Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 2 no. 2 (February 1959)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008
The decision by the National Coal Board to close the 36 pits and throw 13,000 miners out of work, with only the promise of re-employing 8,000 is now followed by their outright rejection of the N.U.M. claim for a reduction of hours and increased holidays. This shows that they mean business and are determined to carry out the Tory Government’s plan of economising at the expense of the miners.
The reaction of the leadership of the N.U.M., no matter how they wriggle, amounts to accepting the position. They have decided to continue the policy decided previously to “co-operate in minimising hardship caused by the closures” despite the wave of unrest throughout the coalfields. The South Wales delegation, at the January E.C., under heavy pressure from the militant Welsh coalfields had moved that the Union disassociate itself entirely from the closures. This was defeated by 24 votes - 3. This hardly constitutes a fighting policy.
The rank and file have shown signs of wanting stronger action. At a conference of 79 colliery lodges in S. Wales and the Forest of Dean a decision was taken to “recommend” to the official conference a policy of strike action. At the conference itself one fifth of the delegates supported a token strike.
The bitterness of the miners is particularly sharp because they remember that not so long ago they were being exhorted to work extra shifts and work harder. Now they have worked themselves out of their jobs. The number of miners in the pits is now only 680,000, the lowest since 1900. Meanwhile the productivity of the miners is the highest in Western Europe. But the miners in west Europe have gained three weeks’ holiday with pay.
For ten years the Miners’ Charter has been on the books of the N.U.M. The 7-hour day underground, 40-hour week for surface workers, three weeks’ holiday with pay. The E.C. announced that they would put forward these demands. But as long ago as 1919 the miners had won the 7-hour day. Only to have it taken away from them in the general offensive of the employers, especially the coal-owners, culminating in the general strike of 1926.
The Miners’ Union E.C., have decided to hold a National conference to discuss ways and means of saving Miners’ jobs. Far more to the point would be to prepare a programme of action on a national scale.
In the two areas worst affected Scotland and South Wales, Communist Party members hold leading positions in the N.U.M. and they have organised a campaign of protest meetings, lobbyings of Parliament, etc., etc. However the main consideration of the Communist Party is to ensure the election of their candidate for the General Secretaryship of the N.U.M., William Paynter. That is probably why they have defeated the moves to take more militant action, e.g., demonstration strikes.
Demonstrations, the lobbying of Parliament are very good, but the limitation of this kind of action must be recognised. In the last analysis all this kind of action shows is that miners are opposed to being sacked.
Even the best of the demonstrations like the monster ones held in South Wales do not really worry the Coal Board or the Tories. What must be demonstrated is that the miners are willing to fight, to strike if necessary. Arguments advanced against this on the grounds of Unity, presuppose that no campaign of explanation takes place. The Yorkshire miners, the Notts. and Derbyshire miners will understand if it’s put to them in a class way that their interests are those of the sacked miners. They will understand that if the N.C.B. and the Tories get away with this that the next step is an attack on all miners’ conditions. Workers in other industries, too, despite all the propaganda, will understand that the defeat of the miners in this struggle will be followed by an assault on all workers’ hours and wages. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the history of the movement knows this, more shame to those trade union “leaders” who have given no lead on the question.
More fundamental problems are posed too, it is not the miners who are responsible for the crisis in the industry. It is not the working class. It is the responsibility of the capitalist system of production for profit. Why should the workers suffer for no fault of their own? Let the ruling class bear the burden of the crisis. The ex coal-owners are getting compensation even for those pits that have been closed down. Cut the compensation to the level of wages earned by the miners! Work or full wages for all miners must be the demand. Cut the hours and ban all overtime.
The miners in S. Wales say that the pits being closed are not as uneconomic as the Coal Board argues. There is only one way to meet this situation. The Coal Board represents the interests of the employers and the State. Only when the trade unions have a majority of the representatives elected through the trade unions, and responsible to the workers, will decisions be taken for the benefit of the miners and the working class as a whole.