Thursday, March 1, 2012

"The Lessons Of History" by Bryan Robson

(Left) Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister during the Miners' Lock Out of 1926. (Right) Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister during the Miners' Strike of 1984-5.

The First Betrayal

The 1926 miners strike was caused by the Mine Owners' ultimatum that the length of a mineworkers' shift be increased and that their wages should be decreased. The response by the Miners Federation of Great Britain and its general secretary A J Cook was to call a national strike that began in May 1926. Cook's slogan for the strike was ‘not a penny off the pay not a minute on the day.’

What is not so well known is the fact that this strike should have begun in 1925 but for the intervention of the Conservative Government of Stanley Baldwin and his Chancellor Winston Churchill. The government paid a large financial subsidy to the Mine Owners as a delaying tactic to prepare for a confrontation at a later date of their choice. The response of the mineworkers was to claim a victory, and call it Red Friday; not knowing,of course, the devious intentions of the Tory Government to defeat them at a time of their choosing.

The first piece of legislation put through Parliament, in preparation, was the ‘Emergency Powers’ Act. Other preparations, included the setting up of the Organization for the Maintenance of Supplies; this organization was to be staffed with blackleg labour and volunteers. The volunteers being students. In the meantime, large stocks of coal were to be laid down for the possibility of a long dispute taking place. As a result of forward planning, the Mine Owners and the Government together inflicted a defeat on the miners and the MFGB. They returned to work defeated and demoralized, having to leave behind them black listed colleagues, and of course they had to accept the terms of the Mine Owners.

However, before we leave this important piece of history we must note a significant betrayal by the Nottinghamshire miners which at a later date was to play a major role in the 1984/85 miners strike. George Spencer the Labour MP for Broxtowe negotiated a separate agreement with the Nottinghamshire Mine Owners, and as a result led the Nottinghamshire Miners back to work leaving their fellow miners in other areas to struggle on to defeat. The result of this being that George Spencer was expelled from the Labour Party and became a Liberal MP. The sweetheart union created by George Spencer was called the Nottinghamshire Miners Industrial Union, but was better known in general as Spencer’s Union.

The Second Betrayal

Much has been said about the National Union of Mineworkers failure to hold a National Ballot regarding the 1984/5 strike, but it must be said that the NUM had run a ballot in 1982 regarding a National Coal Board proposal for a National Incentive Scheme, and although a majority of the members of the NUM had rejected this scheme, the Nottinghamshire miners ignored the result on the basis of the federal structure of the NUM, and at this point large stocks of coal started to be piled up in preparation of the forthcoming strike.

The closure programme for the coal mining industry, and therefore strike, was to be delayed in 1981 by the Tory Government. This was because of the Yorkshire Area’s large majority for strike action after the threatened closure of Cortenwood Colliery, which was followed by other areas with large majorities. Three years preparation by the Tory’s was put to good use, and this time instead of the likes of George Spencer’s sweetheart unionism I found that Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson were playing the same sweetheart role with the Nottinghamshire miners as Stanley Baldwin and Winston Churchill had done nearly 60 years earlier.

I believe there were strategic mistakes regarding picketing, however, I would like to concentrate on the relationship between the Thatcher government and the sweetheart union called the Union of Democratic Miners (Nottinghamshire's breakaway Union). Because politicians like to boast about their achievements after retirement, I acquired Margaret Thatcher’s book ‘The Downing Street years’, and Nigel Lawson’s book ‘The View from Number 11’ - both of which were very revealing.

In Nigel Lawson’s Book, he describes the importance of the Vale of Belvoir mining development as being vital for keeping the Nottinghamshire miners on side and detaching the more moderate area’s from the other more militant ones. In other words buy the Nottinghamshire miners with new jobs that would replace the old ones on closure. So were the Nottinghamshire Miners claiming that their right to work was based on a failure of the NUM to hold a national ballot or a selfish "I’m all right Jack" attitude? This book is worth reading for the duplicitous nature of ruling class Toryism, and it’s no holds barred use of the state and its institutions to remove by ANY means the opposition to its objectives. There is much more to read in this book regarding the miners strike.

In Margaret Thatcher’s book she describes the cosy relationship between the Nottinghamshire Miners leaders (UDM) and herself as follows; "I told my Private Office that when the strike was over I would have representatives of all the working miners to number 10 for a reception, and indeed I did." She also states that she kept in touch with Roy Lynk, the Nottinghamshire leader of the UDM, "who knew that he could speak to me, if and when he needed." Could they have been closer at this point in time?

When Michael Hesletine announced over thirty pit closures in about 1991, he also announced the closure of seven Nottinghamshire pits, to which Roy Lynk responded by going down Silverhill Colliery to do a sit-in. But before he went down the mine, he claimed the working miners of 1984/5 had been betrayed and stabbed in the back, so it seems to me there was more job promises than the Vale of Belvoir.

So it can be seen that the ruling class are not to be trusted, as the ‘divide and rule’ philosophy is not just about creating Empires, but can be usefully deployed over domestic policies. Finally I would remind the UDM miners that Thatcher said “greed is good,” but in this case it did not apply to them!


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