'Outstanding Accounts Of The Miners' Strike'

IF YOU want novels or books that give you a happy ending you wouldn't necessarily choose ones about the miners' strike. After all you know the end before you start the book.

Ken Smith


But any such preconceptions should be set aside. Both GB84 and The English Civil War Part ll are outstanding accounts of the miners' strike and reveal why the long-term bitterness and anger it produced still impact so greatly in British society.

Whilst neither book offers or intends to give a wider analysis of the strike, both accounts offer a different perspective based on detailed research which begins to redress the historical balance towards the miners and their families.

Personal accounts

The English Civil War part II is one of the best collections of personal accounts of the strike that I have read. Included in the cover price are some fantastic pictures, documentary material and a CD of interviews which offers a fascinating oral history of the strike from the standpoint of the miners and their supporters.

The book carries material on the battle for Orgreave, the women's movement, on the tactics of picketing and songs from the strike. There is a revealing testimony from a former policeman who says: "One of the main reasons I joined the Police Service was to help the community within which I was raised. As a result of Margaret Thatcher's policy, I helped to destroy it. I have never voted in an election since."

The book also contains a detailed account and photographic stills from the re-enactment of the battle for Orgreave, which was staged 17 years after the event in June 2001.

Outstanding political novel

GB84 is a novel that deserves the highest recommendation to anyone interested in experiencing the real atmosphere of the events of 1984-85. Using a style reminiscent of John Dos Passos' masterpiece, USA (a long-standing favourite of mine), the book's narrative enables the reader to get right under the skin and psychology of the opposing participants in the strike.

Although the book describes itself as 'a fiction based on fact', it only thinly disguises the main characters. Arthur Scargill is referred to as the President; NUM general secretary Peter Heathfield becomes 'Paul Hargreaves' and many other NUM leaders have similarly transparent pseudonyms.

Others have more ludicrous names - reflecting the authors' undoubted aversion to them - such as 'the Fat Man', for TUC general secretary Norman Willis, and 'The Jew' for Stephen Sweet, aka David Hart, the shadowy adviser to Thatcher and Coal Board chairman MacGregor, who set up the working miners' committee.

(Though some critics argue that the term 'The Jew' is used in an anti-semitic way, I think you have to read the book to understand its context and make your own judgement).

The story remains faithful in microscopic detail to the events of the strike but transmits them through the eyes of a number of very different key characters.

Terry Winters is one such pair of eyes through which the story is narrated. Winters is a thinly disguised Roger Windsor, the NUM chief executive during the strike who went to Libya, met Colonel Gadaffi and was later alleged to have been working for the security services. Other eyes include characters that live in the murky underworld of the security services and the far right.

Moving

But by far the most moving accounts in the book are through the eyes of the ordinary miners, Martin and Peter.

David Peace has done his research meticulously and his recounting of the strike leaves you with overwhelming sympathy for the courage and determination of the ordinary miner. Peace credits an earlier edition of the English Civil War Part II as a source and reading that book you see the actual recollections of the miners reflected in accurate and sensitive detail in the fictional account of GB84.

GB84 has some flaws in its speculation about individuals' motives but it is one of the most outstanding political novels I have read. Although a long read requiring patience with its style at first, once the reader gets going it will leave them gripped with its dramatic psychological uncovering of one of the most momentous events in recent British history.

Neither book draws out wider political conclusions for anyone wanting to read sympathetic accounts reflecting the miners' side of events but both books are well worth buying.

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GB84 by David Peace, published by Faber, 12.99

The English Civil War Part II by Jeremy Deller, published by Artangel, 19.95

Available from: Socialist Books Available online soon

A civil war without guns - 20 years on, the lessons of the 1984-85 miners' strike, by Ken Smith, Special offer price: 4.00

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