[1982:] He wears dark blue, single-breasted suits, lightish coloured shirts with modestly contrasting ties. His hair is always combed and some suggest carefully coiffed, whatever that means. He is unfailingly tidy. A well groomed and kempt man gently nudging the foothills of middle age. He works hard, drinks little, is a devoted family man, breeds Airedale dogs, supports his local football team and county cricket club, was a judo enthusiast but can no longer find the time to train, listens to brass band music, likes traditional jazz, abhors violence and can be funny in private conversation. He can also be a trifle straight-laced and sometimes downright puritanical. Nonetheless he tolerates sinners and might even befriend them - we've been friends for 25 years.
This apparent paragon of bourgeois respectability is Arthur Scargill, leader of the British miners. [...] It's impossible to place him in the contemporary categories of the Left. He doesn't fit. He isn't a communist and despite what he claims is not a Marxist. Nor is he a Trotskyist or a Tribunite. There is no group or tendency within the Labour Party today that reflects or can cater for his views. This explains his false reputation as a maverick. [...] Arthur Scargill is held in sway by ideas which raged during the formative years of the British Labour Movement at the turn of the century. He is a throwback, and that is not intended as a put down. Once you realise this, things begin to fall into place. He is so obviously a syndicalist that you wonder why you never noticed this before. Syndicalism was a movement that was fairly strong in the United States and Europe about 70 years ago. It aimed to change society through a federation of trade unions which by industrial action would transfer the control of production to the workers. Industrial unionism on its own, it argued, could bring about the socialist millennium. As you would expect with such concepts the movement was anti-parliamentarian.
Arthur Scargill tells how he left the Communist Party because he refused to sell the Daily Worker and wanted only to concentrate on building up his trade union brand which in his view was much more important. Now there are many compelling reasons for leaving the Communist Party but only a budding syndicalist could have thought of that one. Then there is his oft told story of why he repeatedly turns down the chance of becoming a Labour MP. "As a trade union leader I can pick up the phone and get things done. An MP can't do that." To Arthur such reasoning seems irrefutable. The contempt is for Parliament as well as parliamentarians. He would love to see in his country an energy union embracing miners and workers in gas, oil, electrical supply and power stations. [...] His eyes light up at the industrial clout such an amalgamation would have, particularly if he were at the helm.
[...] The TUC, Arthur reckons, is in grave danger of being dominated by middle class white collar unions lacking the traditional commitment to socialism that he considers sacrosanct. Some are not even affiliated to the Labour Party. [...] However, Arthur Scargill's beliefs are not as rigid or as fully defined as people think. Apart from his homespun brand of syndicalism he is a rather old-fashioned type of fundamental socialist. To Arthur the revolution is just round the corner, has been there for years if only people, particularly Labour leaders, would open their eyes and look. [...] He has a genuine disdain for the fleshpots of London and believes, with some justification, that it has corrupted some national trade union leaders. [...] In a certain sense he is always electioneering. Constantly seeking reassurance and the approval of those he is desperate to serve, the miners and in a wider idealised sense the working class. He is much less certain about things than his public image conveys. He claims that his platform persona, confident and sometimes arrogant, is really a cover up for his innate nervousness and even shyness. One thing of which I am certain, he is no dogmatist, belongs to no hard nosed Left sect and is his own man.
The scale of his victory in the election for [National Union of Mineworkers] president puts him in a very strong position within the union. [...] I believe Arthur Scargill will grow with this job. He is a natural mass leader. He talks but he also listens to the miners. [...] There is another factor. The responsibility of this office will not permit abstract sloganising. Arthur will have to think out and clarify his political attitudes. My hope is that in this inevitable re-evaluation he does not go too far. The baby must not be thrown out with the bath water. (Jimmy Reid, Glasgow Herald, 5 Oct)
[1989:] The miners' strike [of 1984/85] lasted
358 days, and [...] cost fourteen deaths (one of
them officially a murder), nearly 10,000 arrests,
thousands of injuries to both miners and police,
and over £ 7 billion of taxpayers' money. It was
a dispute about pit closures and the future of
mining communities that was seen by much of the
media and the public in more simple terms, as a
show of strength between a hard-line left-winger,
Arthur Scargill, the miners' leader, and an
apostle of market forces, Margaret Thatcher. The
media, for the most part, reflected public
opinion in their hostility towards the miners,
particularly as the bitterness and violence grew.
(Denselow, Music 212)
[1997:] Written for the
Lothian victimised Miners, most of whom were
close friends of mine, at the end of the 1984/85
Miners' Strike in the UK. Davie Hamilton was the
Chair of the Lothian Miners' Central Strike
Committee - he spent three months in Saughton
Prison for putting his foot across a white line
painted on the road while trying to maintain
order on the picket line outside Bilston Glen
Colliery, near Edinburgh. He also lost his job.
Malcolm Pitt was the Area president of the Kent
National Union of Mineworkers and was also
arrested and imprisoned on a trivial charge. At
the time of the strike, Mick McGahey was National
President of the NUM, Arthur Scargill was the
General Secretary and Peter Heathfield was
Ian MacGregor was an American hitman brought in
by the Thatcher Government as head of the
National Coal Board to enforce Conservative
political dogma in the coal industry. He was
later rewarded by being made Sir Ian. I am
ashamed to say he was of Scots origins, as his
name indicates. (Dick Gaughan Website)
[1999:] Today the miners are fading into history. Their image is as remote as that of a Tudor
courtier or a serf leading an ox. And yet it is only 14 years since
the miners' strike was defeated and most of the mining industry was
closed down. [In 1959,] there were about 50,000 members in the
Scottish NUM. Now there are only 750. (Neal Ascherson, Observer, 10
[2002:] Thatcher, who had made a great fuss about inflation, managed to preside, in 1979-80, over a doubling of the inflation rate, back up to 21.9 per cent. By 1981 the Thatcher government had brought the British economy almost to its knees. Even John Nott, Trade Secretary, a member of the key Cabinet economic committees of the time, and a leading monetarist, took exception to the way Thatcher was demanding even further public spending cuts in July 1981 after the deflationary budget of March. In his memoirs Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (Politico's), just published, Nott says the Government's argument for cuts 'simply did not make the case for its conclusion'. [...] Nott also takes a swipe at Thatcher's 'free market' reputation. 'Margaret Thatcher never believed in liberal economics - it is a complete misreading of her beliefs to depict her as a nineteenth-century Liberal ... Emotionally she was an authoritarian and a protectionist.'
What Thatcher needed in 1981-82 was diversions. At the time she was the most unpopular prime minister since records began, but she proceeded to make her name by bashing the unions, privatising, and 'busying giddy minds with foreign quarrels' in the Falklands War. Nott believes (as I do) that 'the containment and then near-elimination of trades union political power was more the consequence of high unemployment, brought about by a fierce monetary policy and the high price of sterling, than it was of legislation; but undoubtedly the law had its place'. (William Keegan, Observer 24 Mar)
Music: Police and Striking Miners
Ballad of 84 for Dick Gaughan's own account of what made him write this song
1984: Miners strike over threatened pit closures
1985: Miners call off year-long strike