Arthur Scargill

Arthur Scargill

Arthur Scargill speaks at a Socialist Labour Party public meeting in Pontypridd in 2010
Born 11 January 1938 (1938-01-11) (age 72)
Worsbrough Dale, Yorkshire
Occupation Former coal miner
Former General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers
Leader of the Socialist Labour Party
Spouse(s) Anne Harper (divorced 2001)

Arthur Scargill (born 11 January 1938)[1] is a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and is the current leader of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP). He was the NUM president from 1981 to 2000, leading the union through the 1984-85 miners' strike, a key event in British labour and political history. He founded the SLP in 1996.


[edit] Early life

Scargill was born in Worsbrough Dale, Barnsley, Yorkshire. His father, Harold, was a miner and a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. His mother Alice (ne Pickering) was a professional cook. Arthur was much doted on by his parents as he was an only child, and his mother had previously been told that she was unable to have children. (He did not take the Eleven plus exam, and went to Worsbrough Dale School (now called the Elmhirst School) leaving school at 15 to become a coal miner at Woolley Colliery from 1953, where he became the pit delegate ten years later.[2] Scargill was a member of the Young Communist League from 1955 to 1962, and joined the Labour Party in 1962.

[edit] National Union of Mineworkers

Scargill became involved in the Yorkshire Left, a group of left-wing activists involved in the Yorkshire region of the NUM, its largest region. While still a working miner, he played an important role in the miners' strike of 1972, involved in the mass picket at Saltley Gate in Birmingham. Shortly afterwards, he was elected to the full-time post of compensation agent in the Yorkshire NUM. A few months later the President of the Yorkshire NUM died unexpectedly, Scargill was elected to this post in 1973 and continued in it until 1981. During his tenure he became popular with sections of the left and with his members who saw him as honest, hard-working and genuinely concerned with their welfare.[3] In 1973, he was instrumental in organising the miners' strike that brought down Edward Heath's Government in March 1974.

In the 1981 election for NUM President, Scargill secured around 70% of the vote. One of the main planks of his platform was to give more power to union conferences than to executive meetings, on the grounds that the former was more democratic. This had great implications for regional relations in the NUM; the executive was described as dominated by "Gormley's rotten boroughs", since every region had one delegate, even quite small ones, and the larger regions had only a few more (Scotland and South Wales had two delegates each, Yorkshire had three).

Scargill was a very vocal opponent of the Margaret Thatcher Conservative government, and determined to use the union to oppose its policies, just as he had done with the Edward Heath government. He frequently appeared on television attacking the government and eventually led the union into the 1984–1985 miners' strike. This ended in a shattering defeat for the miners and saw a split in the union (see Union of Democratic Mineworkers). After the miners' strike, he was elected to lifetime Presidency of the NUM by an overwhelming national majority, in a very controversial election where some of the alternative candidates claimed that they were given very little time to prepare.

The media characterised the strike as "Scargill's strike" and most people believed that he had been looking for an excuse for a strike since becoming union president. This portrayal may not be wholly accurate, as the strike began when miners walked out in Yorkshire rather than when Scargill called for action. Scargill's decision not to hold a ballot of members was seen as an erosion of democracy within the union, but the role of ballots in decision-making had been made very unclear after previous leader, Joe Gormley, had ignored two ballots over wage reforms, and his decisions had been upheld after appeals to court were made.[citation needed]

On the appointment of Ian MacGregor as head of the NCB in 1983, Scargill stated, "The policies of this government are clear - to destroy the coal industry and the NUM".[4] During the strike itself, Scargill continued to claim that the government had a long-term strategy to destroy the industry by closing unprofitable pits, and that it listed pits it wanted to close each year. This was, however, denied by the government. He stepped down from leadership of the NUM at the end of July 2002, to become the Honorary President. He was succeeded by Ian Lavery.

[edit] Socialist Labour Party

Scargill founded the Socialist Labour Party on 13 January 1996, although the party was launched officially on 4 May 1996, after the Labour Party abandoned the original wording of Clause IV in its constitution. His breakaway party has had little success in the polls. He has contested two parliamentary elections. In the 1997 general election, he ran against Alan Howarth, a defector from the Conservative Party to Labour, who had been given the safe seat of Newport East to contest. In the 2001 general election, he ran against Peter Mandelson in Hartlepool. He lost on both occasions, winning just 2.4% of the vote in the Hartlepool election. In May 2009, he was the number one candidate for the Socialist Labour Party for one of London's seats in the European Parliament.[5]

Scargill has become more politically outspoken since stepping down from the NUM presidency.[6] Scargill had long criticised Poland's Solidarity trade union movement for its promotion of workers rights at the expense of international communism.

[edit] Television

Scargill was portrayed by Peter Richardson in the 1988 comedy film The Strike.

[edit] References

  1. ^ The Times 10 January 2009, Retrieved 2010-01-09
  2. ^ McIlroy, J. (2004) "Al Richardson (1941-2003): An Appreciation", Revolutionary History Vol.8, No.4 pg.3
  3. ^ Books Review
  4. ^ BBC ON THIS DAY | 28 | 1983: Macgregor named as coal boss
  5. ^ List of candidates for the EU Parliamentary elections, accessed 19th May 2009
  6. ^ Johann Hari, "Comrades up in Arms", New Statesman, 10 June 2002.

[edit] External links

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