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on 1 December 2014
Bought this after watching a play about the strikes and wanting to find out more, having only very vague memories of the time (when I was seven). Extremely well researched book referencing all the key players including through interviews with all of them except those who are now dead or named Arthur Scargill (who gets a stern rebuke in the introduction for his lack of cooperation).

The authors have struck a good balance between accessibility and comprehensiveness, and I am now at least well enough equipped about the miners' strikes to blag it in a pub discussion! My only issue is that it does tend to cite too many minor players at certain points, and I sometimes had to flick back to remind myself exactly who X or Y are and why they are relevant.
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on 26 June 2015
It’s true that some mutts just love rolling in the stuff: it’s also true that some journalists are drawn to ringleader explanations of industrial disputes so as to vilify trade unionists like Red Robbo, Hugh Scanlon, Jack Jones and Arthur Scargill.

This book is deficient because of the ‘ringleader’ tendency; because it is inadequately researched and owing, in part, to its reliance on an axe-grinding individual in reaching its conclusions. That said, it does contain a few, new revelations For example, that the selection of Cortonwood colliery for closure was a clodhopping mistake on the part of the National Coal Board and, secondly, that the Government, despite its denials to Parliament, was heavily involved in efforts to defeat the strike.

Illustrative of inadequate research is the authors’ reference on p129 to Nicholas Ridley’s 1975 ‘blueprint’. Apart from the fact that it dates from 1977, the twenty-eight page Ridley Plan was critical to the Tory strike preparations from the 1979 election onwards. It deserves more than passing mention because of the implementation of its provisions prior to the strike. More importantly it was the first clear documentary evidence of a Tory conspiracy against the miners.

Since the Economist published the annex to the Ridley report in May 1978, post-strike revelations in the form of Parliamentary disclosures, books and memoirs, have provided a steady stream of evidence that Thatcher and her ministers told lie upon lie to conceal their direct involvement in the strike and their intention of provoking it to defeat the NUM.
The 2014 release of cabinet minutes under the thirty-year rule, albeit coming after the publication of this book, confirmed that, against denials to the contrary, Scargill was correct in claiming that the National Coal Board and the Thatcher Government intended to close 70 collieries. The NUM knew what the Tories were planning as early as 1980 (before Scargill’s presidential elevation) and made this clear in its vigorously argued publication “The Miners and the Battle for Britain”.

Contrary to popular belief, ownership of the strike was that of a majority of the miners themselves. Their delegates, on the basis of mandates from packed lodge meetings, decreed it and it is unlikely that Scargill could have prevented it even if he had been of a mind to try. The appointment of Ian McGregor; the announcement of pit closures in breach of the colliery review procedure and the intended summary shutdown of the selected pits were intended to be inflammatory and provocative. Critically, the selection for closure of Cortonwood colliery on economic grounds set alarms ringing for miners in pits that were bigger loss-makers. Miners’ concerns were not only about their own jobs, they knew of the devastation colliery closures would cause to pit communities
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In his book ‘My Generation’, ex-NUM General Secretary, Will Paynter captured very well what the loss of a pit can mean:

“I wonder sometimes if those who decide on policies to precipitate the contraction of the coal industry have any idea of what a pit closure means to the community built around it. It is the death of a creation that gave the community life and sustained that life no matter how deprived and anguished it might have sometimes been. Closure thus represents a disaster as poignant and harrowing as a death in the family. For older people it creates a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. No fancy clichés of ‘national interest’, ‘redeployment’ and ‘mobility of labour’ or of ‘increased dole payments’ by the economists can rationalise out of existence these very real feelings.”

So finely tuned were Mrs Thatcher’s preparations that her Ministers were instructed to refer to “the coal dispute” as opposed to ‘a miners’ strike’. They worried that referring to a ’miners’ strike’ might generate sympathy for the miners.

Michael Foot, a backbench MP during the strike, accused Mrs Thatcher of lying to the House when she claimed that the Government was not intervening in the coal strike. Wrote Hugo Young in ‘One of Us’, “...the Speaker, unusually, did not require him to withdraw the accusation”. The authors should have learned from Ian McGregor’s “The Enemies Within” of Mrs Thatcher ‘leaning’ on him. A richer source altogether than McGregor’s co-written, glossed account of his time as NCB chairman is Ned Smith’s”The 1984 Miners’ Strike: The Actual Account”. Ned Smith was the National Coal Board’s Director General of Industrial Relations until his resignation in January 1985. Smith was appalled by the cantankerous behaviour of McGregor and by the latter’s abrupt about-turns and unpredictability.

Frankly, the space given by the authors to the efforts of Bill Keys, ex-SOGAT, and Norman Willis of the TUC to act as honest brokers in the NCB/NUM negotiations is wasted and naive. Keys and Willis were out of their depth - and if the NCB could con NACODS, the pit deputies’ union, into signing up to the Modified Colliery Review Procedure (MCRP), then Keys, the TUC and Stan Orme, then a Labour Party MP who also sought to help, didn’t know enough about the coal industry to improve on that. Following the strike, the MCRP failed to save a single pit from closure. Keys and Willis served as window dressing for the Government, which, via the tabloid press, used it to continue their anti-Scargill smears.
Scargill, of whom I have my own criticisms, was too sharp and alert to fall for the MRCP.

Ned Smith, a key participant in negotiations between the NUM and the NCB for much the greater part of the strike (and who, as one might expect, disapproved of the NUM’s handing of it), wrote:

“As the strike progressed, however, there were influential people who decided that the strike should not be settled in the conventional way by industrial management action but that for political reasons the miners had to be seen to be defeated. I can now say that with conviction because on Thursday, 18th July 1986 Mr David Hart, one of Sir Ian McGregor’s outside advisors ...was interviewed in a Channel 4 programme and confirmed that from the summer of 1984 onwards the Chairman of the NCB had been advised that a settlement of the strike was not wanted”. (p222, op cit).

To blame Arthur Scargill for blocking a settlement is not only wrong, it egregiously offends the evidence pointing so clearly to Mrs Thatcher’s pulverising intentions towards the NUM.

What is risible, is that the authors of ‘Marching ...’ allowed Neil Kinnock to help them focus unduly on Arthur Scargill. Kinnock’s role in the strike was as contemptible as it was craven. His emphasis on strike violence ought to have been directed towards police thuggery, but he preferred to join with the Sun newspaper AND the BBC in helping give the impression that the violence was mainly perpetrated by NUM members. Kinnock’s role in the strike was widely criticised and, together with his other gaffes, helped discredit him.

I agree with Seamus Milne, author of the ‘The Enemy Within’, who in reviewing ‘Marching...’, concluded “That the history the strike deserves is waiting to be written”. Seamus Milne’s book, op cit; Harry Paterson’s ‘Look Back in Anger’, Michael Mansfield’s ‘Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer’, “A Year of Our Lives” by Dave Douglas and ‘How Black was Our Valley’ by N Butts-Thompson and D Price (all available via Amazon) are books I’d recommend, in addition to those mentioned earlier, to anyone wanting to advance on the tabloid account that ‘Marching to the Fault Line’ provides. It seems that some press hounds are happy to roll and wallow in the ideological deposits of the Tories and the Tory press.
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on 19 January 2010
Having spent many years in the coal industry, in both production and industrial relations, this book makes an interesting read and viewpoint of those involved in the strife in industry.
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on 16 December 2014
Originally published in 2009 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Miners' Strike. I read about this book online in the fascinating Daily Mail article titled The Mad, Sad World of Arthur Scargill (if you can find the correct search engine) and it might be worth a read. Many of the pit heads that served working class communities have long since disappeared to be replaced by electronic factories. These themselves have become history as we have now moved from living room boxes and VHS Videos into a digital era. The book debunks left wing myths about Scargill but much to the delight of the left, it might debunk right wing myths too. The somewhat mandate Ian MacGregor's previous post was with huge loss making British Steel Corporation with some of his casualties being Corby or Consett when the industry began to move into profit but his appointment in the NCB caused a stir. The let down about the publication was that it was published when Thatcher was still alive at the time but makes it clear that she was hardly blameless and it became even more revealing after a series of strokes finally got the better out of her that she was plotting to do the coal industry in and perhaps the book should be edited if it ever gets reprinted.
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on 2 January 2016
very well written a book I can recommend but it makes a common mistake, there never was a 'Miners Strike' but a strike by some miners. it does slate Scargill but in my mind not enough nevertheless a good account of the strike and the formation of the UDM.
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on 11 December 2013
The Hollywood producer Robert Evans remarked of his own autobiography 'There are three sides to every story, yours, mine and the truth'. Apt words from an odd source to describe any attempt to tell the story of the 1984/5 Miner's Strike. Even today the protagonists or their friends and comrades rail against attempts to tell the story of the strike that don't see it their way - just read a few other reviews. Marching Against the Fault Line on the whole seems to be fairly even handed in its approach, offers new insights from those that finally thought enough water had passed under the bridge (clearly not as it turns out). We will never know the whole truth because two of the main players can no longer or will not speak - and were both as intransigent when it comes to admitting failure, weakness or guilt that we'd be none the wiser. The opening of government papers under the 30 year rule may reveal more detail but in the meantime this book is probably as good as it gets.
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on 9 August 2011
I really enjoyed this book - having been in my mid twenties when it happened, and pretty solidly on the side of the miners it brought the names and the major episodes back to me very vividly. I found the last chapter very moving, with explanations, mea culpas and final positions of many of the main protagonists twenty plus years down the road. This brought home how long lasting the damage and hurt was to so many communities, and its place in changing the nature of our country.

I also think the author's did a good job in covering the different sides in the dispute. This might be why some of the comments have suggested the book seems to skip around - but they describe the differing perspectives (as well as prejudices and vengeful attitudes) that the various players have in an honest and insightful way. I'd strongly recommend the book even if you don't agree with all their conclusions!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 March 2010
I don't know what to make of this book. The authors appear to skip between the machinations between and within the relevant parties without offering much substance at any juncture. There are some glaring omissions however. I note that no police officer is credited in the acknowledgements and bearing in mind the express and implied criticism levelled at that organization (much, but not all, justified) an interview or two with some cops might have offered some balance. As an example of bias there is a telling couple of anecdotes where a police officer has a "dig" at a flying picket asking who is "doing his wife" whilst when one of Anne Scargill's makes the same enquiry of a Somerset Policeman it is seen as a joke. I'm willing to bet that neither the cop or the picket found the question funny but the authors' use of language shows where their loyalties lie.

And of course that is a problem when discussing something so momentous that happened such a relatively short time ago. There will be bias, and that is understandable as long as it is stated - Seamus Milne's book for example doesn't pretend to be something it isn't. This book has a stated intention of being unbiased but as I say above it takes pot-shots at easy targets, e.g. the dead (McGregor), organizations (the Police/NUM), and people who they know won't comment (Scargill/Thatcher).

I suppose it is difficult to do justice to this subject as there are two distinct strands in the dispute - the human one on the picket line as it were, and the political one setting the agenda and this book is aimed at discussing the latter rather than the former which would have been of more interest to me.
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on 20 March 2009
This is an attempt by two journalists to add to the understanding of the strike and it is a step forward. It confirms 'secret' deals done by Kinnock, The UDM with the NCB and even McGahey with Whitelaw. It gives us access to key documents so goes beyond spin of the time. To be fair the authors wanted to speak to Scargill but he refused. They also make clear they do not think Scargill just a fool, p249. It also reads better than The Times snobbish offering or even 'Loss Without Limit' which is seen as the definitive work.

Where it fails is the usual lack of empathy with miners and Scargill. As usual with outsiders it applies 'common sense' without context or cultural understanding e.g. you don't just tell tens of thousands of spontaneous strikers to go back to work and wait for the ballot papers! Like many it concludes that Scargill should have taken one of the deals on offer so it could at least look like victory. In other words a betrayal dressed as victory. That would have been truly egotistical of Scargill. To tell miners a review procedure was in place that was worthless and protected nobody would have fooled nobody. Another example of the authors lack of empathy is their sympathising with Gavin Lightman QC in asking why Scargill hid secret accounts from the rest of the NUM Executive. At least Lightman was ignorant about Joe Gormley having been a Special Branch informer! Let me spell it out gentlemen, Scargill couldn't trust anybody. Its well known there were MI5 agents and SB informers around so he didn't broadcast it lest it get seized. Funny that eh?

As for Scargill himeslf, yes he was vain and egotistical, like all big time people, union leaders, politicians, actors etc. The leaders of ordinary men and women had to be as strong and confident as those they opposed since those they opposed had the state and media carrying them along. One things for sure, Scargill scared Thatcher and the establishment in a way 'sensible' Kinnock and Willis or any number of anti capitalist riots simply did not.

This book has actually reinforced my belief in Scargill in a strange way in that I always rolled my eyes at Scargills declaration that the strike was a victory. However Ken Capstick sums up that point perfectly on p247. In short when a more powerful enemy wants to break you there is dignity in fighting back, win or lose. The meek inherit nothing. Scargill knew the union movement was about to be hit by the Thatcher juggernaut and like the bravest in a team stepped forward to take the fight to the enemy and asked his side to follow but... Anyone streetwise knew that Thatcher could not be wheeled and dealed with. Look what happened to the naive Notts men who had a letter thanking them from the lady herself and were assured they had bright futures.

As for the personal stuff, leave the gossip to the Daily Mail harpies. Scargill is not a lonely old man, he has been seen out and about with his grandchildren at an Arsenal match and a store opening in Barnsley so we can assume he is friendly with his daughter! The tiresome comparison with a WW1 general is plain wrong since WW1 generals did not lead from the front or get hospitalised. They were many miles behind their men in chateaus. A bit like Eric Hammond and John Lyons incidentally.

So with hindsight and key documents proving the review procedure and promises offered by the NCB were worthless and confirmation that state informers were around these authors still ask the same cliched questions. 10 out of 10 for fresh research gentlemen, 2 out of 10 for new answers.

What is really needed is a comprehensive book by an insider or journo with greater understanding, step forward Seumas Milne, Dave Douglass or Arthur himself. Why he has written and said so little is beyond me, he is 71 after all. If he or his friends read this I suggest he gets a move on.
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on 15 September 2012
Excellent account of the 1984 Miners strike. It appears that the reviews of this book have been hijacked for political reasons. I am objective however and this is excellent put together. And I dont typically read this type of thing. Recommended.
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