Friday, March 13, 2009

Strike a Light!

Twenty-five years ago I was working in the Nantgarw/Windsor Colliery. Or rather, I should have been; I was, in fact, on strike, and would be for a whole year. Five Years earlier, Maggie Thatcher had been voted into power and was now waging war on the working classes; the Miners were on top of her 'hate-list'.
You may have seen a recent BBC drama, where she was seen getting into power after speaking up for the 'underprivileged', and even claiming to be one of them. Well Maggie, at least Judas Escariot took thirty pieces of silver for betraying his own; just be thankful that the BBC portrayed you as a modern-day Boudicca, instead of the modern-day Lady MacBeth that you really were (so sanitised was this play, the Miners Strike was never even mentioned!).
So the Miner's became The Enemy Within. Since when? Before she was born, the coal industry drove the country during the steam-age, heated homes and powered businesses, propelled ships and steam trains. 'The Enemy' were honest men with families, working hard to provide for them in the filthiest of conditions. But they also delivered a resounding kick in the bollocks to the Conservative Party, so this vile Grocer's daughter was determined to set the dogs on them.
I have to say, I was never a Scargill's man. From the start, he seemed on the lookout for a fight and we could all see where this was heading. One year later the Union had been divided and the seeds of death for the coal industry had been sown. The Enemy Within (good, honest, hard working men who weren't contemptible racist bigots like her husband, or common criminals like her son) were facing redundancy. Twenty-five years on, and the effects are still being felt - many family members are still not talking to each other, and old friends have become old enemies.
So what's changed? Very little, it has to be said; buoyed up by her petty victory, Maggie became power-crazed and continued her war on the working classes. The Poll Tax was a turning point, a system where an old woman living in a caravan was charged the same amount as a Lord living in a mansion. The Tory's 'finally' realized that this particular mad dog had to be put down, and maggie Thatcher was history; but for most, it came far too late. South Wales now has a lot of dead area's that used to be thriving mining communities and a once great industry no longer exists. This is the Tory legacy.
Incredibly, people now want to vote them back into power; as if we'd be better off without Gordon Brown. This is not the case; the Conservative party has a history of mischief and the working classes can only expect more of the same. David Cameron is appealing to younger voters who probably have very little memory of 1984 (when unarmed working men - and women, for that matter - were baton-charged by police on horseback in full riot gear; when they were stopped in their own cars and told that they could not travel to certain parts of their own towns and cities). Even the papers started drawing comparisons with George Orwell's vision of the future in that harrowing novel. Certainly, Maggie Thatcher had no qualms about abusing human rights!
Still, my memories of the strike aren't all terrible. There was a lot of support for the Miners (though you might not have thought so, reading the papers) , and people actually took an interest when I told them that I worked in a Colliery. I made friends with other strikers and we campaigned on the street and met up in pubs. And it was a terrific summer, I remember that.
But our time had come. In December 1986, Nantgarw/ Windsor Colliery closed and I transferred to the Taff Merthyr Colliery. When that closed, in 1990, I took my redundancy and left the industry for good. Coal was a thing of the past and there was no point in hanging on. These days, I have a coin and a pewter tankard to remind me of those times. It was another world, and while I'd never go back, I'm quite pleased that I was once a part of it.
The Enemy Within?
It is rather amusing to remember that, at the end of the day, Maggie's 'real' enemies were within her own cabinet - and they knifed her big time! Just like most of the country, the old bitch was out of a job. A little late, it has to be said, but good riddance. At least we got to enjoy her ignominious exit from 10 Downing Street:-D