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Socialist Review Index (1993–1996) | Socialist Review 169 Contents

Socialist Review, November 1993

Paul Symonds


A load of ballots

From Socialist Review, No. 169, November 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Paul Routledge
Harper Collins £16.99

When I started work at Frickley Colliery as a young lad in November 1974, my union and political education began. On my first shift I was put to work with two old colliers who had come off the face through injury. Both men in their sixties, they had been miners since they were 14 years old.

The first thing to hit me was how much they loved Arthur Scargill, the new Yorkshire president, and how much they hated the then national president Joe Gormley.

The miners saw in Scargill someone who wouldn’t sell out, who was honest and who could talk in front of a camera without being flustered. They saw in Gormley someone who had squandered the miners’ power for his own privilege, who’d been on television at a race meeting with the queen mum. After bringing the government down, Gormley never got them ‘protection of earning’, which meant if you got injured and had to come off the face your money was dropped accordingly.

‘We’ve had enough of traitors,’ I was told. This was a general feeling throughout the pit. Now, 19 years on, at the same pit, the words traitor, sell out or collaborator are never used whatever criticisms there are of Scargill. He has stood by his principles and this is what Paul Routledge hates.

This book is a disgusting attack on Scargill. It starts painting a picture of Scargill as a ‘mother’s boy’, bullied at school and not to be trusted. Most of this is just petty vindictiveness. When Routledge covers the 1972 and 1974 strikes, including the famous Saltley Gate picket, which for miners personified this period of militancy and successful mass picketing, he implies Scargill was just grabbing the headlines.

But Routledge saves his most vicious attacks for the 1984–85 strike. He makes out that Scargill planned the strike. He justifies this by pointing out precautions that the NUM were taking as the strike loomed. And yet he describes the Tories’ own detailed plans to provoke a pit strike, going back as far as 1978 and the leaks of the Ridley plan on now to smash the miners, including recruiting non-union lorry drivers to move coal. Routledge, though, takes the line that it was the Tories who didn’t want a pit strike. He preaches about democracy, condemning Scargill for not having a ballot for the strike, then sneers at the 80 percent strike vote in Yorkshire over pit closures two years earlier – which still stood.

But let’s put the record straight about the ballot. There was a simple principle involved. Someone at a safe pit had no right to vote on the closure of somebody else’s pit. You had a straight choice: join the strike or go to work. In fact 140,000 miners went on strike and about 30,000 – mainly in Nottinghamshire – scabbed during the strike. Routledge mentions a 6,000 strong ‘Right to Work’ march by Notts miners, but fails to tell the reader that the demonstrators had police protection, free transport, a day off work with pay. On the same day strikers were stopped, searched, thrown off buses, beaten up and arrested.

In 1984 we faced a choice to enter into a fight which we did not choose and stand by other miners who were going to be sacked, or to stand back and let the Tories destroy our industry. We did the right thing.

This book is more than an attack on Scargill. It is an attack on all workers who want to stand up and fight for a better world. Routledge would much sooner see us licking the bosses’ boots and – as demonstrated by his recent grovelling apology to the queen – he feels more at ease when everybody’s on their knees.

At a time when workers seem ready to shake off the defeats of the 1980s, this book discredits those who want to fight. Luckily not many people will have £17 to spend on this trash.

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