The Battle of Saltley Gate 40th Anniversary

On 10th February we’ll be gathering at Saltley Gate because this was the place and time that workers stood together supporting miners who had been on strike over pay and conditions. This is a message for 2012 when once again the working class are under attack from a bloated and uncaring elite. Those who created the economic crisis remain untouched and free to repeat their actions. Financial institutions are free to ignore rules and use other peoples money to speculate and gamble – and to buy off any opposition from those we elect to serve us.
Arthur Scargill who led the action on that day will return to speak along with another veteran of the miners’ strike, Ken Capstick, former Vice-President of the Yorkshire mIners, and Ricky Tomlinson, once imprisoned when building workers took strike action in Shrewsbury, but now better known for his role in the Royal Family. Banners will be in evidence again, including some from Socialist Labour Party regions, the party Arthur Scargill currently leads.
The extent of cutbacks seems to have no end scything through services and initiatives affecting the most vulnerable. In 2009 the City Council crowed about its core values with businesses set up to employ the “disabled” like Shelforce “Disabled” is not a term that the organisation uses believing that focus should be on peoples’ abilities rather than any attribute that might disadvantage anyone. Now the rug is being pulled away from a group who find employment problematic. Since this is a business then the City Council needs to put a bit of effort into making sure it works. It hasn’t found difficulty supporting Capita, which practically runs the Council, through thick and thin success and failure. What Capita is successful in is avoiding paying taxes and its able bodies (maybe it does employ some who might otherwise go to Shelforce, I don’t know but would take a guess). The demise of the Connexions service is another wonderful achievement of the Birmingham version of the ConDems who, as we in Birmingham knew, foreshadowed the bunch now ruling the country. The ability of a united workforce to topple them would be a just response to their action against the people. The reactions of Thatcher followed by Blair took away jobs and rights in an attack on what Maggie called “the enemy within”. Just who is the enemy within to most of us has become abundantly clear as our productive industry was cut back from 80% to 20% allowing the unproductive financial services (of which Capita is a supreme example) to take us over. The events at Saltley Gate elicited a profound response.


Arthur Scargill described his experience of the event at the time:
“The time was about ten o’clock and there was a hush over the Saltley area. 3000 miners altogether, Welsh miners singing, Yorkshire miners, Nottinghamshire miners, Midlands miners. And yet nothing happened. You could see apprehension on the faces of the police. Here we had a situation where miners were tired, physically and mentally, desperately weary. They had gone through nearly six weeks strike action, they had gone through a three months’ overtime ban. they had gone through the worst battling encountered in strike action in any time in recent years. Their comrades had been arrested, one of them had been kicked to bits and yet they were still battling on. I readily concede that some of the lads were a bit dispirited that no reinforcements were coming. And then over the hill came a banner and I’ve never seen in my life as many people following a banner.
As far as the eye could see it was just a mass of people marching towards Saltley. There was a huge roar and from the other side they were coming the other way. They were coming from five directions, there were five approaches to Saltley; it was in a hollow they were arriving from every direction. And our lads were just jumping in the air with emotion – a fantastic situation.
I heard the police talking – Sir Derek Capper was one, Donaldson his deputy – the tactic was simple: get the pickets coming from the east to go through to the west and get the pickets from the west – the striking engineers – to go through to the east. East to west, west to east. past each other. I got this megaphone and I’m yelling like hell: ‘When you get to the picket line, Stop! Stop!’ !. They were trying to tell me to shut up and I said “You try today, no bloody shutting up today. These boys are coming to our picket line.’ And they were piling up like sandwich cake. as far as the eye could see they were just pouring in. Saltley, the area of Saltley was now just a mass of human beings, arriving from all over, with banners.
The only time this crowd opened up was when a delegation of girls from a women’s factory came along all dressed in bright white dresses. They plunged through and one of the lads shouts: ‘Go on officer, tell them they can’t come. Try and hold them.’ And no police officer moved, you know. Who’d have dared trying to stop those girls coming into that square? Nobody. The crowd was absolutely dense by this time. We were in the centre of it and everybody was chanting something different; some were chanting ‘Heath Out’. ‘Tories Out’. ‘Support the Miners”, ‘General Strike’, a hundred slogans were being chanted. I got hold of the megaphone and I started to chant through it: ‘Close the gates! Close the gates!’ and it was taken up, just like a football crowd. It was booming through Saltley: ‘Close the gates’. It reverberated right across this hollow and each time they shouted this slogan they moved and the police. who were four deep, couldn’t help it. they were getting moved in. And Capper, the Chief Constable of Birmingham, tool a swift decision. He said ‘Close the Gates” and they swung them to. Hats were in the air, you’ve never seen anything like it in your life. Absolute delirium on the part of the people who were there. Because the Birmingham working class had become involved – not as observers but as participants.”
BBC News report

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