Transpennine culture: November 22nd 2009

Memories of the miners' strike of 1984 - 1985

by Helen Gavaghan, Salford

Miners, their family, newsmen and women recall their memories of the miners' strike of 1984. A meeting held 21st November, 2009 at The Working Class Movement Library in Salford.

Pain and anger were still evident. Real pain and deep hurt. The memory was of betrayal and broken communities. Outrage at the resulting current reality: youth unemployment running at up to 40 per cent in small towns and in former mining communities from Barnsley to Manchester.

The occasion? A meeting of participants in the miners' strike of 1984, held at The Working Class Movement Library in Salford on Saturday (21.11.09).

Some recalled the earlier strike of 1972. "It was revenge for 1972," said one man. I do not think he gave his name, and I am not sure whether he thought "it" was police or the government. Perhaps his audience did not need him to give his name. He told his story of how in 1972 he lay with a broken shoulder in a gutter, an injury that was the result of a run in with the Police. And then the women, he said, and then an entire community of 4000 charged over the hill to drive off the police.

Another woman spoke to the meeting. She was frail and needed help to stand. "I make more noise when I stand," she said. Then she sang, strongly, an anthem - three verses, we are the working class. She was heard in total silence. She was applauded long and loudly.

These are the grandparents, great grandparents, mothers and fathers, I would think, of some at least of todays' high fliers, either their own offspring or of those they know. Possibly people who would never think to call themselves the working class.

This to me was the story behind the TV images I had seen of police baton charges and baton wielding police.

In 1984 I was a young MOC in one of the IPC Magazine chapels. Melody Maker and New Musical Express were in my chapel, as well as New Scientist. The FOC for IPC magazines as a whole was called Peter Wrobel. He suggested we hold a benefit, a Christmas Party, for the miners' children. I agreed whole heartedly, and we did. The guests were teenaged kids from the Kent coalfield. He tells me we had a party in a London club with Madness and Paul Weller doing the disco, Robbie Coltrane a set, and that Bananarama turned up and danced with the kids.

I had other ties also. My cousin's husband worked in some kind of technical management in a colliery near Doncaster. Little was said in our family of the strike. And I was technology news editor of New Scientist and wrote about clean coal technology and took a journalists' trip down a mine shaft.

I did not hate Thatcher as others did. But I thought even then that that strike and the government's dealings with the miners was cruel and wrong and the State at its worst. Power belongs to the elected politicians, of course. I believe that wholly and totally. But I also believe in the right to cross a picket line unscathed, in secret ballots, and I think the word scab and the thought behind the word is ugly. I believe in the right to strike, and I view compulsory redundancy as a failure of management and corporate competence.

But that strike was also a failure of leadership, of imagination, of intellect, of democracy, of politics, of business acumen and of human decency. Was it also a failure of cabinet government?

"It was a dirty job, but it was a job. There was pride and there was work in the jobs," said Percy Kelly, one of the guest speakers, who opened his talk with the words, "I am a socialist." Indeed The Socialist newspaper was on sale at the door for 70p.

He recalled those who had no stain on their character coming into contact with the police, and for the first time in their life being on the wrong side of the law. Encountering police in full riot gear.

Mr Kelly spoke with considerable rhetorical competence and with respect for the memories of his audience. He remembered himself as "gobby" with police. He seemed unsure whether he had provoked them or not, but he recalled clearly being hit on the back of the head with a truncheon as he bent to help someone.

Listening to it all reminded me of my thoughts at the time. What was the government trying to accomplish that it could not accomplish other ways? I know others will say it ought to be obvious to me, but I am very sorry to say it was not then and it is not now and none of the justifications, even those such as strengthening democracy and "keeping the lights on", which I heard in 1984, justified, as far as I can see, the brutality and battle lines of the stand off nor the way in which the government treated its employees and those with whom it did business.

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