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1974: Heath calls snap election over miners

The Prime Minister Edward Heath has called a snap general election and appealed to miners to suspend their planned strike action during the three-week campaign.

After no sign of a breakthrough in talks with the National Union of Mineworkers this week, he has decided call to an election and let the voters decide who governs the country.

In a speech broadcast this evening Mr Heath said the government would continue to try to reach a solution to the miners' dispute during the election campaign.

But he said the country was fed up with industrial action and he called on people to use their vote to show the miners how they felt.

State of emergency

"This time the strife has got to stop. Only you can stop it. It is time for you to speak, with your vote," he said.

He insisted the miners had been treated as a special case and the 16.5% pay rise on offer was far more than six million other trades unionists had settled for.

Mr Heath's decision to call an election meant the second day of debate on the industrial and economic situation had to be abandoned in order to get three bills passed before parliament is dissolved tomorrow.

Conservative MP Enoch Powell surprised colleagues at Westminster by immediately announcing he would not be standing in what he called "an essentially fraudulent election".

In a letter to his constituency chairman he wrote: "I consider it an act of gross irresponsibility that this general election has been called in the face of the current and impending industrial situation."

The crisis began in the autumn when war in the Middle East sent oil prices soaring. The miners introduced an overtime ban in November - and the electricity workers promptly followed suit.

Mr Heath responded by introducing petrol rationing and declaring a state of emergency and a three day working week

However, the miners have stood firm and support for them appears to be strong despite widespread power cuts.

It seems almost certain now the miners will go ahead with their industrial action, which is due to start in three days' time.

After a national ballot of mineworkers last week returned an 81% vote in favour of striking, it is unlikely NUM President Joseph Gormley will be able to suspend the action.

Mr Gormley said yesterday: "My own feeling is that I would prefer us to be having an election in a calm climate rather than in a position of strike action."

But leading left-winger Arthur Scargill is known to be in favour of going ahead with the strike "because a general election won't solve anything".

Today has seen the second in a series of one-day strikes by British Rail drivers caused more disruption to services.

The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (Aslef) has called a one-day stoppage in each of British Rail's five regions in an effort to force the railways board back to the negotiating table over its 52m reconstruction offer.

In Context
The miners did go ahead with their strike. They were supported by other trades unionists who refused to transport coal and oil to the power stations.

The miners' strike followed industrial action in 1972 which had left them among the highest-paid of the working classes after a deal wrung out of the then Conservative Government.

The election on 28 February ended in defeat for Mr Heath and left Labour's Harold Wilson leading a minority government.

Just before he called the election, Mr Heath had set up a pay board to look into the miners' claim. It reached its conclusion on 22 February but agreed not to publish it until after the election.

Mr Wilson accepted the board's recommendation of an exceptional pay rise of 29% and the miners returned to work victorious for the second time in two years.

The Labour government agreed a National Plan for Coal which included big investment in new coalfields, such as Selby, during the second half of the 70s, in return for increased production.


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