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The years 1971 and 1972 were those in which the NUM was to stage its fight back, after long years of savage pit closures, massive job losses and increasingly low wages.
Britainï¿½s miners had simply had enough. There was now an undercurrent of anger and frustration, manifested in unofficial meetings, disputes at local and area level and a new wave of militancy sweeping through the coalfields.
It was obvious in the large number of resolutions that were submitted to the Unionï¿½s annual conference in 1971, where the scene was set for the beginning of the minersï¿½ fight back.
The conference decided to demand pay rises of ï¿½5 per week for coal face workers (then earning ï¿½30), ï¿½9 per week for underground workers (earning ï¿½19) and ï¿½6 per week for surface workers (who were earning ï¿½18).
The NUM called for the membership to take industrial action in the event of these wages not being conceded.
The Coal Board, acting directly with guidelines laid down by the Tory Government, offered the Union a meagre ï¿½1.60 per week, and said there was no prospect of any further negotiations.
With the NCB refusing to negotiate, the Union called a national overtime ban from November 1, 1971; it then proceeded to campaign to win a ballot vote in favour of strike action. That ballot saw a 58.8 per cent majority in favour of national strike action. The NCB still refused to negotiate.
The entire British coalfield was called out on strike on January 9, 1972, the first national action since 1926. These events, too, would prove epoch making.
Within a week, virtually all movement of coal had been brought to a standstill. With coal stocks standing at more than 21 million tonnes (enough to meet demand for eight weeks) the NUM sent ï¿½flying picketsï¿½ to power stations, docks, ports and wharves all over Britain to prevent coal moving. With the backing of the transport unions and workers inside power stations, coal and coke shipments were effectively blockaded and oil supplies limited.
Quite soon, major power cuts were taking place; Prime Minister Edward Heath declared a state of emergency on February 9, 1972, a month after the strike began.
Widely accepted as the strikeï¿½s turning point was a massive picket at Saltley in Birmingham. Minersï¿½ pickets, confronted by hundreds of police, called upon the workers of Birmingham for assistance in halting the movement of fuel.
To their credit, the engineers, transport workers and others came out on strike themselves on Thursday February 10. The action closed the gates of Saltley, ensuring that the miners would be victorious.
The Government now agreed to set up a public inquiry into minersï¿½ wages. The NUM was urged to return to work whilst the inquiry took place, but bitter memories of the 1925-1926 Samuel Commission were indelibly fixed in the minds of Britainï¿½s miners. They refused to return to work while the inquiry was being held.
Under the chairmanship of Lord Wilberforce, it took evidence from NUM members who gave details of their wages, demonstrating how they had dropped so dramatically down the wages league table over the past few years.
The Wilberforce Inquiry finally concluded that ï¿½the present is a time when a definite and substantial adjustment in wage levels is called for in the coal industryï¿½.
It recommended a wage of ï¿½34.50 for face workers, ï¿½25 for others underground and ï¿½23 for surface workers.
Progressive elements on the Unionï¿½s National Executive Committee demanded there should be further concessions, and in all sixteen major claims were conceded before a settlement was agreed.
The euphoria in the coalfields could be felt when, the day after the settlement, miners carried NUM General Secretary, Lawrence Daley shoulder-high through Mansfield in Nottinghamshire.
The victory of 1972 went a long way towards healing the wounds inflicted by the Government in 1926.
For the first time in nearly half a century, miners had felt the power that comes with united national action. It was a lesson in trade unionism, and it was not lost on the wider labour and trade union movement! Other unions quickly acted on the NUMï¿½s breach in the Governmentï¿½s incomes policy, winning major wage rises for their members.
The year 1972 saw Britainï¿½s miners not only win a major victory but inspire workers throughout the world with their courage, determination and solidarity. The strike had lasted seven weeks, and in that short time had welded the Union together more effectively than all the campaign speeches of the past fifty years.
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