Union members were betrayed by leadership in miners’ strike

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I would like to try and redress the balance after reading the recent ‘Window on Westminster’ columns by our two local MPs regarding the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

It must have been taken out of political correctness that neither mentioned who the blame for the collapse of the strike lay with – the men who returned to work, or so-called ‘scabs’.

But the real reason the strike collapsed, and never started in some areas, was the failure of the NUM to organise a national ballot.

There was a school of thought at the time that why should a man have a vote that could effect another man’s job?

That’s actually what is known as democracy. That was what all those people died for in two world wars, in case it had slipped anyone’s memory.

The collision course was set a few years earlier when Arthur Scargill was elected president of the NUM on Joe Gormley’s retirement.

I was disappointed to hear of the cabinet papers released under the 30-year rule, which revealed plans to close more pits and lose more jobs than originally indicated, and also to see Michael Heseltine on a recent TV documentary admitting they chose the time to announce closures knowing coal stocks were at record levels and Scargill would be up for a fight.

But show me a government that has not deceived the people in some way.

My pit, Ellington, and the Northumberland area, voted against a strike in a ballot at the start.

But we ended up on strike when a bus load from outside the area picketed our gates, and obviously we couldn’t break that unofficial 11th Commandment – ‘Thou shalt not cross a picket line’.

At least we had a ballot of some sort, for all the use it proved to be.

Some areas didn’t have one at all, such as the brainwashed of Durham and Yorkshire.

About a month into the dispute, it became obvious the men of Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire were going to honour the result of their regional ballots and continue to work.

I can’t believe to this day that a national ballot was not called immediately. It could only ever end in disaster from then.

At this point, I expected Neil Kinnock to step in and tell the NUM leadership they must hold a ballot, but he didn’t have the guts, and the pathetic excuse of a party leader was hardly heard of again.

The NUM got very little, if any, support from other unions. How could they when thousands of their members were still working in the Midlands?

In the early autumn, the 26-man national executive met in Sheffield and still decided not to hold a ballot and continue the fight.

What a sight it was as the militant hordes surrounding the building sang their anthem, ‘The miners, united, will never be defeated’. What a joke.

I’d had enough of Arthur Scargill, Mick McGahey and Peter Heathfields’ left-wing communist claptrap by now and decided to go back to work.

The famous quote of Edmund Burke sprang to mind, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’.

Even the hardliners knew it was all over when the contentious issue of the fate of the miners sacked for various reasons became an issue.

I could only tell a meeting of over 1,000 men in early November that I had been told each case would be considered on an individual basis when the dispute was over, although obviously the union would have no bargaining power.

So the scene was set to turn miner against miner. The camaraderie, enjoyed only by men who have worked down that dusty black hole, destroyed forever.

The return to work then gave the green light for the local scum to come out of the woodwork and smash people’s windows and damage their property, all under the banner of ‘fighting for jobs and communities’, and condoned by Scargill and his cronies (a favourite word of Mr Campbell).

Violence, bullying and intimidation could never be allowed to prevail – not in this country, anyway.

The rest is history, but I would like to think things could have been different, if only we had that ballot, and we would have all been at work or on strike properly, united as one, with no need for picket lines.

But the leaders treat the members shamefully. Lions led by donkeys.

It may seem that I am anti-union, but that Arthur could not be further from the truth.

I’ve been a member of the GMB for 26 years and, believe it or not, they allow us to vote on pay, conditions and disputes with management.

The men who returned to work did not betray the union.

The membership were betrayed by the leadership, hell bent on bringing down an elected government by any means possible.

The poor miners just happened to be a pawn in this game.

So there’s a view of the dispute from a different angle – and definitely not from wide on the left.

G Milburn

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