The tabloids hailed Greatrex a hero for his strike-breaking in 84-85. They’re being much quieter about his conviction for theft
A few days ago, a miners’ union leader was convicted of stealing nearly £150,000 from a union charity. He will be sentenced to prison, the judge told him. Was there a frenzy of media attention on this “union corruption” in the run-up to the trial? Can we now expect a detailed exposé of the thief and his background?
Not a hope. Why not? Because the convicted criminal was once a darling of the Tories and the rightwing tabloid media, a man who helped wreck the miners’ 1984-5 strike against pit closures. Neil Greatrex is former president of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers.
Twenty-eight years ago, most of the National Union of Mineworkers’ 170,000 members went on strike to resist the closure of productive pits by the National Coal Board and the Conservative government. Greatrex and others led a strike-breaking operation which was the principle cause of the mineworkers’ defeat. Based mainly in Nottinghamshire, the so-called “working miners” were hailed as heroes by Conservatives. After the strike, Greatrex and his pals broke away from the NUM to form the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. This ensured there was no hope of any future unity in Britain’s coalfields when the Tories’ final onslaught on Britain’s deep coalmining industry came in 1993-94. The Nottinghamshire miners and their leaders swallowed assurances that there was no pit closures programme, and that their pits and jobs were safe.
The lies were revealed as the axe fell on the Nottinghamshire pits just as heavily as on the rest of the British coalfield. The “working miners” who wrecked the NUM’s defence of the coal industry were thrown out of work with the rest. There were around 170 pits before the strike. Today there are five.
Contrast the media’s tepid response in the run-up to Greatrex’s trial with events when Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield, leaders of the NUM during the 1984-5 strike, were falsely accused of embezzling union funds. The shameful witchhunt went on for months. The men and their families were harassed at home, hounded in public. The accusations were lies of course, and years later were admitted to be so. Scargill and Heathfield were completely innocent.
Most of Britain’s only long-term reserves of indigenous fuel – coal – have now been abandoned. Today we are ever more reliant on fuel supplies from abroad, including gas and oil that comes from, or crosses, some of the world’s most unstable regions. We have the Tories, the Nottinghamshire strike-breakers and their leaders, including Greatrex, to thank at least in part for that. But when he goes down, you won’t read that in the tabloid press.