n 13 March 1984 the National Union of Mineworkers ( the NUM ) brought its 150,000 members out on strike. The all out strike call was remarkable because although there had been significant strikes in 1972 and 1974 those of us active in the trade union at the time sensed that this was different. Different in so many ways but little did we realise that it would lead to fundamental questions being asked about the future of trade unions , our relationship with the Labour Party , the role of the police in society and the way a government operates in times of crisis.
For Prime Minister Thatcher it was clear from the outset - the miners leader Arthur Scargill and the NUM had to be defeated. She made it clear that for her they were “the enemy within”.
The strike was to last until March 1985. On 28 September 1984 it reached its two- hundreth day making it the longest national strike in the history of the British trade union movement.
In 1983 Britain had 174 workIng pits - by 2018 this had been reduced to 14.
The membership of the NUM today is less than 400.
As the miners came out on strike in March 1984 local government trade unions like NUPE , GMB and NALGO faced their own problems. Jobs , conditions of service , pay and local democracy itself were under attack from the Thatcher government as it mounted a right wing , monetarist offensive against public services.
On 29 March 1984 there was a national rally in London - with simultaneous events held in Liverpool and Manchester - in defence of local democracy and in particular those local authorities facing increasing financial pressure.
The NALGO Local Government Service Group delegates from across the UK had met to discuss these issues a week earlier and agreed to
⏺ Establish local joint union committees to coordinate activity in the regions
⏺ Produce targeted publicity to inform the general public about central government’s plans for local authorities
⏺ Offer full support to those Councils prepared to oppose the cuts
⏺ Lobby Parliament in an attempt to build support from MPs and.....
⏺ Refuse to cooperate with any work being done to abolish the Metropolitan Counties ( Five including Merseyside )
At that Service Group meeting Hackney branch had called for NALGO to offer support to the NUM in their strike action and the motion was CARRIED - without dissent.
Two months later at NALGO annual national conference in Brighton ( June 1984 ) a card vote carried an emergency motion calling for voluntary branch levies in support of the miners. A collection was held in the conference hall and cash and pledges raised £32,000 - to be matched by a donation from NALGO national funds.
After Conference individual members and NALGO branches offered ongoing support to the miners and their families. Lynne Morris led the Cheshire NALGO branch women’s group and they established supportive links with “Women Against Pit Closures “ and their organiser at Parkside Colliery - Sylvia Pye. The Cheshire NALGO women visited the women’s camp at the pit and provided food and financial support in their struggle throughout the dispute. Other local North West NALGO branches concentrated on supporting children during the dispute and City of Liverpool NALGO held a Christmas party for miners children in December 1984.
However, in many NALGO branches ( including Cheshire ) special general meetings were held at which there was an attempt to censure the union for donating funds to the miners.
At NALGO North West ( and North Wales ) District Council held in St George’s Hall Liverpool on 22 September 1984 a miner from Sutton Manor pit addressed the delegates and it was reported that according to the TUC the full amount of donations from NALGO to the miners was in the region of £132,000 with branch and individual donations amounting to about £90,000 of that figure.
The really valuable financial support and solidarity was coming from NALGO local workplace collections and branches.
But in some NALGO branches the mood was different.
On 10 October 1984 NALGO held a one day special conference in London to discuss donations to the miners.
In order to convene such a special conference under rule there has to be the support of 50 individual branches. In fact 103 branches had supported the call initiated by East Northants NALGO.
The main motion called for
“........the NALGO National Executive Council ( NEC ) to make no further donations ( to the NUM ) until a secret ballot is held ......”
The motion contained no criticism of the miners. It simply called on the NUM to hold a secret ballot of its members to “confirm” the strike action.
The motion was opposed by NALGO NEC who wanted confirmation of IT’S existing policy of continuing full support for the miners - including the vital financial support.
The debate lasted most of the day with excellent speeches in support of the miners from NEC members and individual branch delegates including a significant contribution from Vicky Rosin of Liverpool NALGO. The main theme of those opposing the call for a secret ballot and supporting continuation of NALGO support was to remind delegates of the solidarity shown by miners and the NUM whenever and wherever NALGO members had been involved in disputes. It was clear to these delegates that in the months to come public service trade unions would face major battles to protect jobs. This is the wrong time to show any wavering in our support of the miners and if we fail in our duty to support them now how could we possibly expect any other trade unions to stand with us ? NEC member Rita Donaghy reminded delegates how the miners had always stood shoulder to shoulder with our members - especially in the NHS.
To no avail, the NEC position was LOST 431,463 to 215,503 votes.
And the main motion was WON 405,044 to 250,652 votes.
Thankfully however, it did not reach the required 2/3 majority which meant that the NALGO policy of SUPPORT was not changed.
Calling this conference had cost NALGO £250,000 and for many of us had damaged the efforts of all those NALGO members and branches who had built long lasting relationships with the miners and their communities.
Many NALGO activists in the large North West branches such as Manchester , Cheshire , Liverpool , Lancashire and Cumbria held to the view that the NUM strike was about defending jobs and communities and continued to offer whatever support they could throughout the dispute.
For us where the strike was solid - as in South Wales - we had seen men, women and children stand together in defiance of an uncaring and devious government. A government that brought the full power of the state down on a trade union and its members.
The miners and their families had displayed strength , comradeship and courage which Thatcher and her government would plunder in different circumstances. In fact many of those mining communities were still mourning soldier sons lost in the ill conceived Falklands War a couple of years earlier which ironically saved her government from defeat at the polls.