Arthur Scargill

British trade unionist

Arthur Scargill (born January 11, 1938) is a British trade unionist. He was the President of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) from 1981 to 2002 and has served as leader of the Socialist Labour Party, a political party he founded, since 1996. He led successful unofficial strikes in 1969, 1972, and 1974 which contributed to the downfall of Prime Minister Edward Heath. However, he also led an unsuccessful strike in 1984–85 that was defeated by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government, substantially weakening both the British mining industry and trade union movement.




  • I can honestly say that I never heard flannel like we got from the Minister... he said that we have nuclear power stations with us, whether we like it or not. I suggest to this Conference that we have coal mines with us... but they did something about this problem: they closed them down. This was a complete reversal of the policy... that was promised by the Labour Government before it was put into office... this represents a betrayal of the mining industry.
    • Speaking after a Labour Party conference speech on energy policy by Richard March (July 1967), quoted in Andrew Taylor, The Politics of the Yorkshire Miner (London: Croom Helm, 1984), p. 60
  • It is impossible to have workers' control within a capitalist society. Capitalism, by its very nature, produces contradictions which cannot be resolved until and unless we change the system of society...The unions could only have class collaboration and compromise with the mixed economy, and those who advanced the theory of workers' control in present-day society were putting forward an intellectual, Utopian dream, idealistic, unworkable and unattainable.
    • The Miner (5 December 1977), quoted in Paul Routledge, "Scargill attack on idea of worker directors", The Times (5 December 1977), p. 17
  • I believe this judgment should firmly convince any trade unionist that it is useless hoping for justice in the courts of this land. The only way we are going to obtain justice in my view is by fighting for democracy as our forefathers did in establishing the trade union and Labour movements.
    • Speech (21 December 1977), quoted in Paul Routledge and Ronald Kershaw, "Judge stops attempt to ban pit bonus plan", The Times (22 December 1977), p. 1


  • My father still reads the dictionary every day. He says your life depends on your power to master words.
    • The Sunday Times (10 January 1982)
  • Legislation is introduced by Parliament, but we should remember that all our advances, freedom and liberties are due to men and women who, when their conscience compelled them, have been prepared to defy the law. If legislation is introduced which erodes our basic freedom and democracy or threatens our right to combine, we should oppose it with the same vigour and determination of our forefathers. I believe it will be necessary to use all measures, including industrial action, to defy [Norman] Tebbit's law and defend our movement.
  • We need action not words. For the first time we are facing the prospect of seeing legislation introduced which denies the right of trade unionists to come to the assistance of other unionists and denies the right of trade unionists to seek the support of others in their disputes. There is only one response. Faced with this legislation we should say we will defy the law. It is the only action we can take and it is the only response this movement can give. If there is an attempt to use this legislation then you defy it not as an individual union but as a movement.
  • I am convinced there will be unanimous support for the current action and for the fight against pit closures and I shall be calling upon every miner to support the actions that have been taken in the areas. This is a fight for the survival of British mining industry and I am not prepared to accept the imposition of a pensioner from the United States whose mandate is to destroy this industry as he destroyed the British steel industry. I give warning to the board and to the Government that they must now give very serious reconsideration to the policies and the proposals they are trying to implement in pit closures and the reduction in manpower levels. I am convinced that the mineworkers have now reached the point where enough is enough.
  • Waiting in the wings, wishing to chop us to pieces, is Yankee steel butcher MacGregor [...] This 70-year-old multi-millionaire import, who massacred half the steel workforce in less than three years, is almost certainly brought in to wield the axe on pits. [...] It's now or never for Britain's mineworkers. This is the final chance – while we still have the strength – to save our industry.
  • My attitude would be the same as the attitude of the working class in Germany when the Nazis came to power. It does not mean that because at some stage you elect a government that you tolerate its existence. You oppose it...[I will oppose a second-term Thatcher government] as vigorously as I possibly can.
  • The miners of this country will now have to seriously consider their position and recognise that at some stage they are going to have to stand and fight in defence of our industry, in defence of our jobs and above all to retain a dignity and respect.
    • Interview (15 June 1983) quoted in David Felton, "65 thousand pit jobs to go, says Siddall", The Times (16 June 1983), p. 1
  • Mr Murray would be well advised to direct his attacks towards the Tory Government, who have been devastating our industry and smashing down British industry as a whole. I would remind Mr Murray that the TUC at Congress two years ago voted for extra-Parliamentary action – and in essence political strike action – when it decided to oppose Government laws against the miners...I believe that the miners will recognise, sooner or later, that they will have to stand and defend this industry, their jobs, dignity and self-respect.
    • Speech in Perth (1 July 1983), quoted in Paul Routledge, "Scargill rejects Murray call on political strikes", The Times (2 July 1983), p. 1
  • A fight back against this Government's policies will inevitably take place outside rather than inside Parliament. When I talk about 'extra-parliamentary action' there is a great outcry in the press and from leading Tories about my refusal to accept the democratic will of the people. I am not prepared to accept policies elected by a minority of the British electorate. I am not prepared quietly to accept the destruction of the coal industry, nor am I willing to see our social services decimated. This totally undemocratic Government can now easily push through whatever laws it chooses. Faced with possible parliamentary destruction of all that is good and compassionate in our society, extra-parliamentary action will be the only course open to the working class and the Labour movement.
    • Speech in Perth (4 July 1983), quoted in Paul Routledge, "Pit leaders seek backing for big pay increases", The Times (5 July 1983), p. 1
  • I did not join this Party to have a yuppy-land approach, to run capitalism better than the Tories. I joined this party to change this society and create a socialist alternative.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference (3 October 1988), quoted in "Scargill in furious attack on reform", The Times (4 October 1988), p. 9

Quotes about Scargill

  • [A]s Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao perceived, the basic concept of war as a continuation of politics by other means can be applied to any form of rivalry between human groups, be they class, racial or ideological. In these contexts "war", or the use of force to compel an opponent to fulfil one's will, has far broader meanings than a traditional punch-up between nation states or alliances, or the kind of "absolute" or "total" war which Clausewitz saw as conceptually the purest form and which we have witnessed twice this century. Thus we saw anti-nuclear protesters employ force at military installations in pursuit of the political aim of persuading Western governments into unilateral nuclear disarmament. We saw Greenpeace employ force against Shell plc over the disposal of the Brent Spar platform. We saw Arthur Scargill's troops attempt by coercion to bring down an elected government, only to be defeated in, quite literally, pitched battles. We may note in these encounters and, for that matter, in the street brawls during the World Cup, another fundamental factor that is unlikely to change in the future – the dark well of aggressiveness that lies within human nature and finds release in the pleasurable adrenalin surge that comes from violence, risk and danger.
  • A quarter of a century on, the Grunwick dispute remains one of the most significant in modern industrial history. In a sense, the strike was typical of a pattern of similar disputes before and since: a factory with a few hundred workers, a slowly building sense of injustice and a long standoff between employer and worker. But even then, Grunwick seemed a different kind of battle. This was a historic meeting between a traditional trade unionism, still relatively sure of its power, and a growing band of black and Asian workers who were beginning to find an industrial and political voice. Arthur Scargill bought down his Yorkshire miners in a bus - there was even fighting talk of shutting the pits. Grunwick workers travelled to more than 2,000 workplaces over 40 weeks to enlist support. The strike seemed to draw in every progressive movement of the day. "Black and white unite and fight" demanded the banners in Chapter road. Socialist feminists did their picket duty and wrote sternly of the military tactics of their trade union brothers. Jayaben Desai, in her sari and white cardigan, handbag crooked over her arm, was a feminist heroine of the age. Yet perhaps the most lasting consequence of Grunwick and other mass disputes during the 1970s were some of the anti-union laws of the 1980s, particularly those outlawing mass pickets. Today, it is possible to see more clearly the fraud that lay at the heart of the argument advanced by what was then called the "new right", particularly over Grunwick. A few hundred Asian men and women asking for the right to join a union and negotiate from within it was hardly the best example of an overweening and arrogant union movement it claimed was running the country. By any reckoning, Grunwick was a just cause, whose supporters included moderates such as Shirley Williams. In 1977, an independent court of inquiry chaired by Lord Scarman criticised mass picketing but upheld the workers' claim to union recognition. But it was a lost cause: George Ward, the Grunwick owner, refused to give in. This, despite a last-ditch hunger strike by Mrs Desai and four colleagues on the steps of the TUC. The strike fizzled out in early 1978. No walkout since, bar the miners' strike of 1984-5, has quite achieved Grunwick's fame or progressive significance. In the early 1980s, I went to a small factory near Birmingham to cover a similar dispute, led by a group of Asian workers protesting about pay and conditions and the right to union recognition. This time, the streets were empty. As union power declined, so did media coverage - if there's no punch-up, so what?
  • That man told the truth, and truth still has value in the politics of our society when all the lies, half truths and half promises about independent reviews are dismissed. ... Arthur Scargill has been rehabilitated more quickly than any man I have known. Within 24 hours, everyone knew that he was right. The miners certainly did.
    • Tony Benn, speech in the House of Commons (21 October 1992) after the government announced pit closures
  • In Britain, Thatcher was comfortably re-elected in 1983 and 1987, and the radical left-wing challenge of a coal miners’ strike designed in effect to bring down the government was defeated in 1984–5. This strike had its own dynamic very much located in British industrial and labour politics, but can also be placed within the Cold War. The leadership of the British NUM (National Union of Mineworkers), was very left-wing and was ready to take money from both the Soviet Union and Libya. Faced by a national dock strike in support of the miners, the government, in July 1984, drew up plans for troops to move coal and food around the country. Thatcher’s closest aides saw the struggle as one to maintain effective government. In the end, the dock strike petered out in 1984. As another link with Cold War tensions, Thatcher survived an IRA bomb attack in 1984. The provision of arms to the IRA in part came from American sympathisers of Irish origin, but Eastern Bloc supplies were also significant, notably from Libya and Czechoslovakia. The IRA endorsed radical Marxist positions.
  • Personally I think that [Margaret Thatcher] has the qualities of a very great politician. I believe she has tremendous conviction, she has drive, she has commitment, she is totally genuine. On the other side I think she has a certain tunnel vision, she is uncompromising, she goes over the top too much – she did over the miners, she tried to make out that Arthur Scargill was Galtieri and that the miners were the Argies. I think that view does not go down well in the country. And I think she's deeply lacking in compassion and sensitivity.
    • Michael Meacher, quoted in Hugo Young and Anne Sloman, The Thatcher Phenomenon (1986), p. 79
  • Oh I detest him! I did then, I do now, and it's mutual. He hates me as well. And I'd much prefer to have his savage hatred than even the merest hint of friendship from that man.
  • The greatest division this nation has ever seen were the conflicts of trade unions towards the end of a Labour Government...That trade union movement...used their power against their members. They made them come out on strike when they didn't want to. They loved secondary picketing. They went and demonstrated outside companies where there was no dispute whatsoever, and sometimes closed them down. They were acting as they were later in the coal strike, before my whole trade union laws were through of this Government. They were out to use their power to hold the nation to ransom, to stop power from getting to the whole of manufacturing industry to damage people's jobs, to stop power from getting to every house in the country, power, heat and light to every housewife, every child, every school, every pensioner. You want division; you want conflict; you want hatred. There it was. It was that which Thatcherism—if you call it that—tried to stop. Not by arrogance, but by giving power to the ordinary, decent, honourable, trade union member who didn’t want to go on strike. By giving power to him over the Scargills of this world.
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