Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Q&A with Dave Douglass, author of Ghost Dancers on the 84-85 Miners' strike

Ghost Dancers - David John Douglass               
Christie Books
Retired coal-miner and political activist Dave Douglass takes an insiders look at the 84-85 coal strike, and its aftermath, in which he played a prominent role including help co-ordinate many Yorkshire pickets.  

Strange title?

Anyone who has read the history of the Native American peoples (the red Indians) should understand. What happens with the Indians is not simply a war to defeat them but to wipe out all memory of who they were, their history and beliefs. The Ghost Dancers started as a spiritual endeavour to hold on to their free will, spirit and identity.

Something similar in cultural terms has happened to the mining communities. The government came from 1981 to 1994 to defeat us in industrial action. They took away the source of our social and economic existence by rigging the energy market and closing down virtually every coal mine in Britian. Then they tried to break our spirit and the memory of who we were. Our ‘Ghost Dance’ is witnessed in the annual Durham miner’s gala, 90,000 people, with their bands and banners and speeches of hope and vision marched last year - yet the last mine closed in 1994.

Why do you claim that ‘the miner’s almost won?’

The book will explain three clear occasions when we came to within a wisp of winning, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was ready to concede the lot. Ian McGregor, the coal board chairman, actually conceded four or five times but had the script changed by Thatcher each time. 

The closest was with the decision of NACODS, our brother mining union for colliery officials, to join the strike. However their leaders cobbled together an utterly ineffective deal, which never saved one mine, and left us on our own. From then on, we were fighting to the death without any real prospect of winning.

Christie Books say this is the definitive history of the strike - why?

Because all the books by academics and journalists have been painfully inaccurate or wildly speculative. Most of them have not a clue how the strike started, nor how the Union and this action was structured, nor who planned what on either side.

Doesn’t the book give credence to those who argued the miners were violent?

Three miners were killed and one disabled for the rest of his life, two children died on picking coal to keep warm and 20,000 miners were hospitalised. One driver taking a solitary blackleg to work in a strike bound Welsh village was killed. Miners are men used to fighting the earth. They exude dignity and self respect, but when threatened they will fight, and that fight did get violent. All of this is explained in context without pulling any punches (no pun intended). It will also demonstrate something like 110,000 strikers miners NEVER picketed.  This will be a revelation to many.  

On what basis do you claim that Thatcher wasn’t interested in the economic case for coal?

Because the book demonstrates that Britain produced the cheapest deep-mined coal in the world. Instead of which we now import almost 50 million tonnes of coal, whilst leaving our own in the ground and putting miners on the dole in communities now wrecked by poverty, hopelessness, and anti social crime. Altogether the cost is nudging £30 billion. David Cameron has the brass neck to speak of ‘A broken Britian’ when his party and its junior partner New Labour was the one to break it.

By making the case for increased coal production aren’t you on ‘the wrong side’ in the climate change battle?

Coal production doubled in the last twenty years and it will almost double again in the next ten. Fact - coal will be burned. We must ensure that we urgently develop clean coal technology and carbon capture storage as well as workable alternatives, like solar and tidal power. But we should also treat coal as a precious power source and greatly increase the efficiency of its use. I don’t trust many of the middle class ‘green’ anti coal protesters, it’s really just Thatcher’s children and grandchildren still waging war on the miners and those dirty workers.

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