Scargill's papal project

The Weekly Worker has frequently carried details of Arthur Scargill's dictatorial regime within the Socialist Labour Party, including his exaggerated claims, not to say blatant falsification, of membership figures and election results. Here, a member of the Yorkshire NUM describes king Arthur's manoeuvring to have himself declared honorary president of the union for the next 10 years

The bureaucratic tricks and sharp moves made by Arthur Scargill in the National Union of Mineworkers, over the last four years in particular, are far too numerous to cite here. Essentially these schemes have all aimed at further and yet further centralisation of power and decision-making and control into his hands - away from members, branches and areas of the union. On the road he has encountered bitter opposition - that roadway is littered with broken friendships, and hostile former comrades. What needs to be stressed here is that this is a war against the membership and their democratic exponents, not some rightwing force in the union. Indeed it is Arthur himself who now to some degree represents the right wing and conservatism within the union. In the past, during the strike of 1984-85 and during the Cook report/Mirror scandal, standing foursquare with Arthur was seen as standing with the class against the enemy. It was in defence of militancy against moderation; it was standing our side of the class line. Some branch officers of the NUM - most notably those in the Socialist Labour Party - are stuck in this time warp and refuse to see that the line of principle has changed. Standing with Arthur, right or wrong, regardless of one monstrous proposal after another, is not commitment to the working class but an abrogation of that duty. One can see in these manoeuvres and the unprincipled response of some officials in microcosm the road to hell which Stalin first paved and, to be honest, some of these people seem pleased to mimic. How far he would go in his solitary hall of mirrors to ensure a constitution which placed him at the centre of all things many have reflected on. This was particularly so following the imposition of a new rule book, drafted by him, on the Yorkshire area (the biggest part of the NUM) against their unanimous opposition. When asked if this rule book could itself be amended, he replied, "Yes, if the amendments were in order." And who would judge if they were in order? Well, he will of course. In any dispute over interpretation of the rules the president's view shall prevail. The pope cannot err in matters of scripture - any fool knows that. Many looked forward to the prospect of Arthur reaching his 65th birthday, when of course the rules (and the law) would ensure he retired and the long-suffering membership could at last submit nominations as to who it would like as the new president. Maybe there would even be more than one candidate, and we could actually have an election in which the members would vote. Surely he would not try and rule from the constitutional grave, would he? Surprise move A letter of December 5 2001 to Yorkshire branches from the president informed us of a special meeting of Yorkshire NUM Council (the assembly of branch representatives) on December 11. There was no agenda. When the meeting was convened the first point of business Arthur imposed was to remove Nigel Pearse, the area vice-chairman, from the chair: he would assume the chair himself. Next, instead of the rule which only allows one representative per branch (the delegate) to vote, branch secretaries and trustees who were present could also vote. This was objected to by the Maltby delegate who insisted we should stick to rule - one vote per branch - but also they should be informed of what it was they were going to be voting on. Mr Scargill began by saying that, owing to serious illness, Frank Cave, the national vice-president (and we had always assumed the Yorkshire area secretary, but Arthur had ruled earlier we did not in fact have an area secretary), would need to retire very quickly [Frank Cave died on January 7 2002 - ed]. There were only two options open: one an election to replace him; or option two, given verbally without any documentation. Frank would retire. The president, AS, would leave full-time employment on June 30 2002 and then become 'honorary president' until December 31 2011. He would also continue to preside over the International Energy and Miners Organisation (IEMO) to that date. The national executive committee of the NUM elects a lay chairman from within the NEC, who chairs all its meetings, those of the appeals committee, as well as the general policy committee, central bureau and international executive of the IEMO. Dave Douglass, branch secretary of Hatfield Main NUM, has described the IEMO as "an officers' club". It is "totally unaccountable to the members in any country and functions as a well heeled version of Saga Holidays for full time-officials, or lay officials being patronised". That it is almost exclusively controlled by Arthur is witnessed by the fact that under these proposals - ostensibly to do with the NUM - he would stay as president of the IEMO. The treasurer of that organisation, we are told, is one of the clerks in the Barnsley offices - and now the chair of the IEMO and most of its committees would be whoever the NUM NEC chose to vote in as its chair. Obviously the tens of millions of miners and energy workers worldwide who are expected to look to the IEMO for leadership are not invited to nominate or vote on who will be its representatives. Actually we doubt that they know of its existence. The NUM North East Area was later to raise the strange connection between affiliation to IEMO for 10 years in conjunction with Arthur as honorary president for the same 10 years. Some very dodgy interplay seemed afoot. Also, almost unnoticed, Arthur would likewise retain the position of chairman of the trustees of the NUM full-time officials' and staff superannuation scheme - again for 10 years. The word 'why?' hangs about like a ghost at a wedding, but no-one seems able to explain how these apparently separate anomalies hang together. In Yorkshire, two area agents are to be taken on at a fixed annual salary paid from Yorkshire area funds in a joint election in February 2002. Agent number one (the candidate who wins the highest vote in Yorkshire) will be responsible for delegate meetings, staffing and finance of the Yorkshire area and the NUM nationally. Agent number two would be in charge of industrial relations matters of the Yorkshire coalfield. Branches can only nominate one candidate for both positions, and so cannot select the most suitable candidate for each respective post. The Yorkshire area must agree to continue the affiliation fee of the whole union to the IEMO, at least until 2011. All of this was to be put to the NEC and a conference convened to approve it. Mr Scargill will be paid only £12,000 pa from the Yorkshire area fund to pay for ongoing work. The proposal was a bombshell, riddled with injustice. Not least, it meant one of these national positions could only be filled by a Yorkshire candidate and not anyone selected from the other affiliated coalfields. A Scottish NEC member described the proposals as being for a "Yorkshire Union of Mineworkers". Nigel Pearse spoke passionately against these proposals, saying: "When your time is up, you go. You leave it to the union membership to decide who follows you." Oddly some delegates spoke passionately in favour of the proposals - and in great detail, illustrating that they at least knew that the proposals were coming up and which way they would be voting. (In fact many of the Yorkshire NEC members had been called in to one of Arthur's cosy fireside chats, in which he takes you into his esteemed confidence and 'relies on you' to support the line.) At this point Maltby delegate Jeff Stubbs proposed a point of order, in that this meeting contravened the rules - specifically rule 29a, which states that these matters should first be circulated to branches, and therefore the members, before any such meeting could be convened. When put to the vote, the proposals were carried by five votes to three (Maltby, Gascoigne Wood and Stillingfleet opposing). Title deeds At the following council meeting of the Yorkshire area, held on December 17 2001, Arthur begins by saying Maltby had written in objecting to the decisions of the last meeting. He would allow the delegate to speak briefly in support of that objection - and then rule against it! The Maltby delegate flatly refused to go down this road because the minutes of the December 11 council had not been circulated to branches, and were not on the agenda of the current meeting. The first time the branches as such got to see these devastating proposals was via a branch circular of December 19. This circular informed the branches that these proposals had in fact already been put before the NEC on December 12 and been approved for circulation. Only on January 7 were minutes of the special meeting and subsequent meeting circulated. These minutes announced that the Yorkshire area had already agreed to the proposals by five votes to three - before any of the branches, to say nothing of the rank and file members, had had sight of them. At Hatfield the proposals produced an outrage, and news began to filter out to the press, which is where most members got to hear about it. The whole thing was supposed to be "confidential". Dave Douglass came in for some vicious criticism for having spoken to the press about the proposals, in reality giving the game away. A further special Yorkshire council meeting and a special national delegate conference were convened to finalise the proposals. The Yorkshire meeting again saw challenges to the minutes and the legality of the earlier decisions, these failing by four votes to five, and the meat of the proposals were debated. Delegates made the point that we were depriving the members of the right to decide who their national representative would be, and of the right to dismiss and re-elect representatives. Representative were representatives, not rulers. The other affiliated sections like Wales, Scotland and the North East were having a Yorkshire appointee imposed on them from the Yorkshire area alone. Arthur insisted the position of honorary president was just that: it was just a title. Nigel Pearse asked why he needed a title; people would still know who he was. Dave Douglass asked why, if it was just a title, we were abolishing the position of national president; why, if we were having two employees in Yorkshire, we could not have back the Yorkshire area secretary and president posts, which Arthur had fought so long to get rid of. Why was it a package where you could only have all and not some of the proposals? Why couldn't we put forward alternative proposals? Why was it all being rushed through now? The questions kept coming, but supporters of the move were not interested. Halfway through the debate, Arthur announced that the legal advice he has been given by the TUC is that more than 50% of the proposals are illegal and cannot be implemented. So will the proposals now be amended to fall in line with the requirements of trade union legislation (to say nothing of members' rights)? No, they will not. Despite their impracticality they will still be put as they are, and this will also be the case at the forthcoming national conference. The vote would be crucial: if Arthur had lost here he would lose at conference and he could not afford to do that. Those against: Maltby, Hatfield, Kellingley, Gascoigne Wood and Stillingfleet. Those for: Yorkshire Winders (with just a handful of members at each pit), Prince of Wales (widely rumoured not to have consulted the members on the decision) Wistow, Riccall and, most surprising of all, Rossington, previously regarded as a dissident branch. Five votes for, five against. Arthur then called for a card vote, which on the face of it, the oppositionists ought to have won, given the relative sizes of the branches. He would not, as is normal, use the membership figures of the previous month, December 2001, but instead those of January 2002, the current month. Where these figures came from we are not sure, but it resulted in a vote of 1,207 for and 1,128 against. A number of people expressed great surprise at what seemed to be inflated membership numbers for some approving pits. One colliery, for example, was commonly believed to have 220 members but was given a card vote of 275. Just the margin of difference needed for Arthur to win the vote. The truth is we do not know for certain, but there is great mistrust. Card trick When it gets to the floor of national conference it gets worse. Arthur, despite calls for an impartial chair, decided to chair the conference himself, contrary to all past practice and natural justice. Next Jeff Stubbs from Maltby made heroic efforts to raise crucial points of order. These were centred on rule 26b, a rule inserted by Arthur himself, which protects his employment until his 65th birthday, when he must retire. This rule had built in protection to ensure that it could never be changed by any conference ever, so Arthur's new set of proposals run into his old rule. Despite protests from the floor, Arthur ruled that this rule did not apply at this conference! The North East's objections in particular were centred on the special delegate conference and the NEC meeting. Anticipating some sharp moves, they had sent a letter requesting that the size of area card votes be discussed by the NEC. This letter was not discussed. When it came to the vote, like the earlier vote in Yorkshire, some area strengths seemed way above their actual membership, and the national office vote of 822 wiped out the combined voting strength of South Wales, the North East and Scotland. These national office votes posed serious questions. Who says the figure is 822? Were any of these 822 consulted as to the vote or asked their opinion? Of course they were not. We were given assurances from Arthur that, given the legal advice, the 'chair' of the NEC and (we think) the 'secretary' will now have to come up for nomination from branches and, where more than one candidate is standing, face a national ballot of the membership. However, in order to stand, candidates must have nominations of at least 30% of the electorate. This again mitigates almost impossibly against non-Yorkshire nominations. In any case, he refused to rewrite the proposal or refer it back to areas for amendment in the light of the legal advice and insisted that the vote would be taken on his package as it stood. This was utter nonsense and had most of the conference shaking their heads in utter disbelief. Arthur ruled that there would be area card votes. The card vote would be for those men working in the industry plus 'limited members'. Limited members are people who are having their industrial damages claims - for example, vibration white finger and chronic bronchitis - handled by constituents of the NUM who are paying a portion of those membership fees to the national union. This means areas such as South Wales, Scotland and the North East, who process such claims themselves through 'retired membership' schemes paid only to those areas, will not have those members counted in the vote. The effect is that 'dead areas' with no working mines or miners will easily outvote the three areas in which miners still labour. Only 4,000 working miners belong to the NUM, but a collective card vote of 11,623 was recorded in favour of the proposals. Among this figure was a vote of 822 for the 'national office'! Obviously 822 people do not work in the national office, so one can only assume these are people who are having claims handled by the national office. None of these limited members, and especially those of the national office, have ever been asked to vote on the issue or even consulted on it. Arthur's 'national office' outvotes the whole working mine membership of the North East and Scotland. What is worse, many of these 'limited members' not only were never miners themselves (they could be relatives of deceased miners); at least a number of them are workers from other industries who just happen to have signed up for the NUM's solicitors to run their industrial injuries claims under the limited membership scheme. So some former steelworker or shipyard worker can have their vote cast (without any consultation or knowledge), whilst a retired miner in the North East, Scotland or Wales will be disallowed a vote. Some of the papers picked up on the fact that since what are counted are actually 'mandates' to pay the subs at some future date if and when the claim gets settled, a number of the votes are from people who have already died before their claims reached finality. So not only non-miners, but dead non-miners can outvote the man at the pick point. So the vote goes through. The whole thing is literally scandalous. It will cost us dear in disillusioned membership, in reputation and our ability as a union to do the things we are supposed to be there for: to fight for the miners. The press has recently broadcast loud and clear that another, terminal, assault is due on the already minute mining industry. The miners' website, www.minersadvice.co.uk, two years ago warned that 'long-term' strategies for the remainder of deep-mined coal did not extend beyond five years, even at the biggest collieries. The Independent in November of last year announced: "UK Coal may close its 13 deep mines, threatening more than 6,300 jobs, it revealed yesterday." Nothing has been done to build a strategy to meet this final threat to our existence. Prince of Wales will close in September and a number of others will go down like dominoes. At the same time we have this bizarre sideshow which simply robs us of our reputation for being able to fight and our members' ability to do so. It leaves us in every conceivable way more impoverished and shamed as a union. The 'auld lads' who handed us proud traditions based upon centuries of principled struggle must be turning in their graves.