Tribute to Frank Cave by Arthur Scargill

The President of the Socialist Labour Party, Frank Cave, who was also Vice President of the NUM, died on 7 January 2002. Lalkar extends its condolences to his family, to the NUM and to the SLP. Frank was truly a passionate working class activist whose high level of commitment to the movement is matched by very few and who will, as a result, be sorely missed. We reproduce below the Funeral Oration delivered by Cde Arthur Scargill, General Secretary of the SLP and President of the NUM, at his funeral in Doncaster on 21 January 2002.

Comrades and Friends,

I first met Frank Cave 37 years ago and over the years we became both colleagues and friends both inside and outside the trade union and labour movement.

To deliver this Oration is a most difficult task, and I first want to bring to his wife and lifelong supporter, Beryl, and their daughter, Louise, the heartfelt sympathy and sorrow of Britain’s miners, the International Energy and Mineworkers Organisation and the Socialist Labour Party.

Few people lived as instinctively by principle as did Frank Cave. If he felt something was right he steered straight for it and stuck with it. That instinct guided him as a miner, as a trade unionist, as a socialist and as a family man – and it is a central feature about him which all of us will miss most.

He was born into a mining family on 17 December 1942 in Doncaster, and when he left school at 15 he went to work with his father at Brodsworth Colliery – at that time one of Britain’s biggest pits employing nearly 4,000 men.

Frank remained at Brodsworth for 25 years during which time his life became bound up with the National Union of Mineworkers.

In an industry where there were many highly gifted and dedicated trade unionists, all competing for union office at every level, it was a major breakthrough when Frank, at the age of 23, was elected on to the Brodsworth Branch Committee.

Within two years he was elected Branch delegate and represented his members in Yorkshire Area Council, which at that time had a membership of over 80,000.

He went on to serve as a member of the Yorkshire Area Executive Committee and served on many of its important subcommittees.

Frank played a leading role in the ‘unofficial strikes’ which took place both in Yorkshire and throughout British coalfields in 1969/70, strikes which helped secure the 8-hour day for surface workers. It also was a central part of the battle to win real democracy within the union and helped pave the way towards the victorious miners’ strikes of 1972 – the first since 1926 – and the strike of 1974 which saw the fall of the Tory government under Ted Heath.

During the disputes of 1972 and 1974, Frank played a full and vital role both in organisation and on the picket line. He was always on the picket lines in the heart of things, looking after his members whilst fighting for union policy both at area and national level.

His warmth and concern for colleagues and comrades were as much a part of him as the tough exterior he presented, particularly when fighting the Coal Board and later the private owners of our industry.

In April 1982, Frank was elected full-time Yorkshire Area Agent for Doncaster, the very month I left Yorkshire to take up the post of National NUM President.

Frank and I both knew that following the strike in 1981 the Tory government would try to destroy the NUM. It was a certainty that the industry, pits, jobs and mining communities would come under ferocious attack, and so it did.

Throughout the historic miners’ strike of 1984/85, and indeed to the end of his life, Frank was unswerving in his defence of Union policy.

In 1990, he became Assistant General Secretary of the Yorkshire NUM and he served on the Union’s National Executive Committee. The Yorkshire Area transferred its engagements to the National Union in 1994 and Frank became Yorkshire area Chairman, a position he held until his death. He became Vice President of the National Union at the time when NUM Secretary Peter Heathfield retired.

Peter and I had been through so much together, and Frank’s election as national Vice President coincided with the Tories’ further savage pit closure programme, which was designed to wipe out our Union in the run-up to privatisation. It was for him a baptism of fire.

Frank proved not only to be a most committed comrade, but also a close friend who stood shoulder to shoulder with me throughout that period and since – during the battles which have taken place over the past 10 years.

He was a thoroughly political animal who for decades had been involved in the Labour Party, serving in different capacities at Constituency and District level. However, when New Labour abandoned Clause IV and fundamentally altered its Constitution, Aims and Objectives in 1995, Frank resigned in disgust and helped found the Socialist Labour Party, and he served first as Vice President and, from 1997, as its President.

Frank Cave was a true internationalist, and he practised what he preached. He played a full part in the International Energy and Mineworkers Organisation (IEMO), and served as Chairman of its Political and Policy Committee, its Bureau and the Executive Committee.

I am pleased that the General Secretary of the IEMO, Alain Simon, and John Paul Escoffier and Alain Barrier, have travelled to be with us today to pay their respects to Frank on behalf of all the IEMO’s 10 million affiliates.

Frank had a special passion for Cuba and for the defence of its revolution. Frank played a leading role in mobilising supplies to help the Cuban people combat the crippling effects of the long US blockade. Year after year, including the last two years of his life, he personally organised the collection and despatch of thousands of pounds’ worth of aid and equipment, and he loved visiting that beautiful island and cherished the many friendships he shared, particularly with Cuban trade unionists.

Just 3 years ago he was proud to meet Fidel Castro, who personally thanked him for the magnificent work he had done and continued to do for the people of Cuba.

He also met other international leaders such as Nelson Mandela – not surprising, because Frank was involved for over 30 years in the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. He was in every sense a true internationalist.

Throughout the years he never stopped fighting to defend our Union and members.

The government’s long war against the Union included dismantling the coal industry’s social and welfare provisions, which from the very outset had included an equal partnership between the NCB and the NUM.

As a result of our campaign for welfare rights, in 1998 Frank and I were removed by the Charity Commissioners and the High Court as Trustees of the Yorkshire Miners’ convalescent homes simply because we sought to protect and sustain the beautiful miners’ Home at Scalby, near Scarborough. History, not a High Court judge, will exonerate what Frank Cave did – and the fact that today the Scalby Home is open, caring for people, is in no small part due to the tenacity of Frank Cave.

Frank loved everything about Scalby, especially its bowling green. Amongst his many other talents he was, as many NUM members were to find to their cost, a champion bowler who in his younger days had represented Yorkshire.

Above all, Frank was a family man and was deeply committed to his wife, Beryl, and to his beloved daughter, Louise.

I recall how proud he was when she was born, of her achievements at school and the day she passed her driving test, and he was looking forward to her 21st birthday.

He was due to go to Cuba with Beryl and Louise in December last year, less than two months ago, but tragically became too ill to travel.

His last two years were a most painful experience, particularly for his family and his close friends. He endured his suffering with the same tenacity and courage that epitomised his life.

A Russian poet once wrote these lines, which sum up Frank’s life:

Man’s dearest possession is life and since it is given to him to live but once

He must so live as to feel no torturing regrets for years without purpose,

So live as not to be seared by the shame of a cowardly and trivial past,

So live that in dying he can say:

‘All my life and all my strength were given to the finest cause in the world, the liberation of mankind’.

In addressing this last tribute, I salute you, Frank, in the name of the miners of Britain who will always treasure your memory. I salute you on behalf of your colleagues and friends throughout the labour and trade-union movement, the International Energy and Mineworkers Organisation and the Socialist Labour Party. I salute you, dear friend, above all for the friendship so generously given to me over the years.

Farewell, comrade. We will honour your memory by fulfilling your task.