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Volume 46 Number 9, April 2, 2016 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Movement

What Is Behind the Attack On Ian Lavery and the NUM?

Programme for the 130th Durham Miners' Gala

Over recent weeks Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck in Northumberland, and Labour's Shadow Minister for Trade Unions and Civil Society has been subject to a high level campaign of specious allegations aimed at discrediting him and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) (Northumberland Area) for "profiting" from the mining community. There is nothing in these allegations that in any way prove that Ian Lavery has "profited" from the mining community other than receiving the payments he was entitled to under NUM terms and conditions. But what is most detestable and patronising is the message that these allegations are giving to the working class mining communities of Northumberland that they do not have the right to have a highly professional organised trade union working for them now that their mines have been closed. Of course it is also hypocritical in that those that closed down the livelihood of the miners have the protection of the state and the vast profits expropriated from the labour of the mining communities. Whilst on the other hand they expect the ex-miners, their families and their communities to exist without their professional unions and to be left to fend for themselves and at the mercy of further assaults on their livelihood and communities by the rich and their government.

This campaign is similar to the campaign that has been conducted against the Durham Miners Association for a number of years. Its aim is to discredit the resistance and organisation of the NUM and its leaders in the face of unprecedented difficulties they face in organising when thousands of miners were thrown out of work and the paid membership of the NUM plummeted. It is the same situation now being faced by steel workers and public service workers who are being thrown out of work in their tens of thousands. Such a campaign also has to be be seen in the whole context of the attacks going on in the working class movement, including the imposition of the Trade Union Bill to attack them and to leave workers without the means to resist and the right to organise. It is also aimed at sabotaging the gains made in breaking the mould of the pro-austerity consensus in Parliament with Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party and Ian Lavery as the Shadow Minister for Trade unions and Civil Society and a leading opponent of the government's Trade Union Bill and its anti-social agenda.

These allegations against Ian Lavery and the NUM Northumberland Area have been made by sections of the press and some in the Labour Party. The Sunday Times claimed to have examined the financial records of the Northumberland Branch of the NUM for the period from 1996 to 2010, when Ian Lavery was its general secretary. This seems to clearly indicate the aim to pinpoint their smear campaign against Ian Lavery. They then set out publicly to assert that the NUM was a bad union and to allege that Ian Lavery and the union had profited from compensation paid to sick and injured miners. They claimed that NUM had "profited" from "£1.6 million....payments and loan write-offs were made by a tiny union made rather wealthy from the compensation paid to coal miners who suffered from chronic illness." Yet they failed to reveal the real facts that followed the closure of the mines in Northumberland, Durham and elsewhere, where thousands of miners were thrown out of work, no longer able to pay union dues. The union carried on representing them by asking for voluntary contributions from compensation claims that they won along with the union's solicitors. This is one of the ways ex-miners and their families have managed to maintain a highly professional and dedicated trade union following the decimation of their industry.

Ian Lavery, speaking at the Durham Miners' Gala and Big Meeting as President of the NUM, in 2009

Ian Lavery, who was also National President of the NUM from 2002-2010, defended his actions and the actions of the NUM when he said: "We represented tens of thousands of former miners and succeeded in bringing in tens of millions of pounds in compensation and reduced earnings allowances. That has been a lifeline for these former miners and their families. That £1.6 million was received is both testament to the generosity and comradeship of those in the community, but also to the work of the union which brought tens of thousands of successful claims."

"The recent attacks in the media have failed to represent the work that I am proud as a full time official to have played a part in. The biggest criticism would appear to be the fact the NUM employed its officials on excellent wages, terms and conditions. This is something the union fought for all of its existence and something that we can rightly be proud of. My wages, terms and conditions were set according to union agreements and I was privileged to be well paid for a job I loved."

Nationally, the compensation scheme for conditions such as pneumoconiosis and vibration white finger had paid out £4.1 billion by 2010 and a lot of that is down to the persistence of NUM officials like Ian Lavery1. Without setting out and fighting test cases in which the NUM risked millions of pounds none of these compensation claims could have been won. In other words, this is the issue that is sticking in the throat of those that want to discredit Ian Lavery and the NUM. With the increasing destruction of manufacturing industries, such as steel as well as also the increasing closure of public services the ruling elite cannot stomach the fact that people will continue to resist and organise in their trade unions and professionalise them so that they can take on the the British state and the anti-social measures of the British government with its pro-austerity agenda.

What is hated by the ruling elite is the fact that the National Union of Mineworkers, in Durham, in Northumberland, in Yorkshire, and elsewhere has done precisely that and maintained highly professional organisations which continue to fight them tooth and nail not only in the courts and tribunals but continue to organise huge political manifestations of the workers such as in the Durham Miners Gala and Big Meeting. And in continuing to fight for the interests of the mining communities and in defending their interests and traditions they are also inspiring future generations of workers to fight for and defend the rights of all.

WWIE calls on the working class and people to add their voices against this vindictive campaign against Ian Lavery and on the NUM. The issue is not to be blown off course by such smears whose aim is to sow doubt, cause divisions and deflect everyone from fighting for what is theirs by right. The organised resistance in the ex-mining communities and in the whole working class must continue to be strengthened. We call on everyone to go all out to ensure that the fraudulent, anti-worker and anti-social "austerity" programme of the government is defeated.

1 Tim Fenton - “ What Has Ian Lavery Done Wrong?”


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