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Rectifying the sins of omission from the miners’ strike

Pit Props: Music, International Solidarity and the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike
Edited by Granville Williams
(Campaign for Press and
Broadcasting Freedom, £9.99)

THIS book is a comprehensive and inspirational examination of mainly unreported aspects of the most courageous industrial dispute of the second half of the 20th century.

The third in a series about the strike produced by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, it’s edited by the organisation’s northern director, Granville Williams.

As with the two previous publications — Shafted: The Media, the Miners’ Strike & the Aftermath, published to mark the 25th anniversary of the strike and Settling Scores: The Media, the Police and the Miners’ Strike — the new book comprises chapters by individuals who were involved, reported on it or have areas of particular knowledge and expertise.

With honourable exceptions, much of the material in the book — including the extraordinary levels of international solidarity — went unreported by the Establishment media in 1984-85.

As Williams writes in the chapter They Shall Not Starve!: “On February 12 1985 an international march set off from County Hall, London, for Dover with 50 marchers from 15 different countries represented, including organisations and individuals from Chile, El Salvador, Pakistan, Greece, Lebanon and the Sikh community in Britain.

“The march was covered by foreign journalists, including a German TV crew.

“Pictures of the march, which went from County Hall on to Greenwich, Rochester, Canterbury, Aylsham and Dover with the aim of raising £10,000, appeared in many papers in Europe.

“But a report in the London listings magazine City Limits by Lysandros Pitharos was telling: ‘No-one in Britain,’ he wrote, ‘unless they saw the march, would ever know it had happened.’”

Nor, with honourable exceptions which include the Morning Star, did the British media report on the huge amounts of money, food and essentials which poured into Britain’s mining communities.

Williams finishes his account with what he calls one “remarkable example of solidarity: the £15,316.65 contribution from the Faroe Islands’ 30,000 inhabitants — a striking testament to the way the miners’ struggle inspired people across the world.”

France was perhaps the biggest single international contributor to the miners, thanks to the effort of the CGT, the communist trade union organisation, and the sections on international solidarity are for me the most illuminating and moving.

But the chapters on music inspired by the strike and the mining industry generally are equally striking.

Traditional folk music has its Blackleg Miners but there were significant levels of support for the strike from contemporary musicians, about which Jeremy Tranmer writes comprehensively.

Other authoritative contributors include Paul Routledge, formerly of the Daily Mirror, the Morning Star’s Chris Searle, ex-miner turned sculptor Harry Malkin and the BBC’s Nicholas Jones.

The book closes with a poem written by a Yorkshire miner’s daughter Jean Gittins, wife and mother, who during the strike became known as “The Pitmen’s Poet.”

Her last verse reads: “A coal miner’s daughter, I learned from my father/That sweat and blood earned ev’ry wage./But something within me will die, when the bell rings/And men ride that very last cage.”

The last bell rang on December 17, 2015, when Kellingley colliery in Yorkshire closed. It was Britain’s last deep coal mine.

Review by Peter Lazenby

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