Kevin McKenna: Fire still burns within mining communities 40 years on


Why else did she effectively turn Britain’s police into a paramilitary organisation armed with special powers and with orders to use brute force if necessary against striking miners?

This was evident too in the draconian reprisals against strike leaders and those whom the police had randomly picked out for special treatment. It was there in the forced legislation banning freedom of movement and the blacklisting of miners.

And it was most grievously apparent in removing pension entitlements of some who had faced down the brutality of the UK and Scottish police.

Some years later we’d learn that Britain’s security services had infiltrated the National Union of Mineworkers to assist in its destruction.

The Enemy Within weren’t the men and women fighting for their communities but – as ever – it was the privileged scions of Oxford and Cambridge who rarely need to be asked twice to undermine and betray the country that bred them.

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Mrs Thatcher failed to break these communities though, and within a few years of her class war she was out.

Not long afterwards her economic miracle was exposed as a lie in the ruins of a banking crisis fed by the greed and the rule of unfettered capitalism she’d attempted to impose on the UK.

The trade union movement is vibrant once more and Thatcher’s grandchildren – Johnson, Cummings, Truss and Rees-Mogg and the rest – have been exposed as charlatans, seeking to enrich themselves and their friends as British families suffered during Covid.

Their conduct was the apotheosis of the creed preached by Thatcher: Me! Me! Me! She would have been proud of them all.

At Dalkeith Miners Club on Saturday afternoon more than 500 miners and their families gathered to mark the 40th anniversary of the start of the strike. I was politicised and radicalised by these people and their fight against the evils of Thatcherism.

There was no other place I’d rather have been on Saturday.

It was billed officially as A Celebration, which may strike you as odd considering how much suffering and hardship was endured by these people in 1984/85 and in the years that followed.

But they’d all outlived Thatcher and lived to see her dogma exposed as a sham. And this Midlothian community is as vibrant as ever. They’d been joined by the veterans of surrounding villages and the pits that had once fed and nourished them.

They’re cloaked in the reverence you normally reserve for the sites of memorable football games: places like Polkemmet, Monktonhall, Easthouses, Gilmerton, Lady Victoria and Bilston Glen.

A veteran of the strike tells me of gathering by the gravestone of a former miner with some old workmates on the day of Margaret Thatcher’s death and drinking champagne over the final resting place of their comrade. “It seemed fitting to include him in our celebration,” he said.

Dalkeith Miners Club this afternoon is everything you’d imagined a place like this always to be.

At the bar, a constant shuttle service is in operation comprising mainly elderly men performing remarkable feats of weight distribution with trays bearing formidable quantums of beer.

In the hallway just beyond, the working-man’s buffet of rolls and sausage; lentil soup and sausage rolls is well-resourced and free, though donations are invited. On the opposite wall a gallery of photographs and newspaper cuttings from the 84/85 strike greets you.

Many are of helmeted police, armed with truncheons, goading miners staging the ancient and protected practice of forming picket lines.

The proceedings have found favour with members of the Scottish Labour aristocracy. Anas Sarwar, First Minister of Scotland in waiting, is being greeted by Davie Hamilton, the strike convenor during 84/85 and a living legend here.

Douglas Alexander, the former Labour cabinet minister currently seeking to return to Westminster later this year as the member for neighbouring East Lothian is also here.

His presence is fitting. His political mentor is Gordon Brown who was given lifetime membership of the NUM for his support and advocacy of miners wrongfully convicted and jailed during and after the strike.

Mr Alexander is deep in conversation with Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers who’ll soon be mentioned in despatches by Davie Hamilton for supporting the cause throughout 1984 and 1985.

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Richard Leonard, former leader of Scottish Labour is also here. Later, he’ll demand full compensation for the recently-pardoned 206 miners who were sacked in Scotland and the 500 who were convicted. It’s the day after International Women’s Day and he salutes “the women in this community and in villages and communities across Scotland who didn’t just go to the soup kitchens but to the picket lines as well”.

He talks of standing firm and fighting again. “Because we need to do that to change society; to win the case for equality; for jobs; for peace and to fight for Socialism as well.” His audience received this well and were too polite to suggest what many of us were thinking, that “the fight for Socialism” will probably have to be fought against Keir Starmer’s pallid government-in-waiting.

Mr Sarwar pledges to continue the fight for compensation and responded to a challenge thrown down by Tracey Miller of the Lothianhill branch of the NUM to make sure that he and the a UK Labour Government “returns all the trade union rights that we’re entitled to … and which our forefathers fought hard for”.

Scotland’s Labour leader, unlike his London boss, Sir Keir Starmer, supported striking refuse workers in 2022. “The Labour Party was born out of the trade union movement; the Labour Party present fits hand in glove with the trade union movement and our future rests in that partnership with the trade union movement. I expect my members to be on those picket lines and be a voice for workers in it parliament.” Mr Sarwar’s resolve is sure to be tested when the first strike of the Starmer era duly occurs.

Underneath an old press picture of old comrades blackballed in the aftermath of 84/85, I’m joined by George, Billy and Brendan along with Peter Flynn, Jim Timmins, Tony Slack and Thomas Gordon are sharing their memories of the strike. There’s no hint of bitterness here, but there’s justified anger at what they still regard as a pre-planned, class-driven stitch-up to take them down.

They recall when they discovered that MI5 had infiltrated the NUM executive and how Davie Hamilton had been jailed “for getting the better of a Scab who’d attacked him”. And how this was politically motivated because Mr Hamilton was a strike leader.

They speak about their deceased friend Danny, who, despite being guilty of nothing more than joining a picket line had been targeted by police; subsequently blacklisted and lost his pension. “I’m glad he’s been pardoned but a pardon isn’t enough,” says Jim.

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They remember Hunterston and being charged by police before being thrown in the back of a van and seeing a colleague lying on the floor with a police boot on his throat. And how the police forced 17 of them into a single-man cell at Largs police station. “Thatcher totally corrupted the police and they’ve never been held accountable for their brutality.”

I mention the scabs of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. It’s the only moment of bitterness in our chat. “We’ve no antipathy to those men who went back to work late in the day. But I’ll never speak to the scabs again in my lifetime,” says one. Another says: “I’m nearly 60 and it took me 25 years to talk to my uncle, who’s also my Godfather.”

They still harbour hurt and fury at being labelled “the enemy within” by Thatcher. “We all knew older miners who had fought in the Second World War,” said Brendan. “How dare she say that about those men. The miners and the steelworkers literally maintained Britain’s war effort.”

“Victory to the Miners,” we all yelled in the summer of 1984. Forty years later, these men are undefeated. And the forces they faced have been shamed for eternity.


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