Jack Collins: We could swamp them

In 1984 The Leninist interviewed Jack Collins, area secretary of Kent NUM who went on to become disillusioned with the CPGB leadership

The introductory blurb to this 1984 interview1 in The Leninist with Jack Collins, the area secretary of the militant Kent area of the National Union of Mineworkers, is inaccurate in one sense. Comrade Collins was a member of Communist Party only until 1983, when he allowed his membership to lapse. While some inner-union tensions had helped sour relations, fundamentally Jack stepped back because of politics - he hated the direction in which the party leadership was pulling the organisation.

Over the remaining months of the strike - and beyond - partisans of The Leninist, the forerunner of the Weekly Worker, were to develop a good working relationship with this outstanding comrade. For all his political weaknesses, the man was an intransigent - you knew it the moment you met him. As with Arthur Scargill himself, this quality could have its negative as well as positive side - but in either manifestation, there was always something heroic about it.

I and many others will remember his voice in the street outside the TUC in March 1985, when he condemned those delegates inside the building who had recommended a return to work - with no amnesty for the sacked and jailed miners. They were “traitors to the working class”, he thundered. Comrade Collins died of leukaemia tragically young in 1987, aged just 57.

Jack Collins on the TUC, solidarity and Solidarność

The following interview with comrade Jack Collins, a prominent Communist Party member and secretary of the militant Kent area NUM, took place during a Kent miners gala. His comments on the dockers’ strike refer to the second dockers’ strike, which collapsed soon after. We believe that comrade Collins views on the question of Polish coal are particularly interesting and should be read carefully by all those in the party who have accused The Leninist of being “Trotskyite” because of our sharp criticisms of the policy of scabbing adopted by the Polish party.2

In our previous issue (September 84), Paul Whetton,3 the secretary of Notts Striking Miners, told us that in his opinion the way to win the strike now was the question of a general strike. What is your opinion of that perspective?

I don’t think it is the only way to win the strike, but certainly we are looking forward to the maximum amount of support in order that the miners can bring this strike to a successful conclusion. But, you see, this society now is being examined by the people. I believe that the ruling class are aware that the working class are strong enough to change society and I think that that is a matter that is now on the agenda.

Many militants argue against going to the TUC for a general strike, for they fear a sell-out of the miners’ struggle by the general council. How would you see the possibility of guarding against this danger?

There’s no question that, if we rely on the Basnetts and the Chapples4 and these people, then we will be sold out. But what I believed about the lead-up to the TUC is that many people tended to give the impression that the TUC would solve all our problems, knowing full well that the TUC would not deliver. They then thought there would be a certain amount of demoralisation after that and when that demoralisation took place they then thought they could move in and destroy the miners.

And so it’s important we go to the TUC, it’s important we expose those who would sell the working class out, and it important then that we appeal to the rank and file of the workers - and we organise as best we can in order to get the workers on strike. But I don’t personally think it will come from the Basnetts and the Chapples and people like that.

Isn’t rank-and-file involvement the key element in guarding against the danger of a sell-out?

No, the working class by and large are not deeply involved in the political situation and they have not been assessing the situation. But we have got many leaders in the movement who are prepared to lead the working class forward and develop the struggle. Many miners today have learned the political lessons. I think that in the coming days, when the dockers begin picketing those scab ports and they have had a bit of the truncheon and the police horses and the dogs, they will line up with the miners as well. So I think that if it’s handled correctly then the working class will go forward.

The ruling class are in a terrible dilemma. What do they do to contain the workers? That’s the dilemma they have got. Likewise the dilemma they have got in our industry - what do they do with the young men who don’t want to go back to work unless we win? All these young men here today - ask any of them - they will all tell you, I bet, that they are not going back unless we have complete victory. That is the dilemma the government has got. Likewise the dilemma they have got on the national scene is what do they do with the workers when they have started sending the police and horses after them. They’ll create more enemies.

What are your feelings, as the leader of striking miners, about the actions of the Polish government in continuing to allow exports of coal to Britain during the miners struggle and do you feel that the actions of the Polish authorities may have improved the image of Solidarność in the eyes of many NUM militants?

I think that it’s the internationalist duty of the Polish people to stop any coal coming into Britain. That cannot be questioned. I do not accept the reasoning that says that ‘We’ve got contracts that must be honoured’ - I do not accept that reasoning. That’s the same sort of reasoning that people use when they are trading with Chile and places like that. We demand that the Polish working class, the Polish working class government, stands with the British miners and not allow scab coal to come in. Because that’s what it is. It is scab coal. Incidentally, it’s the only socialist land that is allowing oil or coal to come into this country ...

I have never supported the Solidarity movement in Poland, because I realise when Reagan, Thatcher, the pope, Frank Chapple and all that gang line up with them, I know they are my enemies as well. Solidarity is finished - that belongs to the past, that is gone. That is a counterrevolution which never succeeded.

Do you feel that mass picketing is still an adequate tactic, given the far more organised and almost paramilitary response of the police?

Yes, I believe it’s important for the working class to get together in struggle everywhere. It is important to meet today like this and it is important to meet in struggle. It is important to meet on the picket line and in fact I would appeal to more and more workers, miners and non-miners: come on the picket lines … If we got enough we could swamp the police - there is no doubt about that - we could swamp them.


1. First published in The Leninist October 1985.

2. See Weekly Worker June 26 and October 23 2014.

3. Paul Whetton died on March 3 2006 after a brief battle with lung cancer. He was an outstanding rank-and-file leader of the Nottinghamshire NUM during the strike and combined a warm, open disposition with a steely commitment to the union and the struggle. He needed that unrelenting inner strength: by the time of the return to work in March 1985, less than 10% of miners in the area were on strike. Although not a member of the CPGB, he was one of that large numbers of comrades outside the organisation that shared many of political stances of the left of the party - good and bad (see my obituary, Weekly Worker April 5 2006).

4. David Basnett (1924-1989) was the rightwing general secretary of General, Municipal and Boilermakers Union. Frank Chapple (1921-2004) - or ‘Franco Chapplesci’, as he was dubbed in honour of his business unionist reputation and ruthless anti-communism - was general secretary of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union and generally regarded as Thatcher’s favourite trade unionist. (After Lech Wałęsa of Solidarność, perhaps …). Poacher turned gamekeeper, Chapple was a one-time party member who left over Hungary 1956 and spent the rest of his active trade union life viciously witch-hunting the left - communists in particular. None of which stopped him being a ‘good trade unionist’, however - in the narrow, craft-sectionalist sense of the word. The EETPU secured good conditions and wage rates for its members and was characterised by a comparatively high level of internal democracy.