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Steve Gant and others on the picket line in Frickley

Steve Gant and others on the picket line in Frickley

Following on from Johnson’s provocation about Thatcher and the miners, John Westmoreland speaks to a Yorkshire miner who fought the pit-closure programme

On a visit to a Scottish wind farm Johnson quipped, "Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we're now moving rapidly away from coal altogether."

Boris Johnson’s claims to be the saviour of the former northern industrial heartlands through his ‘levelling-up’ agenda just suffered a massive self-inflicted wound. 

We asked Steve Gant, a former miner at Frickley colliery, what he made of Johnson’s claims.

Laughable

“The idea that Thatcher was motivated by climate concerns is laughable. Very few people were talking about climate change in the 1980s.

“The reason Thatcher forced us to go on strike to defend our jobs and communities was because we had a powerful trade union.

“Thatcher didn’t want nationalised industries with sector-wide trade union organisation, but our union – the NUM – was a thorn in her side and stood in the way of her privatisation programme.

“The NUM brought down the Heath government in 1974 when he asked the question: Who rules Britain. The Tories hated us for that, and our leader Arthur Scargill in particular.”

Working class solidarity

“The NUM was not always left-wing, but we depended on each other at work and had tremendous solidarity with anyone who was fighting back. Frickley was a militant pit. The rank and file at Frickley brought out the entire Yorkshire coalfield on one occasion.

“We supported other workers too, like we did the nurses in their dispute in 1982.

“The NUM was the big brother of the trade union movement and as long as we stood together Thatcher’s plans were in doubt. That’s why she prepared in advance for the strike that broke out in 1984 by stockpiling coal at the power stations.”

No green agenda.

“Thatcher was not interested in cutting back on coal consumption. Throughout the strike she imported coal to break us. If you remember, Britain was the ‘dirty man of Europe’ because smoke from our power stations was causing acid rain to fall in Sweden and Norway.

“Thatcher was cruel. The Tories just wanted to shut the pits and to hell with us. If she’d had a green agenda we could have been making wind turbines after the pits shut. Instead our communities were left to rot, and coal importation replaced us.”

Miners’ pension robbery.

Successive governments have been creaming off money from the miners’ pension scheme – some 4.2 billion pounds since 1994. This is a national scandal. The money taken from the miners has been used as a resource by the Treasury to bail-out banks and subsidise the wealthy.

As Steve said: “The miners kept the wheels of industry turning since the industrial revolution. Our labour helped to win two world wars.

“It’s not as if mining was fun. It was hard, dangerous work. We all lost friends in accidents down the pit and we didn’t get paid a fortune.

“I remember Thatcher calling us ‘the enemy within’ because we stuck together. But we were just honest, hard-working people who wanted to defend what we’d got.

“Johnson has made a mistake calling us out. Yes, some ex-miners did vote Conservative in the last election, but I doubt many will support that clown telling us the 1984-5 strike was about us opposing Thatcher’s plans to save the world.”

It would be good to see former miners and their families demonstrating against the Tories in Manchester as part of the People’s Assembly demo in October. Johnson could do with a history lesson and the miners want pension justice.

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John Westmoreland

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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