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'Better to fight and lose than not to have fought at all' In the fourth of our weeklong series by Robin Turner, he examines the legacy of the strike with the help of some key figures in the dispute.

Byline: Robin Turner

WELSH MP Hywel Francis, the son of 1970s miners' leader Dai Francis, says while the 1984/85 miners' strike may have been lost, Wales gained its Assembly instead.

But Aberavon Labour MP Dr Francis, author of History on our Side: Wales and the Miners' Strike of 1984-85, believes the strike may have taken a different turn if Arthur Scargill's confrontational tactics had been supplemented by widening the appeal of the miners' cause.

Dr Francis believes strongly that after the miners' flag-flying march back to work in 1985, people in Wales started to demand more democracy and more power for themselves.

He said: "I feel the way the Tories planned and executed its battle against the miners, ensuring strikers' benefits were cut and coal was stockpiled, it led people to feel the only way they could get what they wanted was to have more power and that this led to the groundswell of opinion calling for devolution."

Of the strike tactics, he said: "In South Wales, where the strike was at its most solid, more emphasis was being put on establishing the case for coal and highlighting the effects pit closures would have on communities and families. One of our slogans during the strike, for instance, was 'kill a pit, kill a community'.

"We also opened up links with wider groups such as CND and the lesbian and gay movement in London which was becoming a powerful lobbying group... it broadened the appeal of the miners' case when all people were seeing on TV was flying pickets clashing with police."

During the strike, Dr Francis was chair of the Wales Congress in Support of Mining Communities and chair of the local support group in the Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valleys.

He said: "On the face of it the strike was meant to be about the closure of uneconomic pits but strikes in the late '70s and links between miners and steelworkers in Wales got the Conservatives worried. A 'hidden hit list' emerged of pits to be shut and Wales was to be at the sharp end of it.

"Wales was seen as the vanguard of the trade union movement and plans were being made to fight and overcome mass strike action."

The NUM had inflicted humiliating defeats on Tory governments in 1972 and 1974, effectively bringing down Edward Heath in the latter case.

Margaret Thatcher, in her memoirs, The Downing Street Years, made it clear she was planning for a battle of ideals, writing: "I had never had any doubt about the true aim of the hard left. They were revolutionaries who sought to impose a Marxist system on Britain, whatever the cost."

Miners' leader Arthur Scargill was a Marxist who provided "the shock troops for the left's attack", she claimed.

In 1979, the Thatcher government started planing for privatisation of coal. The Coal Industry Act (1980) replaced production targets with financial targets set so high they could only be met by closing "uneconomic" collieries. Battle lines were also being drawn with a new social security act clamping down on strikers' benefits.

Ian Isaac, of Pontyclun, author of When We Were Miners, was one of the youngest full-time officers in the NUM, based at St John's Colliery, Maesteg, in 1984. He said: "This political struggle was manifest in the 'Nicholas Ridley Plan' (Ridley was a right-wing Tory MP) leaked and published in The Economist on May 27,1978, which planned the Government assault on the NUM.

"The report contained the following, 'Government to choose the battlefield'...

(note the military language), 'coal stocks built up in power stations', 'import coal from non-union ports', 'non-union lorry drivers to be recruited', 'cut off money supply to strikers making the union finance them', 'train and equip a large squad of police', 'be ready to employ riot tactics to uphold the law against violent picketing'.

"It was all of the paraphernalia of a war game played out like First World War generals, which would be deployed by these 'grandees' behind the scenes of the Tory party, as Thatcher's new lieutenants prepared for a class war. The NUM was rightly seen as the advance guard of the trade union and labour movement."

The strike began in Arthur Scargill's Yorkshire power base and soon spread. But it had two weaknesses, the refusal to strike by thousands of miners in areas like Nottinghamshire (who formed the Union of Democratic Mineworkers) and, secondly, Arthur Scargill's refusal to hold a ballot, which meant he did not get vital political backing from Neil Kinnock and the Labour Party or the TUC leadership under general secretary Norman Willis.

The strike was not for the fainthearted and scenes of thousands of police, some on horseback, beating pickets with truncheons were beamed into front rooms. The most notorious was the clash at the Orgreave Coking Plant near Rotherham in June 1984 when there were about 5,000 on each side and brutal violence erupted.

Away from the front lines, a propaganda war raged between Scargill and Thatcher, with the NUM leader turning to Colonel Gaddafi and Mikhail Gorbachev for funds. Libya is thought to have provided PS150,000 but Mrs Thatcher is thought to have used her influence and considerable TV presence to deter Gorbachev from contributing.

Neath MP Peter Hain has also been critical of Arthur Scargill's tactics. He said: "He was a leader who virtually never negotiated, always confronted.

"Any union leader knows industrial disputes are always settled by negotiation in the end, even if it means an all-out strike beforehand.

"Industrial conflicts have to be ended by talking with the other side and by negotiation. That was someth hing Arthur was temperamentally nd politically incapable of doing."

an " When the strike began, Mr Hainas living in Putney, London. He aid: "I got involved by joining a Minrs' Support Group in London and aised money for striking miners hrough the Labour Party.

wa sa er ra th m thWwh so tio of po "I was helped very much by my mother Adeline in raising money for he Miners' Christmas Appeal Fund. We managed to hit a target of PS250,000 hich was a lot of money back then. "My mother would spend hours orting through cheques and donaons, the postman came with sacks f mail that indicated the level of suport there was for the miners. "What I felt strongly about at the me was the massive weight of the ate being brought crushingly down n the miners by Margaret Thatcher - motorways were closed to pickets eeking to get to Nottinghamshire, massive ranks of police were put in tim sta on - se m place, it seemed every arm of the state was being used in an attempt to break the strikers' will."

Ken Smith, however, chairman of the National Union of Journalist in Wales, believes Scargill had little choice but to tackle Thatcher head on.

Communications director Mr Smith, of Porthcawl, who, during the 1984-85 miners' strike was an organiser for Militant in South Wales and was elected chair of the Llynfi and Afan Valley Miners' Support Group said: "I understand he's been criticised but this was an attack on the whole trade union movement, he had to fight back."

Ian Isaac added: "It was better to have fought and lost than not to have fought at all! If you don't fight for it you don't get anything in life. Many who had fought in the miners' strike contributed to the battles over the poll tax in March 1990 which was replaced by the community charge."

CAPTION(S):

Hywel Francis

Ranks of police face the picketing line outside Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham in June1984

Arthur Scargill is assisted by riot police after he was injured outside the Orgreave coking plant

Police officers move into the picket lines at the Orgreave coking plant
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 20, 2014
Words:1303
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