Monday, 7 March 2011

The Blackleg Miner

Some of you will know I have something of a penchant for lefty folk music – well folk music really but quite a lot of it is pretty lefty! And, while driving back from Carlisle to sunny Cullingworth, I was listening to a little ditty entitled “The Blackleg Miner”. Let me share with you some of the lyrics:

Oh, Delaval is a terrible place,
They rub wet clay in the blackleg's face,
And around the heaps they run a footrace
to catch the blackleg miner.
And even down near the Seghill mine,
Across the way they stretch a line
To catch the throat, to break the spine
of the dirty blackleg miner.

Harkening to this, a thought struck me about strikes, unions and the problems of collective action. Essentially, what right do these men have to enforce what they desire through violence, bullying and intimidation? What right do they have to treat someone who just wishes to go to work, earn a wage and feed his family with such bullying intimidation?

By all means disagree with the strike-breaker, perhaps even have nothing to do with the blackleg. But violence and intimidation are wrong however much they are enforcing the desire of the majority. And the punishment meted out to those who break a strike – the intimidatory bullying – continues long beyond the end of the dispute. Here’s a report from 2009 in the Scottish Daily Record:

None of the strike-breakers approached by the Record would agree to be interviewed. Some have died, some moved away, a few defiant individuals stood their ground pleading their case but, to a man, they were reluctant to re-open old wounds.

This includes Jim Pearson, 76, of Dunfermline, who worked at the Longannet pit and was the first-miner in Fife to return to work. Pearson regularly appeared in the Record during 1984 after breaking the strike.

There were furious scenes on the day he returned. More than 150 police clashed with 200 pickets as he made his way to work. His van was ambushed by around 100 brick-throwing pickets and he ran the gauntlet for two terrifying miles with blood running down his face.

All because he chose to challenge the majority decision – to make a different and pretty tough choice about his life.

I guess we make our choices but no-one deserves this kind of treatment just for going to work.


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