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Miners strike - 30 years on: The miners' battle for britain

Here we reprint ARTHUR SCARGILL's front page article from Wednesday March 28 1984, explaining the scale of the injustice facing the striking workers

It is not just an explosion of miners' feelings that is taking place. Something far deeper has been set in motion, touching a chord throughout society.

Other trade unionists, the unemployed, women, businessmen - and, yes, even some Tories - have contacted me over the past few days, offering and giving support to the miners.

Simply put, a realisation is now dawning that the National Union of Mineworkers is engaged in a social and industrial Battle of Britain. Any initial feelings of hostility are rapidly evaporating.

The knowledge has sunk in that if [head of the National Coal Board Ian] MacGregor gets away with destroying tens of thousands of miners' jobs in a single year, then absolutely nothing and no-one is safe from the madcap ruinous policies of this government.

Total strangers - non-miners and miners alike -stop me in the street and say: "You've got to win this one, I've got a lad at home and what chance will he have of a job when he leaves school...?"

What they are really saying is that they want to end the rule of fear which dominates this land.

FEAR felt by those in work who do not know from one week to the next whether they will suddenly be consigned to the scrapheap.

FEAR of a life on the dole that drives school-age kids to blot out reality with a 50-pence tube of glue.

FEAR that any action taken to defend the most basic of workers' rights will incur the wrath of the boss and lead to a one-way ticket to the dole queue - or the courts.

A torrent of fear, feeding off a well of human misery unparalleled in postwar years.

But something, somewhere, had to give, turning that fear on its creators. Brixton, Toxteth and St Pauls were warning shots that injustice and inequality can only be pushed so far. The authorities chose not to listen. Now the shots can be heard more loudly as miners ask questions of a system incapable of rational answers.

How, in a land where the cheapest deep-mined coal is produced, can our pits be said to be uneconomic?

How, when thousands of millions of pounds can be found for nuclear power stations can there be said to be a shortage of cash for investment in coal, reserves of which we have for the next 1,000 years?

And how can anyone talk of a lack of demand for coal when thousands of pensioners freeze to death each year for want of sufficient heat and people go short of the 1,001 products made with the aid of coal?

Moreover, the demand for coal is one which could change overnight.

With the situation in the Middle East highly volatile, oil prices could go through the roof tomorrow, leading to an immediate upsurge in the need for coal.

Pits, however, cannot be turned on and off like taps. They need long-term planning and policies in the national interest, not the short-term whims of the political and market rat race.

But the questions miners and the rest of society are now asking are not limited to the coal industry. People see 400,000 building workers without a job and they puzzle why this should be when millions in our country cry out for decent, modern homes.

They see the pitiful queues for the health service while medical staff join their own queues of despair at the jobcentres.

Above all, they start to focus on the overall picture of terrible economic injustice which runs like a cancer through our society - how the unemployed and the low-paid are watched like hawks lest they should "fiddle" a 50p piece they are not entitled to in their state benefits.

And they contrast that with how the Establishment chuckled and applauded when Lord Vestey's Dewhurst chain paid just £10 tax on £4.1 million profits.

At a basic level they see businessmen, stockbrokers, Fleet Street editors and other worthies of society spend more on a bottle of wine than a pensioner has to survive on for a week.

In essence, that's the social powder keg in which the present miners' industrial explosion has taken place. But it is all hot air unless one supreme point is understood - the miners cannot win this dispute alone. The forces opposed to us, though wobbling, are strong.


To defeat them it will take people and cash on a mammoth scale. Every sinew in every factory, office, dole queue, docks, railway, plant and mill will need to be strained to the maximum. Not tomorrow or the next day, but now.

I ask you to take away this key general thought. The Labour Party, by putting forward a clear socialist programme of employing the nation's resources to benefit all, is now running neck and neck with the Tories. The Tories themselves are rattled, fragmented and divided as the system they try to maintain trembles around their ears under the weight of intolerable social strain.

Doubt, uncertainty and large-scale union support forced them to think twice about the use of their anti-trade union laws against the Yorkshire NUM.

They know they are in largely uncharted land because this dispute is mainly about jobs, and waiting in the wings are four million unemployed whose numbers could swell the picket lines at any time.

In sum, the situation in Britain is unprecedented. But what is urgently needed is the rapid and total mobilisation of the trade union and labour movement to take positive advantage of a unique opportunity to defend our class and roll back the machinery of oppression, exploitation and deep-seated human misery.

On an equally broad basis the future of whole communities is at stake. Pit closures will wipe out not just miners' jobs but other industries - shops, community centres, cafes, pubs, the lot.

And, of course, unemployment would slash the revenue which miners contribute towards local services.

Schools, refuse collection, care for the old and sick, everything would suffer.

That is why when I say this is a fight for Britain and the quality of life in our country, I speak accurately.

We all knew in our heart of hearts that at some time the decimation of our country would be reversed and that the tide would be turned in the opposite direction.



Arthur Scargill was president of the National Union of Mineworkers from 1982 to 2002


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