by Jonathan Petre FURTHER evidence of the Church's growing involvement in the miners' dispute came this week with the news that Archbishop Worlock of Liverpool is to be a trustee of a national miners' hardship fund sponsored by the Trade Union Congress.
The fund, which is to be run by three leading Churchmen, a Labour peer and a former union leader, is for the relief of striking miners, their families and communities most affected by the strike. Besides Archbishop Worlock, the Church trustees are Dr David Sheppard, Anglican bishop of Liverpool, and Dr Howard Williams, Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council.
The announcement of Archbishop Worlock's involvement in the fund came just a few days before the bishops of England and Wales are due to meet in London for their national conference, Cardinal Hume, President of the Bishops' Conference, has already said that the miners' strike will be an important issue on the agenda, and a statement can be expected.
Other evidence also suggests that the Catholic Church is in the process of re-examining its role in industrial relations in general, and the miners' strike in
particular. Bishop John Jukes, head of the Bishops' Conference committee for the world of work, is to chair a national conference on industrial relations early next year. Representatives from the Government, the CBI and the TUC are to be invited.
The two Liverpool Church leaders, who have often acted together in the past, have made it clear that their participation in the fund does not indicate that they are taking sides in the eightmonth-old strike. In a joint statement they said: "There is no doubt about the reality of hardship in coal mining communities at the present time. So to establish a miners' hardship fund, distinct from the fighting fund of a union, is both realistic and desirable.
"No lasting solution to an industrial dispute is ever achieved through one party's being ground down into submission any more that it can be won through mere surrender in the face of a refusal to negotiate," they said.
"There is still urgent need for steps to be taken to ease the bitterness and divisions arising from the hardships which are already apparent.
"The Church, as a reconciler, can never turn its back on such hardship, so we are very glad to be associated with this straightforward way of meeting human needs." The fund has been set up at a period when the assets of the National Union of Mineworkers are being seized. It is independent, however, from the "miners' fighting fund" and will not be affected by the sequestration orders.
The fund already contains £240,000 which has been sent to the TUC by overseas trade union groups and unions in this country. At a press conference in Liverpool this week, the Archbishop made it clear that the fund would not accept any money that could be traced back to the Libyan regime.
He also answered criticisms that the fund would have the effect of prolonging the strike. He said that whenever the dispute came to an end there would be such a backlog of resentment and bitterness that a major effort of reconciliation would have to be made. This fund was an attempt to begin the groundwork now, he added.
In launching the fund at TUC headquarters in London, TUC general secretary Norman Willis said, "We shall be attempting to tap the many sources of goodwill which have not yet been reached and to complement all the work the NUM itself and its supporters around the country are already doing." The panel of trustees will have the responsibiltiy of both appealing for the money and deciding how it should be spent.