Academic journal article Capital & Class

Defeated but Defiant: The Continued Resilience of the National Union of Mineworkers within the Nottinghamshire Coalfield

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Defeated but Defiant: The Continued Resilience of the National Union of Mineworkers within the Nottinghamshire Coalfield

Article excerpt


The coal industry in Britain has, since the miners' strike of 1984-85, undergone enormous change. It has seen the implementation of production cost ceilings in response to commercial pressures; the continued use and development of new technology; the creation of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), which broke away from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in 1985; the privatisation of the coal industry in 1995; the introduction of new workforce control strategies, with management taking an uncompromising stance towards the NUM and exploiting the disunity between the two main unions, and the use of human resource management techniques in an attempt to decollectivise industrial relations. All of this has facilitated the relentless restructuring of the coal industry in Britain, leading to an unprecedented programme of pit closures.

At the end of the 1984-85 strike, there were 169 collieries in operation; by October 1992, only 51 remained, and employment had fallen from 171,400 to 52,560--a contraction of 70 per cent. At the same time, output had fallen by only 20 per cent, from 88.4 million tonnes to 70.5 million tonnes: in other words, the intensification of the labour processes resulted in 80 per cent of production being maintained with only 30 per cent of the workforce. At the same time, overall productivity had risen from 2.76 to 5.36 tonnes 'per shift', an increase of 97 per cent (Winterton & Winterton, 1995: 64).

On New Year's Day 1995, the industry was finally privatised, and RJB Mining became the biggest coal producer in Great Britain. The restructuring of the industry continued; but since it was still selling the same product, subject to the same market pressures as before, the attendant problems led, in 2001, to the resignation of Richard Budge as the chief executive of RJB Mining, which then changed its name to UK Coal Plc.

A new chief executive was appointed, who was quoted in the company's newspaper as saying, 'much of Britain's coal industry is on a life support machine' (UK Coal NewScene, July/August 2001). By the end of January 2005, there were no deep-mined collieries left in Scotland; only one left in South Wales (Tower colliery), which is an employee buyout; and seven deep-mined collieries left in England. UK Coal now employs only 4,200 workers (UK Coal NewScene, February/March 2005).

Following the 1984-5 strike, the balance of power within the industry shifted decisively in favour of management, which has been able to take a very hard line towards the trade unions, using the split between the two main unions as a 'Trojan horse on the issues of pay and flexibility' (Gibbon & Bromley, 1990). The National Coal Board (NCB) adopted a policy of dual unionism, recognising the majority union at each individual colliery, and effectively derecognising the NUM at national level. Winterton and Winterton (1993a) argue that labour relations were restructured systematically, favouring and promoting the more moderate UDM. Management control initiatives have been introduced in order to marginalise and decollectivise union influence.

This article will give an insight into the problems facing the SUM in Nottinghamshire at one case-study colliery', where it is the minority union. These issues include not only management control strategies to decollectivise the industry and marginalise the NUM, but also the activities of the UDM, which is more sympathetic to management initiatives and whose leadership and activists openly oppose the NUM.

This article will use the work of Kelly (1998), who draws on the 'mobilisation' theory and the work of Tilly (1978) and McAdam (1988) to investigate the dynamics of labour processes in the workplace. The article will provide new empirical data on a case-study colliery in the traditional industry, post-privatisation. It will highlight the importance of effective organisation and the active role of leadership within the NUM at the colliery and area level, which has been able to mobilise and highlight grievances, and to maintain an employee voice and an active local presence. …

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