Monday, October 10, 2005

I've been loving you since the miners strike.


The British miner’s strike of 1984/85 seems like ancient history today. The Britain of that period was a different country; heavy industry still employed hundreds of thousands, and the National Union of Mineworkers was regarded as the aristocracy of industrial labour.

Not being ‘a man of the left’, I had very little sympathy for the miners at the time. I regarded Arthur Scargill as a dangerous demagogue, wedded to a vision of class conflict that verged on the anti-democratic. He led the miners into a dispute with the government that they had no hope of winning. The Thatcher government was determined to face down the miners, and had ensured that coal was stockpiled at the power stations.

The bitterness of the dispute led to enmities in the close knit mining communities that linger to this day. The destruction of a staple industry left a generation to face mass unemployment and the loss of a proud way of life.

In 1990 I worked for an insurance company in South Wales. I travelled regularly to the valleys, visiting insurance brokers. The devastation caused by the collapse of mining was clearly evident in boarded up shop fronts and a general air of dereliction. The heart had literally been torn out of the mining villages.

Not enough was done to ameliorate the effects of the collapse of an industry: a proud people were left feeling as though they were an irrelevance, consigned to the scrap heap of history. Much of what the Thatcher government did was probably necessary, but much more could have been done to ease the trauma caused by industrial collapse.

Thankfully, we no longer live in a country dominated by class conflict. The age of mass industrial labour is over, and that is no loss to anyone. A crap job in a call centre may not be an attractive form of employment, but it sure as hell beats digging coal out of a hole in the ground.

15 comments:

Sniffy said...

Yes, the same in parts of Lancashire, but much worse in Scargill's homeland of South Yorkshire (particularly around Barnsley). Some communities were big enough to move on and build up retail and public sector industries, the smaller ones suffer still. I know people in Barnsley who were Scargill's men, striking till the bitter end - they have commemmorative plaques alongside photos of policemen sons who faced them on those bitter picket lines. These are good people, they were fighting for what they believed was right. They were led a merry dance by their ridiculous leader.

Like you, I was with the goverment on this one: the country could not be held to ransom by militant unions any longer, Scargill had to be defeated. But for some of those areas worst affected, there were no winners. The government failed in their responsibility to ensure that communities were regenerated following the collapse of the mining industry and this was unforgivable. Moreover, the Tories are probably suffering for that neglect today.

In the long term, the UK is a better place without being in the stranglehold of the unions - we were crippled by them in the 70s, but you feel for the people that were left behind when the picket lines dispersed.

garfer said...

The French closed their mining industry gradually; in consultation with the unions. New light industry was encouraged to set up in the mining regions.
There was much less social dislocation as a consequence. A much more civilized way to go about things.

Sniffy said...

Yeah, but there was never going to be civilised with Maggie and Arthur. It wasn't just about the mining industry, it had to be defeat of the unions too.

garfer said...

Arthur still got his fat NUM pension. The man was a ranting moron. If anyone was going to alienate the public from the miners cause it was him.

Wyndham said...

There's a fantastic Graham Greene novel called Oh What A Battlefied! in which zealots on the left and right fight over the fate of a man condemned to die. He is competely forgotten in the ideological struggle. A good metaphor for the people trying to make a living in the mining industry in the 80s, trapped between those two utter maniacs.

suburban wonder said...

I was only 14ish at the time, and on the other side of the Atlantic, so I didn't pay it much heed - I was too busy drooling over Duran Duran.

However, in the 90s, I saw the movie "Brassed Off" which introduced me to the conflict. It must have been devastating to the miners. Were there any social programs beyond the dole to assist miners in finding new occupations?

Devil's Kitchen said...

What a pity the mining unions tried to play power politics. I feel that the Tories may well have eased the way slightly if the unions had been less intransigent...

DK

garfer said...

wyndham
I haven't read that. Will check out.
bronwen
Virtually nothing was done for the miners. Development agencies were brought in, but it was too little, too late.
I can't believe you were a Duranie. Rarely have people with so little talent been so successful.
devil's kitchen
Hello and welcome. You may have a point there.

Wyndham said...

Duran Duran are ripe for a top post by you, Garfer. Their success - and constant comebacks - have always been inexplicable to me. It was all downhill after Girls On Film for me.

frobisher said...

An interesting post, Thatchers determination to destroy the Miners goes back the the miners strike of 1974 when they bought down Edward Heaths' Tory Government. I vividly remember Cecil Parkinson on TV saying "You have to remember these people bought down a Conservative Government" as justification for the wholesale decimation of the mining industry. Agreed, things did need to change but the pendulum has swung too far back and Big Business has decided that the working people of Britain are now surplice to requirements as mining, manufacturing, financial services and, yes, call centres are sited in third world countries to maximise profits. Mrs Thatcher has left us with a very fragile service economy and little else - the miners fate could now affect us all.

Betty said...

I grew up in a coalmining area, with my dad and uncles all working in the numerous local pits years ago. The midlands coalminers didn't really follow the Scargill line during the strike and assumed their jobs were safe - needless to say, a few years later all the pits were closed. The work-related injuries and illnesses (which were frequent) were offset by job security, and, in the later years, comparatively decent wages. A horrible job to do, though.

Anonymous said...

Superhero Tazzy and I live in Barnsley. Something interesting is happening at the moment - the Council are erecting a statue on a plinth. Nothing unusual in that, but the statue they have chosen is of a child, as they consider children to be the history and the future of the town.

It's caused an outcry, of course. Many locals believe the statue should be of a miner, in recognition of the part in history that they played.

The coucil, of course, disagree and are proceeding with the statue of the child - no doubt modelled on one of the snotty little cunt offspring of one of the councillors..

Rowan said...

I personally know little of this, but I was under the impression that the UK was still driven by a class economy. Is this not the case then? If not, what would you say you have in place? Democracy?

garfer said...

Hello anonymous piggy.
That sounds about bloody typical. Then again, a statue of Scargill would be worse.
Rowan
Britain still has it's class system, it's just not so overt these days. A lot of good things did come out of the traditional working class: respect for education, self respect, belief in the value of community. Now we have a class who worship booze and celebrity. Not much advance there.
Btw. Am having trouble viewing your posts coz they include mp3's and stuff. I'm still stuck with dial up.

No longer Anon Piggy and Tazzy said...

'still stuck with dial-up'

*laughs*

I was anonymous earlier, because Blogger wouldn't let me enter our names! Fucking fucked up pile of shite that it is.

And you've (astonishingly) inspired me with the topic of my post tomorrow - I'm going to write about my view of Barnsley. Tazzy's home for all of his life so far and Cute Wee Me's since 2004.

*wonders who Tina knows here*

*wonders if we know them*

*wonders if they'll give us gossip that we can twist beyond recognition and blog with*