The Sound of Thunder

Tom Nairn

  • Marching to the Fault Line: The 1984 Miners’ Strike and the Death of Industrial Britain by Francis Beckett and David Hencke
    Constable, 303 pp, £18.99, February 2009, ISBN 978 1 84901 025 2
  • Shafted: The Media, the Miners’ Strike and the Aftermath edited by Granville Williams
    Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, 176 pp, £9.99, March 2009, ISBN 978 1 898240 05 1

The Miners’ Strike took place 25 years ago: long enough for many readers to know practically nothing about it, and for others to have forgotten much of what seemed so important at the time. Both the books discussed here describe the strike as more like a civil war than an industrial dispute. It began in March 1984 and ended a year later, after a majority of the miners had gone back to work over the preceding months, disillusioned, scared by the violence, or starved back (miners got little strike pay and no state help, since it wasn’t held by the courts to be an ‘official’ strike). Both books agree that Margaret Thatcher’s eventual victory enabled her to consolidate a free-market programme of deregulation that would soon merge with the wider international movement of neoliberalism. The use of violence by the state was evident in many encounters between police and picketers (though the picketers too had their bad moments). The failure of the strike destroyed the National Union of Miners’ political power, which had been considerable, and reanimated deep divisions in British society, causing considerable bitterness, especially in Northern England. Ten deaths resulted from the events: six picketers, three teenagers searching for coal, and a taxi-driver who had been driving miners to work.

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[*] Britain since 1918: The Strange Career of British Democracy (Phoenix, 477 pp., £14.99, November, 978 0 297 64320 3).

[†] History on Our Side: Wales and the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike (Iconau, 97 pp., £9.99, March, 978 1 905762 45 3).