Jim Higgins

Setting the Record Straight

(May 1972)

From the International Socialism, Internal Bulletin, May 1972.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford, September 2012.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In the Red Mole, No. 40 (17 April 1972), a letter from a number of NUM members appeared, together with a highly tendentious commentary from the IMG. The letter from the NUM members (a copy of which was sent to SW) is the result of some intensive lobbying by IMG members.

On the face of it the condemnation in the letter seems fairly damning. Three members of the Editorial Board and others complain (1) that the conference was not advertised to all organisation, (2) that an IS Conference had no right to add members to the Editorial Board of a rank and file miners paper.

The IMG complain further that they were excluded while Tony Cliff and Chris Davison were admitted. They complain that the Chairman (Peter O’Neill, NUM) refused to accept amendments to the draft programme in the Collier. He refused to accept a vote on the constitution of the paper. Why, they ask, was workers’ control (an item agreed at a previous meeting) not included in the agenda. They repeat the accusation that an IS miners’ conference added a member to The Collier EB.

Let us now examine the facts. The original decision to launch The Collier was taken at an informal ad hoc meeting in Barnsley on 27 February. This was intended to be an exploratory meeting with a few miners and 10 members. The IMG got wind of the meeting and decided to gatecrash. Because it would have been incomprehensible to the 40 odd miners who turned up at the meeting we made no attempt to exclude the IMG members (none of whom were miners).

This first Barnsley meeting resulted in an EB of six (four IS members and two nominated by the IMG). As the result of their ill-mannered intervention the IMG were somewhat cookahoop. In an IMG internal bulletin they wrote the following

“We are now in an excellent situation to extend our influence among the more militant miners and we can cash in on IS’s spadework. Two articles have been written for The Collier by IMG members and will be submitted to the editorial board by our contacts on it. It is now of prime importance that we are able to make an intervention in the conference in Leeds on the 19th. The IS are insisting that the conference is for miners only but it is almost certain that Cliff, Charlton, etc. will be there. This is something that we can use to insist that we be allowed in but (underlined) it is important that we have a base of support amongst the miners themselves. It should therefore become a major priority of all units of the organisation with contacts in the mining industry to mobilise support for the conference. There are already a few miners in the Yorkshire area who would be prepared to fight in the conference to let us in and if we could take even 20-30 miners with us to the conference it would prove practically impossible for the IS to stop us getting in. The fact that IS could not attempt to throw us out of the Barnsley meeting indicates that the political ties of these miners must be extremely tenuous and one or two good members from the IMG could have a big impact at the IMG (sic) conference This is the best opportunity we have had for some time to get our ideas across to industrial militants and at the same time hit IS where it politically hurts. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.”

In the event, as was to be expected, they had only one or two miners at the conference.

Between the first Barnsley meeting and the conference an EB meeting was held at 6 Cottons Gardens. All the EB members were present, including the two IMG contact/nominees for the EB (these two comrades Cotter and Thornton subsequently signed the Red Mole protest letter). At this meeting the contents of the first issue were agreed and a lengthy discussion took place on the programme for the paper. All points in the final programme were unanimously agreed by all members of the EB. The final decision taken at that meeting, again unanimously, was the organisation of an IS miners conference. The EB, including comrades Cotter and Thornton, agreed that members of the IS National Committee (effectively, comrades Cliff and Charlton) and any NUM member of whatever political persuasion should be entitled to attend. Unless political tendencies had actual members in the NUM, who could put their point of view, the EB saw no point in allowing them to take up the time of the conference. In the event, a sizeable contingent of non-NUM members of the IMG turned up and were not admitted.

The IMG-inspired letter from the NUM members would seem incomprehensible. It is less so when we discover that signatures to the letter were obtained by the IMG without the text being available to all the signatories. According to comrades Cotter and Thornton they thought that IMG miners had been excluded from the conference and that the letter was calling for an open rank and file miners paper.

On the accusation that we added to The Collier EB at an IS conference, there is just a germ of truth, but only in the sense that the Chairman did not stop the conference electing another EB member. There is, however, a certain comedy in the IMG’s shocked reaction to this. The addition, comrade Ian Taylor (another signatory to the letter) is in fact one of the few (perhaps the only) IMG members in the NUM. If they deplore this procedure so much they should have instructed him to resign.

As to Peter O’Neil’s refusal to agree to programme amendments and a constitution. This again was a decision of the EB, taken on the ground that the programme was available to NUM members for a few days before the conference and that amendments would not be available at all. It was agreed that a further conference would be held in the Autumn at which, with adequate preparation, the programme, the style and the constitution of the paper could be discussed and amended in the light of several issues of the paper.

The final accusation, that workers’ control was not on the agenda, is nonsense. Workers’ control is in fact one of the points in the programme and anyone (assuming he was a miner) could have discussed the question.

What is clear from all this, including their own mouths, is that the IMG are attempting parasitically to take advantage of our consistent work in the coalfields. Last week, for example, they attempted, without consultation with any IS miners, to set up a ‘Barnsley Collier Group’. Again, due to their inexperience and inefficiency, only one miner turned up to the inaugural meeting.

In all conscience, we ourselves are weak enough but a group that feeds on the meagre crumbs dropping from our sparse table displays a weakness and lack of knowledge and principle that is truly alarming.


Jim Higgins

Last updated on 15.9.2012