Politics & Current Affairs

Orgreave: “The fact is that it was a set-up and it worked brilliantly.”

otjcThe Tories can whitewash and cover up with all the energy they can muster but the fight goes on. Please support the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

Here’s an excerpt from my book Look Back in Anger; the Miners’ Strike in Nottingham, published by Five Leaves 2014.

In a dispute filled with violence, the final showdown at Orgreave produced the most appalling scenes thus far. Even thirty years later, the footage has the power to shock. Pickets in trainers and t-shirts, some entirely shirtless on that beautiful summer’s day, were mercilessly battered by police officers in full riot-gear, flailing away indiscriminately with truncheons, while mounted officers charged fleeing bands of men, desperate to escape. On the miners’ side, barricades were erected and bricks and stones were hurled into the mêlée. A car from a nearby scrap-yard was dragged into the middle of the road and set alight and police pursued the miners into the nearby village, through gardens and houses, hammering down all they caught.

The numbers were formidable. Accounts vary but around 8000 pickets to 9,000 police is a generally accepted figure. The police deployed around sixty mounted officers, sixty attack-dogs and several thousand officers with short-shield riot-gear and the remainder sporting long-shield issue.

There remains little doubt that the violence meted out to the miners was pre-planned, deliberate and sanctioned at the highest level of the South Yorkshire force. Miners, en route to the plant, were amazed to see signs directing them to convenient car parks, smiling officers helpfully pointing the way and guiding them in with no attempts whatsoever to dissuade or turn back the thousands of pickets who had heeded Scargill’s call. Such behaviour stood in contrast to the manner in which all police forces had handled flying pickets up to that point.

For the Nottinghamshire miners, their experiences confirmed suspicions that ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ was a set-up orchestrated by the police. Years later, in a 1993 interview, Thatcher’s adviser and strike fixer David Hart would confirm  that view: “The coke was of no interest whatsoever. We didn’t need it. It was a set-up by us on a battle ground of our choosing .  The fact is that it was a set-up and it worked brilliantly.”

The fall-out from Orgreave was considerable although it would be many years before its full truth was revealed. TV viewers were treated to scenes of mobs of violent thugs hurling bricks and stones before embattled mounted police moved in to disperse the offenders. Only it wasn’t like that at all. As Red Pepper reported, nearly thirty years after the event, “When broadcasting footage of Orgreave, the BBC, incredibly, transposed the sequence of events, making it appear that police cavalry charges had been a defensive response to antagonism by stone-throwing pickets rather than an act of aggression. Only in 1991 did the BBC issue an apology for this, claiming that its action footage had been “inadvertently reversed.” The publicly-funded, ‘neutral’ state broadcaster had reversed footage which, in its original form, showed cowering pickets with nowhere to run, desperately fending off charging police with whatever they had to hand. Given the pre-digital era of 1984, with physical tape being used for filming, which required conscious human cutting, splicing and chopping for editing purposes, one can view the BBC’s claims of the footage being “inadvertently reversed” with a degree of contempt.

The South Yorkshire Police didn’t stop at merely bludgeoning defenceless men, either. Ninety five pickets were arrested and charged with a number of offences. The most serious being charges of rioting and affray which carried sentences of upwards of ten years. In 1987 the trials soon collapsed in a welter of conflicting police evidence, fabricated statements and embarrassing inconsistencies. Although described by renowned QC, Michael Mansfield, as “the biggest frame-up ever,” no officers were ever investigated or charged. This was despite South Yorkshire Police being forced to hand over nearly half-a-million pounds in compensation to thirty nine of the arrested pickets and incurring costs of over £100,000.

In light of the Hillsborough cover-up, it’s possible that an independent enquiry into Orgreave might yet bring further humiliation to a force that was institutionally corrupt. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Justice for Mineworkers and other organisations continue to press the case.

Culture Politics & Current Affairs

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.

Culture Politics & Current Affairs

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.

Culture Politics & Current Affairs

A View to a Kill – The End of the Miners’ Strike: Part 1

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 1.

Chapter 15: A View to a Kill

“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have fought is the true failure.”
                                                                                 – George Edward Woodberry

After months of wrangling, votes and meetings, Nottinghamshire Area NUM officially scrapped the overtime ban at the end of February. NACODS, however, had a shock in store. The pit deputies’ Midlands Area announced they would not be supervising any overtime. Without them, of course, miners could not work. The Area’s officers referred the matter to their NEC, due to meet the following week but, in the meantime, as far as they were concerned, the ban would be observed.

NACODS’ Ray Hilton also made it clear that his Region would be making no recommendation to the Executive, either. He said, “This Area has decided to follow the instructions that were given by our National Executive back in October 1983, and that means we will not take part in the supervision of any overtime work until we are instructed to do so at national level.” With an obvious dig at the Area’s strike-breakers, he added that NACODS was a bona fide trade union and not a breakaway; therefore they’d be following their Union’s rules.

Prendergast was less than thrilled and appealed to the NCB to step in and resolve the matter. “It is a problem that the Coal Board must face up to. They should intervene in order to find some solution. It is very disappointing after the breakthrough earlier this week but our men are ready to work at weekends if they are asked to.”

Charles McLachlan, by contrast had a much better week. At the Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce’s 125th anniversary dinner, the guest of honour, Employment Secretary Tom King, lavished praise upon the County’s working-miners and the police chief whose valiant efforts had thwarted “extremists” and enabled the “brave working-miners” to carry out their duty to the nation. The Employment Secretary was on fiery form and his address was peppered with scathing condemnations of “militants” and “wreckers” who had underestimated “the good sense and bravery” of the heroic Notts men. The strike still had a few days to run but the establishment had started the celebrations early.

On Sunday 3rd March, 1985 the miners ‘Great Strike for Jobs’ officially ended. The Delegates made the decision, as they’d made all the major decisions throughout the dispute. The NEC met in the morning and split 11 – 11 on the question of returning to work or continuing to fight. Conference sent them back to try again. Still the leadership split 11 – 11 and returned without a recommendation. It was then up to the Delegates. There were four main motions to consider; one each from Scotland, South Wales, Yorkshire and Kent.

Kent – Conference demands the right to negotiate freely with the employer and agrees not to discuss any other motion or make any recommendation until an agreement is reached that reinstates those members who have been sacked during the course of the present dispute.

Scotland – Conference proposes that there should be an organised return to work on the basis of achieving a general amnesty to protect those members who have been victimized during the period of the strike.

Yorkshire – This Area views the situation in the coalfields with grave concern and in order to safeguard the members at the five pits and the amnesty of the men dismissed, supporting the aims of this Union, the Area Council believes that the best way to achieve these aims is: that we affirm our previous position until we are able to clarify and safeguard the above aims and that Officials, National or Area, immediately take the necessary steps to resolve the position; and that Special Council Meetings be convened on a) Saturday 2nd March 1985, in order for Delegates to return mandated on the situation; and b) Monday 4th March 1985, to hear the report of the National Delegate Conference taking place on Sunday 3rd

South Wales – In view of the fact that there has been a) a drift back of members to work in all Areas, and b) that is has now become clear that the Coal Board have no intentions whatsoever to have any discussions with the Union unless they sign the document presented by the TUC to the Union on Sunday 17th February, that the National Union should now organise and authorise a return to work of our members that are still on strike and that this return to work should commence on Tuesday 5th March 1985 without any signed agreement. The National Executive Committee should also be called upon to negotiate with the NCB on a national basis an amnesty for those men dismissed during this dispute.

The Kent motion fell by 170 votes to nineteen. Scotland’s fell by exactly the same margin while Yorkshire’s was much closer. It too fell but by only ninety eight to ninety one which just left South Wales.

Arguably, the most solid Area for the entire year (although one might imagine the Kent miners would have something to say about that), it was something of a paradox that a motion which called for unconditional surrender should have originated there. They had been warning for weeks that they’d struggle to hold out their men for much longer; it seemed that that day had finally arrived. The South Wales motion was carried by the same margin with which Yorkshire’s had been lost; ninety eight in favour, ninety one against.

Here, again, Scargill came in for serious criticism but this time it was harder to deflect. With the Executive tied 11-11 why hadn’t the NUM President used his casting vote? For his critics it was obvious; Arthur Scargill had bottled it. South Wales President, Emlyn Williams, who, if most accounts are to be believed, had come to detest Scargill, branded him a “coward.” In that final desperate hour, when the miners had needed leadership most, Scargill had abdicated his duty to his members. Others saw his refusal to break the deadlock, one way or the other, as his way of maintaining his revolutionary purity in a self-serving manoeuvre to avoid blame for whatever decision taken.

His supporters see things differently with one then Yorkshire Executive member stating that it would have been incorrect for one man to decide the fate of so many. He feels that with such a momentous choice to make, it had to be a collective decision to either fight on or end the strike and that he, personally, felt Scargill had chosen the correct course of action.

Dave Douglass, by no means an uncritical cheer-leader for the NUM President, sees things thus: “A recommendation was problematic. This was after all a movement of Area strikes; not a national strike as such. The NEC could declare an Area strike official, but it had no authority to tell an Area to call it off. The National Conference was convened to co-ordinate a return or continued action. Given that the areas were roughly divided, the NEC was likewise divided. Had Arthur cast his vote to make a recommendation, which way would the recommendation go; to stop out or go back? Whichever way the NEC, with his casting vote swinging it, went, he would be damned as the one man holding all those starving miners out on strike, or else the treacherous bastard who led us up the garden path then sold us out.” Only Scargill himself knew why he’d acted thus and in the thirty years since, he has remained tight-lipped.

At around 3.00pm the NUM President announced from the steps of the TUC Headquarters at Great Russell Street that the UK’s defining class-battle of the twentieth century had ended. He was greeted by tears of grief and anger and shocked cries of “traitor” from the strikers gathered outside. A chant of “We’re not going back! We’re not going back!” quickly struck up. But they would. They had to. There was nowhere else to go.

 The following day, Monday 4th March, local leaderships made arrangements for their men to return and in a final, painful display of pride and defiance, many picket-lines saw even greater numbers as thousands assembled one last time. They were bloodied; terribly so but unbowed.  The day after that, Tuesday 5th March, with heads held high, banners flying and brass bands leading thousands of them and their families and supporters through the streets of the coalfields, the strikers returned to the pits they hadn’t seen for a year. Well, most of them. Kent miners, it seemed, were incapable of giving in. Their men spread out across the country mounting pickets to prevent the return. Scargill himself, leading a procession back to work in his native Yorkshire, arrived only to turn around and march thousands back they way they’d come when greeted by the perennially obdurate Kent men. Scotland stayed out, too. It would be two weeks before the entire membership was back.

In Nottinghamshire, there were no brass bands. No banners. No proud march back for the men with the support and cheers of their communities ringing in their ears. Once back at the pits, it became clear that the days of the NUM enjoying unchallenged power were over. From the first day back, managers made it clear that the new regime would be imperious, unforgiving and tilted towards revenge. There were a few honourable exceptions; John Daniels at Clipstone colliery and  Brian Evangelista at Bestwood Workshops, were seen by many former strikers as fair-minded, principled and decent men who eschewed the victimisation and intimidation of most of the NCB management. For the majority, however, it was pay-back time. ‘Facility time’, time allowed during working-hours for Branch Secretaries to attend to union business, was slashed or banned altogether. Militants were split up, isolated and heavily-policed by management looking for the slightest excuse to dismiss those refusing to knuckle under.

Keith Stanley’s experiences were typical: “At Newstead, I got isolated. I got sent down to a part of the pit where there were no men and all that were down there were the team I worked with who were all staunch NUM. They took us off the three-shift system; put us on days regular so I wouldn’t see any of the men on the other shifts.” Managers viewed the loyalists almost as a virus that had to be contained; one that could not be allowed to infect the otherwise pro-management strike-breakers with militancy and rebellion.

Calling a strike-breaker ‘scab’ was to ensure instant dismissal and men who, prior to the strike, had held prestige jobs with good opportunities for bonus earnings were relegated to menial tasks with the express intention of humiliating them and consolidating their defeat. Stanley smiles as he remembers John Benson from Thoresby pit. “He were a brilliant miner and when he went back they had him digging latrines because he’d been staunch all the way through the strike. But it were water off a duck’s back. They couldn’t break him. He did it like Cool Hand Luke. ‘This is me digging, boss. I’m digging here, boss. I’m digging there, boss.’ Brilliant.”

There was an officially-sanctioned and concerted campaign of victimisation and intimidation of union activists. Ian MacGregor gloated, “People are now discovering the price of insubordination and insurrection and boy; are we going to make it stick.” The NCB chief, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, on 10th March, then went on to surmise that forty pits would be added to the closure list and then shut over the following two years. This, presumably, was the ‘list’ NCB officials had consistently denied had ever existed.

To the glee of the working-miners, NACODS once again came to their aid and that of the Board when the union u-turned on its earlier commitment not to supervise Nottinghamshire miners who wanted to work in defiance of the overtime ban. Ray Hilton announced, “We will supervise any miner who attends for work. I can’t say the men were enthusiastic about it but they have agreed to do it. We will be instructing the Coal Board and the NUM that we will be supervising overtime now.” It also fell to the clearly embarrassed Hilton to get his General Secretary, Peter McNestry, off the hook. The NACODS leader had previously completely ruled out his men working with non-TUC affiliated unions, breakaways and or ‘scab formations.’ Hilton wriggled and squirmed, eventually saying, “We have not said we will only work with unions which are affiliated to the TUC. What we are saying is that if Notts miners break away from the NUM or if they are expelled, we will continue to supervise them but we will not take any other action in support of their aims.” Generally perceived by NUM loyalists to be ‘treacherous’ ‘gutless’ and ‘mealy-mouthed’, Hilton’s statement pretty much killed off any lingering shreds of NUM goodwill that might have existed in the County where the Deputies were concerned.

Swimming with the tide, the Area Executive resurrected Liptrott’s earlier attempt to expel former strikers from the NUM by the back door, for non-payment of dues.  With the Nottinghamshire Area free from the authority of the NEC and, to all intents and purposes, a separate breakaway union, Lynk felt confident in trying the move again. On the 12th, he sent out a letter to all the Area Branch Secretaries containing six points:-

  1. Persons who have been on strike shall be called upon to pay 50p for each week on strike, over and above the first eight weeks.
  2. Branch Secretaries, must submit to this office a list of members who have been on strike for more than eight weeks.
  3. In stating the number of weeks a member has been on strike, the first eight weeks should be ignored. i.e. if a member has been on strike for fifty-two weeks, your list should indicate he is to pay 44 X 50p.
  4. Payment of arrears must be made to the Branch Secretaries and no payment will be accepted at Area Office.
  5. Branch Secretaries must ensure that lists are delivered to this Office by no later than the end of March, 1985, when a receipt will be given. Arrears must be paid to Branch Secretaries within four weeks of this date of acknowledgment of receipt of this list at the Area Office.
  6. Steps must be taken by Branch Secretaries to ensure that details of the arrears of contributions are brought to the attention of the person’s concerned.

This was then posted to all the relevant members with a covering letter from the appropriate Branch Secretary, which read:-

I am instructed by the Area Executive Committee to bring to your notice that you are in arrears with your contributions in accordance with Notts. Area Rule 11e. The Area Executive has, therefore, agreed that persons who have been on strike shall be called upon to pay 50p per week for each week on strike, over and above the first eight weeks.             You are, therefore, in arrears to the sum of £…………….. Until this amount has been paid, and for a further thirteen weeks from the date of payment, you are considered not to be a member of the Union as specified in Notts. Area Rule 11e.

Culture Politics & Current Affairs

Look Back in Anger: E-reader Edition

Those groovy people at Five Leaves Publications have released my book, Look Back in Anger – The Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire – 30 Years On in electronic format. Compatible, I’m told, with Kindle and all other e-reader devices.

The print edition is still available, of course, for around a tenner from all the usual outlets, including everyone’s favourite tax dodgers, Amazon, and for only £7.99 here and the e-edition for the very reasonable price of five of your English or Scottish pounds. Feel free to be tempted.  This latest edition contains new material. Here’s a snippet…

Sun Tzu, a man who knew a thing or two about conflict, once said that if you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by. If time is a river then Nottinghamshire’s tiny band of miners’ strike veterans – fewer than 2000 from a 32,000-strong workforce in 1984 – have been waiting patiently for thirty years.

On January 3rd 2014, Cabinet Office documents pertaining to the strike were released to the National Archive. Finally the bodies started floating by. First in ones and twos and then in a deluge as the truth finally emerged; a truth that is examined in detail in the following pages.

The miners’ strike is without precedent. Among many aspects that marked out the dispute as entirely different from any other industrial struggle that preceded it, were the sheer tenacity, bravery and commitment displayed by its participants. One Hucknall miner spoke of the moment he nearly caved in and went back to work.

“It were November and just about everything in the house had been sold to keep the debts manageable or to buy food or burned to keep us warm. I didn’t have any furniture left downstairs apart from a couple of kitchen chairs and a table. Me front room just had a couple of orange crates and I were sat on one chucking shoes onto the fire to warm the house up for the kids coming in from school. The stink were bloody horrible. Leather and plastic and that didn’t burn that well but it were all we had. For some reason folks seemed to think we desperate for footwear so they sent all sorts and we had piles of the things. I were burning the shoes and I thought, ‘Why am I putting me kids through this?’ I just burst into tears. I were cracking and were going to go back to work. But we were doing all this for our kids in the first place! We knew the sort of future they’d have if Thatcher won, so I gen me sen a shake and just gor on wi’ it.”

It is in no way an exaggeration to point, also, to the miners’ strike as the moment when policing in Britain underwent a change of epoch-shaping proportions. It was the end of one style of policing in the UK and the start of another. While corruption runs like a foetid stream between the two decades, linking the 70s and the 80s, it was Britain’s most turbulent industrial dispute that saw policing change to an overtly political function. Since the strike, politically motivated police abuse of power and deep-rooted corruption are now commonplace. Orgeave, Hillsborough, the Stephen Lawrence scandal and the use of undercover officers to infiltrate ‘subversive’ environmental groups – even sleeping with activists and fathering their children – has led to widespread revulsion and distrust of the police in many parts of the UK.

 When the strike was over and the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers emerged, key Notts Working Miners’ Committee members provided its nucleus. UDM leader Roy Lynk was awarded an OBE for ‘services to trade unionism’ and after paving the way for mass pit closures and privatisation, he and Nottinghamshire’s former strike-breakers settled in for the long period of prosperity and security promised them by a grateful establishment. To their fury, they too were betrayed as Nottinghamshire’s pits were closed. In contrast to the promises lavished upon them during the strike.

Today the UDM is a husk, with barely 300 members and its former President, Lynk’s successor, Neil Greatrex, is an acute embarrassment to his former organisation. The former UDM chief dipped his fingers in his Union’s till and was convicted on 3rd April 2012, of fourteen counts of theft.

The legacy of Nottinghamshire’s working miners is one of greed, cowardice and treachery. Little wonder that that legacy should culminate in theft, fraud and outright corruption. And the complete destruction of an entire – and once mighty – industry.

Politics & Current Affairs

Did Thatcher Use Soldiers During the Miners’ Strike?

pic_orgreave2Photo by John Sturrock, Socialist Worker

I was recently involved in a Twitter thread concerning the use of troops during the miners’ strike. It has long been rumoured that Thatcher sanctioned the use of the army and that squaddies were dressed in police uniforms and let loose on picket lines, to aid in crushing the strikers.

I think the first thing we ought to ask, when considering the question, is why such a tactic might have been favoured by the Tories and in asking the question we are immediately presented with some difficulty in providing a reasonable and plausible answer.

Firstly, we need to understand the role of the police during the dispute. As I wrote in my book on the strike…

The Metropolitan Police Force was hated with a passion throughout the County, earning a reputation for thuggery and violence that outstripped that of any other Force, against frequently stiff competition. Often behaving more like ‘Casuals’ football hooligans than upholders of the law, the Met regularly issued beatings to Nottinghamshire miners and would then affix little stickers to their victims bodies, which read, ‘I’ve met The Met.’ A quaint custom not reserved for just Nottinghamshire miners. Dave Douglass says, “We used to park our cars outside the villages we were picketing so as not to have them attacked by scabs. More than once we returned to wrecked cars and the stickers ‘I’ve met the Met’ stuck on them.”                                                                                                                     Why the Metropolitan Police were even in Nottinghamshire, in the first place, over a hundred miles from London, was one of the most contentious aspects of the dispute. The origins of their deployment in other Forces’ jurisdiction, like so much else in the Government’s handling of the dispute, lay in the Ridley Plan.                                                              The creation of the National Reporting Centre (NRC) was central to dealing with policing in the coalfields. Operating from a room on the thirteenth-floor of Scotland Yard, its purpose was revealed, by Douglas Hurd, to Parliament on 5th April 1984. “Arrangements for a national reporting centre were first made in 1972. Its main purposes were and are to help in the national co-ordination of aid between chief officers of police in England and Wales, under section 14 of the Police Act 1964, so that the best use is made of manpower and to provide the Home Secretary with information, in the same way as he receives reports from individual chief officers, to help him discharge his responsibilities for law and order.”
          This bland description, while accurate, was hardly the full story. In reality, the NRC became the management body of an effectively national police force, as the paramilitary wing of the Conservative Party. In seeking to combat picketing and deal with an industrial dispute in this way, rather than by simply applying civil law, the Police UK-wide, enthusiastically spearheaded by the Met, became a partisan body, forcibly imposing acts of political policy rather than simply upholding the law. Hurd continued, “Since 14 March this year, the centre has co-ordinated the responses to requests from chief officers for assistance from their colleagues in policing related to the miners’ dispute.”             

 Numbers of police, resources, intelligence, funds and equipment were all made available to the police without limits. It’s difficult to see why Thatcher would need to use the army to bolster the – at the time – forty-three separate constabularies which were coordinated as a national force.

Secondly there has been, to date, not a single verifiable and documented case of any member of the armed forces being deployed in such a fashion. I interviewed over a hundred participants in the strike for my book, covering every single area of involvement from striking and working miners, police officers, NCB personnel to journalists and politicians and of those who’d heard the rumour no one could state that they had first-hand proof of such an action. Accounts from these people are purely anecdotal and, invariably, second and third-hand. Along the lines of, “my mate said…” and “… I knew this bloke who said…”

The large numbers of police used during the strike presented logistical problems for local authorities and there are documented instances of police being billeted at TA and regular army barracks. Perhaps the rumours started there? Additionally, it was very common for police officers to remove their ID numbers from their uniforms but it seems more likely that this was to prevent violent and corrupt officers from being identified, rather than any sort of indication that such people were soldiers in disguise, as was the common assertion during the strike.

We know that police spies, agents provocateurs, Special Branch officers and MI5 agents were all used to combat the strikers and evidence has emerged to confirm such actions. But of soldiers dressing in police uniform we have yet to see even a single shred of real proof.

Following the release of cabinet papers on January 3rd, 2014, we know that Thatcher was considering using the army in line with the recommendations made in the Ridley Plan, to move coal, breach picket lines and so on, but this would have been an overt action with armed forces in their own uniforms and acting with official state approval.

Of course, the use of soldiers dressed as police officers is certainly possible and one shouldn’t, for even a second, doubt that the Tories would have baulked at such a tactic had they deemed it necessary. There is no question that the prime minister would have ruled such a move either in or out based on any legal or ethical grounds; it would have been a purely tactical and strategic decision. But, personally, I don’t think it happened.

I’d still be very interested indeed in looking at any accounts people might have on this question, so please contact me if you feel you have something interesting to share.