Socialist Worker

I'd still rather be a picket than a scab

by Steve Hammill
Issue No. 1887

IT IS almost 20 years since the start of the miners' strike of 1984-5. I worked as a miner for 25 years and I was out picketing all through the Great Strike. Two TV programmes screened recently brought the memories flooding back. They are not the first such programmes-a small flurry came out on the tenth anniversary of the strike. The usual approach taken by such films goes along these lines:

The miners were lions, but they were led by donkeys, especially 'extremist' Arthur Scargill. The strike never stood a chance of winning. Margaret Thatcher was a hero battering the miners to defend freedom. The police were standing between civilised society and chaos.

And this was the sad, tired line trotted out by the recent Channel 4 programme. The Independent called it an 'impressively thorough film'. But it was more like an 'I Love 1984' effort, complete with a pop soundtrack. It was dominated by interviews with Bernard Ingham, who was Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, two high-up coppers and Kelvin MacKenzie, the union-bashing editor of the Sun. It's not exactly balanced, is it?

There was nothing much from Arthur Scargill, the president of the miners' union. There was even less from the rank and file miners who led the strike. They were allowed a few cameo performances, but they were never shown as central to what happened. It was a travesty of a dumbed-down programme. Last week's BBC2 programme was a great antidote to the first.

It focused on what happened at Hatfield Main colliery, but it could have been Silverwood, Maltby or any other pit. It showed how the police physically occupied our villages, battering women.

The programme showed how the strike changed people forever. Brenda Nixon, a miner's wife, had a new baby when the strike started. She started off being too proud to go to the miners' soup kitchen. But when she did go, she loved the camaraderie of the miners' families. Soon she was picketing and organising, a real class fighter. If you didn't live through the strike, you could easily think some scenes were from Colombia or Guatemala, not Britain.

Adrian Simpson was a striking miner with young children. He was beaten up so badly by the police on a picket line that his heart stopped beating and he nearly died. But the courts still locked him up for three months. He hasn't worked properly since, but he still says that we were right to strike.

It was great that the miners and the miners' wives spoke for themselves. They described the scenes I lived through. I remember going out picketing. When we visited Hatfield, we found they were already on strike. The miners in the programme said that, despite everything, they were proud of what they did-and they would do it again.

They fought and lost, but remained defiant in their belief that they were right to strike. The programme missed one key point-we could have won if we hadn't been betrayed by the leaders of the TUC and the Labour Party. This film was a tribute to the real spirit of 1984. That spirit is reviving. This time we can win, and part of that is reclaiming our history.

If you have memories of the miners' strike, please get in touch with Socialist Worker. E-mail letters @socialistworker. or phone 020 7538 0828.

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Sat 7 Feb 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1887
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