Arthur Scargill


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 73)
Worsbrough Dale, Yorkshire
Occupation Former coal miner
Former General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers
Leader of the Socialist Labour Party
Spouse Anne Harper (divorced 2001)

Arthur Scargill (born 11 January 1938)[1] is a British politician who was President of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) from 1982 to 2002, leading the union through the 1984–85 miners' strike, a key event in British labour and political history. He is the current leader of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP), which he founded in 1996.

Contents

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 (née 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[citation needed]. 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.

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 afterward, 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 - even quite small ones - had one delegate, 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 Margaret Thatcher's 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 saw a split in the union (see Union of Democratic Mineworkers).

In May 1985, two striking South Wales miners were sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of the murder of taxi driver David Wilkie, killed six months earlier when a concrete post was dropped on his car while driving a non-striking miner to work. Lawyer John Prosser QC, representing defendant Russell Shankland, claimed that Shankland and co-defendant Dean Hancock were victims in a "nation at war", and criticised Arthur Scargill as being a general at war who "stood outside the law" and left his defendant "outside the law".

Scargill, along with Labour MP Tony Benn, was actively involved in the campaign to free Shankland and Hancock from prison. The first round of their victory was achieved in October 1985, when their life sentences for murder were reduced to eight years for manslaughter on appeal. They were finally released from prison in November 1989.[4]

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 to not 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".[5] 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 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.

On 25 August 2010, it was reported that Scargill had been told that he no longer qualified for membership of the National Union of Mineworkers. Scargill denies this and is pursuing legal action using solicitor Mark Stephens.[6]

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 - the nationalisation of key industries and utilities - 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.[7]

Scargill has become more politically outspoken since stepping down from the NUM presidency,[8] and has gone on record as a supporter of Joseph Stalin, saying that the "ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin" explain the "real world".[9] Scargill had long criticised Poland's Solidarity trade union movement for its attacks upon the communist system in Poland, which Scargill saw as deformed but reformable.

Television

Scargill was portrayed by Peter Richardson in the 1988 comedy film The Strike. In Citizen Smith he was to have been in the cabinet had Wolfie Smith taken power.

Music

Scargill is referred to in the 1984 song "Too Hot", from the album Word of Mouth by The Kinks: "Arthur's on the warpath/ Here he goes again!"

Elections

UK Parliament elections

Date of election Constituency Party Votes  %
1997 Newport East SLP 1,952 5.2
2001 Hartlepool SLP 912 2.4

London Assembly elections (Entire London city)

Date of election Party Votes  % Results Notes
2000 SLP 17,401[10] 1.0 Not elected Multi-members party list[11]

Welsh Assembly elections

Year Region Party Votes  % Result
2003 South Wales East SLP 3,695 2.2 Not elected[12]

European Parliament elections

Year Region Party Votes  % Result Notes
1999 London SLP 19,632 1.7 Not-elected Multi-member constituency; party list
2009 London SLP 15,306 0.9 Not-elected Multi-member constituency; party list

References

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Sam Bullough
President of the Yorkshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers
1974–1981
Succeeded by
Jack Taylor
Preceded by
Joe Gormley
President of the National Union of Mineworkers
1982–2002
Succeeded by
Ian Lavery

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