5 Myths About Arthur Scargill And The Miners' Strikes That Simply Aren't True

The miners’ strike is thirty years old this week. Neither before or since has there been an industrial dispute of the scale, duration and impact of that seismic struggle. As with most working class history, however, the truth has been buried under an avalanche of smears, distortions and outright lies.
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The miners’ strike is thirty years old this week. Neither before or since has there been an industrial dispute of the scale, duration and impact of that seismic struggle. As with most working class history, however, the truth has been buried under an avalanche of smears, distortions and outright lies.

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My book, Look Back In Anger: the Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire, released earlier this month, seeks to set the record straight and dispel some of the most common myths that have become accepted truth over the last thirty years. Here are five of the most common.

Arthur Scargill Was an Incompetent Blunderer Who Called the Strike at The End of Winter When coal Stocks Were High

Firstly, Arthur Scargill ‘called’ no strike. The dispute was triggered when the closure of Cortonwood colliery was announced. After 850 miners had been transferred there from the doomed Elescar pit on the promise of five years further work, just weeks previously, feelings were running high. Cortonwood voted to strike, sought permission to do so, from the Yorkshire Area Council, as per their rule book, which was then granted. The rest of Yorkshire, Scotland, South Wales, Kent, most of the North East and parts of Lancashire quickly followed, as per Rule 41 entirely in accord with both the NUM’s constitution and the law at the time.

Thatcher and Coal Board Chief, Ian MacGregor, had met six months previously to discuss ways of provoking the dispute. The miners’ overtime ban, which had started the previous autumn, had been particularly effective in running down stocks, thus Thatcher needed to back the miners’ into a corner and provoke the strike before winter when stocks would have disappeared quickly.

Ah, But Scargill Denied His Men a Ballot!

Utterly untrue. At the NUM Special Delegates’ Conference of April 19th, 1984, Delegates from every pit in the UK voted democratically not to have a national ballot as they were already on strike – actually a series of Area strikes – and saw no need for a ballot as they had already voted with their feet. Scargill, by contrast, actually expected the majority to vote for a national ballot and had prepared for such an outcome with posters, ballot papers and leaflets, fully expecting to have to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote.

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But The Miners Were a Violent Mob of Hooligans

The majority of the violence was carried out by the police, particularly the Met, who – as the recently-released thirty year Cabinet Office papers confirm – were acting on specific instructions from Thatcher personally to get tough with the miners and break the strike. Of the many violent episodes that occurred during the strike, Orgreave showed mounted police and riot police in full battle kit, bludgeoning and truncheoning shirtless pickets in shorts and plimsolls. The footage was notoriously “inadvertently reversed” by the BBC to show miners provoking the violence when, in reality, they were responding to events and defending themselves from sustained and shocking police brutality.

Oh OK, But Scargill Was A Crook Who Stole From Striking Miners To Pay Off His Mortgage, Right?

Wrong! You’re thinking of the other fella; Neil Greatrex, former Nottinghamshire working miner, UDM President and convicted thief and fraudster, jailed for stealing over £140,000 from sick miners. As for Scargill, not only did he have no mortgage at the time but the allegations – all of which were proved to be entirely untrue – were later revealed by Seumas Milne, The Guardian’s Associate Editor, to be an orchestrated smear campaign by the security services. In his riveting account, The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners, Milne revealed the extent of political, media and state collusion to frame Arthur Scargill.

Nottinghamshire Miners Were Decent Men Who valued Democracy and Only Wanted To Exercise Their Right To Work.

There were decent Notts miners, sure, but they were strikers; principled men like Keith Stanley, Eric Eaton, Les Dennis, Kevin Parkin, Nobby Lawton, Maurice Wake and a few hundred more, who were arrested, sacked and beaten as they fought to save their jobs, their industry and their communities. On the other hand, the leading Notts scabs formed themselves into the Notts Working Miners’ Committee and appealed to the Conservatives for funds to break the strike. They colluded with shadowy intelligence types and their leading figure, Chris Butcher, AKA ‘Silver Birch’ was later unmasked as a Special Branch informant. They had such respect for democracy that they flouted their Union’s Rule 30 which rendered any Area subordinate to the National Rule Book when any conflict arose. Later, their leader, Roy Lynk, stitched up his own members in secret deals with Tory Energy Minister, Tim Eggar, and then accepted a lucrative directorship of British Coal from a grateful Tory establishment. Along with his OBE, of course. In reality, the Nottinghamshire strike-breakers’ only commitment was to pound notes and the results of their betrayal are evident today; three pits left from a 174 at the start of the strike, devastated communities, crime, drugs and mass unemployment. Er, thanks, Nottinghamshire!

Follow Harry on Twitter @harrypaterson1

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