Sunday, March 15, 2009

Much More Than Arthur

Arthur's Castle : NUM Offices at Barnsley

Here is a link to a video showing the fine NUM Council Chamber at Barnsley. I went there yesterday to hear Arthur Scargill and others address a meeting organised by the Yorkshire Area of the NUM. The room was packed with some 400 people attending. Many of them standing.

The meeting was held as a Memorial Lecture to David Jones and Joe Green who were killed when picketing at Ollerton Colliery 25 years ago today.

In talking in detail about the Miner's strike, Arthur essentially covered the case he recently presented in this article in the Guardian. But it was a tour-de-force reminiscent of the old days.

For me there was an extra attractions about the meeting. It was held in the Council Chamber which I attended annually between 1966 and 1986 and remember with affection.

I was appointed initially as a temporary Assistant Lecturer in Industrial Relations and Political Studies at the Sheffield University Extramural Department in 1966. But before I was yet on the pay roll, it was suggested that I should participate in a Saturday morning selection conference that was held in the Council Chamber at Barnsley.

The purpose of the conference was for the Extramural Department to meet with Yorkshire Miners who wished to attend a course they ran. As there were often 100 to 200 applicants for a class of 20 places (which was later expanded to two classes covering 40 places), a selection process had been devised.

The pattern was for the Miners to initially engage in a note-taking exercise. One lecturer would explain what was being looked for. Another lecturer would give a talk which fitted in with the pattern that had been explained. Time was then given for the applicants to write their rough notes up as had been suggested.

What this did was to give the lecturers an idea of whether anyone had any serious difficulties with written work. A preliminary course on Student Skills was held in Barnsley in the Miners own time on a Saturday morning for those we felt had potential, but needed extra help with their written work. Many of these were later selected for the full course and produced some of our best students.

We then divided the applicants up into discussion groups. Each group would discuss a couple of topics. One topic was on the mining industry and the other was on politics. We had 8 tutors teaching our full range of courses and we were joined by trusted helpers if there was a particularly large group of applicants.

Our job was to chair the discussion groups, swapping to a second group after the initial discussion. We needed to ensure that everyone got a fair crack of the whip and that the debate did not get diverted. Otherwise we were on the look out not just for potential but for people we felt could work together. The tutor running the selection conference moved from group to group, to gain an extra impression of what was happening.

In 1966 as a novice lecturer, I initially chaired a group of eight or so miners who were sitting on the platform of the Council Chamber. When I heard the high quality of the discussion I was taken aback. I thought "crikey, I will have my work cut out keeping up with these".

After the applicants had departed, the lecturers would meet together to collate their impressions and check on the results of the note-taking exercise. The tutor in charge of the course would also understand that some additional factors needed to be taken into account. The successful applicants would be given a day off work a week with their wages still being paid by the Coal Board and the course fees would be paid by the Yorkshire NUM. It wasn't, therefore, feasible to take three electricians from the same pit in one go. Each pit would also need to be given as fair a crack of the whip as possible (at least in the long run). We held fuller information on those who re-applied and had earlier attended a preliminary course. Then if others were repeat applicants, it indicated their keenness to attend.

By I arrived the word was also out that attending the course wasn't just a day off work. Students were expected to apply their minds to what they were studying and to work on reading and essay work in their own time. The few who misjudged this and found their way onto the course, usually packed it in in the first few weeks. But they were the exceptions.

The Yorkshire Miners attended classes which were held at Sheffield University. They came for a day a week over a 24 week period, for three years. Initially they studied Student Skills and Industrial Relations. In the second year they studied economics, and politics in the third year. Classes started with 20 attending and often ended with 16 or so still being in regular attendance.

These courses were unusual in the University in that they attracted Government Inspectors. One of these regularly attended the selection conferences at Barnsley. Not because there were any problems, but because she found them to be so stimulating.

There were no exams nor qualifications at the end of the Industrial Day Release Courses. I shared the teaching of the class which we selected on that first day of mine at the Council Chamber in 1966. It included students who went on to hold the following positions - Terry Patchett MP, Norman West MEP, Ron Rigby Leader of the Council at Barnsley, Jack Wake NUM Branch Secretary at Cortonwood.

The standard of debate in Yorkshire (and Derbyshire) Miners Day Release Classes and in other Trade Union and related classes I taught upon was normally superior to that I later experienced in parliament over 18 years. But then participatory education is about judgement and precision and not about persuasion and press-releases.

In 1984-85 I taught two classes of Yorkshire Miners during the Miner's Strike. Despite being on strike they still attended the classes. One of the students was absent for four weeks as he had to spend time in Lincoln Prison, convicted for a picketing offence. So he then addressed the class and we discussed his prison experiences. One of the finest students was Bob Genders, who a year after the end of the strike was killed in an accident at Rossington pit.

Above there is a photo of Bob Genders taken during the Miners' Strike. Yesterday's meeting was about much more than Arthur.


Kerron said...

Apologies in advance for this...

Harry Barnes said...

Apologies accepted, task rejected. See my comments on your thread.

tyke1249 said...

hi Harry --- I was on the miners course 84/85 , Mick Lanaghan , Hatfield Main --- I`m doing a bit of research for a project im in the process of starting and I stumbled on your blog --good to see you in fine fettle-- I followed your time in parlement ( you blinded em mate ) my kids got feb up of me saying " I know him he taught me at sheffield" deeply sad to learn about Bob Genders good bloke !!!!!

Harry Barnes said...

Mick - Great to hear from you. Keep in touch. Bob Heath and John Halstead who taught on the Day Release Classes normally attend discussion which I arrange for my local Labour Party, see here -
Trawl down to the second item on the above for a debate we had which was led by Geoff who was in a Derbyshire Miners Class I taught in the early 1970s. We have another ex-student lined up for our next meeting - Kevin Barron !
When I went to hear Arthur at Barnsley I hoped to bump into former students, but I only found someone from Derbyshire - but the meeting was a bit packed out. It was easy to miss people and as I started back in 1969 some will look a bit different after 40 years.