Ardent communist Arthur Scargill has joined Mick Lynch’s mass rail strikes today in solidarity with the ‘greedy’ union barons who have paralysed Britain.
The former firebrand leader of the National Union of Miners, who unleashed a wave of strike action in the mid-1980s in a bid to stop Margaret Thatcher’s pit closures and topple the Tory government, wore his 1984 ‘safety first’ cap as he stood on the picket line in Wakefield.
A relic from the final wheezing gasps of the 20th Century, ‘Barmy Arthur’, now 84, ordered tens of thousands of flying pickets to power stations, coal and coke depots in a doomed attempt to stop electricity production and cripple the economy during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.
Scargill’s thugs resorted to violence and intimidation as they tried to bring Britain’s economy to its knees, culminating in a famous battle between thousands of picketers and riot police on horseback outside the British Steel coking plant at Orgreave in Yorkshire.
Yet supplies of fuel got through, the lights stayed on and the factories remained open, and Scargill’s brute force tactics failed to prevent the closure of uneconomic pits. Indeed, it is widely held that Scargill’s efforts helped to accelerate the decline of the coal industry.
Secret papers unearthed in a Moscow archive two decades later revealed how Scargill had begged Soviet Russia for cash at the height of the strike. The papers show that the money was signed off by the Russian authorities, but it is unclear whether funds were ever transferred into the designated offshore accounts or if cash ever reached the NUM, its leaders or the striking miners. Scargill has long disputed allegations that he secured a secret slush fund from the USSR and Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya after Thatcher’s government froze the union’s funds.
In later years, it emerged that Scargill used Thatcher’s right-to-buy laws to acquire his City of London council flat for £1million – half its value.
Scargill’s revolutionary socialism now lives on in his ideological successor Lynch, who declared class war at a mass protest outside Parliament on Saturday before launching the biggest rail strikes in a generation.
He may be an RMT ‘fat cat’ who enjoys £125,000 in perks and pay, but Lynch says he has closely modelled himself on Scargill. In a series of new interviews, Lynch even admitted that he sought to increase the power of trade unions and drag Britain kicking and screaming back to the economic unrest of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Former President of the National Union of Mineworkers from 1982 to 2002 Arthur Scargill joins the picket line outside Wakefield Railway Station on Tuesday 21 June
Arthur Scargill is pictured with three-year-old Jennifer Finn at the picket line outside Wakefield Railway Station on Monday
Ardent communist Arthur Scargill has joined Mick Lynch’s mass rail strikes today in solidarity with the ‘greedy’ union barons who have paralysed Britain. Above: The former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers is seen on a picket line in Wakefield
Scargill pictured in 1986, speaking through a megaphone as President of the National Union of Mineworkers
Ardent communist ‘Barmy Arthur’ Scargill is pictured addressing a rally in 1984, the year the infamous miners’ strike began
Scargill, the then president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), waving to miners and their supporters as he walks with Tony Benn during a protest against pit closures in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire in 1984
Scargill as he is assisted by riot police after he was injured outside the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham in 1984
Arthur Scargill, leader of the NUM for 20 years from 1982, is pictured speaking during his time as president of the union at the Orgreave Coking Plant near Rotherham where pickets threw missiles at the police
Scargill took over as the president of the NUM in 1982 and held the position for 20 years.
Prior to that, he had been president of the Yorkshire branch of the NUM, from 1976 until 1981.
The firebrand first joined the union in 1957 and had become one of its leading activists by the late 1960s.
His first rise to national notoriety came in the early 1970s, when he played a part in the downfall of Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath’s government by helping to organise crippling strikes in 1972 and 1974.
When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister after defeating Labour’s Jim Callaghan in the 1979 election, the stage was set for a confrontation with the NUM.
In a bid to curb inflation, Mrs Thatcher embarked on a programme of spending cuts and interest rate rises.
Mrs Thatcher’s economic programme also included a shift from centralised, state-controlled institutions to privatisation and economic reform.
Her plans to close inefficient coal mines and rely more on cheaper imports was fiercely opposed by Scargill’s NUM, as were 20,000 job cuts imposed by the National Coal Board.
In early 1984, unofficial strikes began breaking out, first in Yorkshire and then other parts of the country.
On March 12, 1984, the strike went national, with Scargill calling for NUM members in all coal fields to down tools.
Within a week, most of the country’s 183,000 miners had stopped working and a daily routine was established in many coal towns, of miners picketing outside collieries.
The protests were often violent, with large numbers of police sent in to restrain picketers, with an estimated 20,000 people injured or admitted to hospital.
During the course of the strike, three men were killed – two on the picket lines and a taxi-driver who was driving a coal miner – who had crossed the picket lines – to work.
Scargill made nightmare warnings that the government had a long-term plan to destroy the industry by closing more than 70 pits around the country.
Although this was denied at the time, Cabinet papers released in 2014 showed that NCB chairman Ian MacGregor had wanted to close 75 pits over three years.
However, a main bone of contention among miners themselves was that Scargill famously refused to call a national ballot on an official strike.
Three previous ballots had been held – two in 1982 and one in 1983 – and all rejected a proposal for a national strike.
It prompted Scargill to become a figure of derision in the media, with many branding the action as ‘Scargill’s strike’.
Others believed that the NUM president had made a mistake by calling the strike in the summer instead of winter, when the impact of coal shortages would have been felt more acutely.
Mrs Thatcher’s government had prepared for the strikes by building up at least six months’ worth of coal. She also set up mobile police units that could respond to flying pickets.
Flying pickets had been one of Scargill’s key strategies in the 1970s to ensure effective strike action. It saw thousands of workers travelling bussed to key strike sites to shut down pits that were still trying to operate.
In June 1984, one of the most infamous episodes occurred, when police clashed with picketing miners in Rotherham.
In what became known as the ‘Battle or Orgreave’ between 10,000 policemen and 5,000 miners engaged each other.
Police said they had acted in self-defence, but miners said the violence had been sparked by officers.
Ninety-five pitmen were arrested, but none successfully prosecuted. Some 39 cases of unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution were settled without an admission of liability by police.
From the start of 1985, the number of workers choosing to break strikes increased, as miners struggled to pay for food and union pay ran out.
It finally came to an end on March 3, 1985, with miners voting to end the strike.
After the miners’ strike, Scargill was controversially elected as lifetime president of the NUM, before being accused of financial impropriety in the 1990s.
In 1996, he founded the obscure Socialist Labour Party and remains its leader to this day. He finally stepped down from the NUM presidency in 2002.
In 2016, Scargill was accused of hypocrisy after it emerged he had bought his London council flat using Margaret Thatcher’s flagship Right to Buy scheme.
He had initially applied to buy his then £1million home at a knock-down price in 1993 under the scheme but was turned down.
He failed to mention in the paperwork that he did not pay rent.
Instead, the NUM £34,000 a year to the Corporation of London for it.
Scargill is seen on the picket line outside Wakefield railway station today. He was wearing the same hat he wore during the miners’ strike
Miners and their families from Westoe Colliery march to the Town Hall in South Shields during the miners’ strike in March 1984
Police officers surrounding the British Steel Coking Plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire during the UK miners strike
Scargill is seen in Westminster in the 1980s. The firebrand union leader attempted to cripple the government of Margaret Thatcher with the miners’ strike
Arthur Scargill talking through a loud hailer, upon arrival at Brighton Conference Centre for the opening of the annual TUC Congress
The picket line at Tilmanstone Colliery, near Dover, Kent, during the 1984 miners’ strike. There were similar scenes around the country
Scargill salutes at a march and rally by striking miners in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, during the miners’ strike in 1984-5
Scargill at the head of a march and rally by striking miners which left from Mansfield Leisure Centre in Nottinghamshire
Mrs Thatcher’s government had prepared for the strikes by building up at least six months’ worth of coal. She also set up mobile police units that could respond to flying pickets
The firebrand then successfully bought the home in January 2014.
Lynch told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast: ‘I’m nostalgic for the power that we had and more nostalgic for the control and values that we had. People talk about the Winter of Discontent and the excesses of the trade union movement as it was styled and characterised. They had good reason for that because they had very powerful unions. I’m nostalgic for the balance we were creating. I think society was becoming rebalanced in the 70s.’
He added: ‘I don’t seek it but everybody’s got an ego. If I wasn’t known to anyone, I wouldn’t be doing my job. If you are an anonymous trade union leader, I think there’s something wrong with the campaigning that your union is doing.
‘I know it sounds a bit over-humble but I know I’ve got an ego and I enjoy some of it . . . but ultimately it’s so the union movement gets a profile in society.’
Millions of people are suffering disruption from rail strikes with 80% of trains cancelled and a spike in road congestion.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on the public to ‘stay the course’ after around 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators walked out in a bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
Only a fifth of trains are running on Tuesday and half of all lines are closed. Services are generally restricted to main lines, but even those are only open between 7.30am and 6.30pm. Last trains will be much earlier than normal, such as London Euston to Glasgow at 1.30pm, London King’s Cross to Edinburgh at 2pm and London Paddington to Cardiff at 4.27pm.
Much of Britain will have no passenger trains for the entire day, including most of Scotland and Wales, the whole of Cornwall and Dorset, and places such as Chester, Hull, Lincoln and Worcester.
Usually busy stations such as London Euston and London Paddington are nearly deserted except for union picket lines.
Many people are believed to be working from home rather than travelling to offices. Those forced to travel are having to contend with skeleton train timetables and increased traffic on the roads.
Electrical engineer Harry Charles said his normal 10-minute journey to work by train to London Bridge took him 90 minutes. The 30-year-old, from Lewisham, south-east London, said: ‘Obviously I had to wake up early and left my house at 6am. I am with the employees who are striking because their money is not going up and the cost of everything is rising.
‘The strike has caused a lot of hassle for people but everyone wants be able to eat.’
At Liverpool Lime Street station, couple Sheila and Steve, who did not want to give their last name, were due to travel to London for a theatre trip costing £500.
Steve said: ‘The 8.47am train has been cancelled and we’re just keeping our fingers crossed for the next one at 9.47am. I think they have got the right to strike but this seems a bit unfair on other people.’
At Birmingham New Street station, a few would-be passengers and commuters were trying to work out their travel plans, gazing at timetables on their phones and the departures board on the main concourse.
Carol Hutchinson, who was on her way back to the Lake District after coming off a six-hour flight from Egypt, landed in the UK to find her direct train from Birmingham International station cancelled. Having made her way to New Street, she was waiting to board, with her luggage, what appeared to be one of the few trains still running.
‘I think it’s going to be standing room only… I’m not even sure I’ll get on with my suitcase,’ she said.
Mr Johnson told a meeting of the Cabinet that reforms are vital for the rail industry and those who work in it.
A general view of an empty platform at Paddington Station in London today, as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union begin their nationwide strike
A deserted Waterloo Station in London today as Mick Lynch unleashes a week of strike action over pay, jobs and conditions
Passengers wait inside Euston railway station today as a series of rail strikes paralyse Britain and leave millions stranded
A deserted King’s Cross in London as Mick Lynch’s mass strikes bring the UK to a standstill. Strikes are also planned for Thursday and Saturday
He said: ‘I say this to the country as a whole, we need to get ready to stay the course. To stay the course, because these reforms, these improvements in the way we run our railways are in the interests of the travelling public, they will help to cut costs for farepayers up and down the country.’
Journey planning website National Rail Enquiries stopped working for around half an hour, but the cause of the problem is believed to be unrelated to the strike.
London Underground services are also suspended on the vast majority of lines today due to a walkout by workers.
Figures published by location technology firm TomTom show the level of road congestion at 8am was higher than the same time last week in several cities.
In London, congestion levels increased from 77% on June 14 to 98% today. Other locations with worse traffic included Hull (from 55% to 59%), Liverpool (from 48% to 55%) and Newcastle (from 50% to 57%). The figures represent the proportion of additional time required for journeys compared with free-flow conditions.
There were also severe queues on outer London sections of the M1, M4, A4 and A40.
People trying to travel around the capital faced long queues for buses.
Uber hiked its prices amid a spike in demand, with a three-mile journey from Paddington to King’s Cross estimated to cost £27 at 8.45am.
Strikes are also planned for Thursday and Saturday.
A series of Daily Mail front pages from April 1984 to January 1985 shows the progression of the miners’ strike, which ended with Scargill giving in
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is considering possible disciplinary action after several of his party’s MPs joined picket lines outside stations.
He reportedly ordered frontbenchers not to do that as the Conservatives have sought to use the row to claim Labour is on the side of the striking workers who have caused chaos.
Pupils and parents are being urged to make an alternative plan for getting to school for A-level and GCSE exams.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch warned that the dispute could continue for months, adding: ‘It is clear that the Tory Government, after slashing £4billion of funding from National Rail and Transport for London, has now actively prevented a settlement to this dispute.’
The Department for Transport disputed Mr Lynch’s clams, adding that it has cost taxpayers about £600 per household to keep the railway running during the coronavirus pandemic.