From 1987 to 1989, both Monktonhall and Bilston Glen were under constant threat of closure. The first threat came from the SSEB when the SSEB decided that they did not want to renew their coal agreement with British Coal, which was a direct threat to the future of Monktonhall and Bilston Glen. The Trades Unions at these collieries organised a Joint Committee to challenge the SSEB’s threats, organising public meetings, mainly in East Lothian, and leaflets exposing these threats. The second major threat to the collieries came in 1989 on the basis of over capacity of coal production within Britain. Once campaigns were organised and supported by the Lothian Regional Council as well as the Midlothian and east Lothian Coucils. Through the support of Lothian Regional Coucil, alternative markets to take the surplus were identified. Unfortunately, due to the political climate these arguments fell on deaf ears.
In 1989, Bilston Glen Colliery was closed due to the colliery being uneconomic. The unions at Monktonhall managed to negotiate the retention of the pit, on a care & maintenance basis, and therefore thwarted British Coal’s proposal to close Monktonhall. The reason that the unions argued for a care & maintenance agreement was on the basis that there was a future for coal and that Monktonhall could play a part in that future, with its access to 23 million tons of coal.
In 1993, the Conservative government privatised the British Coal Industry. Monktonhall was bought over by a Co-operative with all the miners putting up £10, 000 of their own money to run the pit.
About 1996, the workers realised that to ensure the future of Monktonhall they would require substantial capital investment from private sources, and Waverley Mining came forward and bought out the Co-operative (the workers did not get their initial investment back).
Waverley Mining continued to work the coal reserves at Monktonhall until 1999 when again a substantial financial investment was required to develop the future access to coal reserves; Waverley Mining did not have the financial capital to source this.
A lot of hard work and effort was put in by Mid and East Lothian Councils, and the workforce, led by Alex Bennett and John Doran to find an alternative buyer. Unfortunately they were unsuccessful and Monktonhall was closed in July 1999, thus sterilising millions of tons of low sulphur coal.
Addendum: text of letter to EETPU membership
ELECTRICAL ELECTRONIC TELECOMMUNICATION & PLUMBING UNION
WHY WE CAN’T BACK THE NUM LEADERSHIP
An open letter to EETPU members from FRED FRANKS, National Officer, Electricity Supply Industry
Our union has consistently argued for an honourable settlement of the miners’ strike. Why though did we oppose the Trades Union Congress statement of support for the miners?
We did so because it is:
- WRONG to ignore picket line violence and the TUC’s own guide for peaceful picketing;
- WRONG for you to be used to further the political objectives of some miners’ leaders;
- WRONG to help the defeat of those miners who, in the absence of a national ballot, have chosen to stay at work;
- WRONG to coerce you into industrial action, with an inevitable loss of earnings and even a risk to your job security;
- WRONG to expect you to accept hostility and probably aggression from the public if your action leads to serious power cuts which would cripple industry and the essential services.
Your ballot paper explains the generous offer of assistance made by the General Secretary, Eric Hammond, to the National Union of Mineworkers in May – an offer that was declined. Much has happened since then, including the ugly escalation of picket line bullying, still not condemned by the NUM leadership.
That leadership has failed to gain support from the steelworkers, dockers and transport drivers or from many of its own union members. Now it is to be the turn of the power workers who have done so much to ensure the key role of coal in the energy market.
The NUM, often through misinformation, opposes the use of nuclear power. It promotes an energy policy that would leave coal as the sole fuel for power stations, at a price decided by the NUM. This is a frightening prospect for our distribution members, already facing major problems in competing with gas. Spiralling costs will also consist the growth of private generation in areas where competition with the CEGB is not currently viable.
The NUM President admits that “there are bound to be casualties in a dispute of this magnitude” Our Electricity Supply members should not be used as shock troops in someone else’s dubious battle.
Above all, our members should not be dragooned without their own voice in the decision. That is why we have arranged a ballot.
We urge you to vote in support of the Executive Council’s opposition to the TUC statement.
Further reading & references
- Allen, V. L (1980) The Militancy Of British Miners, Moor Press
- Amos, R (1994, March) Video – Tenth Anniversary of the Start of the Strike, Mayfield Labour Club
- Benyon, Huw (ed) (1985) Digging Deeper, Verso London
- Carter, Pete (1986) Trade Unions ‘The New Reality’, Communist Party Publication
- Coates, K and Topham, T (1988) Trade Unions In Britain, 3rd edition, publisher not given
- Daily Express (1982 January 13)
- Davies, Paul (1987) A. J. Cook, Manchester University Press
- The Economist ‘Appomattox or Civil War?’ (1978 May 27)
- Howell, David (1989) The Politics Of The NUM, Manchester University Press
- Ledger, Frank and Sallis, Howard (nd) Managing the Power Supply: an inside story of crisis management on which the documentary The Man Who Kept the Lights On was based
- Marxism Today (1985 April)
- Maxwell, Alex (1994) Chicago Tumbles
- National Coal Board (various) Coal News
- National Union of Mineworkers (various) The Scottish Miner publication of the Scottish Area of the NUM
- National Union of Mineworkers (1983 September) Coalfield Campaign Briefing Notes
- National Union of Mineworkers (1984 March 15) Triple Alliance Minutes (of the meeting in
- Scotland attended by the NUM, NUS, STUC, ASLEF, T&G, and the ISTC) Available at the NUM offices Scottish Area
- Scotsman (1983 October 14)
- Select Committee on Energy Pit Closures (1982 December 21) House of Commons Second Report