Look Back in Anger

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Harry Patterson, Five Leaves, £9.99

At the start of the Great Miners' Strike in March 1984 Nottinghamshire's coal-mining industry was second in size only to Yorkshire's with 32,000 employed in the pits. But of those, less than 2,000 workers stayed out for the duration of the year-long strike.

Harry Patterson's useful history of the strike in Nottinghamshire asks why the majority of its miners scabbed.

When the Nottinghamshire miners were balloted in mid-March on whether to join the action with the rest of the NUM, only one in four Notts miners voted to back it.

That ballot was held in the shadow of the death of Yorkshire miner David Jones, a 24 year old who died picketing Nottinghamshire's Ollerton Colliery. The fact that some attempted to carry on with their shifts despite the fatality did not bode well.

As one NUM activist said, "If you're prepared to step over the body of a dead miner, not yet cold, for the sake of a few quid, you have to think no amount of bloody ballots will bring people like that out on strike."

Both Margaret Thatcher and her hatchet-man in the National Coal Board, Ian MacGregor, saw Nottinghamshire as key to winning the dispute.

Patterson notes the precedent of the 1926 General Strike when George Spencer, an official of the Nottinghamshire Miners Association (NMA) then affiliated to the NUM's predecessor negotiated a separate deal with the bosses.

Patterson acknowledges that Notts supported the successful strikes of 1972 and 1974 when the key issue was wages. So what had changed by 1984? Patterson quotes one activist who blames an influx of new recruits into the industry with little experience of solidarity,

"We should have educated these people. We should have pointed out to them that all the benefits they enjoyed had been won by miners sticking together in struggle; taking on the establishment and winning."

Actually the rot came from further up. The federal structure of the NUM made it easier for careerists in Nottinghamshire to flourish. They could get a hearing because of the productivity scheme introduced into the pits in 1977.

The scheme was forced through by the NUM's then right wing president Joe Gormley. It had the effect of weakening national agreements and norms and undermining solidarity.

By 1984 it was easier for anti-strike officials to argue that closures only affected specific parts of the industry, and that action was unnecessary in such a productive coalfield as Notts.

Patterson makes a effort to be objective to the likes of David Prendergast and Roy Lynk, scab leaders who worked hard to destroy the strike, eventually setting up the scab Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM) in December 1985.

Lynk received an OBE for his efforts. He finished his working life advising the government on how to make miners work longer hours in what was left of the industry.

Patterson's book looks at the miners' strike from one of its weakest regions but it is set in the context of the strike as a whole.

He attempts to track down what's left of the scab leadership are effective.

In 1992 Lynk learned the value of collaborating with the Tories when they announced the closure of 30 of the UK's remaining 53 coal pits. He returned his OBE and led a "campaign" against the closures of such stunning ineptitude that he was replaced by Neil Greatrex.

Prendergast still defends his scabbing on the grounds of democratic principle. Greatrex, meanwhile, is serving a four-year jail sentence for stealing 150,000 pounds intended for a home for sick and retired miners.