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The miners’ struggle is as relevant as ever

DAVID PEEL sees the parallels with today at an event to mark the 30th anniversary of Thatcher’s war with the miners

May Day 2014 was a day for celebrating the legends in our movement, living and lost.

Outside the beautiful Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell, 10,000 gathered to march to remember Bob Crow and Tony Benn, joining millions of workers around the world marking international solidarity.

It was an extraordinary day full of celebration and emotion. And it was hard not to hold back a tear when Crow and Benn’s voices echoed across Trafalgar Square from the two short films that were shown, or during the remarkable salutary speech of Crow’s daughter, standing as a No2EU: Yes to Workers’ Rights candidate in London.

But later, at the Bishopsgate Institute in the shadow of the City, we gathered to celebrate another legend of the moment — Arthur Scargill. 

“The Enemy Within,” as the evening was billed, was to remember the miners’ titanic struggle for their jobs and communities 30 years ago.

But it was much more. It was, as writer Seamus Milne made clear and underlines in the reissue of his book of the same title, a struggle for a different kind of Britain, between the enemies of community and solidarity — Thatcher and the Establishment — and its champions, the labour and trade union movement. 

Bluntly, ours is a movement of humanity, theirs is a toxic creed of greed and war, poverty and hunger, injustice and prejudice, division and every woman and man for themselves. 

As Milne said, the aftershock of the miners’ strike is still felt today, 30 years later. 

Today we have austerity because the miners lost their struggle. Correction. We all lost that struggle.

The courage of the miners and the women of the pit communities is beyond question. 

When Scargill stood to speak, the excitement round the packed room was tangible. It is not that we didn’t know what Scargill was going to say. He said it then, and has been saying it since. 

It was that we found ourselves in the same room as the last great trade union leader to stand up for us and our values in an epic struggle that swiftly moved from an industrial struggle to a struggle for the heart and soul of a nation and its future.

The lessons of that struggle are as relevant today as they were then. Indeed, more relevant. 

Any movement which seeks to change this nation in a socialist direction, in a vaguely left direction, will find itself subject to what the NUM and its leadership suffered daily. 

We are not just talking about craven defeatism from some in the trade union movement, or outright betrayal by the Labour Party leadership. 

Milne revealed in his book a black operation by the secret state to destroy this union and set back the labour and trade union movement which was, as Owen Jones put it, “a terrifying indictment of the British Establishment.” 

Buy Milne’s book and learn the lessons of the strike, heed the warnings of Scargill.

Nascent challenges to the state, like the fast-growing People’s Assembly movement, must make ready for a similar operation to destroy it. 

Already the People’s Assembly’s national secretary has had his home burgled and papers taken, though nothing else of value went. 

What the miners also faced was the deployment of police forces on a military scale. As Milne put it, “Scargill faced a hard-right Conservative administration bent on class revenge and prepared to lay waste to the country’s industrial heartlands and energy sector in the process, regardless of cost.” 

There are some on the left who remain ambivalent about Scargill. It was ever thus in our movement. 

The truth is that we cannot afford to wring our hands and split again in the face of such an assault on our communities and values. 

That hard-right Conservative administration is back, with a class vengeance, and is taking down our most cherished public services right in front of our eyes. 

We cannot let it happen again. If we fail again we face another 30 years of retreat and defeat. And there will be little left to fight for and rebuild when they have finished this time. 

As for acknowledging what Scargill and the miners tried to do for our country and our class, let’s leave the last words to him. 

“We stood on an issue of class. We did everything in our power to beat them. We don’t want or need accolades from them. I prefer this — ‘We have taken part in the most historic struggle. We should be proud of what we have achieved.’ 

“The miners were heroes of the international working class. I will accept that accolade from Nelson Mandela.”

On May Day 2014 we remembered Bob Crow and Tony Benn. It’s now time we remembered the struggle 30 years ago of Arthur Scargill and the miners, time we won justice for the pickets left battered, beaten and bloodied in a police riot at Orgreave, and time we brought down this coalition government, before it destroys our country.

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