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.”

Tower Colliery’s farewell

Farewell to Tower Colliery – and best wishes to all the miners who made the final march from the pit today.
Tower, a workers’ co-operative, was the last deep coal mine in South Wales. It is a remarkable story, which has been told many times. Despite the understandable mythologizing, the colliery has always been about basic realities: a desire to work and to maintain a vibrant local economy.
As such the miners are already thinking about the future of the site and finding new ways of creating employment.
As chairman Tyrone O’Sullivan told the BBC today: “I believe our company can leave a legacy to the community that will see today’s toddlers able to find a job up in the valleys when they’re 16 or 17, instead of having to leave the area.
“It will be the greatest tribute that the workers could give. We’ll be leaving jobs, not statues.”
A towering legend indeed.


My God. I’ve been tagged by gwe. And on a Monday morning.
And asked for my earliest political memories.
Not easy for a man who can’t remember what he had for tea last night.
I’m pleased to say I’m younger than gwe and so was just a tiny babe in arms in the summer of 1969 when – as gwe recollects – Wales witnessed the investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales.
I was drooling on my bib and making gargling noises at the time. I suspect gwe, though older, might have reacted in a similar fashion for different reasons.
I always felt political, I assume, because my parents felt political.
In my school there was a surprising amount of nationalist feeling. Saundersfoot had a very high proportion of English families. Football at break time was always England against Wales and the English always outnumbered the Welsh by three or four to one.
I hope now I’ve left that schoolyard nationalism behind. But a pain remains.
Even though I was growing up in Pembrokeshire, the main political event of my young life was without doubt the miners’ strike.
There had been questions in my house about the flag-waving surrounding the Falklands war. And I remember being branded a Communist early in secondary school for questioning it.
The miners’ strike, though, seemed like a real cause. It is the first time I remember feeling angry about a political issue.
And I still do.

:: I’m tagging Respectable Citizen

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