Wounds of Miners’ Strike are still raw

Kelly's Eye

Kelly's Eye

ARTHUR Scargill is today a rather shadowy figure.

The former president of the National Union of Mineworkers assiduously avoids the glare of publicity and media scrutiny.

Even when his old arch-enemy, Margaret Thatcher, died last year, Mr Scargill only issued one guarded, ambiguous statement.

In the years after the strike, Scargill fell out with the NUM over a host of internal union matters.

But how different things were 30 years ago.

Back then, Scargill was generally viewed as a working-class hero, prepared to get involved in the rough-and-tumble with police outside various pits involved in the strike.

Scargill appeared to revel in the them-versus-us political battle between the NUM and the Tory Government of the time.

To all intents and purposes, the ex-pitman from Yorkshire saw the dispute as both a fight to save the British mining industry, accusing the Government of supporting an alleged coalfield ‘hit-list,’ and as a raw class struggle.

I never saw Scargill speak at the time of the national miners’ strike, but only saw the man in his twilight political years, on two separate visits to South Shields.

At both events – one at the Armstrong Hall and another at the former Middle Club – the ex-political firebrand seemed a much-reduced figure.

Sure, he still employed the same type of ‘scorched earth’ political rhetoric, but his style seemed overblown by the 1990s.

In truth, Scargill was never universally liked in mining communities, and several NUM members in both South Tyneside audiences uttered less-than-complimentary things about ‘King Arthur.’

But that’s the nature of strikes – people are heroes one day, but very soon become yesterday’s men.

In former pit communities across the UK, the 30th anniversary of the bitter miners’ strike is being marked in various ways.

An exhibition is being staged at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery to mark an event that created divisions between police and picketing miners, and even between fathers, sons and brothers, caught on different sides.

Sadly, there are still ex-miners in South Tyneside today who refuse to talk to some former colleagues who crossed picket lines in 1984. The wounds are still too raw.

But it’s right that we never forget.

Unhappy anniversary or not, the after-effects of the miners’ strike are still felt in a community like South Tyneside.





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