal determination of the women of the mining communities to participate shoulder to shoulder with their menfolk.

 

If the leadership of the Labour Party, the TUC, and the leading unions, had looked after their own class – the working class – in the way that Thatcher and the Tories looked after their class, the outcome of that strike – and British society – would have been quiite, quite different. Had they chosen instead a commitment to those in active struggle, then future historians might have recorded that the 1984-85 miners' strike was the beginning of the end of the Thatcher government and all that it stood for. Instead, it marked the beginning of the end for British manufacuring. The miners showed that resistance is possible, and the determined manner in which that resistance was crushed by a Tory Party showed clearly how it was intent on maintaining the last vestiges of a capitalist society.

 

Other working people joined that resistance, hoping for the transformation of society to one based on the commonwealth of working people and their families. It was not to be, and Thatcherism and its evil offspring, New Labour, have wreaked havoc on working communities ever since.

 

 

Strike Chronology

 

The Events leading to the overtime ban in November 1983 and the subsequent miners' strike for jobs in 1984-85.

 

Before the Strike

27 SEPTEMBER 1983 – NUM submits annual pay claim.

29 SEPTEMBER 1983 – NCB gives written negative reply to the Union's claim, adding that before their offer of a 5.2 % could be accepted: "first over-production of high cost capacity must be eliminated".

21 OCTOBER 1983 – NUM Special Delegate Conference unanimously agreed:

                                    (1) to reject the Board's wage proposals as total unsatisfactory;

 

                                    (2) to reaffirm the Union's opposition to pit closures other than on grounds of exhaustion and to fight any further reduction                                            in manpower levels and to resist NCB and Government plans to close 70 pits over the coming five year period;

 

                                    (3) to impose a full overtime ban from 31st October.

27 OCTOBER 1983 – NCB reaffirms their demands.

31 OCTOBER 1983 – Overtime ban started.

1 MARCH 1984 NCB – announces the closure of Cortonwood Colliery in Yorkshire and announce a cut back of 4 million tonnes of coal in the forthcoming year with a loss of 20,000 jobs.

The Strike

5 MARCH 1984 – Strike starts in Yorkshire in protest, following an overwhelming mandate for a ballot vote to take industrial action to protect jobs and mining communities.

6 MARCH 1984 – Scottish and Yorkshire Areas of the NUM call strike action. By 12th March half of the miners on strike nationally.

14 MARCH 1984 – The National Reporting Centre, at the request of the Nottingham Police drafts 8,000 police officers into the county from half of the 43 forces in Britain. Court rules that Yorkshire NUM must withdraw flying pickets.

15 MARCH 1984 – David Jones, miner aged 23, killed whilst picketing in Ollerton, Notts.

18 MARCH 1984 – Kent miners stopped by police and turned hack at the Dartford Tunnel. Police occupy army camps in Nottinghamshire.

19 MARCH 1984 – Yorkshire NUM arising from litigation under Tory anti-trade union legislation found to be in contempt of court (postponed indefinitely). NUM members picket 27 Notts pits and peacefully persuade their colleagues to join the strike action. Police decide to blockade the county of Nottinghamshire.

26 MARCH 1984 – Lancashire NUM joins strike. NUM President Arthur Scargill appears in High Court fighting to ensure investment of NUM pension funds in Britain.

28 MARCH 1984 – Yorkshire miners block a section of the M1 motorway.

29 MARCH 1984 – Transport unions impose ban on the movement of coal, partially successfully. Nurses join the picket lines in South Wales.

3-9 APRIL 1984 – Food kitchens open in every coalfield.

10 APRIL 1984- Emergency debate in the House of Commons on the role of the police in the strike.

11 APRIL 1984 – Pit Deputies vote to join strike.

19 APRIL 1984 – NUM Special Conference ratifies strike action in the Areas and calls on all miners to rally to the defence of their industry.

20 APRIL 1984 – Notts and Midlands NUM decide to join strike.

26 APRIL 1984 – High Court says 'No' to NUM policy on investment of pension funds in Britain.

2 MAY 1984 – CEGB figures show more oil being used to counterbalance coal shortage.

4 MAY 1984 – Didcot and Aberthaw power stations shut down.

17 MAY 1984- Leon Brittan admits in Parliament plain clothes police operating in Notts coalfield.

23 MAY 1984 – NCR walks out of talks with NUM and demand pledge of union co-operation in the closing of 'uneconomic pits'.

25 MAY 1984 – Full-scale picketing at the Orgreave coke works. Nottinghamshire scab miners obtain a court order which allows them to continue working, but which declares that those on strike were striking officially.

29 MAY 1984 – Approximately 2,000 police use riot gear, horses and baton charges to take coke lorries through picket lines into Orgreave, even though coke workers join picket line.

30 MAY 1984 – Major confrontations at the Orgreave picket. 82 arrests including Arthur Scargill. 62 injured.

31 MAY 1984 – Approximately 3,200 police in riot gear at Orgreave from 13 area police forces force major confrontation with unarmed strikers.

31 MAY 1984 – Further conflict at Orgreave. 19 arrests, 20 people injured including 5 police officers.

7 JUNE 1984 – Commons debate on the miners strike. Thousands march to lobby Parliament. 100 arrests.

8-13 JUNE 1984 – Talks with NCR, which again result in demands on NUM to agree to management strategy.

15 JUNE 1984 – Joe Green, miner, crushed to death on picket duty at Ferry Bridge.

18 JUNE 1984 – The battle of Orgreave, where police run amok. 93 arrests, many miners injured including Arthur Scargill.

27 JUNE 1984 – Over 50,000 people march in support of the NUM. NCR announces switch of movement of coal from rail to road.

1 JULY 1984 – Leon Brittan endorses use of Criminal Law rather than Civil Law against the miners.

5 JULY 1984 – NCB/NUM talks, agreed to talk again.

6 JULY 1984- NCR management visits NUM members at home encouraging them back to work.

8 JULY 1984 – High Court declares NUM Annual Conference unlawful. National dock strike called against the movement of coal.

13 JULY 1984 – Government withholds tax refunds to striking miners.

19 JULY 1984 NUM/NCB talks last 3 days. Despite NUM willingness to negotiate, the NCB are ordered to stand firm.

31 JULY 1984 – South Wales NUM fined £50,000 under Tory anti-trade union legislation on picketing.

8 AUGUST 1984 – Trades Unions press for a 50p a week levy in support of NUM. MacGregor writes to all striking miners urging a return to work.

11 AUGUST 1984 – Petition handed to the Queen on the plight of striking miners and their families.

13 AUGUST 1984 – Police refuse to cooperate with the National Council for Civil Liberties regarding policing of the strike.

16 AUGUST 1984 – South Wales NUM found in contempt of court for refusing to pay fine in line with TUC Wembley Conference policy. £770,000 of their funds seized. NCB warns of large job losses in mining due to pits deteriorating.

23 AUGUST 1984 – MacGregor offers working miners 5.2% increase if they agree to work overtime.

24 AUGUST 1984 – Second dock strike called following the unloading of coal at Hunterstone.

3 SEPTEMBER 1984 – TUC pledges support for the NUM.

12 SEPTEMBER 1984 – TUC attempts to organise talks between the NUM and the NCB. NACODS ballot to strike over                                                 instructions to cross picket lines.

18 SEPTEMBER 1984 – Three-week dock strike called off.

26 SEPTEMBER 1984 – NCB offers NACODS compromise package.

28 SEPTEMBER 1984 – High Court rules that NUM cannot be forced to hold national ballot. NACODS ballot result                                                       announced – 82.5% majority for strike.

29 SEPTEMBER 1984 – NCB/NUM agree to hold separate exploratory talks.

1 OCTOBER 1984 – Overwhelming support for the NUM at the Labour Party Conference, whilst NUM/NACODS meet NCB. President served with a High Court writ whilst sitting in the NUM delegation. The NEC of the NUM reaffirm that the strike action was official despite court decision.

2 OCTOBER 1984 – NUR/ASLEF members sent home for refusing to move coal.

4 OCTOBER 1984 – Despite NUM lawyers arguing that the case should go to a full trial the High Court gives NUM 5 days to obey the interlocutory injunction and to call the strike off.

8 OCTOBER 1984 – NUM/NCB agree to meet at ACAS under independent Chair on 11 October.

10 OCTOBER 1984 – NUM fined £200,000 and found in contempt of High Court.

11 OCTOBER 1984 – ACAS talks begin, although Ian MacGregor declares of ACAS 'This place stinks' and continues to demand NUM concessions.

12 OCTOBER 1984 – Restrictive bail conditions on striking members upheld in the Divisional Courts.

15 OCTOBER 1984 – Despite NUM willing to accept two formulas put forward by ACAS, the negotiations are terminated when NCR walk out.

17 OCTOBER 1984 – NACODS call strike for 25th October.

20 OCTOBER 1984 – Michael Eaton replaces MacGregor in NCB public relations role.

25 OCTOBER 1984 – ACAS prepare formula which both NACODS and NUM accept and which includes provision for an independent review procedure. The NCB continue their demands on NUM and despite TUC advice NACODS call off strike. Courts attempt to seize £200,000 NUM funds.

26 OCTOBER 1984 – NUM rejects NCB demands. High Court orders total sequestration of NUM funds.


28 OCTOBER 1984 – Court moves to makes 24 members of the NUM executive liable for the £200,000 contempt fine.

1 NOVEMBER 1984 – MacGregor says: 'There is no basis for further talks with the NUM'.

2 NOVEMBER 1984 – NCB offers miners a back to work cash bonus.

4 NOVEMBER 1984 – Sequestrator obtains an injunction from Irish Judge on a Sunday afternoon in his home to freeze NUM funds deposited in Eire.

5 NOVEMBER 1984 – Legal action sought in the High Court to prevent Yorkshire Area NUM officers from control of their funds.

7 NOVEMBER 1984 – NUM resist Sequestrator's application to return union assets to UK and Dublin Court rules £2.75 million NUM funds remain frozen and not given to Sequestrator.

10 NOVEMBER 1984 – Transport unions call on International support to mount blockade of coal and oil shipments to the UK.

11 NOVEMBER 1984 – NCB offers £650 Christmas bonus to striking miners who return to work by 19th November.

17 NOVEMBER 1984 – NCB refuses to negotiate unless NUM gives agreement to close pits.

21 NOVEMBER 1984 – Government increases deduction of supplementary benefits to £16 per week for strikers' families.

28 NOVEMBER 1984 – TUC General Council seeks talks with government over Miners strike.

30 NOVEMBER 1984 – Arising out of failure to seize the Union's overseas assets a Receiver appointed to control NUM assets and funds. Mr. Brewer, a Tory Party official from Derbyshire starts his abortive trek to get NUM money.

5 DECEMBER 1984 – MacGregor announces plans to privatise pits.

9 DECEMBER 1984 – Receiver and Sequestrator try to seize £4.6 million NUM funds from Luxembourg but again the NUM application successfully freezes the account.

17 DECEMBER 1984 – MacGregor dashes TUC peace hopes.

 

12 JANUARY 1985 – Henry Richardson (pro-strike leader Notts NUM) suspended from office.

22 JANUARY 1985 – Challenge to the government's right to deduct £16 from supplementary benefits paid to striking miners families. Failed in the High Court.

23 JANUARY 1985 – Peter Walker, Secretary of State for Energy, refuses to hold an independent inquiry into the future of the coal industry. NUM General Secretary, Peter Heathfield, meets with NCB Director for informal discussions but MacGregor intervenes to prevent negotiations.

29 JANUARY 1985 – NCB insists upon the precondition that NUM sign agreement not to oppose pit closures.

1 FEBRUARY 1985 – Full hearing of case starts in Dublin High Court on possession of £2.7 million of NUM funds frozen by earlier court order.

8 FEBRUARY 1985 – Joint appeal by NUM and NACODS to reopen talks.

13 FEBRUARY 1985 – High Court order approved banning mass picketing in Yorkshire pits.

22 FEBRUARY 1985 – TUC initiative to end strike fails.

24 FEBRUARY 1985 – Mass rally in London – many arrests.

28 FEBRUARY 1985 – MacGregor pledges that sacked miners will not be re-employed.

3 MARCH 1985 – NUM ends strike. A Special Delegate Conference votes by 98-91 to return to work on 5th March 1985 without an agreement.

5 MARCH 1985 – Kent miners stay in strike and continue to picket other coalfields to demand amnesty for sacked miners.

8 MARCH 1985 – Kent miners return to work.

After the Strike

22 MAY 1985 – NUM appears before Select Committee of the House of Commons on Employment. The Committee required the NCB to review all cases of sacked miners.

18 JUNE 1985 – Irish High Court dismisses Sequestrator's application to return NUM funds to Britain.

 

SUMMER 1985 – an initial vote to form the Union of Democratic Miners (UDM) was taken by Notts miners. Advice on how to form the UDM is given by Tony Blair's former flatmate Charles Falconer, later given the job of Lord Chancellor by Blair in his New Labour government elected in 1997 (see newsletter for May 2005 in the 'Newsletters' section of this website).

 

1 SEPTEMBER 1985 – TUC Congress adopts resolution calling for a campaign for the re-instatement of victimised miners and repayment of the fine costs of NUM relating to sequestration and receivership.

1 OCTOBER 1985 – Labour Party Conference adopts a composite resolution calling for repayment of cost of sequestration and a campaign for victimised miners.

28 OCTOBER 1985 – NUM holds Special Delegate Conference in London and agrees to support a campaign for all sacked/victimised miners as a result of the dispute. The National Justice for Mineworkers Campaign is born, and is formally launched at a massive rally and concert at the Albert Hall, London, in October  1986. And we are still here.

 

6 DECEMBER 1985 – the UDM is formally inaugurated, consisting overwhelmingly of miners who scabbed during the strike.

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