National Union of Mineworkers

From Academic Kids

The National Union of Mineworkers is a trade union for coal miners in the United Kingdom. It was formed in 1945 as a reorganisation of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain (MFGB). From 1981 to 2000 it was led by Arthur Scargill.

The MFGB was involved in many serious trade disputes, including the National Miners' Strike of 1912 and the General Strike in 1926. The NUM is best known for its role in the 1984-85 Miners' Strike, and for a number of other major disputes in which it participated in the 1970s. On the political front, miners' unions were pioneers of independent working class representation in Parliament.

Origins of the NUM

The Miners' Federation of Great Britain was established in 1888. As its title suggests, it was not a unified, centralised trade union. It represented and co-ordinated the affairs of the various existing local and regional miners' unions, but those associations remained largely autonomous. The South Wales Miners' Federation did not join until 1898, followed by Northumberland in 1907 and Durham in 1908. Its membership in the latter year was 600,000.

In January 1945 the MFGB was superseded by the National Union of Mineworkers. Within that organisation, each coalfield continued to exercise a degree of autonomy, having its own District Association and its own President, General Secretary, and headquarters.

The miners' unions were the largest and most powerful industrial combinations of their day, and exercised a great influence on the rest of the British labour movement. The first working class Member of Parliament, Thomas Burt and Alexander Macdonald, elected in 1874, represented mining constituencies and were funded by miners' associations. Miners' unions continued to enlarge labour representation in the House of Commons in the years which followed, although they took little part in the founding of the Labour Party. Many miners' MPs sat with the Liberals and the MFGB did not affiliate to the Labour Party until 1909.

Landmark events in NUM history

The Miners' Strike, 1984-85

In 1984, under the leadership of Arthur Scargill, the NUM went on strike, partly in response to forced layoffs by the UK government-controlled National Coal Board, and partly in an attempt to damage British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher politically. The strike lasted a full year, during which there were violent clashes between police and miners, before workers were forced back to work without a deal and was an era-defining moment in British politics. The British coal-mining industry never fully recovered from the damage caused by the strike.

The effectiveness of the strike was reduced owing to the fact that Scargill had counted upon the support of the majority of members - he neglected to ballot the membership, and thus the strike held no legal force. Since it was technically unofficial action, a fact that the Thatcher government used to great Union of Mineworkers


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