My Labour Love Affair: Miners’ Strikes

Photo from, George Orwell

(See also,) *European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), available on:

Miners’ Strikes:

‘Throughout the 20th century, coal mining has been the centre of much industrial conflict: there were major nationals strikes in 1912, 1921, 1926, 1972, 1974, and in 1984-5. In addition, by the 1950’s and 1960’s, up to half the 2,000 or so strikes per year that were recorded were connected with coal mining. Those were, of course, entirely unofficial strikes. It is, however, the national strikes that have attracted most attention.

The 1912 national strike by the *Miners’ Federation of Great Britain was a short-lived one in opposition to the Liberal government’s *National Minimum Wage Act. The 1921 dispute was equally short-lived and was a reaction to the wage cuts imposed by the coal owners who had just regained control of their industry on 1 April 1921, with the removal of the wartime control measures. The refusal of the railwaymen and transport workers to support the miners on 15 April 1921, the infamous *Black Friday, led to the collapse of the Triple Alliance between them, by which they had agreed in 1915 to support each other industrial disputes. The failure of the other unions to support the miners built up both a resentment by the miners and a guilt by other trade unions and the TUC, which meant that the TUC came out in their support when the miners were forced to strike again in a national dispute from 30 April 1926, resisting the attempt to reduce their wages. The resulting’ (see also,) *General Strike, available on:

*General Strike ‘lasted nine days before it was called off, but the miners continued to fight the dispute, led by Arthur James Cook and Herbert Smith, only to be driven back to work in November. Cook, Smith, and the miners felt betrayed and there was always a lingering sense of the need for revenge for 1926.

The opportunity did not come until 1972, the next national strike called by the national cola mining union, now called the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). In the 46 years that intervened, the miner had been involved in thousands of unofficial disputes connected with the working of seams and payments. The fact that the col industry had ben nationalised in 1947 made little difference, for miners’ union ignored the appeal to serve on the newly formed National Coal Board, since it was felt that this might compromise its position in a dispute. The miners’ disputes of the 1970’s and 1980’s were all fought against the Conservative governments. In January-February 1972, the miners called their first official strike since 1926in the teeth of the Heath government’s attempt to impose wage restraint. They were demanding an increase go £9 per week for underground workers, £8 for surface workers. The National Coal Board replied with £1.75 (8 per cent) on all basic rates. Arthur Scargill organised the strike, arranged picketing at power stations, and arranged for flying pickets to operate. In the end, after there had been power cuts, Lord Wilberforce was asked to arbitrate, giving the miners most of what they had demanded. Yet the continued attempt to control wage rises forced the miners to into another conflict in 1973. The Heath government imposed a a three-day week and the union held a ballot which called for a strike from 10 February 1974. In this case the strike was over taken by events when Heath announced a general election for 28 February 1974 and lost office to the Labour Party.

The last, and certainly the most protracted, miners’ strike began in March 1984 and lasted until March 1985. It challenged the Employment Acts of Thatcher’s Conservative government, designed to restrict trade union powers, but occurred as a result of the National Coal Boards closing pits in Scotland and Yorkshire. No ballot was held to legitimise the dispute and there was mass-picketing and violence, in Ollerton, in Nottinghamshire (a region where many miners continued to work), and at the Orgreave coke plant in Yorkshire. The NUM’s funds were sequestrated by the courts. In the end, the strike petered out, without a settlement. Since then, with the collapse of the coal mining industry in Britain, and the continuing division of the union which began in 1984-5, the prospect of major official or unofficial strikes in coal mining has practically gone’.

(See also,) *European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), available on:

From, John Ramsden, Professor of Modern History at Queen Mary, university of London.

References: Keith Laybourn, ‘A History of British Trade Unionism c.1770-1990’, Stroud, 1992.

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