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Miners' Strike

Miners' Strike

The Coal Miners' strikes between 1970-90 epitomised the struggle that the working class miners had with the government regarding their pay and the country's need for coal. Let's find out about these strikes and the changing power dynamic between trade unions and the government.

Coal miners' strikes - keywords

TermDefinition
Trade unionAn association of workers in a trade or profession which works to protect, and advance, their rights and interests
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)An industrial union of all Britain's coalminers, created in 1945, that represented the miners during the strikes
National Coal Board (NCB)The government department formed in 1946 that ran Britain's coal industry after it was nationalised
NationalisationMoving aspects of the economy from private to government control
PrivatisationSelling nationalised industries to private buyers and investors
StrikeA protest organised by employees in which they refuse to work until their demands are met or negotiated
Picket lineA line of protesters outside a workplace during a strike

History of coal mining in Britain

Let's look at a brief history of the coal mining community throughout Modern British history.

DateEvent
1868The Trades Union Congress (TUC) was established, representing and promoting trade unions in Britain.
1889Miner's Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) was founded, combining many coal mining trade unions into one body.
1913British coal output peaked at 292 million tonnes.
1920Coal mining employment peaked at 1.2 million people.
1926The TUC called a general strike to protest decreasing wages for coal miners and poor work conditions. Many industries took part alongside the miners. It was suppressed by the government and resulted in the 1927 Trade Disputes Act, which forbade general and sympathetic strikes.
1945The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) succeeded the MFGB.
1946The Coal Industry Nationalisation Act was passed, establishing the National Coal Board (NCB) the same year to nationalise Britain's coal mining industry. Government spending cuts after WWII meant that miners' wages began decreasing significantly.
1969Coal miners organised an unofficial strike, protesting against working hours. Wages also become part of the issue.
9th January 1972The NUM staged the 1972 UK Miners' Strike.
1973A global oil crisis followed Arab countries stopping oil exports to supporters of Israel. The NUM voted to ban overtime, halving the UK's coal production. The 3-day working week was announced amidst the limited energy supplies, commencing on 1st January 1974.
24th January 1974The NUM staged the 1974 UK Miners' Strike.
1978-9The Winter of Discontent - around 2,000 strikes occurred protesting Callaghan's governmental measures to reduce inflation.
1979Margaret Thatcher won the general election. She appointed Ian McGregor as head of the NCB to handle the future of the British coal mining industry.
1981The NUM and Thatcher negotiated her plans to cut subsidies to coal mining. She conceded a reduction rather than a full cut.
1984Arthur Scargill, president of the NUM, called for another strike but failed to keep pits open as the country had stockpiled coal.
1995The coal industry was officially privatised.

References

  1. Fig. 4 Picture of 1984 Miners Strike (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Miners_strike_rally_London_1984.jpg) by Nick (https://www.flickr.com/people/34517490@N00) licensed by CC BY 2.0 ( https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 5 West Midlands Police in 1984 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Day_147_-_West_Midlands_Police_-_Miner%27s_strikes_-_1984_(14495625275).jpg) by West Midlands Police (https://www.flickr.com/people/61718807@N07) licensed by CC BY SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Miners' Strike

The three most famous strikes in Modern British history are the 1972, 1974 and 1984 Miners' Strikes. The 1972 strike was a result of Edward Heath refusing to allow the 43% wage increase the NUM was demanding. the 1974 strike was a result of a similar dispute over wage increases and coordinated with the 1973 Oil Crisis. the 1984 strike protested Thatcher's plans to close mines and de-nationalise the coal mining industry. The 1970s strikes were relatively successful for the miners, but the 1984 strike was a failure, and Thatcher won out over the protesting miners.

The longest strike was the 1984 UK Miners' strike, which lasted from 6th March 1984 - 5th March 1985. It was unsuccessful due to Margaret Thatcher's planning, such as stockpiling, law changes and strategic use of the police force.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was led by Joe Gormley, who demanded a 43% wage increase for miners in 1971. Upon this not being granted, Gormley initiated the 1972 UK Miners' Strike.

Edward Heath introduced the 1971 Industrial Relations Act which introduced a legal framework for how Trade Unions operated and controlled how miners' wages could change. The decrease in miners' wages led to Joe Gormley calling for a 43% increase. Heath was only prepared to offer 7-8%. When negotiations failed, Gormley called for the 1972 UK Miners' Strike.

A flying picket was the organised transportation of strikers to strategic workplaces, such as coal processing plants. The strikers would travel around the country to picket workplaces other than their own, thus increasing the impact of the strike. Flying pickets were made illegal in the 1970s by the Conservatives.

Final Miners' Strike Quiz

Question

When did the Trade Union Congress call the General Strike?

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Answer

1926

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When was the British coal industry nationalised with the introduction of the National Coal Board (NCB)?

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Answer

1946

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What other forms of energy came available in the 1960s besides coal?

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Answer

Oil

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Who was in power for the 1972 UK Miners' Strike?

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Answer

Edward Heath (Conservatives)

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Question

What percent pay rise did Joe Gormley, president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), demand in 1971?

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Answer

34%

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What is a "flying picket"?

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Answer

When groups of strikers travel to picket different workplaces

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What separate event occurred in 1973 that prompted the 1974 Miners' Strike?

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Answer

The Arab Oil Crisis

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When was the 'Three-Day working week' introduced by Edward Heath?

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Answer

1st January 1974

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Who succeeded Edward Heath as Prime Minister after the 1974 general election?

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Answer

Harold Wilson

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Roughly how many strikes occurred during the Winter of Discontent?

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2,000

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How was James Callaghan ousted as Prime Minister in 1979?

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Answer

Vote of no confidence

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When did Margaret Thatcher become the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain?

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Answer

1979

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Question

What did Nigel Lawson, Secretary of State for Energy, suggest that aided the government's response to the 1984 Miners' Strike

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Answer

Stockpiling coal

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Roughly how many jobs were at risk when the National Coal Board announced its plans to reduce Britain's coal production by 4 million tonnes in March 1984?

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Answer

20,000

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Question

What was one of the defining violent events of the 1984 Miners' Strike?

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Answer

The Battle of Orgreave

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