Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 31 March 2010

When We Were Miners

By Ian Isaac
Reviewed by Alec Thraves

When We Were Miners marks the 25th anniversary of the ending of the 1984/85 miners' strike, the greatest movement of workers in Britain since the 1926 general strike.

While primarily a personal account of his role in the South Wales coalfield and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) from 1974 to 1991, Ian Isaac's book is written from the standpoint of a young 'Militant' miner and socialist activist.

The miners were the vanguard of the trade union movement, and in order for Thatcher and the Tory government to pursue their anti-working class agenda they consciously aimed to obliterate the NUM. Unfortunately the right-wing leaders of the NUM in the period up to 1982 allowed pit after pit to close without lifting a finger of opposition.

As a Militant supporter (the forerunner of the Socialist Party), Ian took a principled socialist stand on many political and tactical issues, especially when he was elected onto the South Wales NUM executive.

He led by example: "Although I was elected full-time lodge secretary for life in 1978, by 1980 I had given up my right of lifetime tenure of office in favour of a more democratic five-yearly election." When he moved the miners' Broad Left demand for the regular election of full-time officials at the NUM's South Wales conference, Emlyn Jenkin, a full-time official in the area, went to the rostrum and said: "Over my dead body will this be passed"!

Ian writes that for Jenkin and his like: "Their better conditions, their 'socialism', had already arrived from within the bosom of the NUM, with higher pay, assisted car purchase and conditions that ordinary members could only dream about". But growing militancy among miners saw it passed two years later at national conference.

The year-long miners' strike is analysed in detail from a Marxist standpoint in Ken Smith's excellent book A Civil War Without Guns, but Ian also gives a real feel of the sacrifices, the hard work and the comradeship of not only the miners but of the millions of working-class people who supported them.

A Miners' Support Group was established in the Llynfi and Afan valleys and was quickly replicated around the country. A million pounds a week was raised for the striking miners by trade unionists and the public. But the miners were betrayed by the now millionaire ex-Labour leader Neil Kinnock and the right-wing trade union leaders. The defeat of the strike was a huge setback for the NUM and the trade union movement.

The following year, as pit closures proceeded at a rapid pace Ian stood as the rank-and-file candidate for president of the South Wales NUM under the slogan: 'A miners' president on a miner's wage'.

NUM officials vetoed his election address leaflet and removed that slogan but not before it had been delivered to a third of the coalfield. Up against two prominent officials Ian explained: "I had 26% of the first-preference votes cast, which I considered at the time to be a significant result and an affirmation of our ideas within the miners' Broad Left, which included active rank and file miners, Militant and the Labour Party Young Socialists in the coalfield."

Ian was later victimised and isolated in South Wales by the Coal Board and hostile NUM officials. But he played an outstanding role as a Militant miner over 15 years. However, like hundreds of miners who were involved with Militant in those tumultuous years, the defeat, the mass redundancies and the collapse of Stalinism in Russia and eastern Europe which followed had a disorientating political impact.

Ian points out that: "In October 1988 I was expelled from the Labour Party. This was a culmination of attacks upon me for the role I had played during the strike and afterwards and for my association with Militant before and during the strike".

Personal insight

However, many readers will be surprised and bemused when Ian explains that he actually rejoined the Labour Party in 1998 "without conceding any of my socialist principles". But he says "it has been saddening to see the drift to the right by Labour in recent decades", and may yet draw the conclusion of the need for a new workers' party.

When We Were Miners gives a valuable, personal insight of what it meant to be a militant miner at the height of Thatcherism and the importance of a clear Marxist programme and approach. Outlined in this book are lessons on preparing for battle, organising the workforce, mobilising public support and the willingness to struggle. For both the young and older generations of activists, alongside Ken Smith's book, it is well worth a read.

Miners' struggle anniversary offer

When We Were Miners By Ian Isaac


£6.50 - special offer to readers of The Socialist, including postage.

A Civil War Without Guns By Ken Smith


Order both for £10.00 including postage.

Also see: The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners by Seumas Milne £12.99
The Dirty Thirty: Heroes of the Miners' Strike (Leicestershire Miners) by David Bell £7.99
Cheques and postal orders to Socialist Books, PO Box 24697 London E11 1YD or

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 31 March 2010:

We will not pay!

Help fund Socialist Party campaigns

Stop the cuts, build a socialist alternative

PCS strike action

PCS: Striking against government attacks

PCS budget day strike: Support grows across country

Transport strikes

BA cabin crew strike: 'We shall not be moved'

Fight the decimation of London tube jobs

Network Rail dispute: RMT signalworker speaks to The Socialist

Workplace news in brief

NUT conference

NUT conference: fight cuts and excessive workload

Socialist elected to NUT executive

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition Standing against cuts and privatisation

Socialist Party news and analysis

Yorkshire on the campaign trail

Developing a strategy to defeat the far-right

Waltham Forest: on march against redundancies

Cameron shows Tories still anti-gay

Council cuts: Grim Reaper moving to Surrey

Lewisham councillors' record

News in brief

International socialist news and analysis

Terror returns to Moscow For workers' unity against terror, repression, racism and capitalism

Eurozone crisis: Hanging together or hanging separately


Future Jobs scam: attacks on young unemployed

Southampton University protest

May Day march in Hull: Rebuilding traditions of struggle

Socialist Party review

When We Were Miners


Home   |   The Socialist 31 March 2010   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleDurham Miners' Gala

triangle35th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave

triangleOrgreave injustice - 35th anniversary march and rally

triangleLessons of the heroic 1984-85 Miners' strike

triangleObituary Joan Beale - Labour women's activist and Militant supporter


triangleSocialist Sellers

triangle20 years of housing failure

triangleBuild independent workers' media with May Day greetings


triangleFighting government cuts to sixth form colleges: Picket line at City & Islington sixth form college, London, 12.2.20

triangleTrade unions - new decade, new challenges


triangleSocialism 2019: Major rally to plan how to get Corbyn elected with socialist policies

Historic events

Historic events


Berlin Wall

30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall: How a mass revolutionary movement for genuine socialism was diverted



Obituary - Bob Lee: 1954 - 2019



How working-class tenants beat Gentrification


Wall Street Crash

The 1929 Wall Street Crash: When the capitalist system was on its knees



China after the 1949 revolution: the benefits of the planned economy stifled by bureaucracy



40 years on: Mandatory reselection more vital for Labour than ever


Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, August '69: 'Battle of the Bogside' and British troops on the streets



The Peterloo Massacre 1819: When a fearful ruling class tried to crush working-class political aspirations



The 45th anniversary of the strike



50 years since Apollo 11 - 'One giant leap': how political conflict launched the moon landing



Stonewall riots' legacy shows need for socialist struggle to win LGBT+ liberation



35th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave


Tiananmen Square

The Tiananmen Square massacre - 30 years on


Nuclear power

40 years after Three Mile Island disaster



Visteon: when factory occupations stayed the hands of the bosses

triangleMore Historic events articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041



Alphabetical listing

February 2020

January 2020