Monday, 18 October 2010


Understated, well worth a look, this is contemporaneous documentary about the miners strike of 1984, spliced into   a recent  history of coal  mining  in a greenhouse gases agenda world. 

One couldn't help but think that many of those types who coalesced around the miners in '84, would, today, be damning them as ecovandals; protest, like hemlines, comes  dictated by political haute couturistes, angry layabouts at the Guardian, policing consumerisme totalitarienne, as though all we need to do is make  constantly evolving informed choices and Money's teeth will be painlessly pulled;  one day it's Tariq Ali, turn around and it's George Monbiot,  they spring up like weeds, berating us.  In my short, sweet lifetime coalmining - and inescapably coal burning - has been both virtue and vice;  miners lionised, salt of the Earth blokes; miners holding the country to ransom, the enemy within.  That the workshy at the BBC make a series called All Our Working Lives is an irony simply too delicious,  darling.

Mr jgm2, mr mongoose and others who congregate here lament ever the nineteen-seventies' shortsightedness of organised labour and to a lesser degree the multiple incompetences of management and directors and insist that Ruin would not be so complacent had the unions been more co-operative - supposing the managers had had something on offer to co-operate with - if we had some eggs we could  have ham and eggs,  if we had some ham,  that sort of thing, ifs and ands, if ifs and ands were pots and pans there'd  be no need for tinkers and there'd be horses for beaggars to ride on.  

I have never bought the argument that recalcitrant shop stewards buggered the economy, buggered industry, buggered everything.  I believe that much that we rightly take for granted  is due to organised labour in the early and mid-twentieth century and that our industrial decline was just a consequence of the loss of empire. I believe   that all Tories are bastards, that Growth - population, consumption, energy expenditure - the Tory  mantra of spunkfaced zombie boy and his gang - and by Tory I mean Labour, LibDem and the rest of consumerisme totalitairienne -  is actually a synonym  for planetary suicide, but fuck all that, there's enough air left to see me out, enough living seas;  poison clouds are only just forming on the horizon, I'll be in the bosom of Abraham by the time zombieism runs its course. And neither the grandchildren nor their irritating apologists will make me feel guilty,  they will have to learn new ways of anarchy, fend for themselves. become warriors, maybe, instead of wretched, fashion conscious consumers, like their wretched fashion conscious parents have made them.  The Chinks will be in charge anyway, and they'll probably eat the fucking grandchildren,  problem solved.  Or harvest their organs.  The miners strike, though, viewed through this televisual prism,  is almost enough to make a believer of me, to convert me to the  labour-bashing cause.

Bob Dylan sang in 1964's North Country Blues that the Minnesotan Iron Range ore wasn't worth diggin',  it's much cheaper down in the South American towns, where the miners work almost for nothing -  early globalisation laying waste to communities defenceless against Money's pursuit of itself and in 'eighties Britain many felt that our mining communities would soon suffer the same, stars one by one they are folding fate,  coal bought-in  from abroad, their men made workless and depressed, their children made migrant;  these were decent and righteous concerns shared by many and the strike became a focus for wider anxieties, for a head-to-head between the Then and the Now and in the  national brouhaha, in the All-I-Can-Do-Is-Confrontation posturing of Whisky Maggie, we all lost sight of the concept of Energy Security and Self-Sufficiency, of  the fact that, maybe, these pits could have been made more competitive, less a filthy, subterranean co-operative, more of an energy business, and maybe they would still be working, today, cleaner,  vastly safer, massively more productive, maybe, most likely a carbon-capture technology in place,  the envy of the world.  All that stored-up sunshine, cleanly harvested, employing people. 

Thatcher, though, happily pissing North Sea Oil revenues up the wall, the mad bastard, concerned herself only with a short-sighted, Methodist victory over her tribal enemies, cheered-on by vengeful,  gutless spivs like Tebbit and that foul, screeching  bullyboy, Ingham, she spun and she spun and she blew the mines down. Job done. Pour concrete down the mines.  Rejoice, we are a fuckwit.

In the programme, once prominent strikers, union officials  and scabs appeared,  following footage of themselves  shot during the strike. These blokes, twenty-five years on, proudly still speak their fucking awful dialects, nobutting and summating and  'appenyerrightin' and loosin' and middlin' and mashin'; Jesus fucking wept, self-caricaturising 'emselves, as though whole o' t'world were a play, like, by that DH Lawrence, and them all reight good sooarts, werkin chaps, like. I wanted to punch them hard in the gob.  I kind of agreed with them about the scabs, although the scabs made a good Thatcherite, right to work case for themselves and who could not be pissed off by the Tory politicisation of the cops,  made crass and irreversibly  obvious during the strike, but, oh, the language of these men, long redundant, handsomely so.  We all have an argot, a private language - lovers, families, trades, regions but to go on national telly and speak like a sub epsilon morlock is unforgiveable, a take-it-or-leave-it contempt for the viewer, and most significantly a diminution by slipshod carelessness of the  arguments they made in the 'eighties about the strength and importance of their communities,  the social capital which would be squandered by mine closures;  interviewed today these men sounded like extras from Heartbeat or Emmerdal Farm. It's not as though they can't speak English, of course they can, it's just that, Oh fuck, I don't know what it is, but it's fucking stupid, like them; stage Lancashire, stage Yorkshire, stage Notting-um;  All Our Yesterdays  meets The Good Old Days,  political struggle togged-up as music hall. Wankers.

But the greatest revelation to me was not the shallowness of the workers but the almost laughable vanity of their champion-for-life, Arthur Scargill.  More  shrilly Thatcher than Thatcher herself, Arthur was nothing less than a diva, operatic in his fists clenched to his bosom, his arms outstretched, his head, though, rigidly immobile, lest dramatic gesture disturb his comb-over.  These days, men like Arthur can shave their heads and not be fucking about with all that comb-over nonsense, can look like hardmen, even when they're fairies,  fairies with  shining  skulls, like Ross Kemp and, well, all of them, really; just  a different masculine vanity, it's true, but less cumbersome, less at the mercy of the wind.  And Scargill's rhetoric was as phony as his haircut, difficult to credit that it inspired tens of thousands to beggar themselves. Lambchop sideburns and hair picked up on one side and deposited on the other, Scargill gave his own version of Henry the Fifth's  speech before Agincourt, when your children ask you where you were, you can say you were on strike, men now abed will wish they were on strike, it was fucking dreadful, really,  made Gordon Snot look sincere and eloquent. Maybe all the miners were fairies and it was all, Orgreave and Saltley and the rest, a big, dirty, GayPride event. What was Arthur like, getting arrested and everything, like a silly big girl?  For there was nothing pragmatic about  Arthur, he was no technocrat, no visionary, not even a polemicist, a one hit wonder's what he was, Strike and Never Surrender, photo-opping and sound-biting,  what matters is not the industry, not your jobs, not the nation's energy, what matters is me, and No, comrade-darlings, I am not bald;  like Thatcher, he was a rabble-rouser, both of them too vain, too stupid to even recognise the damage they were doing. Maggie, Maggie, Maggie;  Ar-thur Scar-gill, Ar-thur Scar-gill, we'll support you ever more, ev-er more......

So many men, bold and industrious, from a  dire workplace, where negligence could oft be fatal, enraptured in mass hysteria,  by a vain nincompoop.  They should have gotten out more.

It is a fascinating documentary, interviews with Rudge, the man who bought some  of the pits and made shitloads of money, hint at what might have happened, had the nation and the miners not been governed by screeching fuckwits, each as bad as the other, each emblematic of their own constituents, too stupid and too selfish to breathe. The sinister appearances of  the National Coal Board's Ian McGregor, Thatcher's imported US industrial gangster, foreshadow Enron and Goldman Sachs and Haliburton, all the shit we now take for granted, pimps and gangsters advising the govament on how best to short-change the people. And the accommodations which might have been made in the light of global warming, but weren't.

The closing sequence is of one of those dialecting babymen, proper  over t'moon, that his lad has followed him underground and now works maintaining the high-speed belts which retrieve coal from the face, in an industry which now, where it once numbered more than  a hundred thousand,  employs six thousand. And we fret that some Ukrainian bandit might turn off our energy.


In the good old days, to which spunkface zombieboy would return us, coalmines were in  careless, private  hands;  the Gresford Mining Disaster,  in which 242 colliers were lost, and three men of the rescue brigade, was one of those terrible events which underpinned Scargill's shabby, vainglorious rhetoric,  the owners' lust for profits far outweighing the safety of the miners.  For those interested, the Albion Band's telling  of the Gresford Mining Disaster is on youtube, also


a young Anglo-Irish catholic said...

Yes, yes.

I have seen the Shipbuilding episode and will return to Cotton, but the story of ruin for those two was near identical.

The UK leads the world, the UK leads the world but the technology is fading. They nearly go pop in the 30s, the government steps in. The war props 'em up, as does Korea and Suez.

The the rivals come in hard and fast. Post-war Germany and Japan. Faster, cheaper, cleverer.

So the government gets involved. Pushes yards into cooperation, chucks 'em a wedge of cash. Rebuild, rethink, have a few very bright ideas.

But the 70s was a story of long-running decline, yards closed, jobs lost, Government eventually nationalises.

Maggie arrives. You've had your chance, it's over, cuts off the billions of state aid. Foreign competition got us in the end.

Seems to me that coal, ships, cars -all amounts to the same thing. Huge regions dependent on one industry, we fall behind, shit product development, unions walking out for tea break's sake.

What killed us, as kills Labour now, is the cod, fake, 1930s folk memory. What about the starving kiddies?

Government has to step and splash the cash, prop the industry up, close eyes, hopeforbest, repeat every 10 years.

The 1930s defined the Labour party, even now, run by a clique of North London middle class marxists who have million pound houses and second homes - like Harriet and Jack - in Suffolk.

But it's not the 1930s anymore. Mind you, it'll be the 1930s on Wednesday evening. The renting of Boden casuals will echo around Kensal Rise as the BBC hacks emote and empathise and open another bottle of Macon Villages.

I hope there's a episode on the car industry. I grew up yards from a giant BL plant. BL - created over dinner at Chequers by Benn and Wilson and Stokes. The white heat of state-sponsored crash and burn meddling.

As some smart alec CiFer pointed out the other day, while the middle class marxists preach equality, the union's day in the sun was marked by absolute devotion to 'differentials'. If the man at the bottom got a rise, so must they all, to maintain differentials.

Few in my town didn't embrace Maggie. Decades of failure and ruin and strikes and sleeping on the nightshift convinced them to vote Tory through the 1980s.

Those of us who lived alongside heavy industry knew it was a joke, consuming billions just to tread water. We'd had enough of the entrenched attitudes.

As you say, the workers trapped in their pantomine roles, the industrialists who couldn't engineer or plan shit and Labour party that funded this ruin because, in Hampstead, it will always be 1936 and 'something must be done'.

Aye, worker's rights and safety nets were part of civilising the country. But Lady Bountiful doesn't know when to stop. A third of all government spending on welfare.

Have we lost our minds?

PS - I was always appalled by the mining village attitude. Fighting for the right to send their kids down the pit, while fighting for compensation for Grandad's fucked health.

Recently, in the Guardian, some of the campaigning miner's wives admitted they went into the strike illiterate.

Dark and strange places, hard-core mining towns. And used a stick by Scargill to try and topple any government he didn't fancy. And, despite the denials, supported by Moscow, the USSR delighted at the chance to de-stabilise Britain.

Aye, Maggie was a monster and all that. But the Left was, literally, bending democracy to breaking point.

Mike said...

As I recall, being alive and inquisitive at the time, the issue was not just miners versus Thatcher, and to portray it as such trivialises the history.

BTW I descend from a mining family - 5 of my grandmothers sons were killed in the mines in Yorkshire.

Its wasn't just the mindless idiot Scargill, and those who repeated his ill-thought out bollocks (incidentally, not all the miners by a long chalk fell for his propaganda) but any number of suicidal morons and fellow travellers with no loyalty to the country, or the working class - or indeed with loyalties paid for from others - Jack Jones springs to mind. I don't remember Jack telling his bruvvers where his true sympathies lay, or his pay came from. Remember Red Robbo, destroyer of the UK car industry.

I remember studying for exams by candlelight; the 3 day week etc. Corpses unburried; shit piled high in London.

Clearly, this could not continue; Wilson was arguably in the pay of the Russians; Heath procratinated; Thatcher was the game breaker.

Without Thatcher, another Government of indecisiveness and the country was finished - and the ones who always suffer most are the working class. To characterise Thatcher as the demon of the working classes is quite wrong.

Mike said...

PS - Mr I, please excuse a second bite at the cherry, but I forgot to mention my favorite character of the period, the self-styled defender of the workers, one Degsy Hatton. He had class.

Parsleytuft said...

The miners were well known for routinely taking Monday off (presumably to get over the weekend's activities). Maggie got a bit worried and went down to see them, and asked one miner, "Why is it you insist on working a four day week?" He told he it was because they could not live on a three day week's wage.

mrs narcolept said...

I do remember that whenever I heard my Valleys family talking about the strike there was a deep sense of foreboding and pessimism about the outcome; they knew the industry was ultimately doomed, awkward seams becoming too expensive to work, and that Scargill was making matters worse, hastening its destruction, but the Union was the Union and they would not go against the Union because for so long it had been their only defence, all they had.

Coal, steel, copper, tinplate, the docks: hard and hazardous work, and men doing it day after day from sixteen to sixty-five, if they were lucky, for a wage that just about stretched to a modest mid-terrace house and a second-hand car. How did they end up being cast as the Enemy Within?

call me ishmael said...

Miners, seamen, firemen; benefit claimants, the disabled, Money identifies it's own enemies, mrs n, and skymadeupnewsandfilth orchestrates the battle cry.


I don't think Baroness Thatcher demonised and slandered only the working class, I believe she and her spivs succeeded in ruining or discrediting notions of community, of self sacrifice of responsible parenting - look at her own spawn - and that for hitherto immutable British characteristics, she and he carpetbaggers sounded the deathknell, all is now greed and selfishness; mishanling national energy policy and the miners strike are but a tiny entry in Whisky Maggie's Ledger of Ruin.

mongoose said...

It is emotional stuff, Mr Ishmael. Although I missed the prog and will try to find it on iWhatever if I can make the bloody box work.

I spent the last half of the eighties out and about in industry seeing all sorts. I have even been down a few coal mines, can't remember how many but most of them in the Doncaster/Rotherham area - Maltby, Bentley, Manton, Markham, Rossington, Silverwood. (Did I ever actually go down Silverwood? I cannot remember.) Soul-dead, beaten, broken, fantastic people; the battle over and the day lost. Last time I looked only Maltby was still open but if you want to know what fellowship is or what teamwork is, go down a working mine.

Madly, my brief was to work out ways of making pits more efficient - that'll be "fewer pounds per tonne at the pithead, youth". After about a millisecond, I worked out that in an industry that needed X million tonnes of coal per year, more efficient pits meant fewer pits. And here we require what the psychologists call denial. Because if we are brothers, and I try to be more efficient and I succeed, my brother gets to go to the dole queue. And so we don't want to do that, do we? And so we have to pretend. "La, la, la. Can't hear you." And I was that millisecond behind everyone else in the industry.

In the days when each village had a smithy or a sawbones, this meant nowt. As soon as some smart arse trod a track to the next village, smithy A was in competition with smithy B. And thus, by a death of a thousand cuts, do we have globalisation. No longer co-operation, barter and fellowship but competition, money and advantage. No miners died in underground accidents last year in the UK but 5,000 died in China. Which part of this is good and which is bad? And if the bad led to the good, where abides the moral responsibility for the bad? Or indeed the good? And where was paper money invented? Look how far we have come, brothers.

I have rehearsed here before the destruction of the motor industry but it is the same in a hundred different industries. No axe to grind have I about unions and solidarnosc. But we must disentangle the noble brotherhood that sprang from Tolpuddle and look at it free of the cant and hypocrisy that politicians speak. The political labour movement of the first half of this century did noble work to make the lives of working people better, to establish a hint of social justice in what was then a society of staggering inequality and hardship. But the people who voted for that knew nothing of political theory, thank goodness. Those people, and the ones they elected, were working people who understood labour and the reward of it.

As soon as the first Hampstead twat, doubtless reclining on his chaise longue, Gin-and-It at his lips, as soon as he opened his slim volume of Marx and read the first word, the spirit was gone. For now politicians are about their business and will use our noble brotherhood for political ends. Not for justice do we now seek but for advantage. And the pursuit of advantage is the currency of ruin in any society. "I will not work to dig coal from your mine, Father, on these terms and nor will my mates. If you want coal digging, dig the fucking stuff yourself." There is nothing in any way wrong with that. But Arthur was about a different game. As was Red Robbo, Jack Jones and the rest of them. Politicans now, union leaders yet, are effete, professional liars and bullies. A pox on them all. Damn them all and their orthodoxies and drivel. Stuff it all in their pockets and off the side of Blackfriars Bridge with them.

I will give you no argument though about the calibre of industrial management and talent. Lord knows I have met enough of the arsewipes to paper the Albert Hall.

Is the loss of Empire at the root of our troubles - well, as the man said, it's too soon to tell.

call me ishmael said...

It does make people emotional, mad, even, like nothing else does. The fuckpiggery of MediaMinster is more or less accepted, a fact of life but the loss of craft and industry, the betrayal of class solidarity by a charlatan caste of baron and legislator, these excite passion, long after they are done deals, their perpetrators ennobled, long after the industry has withered and died at home, been resurrected, leaner and fitter, abroad.

Prentiss of Unison, Woodleigh of whatever ragbag he now jointly runs and Monks, recently sinecured in Europe in a job which was not advertised nor subject to competitive industry, all supped at the Warwick Agreement, after which members' concerns were to be stifled in the "run-up" to the last but one general election, stifled so that Blair et al might be re-elected, no taint of union misbehaviour clouding their prospects. Union leaders nobbling their members so that Tony and Imelda could continue trading Tommy's life for bribes, could continue whoring the office of prime minister like none before; Dave Prentiss is boss of Unison, the lowly paid workers' union - although he is on six figures. One is tempted to observe that Unison members, facing ZombieBoy's punitive policies would do better without any union at all than with one led by a piece of shit like Prentiss. Now, there's a triumph for NewLabour

mongoose said...

It is indeed the betrayal, Mr I. And while I have no great emotional capital sunk in the Luvvies to be betrayed, I do though have enough regard for honour and kindness that cant and treason unsettle me.

I was 21 (exactly, to the day, my birthday) when I had to listen to whatever-his-name-was pontificating about how Marx was right and part of that was that it gave him, WHHNW, the right to impose his rightness on everyone, because he was right. Twat. Dullard. Idiot. And that is where we are. Fools but useful fools. Where is my shotgun? And now the country is run not by even these rule-bound cretins but by their bastard halfling, baseless and rootless offspring who believe nothing, know nothing, care about nowt, and have wanted to be MPs since they were six. Mandelson - nephew of Morrison. Millitwats - sons of whomever the git was. The Kinnock Gang. Mr Balls Bottomley and Mrs Balls Bottomley. Hang them all.

mongoose said...

Enough politics!


mongoose said...

And even this.

the noblest prospect said...

Luckily, by virtue of his essential occupation, my grandfather was denied his opportunity to serve in the slaughter of 1914 and spent the next 50 years 3 miles under the Forth.

Not for his sons, the darkness and filth, the daily, hour-long journey to the face, but through collectivism, soup kitchens and double-cross by the saviour of the nation, Churchill, to a better life and to telegrams from the War Office.

No baldy Arthur then, but Robens and Lawther, enriched and ennobled in recognition of their newly-nationalised industry's importance. For my granddad and his ilk? An extra half-a-crown a week.

I saw Scargill, McGahey and others speak at Willie Gallacher's centenary celebration in the early 1980's and was dismayed then at how thin this red line had become. Almost as thin as his pate, indeed. The heirs to McLean and McShane? don't make me fucking laugh. Was this all that stood in the way of this Jew-boy Joseph-inspired gang of thieves and gangsters? Billy fucking Bragg and the Red Wedge? Was this the best resistance we could offer?

When that other ginger cunt, Kinnock finally deceived his class and showed the real extent of his ambitions, the game was finally up. Cue Blair, Brown and the end of clause 4 and Ruin's tide had at last breached the dyke.

The final ignominy, in the truest tradition of Fife militancy, to be betrayed by one of our own, a son of the fucking manse.

Interestingly, the BBC followed the documentary with Bleasdale's Yosser's Story. The two programmes together the clearest description of our descent into Ruin. These past fifteen years, merely farce.

Aye, emotional stuff Mr Mongoose, but what do I tell the wee Prospects? It's all OK, kids, we've got Nick Clegg.

Fuck me.

mongoose said...

It was what the toffs call a category error, mr tnp. There never was an idea that if we just dug out as much fecking coal as we could and divide it by the cost of digging, well, we might find cheapness and competition. The BBC prog brought it back to me. The great coal mountains of the fifties/sixties terrified everyone. I had not known about that - not being a babe in arms by the end of it.

But other people make as much stuff as they can flog and if they can make a bit more that gives room to reduce the price. (Or in reality most often to fail to increase the price next year.) This was nowhere to be seen in the coal industry. Not a one - from winder to chairman had the thought in their head. "This is the market for coal!" 50 million tonnes per annum when I was about. The fifty-first million tonne was to be avoided like the plague.

Betrayal by stupidity, by laziness.

mongoose said...

As I become old and mad, I flee to Irish music. Mary Black yet! Can the old boy not just die? The bugger will be putting up Gracie Fields next.

call me ishmael said...

The stuff of tears, this; thanks everybody.