Friday, 17 July 2009

Interview with Dave Douglass

Back when I started this blog in January, it was the intention to write about music and politics. But the music sort of took over.

In order to remedy this, I recently interviewed Dave Douglass, a prominent NUM member in the Great Miners' Strike of 1984-85, and who is what you can only describe as a Marxist anarchist.

Dave first came to my attention in the late 1990s when he appeared on a telly programme called Living With the Enemy, during which he went to stay with a Tory landowner in his stately home. The first thing Dave did was go upstairs and hang a massive Soviet flag out of one of the upstairs windows, which ingratiated him to me.

Here's what he had to say...

What made you first become aware of working class politics?

I became part of the anti-bomb movement around 13, joined YCND, (Youth Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament, the junior wing of CND) mainly because I discovered that leukaemia which my sister died of, was probably caused by the atom bomb, and its use from Japan through the host of tests around the world. A certain professor in the US had found the cluster of leukaemia around the fall out range of the bomb tests and Japan bombs. It made me conclude that this was what had killed my sister when she was 18 and I was eight.
I also had been developing a love of the Soviet military hardware since the age of 11, (this is a contradiction I know, I didn’t think of the Soviet tanks and missiles as being nuclear- a number of grown up lefties thought the same way. ) particularly via the May Day Red Square parade, which I crawled out of bed to watch at 6 am on our little black and white rented TV. It drew me to the idea of communism, through the influence of both I joined the Young communist League at 14. Then this led me on to The Direct Action Movement, then Committee of 100, which I became secretary of at 16 on Tyneside, and through these to the magic and colour and excitement of anarchism. So I was kicked out of the YCL, and flew at once to anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism.

How did you get thrown into the Great Miners' Strike struggle of 1984-85?

I was elected NUM Branch Delegate, one of four branch officials in a miner’s branch, in June of 1980 at Hatfield Colliery. Doncaster. One year later the Doncaster miners as a whole elected me to be one of their four reps on the Yorkshire Area Executive Committee. Quite an honour. My reputation as somewhat of a firebrand ensured that when the strike broke the Doncaster NUM Panel (the unofficial alliance of all the 12 Doncaster miners’ branches) they elected me the Doncaster Picket Director/co-coordinator. So here, I was at the heart of the most militant, most numerous of the miner’s pickets during the strike. Something approaching half of all the Yorkshire pickets came from Doncaster, Doncaster miners represented about quarter of the total number of miners in the Yorkshire coalfield.

What did the NUM do wrong during the Strike, if anything?

We did many things wrong, but mainly we discovered this in retrospect. It’s always easier to be wise after the fact of course. Firstly, we should have pulled out all the stops to win the support of the power workers to black coal and fuel during the strike. We should have met with their stewards and regional officials. We underestimated the number of power workers at coalfield power stations who were in fact blacking scab fuel. The whole power station situation swung In the balance, but we concluded I think they were a lost cause. We ought to have given the power stations equal importance with getting the scab miners out. Orgreave was a chronic diversion; we ought not to have fallen for it. It should have remained a target but never become the sole target. The port of Immingham became a flashpoint of the entire strike and could have handed us victory. We ought to have realised what an arterial point this was, and should have met en mass and individually at home and socially the men on the port. We lost them and they broke the dockers blacking action, which was a crucial blow to us. NACODS came in for tremendous stick from the NUM lads on the gate and they were always crucial to our success. We ought to have gone direct to the NACODS members and gained their support for our bottom line settlement terms, and gained a cast iron commitment from their leaders to stick to it. Finally, in retrospect we might have held a national ballot in April, as all the signs are we would have won it, hands down and taken a major piece of anti-strike propaganda away. The regular members wouldn’t hear of that though and thought we were trying to sell the strike out with a ballot. We ought to too have had a press office, with a media team working night and day to get across our message in the way the government was pumping the propaganda against us unchallenged.

When did you realise that you were going to be defeated?

It crossed my mind in October that it was possible, and I mentioned this to my wife Maureen who was a heart and soul leader of the Women Against Pit Closures; she nearly threw me oot the hoose! She couldn’t see how I dared even consider such a prospect, it was clearly impossible and high treason. Mind I didn’t think we were going to be defeated, I thought to the end we could still win, but began to realise that involved factors beyond our control, like SOLIDARITY from our so called fellow trade unionists and fellow workers.

What was the mood like leading up the '92 dispute?

We had an uphill fight to convince the lads to have another go, that there was someone else out there on our side. As the movement in support of the miners spread to 1 million people on each of two national demonstrations, they were convinced this time we could win. The morale rose like a storm, and the women took the lead in that whole campaign. Trade Unionists beat their chests again and promised ‘this time…’ but the bloody Lib-Dems crossed the floor and voted with the Tories in favour of the closure programme. In the final analysis, it was Paddy Backdown, as Skinner calls him, and his so-called liberals and democrats who gave the pit communities the final coup de grass. But again, a generalised strike of all the major unions would have nailed the whole closure programme to the floor along with Major’s government.

Which left group came out of the 84-85 strike with the most respect amongst miners?

Without the slightest doubt Class War. They caught the imagination and power of the whole movement and their papers reflected the temper of the pickets and increasingly their political mood.

And which left group do feel most affinity with?

What now? Then, then Class War. Now, I don’t agree with anyone, I am in the camp of Anarchism on its Marxist fringe which is a lonely place in that field. A member of the IWW.
I write for the Weekly Worker the CPGB anti Stalinist reformation of the old CP, but I have huge disagreements with their political line. However, the Weekly Worker is the most serious paper on the left, and the members of the CPGB are among the most personable. I also write for Freedom which is getting better although I hate that little format it’s in, but costs are costs I suppose. The Anarchist Movement is a ragbag of all sorts of political tendencies and aspirations, highly middle class, sometimes deeply reactionary and at times anti-working class. But the majority these days are class struggle anarchists of one sort or another which is a refreshing change.

How did the Living with the Enemy appearance come about?

Well I was in the second series. I was known to the media as a spokesperson for the miners union and they assumed I would be ‘old Labour’. They first lined me up for the first series to go on with a ‘New Labour’ yuppie farmer and see how the conflicts would transpire but I set them right on my politics and they filed me in draw somewhere. They in the second series some wag came up with the idea of The Anarchist and The Aristocrat. They put me living with a Scottish Tory Lord in his mansion. It was quite some experience. We did 280 hours of filming for 40 minutes of programme. There were some classic bits went on the cutting room floor, but I think the overall balance was good.

I totally supported your stance against the Climate Camp recently, but it seems to have split those in and around the anarcho-left. Are there those that support you amongst those groupings?

My problem is their arrogance. They have decided like the government what is good for us, ‘just transition’ isnt just at all, its us doing what they tell us we have to do because they think its right. We have to do as were told, stopped from doing whatever it is that they believe is bad for us, having sex too young, smoking, taking drugs, drinking, assembling in large numbers, burning coal, driving cars, using supermarkets, flying on holidays…etc Both the government and this wing of the anarchist ‘movement’ believe in enforced social engineering. The Agenda of ‘appropriateness’ the enforced ‘politically correct language and expression’

The anarcho-feminist agenda has a strong Taliban wing and sometimes appearance; I don’t think I should be stoned to death for saying ‘you’ve got a lovely face’. and what is ‘hetrosexism’? Heterosexuality is taking on the persona of homosexuality in the 50s, totally unacceptable in polite company. The traditional white working class, its behaviour, organisations, language, and life style are everything, which is anathema to the middle class liberal anti working class anarchist factions. They dress it up as radical and revolutionary but I find it deeply offensive. It’s a class thing I’m afraid. I have been governed and told what is best for me by this class all my life, now they think they can do the same in the movement, which developed to overthrow the bastards in the first place.

What's your relationship like with Arthur Scargill these days?

We have a love hate relationship over the years, well never love really, armed co-existance would be a better phrase. During the strike, we fought on the same side and he was largely right. In the period just after the strike, I thought he had flashes of visionary insights into regroupment. But then a bit further down the line his bureaucratic grip got tighter and tighter and what slight concept he had of rank and file control and workers democracy went right out of the window. He seen me as the core of a far left tendency within the union organising opposition to him and his minions, and I sailed close to expulsion or at least that’s where he would have taken it left to him (he says he wouldn’t but I don’t believe him). Then at the Climate Camp he came through and quite off his own bat agreed to come down with me and sell the message of clean coal and the importance of the NUM to the anti coal environmentalists. A bit like hells angels speaking at a Salvation Army rally really. I thought we were on the same side again. Then last month he takes a legal case against the NUM (for breach of the rules he invented and we opposed) I am one the major witnesses in defence of the NUM against comrade Scargill, so I guess were at war again.

The NUM has about 2,000 members but the political struggle within the union is as bitter as its ever been, I support the current leadership which is more rank and file orientated than the old pretenders still grouped around Arthur ‘the great leader’.

Dave has written two books, 'Geordies – Wa Mental', was released last year to acclaim and his latest, 'The Wheels Still in Spin' is out now. You can get them from Waterstones or via Amazon.

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