Read on for a look at the events of October and the scabs and the law.
8 October: the NUM and the National Coal Board agree to meet at ACAS under an independent Chair on 11 October.
10 October: the NUM fined £200,000 and found in contempt of a High Court ruling which states the strike is unlawful because of the lack of a national ballot.
12 October: Restrictive bail conditions on striking members are upheld in the Divisional Courts.
15 October: NCB walk out of ACAS talks.
25 October: ACAS prepare a formula which both NACODS and NUM accept and which includes provision for an independent review procedure. The NCB continue their demands on NUM. Despite TUC advice NACODS call off strike. Courts attempt to seize £200,000 NUM funds.
26 October: the NUM reject the NCB demands. High Court orders total sequestration of NUM funds.
28 October: Court moves to makes 24 members of the NUM executive liable for the £200,000 contempt fine.
1 November: Ian MacGregor says: “There is no basis for further talks with the NUM”.
2 November: the NCB offers miners a back to work cash bonus.
The scabs and the law
By the late summer the second phase of the strike was opened via an intensive Cabinet propaganda offensive accompanied by a spate of individual rule-book actions by several scabs. The link between the two lay with people such as David Hart, adviser to Thatcher, MacGregor and the National Working Miners’ Committee and Tory lawyer David Negus.
It was Negus’s masterminding of the impulse of the scabs to break the strike which led to the order for sequestration of NUM assets on 25 October and the appointment of a receiver to take over the NUM assets on 30 November.
By this time a trickle of civil law actions, an important feature of the struggle, had become an avalanche. The legal apparatus played an important ancillary role in maintaining divisions in the union movement, in obstructing the resonance of the union’s case and in underpinning the Tory ideological offensive of “law and order”, “democracy” and “the right to work”.
The sequestration proceedings taken against South Wales area by Reads Haulage in August ended the first phase of the strike. The fact that union assets could be efficiently appropriated without any industrial action from other workers convinced the government that the strike was and would remain isolated. It also convinced scabs and their advisers. The civil law process if pushed to the limit could constitute a powerful weapon against the national union.
The right of dissidents to sue the union is an attempt to de-collectivise trade unionism and to press its collectivised, active democracy into the individualised mould of the law of contract.
If MacGregor suing the NUM might have had the smack of partiality, who could object to action taken against a powerful union by miners themselves, the “victims” of “intimidation” by their “unaccountable” leaders. All Thatcher and MacGregor had to do was stand on the sidelines and watch.