Publication Date01 Jul 1987
Miners’ Strike
Loss Without Limit,
by Martin Adeney and John Lloyd.
London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986,319 pp., f14.95.
This is the best general account of the miners’ strike which has appeared. In fourteen
chapters the authors range over the major themes of the dispute, profiling Scargill
and MacGregor and analysing such elements as the picketing operation, the split in
the NUM, the fruitless negotiations, the drift back to work and the roles
government, police and media. Detail is supplied by interviews with an enviable list
of contacts, from cabinet ministers and TUC worthies, to picket leaders. The book is
tautly written and conveys the authors’ excitement and engagement with their
subject matter, Much of the writing is very fine indeed.
The main strength of the book is perhaps its authoritative description
how the
strike was managed.
offers an enthralling glimpse
the activities and beliefs of
senior decision-makers in Whitehall and Hobart House, actors who normally
operate off-stage as far as most industrial researchers are concerned. One of the most
absorbing sub-plots
this account is the conflict within Coal Board management
over how the strike was to be conducted. On one side
this conflict stood those who
wished to break the strike, who worked actively to detach miners’ loyalty from the
NUM through fostering a return to work. This camp was, of course, headed by Ian
MacGregor, whose portrayal by Adeney and Lloyd reveals the classic symptoms of
the unitary frame
reference. Before the strike, it seems, he believed the union
could be convinced of the need for pit closures simply through the demonstration
the economic facts of the case; if they were rational then they must accept the
management’s arguments. Once the strike began he revealed a
distaste for negotiation (‘This place stinks’ he apparently said on entering ACAS)
and an ineptitude once he found himself at the bargaining table which, ironically,
extended to the making
relatively generous, off-the-cuff concessions. On the other
the divide stood the pluralists
the NCB’s industrial relations department.
These were adament that Scargill should not be allowed to win the dispute but
advocated a negotiated settlement and abstinence from actions which threatened the
the union. In their view the management of the strike should be guided
by the expectation of re-establishing strong bargaining relationships once it was over.
Two questions seem to be posed by this conflict. Firstly, where did it originate? It
has been argued that the increasingly unitary style of labour management in the
public sector is due to the changing ‘political contingency’, to government pressure.
Undoubtedly there is much truth in this. MacGregor was appointed partly because
his toughness towards trade unions. However, the coal industry was capable
producing its own unitarists. Adeney and Lloyd identify a growing body of managers
from the mid-1970s who were dissatisfied with the ‘excessive’ influence
the NUM
and the intimacies of the ‘Derek and Joe’ show. They also point out that the most
intransigent managers during the strike were home-grown mining engineers. The

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