Sunday, 27 September 2015

Five Leaves bookshop, Nottingham

For reasons that BFTF can't recall, recently paid a visit to the Five Leaves Bookshop, hidden just off Long Row next to the Council House in Nottingham City Centre.

It's a very interesting, one might say rather left leaning, bookshop. Leaving without buying a couple of books was never really an option once BFTF had crossed over the threshold and was inside the store....

Follow the arrows to get to Five Leaves

Prepare to be amazed

Many, many, interesting books

BFTF was also interested to see that Five Leaves sold products by Zaytoun, a company who sell olive oil and other products grown by Palestinian farmers. Their website describes them thus:
Zaytoun was founded in 2004 to support the resilience and livelihoods of Palestinian farmers under occupation through fairly trading their olive oil. Initially funded by hundreds of customers who put up payment in advance of receiving their oil, Zaytoun quickly established itself as a UK social enterprise. With funding from Triodos Bank the company developed to offer a wide range of Palestinian artisan foods, and supported Palestinian farmers to pioneer the world’s first Fairtrade certified olive oil in 2009, sold through the UK market.

The range continues to grow, and is now available nationwide through independent shops, online, in Oxfam and of course through our very active network of volunteer distributors. We run two trips a year for customers to visit Palestine and learn more about life for a farming family there, and bring producers to the UK once a year for Fairtrade Fortnight.

Celebrating our 10th anniversary in 2014, we remain a successful Community Interest Company supporting the relationship between Palestinian producer communities and a growing network of passionate, discerning customers in the UK and Ireland.

BFTF bought some Zaytoun dates (which were delicious and caramely) and some Zaytoun Olive Oil.

Aside from some books, BFTF also bought
some Zaytoun Olive Oil and Dates

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Fracking in Nottinghamshire

Responded to the Governments Consultation on Habitat Regulation Assessments (which closes on 29th Sep) with the following comments :

"Regarding block references SK46c, SK47b, SK55, SK56i, SK57c, SK66b, SK66c, SK67a, SK76b [last one in error]
I am very concerned that accidents, borehole case breakages and deviations from best practice during drilling operations at the above block locations will threaten water quality in the Sherwood Sandstone Aquifer.
I am very concerned that the large quantities of water required for drilling operations, and the need for disposal of resulting waste water, will have a significantly adverse environmental impact at the above block locations.
I am very concerned that the large heavy good vehicle traffic associated with drilling operations will have an adverse environmental impact at the above block locations
I see nothing in the Assessment that gives me confidence that the concerns listed above have been adequately addressed"
Maps of the relevant areas are below, showing the overlap between the fracking buffer zones and the buffer zones around conservation areas and other important areas.









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Nottingham Green Festival 2015

BFTF had a great time at this years Nottingham Green Festival, an event that has a unique vibe and ambiance!

Thanks are indeed due to funders, such as the Veggies Catering Campaign, who were key to making the event happen. A few notes and pictures below....

It was a busy event

Great selection of food, and the BFTF crew were certainly impressed with the vege burgers from the Veggies van. It was interesting to see how many of the food vendors were clearly very passionate about the ingredients they were using, and keen to demonstrate their committment to vegan and vegetarian principles by showcasing the brands available. BFTF had no idea there were so many alternatives to cows milk, for example.

Very busy at the Veggies Catering Campaign van

Interesting stuff from the Veggies Catering Campaign

Nice drink by Whole Earth

Short list of ingredients, apple juice in second place, not sugar.

Delicious dessert from Food Heaven

As might be expected, many campaigning groups had stalls at the event and BFTF had some interesting conversations, although the marine conservation group who had never heard of the MSC label might want to do a bit more research for next time...

Cuban Solidarity Stall - who'd have thunk Notts had such a group?

BFTF finds it really hard to walk buy a second hand book shop, and inevitably ended up making some purchases at the winningly named "Masked booksellers" stall.

Loved the Masked Booksellers!

Lots of dynamic activities and displays too, including Capoeira.

Capoeira, like martial arts, but at 33rpm

Bands were popular...

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Arrest of Ahmed Mohamed

The recent story of Ahmed Mohamed, the bright youngster who took a home made electronic clock to school to show and got arrested on charges of making a hoax bomb, has been widely reported in the media.

To summarise what happened:
i) Ahmed made an electronic clock to impress his engineering teacher
ii) The Engineering teacher told him not to show it to anyone else. Ahmed put the clock in his bag.
iii) Later in the day, the clock beeped in English class and, after the class, Ahmed showed the clock to the English teacher.
iv) The English teacher thought it looked like a bomb and soon Ahmed was in a room with the principle and some Police officers.
v) He was cuffed, arrested and taken into custody - all without being allowed any access to parents or representation.
vi) Ahmed was later released by the Police but was given a three day suspension by the school.

This post aims to highlight a few of the reports that particularly caught BFTF's notice.

What the Local Police Chief said.
The local Police Chief, Larry Boyd, commented in an interview that

"I think it’s hard for folks watching this from the outside, seeing this all link up, seeing this kid — who seems like a tremendously poised, bright, genuine kid — be put through this. To not hear from anyone in officialdom down there that ‘Yeah, we didn’t get this one right.'”

In response to questions asking why Ahmed had been arrested once it was clear that he did not have a bomb, Boyd commented :

“I get that. I understand the concern... the officers pretty quickly determined that they weren’t investigating an explosive device. What their investigation centered around is the law violation of bringing a device into a facility like that that is intended to create a level of alarm. In other words, a hoax bomb — something that is not really a bomb, but is designed and presented in a way that it creates people to be afraid.”

What Sarah Palin said.
A Facebook post by Palin commented that :

"...Ahmed Muhammad, an evidently obstinate-answering student bringing in a homemade "clock" that obviously could be seen by conscientious teachers as a dangerous wired-up bomb-looking contraption (teachers who are told "if you see something, say something!") gets invited to the White House."

"...Yep, believing that's a clock in a school pencil box is like believing Barack Obama is ruling over the most transparent administration in history. Right. That's a clock, and I'm the Queen of England."

Palin also referenced an article on which stated that "...the whole story smells. It stinks of leftist exploitation."

The article also asserts that Ahmed was "passive aggressive", based on a NY Times piece that states:
"We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only say it was a clock. He didn’t offer any explanation as to what it was for, why he created this device, why he brought it to school,” said James McLellan, Irving Police."

The Breibart article also suggests that Ahmed's father was particularly media-savvy, having tried to get elected as President of Sudan and also debated Pastor Terry Jones.

What Pamela Geller said.
The first thing that BFTF noticed about about Pamela Geller's article impressive search for a (Australian) report that allowed Geller to claim that the device was "ticking"

And also the statement "When questioned about what the device was, Mohamed wouldn’t answer" [not true, he told everyone it was a clock]

Also that the Vaultz pencil case the clock was in "is the size of a briefcase" [it isn't, in fact it's much closer to the size of a DVD box Set)

And lastly, how Geller's article then drifts off into talking about ISIS, Honor Killings and "Jihad Killing Sprees" - which, to BFTF, seems like an argument that the answer to "Was Ahmed arrested because he was Muslim?" is "Hell, yes!"

What the Wall Street Journal said.
The WSJ article, interestingly, give a lot of examples from 2001 of ridiculous "zero-tolerance" policies that were being enacted at schools with outcomes such as an 8yr old being put on "in-school suspension" for drawing a picture of a soldier holding a knife. The policies, which are still in place in many areas were borne out of a desperate wish by school officials to make schools safer.

But not safer from the threat of Islamic terrorism, instead they wanted to make schools safe from another Columbine.

What an electronics enthusiast said.
An electronics enthusiast called Anthony argued, quite persuasively, that the clock had not been "made" or "invented" but was instead a 1980's commercial clock that had been disassembled and put in a new case. Not bad for a 14yr old, but not made up from components either.

Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

The death of Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (eldest son on the ruler of Dubai) has been reported in the MailOnline here.

The article describes the late Sheikh, who died from a heart attack aged 33, thus :

"Sheikh Rashid was known for his love of horses and was a keen football fan, supporting Manchester United. A talented sportsman, he also won two gold medals riding in endurance races at the Asian Olympics in 2006. He spent considerable time working with Dubai Cares, a philanthropic organisation which aims to help provide primary education to all children around the world. "

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Radio 4's PM on Corbyn's PMQ

New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn held his first Prime Ministers Question Time on the House of Commons today, and his innovative approach of using questions for the public was of great media interest. It was the lead item in BBC Radio 4's "PM" programme, but BFTF was hugely disappointed by the way PM gave around 21 minutes airtime to talking ABOUT the PMQ, as compared to just over 1 minute reporting what was ACTUALLY SAID in the Questions and Answers. Unsurprisingly, this approach meant that only a very small proportion of what Cameron and Corbyn said was actually reported.

It felt like the PM team were more interested in fluffy discussions about Corbyns tone and clothing than in the questions themselves. BFTF felt let down and that PM had failed to inform the public properly.

Dear BBC, This is not the way to keep the British Public informed

The entire debate can be read in the Independent, and the six questions asked are shown below :

"Does the Prime Minster not think that it’s time to reconsider the question of the funding of the administration of housing as well as of course the massive gap of 100,000 units a year between what is needed and what is being built?"

“What does the Government intend to do about the chronic lack of affordable housing and the extortionate rents charged by some private sector landlords in this country?"

“Why is the government taking tax credits away from families? We need this money to survive so our children don’t suffer. Paying rent and council tax on a low income doesn’t leave you much. Tax credits play a vital role and more is needed to stop us becoming reliant on food banks to survive."

“How is changing the thresholds of entitlement for tax credits going to help hard working people or families? I work part time, my husband works full time earning £25,000. We have five children. This decrease in tax credits will see our income plummet.”

"Do you think it is acceptable that the mental health services in this country are on their knees at the present time?"

"[Mental Health treatment] beds are unobtainable, with the result that people suffering serious mental health crises are either left without adequate care or, alternatively, are admitted to facilities many miles away from their homes, relatives and family support systems. The situation is simply unacceptable."

Perhaps, instead of spending over 6 minutes asking three members of the public what they thought of Corbyn's performance, the PM team could have analysed the background to the PMQ question about their being a 100,000 a year shortfall in house building.

Or perhaps there could have been some analysis of Cameron's comment about the Conservative "... plan for an extra £8 billion into the NHS in this parliament which can help to fund better mental health services, amongst other things.", especially given that this repeated Conservative claim about extra money is in the context of forcing the NHS to make £22billion of "efficiency" savings.

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Friday, 4 September 2015

Questions to NHS Nottingham, the City's CCG


Apr 2016 : North East England Cancer Scanning Contract
Not a question posed to the CCG, but bit concerning to read that a £80million cancer scanning contract in the North East of the UK went to a private company despite a NHS bid claiming they were £7million cheaper and would use a recently installed charity funded scanner. The NHS team challenged the bid process outcome and when Buzzfeed challenged NHS England on why they appeared to have chosen the more expensive bid, their comment was :

“NHS England is currently running a procurement process to ensure people who require medical imaging continue to receive a high quality sustainable service. “We are working with all parties to try to reach an agreement that is in the best interest of patients and allows continued use of the charity-funded scanner at the Royal Stoke University Hospital.”

Outcome of the process appears to be in this press release


Aug 2014 : A variety of questions
Back in August 2014, sent the email below to NHS Nottingham, the city's Clinical Commissioning Group(CCG):

"Dear NHS Nottingham I've recently read a disturbing account of how, in Cornwall, a contract by Musgrove Park Hospital with Vanguard Healthcare has been terminated because of poor quality eye operations and am concerned that the NHS will have to pick up the cost of rectifying Vanguards mistakes. What reassurance can you give me that, in Nottingham :

a) Private companies working with the NHS will not be allowed to privatise profits while socialising the costs of mistakes.

b) Private companies will not be able to hide behind "confidentiality agreements" when they are working with the NHS.

Also, how can you ensure that these concerns actually reach the CCG?"

Having had to chase them for a reply several times since, finally got a response in September 2015, as shown below :

"In Nottingham City we hold contracts with a number of providers; NHS and private and we apply the same terms and conditions regardless. All providers of services (NHS and private) are tightly monitored, both in terms of their performance and the quality of the services they deliver. So should there be an issue of poor performance this would be picked up and managed.

Thankfully we have not found ourselves in a position where we have had to terminate a contract, such as the situation you describe in Cornwall. This is not to say that it could not happen but we work very hard to maintain the contracts we hold and prevent this from happening. Of course problems can occur with NHS providers, big hospitals for instance, so it is not necessarily connected with being a private profit-making concern.

We do not enter into confidentiality agreements with our providers and performance reports on our providers are presented to the CCG’s Governing Body and are therefore available to the public. If you are interested you can see these on our website on the Governing Body section.

There are a number of mechanisms for capturing any concerns about a provider. We receive regular performance and quality reports from our providers, there are hard data such as re-admission or repeat operation numbers which would alert us to any problems and then there are a number of sources of soft intelligence such as GPs and our patients who tell us when they think there is a concern about a service. We also work closely with other local CCGs, NHS England and the Care Quality Commission, all of whom are stakeholders in the business of ensuring good quality services for our patients."

To a layperson like BFTF, this all sounds broadly reassuring. Reading the NHS Nottingham "Patient Prospectus" shows the role of the CCG thus :

"..we are responsible for planning and buying healthcare services that meet the needs of the local population. To do this well, we have to make sure we understand what health problems affect people living in Nottingham City. We then plan and buy services that will help local people the most, and we involve patients, carers, partners and others throughout the process.

We are responsible for making sure that the health care provided is of a high standard, that it continues to make important improvements, that it offers value for money and that arrangements are in place to make sure people are looked after in the best way possible.

We also work with partners to focus on areas which have health inequalities and to identify ways in which we can make improvements for the future. For example, we would take action to improve life expectancy if children born in one area of the City were not expected to live as long as children born in another, or if people living in Nottingham had a higher chance of dying from cancer than people living elsewhere in England."

GP's, it seems, play a significant role in the CCG :

"Our Chair is a GP, and three more GPs sit on our Governing Body, together with a secondary care doctor from outside Nottingham, and an independent nurse. A fourth practising GP also attends Governing Body meetings as an advisor. All but one of our lead clinicians also regularly see and treat patients."

A table in the prospectus gives a handy summary of what the CCG commissions:

Summary of NHS Nottingham Commissioning

The prospectus also states what the CCG is NOT responsible for :

"Public health services have transferred to Nottingham City Council. These services include responsibility for prevention and health promotion, such as sexual health, smoking cessation and initiatives to target obesity and misuse of alcohol and drugs. The Council also has responsibility for planning and buying public health services for children aged five to nineteen. From April 2015 it will also commission services for children aged less than five years old. As with the NHS, these services are free at the point of delivery. We work very closely with the Council to improve the quality of health and health outcomes.

NHS England is now responsible for buying and planning primary care, and for managing contracts with GPs, pharmacists, opticians and dentists. It also commissions specialised services such as renal transplant and neo-natal intensive care services. "

A quick visit to the NHS England website shows that their mission, apparently is :

"NHS England commissions or buys primary care services for local communities. For example GPs, dentists, opticians, and pharmacy services. We also commission health and justice and military health services plus some specialised services. Our Customer Contact Centre can advise you about accessing these services...

NHS England does not commission secondary care. This includes hospital care, mental health services, out-of-hours services and community services such as district nursing. These services are commissioned by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). If you need advice about accessing secondary care, you should contact your local Clinical Commissioning Group."

BFTF wonders about funding, and in particular whether those services transferred to the Council have retained their funding levels. The search for information continues, and is likely to start with the NHS Nottingham Commissioning Strategy....

Update Sep 2015
Also asked the CCG how the managed conflicts of interest (for example, board members voting for services that they had a financial stake in). Very quickly received the following response:
The CCG has developed a specific Conflicts of Interest Policy to ensure that arrangements are in place to manage any conflicts and potential conflicts of interest. The policy applies to all employees and appointees of the CCG, all member practices of the CCG (single-handed practitioners, practice partners, or their equivalent) and to third parties acting on behalf of the CCG. A key part of our arrangements is the maintenance of our Register of Declared Interests and the register for our Governing Body members is available to view on our website [link].

The Governing Body and all Committees of the Governing Body (our key-decision making fora) all have an extract of the register (showing members' interests) included with papers at meetings. As an additional safeguard, we also have a specific item on every Governing Body and Committee meeting agenda to identify any conflicts of interest, or perceived conflicts of interest, in relation to any agenda item. This also ensures that any actions taken to manage the conflict are clearly documented.

To ensure awareness of this area, the CCG mandates training on conflicts of interest for all employees and appointees and we have previously run a Governing Body development session for Governing Body members on this area. The Conflicts of Interest Policy is available on our website at [link]

In addition, the CCG also has a Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition Policy that describes how the CCG will ensure that potential conflicts of interest are considered as part of the decision-making and procurement process. The CCG also requires that all potential bidders/contractors declare relevant interests as part of every procurement process.

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Thursday, 3 September 2015

Joe Gormley "Battered Cherub"

A recent trip to a second hand bookshop resulted in the purchase of “Battered Cherub” (1982, Hamish Hamilton), the autobiography of Joe Gormley (1917-1993) who was president of the NUM in the dark days of the 1970s.

It proved to be a fascinating read, both in terms of learning about the harsh conditions of mining, and in terms of hearing the NUM’s perspective of the industrial disputes that characterised the early 1970s.

This post draws heavily from the book, with a few extra bits and pieces thrown in as well.

1972 Pay Negotiations and Strike
1973 Pay Negotiations and 1974 Strike
1975 Pay Negotiations
1980 Coal Industry Act
Other Thoughts

Joe Gormley - Battered Cherub

JG started working in coal mines at the age of 14 and he describes how mining in the first half of the 20th century was a very hard life, and worker protections were very few:
"We just couldn’t afford to be off work. I got a bad elbow once, when a big lump of coal came off the face and knocked me spinning. My elbow and shoulder were badly bruised, but I was back at work the following day...many times I've had fingernails ripped off, or had black nails through hitting them with a hammer. If that happened, I'd relieve the pressure by by getting a piece of wire....and sticking it down the back of the nail to let the blood spurt out"

Many years later Kent miner Jack Dunn commented:
“I remember the arguments on piecework when one of our colleagues was getting a bit old and he could not swing his shovel as quick as some of the youngsters. You had the internecine warfare of the younger blokes wanting to get rid of the old chap because they felt their returns were being diminished. Men exploiting their bodies and ready to exploit their mates”

JG was heavily involved in Labour Party politics, becoming a Councillor in the Ashton area in 1954. Surprisingly, JG feels that the Council there was more productive when it was all Labour than when it was split between Labour and the “Ratepayers”. Whilst acknowledging the dangers in the argument, he commented :
"the curious result of that was that the council actually became far less democratic than it had been when it was a hundred percent Labour. Because then we had fifteen different sets of opinions, and no one could claim they were arguing a certain way because it was local Labour Party policy....but as soon as the Ratepayers arrived...we started having to hold caucus meetings, and voted together according to what was decided at those private meetings."

There were two main factors affecting the mining industry in the 1960s: over manning, due to lack of a compulsory retirement age; and lots of cheap oil flooding the market, resulting in a move towards oil burning power stations . During this decade, the workforce dropped from from 700,000 down to 290,000 and from top of wages league down to 17th. Face workers getting just £27pw. Many pits closed in 60s, but in an orderly fashion and by agreement between NCB and NUM.

But that is not to say there were not problems. JG gave the example of Mosley Common pit, near Manchester. It was the biggest single pit in UK at the time. But there was poor relations between workers and management, to the extent that the pit was losing £1 million per year, after a 9million investment by the NCB and eventually the pit was closed. JG comments that:
"There are millions upon millions of tons of coal in Mosley Common, which are simply stagnating there… was the miners themselves who closed that pit, and I'll never forgive the people responsible, the NUM leadership there. Ah yes, the so-called militants, the fighters for this, that, and the other. Well they fought all right, but all they succeeded in doing was to close a bloody good pit."

JG became president of the NUM in 1971, a similar time to when Derek Ezra (described as being “thoroughly steeped in knowledge of the industry” became JG’s “opposite number” as chairman of the NCB chairman).

Between 1968 and 1971, the energy situation had swung from excess production and stocks to a critical fuel shortage. Indeed one of JG’s comments to the 1971 NUM conference was that “"...a world wide shortage of oil appears to be becoming permanent..." as well as pointing out that the industry needed to further mechanise and to improve wages to attract new talented miners.

Mining was still a dangerous business, between Jan 70 and May 71, 124 miners were killed and 912 seriously injured.

Joe Gormley on the tradegy of  Mosley Common Pit

1972 Pay Negotiations and Strike
In 1971, the NUM sought increases of £5pw for face workers , £9 for other underground and £8 for surface (to fulfil conference motion to establish £26 surface (from £18) and a minimum of £28 for undergroud workers, in a context of their having been a 9.1 %cost of living increase in the previous year, some miners were having to claim Family Income Allowance and Trawlermen being given £5pw, taking their pay to a maximum of £28.

The NCB offered £1.60pw, then a series of slightly higher offers, with Ted Heath’s incomes policies limiting what NCB could offer.

Ezra informally asked JG what would NUM settle at and JG responded with a figure of £3.50pw. JG also told Ted Heath that “It'll be a crime if you allow this strike to happen, because we shall win it you know.... [and] this will become the pattern for industrial relations for the next decade...'

The NUM voted for strike action, the first NUM national strike and which started on Jan 8th 1972.

The NUM, determined to make the strike as effective as possible (and thus short) adopted the new tactic of picketing to stop movement of coal, not just production. “Secondary” Pickets were sent, legally, to all major power stations, ports, coal depots and steel works to prevent coal movement (except for schools, hospitals, the elderly etc) . This action was with the support from TUC and other unions.

According to JG, there was a great deal of public support for strike, noting that “the Observer has come out with a feature in its business section showing how badly miners had fared over the years, and much of the press was also well-disposed”

Later JG learned that Dr David Owen had four picketing miners staying with him for the duration of the strike and said that “I’ve never met four better mannered lads in my life”

Soon 12 power stations ran out of coal and were shut down. Bob Carr at Dept of Employment told JG “The trouble is, Joe, that you’re doing everything legally. I can’t find a way of getting at you”

Joe Gormley on the 1972 Miners Strike

On Feb 9th, the NCB offered an effective £4pw increase for surface (cf £8 claim and previous £2 final offer), but over 18 months. This was rejected by NUM.

Feb 11th, 3 day week imposed, followed by 1,600,000men being laid off – yet still lots of public support according to JG.

A court of inquiry was held on 15-16th Feb. It heard stories including that of Jack Collins who worked in a pit so hot he had to work naked and whose wages had decreased from £5.50 a shift in 1963 to £5 in 1972 and from from Alan Carter who could earn £18.45 if driving a heavy pit lorry, something that would be paid £30-35 in other industries.

The inquiry also heard how there had significant productivity improvements over the previous decade.

Published on Friday 18th Feb, the Courts Report was very supportive of miners case, agreeing that wages should reflect the tough conditions in mines, and also recognising the social and economic costs of the industry run down in the 60s.

It recommended wage rises of £5 for surface, £6 for underground, £4.50 for face (giving £23, £25, £34.50 pw respectively) but over 16months, not 12.

Both NUM and NCB were keen to finalise a deal that day, given the pressure and the effects the strike was having on the wider UK economy. NUM felt that an increase on the report suggestions was unlikely, but neither had it met their wage increase targets. So the NUM prepared a “shopping list” of other items that had been in discussion over the years (fringe benefits, allowances etc) and eventually, well past midnight, got the agreement of the NCB to pretty much the whole lot. These extra items were worth more than the actual cash offer!

The deal was accepted by the NUM Executive and, via ballot, the members. Even so, JG comments that:
“looking back at it all, I’m not sure whether that strike performed a good service or a bad. It was good in that it united the lads, and showed them the strength which that unity could bring. On the other hand, its success led to an attitude of mind, prevalent even today [1982], where people, the moment they don’t get what they want, think and talk immediately of strike action”
Coal miner, 1942

Early 1973 pay negotiations and 1974 strike
By Jan 1973, inflation had eaten into the previous pay rise and the NUM put in for £30 for surface, £32 for underground, £40 for coalface (increases of £7, £7, £5.50)

The NCB responded with the government policy max of £1 + 4% (surface £25.29, underground £27.29, coalface £36.79).

When NUM balloted members for permission to take strike action, members said “No”, 143,006 to 82,631 - possibly due to residual financial pressure from previous strike, possibly because they were satisfied with other changes such as stop to pit closures and increases in pensions - so NUM accepted the offer.

In the July 1973 NUM conference, JG stated that “the miners will struggle for the right wage for the job, the wage which I have said previously must be the highest industrial wage in Britain, because the job warrants that wage”

Conference instructed the NUM leadership to put in for £35 for surface, £40 for underground, £45 for coalface, representing increases of around 35%, well above the government incomes policy at the time.

The NCB’s offer, on 10th October 1973, was of around £2.25 per hour plus various others benefits/allowances.

JG comments that “To the government it must have seemed that we were deliberately setting ourselves on a collision course with them. We weren’t. We simply wanted the right wages to keep young men coming into the industry”

JG had a secret meeting with Ted Heath in which he suggested that increases in unsocial hours payments might be a way of meeting the NUM goals without breaking the incomes policy - it was clear that the NUM was negotiating not with the NCB, but with the government directly.

In October, the Six Day War in the Middle East resulted in the Gulf states reducing their oil output and increasing prices. JG comments that “…our arguments, repeated over dozens of years, about the need for a national energy policy, and the maximising of our own resources, were coming home to roost”.

NUM met with Ted Heath on Oct 23rd and pointed out that the oil crisis meant that the country needed as much coal as it could get – but 600 men a week were leaving the industry for better conditions and wages elsewhere – but there was no change in the government’s position.

An overtime ban was called by the NUM on Nov 12th and took effect immediately. This was very significant as it meant that all routine weekend (overtime) maintenance work was now being performed during the week, and coal could not be mined at the same time, so output immediately fell by 40%.

John Wilson Carmichael A View of Murton Colliery near Seaham, County Durham, 1843

The entire NUM Executive met Heath on Nov28th. During this meeting the Mick McGahey (NUM Vice President) told Heath words to the effect of “Of course I want to change the Government, but I want to do it by democratic means, through the ballot box”.

JG interrupted saying:

“I’m not here to talk about changing the government. WE are here as the NEC of the NUM, discussing possibilities of ending an industrial dispute, and trying to get the right wages for the men on the job. That’s our position. When you do to the country, you go to the country. You’ll decide that. And I shall decide to oppose you at that time, and I shall work like all holy hell to get you defeated at that time. But this strike is not about that. This strike is about wages and that only”
McGaheys comments were leaked to the press who wrote it up as though the strike was about bringing down the government – a theme that continued in press coverage for the rest of the dispute.

A three day week was announced by the government on Dec 13th.

At around the same time, Willie Whitelaw, at the Dept of Employment, asked to have a chat with JG. In the course of the discussion, JG suggested that a way forward might be for some movement on the issue of waiting and bathing time – this being the unpaid time mines spent preparing to go down the mine and washing themselves after a shift – a suggestion that Whitelaw was supportive of.

The next morning, JG met with Harold Wilson, Leader of the Labour opposition, and mentioned the possible way forward to him. Wilson replied that “ do realise you’re pulling the Tory government’s irons out of the fire for them?” to which JG replied “I’m not pulling anything out of the fire for the Tories…All I’m doing as a trade union leader is trying to avoid the need for an industrial dispute…

The next day, Wilson presented the idea in Parliament as his own, thus ensuring that the Government could not accept it “nor would I expect them to” as Gormley comments.

Wilson later claimed that, after meeting JG, he also heard the idea mentioned in a public speech. JG suggests that this does not fit with the available facts.

Comments JG :
“…I will never forgive Harold Wilson for it. It was completely despicable…if Harold and company wanted an election, they should have forced it another way, using Parliamentary methods, rather than using the Union”
Joe Gormely on what the NUM really wanted to do in 1973

It is interesting to read what the Jan 3rd Times leader had to say about the dispute, in the light of oil price increases :

“Since the industry, at present pay levels, is having difficulty in maintaining, let alone increasing, its work force, the clear conclusion is that pay and other conditions of employment need to be improved fairly rapidly…”

On the Governments side, the offer was only what the incomes policy allowed, but with a promise to then sit down with the NUM and the NCB and discuss the future of the industry, including pay.

A ballot of NUM members on strike action resulted in a large majority in favour.

On 7th Jan 1974, Heath called a general election for 28th Feb.

The strike started on 9th Jan.

A Pay inquiry has held on 18-22 Jan and found that miners pay had indeed fallen in comparison to other industries and that miners deserved an extra 8%.

Labour won (just) the election and said they would not interfere in negotiations between the NUM and the NCB, i.e. that they would restore the right of free collective bargaining to these negotiations.

The NUM and NCB met the next day and were able to hammer out an agreement that put surface on £32, underground on £36 and coalface on £45.

Later in 1974, the “Plan for Coal” review was published and accepted by the NUM (and other involved unions), NCB, both sides of the House of Commons and the Government itself. One of its recommendations was that there should be safeguards to protect the industry against short term fluctuations in the price of competing fuels.

UK coal mining jobs trends

1975 pay negotiations
These resulted in an increase to £41 for surface, £41 for underground and £47 for coalface.

JG comments on negotiations by saying “You have to fight and prove your entitlement to every last penny. You must have a good case to put to employers….the idea that free collective bargaining inevitably leads to a great wage explosion is a complete fallacy”

In the July 1975 NUM conference Arthur Scargill, representing Yorkshire miners put forward a resolution demanding £100 for face, £85 for underground and £80 for surface. JG described this publically as “plain bloody daft” and told the conference that :

“We have proved in the last three to four years that this Union has great industrial power, and maybe some of us have become a little drunk with this power and are constantly wanting to be flexing our muscles…”, also telling conference that passing Scargill’s resolution would result in the Labour government introducing legislation to deal with wages.

Nevertheless, the motion was carried. JG comments that:

“As I had forecast at the end of the first strike, it was the first in a whole line of demands-backed-by-threat which have come to dominate the proceedings of our Union, and which run contrary to all I have learned in a lifetime dedicated to negotiation”
UK coal production and import trends

1980 Coal Industry Act
In 1980, the Tory government introduced the Coal Industry Act of 1980, which required the coal industry to be self-financing within 3-4 years. According to JG, this was impossible to achieve without lopping off large parts of the industry, and went against the (cross party supported) Plan for Coal of 1974.

At the time the NCB was stockpiling 8 million tons of coal per year due to cheaper coal being available from overseas.

In contrast to the public view that miners wages were making UK coal uncompetitive, JG states that British coal was the cheapest in Europe, and that other countries subsidized their production to a larger degree. In 1979 France was subsidizing at £28/ton, West Germany at £15/ton, whereas the UK was subsidizing at just £1.50/ton. JG admits, however, that US coal was cheaper, because it was open cast mined.

It was JG’s view that that NCB was putting rumours of pit closures out so they didn’t have to tell the NUM directly.

At a meeting on 10th Feb, Derek Ezra, under pressure, said that the NCB intended to close “between twenty and fifty pits over the next five years”

JG comments that “It was probably the most stupid statement he ever made”, pointing out that that fifty pit closures over five years might well have happened over the normal course of events (there had been 40 closures since 1974 for example) but in an ordered fashion, with new seams and mines being developed to replace the old ones.

But stating a target of fifty pits left the NUM ”angry and bitter”. Local strikes soon started and the NUM sought urgent talks with the Government. Surprisingly, the government backed down.

JG explained the logic of wanting to use UK produced coal “..we don’t believe that the cheap coal that is available from abroad is going to be there for very long. Once it becomes commercially possible to produce gas and oil from coal, no one is going to want to export coal…we’re going to find ourselves in exactly the same position as in the Sixties. The same trap. The reliance on a flow of cheap oil which suddenly dried up.”.

Other thoughts
JG retired from the NUM in 1981, with Arthur Scargill winning the election as next President.

In the penultimage chapter of “Battered Cherub” JG talks about his philosophy as a democratic socialist.

He describes his sadness that the higher ranks of the Labour Party were filled with people from the middle classes (Wilson, Castle, Benn, Foot etc) and that this has left out socialists who have grown up not knowing where their next meal is coming from. He feels that the latter group have a warmth and an emotion lacking in the intellectual socialists. In words that seems relevant today, JG comments that :

“…we are losing a lot of our traditional support because we no longer seem to be a Party, of warmth and emotion, a Party not only of radicalisation, but a Party of necessary change, and a Party which explained why that change was necessary. Somewhere, especially in the last decade, we have lost out, and there is increasing cynicism about the way in which Labour MPs, when they get into the House of Commons, seem to turn into different people from those who announced their platforms in order to get nomination.”
JG also claimed that Trade Union presence on the Labour NEC was a steadying influence on the Party.

Another point made by JG is that it is a “stupid thing” for Unions to campaign to bring down governments, suggesting that “that way lies disaster. We would get to the position where other people would step in to take control, and that would mean, in my opinion, not a Left –wing government, but an ultra-Right-wing government, whose prime objective would be to destroy the Labour and Trade Union Movement.

Image Sources
Coal Mine in 1942, Coal Production, Coal Mining Jobs, Murton Colliery

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