Lessons from history
One of my weaknesses is buying any second-hand books on Labour and union history that I spot in charity shops.
Appropriately for TUC conference week I have just finished reading 'Battered Cherub', the autobiography of NUM President Joe Gormley (1917-1993).
Quite aside from giving an insight into the extreme poverty and hardship of Gormley's youth in depression-era Lancashire, it's a reminder that the Scargill-era NUM was quite different to what had gone before.
Gormley (described by Bevan's wife Jennie Lee as 'an ultra rightwing socialist') and his predecessor on Labour's NEC Sam Watson were Labour rightwingers, and the Miners were a key component in the block of union votes in the Labour Party that vigorously opposed first Bevanism and then CND. As late as 1981's Labour special conference at Wembley, the NUM were voting with the right to leave MPs with a majority of the vote in the new electoral college. Fighting communists inside the union like Mick McGahey on one front, and Ted Heath's Tory government on the other, whilst at the same time having a healthy contempt for Harold Wilson's soft left fudging, Gormley got the miners into a position where by the time he left office in 1982 they had unprecentedly good pay and conditions.
He was also highly concious that they should not overreach themselves politically and could not afford to repeat their 1974 feat of bringing down a government. Almost his last act as President was to intervene to call for acceptance of a 9.3% pay offer from the Tories and see off a national strike call from the Scargillites.
The book ends with the failiure of NUM moderates to run a strong candidate against Scargill, putting him in as President against the background of the Thatcher government and the SDP split. Gormley writes of the need for a balanced energy policy with roles for coal and nuclear as well as oil and gas.
The rest of the story I think we know. Scargill's confrontation with Thatcher. The tragic heroism of the 1984 strike, and the subsequent destruction of the mining industry and economic and social devastation of the coalfield communities.
We are paying the price for that now with high energy prices and strategically terrifying dependence on Russian gas supplies, whilst hundreds of years of coal supplies sit under the ground and once proud miners drive taxis, work in call centres or claim benefit.