Battered over lack of ballot

During this month’s anniversary coverage of the 1984/85 miners’ strike much has been made of the lack of a national ballot among NUM members.
Lord Kinnock, in particular, has always used the union failure to ballot all its membership as a stick to batter Arthur Scargill.
But, at a distance of 25 years, that does not tell the whole story.
After all, six years previously, in 1978, with a Labour government in Downing Street, the NUM had held a national ballot.
This had concerned a bonus scheme which miners voted to turn down.
However, the Government and British Coal cast the ballot to one side and went ahead with the scheme in the Nottingham coalfield.
“It was that that destroyed our unity,” Tower Colliery chairman Tyrone O’Sullivan told me recently. “Where was Kinnock then?”
Following the wasted ballot of 1978 – ignored by the Government and the Coal Board as it suited them – the NUM changed its constitution to allow each area to hold ballots where job losses were threatened.
In March 1984 that is what Yorkshire miners did at the start of what would become a national strike and what other areas, such as South Wales, went on to do.
Nottingham, added O’Sullivan, “would never vote for strike action. In 1981 when five Welsh pits were threatened they did not support us”.
In 2005 Ian Lavery, Scargill’s successor as NUM president, stated: “I think ballots are fine, if everyone at the end of the day is going to have to experience the same outcome. I didn’t think it would be morally right that miners at Ellington [where he worked], which at the time had a huge future, should have the right to vote someone else out of a job…
“The ones that said we should have had a ballot were the ones who were against the strike, and wanted an excuse not to support the strike.”

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