Miners vote for the past
THE men who suffered most during Britain's 1984-85 miners' strike took a hard look at the future this past week - and voted for the past. The men call themselves the ``12-monthers.'' They are the colliers who stood shoulder-to-shoulder to the strike's bitter end with Arthur Scargill, the militant leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). They represented about 50 percent of the NUM membership when the strike collapsed in March 1985. Their strongholds were South Yorkshire, South Wales, and Scotland.
The NUM narrowly reelected Mr. Scargill as its president this past week. He won 53 percent of the votes cast in pithead ballots Jan. 23. A majority of his votes came from South Yorkshire, South Wales, and Scotland.
The parallel percentages and regions are no coincidence. Scargill still enjoys the support of the 12-monthers. They chose his uncompromising call for a work-ing-class struggle against management over the more concilia-tory line adopted by his campaign opponent, John Walsh.
Scargill represents a past in which the coal miners repeatedly forced the government to meet their demands - or else. The ``or else'' was symbolized by their industrial action in 1974, which brought down the Tory government of Edward Heath.
Mr. Walsh stands for the future, which will see more pit closures, fewer mining jobs, and more need for the union to find some common ground with management if it wants to win back any of the bargaining power it lost along with the 1984-85 strike. British Coal has shed 70,000 workers and shut 67 pits since that strike collapsed.
Scargill's cry sounds less and less appealing to Britain's 110,000 colliers. In the wake of the failed strike, the ranks of the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers swelled with 20,000 miners who were fed up with Scargill's extremism.
Scargill's reelection victory will give him little comfort. It falls below the 60 percent he was expected to win, and well below the 70 percent that installed him as president in 1982.
Even some 12-monthers are voicing doubts about him. As one 12-monther told this reporter in 1986: ``As long as he is where he is this union will never get back together.''