1 SEPTEMBER 1984, Page 12

Close-knit parasites

Richard West

Durham Before the start of the football season 1-1 on Saturday, it was predicted that trouble would break out between the fans from counties like Yorkshire, where min- ers are striking, and those from counties like Nottinghamshire, where the miners are still at work. Sure enough, I read in the Newcastle Sunday Sun: 'More than 20 fans, mostly from Newcastle, were arrested after violent scenes at Leicester. One policeman was kicked unconscious and detained in hospital.' Young miners and football hooligans in north-east England now have a further opportunity for a scrap since the ports as well as the mines have been called out on strike, and pickets will get a chance to attack the 'scabs' and police at towns like West Hartlepool, home of the oafish strip cartoon character, Andy Capp. Just up the coast at the twin mining villages of Easington and Easington Colliery, there have been cars destroyed by rioting over a miner called Wilkinson, who wanted to work. `Scargill Rules, OK', 'Wilkinson Scab' and 'Scabs Beware' are some of the local graffiti. I also noticed the furniture van of a pigeon fanciers' company, whip- pets and gardens gay with flowers — three signs of a pit community. Also, since this was a hot August bank holiday, and most of the men had bare arms or backs, one got the impression from all the tattoos of Polynesia or ancient Britain.

Tht Vicar of Easington Colliery Church of England, the Rev A. W. 'Tony' Hodg- son, told the Northern Echo (27 August) that 'some parishioners wept during his sermon when he appealed for prayer to end the strikes, instead of prayers for victory'. A member of the other church at Easington Village told me: 'Do be careful what you say about this. We do have miners here but we're not so involved with Arthur Seargill as he [Mr Hodgson] is down the road. He's been putting some sob stories in the press. Do be careful what you say.' This disagreement over the coal strike may reflect the theological argument that began last month, after the consecration as Bishop of Durham of Dr David Jenkins, who does not believe in the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection. I was interested to find out if they still say the Apostles' Creed at Dr Jenkins's Cathedral, the burial place of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede; but on Sunday evening, the Creed was sung by the choir alone, as were the Lord's Prayer and most of the responses. Perhaps Dr Jenkins plans a further breakthrough by having the choir sing the General Confes- sion, thus taking upon themselves our sins of commission and omission. The appoint- ment of Dr Jenkins may explain why the

Gideon Bible in my hotel had been in- scribed by previous guests with prayers of their own, including one ecumenical enough to please the trendiest bishop:

Take the theories of Reich, relate them to the philosophy of Krishnamurti, dare to be a bit more genuine in response to others day by day, and live more beautifully.

County Durham claims to be the birth- place of three of our proud institutions: the Church of England, British Rail and the National Union of Mineworkers. At the Market Tavern in this city, on 30 Novem- ber 1869, a meeting was held to found an association of Durham miners, to fight the poverty and the danger of their existence. By the first 'big meeting' or 'gala' in 1871, there were 35,000 members. Miners and well-wishers from all over Britain started to come to the annual gala, which grew to hundreds of thousands of people with 140 banners, marching in a procession i to the race-course. Durham miners were the most stubborn during the General Strike; two men who derailed a train were sent to prison. In his English Journey, published in 1934, the late J. B. Priestley wrote a savage account of the degradation and misery of the miners in south-east County Durham. The great march of the unemployed started from Jarrow, also the home of the Vener- able Bede. This county was notorious for pit disasters, including one, at Easington, as recently as 1951, when 81 miners were killed. The Durham miners, under such leaders as Sam Watson, were diehard Labour, but what we would now call 'moderate': they fought the Communists in the party. In return such middle-class Labour leaders as Clement Attlee and Hugh Gaitskell loved to come up to Co Durham and relish the working-class warmth of the gala. The Durham mining MPs were solid at heart and sometimes at head. One famous MP with a seat near here was described to me once by a colleague as 'the sort of man who's hap- piest when he's sat in front of the telly with a dirty book and a crate of brown ale'.

Then, for a decade from 1962, Alf Robens, as head of the National Coal Board, closed down dozens of pits, espe- cially in the Co Durham and Northumber- land coalfields. As miners left for other trades or went off to work in the rich pits of Nottinghamshire, the membership and the power of the NUM dwindled. The old pit villages changed both physically and in spirit. In the late 1950s, after writing an article for the Manchester Guardian on the last pit ponies in Yorkshire, I went up to write on the last 'knockers-up' in Co Durham, the men who went round waking

the miners before the days of alarm clocks and alarm calls.

The Durham Light Infantry were `laid up' in 1968. The county suffered a worse blow at the hands of Heath and Walker in 1974, when parts of it were taken away te form the mongrel entities of 'Cleveland and 'Tyne and Wear'. The creation of these 'metropolitan counties' accelerated the in any case rapid growth of state and local bureaucracies, with their parasite unions, who quickly supplanted the miners in the Labour Party. The most powerful man in the county, before he went to prison, was Alderman 'Andy' Cunning. ham, a boss of the General and Municipal Workers, the friend of T. Dan Smith ( A' Newscastle'),.who also went to prison, the chairman of Co Durham Police Committee and many other bodies. When the Pat* hamentary seat of Chester-le-Street be came vacant in 1972, Alderman Cunning- ham managed to wrest the candidacy from the NUM to give to a protege in his own union, Giles Radice. The miners were furious. At one of their clubs they plied ar with beer and made me note down all then ripe, unprintable views about Radice, Cuir ningham and the Labour Party — because it had closed down so many pits. These miners voted for a Liberal at the or election.

Until the row at Chester-le-Street was exposed by a journalist' (whomninci: esty forbids me to name), nothing ba!" appeared about Cunningham and Ins goings-on in the local press. The reporte.t, who told me some of the dirt added tbat21 he had exposed Alderman Cunningham ne would have been 'put out of work'. .14.e; membering how the local journalists faileu to give the miners' point of view, Wc,„as rather surprised to read that the Durham branch of the National Union. o' Journalists was providing a paid; full-tiMe press officer for the present stoke,: as well as contributing to the fund throug'; their national executive. Since members tH' the NUJ, who because of the closed all form more than 90 per cent of the journtue ists in this country, hold much the WI,. political views as the rest of us, probability is that they oppose Arthue' Scargill's strike. Newspapers attacking til:0 strike have not noticed a falling awaY.L. readers. The only mass circulation liew.;‘, paper favourable to the strikers, the Da, Mirror, probably owes its continued sale; more to its million-pound bingo than to. till heartrending stories of starving written by John Pilger, who no doubt "id soon be able to 'buy' a nine-Year:.°, miner's daughter. Of the quality dailie..1, only the Guardian has tended to side W. !1_11, the strikers, printing sentimental arti.clo: about 'close-knit' communities, workionge class values, and the necessity to Prese e. mining villages. This last argument isOP_ cially odd since journalists themselves we's notoriously eager to get away from Vi or provincial towns to enjoy the allowan' and expense accounts of Fleet Street. The sympathy of the Guardian for the strike is all the more odd since according to Terry Coleman, in an excellent article, Arthur Scargill and his lieutenants are just as rude to the representatives of his paper as to the 'capitalist press'. This spirit of antagonism, amounting to hatred, is worth comparing with that of Aneurin Bevan, the South Wales member for Ebbw Vale. A journalist in Barnsley, Mr Bill Blow, told Me how he reported Bevan back in the Fifties: The day before, he'd called the British press the most prostituted in the world' and we were rather apprehensive at the press table. Towards the end of the first speech Bevan burst into the hall to tremendous applause. The audience were going wild. And he began, 'Yesterday I called the British press the most prostituted in the world . . .'. He Paused, then pointed to us and went on, And there they are!' We thought we were going to be lynched, but Bevan put up his hands and said, 'No! It's not their fault. You all of you know how the River Taff rises in the hills all fresh and pure, then it passes through the coalfields getting increasingly filthy 'until it comes to the Severn as black Sludge. Well, so it is with the press. These men here write down the words we say and send them back to their offices but by the time they have been through the hands of the editors and sub-editors and night editors, they come out as black sludge.' Then he asked them all to give us a cheer.

The story was much better told by Bill 'low but it serves to illustrate the differ-

10 style between Scargill and Bevan. the latter was not really hostile to the Pr but he did not expect to win it over. e wanted most of all to be loved and itl,rlised by the Manchester Guardian, but newspaper at the time was caustic gr.,°out the Left. Its labour correspondent, _NJeorge Gale, was tough on the unions and uollo Bevan. In fact Bevan would point him th t at meetings when complaining about ie,Press. And George Gale was not even tithe Nut. 1, Nowadays most journalists are obliged Chi he closed shop law to join this mis- rtl,I.evous and unnecessary organisation. A burharn newspaper, the Northern th "(1, went on strike for six months over beei\ouiring of a woman who would not bro.. to the NUJ. The newspaper was staffught out perfectly well by a third of its , . hak. title strikers indulged in the now is u;.sittial bullying by pickets. Significantly it Wo;ic Nottinghamshire, where the miners have flat several newspapers and printers rolen the power of unions. David Again y s newspaper is printed in Notts. home the the Barnsley Chronicle, in Scargill's


-unle t°vvn was one of the first to 'black' Larbs'"' rs who left the NUJ. The local the '14 Party, the NUM and NCB all said

ists. would not talk to non-union journal- Use of their own unionisation, the pri;sti. pers will not do their public duty in ant ng the truth about abuses in other thot:ns. The most secretive professions are

with the most to hide, where there is crime, corruption, over-manning, jobbery and political manipulation; for instance the dockers, airport workers like baggage handlers, print workers, TV companies and the civil service and local government. Paradoxically, the NCB is much more secretive than the miners, provided one can avoid the NUM officials. The miners have nothing they want to hide except where there is chronic absenteeism.

There is a further reason why the Guar- dian, of all newspapers, backs the striking miners, though it has few mining or working-class readers. The newspaper re- lies for much of its readership and still more of its advertising on what has been called the polyocracy,. the new establish- ment of teachers, social workers, race relations and equal opportunity officials, and almost everyone in the bureaucracies of local government. Just look at its pages of advertising for jobs as 'generic social workers', 'chief community officers' and the rest. The metropolitan counties quite deliberately use their power of advertise- ment to kill off local newspapers that oppose them, and favour or subsidise newspapers that give them support. As I have tried to illustrate from Chester-le- Street, the miners are really at odds with the rival parasite unions, but just at the moment they make common cause against a Conservative government. That is partly why the Guardian, the voice of the parasite class, is now writing so touchingly about 'close-knit.', mining communities.