“We were robbed of a livelihood. We were robbed of a future. Our communities were robbed of a future. It has been devastating. Would I do the same thing again? I would do the same things today and fight for people’s futures and support each other; that’s surely what life’s all about.”

Bob Young was 14 when he started working down the mines. He’s 80 now. He recently told his story to BBC Scotland as they marked 40 years since the beginning of the miners' strike.

He sums it up. Workers, their families and their communities were decimated and still to this day feel the impact of Thatcher’s Government. They carry the scars, both physical and mental, of the way that agents of the state – government, politicians, the police, the judiciary, most of the media – all coalesced to demonise them. But they would do it all again because, when the chips are down, working people have each other. Sometimes that’s all they have. But what a force they are to be reckoned with.

Addressing the elephant in the room: the trade union movement suffered a defeat in that particular industrial action. Defeated, yes. Broken, no. I’ll defy anyone to tell me, especially after the past two years of workers fighting back and winning during this cost-of-living crisis, that Thatcher broke our back for good.

The Herald: Mick McGahey,Mick McGahey, (Image: free)

Workers the length and breadth of the UK, not just in Scotland, found salvation in the strength of their communities. They still do now. I can’t profess to have ever tried this occupation but, when you’re down a mine, the person next to you is your best mate. Your lifeline. You’re literally placing your life in each other’s hands.

It’s impossible to overstate the fraternity and brotherhood that existed down there. That spirit emanated outwith the depths of that deep, dark hell men often worked in. While they were on strike – a year-long struggle that strained the very fabric of our social class – it’s far too simplistic to say that the women of the coal towns just kept their houses running. They did. But they did far more. They continued to work and provided what they could to pay the bills. They stood on the picket lines. They organised the fundraisers. They spoke at public meetings. They ran the soup kitchens. They marched. Miles and miles. Across land and across our cities. All in support of striking workers.

We cannot risk a repeat. What we saw and, frankly, are at risk of seeing again should the UK and Scottish Government’s plans for green jobs and a Just Transition fall, are working class communities banding together when government fails them.

When the state fails, it’s left to working people – often those within community projects, local trades councils, trade union branches or social enterprises, to step forward. Last week, Kevin McKenna wrote in this very paper a glowing tribute to one of the mightiest: Mick McGahey. Kevin was right, of course. There can be no other Mick. Irrepressible. Irreplaceable. Iconic. We’ll also add ‘immortalised’ too. There absolutely should be a memorial to Mick within the Scottish Parliament and we support Richard Leonard’s call to achieve this.

But while there was only one Mick McGahey, there are many of those who follow in his footsteps. Those who don’t accept the rollbacks of the state in welfare, housing and industry. Those who believe that it is working people who should have a viable stake of our utilities, energy network, and public services.


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There cannot be one person throughout Scotland that is content with sky high energy bills, or seeing the price of their weekly shop increase faster than their wages, with record profiteering from energy companies and supermarkets to boot – profiteering that is, more to the point, a key driver of inflation – and not wonder whether there is a better way to do things.

That belief of a better, more equal society with workers’ voices at the heart of it is a core component of any trade union activity. As we mark 40 years on from the miner’s strike, we’re seeing the same worrying signs of the demonisation of our movement and the innate belief from Tory Government that it is workers and their trade unions who are the enemies within.

A swathe of restrictions on our movement – the Trade Union Act (2015) or the incoming Minimum Service Levels (Strikes) Bill – in addition to Sunak’s crackdown on so-called extremism. Whilst, naturally, this includes elements of protecting national security, something no one could rationally disagree with, we must advise caution. The regulations are drafted in such a way to give police sweeping new power that it could encompass our right to protest, packaged under the banner of ‘extremism’. This limiting of the rights of workers to assemble and march peacefully should give us all cause for concern, should it come to pass.

It is no coincidence that, as we ramp up to a general election, dividing lines are being drawn. As with what happened under Thatcher, there is a distinction and othering taking place; that if you’re on the side of working people – the strikers, those on picket lines or those showing support for workers in struggle – you’re to be defeated.

The Herald: Rishi SunakRishi Sunak (Image: free)

Workers like Bob Young weren’t defeated. They are defiant. He survived the onslaught. His story and the story of thousands like him – former miners who had their futures stolen, pensions nicked and, quite often, blacklisted from employment and never to work again – show us, without doubt, the length those carrying out the orders of government will go to ensure compliance.

If the past 40 years since the miner’s strike has taught us anything, it’s that justice is not achieved through asking nicely. It’s through agitation. If we’re to see progress in the next 40 years, with all the industrial struggles and strife that is yet to come, justice must be achieved for those who came before us. That means a full, unequivocal pardon for the miners and to ensure the sacrifice of Bob - and the men, women and children of de-industrialised towns up and down the country – are not a forgotten, ruinous afterthought of Thatcher’s Government.

I’ll leave you with one last quote from the late, great McGahey: “we’re a movement, not a monument”. Watch this space.

Roz Foyer is the general secretary of the STUC