Category Archives: Culture

The Little Things

My curse is that I was just old enough to remember. Just old enough to let it mark me. Through to the bone. Forever. It both trapped and liberated me. And, for good or ill, I’ve never gotten over it. And not only do I think I never will, I long ago admitted that I don’t want to. It started on my 17th birthday and it ended on my 18th. To the very day.

I was just old enough to be full of romance, wind and piss and a heart-breaking, unshakeable black-and-white view of the world. Make of that what you will.

I’m into the second bottle now, so make whatever allowances a decent person would but Christ, I could and do, from time to time still; weep. It wasn’t just the power; the pride; the collective sense of us against them; but the little things. The smell of the Welfare on a Saturday night. Covers band in the Big Room. Dominoes in the bar with all the hard-talking, hard-drinking, best goddamn bar-room philosophers anyone ever met.

There was this Sunday dinner session, one time. The football lads rolled back in after their game. We were playing cards. Cuecan, I think it was. Fucking terrible game, if you ask me. But try shifting a bunch of miners from a time-honoured tradition like the choice of card game in the Welfare. But we’ve always played cue can.

So there’s me, Mog, Davey, Ronnie and Les at our usual table when young Gary bounced up. Nineteen, swaggering and grinning like life existed solely for his pleasure. Even by his usual standards he was unusually pleased with himself. Ronnie eyed him suspiciously. “What’re you looking so smug about?” he asked. Gary sipped his pint, smirked and said, “I’m moving in wi’ ahr Gert on Monday. We’ve gorra  place in ‘ucknall.”
“And that’s a cause for celebration, is it?” enquired Les.
“fuckin’ ell, is it ever! Can’t wait, mate. Gonna be ace. Fry-ups for brekker every day and blow-jobs on tap!” cackled the soft twat.
I choked on my pint and managed to splutter, “If you really think…” before a sharp and brutally-placed elbow buried itself in my ribs. I glared at the owner of the elbow, Mog, my father-in-law. “Shut it,” he growled. “No one warned us. Why should he get away easy with it?”
I smirked then.
See? The little things.

Like the blue chips under your dad’s skin and the confusing combo of uncompromising defiance but resigned humour that poured off him in waves. The freezing, bitter winter mornings and the squabbles we had about whose turn it was to get up five minutes before the others and haul the coal and kindling in from the bunker; so it was all ready for the auld man when he came down to fire it up.

Like years after he’d died coming across an old and faded ‘Coal Not Dole’ badge, all greasy and dusty, at the back of a kitchen drawer. Complete with his dried blood still crusted into it. From Orgreave. Thirty-somehing years before. And it still moving you to tears of sadness and anger.

Like polishing his ‘Loyal To The Last’ badge – the medal of honour for working class warriors – with the reverence veterans of ancient conflicts bring to their medals and ribbons.

Like staggering home pissed on a Saturday night, kebab in hand, and – just for a second – a brief panic that, somehow, you’ve got lost. Because the headstocks have vanished. And then remembering that they aren’t there anymore. That they haven’t been there since 1993 when Michael fucking Heseltine closed us down.

Like picking up your eighteen year-old daughter and two of her pals from their shift at Sports Direct and listening to them going on about how badly they’re treated. Feeling the rage building as you interrupt and almost shout, “Join a bloody union, then. Get protected and fight the bastards!” The confusion, the disorientation, the feeling that you’re an alien in an alien land when one of them responds, in all seriousness, “what’s a union, then?”

Like wishing, with all your heart, like you’ve never wished for anything before as much as you do now, that you could wind it back to the start; that you could go back and lose all over again. Because even losing is better than not fighting at all.

See? The little things…

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More Raw Material

MRMMy career as a writer was preceded by a (more successful) career as a drinker and a (considerably less successful) stab at gambling. That lack of success increased exponentially when I combined the two. I’ve often wondered if there was a correlation. But I digress.

The point is, is that during those earlier incarnations I first encountered the work of Alan Sillitoe. I’d been hammered mercilessly in a brutal game of three-card brag, in a dive, somewhere on the outskirts of Nottingham. For those who don’t know the game, imagine, if you will, cards as close-quarter combat. This would make poker the graceful pinnacle of Shaolin Kung Fu and three card brag a pub brawl. With broken bottles and sawn-off pool cues. Especially if you play the insane can’t-see-a-blindman rule. But again, you’ll notice, I digress.

I’d suffered the bad beat from hell. Three aces running into a prile of threes. You’ll play your entire life and never even see one of those hands, never mind two, head-to-head, in the same game. Rigged? Aye, it crossed my mind.

Anyway, the aftermath of that sorry event saw me swaying under the impact of much whisky, in front of the piss-trough, ineffectually fumbling and scrabbling for my tackle. During my exertions I closed one eye and attempted to focus on the graffiti, virtually filling the entire wall above the urinal. “All I’m out for is a good time – all the rest is propaganda” was the message that caught my eye. It was signed A. Seaton. So now you know.

That was the start. Aged sixteen, in 1983, still smarting, five years down the line from our overnight flit from Alloa in Scotland to Nottinghamshire in England. Maybe it was the way Sillitoe made the Nottinghamshire towns important characters in their own right that chimed with my teenage angst; resentful, alienated and exiled, trying to make sense of this strange land in which I was a stranger. Sillitoe gave me a map; of the places, the people, their characters and the things that shaped them. It was the start of my peace with Nottinghamshire and, eventually, my love affair with that most contradictory of places. Literary giants sharing their history with working class heroes like the tiny band of striking Notts miners who braved scorn and brutality. Their opposite numbers who sold their children’s birthright for the hollow promises of Tory ministers and the class enemy’s shilling. The pitiless drug dealers and gunmen that saw ‘Scab City’ renamed ‘Shottingham.’ Aye, if it’s contrast, diversity and opposites you want, Nottingham has them in abundance.

Yes, Alan and I go back a long way and so it was with great pride I accepted the invitation of co-editors Neil Fullwood and Alan’s son, David, to contribute to More Raw Material: Work Inspired By Alan Sillitoe.

Like most writers, I have The Stuff That I Do and…other stuff. Stuff that never sees the light of day. My usual gig of music journalism and political commentary seemed a poor fit for the book. And I’d always laboured under an inferiority complex anyway. Oh sure, non-fiction – which is what pays my bills – is noble and intellectual and valid. But as someone who constantly battles my inner reader to pipe down and let my outer writer get on with the job of keeping a roof over my family’s head, I’d always held the sneaking suspicion that fiction writers, novelists, poets (like Neil), people who told stories, were proper writers. So I had a go and sent it in. A short story. Not brilliant, but, I believe, one that does chime nicely with the spirits of More Raw Material and of David’s father. I’d never deny the influence of Alan and where better than in such a volume to let that influence take me where it may? So I did.

It’s a marvellous volume. Rich, diverse and eclectic. It contains photography, illustrations, poetry, travelogue, memoir, short fiction and much else. It’s a fitting tribute to a writer who knew no limits to his art and whose work covered all the above and more.

At the launch of the book, hosted by Five Leaves Bookshop, I was asked to read my contribution and it was an honour and a privilege. A full house enjoyed readings from talented poets Maria Taylor, Harry Gallagher and Henry Normal, non-fiction from Robert Kenchington and more. David concluded the evening in a moving tribute to his late father by reading a selection of his most powerful poems.

Published by Lucifer Press, More Raw Material is available from Five Leaves Bookshop, The Music Exchange, Rough Trade, the Tourism Centre, The Sparrow’s Nest in St Anns and The Bookcase in Lowdham and directly from co-editors Neil Fulwood and David Sillitoe. Tweet @lucifer_press

Down By the Seaside

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If they’re black send them back
If they’re brown let them drown
If they’re white then they’re alright
‘British values’ shining bright

One dead child upon a beach
Now forever out of reach
Of castles built upon the sand
Of a warm and welcome hand

Lorries steal their last breath
Exchanging dignity for death
Fortress Europe keeps them out
While politicians scream and shout

Of migrant hordes swarming here
Feed the hatred, feed the fear
Of losing all you that you have got
So stuff the darkies, fuck the lot

You need your telly and your ‘phone
So why don’t you just call home
To where humanity once did dwell
Instead of living in this hell

Where you’d deny a child his life
A son, a father, mother, wife
Eton toffs stand coldly by
While people queue up just to die

Terror, death, their stock in trade
The awful sandcastles they have made

I Met My Baby in the GDR

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I met my baby in the GDR
She had a hammer and a sickle and a red guitar.
She played Actually Existing Rock ‘n’ Roll,
That sweet little comrade stole my soul.
She taught me Marx and the twelve-bar blues,
And how Lenin was a riff that the class could use.
She was the cutest little tankie that I ever did see
Got me dreamin’ ‘bout shooting the bourgeoisie.
She had a brother in the Stasi; that cat was cold,
Aint no one knew him ever grew old.
He told my baby we gotta go our separate ways,
But then the wall came down and he cried for days.
Now here we all are in the capitalist West,
All very democratic but we don’t feel blessed.
Yeah, now we’re free to have no job,
And free to run from the right-wing mob.
It wasn’t ever heaven; I’d never go that far,
But it wasn’t all bad in the GDR.

Book Launch: Making Plans for Nigel

MakingPlans-flyer

So the new book is done and you are cordially invited to its official launch at Five Leaves Bookshop on Wednesday April 8th, 6.00pm – 7.00pm. Full details here.

Although not officially available til April 1st from the usual international online tax dodging emporiums, it’s out now from Five Leaves if you just can’t contain your excitement and wait another moment.

It’d be great to see you in Nottingham on the 8th. Immigrants, Muslims, women, breast-feeding mothers, polish plumbers, Romanians and even UKIP supporters are welcome…

Chapter 15: A View to a Kill – Part 3

On March 5th it will be exactly thirty years since Britain’s miners marched back to work at the end of their titanic struggle to preserve their jobs and communities. Thirty years since I ‘celebrated’ my eighteenth birthday by weeping into my pint in a now long-closed miners’ welfare.

To commemorate the occasion I’ll be posting excerpts, up to March 5th, from the chapter in my book, Look Back in Anger: the Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire – 30 Years On (print edition available here and e book here) that deals with the end of the strike and its aftermath. Here’s the final part.

Chapter 15: A View to a Kill: Part 3

Paul Whetton was eventually sacked from Bevercotes for his union activity. He, too, had pinned various pro-NUM materials to the notice board. “We took his case to a tribunal,” says Richardson, “and we won. The judge said he should be reinstated. It were blatant discrimination for trade union activity.” The NCB only partially obeyed the ruling with Whetton transferred out to Manton colliery instead of going back to Bevercotes. “The first day at Manton there were a strike on so his first day there, he goes on bloody strike!” laughs Richardson. “He said, ‘brilliant pit! This’ll do me!’ He were a right bogger, were Paul.”    Whetton’s and Eric Eaton’s experiences contrasted vividly with those of their UDM counterparts. NCB management had facilitated the breakaway union visiting South Wales pits on a recruitment drive. With management’s assistance, UDM recruitment material was placed into the locker of every miner at the various pits they visited.

Initially, Nottinghamshire NUM membership grew steadily. “I’m sure that’s why they shut Newstead,” says Stanley. “We were getting really close to a majority at that pit and that terrified ‘em. Mind you, it was the men that shut Newstead. They had a ballot in 1987 to vote on whether the pit stayed open and they voted to shut it.” NUM members boycotted the ballot as, in Stanley’s words, “Ray told us, and I totally agreed with him, what right had we to vote a younger man out of a job?” Refusing to give legitimacy to the process, while understandable and principled, left a clear field for those who wanted out and the pit closed in 1987.

Stanley worked tirelessly to rebuild his beloved NUM in the County. Elected as President of the Nottinghamshire Area, on Chadburn’s retirement in 1992, he combined his full-time job at the pit with the Area Presidency after hours. Sixteen to twenty hour days were the norm and, for a period, without any union pay as the Area simply couldn’t afford to employ another full-time official. Slowly, bit by bit, due entirely to the commitment and loyalty of Stanley, Eaton and others, the NUM regained a footing in Nottinghamshire.

It was tough going as the new generation of NUM militants battled not just the UDM but bribes from the NCB. After a year on strike, part of NCB strategy was to offer enhanced redundancy terms with an even greater one-off bonus if men left before a certain date. Thereafter, the enhanced element of the package would be withdrawn. A combination of bribery and blackmail saw even previously loyal NUM stalwarts taking the cash and getting out. Demoralisation was rife and many had simply had enough. Some of the sums on offer were enormous. Upwards of £80,000 wasn’t unusual.

David Amos agrees that this was a major factor both in Nottinghamshire’s decision not to strike in the first place and in the rapid run-down of the coalfield thereafter. “I think you will find that the enhanced redundancy scheme for the over 50s, introduced circa 1981, was a significant factor in the lead up to the start of the 1984-85 strike – many of these men had strong memories of what went off in the coal-industry in the 1960’s, largely under a Labour Government. Also like my old man and some of my uncles, when you have forty years-plus in the coal industry, it was time to bail out in the 1980’s to rescue a bit of what was left for retirement.  As Dave Goulder put it in his song lyrics about the railways in  the 1960’s:  ‘sixty-five his time has come, he’s swopped his soot and oil, for a smart gold watch that bears his name, then at sixty-six he’s covered in soil’ .” Throughout the 80s and 90s   a steady stream of miners left the industry as it continued to contract and pits closed. From 1985 to 1990, ten of Nottinghamshire’s twenty-seven pits closed.

The immediate post-strike period also saw the NCB and the UDM working closely together to marginalise the NUM. In 1986, a meeting at Eastwood Hall saw the two organisations meet to discuss the way forward. Some NCB strategists were concerned that Lynk’s organisation was struggling to make headway outside its Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire base. Others were unconcerned. Those privy to the NCB’s and Government’s most secret and long-term plans knew that over one hundred pits would close in the period from 1985 to 1990, with the loss of nearly 120,000 jobs, and as long as the UDM dominated the lucrative Nottinghamshire and Midlands coalfields, it would be doing exactly what it was intended to do. Apart from anything else, the idea of two competing and two conflicting trade unions in the industry suited the Government and NCB very nicely.

Typical of the moves made by the two bodies was this; The UDM had suggested the NCB pay their members a higher rate than that paid to NUM men. This would make UDM membership a tempting proposition. The NCB were more than willing to give it a try.           Still smarting from Leicester slipping through the UDM’s fingers, NCB chiefs selected one of its pits, Ellistown, which contained UDM sympathisers, to trial the plan.

On the 27th January, the NCB announced that any UDM members at the colliery would be paid a higher UDM rate, backdated to 1st November 1985. The UDM and NCB then sat back and waited for the stampede as miners rushed to join the breakaway. Unfortunately for them it never happened. The NUM took the NCB to an industrial tribunal and won its case. The judge ruled it illegal to bribe one set of workers with a higher pay rate denied to a second group with the express intention of tempting the former into a specific trade union. The NCB appealed only for the Court of Appeal to uphold the ruling. The Board had contravened section 23 of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978.

The NUM’s insistence that it would not sit down with scab unions created difficulties and generated a lot of internal tension. It left the Union in the humiliating position of relying on the crumbs of whatever pay deals the UDM had agreed with the NCB. Roy Lynk wasn’t too happy with this state of affairs, either. At the UDM’s annual Conference in 1987, he grumbled, “It’s particularly galling to find after a great deal of time and effort has been spent on our part securing a negotiated settlement for our members that that very self-same settlement is bestowed on NUM members.”

The splits in the NUM in the post-strike period revolved largely around two questions: firstly the response to management’s increasingly draconian regime and secondly regarding the attitude to Nottinghamshire.

Some felt the NUM Left’s policy of purity in the wilderness served their members badly. The Union’s job was to best represent their members and secure for them the best terms and conditions. If it refused to sit down and negotiate with the Board – renamed British Coal Corporation (BCC) in 1987 – because of the UDM, what use was it to the rank-and-file? It wasn’t quite that simple, however, as the NCB also refused to talk to the NUM. Instead, it increasingly bypassed the leadership and its official structures and spoke directly to the work-force over the heads of the union’s leaders; an American innovation, much favoured by MacGregor as part of the new ‘Human Resources Management’ which swept the post-strike coalfields.

Pit-level incentive schemes, dividing not just pit-from-pit but man-from-man at the same pit became the norm; coupled with a stick for the NUM while the UDM dined on carrots. BCC’s strategy was intended to make the workforce identify with management; to embrace the idea that their interests were the same. The new regime suited the UDM perfectly. Except it wasn’t really new at all; it was Mondism resurrected. As internal UDM document explained, “It is UDM philosophy to negotiate with management rather than embark on collision courses. This approach does not preclude the possibility of national industrial action, but such action will always be a measure of last resort duly sanctioned by ballot. If it is not inimical to the interests of our members, we can see no sound reason for not cooperating with management if that cooperation brings benefits to the industry in which we work.”    ‘New Realism’ infected the wider labour and trade union movement. Endemic was the view that class-struggle was dead. The miners’ defeat had proved the futility of challenging the market and submission to capital was now the only way forward. The wheel had turned full-circle; Spencerism in Nottinghamshire and Mondism everywhere else. Scargill was having none of it and launched a blistering attack on the New Realists. In a ferocious S.O. Davies Memorial Lecture, in 1987, he ripped into what he termed the ‘politics of fear’ and berated those inside and outside the NUM for succumbing to its poisonous allure, particularly the South Wales Area which had moved sharply into opposition to ‘Scargillism.’

At the same time, New Realism found its echo in the debates raging inside the NUM regarding the approach to Nottinghamshire. The militantly antagonistic sections refused absolutely to have any truck with the UDM while others suggested only by dialogue could men be won back to a unified national union. Ken Capstick brilliantly summed up the dilemma facing the NUM. “We had a lot of men back at work by the end of the strike. And I’ve got to go back to the pit and work for conciliation. I can see no other way forward. I can’t draw lines. I can’t have scabs, super-scabs and extra-super scabs! I can’t have a sliding scale of scabbery.”

Nottinghamshire’s strike veterans had assumed something of the status of untouchables in the aftermath of the strike. The most loyal of the loyal, the ultimate martyrs who’d refused to break and had suffered more than most, enjoyed a moral authority out of all proportion to their, by now, tiny numbers. Other Area’s were reluctant to be seen betraying Nottinghamshire’s stand by advocating recognition of the UDM. It was by no means as cut-and-dried as what Nottinghamshire said went but it wasn’t a million miles away either.

Ray Chadburn, despite criticisms from some during the strike, had resolutely kept the faith and when the crunch came, fell on his sword rather than betray the NUM. He spoke for the entire Nottinghamshire Area – diminutive though it now was – when he said, “I am fed up with people saying we should sit down and be pals and have some sort of compromise… as far as I am concerned, there won’t be any compromise. It is either us or them. If people think I am going to sit down with Roy Lynk, if Arthur Scargill ever sits down with Roy Lynk, it’s time we wrapped up as the National Union of Mineworkers. We are not going to accept advice from people who don’t actually work and live in the Nottinghamshire coalfield.”

By 1990 little had changed. At that year’s Conference, Scotland’s Peter Neilson asked, “What happens in, say, ten or fifteen years’ time if they [UDM] are still in existence? What do we do then? Do we still refuse to talk to British Coal on wages and safety? Do we sit outside the circle and allow the wages and conditions of the membership we are elected to represent to continue to fall further and further behind?”

The Nottinghamshire Delegate, in response, couldn’t have been clearer: “Watch my lips and I will say it slowly; we aint sitting down with the UDM.”

Spencerism had returned to Nottinghamshire with a vengeance but this time there would be no reconciliation, no mergers and no reunification. Lynk’s men had dealt the coup de grace to the British coalmining industry and now the clock was running down.

A View to a Kill – The End of the Miners’ Strike: Part 2

On March 5th it will be exactly thirty years since Britain’s miners marched back to work at the end of their titanic struggle to preserve their jobs and communities. Thirty years since I ‘celebrated’ my eighteenth birthday by weeping into my pint in a now long-closed miners’ welfare.

To commemorate the occasion I’ll be posting excerpts, up to March 5th, from the chapter in my book, Look Back in Anger: the Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire – 30 Years On (print edition available here and e book here) that deals with the end of the strike and its aftermath. Here’s Part 2.

Chapter 15: A View to a Kill: Part 2

A minor scandal around the issue boiled over when Liptrott was caught by his own Branch of forging the Branch Treasurer’s name on the Branch’s returns. The loyalists were amazed when the Area Executive found in the Branch’s favour and upheld the complaint. However, the ‘disciplinary’ measure visited upon the Sherwood Branch Secretary was an instruction not to do it again, whereupon a unanimous vote was recorded in favour of taking no further action.

Henry Richardson, on the other hand, was not in receipt of such leniency. For carrying out nationally-agreed policy, he was finally sacked as Area Agent, Area Official and Area General Secretary on the 12th March. Prendergast told the press that, “the Executive has considered a complaint in respect of Mr. Henry Richardson and that complaint has been upheld by the Executive. Mr. Richardson’s terms of dismissal will be given in writing. He has been told he has been dismissed.”

Richardson was enraged, claiming he had been informed of no such decision. ”It’s diabolical,” he said. “The whole meeting was a charade, a witch-hunt; nothing but a kangaroo court. The decision had already been made before the meeting. I’ll be taking legal advice. I am not prepared to accept that I am no longer Notts NUM General Secretary. I’m employed on a national level and I’m still a member of the National Executive Committee, which makes this decision farcical. They cannot tear up a contract after thirty-four years in the industry. If this happened in a pit, miners would be out on strike. Trade unionism has gone out of the window in Nottinghamshire. I have been sacked because I made a stand and followed national policy.”

Just two days later, Richardson was given cause to be optimistic when he won his job back, if only temporarily. He was granted a temporary High Court injunction which prevented the Area Executive from carrying out its decision. Mr Justice Steyn ruled the Area General Secretary be restored to his post in all three capacities; Area Agent, Area Official and Area General Secretary. Needless to say, this wasn’t something Lynk, Prendergast et al, were prepared to swallow. Their own legal team were soon involved, seeking to overturn the injunction.

While all over the UK’s coalfields the NCB was purging and victimising activists, Nottinghamshire had the added burden of having to fend off their own Area union which was doing exactly the same thing. Nottinghamshire’s NUM loyalists were fighting a defensive rearguard action on two fronts.

All through 1985, the battles raged on. Henry Richardson’s injunction was lifted and he was ousted for good. This time the judge, Mr. Justice Mann, declared that, “It would be quite wrong for this Court to impose on a trade union an official in whom it has no confidence.” Richardson’s pro-strike administrator, Pam Elliot, also received her marching orders and joined her old boss in exile at the NUM’s Sheffield HQ.

On the 14th May, the NEC took its revenge. Its members voted by ten votes to nine to recommend to Conference, scheduled for July, that Lynk be sacked and Prendergast issued with an official warning.

The fight to win reinstatement for those miners sacked during the strike suffered a fatal blow when the national membership voted against the introduction of a 50p per week levy to support their axed comrades. Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and South Derbyshire, who had by now formed an informal ‘Democratic Alliance’, boycotted the ballot which made the final results all the more shocking, given the Left were overwhelmingly in the majority of those miners who voted.

 Nationally, the final result was 50,429 in favour of the levy and 58,721 against. The turnout was low, only around fifty-nine per cent. Scotland recorded nearly a 4-to-1 margin in favour of the levy while Yorkshire only just squeezed a majority; fifty-two per cent.

Henry Richardson, in a defiant speech at the first David Jones Memorial March and Rally at Ollerton, organised by Jimmy Hood, received a rousing ovation. The first thing he was going to do when he won his job back, he told the three-thousand strong crowd, was campaign relentlessly for the reinstatement of Nottinghamshire’s twenty-one sacked and victimised miners. “They are not alone, they are not forgotten. The fight goes on,” he told the rally.

The next set-back for the Nottinghamshire Left was the election of Lynk and Prendergast to the NEC. Unlike Richardson’s sacking, this would stick first time as it was the result of a properly conducted ballot as per the rule book. Richardson and Chadburn were both replaced with the Area President ruefully commenting, “In political terms, I suppose you could say I’ve lost my deposit.”

There was one small victory to be savoured and that was the matter regarding strikers’ subscriptions. A High Court judge ruled that the Area Executive had been wrong to try and recoup the arrears and instructed that all miners who had paid must be reimbursed. In addition, they were unequivocally bona fide members of the NUM. It was a rare defeat for the rebel Area which made it all the sweeter for the Left.

In July, the NUM National Conference arrived but before the Delegates could address the Nottinghamshire problem; there was the contentious matter of a completely new rule book to resolve. ‘Rule.51’ remained and a plan to reorganise the representation of Area’s on the NEC was also included. Rule.11 was what raised eyebrows, though. This withdrew the President’s right to a vote on any matter completely. There were two schools of thought here; one was that Scargill was sliding around Tory anti-trade union law, specifically the Trade Union Act 1984, as removing the right to vote meant officers didn’t need to stand for the mandatory fiver-year re-election that otherwise applied. Alternatively, it was a pre-emptive strike against Nottinghamshire’s declared vow to oust the President by forcing him to stand for re-election whereupon, they believed, he’d be toppled by a ‘moderate’ candidate.

The Left was hopelessly riven. By now, several Areas, South Wales, particularly, contained very few Scargill supporters and the Communist Party members on the national and Area leaderships were encouraged by their Party leadership to vote against the adoption of an entirely new rule book that was, they felt, solely designed to concentrate yet more power in Scargill’s hands. In truth, the rule changes had more to do with countering Area independence so that any future struggle would not see an Area behaving as Nottinghamshire had done. For example, Rule.17B allowed the membership of an Area to be bigger than the Area itself and 17D conferred upon the Conference the right to “create, dissolve, merge, combine or amalgamate Areas.” Rule.26C invested the NEC with the authority to “… call industrial action by any group of members whether in one or part of one or more than one Area.” This last, particularly, went down a treat with Nottinghamshire. Scargill had, though, paid tribute to the implacable fight waged by the women of mining communities by creating Rule.5A. The new rule, governing associate membership status, was designed to allow the Women’s Support Groups entry into the NUM; a far-sighted and commendable initiative. Sadly, it was the only new rule to fall to the Conference vote.

Where some felt Scargill did let himself down was on the question of Rule.11. The right of the membership to control and elect its leaders was sacrosanct and a principle to which no self-respecting left-winger could object. Others, though, saw opposing the rule as siding with the Right and so, badly divided, cantankerous and mutinous, the Left let the new rule book pass; which was exactly what Nottinghamshire had been waiting for (Scargill later outmanoeuvred his critics by unexpectedly standing for re-election. in 1988 he was re-elected with 53.8 per cent of the vote). Their Delegation promptly upped and walked out in protest. Escorted to and from Mansfield by police outriders, the Delegation returned the next day to hear Conference vote by 81 to 13 to sack both Lynk and Prendergast. Clearly Delegates felt the NEC’s recommendation of a formal reprimand for Lynk’s no. 2 was insufficient. Both men had clearly prepared for the move as although the decision meant the loss of their £18,000 salaries, it turned out both had already signed contracts of employment with the Nottinghamshire Area Executive.

The next day the Delegation were back to see the new rule book formally ratified by Conference and once again, they upped and left; but this time, there would be no coming back. Forty-eight hours later, on Saturday 6th July 1985, Nottinghamshire Delegates gathered at Berry Hill and voted by 228 to 20 to formally break away from the National Union of Mineworkers. Chadburn refused to endorse the move and raged furiously in hopeless opposition. The new regime promptly locked him out of the Berry Hill offices and then sacked him.

In a round-table post-strike discussion, hosted in April 1985 by the Communist Party, the Scottish Vice President, George Bolton said, “we tended to assume that Nottingham was much worse than it really was.” What Bolton couldn’t know then, was just how spectacularly wrong he was. Nottinghamshire was actually “worse” than anyone had assumed.

From July up to the Union of Democratic Mineworkers’ (UDM) certification by the Trade Union Certification Officer, in December 1985, the extent of the breakaway union’s collusion with the NCB was breathtaking. Not until documents were released to the National Archive, twenty years later, would the real truth be revealed.

In a series of secret meetings, covert correspondence and clandestine pacts and agreements, the UDM was afforded NCB legal advice, help and support all the way through the process. Schemes were hatched to pay UDM members more than NUM miners, in a bid to further weaken the NUM, both NCB agreements and Parliamentary Acts were flouted and broken as the NCB aided the new union to break the NUM.

 Ned Smith and James Cowan were secretly letting Nottinghamshire working-miners know, as early as January 1985, that recognition for their breakaway would not be a problem, in a bid to hasten the split. Peter Walker was also involved in ensuring the NCB and UDM kept their manoeuvrings secret until the appropriate time and was at least aware, if not directly involved, that NCB chiefs were planning to renege on constitutionally agreed industry norms. Walker had had an excellent war. Of all the key Tory players, he hadn’t put a foot wrong. Whether it was keeping the tactically incompetent MacGregor on a short leash, expertly spinning the Government’s line to the media, or sabotaging talks when it looked as though the NUM were nearing a breakthrough, the Energy Secretary had served his Prime Minister flawlessly. He rounded off a superb performance by smoothing the way for MacGregor and Cowan to act as midwives at the UDM’s birth.

From at least as early as his overture to Ray Chadburn in 1981, Cowan had been angling to split the NUM. He finally realised his wish and said later that he knew the breakaway was “on the cards” even before the strike. As well he might; it’s almost certain, given Cowan’s actions in this regard, that he and Lynk had colluded before the strike to bring about the split.

The UDM initially comprised around eighty per cent of the former Nottinghamshire NUM, South Derbyshire and the newly-formed Colliery Workers and Allied Trades Association; a rump faction of mainly ex-Durham Craftsmen who had been expelled under Rule.51 for scabbing. Leicestershire was an obvious target for Lynk and his NCB overlords. It had produced just thirty strikers during the year-long dispute, the ‘Dirty Thirty’, and Area President, Jack Jones, who loathed Scargill, had happily encouraged his Leicester men to work throughout the dispute. Despite all that, Jones was pro-NUM and convinced his Area to vote against joining the UDM.

Cowan popped up again and was alleged to have tried bribing Jones into swinging Leicestershire to the UDM, saying, “You are holding up the entire operation. Leicester has got to go to the UDM. We need you for the final breakthrough in Warwickshire, including Coventry – and from there up to Lancashire. If we get that we have captured the motorway block.”

While the UDM never managed to make any significant breakthrough outside its Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire axis, it did the job it was designed to do with devastating effectiveness. Over the next seven years, it willingly aided the NCB in breaking the NUM’s dominance in the industry as pay, terms, conditions and benefits for NUM members started to fall and pits closed with a dizzying frequency.    Once the smoke of 84/85 had cleared, it became apparent that the ‘Great Strike for Jobs’ hadn’t been a war, after all; it had been but a battle in an ongoing war. An unprecedentedly bloody and ferocious battle, certainly – an industrial Stalingrad – but a battle nevertheless. As Seumas Milne sagely noted, the post-strike world saw even greater power concentrated in the hands of fewer NUM members and, horribly wounded though they were, they were not yet down and out; the war would continue.

While the leadership turned on itself and, rudderless and split, could offer little in the way of a unified coherent national response to the radically changed political climate, at pit level the miners took the war to the enemy in the form of guerrilla and unofficial actions. Go-slows, walk-outs and wildcat strikes raged across the coalfields for years afterwards, particularly in Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, Nottinghamshire faced the additional challenge of rebuilding the NUM in the County entirely from scratch, beset on one side by the UDM and a vastly more powerful NCB on the other. “The first obstacle we had to overcome in Nottinghamshire,” says Keith Stanley, “was that they recognised the new breakaway union as the major union and they put every miner into that union, for administration purposes, so in the initial week leading up to them coming in as the official union, my union money was going to go to them! We had to go round all our members and get them to sign saying they didn’t want their money going to the UDM and that they wanted to stay with us.” Management refused to operate a ‘check-off’ system for the NUM; weekly membership dues would no longer be deducted at source and sent on to the NUM. “We had to run around getting every miner to sign direct debit forms. Well, not every miner had a bank account so we had to operate a ‘rent book’ system for some of them to pay cash.”

Henry Richardson shakes his head in disbelief. “If I’ve been a member of the NUM, all my working life, and a new union comes along, surely I should have to opt out of the NUM to join the new union? But no; they [NCB] automatically registered every Nottinghamshire miner as UDM unless they opted in to the NUM. And they got all our assets, too.” The Berry Hill premises, the convalescent home on the east coast, at Chapel Saint Leonards, and capital, totalling around £1.7 million, was all awarded to the UDM by a High Court judge. This left the NUM Area organisation penniless with no premises, no cash, and no infrastructure of any kind.

Richardson continues, “We’d got Keith and Eric running around trying to recruit back into the NUM – bloody heroes, they were. They should have had medals; the shit they had thrown at them. Victimised, put on shit jobs, weren’t allowed an office even though we had as many members as the UDM at Thoresby but they never stopped fighting for the Union – and I’m working from Jiff Clifford’s bungalow, with Pam. Jill were a secretary at Berry Hill; she eventually got sacked as well. Took some guts; letting us use her house and she were going into Berry Hill every day –  she and her and her husband were out at work all day so she let us set up there, out at Ravenshead, with miners traipsing up and down the path all day, in and out of the house as we tried to rebuild. God knows what the bloody neighbours thought! It were only for a few weeks and then we set up at Mansfield, after we’d been at Sheffield, we got some premises up there.”

Ray Chadburn confirms, “We slowly rebuilt. We didn’t have premises, we didn’t have any money but we got £10,000 from South Wales and a chunk from Durham but we were blocked at every turn, trying to get new premises. People gloating that the NUM was smashed and Lynk said ‘they’ll never get back into Mansfield.’ But eventually we did get some offices. I was painting, decorating, fitting radiators and we finally returned on May Day, 1986. We loved it; it was on a May Day when they’d tried to get rid of us and it was on a May Day when we returned. We went across to the pub and had a little celebration; we were back!”

It was far from plain sailing, though. The UDM even campaigned mercilessly to evict Chadburn and his family from their home, arguing his rented NUM property should be the property of the UDM. Chadburn eventually won that particularly lengthy and stressful legal battle and purchased the home outright.

At the point of production, Eric Eaton ran the risk of the sack every day. Even sticking NUM circulars on the notice board was grounds for dismissal. Eaton made a famous contribution at one of the post-strike NUM Conferences. Holding up a plastic bag, he asked the Delegates if they could guess what it was. “It’s my office,” he said as he educated the Conference in the realities of life for NUM activists in Nottinghamshire.