Source: Militant, no. 88 (January 14, 1972)
Transcription: Francesco 2010
Proofread: Fred 2010
Markup: Niklas 2010
280,000 miners have accepted the challenge of the National Coal Board and the government who wish to keep them tied down to degrading wages. The increase offered of 7.9 percent does not even compensate for the rise in the cost of living of 14 percent. Since 1965 there has been a fall in real wages in comparison with rising costs. From being top in wage-rates, miners have fallen to the lower levels of workers. That is the reason for the first national miners’ strike since 1926.
The case of the miners is unanswerable. For dirty, dangerous and hard work, they demand a modest standard of living. Even if the full demands of the miners were conceded, it would not compensate for the dark, dreary conditions most of them have to work in. The underground workers do not see daylight till the weekend, and not always then.
The brutal attitude of the well-paid officials of the Coal Board has been dictated by the Tory government. Cold-bloodedly they wish to make the miners the target of their policies, just as last year it was the Post Office workers. The strike is the full responsibility of the Conservative government. It is their so-called “wages policy” of a “norm” of 8 percent which is behind the refusal of the Board to concede more than £2 and £1.90 for certain classes of miners.
It is not public enterprise they are defending, but the interests of the monopolies. If government enterprise gives way, then private big business would also have to concede reasonable wage increases which would at least be related in some measure to the increase in the cost of living. Hence their piggish stubbornness.
Even The Times, organ of big business, in its issue of January 10th, was compelled to admit in an editorial: “private owners would capitulate.” The government does not care if it costs tens of millions of pounds to the economy, as it undoubtedly will, if they can save the pockets of their millionaire backers. So much for their concern for the “nation and for the economy.” In crises of this sort, it is revealed that they stand for the naked interests of capital.
That is why every worker, every trade unionist and every Labour Party member must stand fully behind the miners. Their fight is our fight. It is the fight of the entire working class. These cold, callous, hard-faced men, these desperate capitalists, are defending their rotten system. No matter if the workers eke out a living, so long as their profits are kept up; that is their main concern. Carr, Barber, Davies and Heath are merely tools in their hands.
If the argument is that the NCB could not “afford more” as Ezra, the head of the Coal Board, maintains, that is entirely false. In a few weeks of the strike, the Coal Board will lose more than if they had conceded the entire claim of £9. If the economy were fully planned and organised, it would be possible to give the miners much more, and lower hours as well.
Thousands of millions of pounds are being lost because the economy is working at only 64 percent of capacity. If the million unemployed were working productively it could mean an extra £6 a week for every family this year. The economy working at full pitch could easily give the miners their full and just demand.
Instead, the government and the Coal Board calculate that if they can club down the miners and beat them to the ground, no matter the cost to the miners, their families and the coal industry, that would serve as a lesson to other sections of workers demanding higher wages. State industry can suffer losses if private industry thereby is safeguarded against the claims of their workers. That is the cynicism of the government and the Coal Board.
Even the hireling capitalist press has a difficult case to make against the miners. They admit that the take-home pay of many sections of the miners is a scandalous £11 to £14. The Express reports an interview with Tony Darnley, a miner at Goldthorpe colliery in Yorkshire:
“Tony Darley is 27, with a wife, a son and a daughter…For 38 weeks so far, he has been paid a total of £647 before deductions. [That means £17 a week approximately—after deductions it would be £11 or £12.] During Christmas week he drew £12.
“Said Tony Darley: ‘I am over my head in debt and I can’t afford to go on strike—but honestly there is no other way. Miners have been underpaid for years and everybody knows it’.
“ ‘The visits the Board bosses make to various pits make me laugh’.
“ ‘I’ll admit they get their faces and hands dirty but do they actually see us at work? Get a few of them up the Seventies [the seam where he operates] and they would soon change their tune’.
“ ‘Do you know what I wear at work? A pair of wellies, without stockings, a helmet, a belt and swimming trunks. It’s the water that sprays in like a fountain’.
“ ‘Holidays? I don’t know what they are. They are just something everyone else talks about’.”
That is why the miners are on strike and that is why they must get unstinted and maximum support. The attitude taken by the TUC in this connection is that of the man who passed by the sick man and not that of the good Samaritan. They owe a debt to the miners as does every section of the labour and trade union movement, in the past and not least now, when the miners have not been prepared meekly to accept the dictates of the government and the Coal Board.
The TUC has left it to the individual unions to give support instead of organising a full-scale campaign and mobilising the entire working class. A campaign of this sort would very rapidly bring the government to see reason, and get the Coal Board to give in to the claim of the miners. Joe Gormley, president of the miners’ union made the understatement of the year when he commented on January 10th: “I know we have been in touch with individual unions but I would have thought that this was one time that the TUC could have shown itself to be united.”
The rank and file of the Labour Party and the unions must send resolutions of support, financial assistance to the miners and demands for the NEC and the TUC to campaign for funds and organise meetings in favour of the miners. The national committee of the Labour Party Young Socialists have already done so.
The T&GWU, the NUR, ASLEF and other unions have already pledged support and promised that there will be no blacklegging. The dockers’ shop stewards, meeting nationally, have pledged support. The railwaymen have already moved into action. Fred Hoyle, publicity officer of the NUR in Manchester has already stated: “We will not move coal into sidings or out, and if anyone has ideas of changing to oil to beat this, we will ban the handling of that as well.”
Railwaymen have taken solidarity action at Dunfermline in Scotland, refusing to move coal to a power station. At Eastleigh, Hants., members of ASLEF have refused to carry imported coal to power stations. At Port Talbot in South Wales, ASLEF men have passed a resolution declaring they will not drive trains into any colliery, open cast working sites or docks to move coal. That is the spirit of class solidarity that must become the spirit of the whole organised labour movement.
The anger of the miners at the stiff-necked attitude of the Coal Board, the ventriloquist’s dummy for the government, was shown when Ezra announced the withdrawal of even his meagre wage offer. Behind the scenes, preparations had been made even before this crisis for 32 more pits to be closed. Lawrence Daly said: “I regard the extension of the refusal to do safety work in some areas as an indication of the deep anger felt by the miners at the provocative act of the Coal Board in withdrawing the wages offer already made.”
At Goldthorpe colliery, already mentioned, a mass meeting of miners turned down the request of the colliery manager to send down volunteers to fight a pit fire. The under-managers, the deputies and the manager himself had to go underground to fight the fire. This is a sign of the extreme bitterness of the combine.
The compassion of the miners is indicated by the provision which has been made to supply old-age pensioners, hospitals and other weak and helpless and in dire need.
Now that the fight is on, the miners must not accept a rotten compromise. They must fight for the full claim. With the aid and assistance of the whole of the working class they can win it. Any negotiated settlement must be put to meetings of the delegates or to miners’ meetings before it is accepted.
For miner’s victory!
For the full £9!