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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
miners' strikes

(1972, 1974, 1984–5)
The miners were at the heart of the *General Strike of 1926, when the TUC called other unions out in their support. The three major industrial confrontations of the postwar years have also centred on the miners, but on these occasions they fought the battle alone – though some other unions did take steps to prevent the movement of coal.
Early in January 1972 the executive of the *NUM called a strike in support of a 47% wage claim, after holding a secret ballot of members; in February a state of emergency was declared and four-hour power cuts were imposed around the country on a rota basis (resulting in nearly two million workers being laid off); later that month a court of enquiry recommended large wage increases which were accepted in a national ballot of miners; work resumed at the pits on the last day of February.

The miners again went on strike in 1974. Their challenge to the government this time followed the *oil crisis and the imposition of a three-day week. On February 4 the miners voted for a national strike; on February 7 the Conservative prime minister, Edward *Heath, called a general election on the issue of who runs Britain; on February 28 he lost the election; and on March 6 the strike ended when the new Labour government awarded the miners a 35% pay increase. In 1977 Mrs *Thatcher, by then leader of the Conservative party, declared that if she were in office and faced with a similar situation, she would consider holding a single-issue referendum to 'let the people speak'.

The expected confrontation came in 1984, five years after she entered office, and it was widely seen as a personal clash between two 'conviction' politicians – Mrs *Thatcher and Arthur Scargill, president of the NUM. In 1982 Scargill had declared that the National Coal Board had secret plans to close a large number of pits, and in 1984 it was officially announced by the NCB that 20,000 jobs would go in the next year. Scargill's original claim had led to spasmodic strikes in individual pits and to an NUM ban on overtime from November 1983; the official announcement provoked an increase in local industrial action, and in April 1984 the NUM called all miners out (there had been no national ballot of the members).

In October the NUM had all its assets sequestered by the High Court after it had refused to pay a £200,000 fine for contempt of court, arising from a case brought against it by two Yorkshire miners. By that time miners in various pits were beginning to drift back to work, in a process that accelerated during the winter. In March 1985, by a narrow majority, delegates of the NUM voted to end the strike and to return to work without having achieved any negotiated settlement with the NCB. Unlike the previous strikes, this was clearly a victory for the government; it was seen as a turning point in Mrs Thatcher's long campaign against union power. But events proved Scargill's warning more than justified, with pit closures by the early 1990s exceeding his predictions (see *coal). Meanwhile a sizable part of Scargill's union had branched off on its own as the Union of Democratic Mineworkers.

The strike soon involved violent confrontation between police and miners – outside power stations, and at pits where men wanted to cross the picket line and work. The nation, watching on television, was appalled by the violence but also increasingly distressed by the suffering of the families of miners as the strike dragged on for a year.

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