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From Orgreave to Moston, we make our own history

Submitted by on March 26, 2014 – 4:01 pmNo Comment

Orgreave

By A Reader

By the time my dad was fifteen he was doing heavy manual labour in a foundry. His early years had been characterised by financial hardship, poor living conditions, and a lack of any formal education of note.

Instead life’s lessons were learned on the shop floor. His experiences led him to a commitment to rank and file trade union activism and an identification with socialist politics that endured with a passion and a ferocity until his untimely death aged 51.

By the time I was fifteen it was 1984 and Thatcher had declared war on the miners. My first fifteen years were a lot different – without pamper and privilege – but a comfortable working class life of parents with jobs, home ownership and summer holidays of the obligatory ‘caravan in North Wales’ variety.

However, everything was about to change irrevocably. Living through the year long miners’ strike politicised me in every which way and was a truly revolutionary experience. I would never be the same again, never see the world in the same way, and would end up on the exact political path as my dad before me.

Living through strikes passed for normality as it had been a regular feature of home life throughout the 70s and early 80s as my dad took part in regular industrial action in his workplace. As a child it was only recognisable by the quality and portion size of the food going downhill, that was until 1984.

He was working in a battery assembly plant which duly went on strike following a miserly pay offer. The nearby Silentnight bed factory went out on strike around the same time. The local pit was a scab pit and flying pickets at the scene of the picketing on my dad’s industrial estate were not uncommon.

He related tales from the picket line of mass pickets and the police being intimidated into retreat, he articulated the need for unity on his shopfloor, collective action with the other factory, and solidarity with the miners, that their struggle was every worker’s struggle. My parents contributed to weekly monetary collections for the miners on the local shopping precinct and put together food parcels for miners’ families. He brought home socialist newspapers that activists were selling to the pickets. I listened intently, read the papers from the picket line, and followed the miners’ strike within the mainstream media.

Then there was Orgreave. The Battle of Orgreave. Key to a victory for the miners’ was stopping the movement of coal to so as to halt industry and force a government backdown of pit closures. When coking coal started to run out at Scunthorpe, British steel’s management looked to the coking plant at Orgreave for supplies. Arthur Scargill called for a mass picket of the Orgreave coking plant to stop the scab supply lorries shifting the coal.

A bitter confrontation between the miners and the police played out. I watched the footage of miners being hacked down and arrested by riot police. The brutality and violence meted out by the police left me crying with distress and outrage. Those tears have never dried as the images will never leave my mind and I have been angry every day since.

Angry at the cruelty, angry at the injustice of the arrests and the ensuing police cover up of what happened, and angry at Scargill being sold out. His calls for a mass picket went unheeded by other NUM area officials and pickets were diverted elsewhere. This could and should have been a victory, it was a defining point in strike and in turn the wider labour movement. Our side has been on the back foot ever since. Consequently my heart has hanged heavy with the defeat at Orgreave to this day.

There was a completely different story of Orgreave in the mainstream press and It wasn’t difficult to decide they were clearly a bunch of lying bastards. I duly started to question the role of the media and the role of the police, who exactly were they there to serve and protect? It clearly wasn’t working class communities.

I started to question everything I read. What else were they lying about? There was another war going on in Northern Ireland, I started to read about Irish history, and following that broader political history such as the Russian revolution and the fight against fascism in Europe in the 30s and 40s. It also meant a rejection of certain politics.

The role of the Labour party became abundantly clear during that strike as they too sold out the miners, talking only of negotiating with the coal board mindful of the next election in 1987. I would also refuse to accept notions of feminism not just because Margaret Thatcher was not my sister but because the miners’ wives had shown themselves to be true class fighters alongside the men. I would only ever see the world in terms of social class from that year on and always will.

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The politicisation didn’t stop there, it permeated all areas of my life including culturally and professionally. If the experience of the strike had a soundtrack it would be the Redskins. Oh how I loved the Redskins. I listened to them all that year as they seemed to be singing everything I was thinking and feeling.

They were politically spot on, sounded great, and looked good to boot. I thought I was making them up at times, how could anything be that perfect…like a unexpressed love from afar, overwhelmed because you think there’s a chance of it being real and right coupled with the madness of knowing you’re probably completely deluding yourself.

And just when I couldn’t love them anymore there was that performance on ‘The Tube’ later on in ’84. They had invited a striking Durham miner onto the stage to address the crowd, the sound to his mic was cut in an blatant act of censorship by the producers. The miner left the stage with a quiet dignity after finishing his speech, as did the band following a rendition of ‘Keep on Keepin’ on’, Chris Dean finishing with a cry of ‘Victory to the miners’.

It would also lead to the cultural rejection of ‘Red wedge’ later on in 1987 alongside the Kinnock election campaign as I would never forgive or forget Labour’s betrayal of the miners.

Then there was football. My politics meant being drawn to FCUM as I agreed with the founding principles and ethos of FCUM and hold them dear notwithstanding a considerable personal cost. It meant walking away from a family history and tradition of United and my match day mates stayed at Old Trafford where they remain. Despite this it was not a difficult decision to turn my back on the leveraged buy out hell of a Glazer owned MUFC and I do not miss the cold heartless world of modern football. Still, I long for my mates to turn up. Nevertheless I have never felt lonely at the campfire that is FCUM, I have only felt the warmth.

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The miners’ strike also informed my choice of vocation. I forged a career in community and public health as I believed so strongly in the right to free healthcare and that health inequalities were socially constructed and as such, reversible. While I have felt the honour and the privilege of being the last hand someone held, the last voice they heard, and while I continue to support vulnerable families in my line of work, the legacy of the miners’ strike also means demoralisation as I now work for a private company in all but name rather than a national health service.

The miners’ strike wasn’t just about pit closures. It was about pushing through a new political and economic order with deregulation, de-unionisation and privatisation the name of the game. I feel this acutely every day. I have never seen less democracy in my workplace and my autonomy is being taken away like a rug being pulled from under me, all within a culture of corporate bullying. Moreover, my union branch is on the cusp of folding.

I feel down but not out. I refuse to be pessimistic. A fight back continues. It continues with the Hovis workers in Wigan winning an important victory against zero hours contracts…it continues with the fight against academy schools….it continues with the fightback against the bedroom tax….it continues with the demonstrations to defend public services…it continues with the ‘People’s Assembly’ movement….and yes, it continues with ‘steel on site’ at Moston.

We own a football club, we fell in love, and we’re building a stadium because not only were we taught to dream, we also have an unwavering belief that we can make our own history. This was through living and learning the lessons of previous class struggle including the Great Miners’ strike of ‘84 – ’85, and that is – if you have unity, foster collective action, and fight and fight hard you can win. Whether it was Margaret Thatcher then or Malcolm Glazer in 2005 we should carry the words of James Larkin in our heads and our hearts as we continue with struggle, resistance, and building our home in M40…”the great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise..”

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