FORMER Yorkshire miners’ leader Arthur Scargill joined fellow trade unionists today to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a key victory during the 1972 miners’ strike.
Now aged 74, the ex-National Union of Mineworkers president said he had vivid memories of his role in the Battle of Saltley Gate, which saw at least 15,000 Birmingham engineers walk out to support a picket by striking miners.
Around 100 trade unionists, many carrying banners, gathered near the site of the long-defunct Saltley Coke Works to commemorate the events of February 10 1972.
Addressing the rally, Mr Scargill recalled how he had secured the support of local engineering union members in the days before February 10 - when the police were finally forced to close the gates of the coke works.
Mr Scargill, who was then a member of the union’s Yorkshire area executive, told the crowd: “I said ‘You have got a choice - you can either stand on the sidewalk and watch what’s happening or you can join us and march into history’.
“To the eternal credit of the workers in Birmingham, they joined the miners on the 10th of February.”
Mr Scargill added that the events being commemorated had crystallised everything he believed in as a trade unionist, showing what working people could achieve if they were prepared to come to the assistance of workers in different industries struggling in a just cause.
“We lit a flame and we showed the way forward,” he said, adding a call for the lessons learned in 1972 to be “translated” into the modern era.
The ex-union leader, a coalface worker at Woolley Colliery near Barnsley at the time of the 1972 strike, also recalled how the local chief constable had agreed to four demands, including a request to borrow a loudhailer because his own megaphone was broken.
Calling on trade unionists to oppose the coalition’s “attacks” on the NHS and the education system, Mr Scargill said: “The lesson of Saltley in 1972 was that you will not win by compromise - you will win by fighting back.
“The workers who turned out on that day lit a beacon - they showed the way that working people can bring about change.”
Also present at the commemoration was former Yorkshire NUM vice-president Ken Capstick, and Unite’s assistant general secretary, Tony Burke.
Mr Capstick told the rally he felt privileged to be invited to speak near the site of the historic protest.
The 70-year-old, who was a branch delegate at Wakefield’s Parkhill pit in 1972, said: “We are here to thank the working people of Birmingham who turned out and marched on those infamous gates.”
Although it was right and proper to celebrate the anniversary, Mr Capstick told the crowd it was also necessary to remember that “the enemy never sleeps”.
Britain was currently facing the greatest class robbery it had seen over the past 200 years, claimed Mr Capstick, who singled out the global banking industry for particular criticism.
He told the event: “They (bankers) have wrecked the world’s economy and they made Las Vegas look like a haven of moderation.
“Working people are not the perpetrators of the economic crisis, they are the victims of it.”
The rally, organised by Birmingham Trades Council, was also addressed by factory worker Norman Goodwin, who took part in the mass picket.
Mr Goodwin, then a shop steward with the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, said: “It was a massive class action which we are always going to recall.
“No machinery started and at 7.30 the bell rang and we walked out - everyone walked out. We won through class solidarity.”
At the time of the protest, the NUM was striking against the then Conservative government’s pay restraint policies.
Mr Burke told the rally: “This was a tremendous victory, not just for the NUM, but also for the whole trade union movement.
“This showed that when workers stand together, as the brave workers did 40 years ago, industrial disputes can be won.”
Drawing a parallel with the current situation, Mr Burke added: “Forty years on, hundreds of thousands of workers in the public services are faced with pay restraint, cuts to their pensions and job losses.
“Construction workers are also under attack by employers who are seeking to scrap their national agreements and impose new contracts.
“That is why it is vital that workers get the full support of the trade union movement to defend their hard won pay and conditions and fight back against these austerity measures.”