Arthur Scargill

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Arthur Scargill

Arthur Scargill speaks at a Socialist Labour Party public meeting in Pontypridd in 2010
Born 11 January 1938 (1938-01-11) (age 82)
Worsbrough Dale, Yorkshire
Occupation Former coal miner</br>Former General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers</br>Leader of the Socialist Labour Party
Spouse(s) Anne Harper (divorced 2001)

Arthur Scargill (born 11 January 1938)[1] is a British politician and trade unionist who was president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) from 1982 to 2002, leading the union through the 1984/85 miners' strike, a key event in British labour and political history. A former Labour Party member, he is now the leader of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP), which he founded in 1996.

Early life

Scargill was born in Worsbrough Dale, Barnsley, Yorkshire. His father, Harold, was a miner and a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. His mother Alice (née Pickering) was a professional cook. He did not take the Eleven plus exam and went to Worsbrough Dale School (now called the Elmhirst School). He left at 15 to become a coal miner at Woolley Colliery in 1953, where he remained for 19 years.[2][3]

Early political and trade union activities

Scargill joined the Young Communist League in 1955, becoming its Yorkshire District Chair in 1956 and shortly after a member of its National Executive Committee. In 1957 he was elected NUM Yorkshire Area Youth Delegate, and attended the World Youth Festival in Moscow as a representative of the Yorkshire miners. In 1958, he attended the World Federation of Trade Unions' youth congress in Prague.

In 1961, he was elected a member of the Woolley NUM Branch Committee.

Scargill joined the Labour Party in 1962.

He regularly attended Workers' Education Association (WEA) classes and Cooperative Party educational programmes, and in 1962, undertook a three-year, part-time course at the University of Leeds, where he studied economics, industrial relations and social history.

In 1965 he was elected Branch Delegate from Woolley to the Yorkshire NUM Area Council, and in 1969 was elected a member of the Yorkshire NUM Area Executive Committee.

In 1970, he was elected a member of the regional committee of the Co-operative Retail Services in Barnsley and a delegate to its national conference. He also represented the Barnsley Co-op at Cooperative congresses.

He joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and also actively opposed civil nuclear power.

Scargill became involved in the Yorkshire Left, a group of left-wing activists involved in the Yorkshire region of the NUM, its largest region. He played an important role[citation needed] in the miners' strike of 1972 and was involved in the mass picket at Saltley Gate in Birmingham.

National Union of Mineworkers

In 1973, Scargill was elected to the full-time post of compensation agent in the Yorkshire NUM, a role he held until 1981. During this time he became popular with sections of the left and with his members, who saw him as honest, hard-working and genuinely concerned with their welfare.[4] In 1973, he was instrumental in organising the miners' strike that brought down Edward Heath's Government in March 1974.

In the 1981 election for NUM president, Scargill secured around 70% of the vote. One of the main planks of his platform was to give more power to union conferences than to executive meetings, on the grounds that the former were more democratic. This had great implications for regional relations in the NUM; the executive was described as dominated by "Gormley's rotten boroughs", since every region – even quite small ones – had one delegate, and the larger regions had only a few more (Scotland and south Wales had two delegates each, Yorkshire had three).

Scargill was a very vocal opponent of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, frequently appearing on television to attack it. On the appointment of Ian MacGregor as head of the NCB in 1983, Scargill stated, "The policies of this government are clear – to destroy the coal industry and the NUM".[5]

Miners' strike

Scargill led the union in the 1984–1985 miners' strike. Scargill claimed that the government had a long-term strategy to destroy the industry by closing unprofitable pits, and that it listed pits it wanted to close each year. This was denied by the government.

Miners were split between those who supported the strike and those who opposed it (see Union of Democratic Mineworkers). Scargill never balloted NUM members for a strike; this was seen as an erosion of democracy within the union, but the role of ballots in decision-making had been made very unclear after previous leader, Joe Gormley, had ignored two ballots over wage reforms, and his decisions had been upheld after appeals to court were made.[6] Moreover, the strike began when miners walked out in Yorkshire rather than when Scargill called for action.[citation needed]

The media characterised the strike as "Scargill's strike" and most people believed that he had been looking for an excuse for industrial action since becoming union president. Many people, including the then Labour leader Neil Kinnock, believed Scargill had made a huge mistake in calling the strike in the summer rather than in the winter.

In 2007 the Daily Mail published an article based on declassified Soviet documents where Scargill personally contacted Moscow to secure sufficient funds, that were to be transferred through Warsaw[7].

Scargill, along with Labour MP Tony Benn, was actively involved in the campaign to free strikers Russel Shankland and Dean Hancock from prison. The pair had been convicted of the murder of David Wilkie, a taxi driver, by throwing a block of concrete from a bridge onto his car.[8] The first round of their victory was achieved in October 1985, when their life sentences for murder were reduced to eight years for manslaughter on appeal. They were released from prison in November 1989.[9]

Later years

After the miners' strike, he was elected to lifetime presidency of the NUM by an overwhelming national majority, in a controversial election where some of the other candidates claimed that they were given very little time to prepare. He stepped down from leadership of the NUM at the end of July 2002, to become the honorary president. He was succeeded by Ian Lavery.

Legal disputes

On 25 August 2010, it was reported that Scargill had been told he no longer qualified for full membership of the NUM.[10] In February 2012, Scargill won £13,000 in a court action against the NUM, primarily for car expenses, and for the earlier temporary denial of membership. Scargill admitted there was 'bad blood' between him and the NUM general secretary Chris Kitchen, who said, "I honestly do believe that Arthur, in his own world, believes that the NUM is here to afford him the lifestyle that he's become accustomed to."[11] However, in December 2012, Scargill lost a similar case concerning rent on his flat in the Barbican, London. For years the NUM had been paying £34,000 annual rent for the flat on Scargill's instructions, without the knowledge of NUM members or many senior officials; Scargill claimed the NUM should continue funding his flat for the rest of his life, and thereafter for any widow who survived him. Chris Kitchen said: "I would say it's time to walk away, Mr Scargill. You've been found out. The NUM is not your personal bank account and never will be again."[12]

Socialist Labour Party

Scargill founded the Socialist Labour Party on 13 January 1996, although the party was launched officially on 4 May 1996, after the Labour Party abandoned the original wording of Clause IV – the nationalisation of key industries and utilities – in its constitution. His breakaway party has had little success in the polls. He has contested two parliamentary elections. In the 1997 general election, he ran against Alan Howarth, a defector from the Conservative Party to Labour, who had been given the safe seat of Newport East to contest. In the 2001 general election, he ran against Peter Mandelson in Hartlepool. He lost on both occasions, winning just 2.4% of the vote in the Hartlepool election. In May 2009, he was the number one candidate for the Socialist Labour Party for one of London's seats in the European Parliament.[13]

Scargill has become more politically outspoken since stepping down from the NUM presidency, he is a Communist sympathiser[14] and has gone on record as a supporter of Joseph Stalin, saying that the "ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin" explain the "real world".[15] Scargill had long criticised Poland's Solidarity trade union for its attacks upon the communist system in Poland, which Scargill saw as deformed but reformable.[16]


UK Parliament elections

Date of election Constituency Party Votes  %
1997 Newport East SLP 1,952 5.2
2001 Hartlepool SLP 912 2.4

London Assembly elections (Entire London city)

Date of election Party Votes  % Results Notes
2000 SLP 17,401[17] 1.0 Not elected Multi-members party list[18]

Welsh Assembly elections

Year Region Party Votes  % Result
2003 south Wales East SLP 3,695 2.2 Not elected[19]

European Parliament elections

Year Region Party Votes  % Result Notes
1999 London SLP 19,632 1.7 Not-elected Multi-member constituency; party list
2009 London SLP 15,306 0.9 Not-elected Multi-member constituency; party list

In popular culture


  1. The Times 10 January 2009, Retrieved 2010-01-09
  2. McIlroy, J. (2004) "Al Richardson (1941–2003): An Appreciation", Revolutionary History Vol.8, No.4 pg.3
  3. Untitled Document
  4. Books Review
  5. "1983: Macgregor named as coal boss", BBC News, 28 March 1983. 
  6. Kalamidas, Thanos. "An Arthur who wanted to be king", Ovi Magazine, 11 January 2008. Retrieved on 2012-11-23. 
  7. Jason Lewis. "How Scargill begged the Kremlin to fund miners' fight with Thatcher", Daily Mail. 
  8. "1985: Miners jailed for pit strike murder", BBC News, 16 May 1985. 
  9. "Blunkett told of 'Valleys drug menace'", BBC News, 1 October 2002. 
  10. "National Union of Mineworkers 'expels' Arthur Scargill", 25 August 2010. Retrieved on 25 August 2010. 
  11. Higgens, Dave. "Arthur Scargill wins £13,000 union damages", The Independent, 21 February 2012. Retrieved on 2012-11-23. 
  12. "Arthur Scargill loses London flat case", BBC News web site, 21 December 2012.
  13. List of candidates for the EU Parliamentary elections, accessed 19 May 2009
  14. Johann Hari, "Comrades up in Arms", New Statesman, 10 June 2002.
  15. "Stalin apologists drink to the memory of Uncle Joe", The Independent, 2 March 2003. 
  16. "Scargill angers unions with Solidarity attack", The Glasgow Herald. 
  17. Greater London Authority Election Results
  18. Greater London Authority Candidates
  19. National Assembly for Wales Election Results 1999–2007

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Sam Bullough
President of the Yorkshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers
Succeeded by
Jack Taylor
Preceded by
Joe Gormley
President of the National Union of Mineworkers
Succeeded by
Ian Lavery

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