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Book: Look Back In Anger: The Miners' Strike In Nottinghamshire 30 Years On

Scars left by scab miners' union still smart

Look Back In Anger: The Miners' Strike In Nottinghamshire 30 Years On

by Harry Paterson

(Five Leaves, £9.99)

In 1926, when the general strike was called to defend miners' wages and hours, Winston Churchill remarked: "Either the country will break the general strike, or the general strike will break the country."

The government, fearing insurrection and revolt, jailed general secretary of the Communist Party Harry Pollitt for "seditious intent and incitement to mutiny." The BBC refused to broadcast any view that contradicted the government one.

The TUC, fearing the political implications of the strike, restricted supportive action to just 1.5 million members in the dock and rail industries. When the strike collapsed after nine days, the miners fought on for six months but despite soup kitchens and relief efforts they were starved back to work, with many victimised and blacklisted.

A bosses' union was established in Nottinghamshire by George Spencer, an ex-miner and Labour MP, funded by coal owners and right-wing businessmen. When the rightful miners' union was derecognised, its members promptly went on strike. They were beaten, arrested, sacked and evicted from their homes. Their leaders were fined and imprisoned.

Paterson quotes George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to relive it." Fast forward to 1984. Once again, despite mining communities defending their jobs with widespread sympathy and support, a hostile government and press - alongside a lukewarm Labour Party and TUC - led to the strike's eventual collapse.

The brutality of the police and the formation of a scab union, the UDM, in the Nottinghamshire coalfield completed the picture.

Paterson's history of the Nottinghamshire coalfield is set within the context of the wider mining industry and moves from 1926 to the present day. The writing is analytical and detailed and he uses first-hand testimonies to good effect as he cuts through the lies and distortions that have surrounded the 84-85 strike and its leaders.

Paterson's description of the state's determination to crush the NUM and the mining industry makes for a breathtaking read. He hammers home the depth of the betrayal of the Nottinghamshire strike-breakers, while paying full tribute to the striking Nottinghamshire miners and their families who stood by their beliefs, their union and their class.

Highly recommended.

Sue Turner


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