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30 years since the end of the miners' strike
"It wasn't easy, but I wanted to defeat Thatcher"
Neal Davis, member of Mansfield Socialist Party, spoke to former Shirebrook (north Derbyshire) miner Ronnie Rodgers.
How did you manage to stay on strike for a year?
Well, it wasn't easy, but I wanted to defeat Thatcher and the government.
It was the solidarity with those on strike that kept it all together and the community spirit was good for most of the time.
My ex-wife was working, and she stood by me and helped me through it. I got strike pay and picket money and the union was paying my electricity bill and paid off a fine for me for stealing coal from the pit yard towards the end of the strike. Some people would donate money or buy you a pint or two.
How did the mood of the strike change from the beginning to the end?
At the beginning some doubted the strike - at times I was resentful of that and tried to explain that we needed to stand together to win. As time when on they started to rally behind it.
It got tougher mentally towards the end of the strike though. By the end my heart was telling me to keep going, but my head was telling me to give up. When the end came it was very sad that wehad lost. But I have fond memories about all the community pullingtogether at the time, it was probably the best Christmas I'd ever had.
Could the outcome have been different?
If the pit deputies would have adhered to their ballot at the time then the miners in Nottinghamshire (one of the only areas where the majority were not the strike) wouldn't have been able to work and we could have won. I remember at the time the Area Director saying they had no plans to shut any further pits in Derbyshire and in the end they shut all ten.
It also could have been different if the TUC had put its weight behind the fight - starting with a 24-hour general strike. Lots of other workers were under attack at the same time and would have been willing to take solidarity action.
What impact did the strike have on your ideas?
It made me want to battle on for socialism. I wanted to oppose the privatisation of industry and deregulation of the banks. At the time I could see the waythe Labour Party was going and they weren't going to stand up for ordinary folk.
I had a look around and in around 1991 I found Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party). I saw an advert in the paper saying something like: "If you want to build real socialism, join Militant."
Labour Party's role
A large group of Socialist Party members spent an enjoyable evening watching Still The Enemy Within in Chesterfield. The film brought back many memories of the great miners' strike for me personally and had the understandable effect of raising the hackles of many of the, to put it politely, ageing audience.
Two things in particular struck me. The first was the issue of age. Our group probably contained the two youngest members of the audience (I think I was probably in the lower quartile and I was in my twenties in 1984!).
There is a crying need for this film to be shown to a younger generation - maybe Socialist Students groups or local Youth Fight for Jobs campaigns should think about buying a copy and organising a screening.
The second is a criticism of what otherwise, as acknowledged by Rob Williams in his review (the Socialist issue 827), is a very good film.
There was virtually no mention of the role of the Labour Party leadership in assisting the ruling class to defeat the strike. This had a tremendous bearing on the trade union leaders who were able to use it as an excuse to ignore rank and file members' demands for solidarity action.
I'm having difficulty understanding this omission. Taken alongside statements of some miners involved in the film about how massively increased picketing (especially at Orgreave) could have won the dispute, I was left with a feeling that the film's 'angle' was almost syndicalist, and actually repeated the mistakes of some on the left at the time who believed the 1984-85 strike could just be a rehash of the 1972 and 1974 victories.
Not in vain
As 6 March 1985 approached I felt great sadness and yet so much pride. I wanted to shout from the highest mountain: "You may have won the battle Thatcher but you ain't won the war."
On the day, we marched up the pit lane following one of the longest disputes I have ever been involved in, with our heads held high. Our families, our friends, our supporters and those that cared were there and gave me a sense of belonging I had never felt before or since.
30 years on it's clear that it was a major loss for the working class as a whole, but not the end. Once the working class finds itself again, learns from its own history, builds its own political identity and moves to change its own destiny, then our struggle in 1984-85 won't have been in vain.
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