Comrades will be saddened to learn of the death of Steve Hammill at the age of 69 after a long fight against cancer. Steve was a militant rank and file Yorkshire miner, who was involved in three major strikes.
These included the 1972 strike which forced a Tory government into abject surrender and the 1974 strike which brought down that government. Then came the Great Strike of 1984-5 where Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher used all the resources of the state and the media in a bitter 12-month battle to extract revenge.
Steve was the embodiment of a working class Marxist intellectual, and he had a wonderful, inimitable, way with words. "Serendipity" was one he often used.
It might not have been serendipity, but it was our good fortune to have him as a comrade for so many years. He joined the International Socialists, the forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party, in the 1970s and remained a committed and enthusiastic member until his death.
He will be forever remembered—along with the party's handful of mining comrades—for playing a leading role in the 1984-5 Miners' Strike.
You didn't just talk to Steve, broad Rotherham accent and all, you experienced him.
A powerful orator, with colourful, expressive turns of phrase, he could shift a meeting of hundreds of miners with his grasp of the key link in the chain. He'd start with "t'objective situation" before going on to grip all around him with an inspiring call to arms.
Those who witnessed it will never forget a local TV report from the picket line at Silverwood pit towards the end of the strike. "Does tha think we’re all duck eggs stood here?" he told a bemused reporter, demolishing the media propaganda as he explained why the miners were fighting on.
You can get a taste of Steve in full flow in the film Still the Enemy Within.
He eventually left the mining industry on health grounds, but not before he won his union branch’s opposition to Thatcher’s homophobic Clause 28 legislation.
That motion went on to be supported by the Yorkshire area of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). It eventually became national NUM policy, which in turn began a fundamental change in labour movement attitudes to lesbian and gay rights.
Steve wasn’t just a man for the big occasions though. He was a warm and supportive comrade when the going got tough—particularly following the defeat of the 1984-5 strike.
After coal mining Steve worked as a contracting electrician before getting a job at the SWP printshop in east London. He had a significant impact there, bringing a wealth of experience, as well as personal solidarity and no little humour into comrades’ lives.
Always more than an industrial militant, Steve was an aggressive anti-racist and anti-fascist and a powerful working-class voice in support of LGBT+ rights, giving at least one comrade the confidence to come out as gay.
Those of us who knew Steve—from Silverwood colliery and the Yorkshire NUM, to the Sheffield, South Yorkshire and east London SWP to Crewe—where he remained an active party member, have lost a unique comrade. Many of us have also lost a true friend.
Our thoughts are with his partner Nina, children Bill, Donna, Stevie, Jay and Ceilidh, brother Geoffrey and the rest of the family.
There was only one Steve, tha knows….