Scargill in Belfast as part of May Week it
was an opportunity I did not want to miss. Its
not that often that this conservative city plays
host to radical guests. Occasionally Bernadette
McAliskey and Eamonn McCann come and speak publicly.
That helps ensure that what vestiges of radicalism
remain here do not fall under the right wing juggernaut
that blazes through our social and economic life,
imposing privatisation and cut backs as it goes.
last great voice of English trade union radicalism
and militancy, Scargills head to head stance
with Margaret Thatcher in the mid 1980s, gave him
iconic status in the H-Blocks. He was putting it
up to the most trenchant right wing prime minister
in decades and republican prisoners loved him for
it. The organisation most of us belonged to had
just tried to kill Thatcher in Brighton in an action
described at the time by Sinn Fein president Gerry
Adams as a blow for democracy. On the jail wings
there were no dissenting voices.
Gorman and Kevin McQuillan completing the company,
the three of us made our way to Transport House.
We arrived early. It was as well we did. There proved
to be standing room only and those without seats
were congregating tightly at the back and along
the sides of the hall. I scanned the audience in
anticipation that I might see some people who were
in the H-Blocks alongside me when Scargill led the
miners against the Tories. It was a hopeless task.
It was the same when George Monbiot came to speak
in Belfast, arousing a suspicion in my mind that
left wing politics were something to while away
the time in prison but had little mileage for most
people once they were released.
Scargill is one of the Lefts great orators.
His voice boomed across the hall, robust and direct.
With words as his weapons, he made incisive thrust
after thrust into the systematic cleansing
of socialism that is taking place throughout
the world. Despite having locked horns with Thatcher
in mortal combat for over a year, his real contempt
was reserved for of the current British Prime Minister
Tony Blair, whom he said made the former Tory leader
look like a left winger.
Blairs Britain, Scargill observed: ten million
live below the official poverty line; one million
children do not have enough food to eat and are
categorised as going hungry; five million represents
the true unemployment figures once the statistics
Scargill, boomed could a leader such as Blair lecture
Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan on what is right
and what is wrong? If the British or US governments
really wanted justice and human rights to prevail
throughout the world they would send in troops to
occupied Palestine and end the Israeli occupation.
literally learned his politics at the coalface.
Twenty years ago when he predicted the destruction
of the mining industry and launched a strike to
save it, he was called a nutcase and ridiculed.
His reminiscences of the strike were a blend of
serious critique and black humour; 17 dead, 13,
000 arrested, 11, 000 injured. For the first time
the state had faced a leadership not prepared to
bend or sell out the membership. And it was concerned.
socialist, he argued that all the industries privatised
under Thatcher and Blair should be taken back and
placed under public ownership. Private medicine
should be abolished. The education system is a mess
with the highest illiteracy rate in 25 years. Faith
schools would have to go. The thought crossed my
mind that they would let their hospitals go first
in this part of the world.
contributions from the floor ranged from the rigorously
reasoned to the incorrigibly silly. One Socialist
Workers Party member who seemed to want his
observations to take as long as Scargills
address was hackled, the audience losing patience
with what was fast becoming a rant. Scargill merely
joked about it.
the end, after a standing ovation, myself, Tommy
and Kevin stood alongside him to be photographed.
Evidence for our offspring in years to come, when
they find themselves paying for their health, education
and water, that Belfast was not always a socialist