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Shafted

The 1984-1985 miners' strike was a defining moment in British industrial relations. Shafted, edited by Yorkshire freelance Granville Williams and published by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF), to which the NUJ is affiliated, has been published to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the start of the strike. It bravely explores the ways in which the media covered the strike and looks into the devastating impact of the pit closure programme on mining communities.

It analyses the pressures on journalists who reported the strike, with accounts from prominent reporters, among them Pete Lazenby of the Yorkshire Evening Post, Nick Jones of the BBC, and Paul Routledge of The Times. But the book also looks at the important contribution from the alternative media and the coverage of the long conflict by freelance photographers and filmmakers.

It was the official line at the time that, by defeating the NUM, Thatcher crushed the trade union movement. Fortunately, this incisive title reminds us of many instances of strong solidarity and cohesion in our organizations, a prime example being the refusal by all The Sun's, chapels to run a front cover showing a cropped picture of Arthur Scargill to appear as though he was giving a Hitler salute to illustrate the editor's headline: "Mine Fuhrer". The historic 15 May 1984 edition instead ran a blank front page stating that the tabloid "decided reluctantly, to print the paper without it". An early victory against the future Murdoch empire!

However, according to Williams: "the cumulative impact of the propaganda assault on the miners by the overwhelming majority of the national newspapers was to present to their readers, over several months, a distorted view of the strike."

Even the Mirror, originally sympathetic to the miners, changed its editorial tone, after Robert Maxwell acquired the paper in July 1984. The broadcast media was equally biased against the struggle, and coverage of the central issues of the dispute, (the ballot, violence, the return to work movement, the personality of Arthur Scargill) was framed in terms that favoured the National Coal Board and the government.

But an ethos of self-organization developed to counteract the increasingly vicious posture of the mainstream media. A collective effort by a group of alternative newspapers and publishers from up and down the country tried to tell the story from the miners' point of view. They included the Other Voice, the Brighton Voice, Durham Street Press and the Islington Gutter Press among many others. Publishers Leeds Postcards and Pluto Press launched special edition cartoons and cards that raised more than £50,000 for the strike fund.

It was the Other Voice that set the record straight on many issues, showing John Harris's picture of a mounted policeman clubbing photographer Lesley Boulton at Orgreave and bringing attention to the BBC reversal of videotape to show police cavalry charging in response to miners throwing stones rather than what really happened - the direct opposite.

Shafted reminds us that, in this post-G20 world we live in, with the ghost of mass unemployment taking its daily toll, we can draw inspiration from the resilience and strong solidarity ethic of the trade union movement of a generation ago, so that we can all face together this uncertain times in hope and with dignity.

  • Shafted -The media, the Miners' strike and the Aftermath, edited by Granville Williams, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, paperback £9.99. You can order a copy from CPBF
Last modified: 14 Apr 2009 - © 2009 contributors
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