Look Back in Anger
Preface to the third edition
By Harry Paterson
Sun Tzu, a man who knew a thing or two about conflict, once said that if you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by. If time is a river then Nottinghamshire’s tiny band of miners’ strike veterans – fewer than 2000 from a 32,000-strong workforce in 1984 – have been waiting patiently for thirty years.
On January 3rd 2014, Cabinet Office documents pertaining to the strike were released to the National Archive. Finally the bodies started floating by. First in ones and twos and then in a deluge as the truth finally emerged; a truth that is examined in detail in the following pages.
The miners’ strike is without precedent. Among many aspects that marked out the dispute as entirely different from any other industrial struggle that preceded it, were the sheer tenacity, bravery and commitment displayed by its participants. One Hucknall miner spoke of the moment he nearly caved in and went back to work. “It were November and just about everything in the house had been sold to keep the debts manageable or to buy food or burned to keep us warm. I didn’t have any furniture left downstairs apart from a couple of kitchen chairs and a table. Me front room just had a couple of orange crates and I were sat on one chucking shoes onto the fire to warm the house up for the kids coming in from school. The stink were bloody horrible. Leather and plastic and that didn’t burn that well but it were all we had. For some reason folks seemed to think we desperate for footwear so they sent all sorts and we had piles of the things. I were burning the shoes and I thought, ‘Why am I putting me kids through this?’ I just burst into tears. I were cracking and were going to go back to work. But we were doing all this for our kids in the first place! We knew the sort of future they’d have if Thatcher won, so I gen me sen a shake and just gor on wi’ it.”
It is in no way an exaggeration to point, also, to the miners’ strike as the moment when policing in Britain underwent a change of epoch-shaping proportions. It was the end of one style of policing in the UK and the start of another. While corruption runs like a foetid stream between the two decades, linking the 70s and the 80s, it was Britain’s most turbulent industrial dispute that saw policing change to an overtly political function. Since the strike, politically motivated police abuse of power and deep-rooted corruption are now commonplace. Orgeave, Hillsborough, the Stephen Lawrence scandal and the use of undercover officers to infiltrate ‘subversive’ environmental groups – even sleeping with activists and fathering their children – has led to widespread revulsion and distrust of the police in many parts of the UK.
When the strike was over and the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers emerged, key Notts Working Miners’ Committee members provided its nucleus. UDM leader Roy Lynk was awarded an OBE for ‘services to trade unionism’ and after paving the way for mass pit closures and privatisation, he and Nottinghamshire’s former strike-breakers settled in for the long period of prosperity and security promised them by a grateful establishment. To their fury, they too were betrayed as Nottinghamshire’s pits were closed. In contrast to the promises lavished upon them during the strike.
Today the UDM is a husk, with barely 300 members and its former President, Lynk’s successor, Neil Greatrex, is an acute embarrassment to his former organisation. The former UDM chief had had his fingers in his Union’s till and was convicted on 3rd April 2012, of fourteen counts of theft.
The legacy of Nottinghamshire’s working miners is one of greed, cowardice and treachery. Little wonder that that legacy should culminate in theft, fraud and outright corruption. And the complete destruction of an entire – and once mighty – industry.
Like many of my generation, the miners’ strike was my political baptism. I was seventeen when it started and the miners went back to work on my eighteenth birthday. It’s a story I’ve wanted to write for a long time and I was uniquely placed to write it. Since moving from Scotland in 1978 I’ve lived in Nottingham ever since and as well as my father having been a miner, I married into a Nottinghamshire mining family. Dozens of friends, relatives and acquaintances were strikers or active in one or other of the strike support groups that flourished during the battle. Their experiences were truly remarkable and having first-hand access to those stories was both a privilege and a writer’s dream come true.
Since the first edition of the book, which came out on March 1st, I’ve been humbled and genuinely stunned at its reception. Emails from dozens of readers indicate that the book struck a definite chord. This is a delight, of course. The promotional activities in support of the book took me all over the UK and I met many people who took this story to their hearts. To know that something you’ve written has touched so many people, so deeply, is meat and drink to a writer. Especially when such feedback comes from the very people who feature in the book. One encounter that moved me deeply came from a former striking miner’s wife. At the end of a signing in Waterstones, she approached me and, with tears in her eyes, asked me to sign her copy. She then went on to say that despite knowing pretty much every detail of the events I recounted – after all, this woman had lived something about which I’d merely written – she found the book so gripping that she was rooting for the strikers all the way through and was heartbroken at the end. Despite knowing, of course, exactly how the story ended! I confess I was deeply moved by her reaction (the very same reaction was shared, incidentally, by the editor of Nottingham Live). This new edition, then, affords me the opportunity of, once again, expressing my admiration and gratitude to the men and women who fought the miners’ strike. They are my family, my friends and my people.