National Union of Mineworkers (Great Britain)

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NUM logo.png
Full name National Union of Mineworkers
Founded January 1945
Country United Kingdom
Affiliation TUC, Labour Party,[1] NSSN
Key people Chris Kitchen, secretary
Nicky Wilson, president
Office location Barnsley, UK

The National Union of Mineworkers is a trade union for coal miners in the United Kingdom. Formed in 1945 as a reorganisation of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain (MFGB), the miners' unions were for much of the 20th century a powerful force not only in the British union movement, but also in British politics. The NUM took part in three national miners' strikes in 1972, 1974 and 1984–85. Its influence was destroyed by the failure of the 1984-85 strike and by the closing of most of Britain's coal mines; it is now a small union with negligible political power.


The Miners' Federation of Great Britain was established in Newport, Monmouthshire in 1888 but did not function as a unified, centralised trade union. Instead the federation represented and co-ordinated the affairs of the existing local and regional miners' unions whose associations remained largely autonomous. The South Wales Miners' Federation was founded in 1898, joining the MFGB in 1899, while the Northumberland Miners' Federation and the Durham Miners' Federation joined in 1907 and 1908, respectively.

In South Wales, the miners showed a high degree of solidarity. They lived in isolated villages where the miners comprised the great majority of workers. There was a high degree of equality in life style; combined with an evangelical religious style based on Methodism this led to an ideology of equalitarianism. They forged a "community of solidarity" - under the leadership of the Miners Federation. The union supported first the Liberal Party, then after 1918 Labour, with some Communist Party activism at the fringes.[2]

The miners' unions were the largest and most powerful industrial combinations in Britain for decades, and exercised a great influence on the rest of the British labour movement. The first working class Members 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. The federation's total membership in 1908 was 600,000.

The MFGB was involved in many trade disputes, including the National Miners' Strike of 1912 and the General Strike in 1926.


In January 1945 the MFGB was superseded by the National Union of Mineworkers. Within the organisation, each coalfield continued to exercise a degree of autonomy, having its own District Association, President, General Secretary, and headquarters. Originally, a national strike required a two-thirds majority in a ballot of members. This proved near impossible to achieve and the majority was reduced to 55% in 1970 and then to 50% in 1984. Additionally, regions of the union could call their own strikes. Different areas varied greatly as to how militant they were and it was not uncommon for animosity to exist between areas.

The Miners' Strike, 1984–85[edit]

In the 1980s, because some coal mines were unprofitable, the Conservative government headed by Margaret Thatcher sought to close them and privatise the rest. In some areas of the country, the NUM was considered militant and threatened strikes in 1981, when the government raised the issue, but as the government was not ready for a confrontation, it negotiated a settlement with the union and backed down from the closures. In what the NUM considered a confrontational move, Ian MacGregor, who had overseen cutbacks and closures at British Steel, was appointed head of the National Coal Board by Thatcher in 1983.

In 1984, after secretly stockpiling coal at the power stations, the NCB announced the closure of 20 pits. Local regions organised strikes but NUM President Arthur Scargill, without a national ballot of the union's membership, declared a national strike in March 1984, which was later ruled illegal in England, making striking miners ineligible for benefits.[3] Support for the strike was not universal among the miners; in some areas, the support was small, such as North Wales or great as in South Wales.[4] Also, Yorkshire was much more enthusiastic about the strike than Nottinghamshire, where many miners refused to strike.

Margaret Thatcher described the strikers as the "enemy within", but Scargill was equally confrontational. Picket lines were stationed outside the pits and other industrial sites requiring coal, and violent clashes with police were common. Strikers had no source of income, so some were forced by circumstances to cross the picket lines as reluctant "scabs". The strike ended on 3 March 1985 and the miners returned to work without agreement with the NCB. The strike was unsuccessful and its failure was an era-defining moment in British politics. After the strike large numbers of mines were closed.[4]

The effectiveness of the strike was reduced because the miner's leaders refused to ballot members on strike action. This was deemed illegal by the courts, on the basis that the NUM rulebook required a secret ballot for a national strike. Although working miners had instigated the legal action, the NUM leadership presented this as an attack on its right to conduct its own internal affairs. The lack of a ballot reduced public support for the strike and made it possible for the government to use legal and police powers against the union without political consequences.[citation needed]


In 2011 the union had just 1,855 remaining members.[5] In 2012 the union's General Secretary, Chris Kitchen, admitted that it was in decline after the investigative website Exaro[6] revealed that in 2011 the Derbyshire branch of the NUM had just one member who was not a paid official. Filings with the Trades Union Certification Officer showed that the NUM's Derbyshire branch had just four members, three of whom were paid officials.[7]

In 2012 it emerged in court cases between the NUM and its former president Arthur Scargill that a substantial proportion of union members' subscriptions was still being spent on expenses for Scargill, including unauthorised rent payments for a flat in the Barbican, London.[8]

A further 540 miners' job losses were announced in January 2013.[9]

Landmark events[edit]



Vice Presidents[edit]

General Secretaries[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Stefan Llafur Berger, "Working-Class Culture and the Labour Movement in the South Wales and the Ruhr Coalfields, 1850-2000: A Comparison," Journal of Welsh Labour History/Cylchgrawn Hanes Llafur Cymru (2001) 8#2 pp 5-40.
  3. ^ Hutton, Guthrie (2005). Coal Not Dole Memories of the 1984/85 miners' strike.. Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing. p. 8. ISBN 9781840333299. 
  4. ^ a b The miners' strike, The BBC, retrieved 3 December 2011 
  5. ^ Documents lodged on the website of the Trades Union Certification Officer, The website of the Trades Union Certification Officer, retrieved 8 January 2013 
  6. ^ Exaro website, Exaro news, retrieved 8 January 2013 
  7. ^ Documents lodged on the website of the Trades Union Certification Officer, The website of the Trades Union Certification Officer, retrieved 8 January 2013 
  8. ^ "Arthur Scargill loses London flat case". BBC News (BBC). 21 December 2012. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  9. ^ BBC news story, BBC, retrieved 8 January 2013 

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert Page Arnot. The Miners: a History of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, 1889-1910. London: Allen and Unwin, 1949.
  • Arnot, Robert Page. South Wales Miners, Glowyr de Cymru: a History of the South Wales Miners' Federation (1914–1926). Cardiff : Cymric Federation Press, 1975.
  • Arnot, Robert Page. The Miners; One Union, One Industry: a History of the National Union of Mineworkers, 1939-46. London: Allen and Unwin, 1979.
  • Ashworth, William, and Mark Pegg. History of the British Coal Industry: Volume 5: 1946-1982: The Nationalized Industry (1986)
  • Baylies, Carolyn. The History of the Yorkshire Miners, 1881-1918 ( Routledge (1993).
  • Supple, Barry. The History of the British Coal Industry: Volume 4: 1913-1946: The Political Economy of Decline (1988) excerpt and text search

External links[edit]