It’s a few days late, but not too late to remember the remarkable expression of solidarity displayed on the streets of Birmingham fifty years ago. It was a significant moment for me. In many ways, I was up my own arse in my obsessive focus on my athletic goals but the strain of self-centredness was beginning to tell. I was increasingly perturbed by the day-to-day inequalities haunting the lives of many of the children in the primary school, within which I taught. However, I didn’t really have a grip on any social or political analysis of the reasons for this social injustice. Being a miner’s son, though, meant that I was following the escalating dispute between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Tory government. I was confused but the gut feeling of respect and admiration prompted by the events of February 10th, 1972 marked a first stumbling step on my still unfinished political journey. There are more than a few, who think that my support for the growing collective resistance to the authoritarianism of the State today, however imperfect and contrary, is a sign that I’ve gone off the rails. I don’t think so and it’s interesting to quote Arthur Scargill, who I respected but never hero-worshipped, on his reading of the Battle of Saltley Gate.
To the eternal credit of the workers in Birmingham, they joined the miners on 10 February 1972.
These workers were not merely supporting a struggle on their own behalf: they were supporting their brothers and sisters in a struggle, not against an employer, but against the state.
On that day, everything I believed in, as a trade unionist and as a socialist, crystallised.
I would recommend this article by Emily Ingram in the Tribune for a revealing insight into memories of that momentous week – Fifty Years since the Battle of Saltley Gate
And to get a feeling of the atmosphere see this video from the outstanding Banner Theatre.