Twenty-five years after it started, the ‘great’ miners’ strike of 1984–5 is seen by many as a watershed in modern British history. This book, by two writers sympathetic to the cause but not to Arthur Scargill, the man who embodied it, begins with such a claim: ‘Britain before the great miners’ strike … and after it are two fundamentally different places.’ Like much in this book, that is not strictly true. By the spring of 1984 the Thatcher Government had been in power for five years, and it had been made quite clear already that Britain had changed. Millions of workers in heavy industries had lost their jobs. State support for uneconomic ventures was already a thing of the past. Legislation to bring trades unions within the law was already on the statute book, with more in train. The process of privatisation was under way. All the ‘great strike’ did was comply with what had become the norm, which was to show that primitive displays of anti-democratic syndicalist muscle would no longer succeed, and would not be allowed to succeed by a government that had the public’s backing to put unions in their place.
As this book does make clear, this new reality was understood by most union leaders of the time, however reluctantly or tortuously they expressed that new understanding. Scargill was the exception. In one of the most interesting parts of the book, shortly before the end, after Scargill has