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National Union of Mineworkers
In 1888, at a conference of the non-sliding scale areas of Britain’s coalfield, the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) was set up. (The Sliding Scale linked wages to the selling price of coal, making them volatile and unpredictable.) South Wales was not one of these areas, as the Sliding Scale Committee had been set up in 1875. Instead, in 1898, after a strike against the sliding scale, the South Wales Miners’ Federation, known as The Fed, was formed. The MFGB had a policy of a living wage irrespective of prices and a legal eight hour day.
By 1914, there was a demand for nationalisation within the MFGB. After the Government had taken control of the mines during for the duration of World War 1, this idea was put to the Sankey Commission in 1919. Half of the members of the Commission agreed that the industry should be nationalised, but the Government did not take any action. The 1920s saw depression in the coal industry, with falling demand and prices, leading to disputes such as the Hunger Marches. This combined with disunity between the areas, lead for calls for reorganisation. During World War 2, the Government once more took control on the mines and the owners saw the need to have some national agreements. As the industry moved towards nationalisation, agreement for a National Union was reached in 1944 at the Nottingham Conference, and a ballot amongst the miners supported this. The MFGB altered its constitution, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) came into being on 1st January 1945.
The South Wales Miners’ Federation became the NUM (South Wales Area), one of 20 areas that were established.
The NUM is an industrial union, representing all mineworkers; craftsmen, underground, surface, clerical workers and many others. Each pit has a lodge or branch which is the basic unit of local organisation. The lodge provides representation of the men to the management, and gives them a single organised economic and bargaining focus at local level. Lodge meetings are used at a committee and a general level to highlight problems and to discuss matters relating to almost any aspect of the men's life at the pit. The lodge has the authority to undertake any functions delegated to it by the Area Executive Committee and has complete control over its own finances.
Each lodge is governed by the rule of its constituent association and is governed by a lodge committee. These consist of officers and between six and fifteen others. All officers and members are elected either annually or every two years. Each lodge then elects one delegate to the Area Council.
The NUM is organised in 20 areas, which were created when the NUM came into being. There are 14 geographical and 6 occupational areas. The Area Council, made up from delegates from the lodges, meets monthly or bimonthly. The Area Executive Committee is made up from permanent officials and six to 12 elected members. The Area Council and Area Executive Committee are responsible to the National Executive Committee (NEC) for, amongst other things, the establishment and maintenance of branches in their area and all negations for price lists, wages, compensation and other matters which relate in character to a colliery or district.
The NEC consists of officials and elected representatives. It meets once a month and decisions are made by a majority vote. The elected members are usually Area Officials, but rank and file members are eligible. Much of the work of the NEC is done through sub-committees, the five main ones being safety and health, social insurance, finance, economic, and organisation.
The Annual Conference is the governing body of the NUM and takes place during the first week of July. The conference transacts the business of the union and discusses matters affecting miners welfare, amongst other things. A special conference may be called at any time by the NEC. If national action, such as a strike is proposed, a conference must be called and a ballot taken in which two thirds of those voting must be in favour.
The basic aim of all trade unions is to maintain, protect and improve the standard of living of its members.
Source: 'The History and Structure of the NUM', Hwyel Francis
Francis, Hywel. The history and structure of the N.U.M. (1977)
Gorman, John. Banner bright: an illustrated history of the Banners of the British Trade Union movement. (Allen Lane, 1973).
All items listed in the further reading are available for consultation in either the South Wales Miners’ Library or the Library and Information Centre, University of Wales Swansea. Click here to link to the library catalogue.
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