UK miners' strike (1972)


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The 1972 UK miners' strike was a major dispute over pay between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Conservative government under Edward Heath.  Miners' wages had not kept pace with those of other industrial workers since 1960. The strike began on 9 January 1972 and ended on 28 February 1972, when the miners returned to work. The strike was called by the National Executive Committee of the NUM and ended when the miners accepted an improved pay offer in a ballot. 



The strike occurred after wage negotiations between the NUM and the National Coal Board had broken down. It was the first time since 1926 that British miners had officially gone on strike (although there had been unofficial strikes, as recently as 1969). The dispute was caused by the issue of pay. In 1960, according to one study, "miners, of whom there were still half a million in 1960, enjoyed historically unprecedented standards of living." According to another study, while the real net income of an average miner in 1957 with a wife and two children was approximately 22% above that of his male counterpart in manufacturing, that fell to approximately 2% below the manufacturing figure in 1969. 



During the 1950s, the wages of miners went up from a prewar position of 84th to near the top in the league table of the wages earned by industrial workers, and by 1960, miners' wages were 7.4% above the average pay of workers in manufacturing industries. During the 1960s, however, their pay fell behind other workers, and by 1970 miners were earning 3.1% less than the average worker in manufacturing. 



During a parliamentary debate on the strike in its second week, both Labour and Conservative MPs praised the miners for the forbearance shown during the mass pit closures in the 1960s. The National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers did not strike. Following some confrontations with NUM pickets, the National Coal Board adopted a policy of giving leave on full pay to any members of NACODS who faced aggressive intimidation on the way to work. The strike was characterised by the miners sending flying pickets to other industrial sites to persuade other workers to strike in solidarity, which led to railway workers' refusing to transport coal and power station workers' refusing to handle coal. 



Power shortages emerged, and a state of emergency was declared on 9 February, after the weather had turned cold unexpectedly and voltage had been reduced across the entire national grid. The strike lasted seven weeks and ended after miners agreed to a pay offer on 19 February. 


Wilberforce Inquiry

An inquiry into miners' pay, chaired by Lord Wilberforce, was set up by the government in February 1972, as the strike was drawing to a close. It reported a week later. It recommended pay increases of between £4.50 and £6 per week. Lord Wilberforce defended the increases, which represented a 27% pay rise, by saying that "we know of no other job in which there is such a combination of danger, health hazard, discomfort in working conditions, social inconvenience and community isolation." Mine workers held out for an extra £1 per week, but eventually settled for a package of "fringe benefits" worth a total of £10 million. 

Creation of COBR

The inadequacy of the government's response to the strike provoked re-evaluation of emergency planning. The Cabinet Office Briefing Room (known as COBR) was created to coordinate responses to national and regional crises, and is still used in British Government today.