Lost mural is found

Detail of Saltley Gate mural showing Arthur Scargill, at that time a rank and file member of the NUM, addressing the strikers and supporters in including 30,000 Birmingham workers who stopped work on 10th February 1972.

It’s just two years before the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Saltley Gate in 2022. South and City College, Birmingham in Digbeth, long a centre for trades union studies, are hosting us for the 48th anniversary on 11th February. Banner Theatre will be leading the celebrations with excerpts from their acclaimed repertoire around working peoples’ achievements, including the Battle of Saltley Gate. An unknown rank and file NUM member in ’72, Arthur Scargill, will be back in Birmingham to speak at this event. He will be joined by Paul Mackney, a former General Secretary of NATFHE, closely involved in the commissioning of a mural on Saltley Gate at this college when President of Birmingham Trades Union Council and Doug Nicholls, President of the Federation of Trades Unions from 2007-9 and elected its General Secretary in 2012.

A group of us visited the College in advance to make arrangements for the meeting: Ian Scott, President of Birmingham Trades Council, Graham Stevenson, a former national organiser for the TGWU and son-in-law of the late Frank Watters, a key player at Saltley Gate, Bhagwant Singh and myself from the Socialist Labour Party. We were met by a member of staff, new to the College. We met in the place where the event would take place. Our first question was “where is the mural?” “What mural?” came the response.

At that moment a college lecturer arrived. “Yes I can show you the mural. It’s in the classroom I use for teaching about trades union history” he told us. 

The College has undergone modernisation and is a thriving organisation. However the mural had been moved from the original site. We joined our hosts on a trip up two floors, and yes there it was, or at least most of it. Our hope is to get the mural on display in its entirety, preferably in Birmingham which in 2022 will be hosting the Commonwealth Games. 

There never was a better time to revisit Saltley in 1972 when failure to achieve solidarity for working people in struggle has allowed political opportunists to masquerade as their champions at the 2019 General Election. The very authors of austerity and opponents of trades union power were allowed to take over by a disunited leadership in the labour movement, a significant number of whom were distracted by the privileges and opportunities for personal advancement offered to them by powerful interests particularly in Brussels and Westminster.

The 48th Anniversary of Saltley Gate meeting takes place at South and City College Birmingham Annexe, High Street, Deritend, Digbeth, B5 5SU on Tuesday, 11th February from 6.00pm to 9.00pm

There will be exhibition stalls at the meeting at Digbeth representing unions and other organisations fighting for equality and justice, including the IWA in Birmingham who have led on demonstrations in Birmingham and London in support of rights of Moslems in India, and the West Midlands Palestine Solidarity Campaign. 

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