DAM NUM Congress [Burnley Congress for Industrial Action, 1985]

It was the biggest industrial gathering initiated by direct actionists since the Industrial Rank and File Movement in the early 1960’s. Burnley DAM and Burnley Miner’s Support Group deserve full credit for organising the Congress on Jan 19th, designed to improve the effectiveness of the Miners’ strike. 

Speakers included: Peter Heathfield, General Secretary of the NUM, Dave Douglass, Hatfield Main NUM, Tony Crowther, National Secretary of DAM (NUR), and a speaker from Lancashire NUM. Douglas, an old syndicalist sympathiser, attacked the authoritarian left and advocated a direct actionist approach and tactics.

Heathfield gave a rallying speech aimed more at the press than the Congress. His main message was ‘stand firm’. He did, however, complain about the Government and Coal Board strategy to restructure the coal industry and the economy in general, without offering an NUM alternative strategy.

Of late the NUM has, perhaps in desperation, shifted towards appealing to rank and file trade union members over the heads of their union bosses. If this gains force in the labour movement it may result in a move away from regimented ‘top-down’ trade unionism to genuine grass-roots industrial action and control.

What came out at the Congress and in the commissions is that direct action tactics by themselves are not enough. Of course, imaginative direct action is vital, and the information from the power workers and other shopfloor militants at Congress was useful. But what is really required, both by the NUM and the direct actionists of DAM and other organisations, is an Alternative Strategy both for mining and society as a whole.

Of course, in the limited time available at this Congress, it was only possible to sketch the outlines for future action and organisation. Proposals included; support for a 1 day Solidarity Strike on March 6th, more action at Power Stations in the North West, and the creating of permanent Miners’ Support Groups as a means of furthering rank and file organisation generally.

Ultimately, however, any social movement which seeks public support and approval, must try to develop a comprehensive alternative programme and strategy which is recognisably relevant to British society. Future Congresses must be aware of this and if possible address themselves to it.

Rochdale DAM

Freedom February 1985