Tuesday, 21 January 2014

"Newspeak" 1984: The Miner's Dispute and me

I remember New Year’s Day 1984 very well.  At the time I was working at the Leadmill in Sheffield http://bit.ly/1dIwckq which was a mixture of a community / arts centre and a live music venue.  Many of us who were involved in the place were part of the “alternative” activist scene as it were.  Among the milieu that used to hang round the place there was a certain Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley with his band Treebound Story and Henry Normal all of whom would go on to have illustrious careers in the entertainment industry and all of us would later collaborate in establishing the Dolebusters Music Festival in Weston Park Sheffield  http://bit.ly/1aDtEhw    as our way of protesting at the worst excesses of Thatcherism.  But I digress and the tale of Dolebusters might be for another blog entry.  On New Year’s eve of that year we had had an George Orwell 1984 themed party at the Leadmill along with our very own room 101; how were we to know at the time that this theme of our worst nightmares was about to come true as the year unfolded.

I had already been living in Sheffield for some five years then.  I had relocated there from South Wales in the late 1970s.  When I had left Wales coal mining was still a dominant industry.  Many of my school friends had taken apprenticeships in the pits when they had left school and both my grandfathers had been colliers working in local pits around the Merthyr Tydfil area.  I was aspirational though, not for me staying in The Valleys and going down pit.  From when I had been a kid I was determined to get out one way or another. Pneumoconiosis, or dust, had killed my one grandfather before I was born and a persistent memory of my childhood was of elderly ex coalminers stooped puffing , wheezing  and wrestling for every piece of breath as they paused clutching their chests and hanging on to the hand-rails on Twyn hill for support. http://bit.ly/1jmtEZ6  Also I had grown up just outside Aberfan http://bit.ly/17buxSr  and the day of the disaster and its aftermath were seared deeply into who I was and who I wanted to be and part of that was leaving the coal mines and the valleys far behind me. 
Although keen to get out of the valleys I was still proud to be a product of the land that had made me. Earlier in my life I had encountered the late great historian Gwyn “Alf” Williams who the following year was to take part in that ground-breaking documentary on Welsh History “The Dragon Has Two Tongues”.  He  had inspired me to be proud of a heritage that consisted of the Merthyr uprising,  the Tonypandy Miners and the legacy of Keir Hardy, a legacy of co-operation, socialism and radicalism.  The triumph of Thatcher in 1979 and the communal jingoistic madness that had besieged the country in 1982 during the Falklands War just reinforced my view that this model of a xenophobic, isolationist, individualistic and materially greedy British society was not a good one and certainly not one that I wanted to buy into.

Time plays tricks on memory  but looking back on it now it was obvious the show down was coming. It had only been ten years previously that a miner’s strike had brought down the Tory Government of Edward Heath something that evidently irked Thatcher.  In 1981 she had backed down from a confrontation with the miners but by 1984 buoyed up by her victory in the Falklands and having had time to make her preparations and formulate her strategy she was ready to do battle with the one last great leviathan of the organised working class, the NUM.  Prior to the dispute already the media were playing their insidious game of portraying Arthur Scargill as an untrustworthy loon.  Recent revelations have shown that everything that Scargill was saying was true even though at the time Ian MacGregor the head of British Coal wrote to every miner in the UK to discredit what Scargill was saying in relation to pit closures http://on.fb.me/LMshrh .  When you see that the truth has finally come out about the MacGregor hit list and the lies that were spread by Roger Windsor if any man deserves an apology from the UK  It is Arthur Scargill.  He fought for what he believed in and for his members’ best interests and for that he was vilified, arrested and harassed.  Think about the case of Arthur Scargill and how the truth is finally coming out after thirty years when you try to make your mind up about events that are currently in the public eye.  If a democracy is to operate as a democracy then it is necessary for citizens to have access to information so they can make informed decisions when they are voting, but as the miner’s strike of 1984 – 85 illustrated Orwell predictions of “Newspeak” came true and most terrifyingly in a way that most people, even to this day, are not even aware of.

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