The 1972 & 1974 Miners' Strikes
1972 and 1974 miners' strikes afforded the opportunity for the
Trades Union Council to engage in action in accordance with its
policy of direct action. The Trades Union Council provided all
the traditional forms of support in its expression of solidarity.
Public collections were made, public meetings were addressed and
local trade union branches were called upon to respect the miners'
picket lines. The public were urged to send cash, clothing and
food to the miners' strike committee, and local traders were encouraged
to provide cheap goods to striking miners.
More unconventional support was provided by
the Trades Union Council's campaign to maximise energy use. In
1974 national coal stocks were running low and the Heath government,
in something like desperation, introduced a government campaign
to save fuel using the slogan - 'Switch it off'. Local town councils
were urged by government to save fuel by switching off street lights
and lights in public buildings. Few councils in the North seemed
to respond. The Trades Union Council sought to encourage the public
to use more energy and introduced its own campaign - 'Switch it
on'. The public were urged to switch lights on and to leave them
burning at night.
The 1974 strike was, in many ways, a re-run
of the 1972 strike, and lessons learned then were applied to a
range of industrial disputes. The most unconventional and most
direct intervention from the Trades Union Council came in the form
of help to striking miners to maximise their claim to social security
supplementary benefits. This was achieved by facilitating and legitimising,
the services of the Claimants Union to the miners' 'Strike Claims
Committee'. This action was important to provide the financial
help to strikers to survive, but also to boost their moral by allowing
each miner to feel that he was playing a direct role in the strike
The Department of Health and Social Security
officials had set up a claims sub-office in the miners head-quarters,
the Armstrong Hall, in South Shields. The miners had been persuaded
by the SSTUC to set up a 'Strike Claims Committee' to assist each
miner in his claim for benefits. The Claimants Union acted as 'advisers'
to this Committee and helped to provide a personal adviser (technically
'a friend') to accompany each miner when claiming. In this way
precedents were set for the payment of 'urgent needs' benefits
for rent, fuel, clothing, etc. The news of any new payment was
quickly spread to all miners, locally and nationally.
The confrontation between miners and DHSS officials
became fraught at times and on one notable occasion, with unconscious
irony, the DHSS officials withdrew their labour.
A measure of the success of the co-operative action came after
the 1972 strike when, in reply to a parliamentary question by Arthur
Blenkinsop MP, it was revealed that, per capita, single miners
in South Shields had received five times more in payment of supplementary
benefits than in the rest of the coalfields.