The Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM) was a scab union set up as a rival to the NUM, to split the miners and leave the latter too weak to defend the industry effectively. Newly released files reveal that Roy Lynk’s UDM had close ties to Thatcher. Lynk met Thatcher three times between 1986 and 1989 – and he insisted each time that the details of these meetings be kept secret.
Files from the National Archives on these meetings shed new light on the true nature of the UDM and its plans for the industry. The new files make it clear just how close the two parties were, and how vital an ally the government considered the UDM to be. David Norgrove’s report on their October 1986 meeting showed how “The Prime Minister … emphasised her great concern that everything possible should be done to help the UDM”.
Energy minister Peter Walker, in preparing a brief on the UDM for Thatcher, stressed that he and junior whip David Hunt“have done everything in our power to be of assistance to the UDM”. Similarly, Robert Haslam, chairman of the government-owned National Coal Board, stressed the important role the UDM played in reshaping post-strike industrial relations, telling Walker “There is indeed a great advantage to us in the continuance of the UDM so long as we have anything like the present NUM leadership”.
The minutes of one of the meeting note:
Mr Lynk … wished to clarify the UDM’s position on coal privatisation. The Union’s public position had to be one of opposition. But privately the union leadership supported privatisation and saw it as an opportunity.
The UDM was clearly rewarded for cooperating with the Thatcher. Notes between ministers make regular reference to how the union was being given preferential treatment over Scargill’s NUM. At each meeting, UDM leaders were reassured by Thatcher that they were free to approach her at any time, and that guidance, support, and training was to be provided to them.
Notes prepared by civil servants for Thatcher’s January 1988 meeting with the UDM reveal that certain pits would have closed earlier had they been controlled by the NUM. UDM control could help buy a pit extra time. Cadley Hill colliery in Derbyshire is singled out as a pit which was given a stay of execution on this basis, with “some marginal pits … being given great encouragement to reach profitability”, the inference being that NUM pits were being left to fend for themselves, while UDM pits were given a leg up to remain economically viable.
For many miners, these revelations about the breakaway UDM betrayals will be old news, nor does the exposure of the government's complicity in defeating the striking miners surprise socialists.