The secret talks between the Coal Board and the NUM are a grave threat to the miners’ strike.
The headline on the latest edition of The Miner, the union’s paper, declares, ‘They’re cracking’. Inside it even claims that the ‘Strike Rocks the Financial World’.
But every militant knows that the Tories aren’t yet under enough pressure to make them cave in and concede the miners’ demands.
And they know you don’t sit down to talks until you’ve won the war—unless you want to sue for peace.
It’s easy to see what the peace terms could be.
The Coal Board could ‘save’ the pits most identified with the strike like Cortonwood and withdraw this year’s closures, except for a few pits ‘irreparably damaged’ by the strike.
After a long strike, they will need all their capacity to rebuild stocks, but only to intimidate the miners from fighting next year’s pit closures.
The dubious elements on the NUM executive would settle for this quite happily and even claim it was a famous victory. They are certainly pressurising Arthur Scargill, Mick McGahey and Peter Heathfield to agree such a settlement.
So too are Neil Kinnock and the Labour Party establishment. Arthur Scargill tried to justify this secrecy at a rally of striking Warwickshire miners on Friday. It was the only part of his speech that wasn’t cheered to the echo.
Peter Heathfield also told the press that secrecy was needed to prevent media interference in the talks.
‘It’s important,’ he said, ‘that we keep away from extraneous pressures.’
But a mass lobby of miners could put some ‘extraneous pressure’ on the Coal Board, just as lobbies of executive meetings destroyed the media’s campaign for a ballot earlier in the strike.
Lobbies won’t win the strike—but nor will secret talks. Victory will come from the picket line, nowhere else.
That’s why Arthur Scargill should have gone straight back to Orgreave after he was arrested last week, instead of going off to the secret talks.
The talks either mean a sell-out—whatever the NUM leaders say—or they are an attempt by the Tories and the Coal Board to defuse the miners’ action and demoralise them when no deal is struck.
Either way, they are simply a trap for the NUM. Miners should demand their leaders leave the negotiating table and instead organise the action that would really hit industry and force the Tories to surrender.
(9 June, 1984)