[A-List] UK: the legacy of Thatcherism, part 94
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Mon Mar 1 06:27:14 MST 2004
Ironic that while Scargill and Heathfield were accused of benefiting
personally from the abuse of NUM funds, as part of a smear campaign
orchestrated by Robert Maxwell, MI5 and the Labour Party leadership under
Neil Kinnock (who presented the Daily Mirror "journalists" with an award for
their "exposé", despite its complete fabrication), it has in fact been the
leadership of the breakaway Union of Duped Mineworkers that has been
creaming off the top at the expense of those whose interests they claimed to
Strikers' hatred and mistrust will never die
Community divisions still bear witness to intensity of struggle
Monday March 1, 2004
The rain is coming through the ceiling at the Middlecliff miners' welfare
club. Buckets are scattered around on the seats and on the worn linoleum.
Along the back wall, four men are sitting quietly supping pints.
Years ago, this place would have been packed. Men finishing off their shift
in the nearby collieries of Grimethorpe and Houghton Main would have stopped
off for a drink on the way home, or not bothered to go home at all. The roof
would never have leaked back then.
The demise of institutions like this, and the coalfields that brought them
into existence, began 20 years ago this month when the National Coal Board
announced plans for mass pit closures. What followed was the 1984 miners'
strike, and with it a bitter division within the country's mining community
that is still far from healed.
The long and difficult battle with the NCB and the Thatcher government over
the planned demise of the country's mining industry has left a rift between
striking miners and those who returned to work, "scabs" as they were called,
that many say can never be breached.
In the Middlecliff welfare, the hatred of scabs is as strong today as it was
then. "I don't want to know scabs that went back to work. There were two or
three of them in this village and we still don't talk to them," says one
former miner. "When I went back to work, if one came along to work with me I
Such is the feeling of hatred that a man they call "Superscab" is still
ostracised. His name is spat out vehemently across the wider Barnsley
coalfield, once the site of 16 pits. His bungalow, which sits on its own at
the end of a row of redbrick miners' semis, had "scab" painted on it during
the strike. That is gone, but the accusation remains - his wife says he will
not talk about the dispute; not 20 years on, not ever. The memory is still a
In the nearby village of Brampton, Mick Carter sits in his living room,
"doodling" as he likes to call it. As Teletext shows changes to the dog
racing results, he writes the details down. "It helps to pass the time." The
other things that help pass the time are jigsaw puzzles and memories of the
Mr Carter was the NUM branch delegate at Cortonwood colliery, the first pit
earmarked for closure and the first to go on strike, at midnight on March 5
1984. Days after Cortonwood came out, the rest of Yorkshire followed and the
strike spread across the country.
He, too, is in no mood for forgiveness. "Once a scab, always a scab. I still
feel the same way as I did then. They are non-people, they don't exist.
There's the odd one or two I might talk to, but they are still pariahs.
Reconciliation is not bloody likely. What do you do with a traitor? You
string them up."
Like many other pitmen, Mr Carter says he will never forget. The
near-starvation, the police brutality, the lying media, the solidarity of
the strikers and the weakness of the blacklegs, the tears at going back to
work, the feeling of defeat but not humiliation.
What the scabs didn't understand, he says, is that the strike wasn't about
pay and conditions, it was for jobs and communities - they were trying to
save a way of life. Now it is all but gone. Mr Carter went on to get a
university degree, but, for him, any benefits from leaving the pit came at
too high a price.
Paul Darlow was just 18 during the strike and was a miner at Woolley
colliery in Yorkshire, Arthur Scargill's pit. He is now a special-needs
teacher, having put himself through university, but he too feels the same
about the strike-breakers.
"We were fighting against what we have now - unemployment, drugs,
desperation - and they didn't fight. Thatcher has done a right job. She has
split us right down the middle.
"I know common sense tells me we have got to unite, but how can you unite
with somebody that you hate so much?"
For many the strike was a life-changing experience. Families were riven
because one brother worked while the other was on strike for the whole year;
marriages broke up and many fathers went to their graves never speaking to
their sons again. One miner who went back to work before Christmas in 1984
was so hurt when half his family failed to turn up at his 25th wedding
anniversary celebrations that he went home halfway through the event and
Steve Brunt is a lecturer in community studies at Northern College, an adult
education centre near Barnsley, and was formerly a miner at Arkwright
colliery in Derbyshire, where he organised flying pickets during the strike.
He says he cannot understand why people still hold such enmity.
"I am totally frustrated by the inability of the former mining communities
to come to reconciliation over the strike," he says. "There is still this
hatred and loathing of people. The world has moved on and changed
considerably since 1984, but the bitterness is still there.
"I have a lot of painful memories of the miners' strike. Men who had given
everything, men who lost all their savings - there were men in tears who
knew that when they went back to work they were scabbing.
"I think someone in the union should say, 'this has got to come to an end,'
but they daren't."
In nearby Nottinghamshire, there is some sort of reconciliation, but only
just. This is the place they call "scabby county" because many of its miners
never went on strike at all. While Yorkshire faced four pit closures over 12
months, Nottingham faced none. These days, its coalfield too has all but
Reconciliation, or something resembling it, comes here because the strikers
were in the minority. Only 2,000 miners held out to the bitter end. Jimmy
Hood, the Labour MP for Clydesdale, was one of them. In 1984 he was the NUM
lodge secretary at Ollerton colliery.
"Of course there should be reconciliation, because the real class enemy was
not the people on strike or not," he says. "It would be nice to think, but
it will not happen because people were so bitter and divided on both sides.
We sought reconcliation after the strike and tried to keep the union
together, but it didn't happen.
"Of course I would speak to a scab. I wouldn't not speak to persons who were
on the wrong side of the argument. They did so in ignorance and they made
the wrong choices."
Nottinghamshire was the scene of some of the strike's worst violence. The
government drafted in 8,000 police officers to deal with the flying pickets
who arrived to try to talk their fellow miners out of working. In the first
week of the strike, the ensuing brutality saw one picket, David Jones,
crushed to death at Ollerton on his 24th birthday.
"It was murder," says Paul Whetton, who was then the NUM branch secretary at
Bevercotes pit, near Ollerton. "We had vanloads of coppers in a tiny little
village like this. Now we can never see a copper. We have got the car
thieves and the drug runners coming in, but never a copper."
On the Whetton mantlepiece is an old mining lamp and an ornament of three
miners down the pit eating their "snap" - sandwiches. On the kitchen wall is
a poster of all the badges from every colliery since shut. The family is
proud of its part in the strike.
"This is a small village, and I think there were actually five of us who
stuck it out. It's different here. In a village in Yorkshire, there's one
scab; here it's a totally different ballgame. I will tell them that they are
a set of scabby bastards, but I will play pool or dominoes with them. Life
has to go on, especially when you are in a minority in a village," says Mr
Up in Ollerton, in the Boughton and District Social Club, known as Geordie
club, one man divorced his wife over the strike when she demanded that he go
back to work, and Derek Hughes still doesn't speak to his brother: "My
brother was a medic at Ollerton colliery and he worked. My dad never spoke
to him again and I never spoke to him again. It divided our family."
Maurice Allan is drinking with the striking men and readily admits that he
went back to work. He says the men are OK with him. "I went back because the
rest of the miners wouldn't come out. I didn't want to strike and then see
them get the same benefits without going on strike.
"I was on strike for four months, and there was only 90 of us left at the
bottom of the pit lane. We should all have been out on strike, that's my
opinion, but you can't win a battle with half an army."
Under his breath, Derek Hughes is saying Mr Allan is still a scab. Joe
Thirwell says Mr Allan is talking rubbish, that he went back for the money.
"'I was coming up to retirement ...' 'I did it for the next generation ...'
'I did it for jobs ...' These scabs went back for money and for Maggie."
Beside them, David Gillon shows his tattoo. It says: "Loyal to the last. NUM
Notts striker 1984." Twenty years on, the memory of the strike and the
division it brought, like the ink on this tattoo, is permanent.
Strikebreaking union accused of profiting from sick miners
Monday March 1, 2004
The leaders of the strike-breaking Union of Democratic Mineworkers, which
represents just 1,431 members, were criticised last night after it emerged
that they receive pay and benefits of more than £150,000 each.
Neil Greatrex and Michael Stevens, the Nottinghamshire-based union's two
most senior figures, were branded "fat cats" over their huge remuneration
deals in an organisation which has dwindled almost out of existence.
A doubling of the pair's basic salaries in four years catapulted them to the
top of the UK union pay league with only Gordon Taylor, leader of the
Professional Footballers' Association, on a bigger package.
The basic £100,250 earnings of Mr Greatrex, UDM president and general
secretary, and £91,313 of Mr Stevens, vice-president, are well above the
£73,834 paid to Dave Prentis for running Unison, Britain's biggest union
with 1.3 million members.
The pair also receive payments into a pension fund equivalent to a third of
their salaries plus money towards mortgages, fuel, phones, council tax and
water bills for their homes, as well as cars.
In 2002, the latest available figures, Mr Greatrex, who lives in Kirkby in
Ashfield, Notts, received £17,869 in benefits and Mr Stevens, who lives in
nearby Edwinstowe, £19,702. National insurance contributions, which must be
included in accounts, pushed the cost of the annual packages of the pair
beyond £150,000 each.
The UDM was formed by Nottinghamshire colliers who worked during the
year-long 1984-85 pit strike and opposed NUM president Arthur Scargill. The
strike erupted 20 years ago this week.
The big jump in earnings of the two UDM chiefs dates from 1998 when the UDM
created Vendside, a no win, no fee health claims subsidiary. Vendside was
recently criticised by the Department of Trade and Industry over its
marketing techniques, while MPs have voiced objections to fees levied by the
union on ill and injured miners.
Under a deal with the government, the DTI pays the UDM up to £1,550 plus VAT
to cover the cost of every application made under a £2bn compensation scheme
for two common miners' ailments, chest diseases and vibration white finger.
Vendside, according to documents seen by the Guardian, is also charging
non-members as much as £587 from compensation packages.
Mr Greatrex and Mr Stevens are directors of Vendside, wholly owned by the
UDM, and the company paid £500,000 to the union over a three-year period in
office rent and administration.
The certification officer, Whitehall's union watchdog, has launched a
preliminary investigation into the UDM's operation of Vendside following a
formal complaint from the industry spokesman of Plaid Cymru. Adam Price, the
MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, attacked Mr Greatrex and Mr Stevens as
"fat cats" and said by paying most of the salaries through the Notts UDM
section rather than the national UDM, the huge figures never appeared in the
certification officer's annual report. Mr Price added: "The Nottingham
section's accounts reveal the extent to which the UDM is bankrolled by
Vendside. The UDM has profited from the suffering of former miners and their
Graham Allen, the Nottingham North MP and a former Labour minister who has
complained in parliament about Vendside's charges, said: "The UDM's defence
is legally watertight but the ethics are questionable. This needs to be
Vendside is based in the UDM's Mansfield headquarters but its website does
not mention the union by name. Instead it boasts of having recovered more
than £215m for more than 33,000 claimants since 1998. A parliamentary answer
obtained by Mr Price showed the average payment won by Vendside under the
chest disease scheme was £5,213, more than £1,500 less than the average
£6,810 obtained by solicitors in England.
The UDM leaders declined to speak to the Guardian, but the union recently
issued a statement accusing critics of targeting it ahead of this week's
20th anniversary of the start of the momentous strike.
The union argued it had settled the highest compensation claim, £394,000 for
chronic bronchitis-emphysema, and charges imposed on non-members were a
backdated membership fee.
"These accusations appear to be generated from old-style mining unions and
are politically driven by certain people who still harbour hatred against
the UDM due to how the union was formed in 1985," the statement said. "We
must remind you that the 20th anniversary of the miners' strike is in March.
Much bitterness still exists and much jealousy is generated because the UDM
has been successful and still exists."
Other mining unions refer claimants directly to solicitors, though parts of
the National Union of Mineworkers seek a "donation" from successful chest
and finger scheme claimants to fund work in former coalfields.
The minister responsible for coal health claims, Nigel Griffiths, has
criticised claims firms and solicitors charging pitmen on top of DTI fees.
"We believe that 100% of the compensation we pay must go to the claimant
without anyone else taking a slice of it," he said last year. "I deplore any
attempt to charge sick miners or their widows and families for legal
expenses which are already covered by the DTI."
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