The Miners' Strike: Why did Notts scab?

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on 10 November, 2004 - 8:37

For most miners, the Notts coalfield was synonymous with conservatism and right wing domination. It was the first coalfield to return to work in 1926. The home of “Spencerism” (employer’s union) and the main area of support for the introduction of an incentive scheme in 1977.

Conditions in the coalfield — thick straight seams and relatively good wages and conditions — helped. Notts was not the only area with a right wing tradition but, unlike neighbouring Yorkshire (which also was right wing until the 1960s), it had little history of militant rank and file organisation and strikes.

The Notts coalfield came out in the national strikes of 1972 and 1974, following national ballots, but the issue in both cases was wages. Following the introduction of the incentive scheme in 1977, which the Notts Area had championed, the miners of Notts became more divided from the rest of the industry.

On the issue of pits closures — on which during the strike it seemed the coalfield was going to be relatively safe — the area was always going to be a tough nut to crack. In the March 1983 national ballot only 19% of Notts miners voted for action in support of the South Wales strike.

Was the national ballot issue crucial? That was certainly the argument of the leading Notts scabs. If only there had been a ballot with a yes vote, they would have been out too. Coming from people who in early 1985 refused an area ballot on their decision to break away from the NUM, this was hypocrisy. Nonetheless the issue was real. Many saw the ballot issue as a rationalisation for their unwillingness to come out.

Stripped of it, they might not have felt strong enough to hold back. These people might have been won to the strike. A successful ballot vote might have made some difference but that was never the basic question. The key issue was whether a ballot would demobilise and go against the strike action. The strike against pit closures was the central thing, the ballot issue a secondary tactical point.

THE EVENTS

Start of November: Scabbing starts in North Derbyshire.

4 November: sequestrator obtains injunction from Irish judge to freeze NUM funds deposited in Ireland.

5 November: Legal action sought in the High Court to prevent Yorkshire Area NUM officers from control of their funds. National delegate conference of NUM agrees series of regional rallies.

7 November: NUM resist sequestrator’s demand to return union assets to UK. Dublin Court rules £2.75 million NUM funds remain frozen and not given to sequestrator.

10 November: Transport unions call for international support to mount blockade of coal and oil shipments to the UK.

11 November: NCB offers £650 Christmas bonus to striking miners who return to work by 19 November.

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