Arthur Scargill, former miners' union president, speaking in 2006

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On Saturday evening 6 May 2006, Arthur Scargill, the former President of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spoke at the Faircroft Hotel in Rookery Road, Handsworth, Birmingham in a meeting to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Socialist Labour Party.

A 1994 book describes in detail a deceitful campaign against Arthur Scargill. (The enemy within M15, Maxwell and the Scargill affair, Seumas Milne, Verso 1994). Taking a copy with me, I wanted to find out what Arthur Scargill thought of this book. As it turned out, there was no need to ask him (although I did) because while I was browsing the leaflets of the Socialist Labour Party, he appeared next to the table, and signed a copy of it. This was to be a prize in a raffle. He was happy to sign my copy too, but he recommended the later, paperback edition which I had seen him signing. This updated edition, he told me, has two extra chapters documenting the court cases which have been found in his favour since the first edition.

When I referred to an article in the Guardian in which former Mirror editor Greenslade wrote that he had apologised to Scargill for the allegations he had printed about him in the Mirror, Arthur Scargill confirmed that Greenslade had indeed apologised. (Roy Greenslade, Guardian, 8 May 2003)

In his speech later, Scargill said (amongst other things) that we have a thousand years of coal beneath our feet. He said that oil, gas and other products can be extracted from coal, and that in World War 2 aeroplanes flew on aviation spirit extracted from coal. Referring to the European Union, he said that it costs £12 billion to stay in it, that it is building a European army, and the sooner that we get out of the EU and back into the world, the better for all of us.

He also gave a vivid account of the famous picketing of the coke depot at Saltley. At a meeting somewhere near the Bullring he had given a speech requesting solidarity from other workers. Workers came marching to the Saltley depot along all five of the roads that lead to it. The police wanted to keep them moving, but over 12,000 men and women stopped outside the coke depot and the gates were closed, and they had to sign an agreement with the workers.

Given that a few years after the destruction of Britain's historic coal industry, the price of oil was the highest that it had ever been, I wondered whether the economic arguments for using coal, rather than oil or natural gas, were not now stronger than ever. After the statements about coal in Scargill's speech, I asked him a question along these lines. He referred me to the work of Andrew Glynn of Oxford University and a paper ‘The case for coal’.

I learned of this meeting only from the local newspaper (Scargill to rally in Brum, Birmingham Mail, 5 May 2006, ‘central city final’ edition, page 8), despite having attended a public meeting held by Birmingham Trades Union Council only a week before, where I did not see or hear any mention of it. (“International workers day” , Saturday 29 April 1-5pm, Carrs Lane Church Centre, Birmingham).

A previous version of this article was first published on Indymedia in May 2006.

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