Margaret Thatcher: wanted to smash miners

Spirit lives on still

There was something approaching panic when George Galloway announced he was attending. David Douglass reports on this month’s commemoration in Doncaster marking the 40th anniversary of the Great Strike

On March 9, hundreds of ex-miners and their families and supporters throughout Yorkshire marked the 40th anniversary of the 1984-85 Great Strike with the Hatfield Main miners strike parade.

The wheels were set in motion last August, when I got the association of former Hatfield Main National Union of Mineworkers members to agree to back it, and if necessary fund it. We had the support of local councillors, many of whom are miners’ sons and daughters, and in general it all looked like a trouble-free plan. But sadly I happened to have a stroke in November and it took a wee while for me to reconfigure reality - as I write this one-handed, I am still in hospital. But I managed to organise much of the day from hospital - including the invitation to Arthur Scargill to be our main speaker, which he accepted.

Previously I had organised three such commemorations at 10-year intervals and envisaged the occasion as a national demonstration - I sent early drafts of the publicity out to all sections of the trade union and workers’ movement.

But on the ground things were not so smooth. My vision at first had been that the whole rally would end up at one of the iconic areas surrounding the coal mine that an ongoing campaign had earlier saved from destruction. But various plots of land surrounding the site had been bought for industrial development and the road infrastructure was such that local developers had hoped to block out all memory of Hatfield Main as a once militant and politicised sector of the populace - and not just miners either.

In previous decades I had in true anarchist tradition said to the council and police: ‘Here it is - we’re having a march and rally, and we’re coming through here,’ But now dealing with the council means risk assessment, road closures and lots of bureaucracy. All this led to some friction between me in a hospital ward in Sunderland and the people with boots on the ground doing the spadework. But the biggest friction of all was the question of what it was all for. What did the miners’ strike mean to people now, 40 years on - not just those of us still alive who experienced it, but a whole generation of people born since?

Some thought that this commemoration, like the strike itself apparently, was not political (for some just a family affair) and so people should not be using it to make trouble for the Labour Party. One can imagine how I responded to this, but it did bring home to me how visions even within this community had changed. From the Great Strike being one more page in the miners’ ongoing war with the state and capitalism, rating alongside 1912, 1921, the general strike, the 70s and the decade of war (1983-93) against the closures, it has now become a case of ‘Forget the ball - get on with the game’. Yes, honour the men who fought, but without really understanding what it was all about and the ways in which that war is still happening today.

The issue of politics - whose politics and why? - is still crucial, but now it seems the majority of lefty liberals would not support the miners’ fight to save the industry. Today the Guardianistas and most of the left would actively support closures, though they might disguise this with flowery terms about how it is all just ‘transition’, or ‘maybe in 10 years time’. We have seen this so clearly with the steelworkers, where the unions by and large tried to ‘run with the foxes’ of proletarian heavy industry and ‘hunt with the hounds’ of net-zero and climate disaster: riding two horses going in opposite directions with one arsehole.

Such sympathy for the miners is rather like that for native Americans or the Jacobites - what happened was sad, but inevitable. Rubbish, of course: the mine closures were part of a deindustrialisation programme - a plan to drive heavy industry abroad, where it is more easily handled through super-exploitation, union repression and crushing poverty.


The whole thing was brought to a head when George Galloway decided to grace us with his presence. First off, I was asked if he could share the platform and I said no - not because as an anarchist I find much of his Stalinist politics objectionable or much of the community saw this as an attention grab, but simply because we had already picked the speakers: Arthur Scargill; the leader of the local Labour council, Nigel Ball; and Rose Hunter from Midlands Women Against Pit Closures. The local press got hold of the story, and did a big ‘exposé’, quoting from the Workers Party website and implying that he was indeed a guest speaker.

Tory councillors demanded that the whole thing be stopped - Galloway was a risk to the good old folk of Doncaster, you see. This triggered some panic among younger members of the organising committee, who then kicked up a fuss because I had brought such pestilence upon them. They said I should ask him not to come - otherwise the council would withdraw grants, the police would ban the event, etc. As it turned out, the council had no such plans and the police could not see what the fuss was about. Nevertheless the committee issued a statement in which they said this was purely a day for memories and honouring the men who fought. It emphasised that the event it was not political, and we had not invited George.

Well, that was true specifically, but he came anyway and - surprise, surprise - he was glad-handed all along the route, with many people having photos taken with him, He, of course, was in his element. By the time they were outside the club where the march ended he had caught up with Arthur and they briefly posed for photos together - George making a brief (no kidding) speech about what a magnificent class fighter Arthur was. For all the fuss, Galloway didn’t consume any babies, but posed like a celeb at an Oscar ceremony and everyone announced what a nice bloke he was. One website reported that he said Scargill was a hero of the working class - and George was given a fantastic reception by the miners

While there were misgivings, there was none of that on display on the day - with as the veterans of the battles, wearing their aging British Coal and National Coal Board donkey jackets, but displaying their strike badges and slogans as fiercely as ever: ‘Coal, not dole’, ‘No justice, no peace’. Clearly the men and women who took part in the fight, but now live in the ruins of that once prosperous community, knew what this was about and would not easily forget the struggle and who the enemy is now.

But if anyone thinks this is a Labour-loyal community, they are in for a shock. It is not that they all turned Tory, but they were reacting to the fact that Labour had pissed all over us. While some voted against Labour by voting Conservative, they were not for the Tories: they were against the Labour traitors. Galloway might do well by standing a candidate in one of these local seats, but the biggest impact will be made once again by mass Labour abstentions.


The crowd knew nothing of the wobbly knees behind the scenes or the dynamics behind the event, and they cheered all the speakers to the rafters.

Maybe 2,000 folk had assembled in hearty spirits, and no less than two brass bands and a pipe band filled the air with combative music. The bar and concert room were rammed to capacity and people were at length turned away and clustered round the doorways and in car parks, where the speeches were relayed.

As I have said, I was not present, but against the stark background of the pithead my old fellow Jarrow lad and anarchist, Tom Pickard, read my speech to the crowds. Here are some extracts:

The world needs primary steel, but because it has hardly any coal Britain is the only capitalist country in the world unconcerned about having no steel-making facilities. Maybe in a century or so we will have a substance that replaces steel, but, while we need it, it will be made in blast furnaces ...

The government has put a two-thirds penalty on its carbon tax - no other country does this, that’s the truth. That tax is killing British steel, British industry and everything made from it - ships, planes, trains, wind turbines … Some steelworkers leaders concede that we support decarbonisation, but that means no more steel.

Some people may be asking, ‘What’s he rabbiting on about steel for, when we are marking the destruction of coal and our resistance to that in 1983-94? Because, as we foretold, coal decimation was a prelude to that of steel, which is needed for manufacturing, engineering, shipbuilding and producing wind turbines …

For any greens looking mystified, there are no decarbonised wind turbines: they require blast furnaces, coal and therefore miners. You can’t have renewables without coal: offshore wind means coal mines - not just here, but anywhere abroad. But here’s the rub: we still use steel, coal, oil and gas, but we just won’t produce it here …

You might say, ‘Look at the bad weather. The climate is doomed, isn’t it?’ No - this is the safest time ever, as far as loss of life or injury resulting from environmental disasters are concerned. In the 1920s there was a 50 times greater chance than now of dying from earthquakes, typhoons, floods, extreme heat or cold, high winds, forest fires … And, the further you go back, the worse it was!

Rose Hunter reminded everyone of the contribution women had made and she left many a tear in the eyes of those remembering their stand - in 1984-85, and in the 1992 campaign many took a lead role.

But, when Arthur took to the stage, the room was electric. He went through all the myths of the strike: how it happened, the question of the time of year, the ballot, international aid, violence, the political militarisation of the police and just how close we came to outright victory - we lacked that final push from the working class as a whole, which would have taken us over the line.

When he finished, the crowd went mad and burst forth which a thunderclap of applause as vibrant as they did 40 years ago. Of the 1,800 men who worked at Hatfield, many of those still going have changed little over the years. There were feelings of comradeship deeper than the ocean, and the strong memory of hard, militant politics was the flavour of the afternoon - many younger people there could not help but be impressed by this generation of old fighters.

For all the fears and the problems, the organising committee did a wonderful job. The event set the scene for keeping the debate alive - for the politics of today and of the future.