From Bob's archive: The Miners' Strike at 30
Yesterday was Budget Day, and our Tory government gave us a penny of a pint of beer and reduced tax on Bingo, claiming this was "to help hardworking people [note how "hardworking" has become a single word under the Tories, their austerity policy even extending to dashes and spaces] do more of the things they enjoy", the keyword being "they". Meanwhile, in London, Mayor Boris Johnson approved the use of watercannon against disorder in the capital, presumably for when us hardworkingpeople are no longer sufficiently distracted by beer and bingo.
In the morning of budget day, BBC Radio 4 were in Easington, County Durham, talking to ex-miners in a place where there have been three decades of job losses, a place where people are not feeling the economic"recovery" the government has promised us. It was heart-breaking listening. My comrade Harry Barnes has written about Easington colliery; his father moved there in 1912 and when he died there 84 years later when the pit had been three years closed. Here's an extract from Harry's post:
Although Easington went through some tough pioneering years, by the time the 1931 economic depression broke and my father was 22 the population (of Easington Colliery and adjoining Easington Village combined) had reached 12,000. This meant that even with relative impoverishment it established a range of shops, cinemas, clubs, pubs, churches, chapels, schools and Miners' Welfare facilities. The Miners' Federation was committed to building Aged Miners' Homes and providing medical facilities, whilst the Labour Council embarked upon Council House building. It meant that although my father did not have an easy life, he had a full life. These fulfilments need to be appreciated if we are to put the harsh aspects of his life in perspective.Note: the songs at the start and end of this post are by Ed Pickford, from County Durham, who turned seventy last year.
And this violence was linked to the way the police protected the fascist National Front in confrontations like Lewisham ’77; it was connected to the troubles in Northern Ireland, to the uprisings in many of Britain’s inner cities, to the violence on other picketlines (most notably at Wapping), to the clampdown of the travelling and festival cultures (most importantly at the Battle of the Beanfield).
Although I am at the younger end of the Miners’ Strike generation, it was that moment which shaped me politically, which therefore made me who I am today. This is brought home to me by the visceral way, a quarter century on, that I find myself responding to this documentary. It strikes me now that – with the signal exception of the part we played in defeating the poll tax and getting Thatcher deposed at the end of the decade – all of the battles I’ve been heavily involved in have been defeated: the campaigns against the next round of pit closures in 1992, against student loans, against successive immigration and asylum bills, against the Criminal Justice Act, and so on. About five years ago, before I started blogging, I was a fan of the now defunct blog Socialism in an Age of Waiting. The title [taken from Victor Serge] captured my imagination. Thatcher's revolution was almost total. The working class movement that fought so hard in 1984 barely staggers on. What does radical politics mean in such a time?