50th Anniversary, Battle of Saltley Gate, 10th February 1972
Birmingham Trades Council are planning celebrations to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Saltley Gate in 1972. It is planned to kick off with the unveiling of a plaque on the Unite Trade Union office in Birmingham which is in the area of Saltley Gate on 10th February 2022. Arthur Scargill will be a key speaker and Banner Theatre will perform songs from current productions on major issues. You will be welcome to attend and bring Union banners and banners relating to key issues affecting us, including the NHS, education funding and inequality, homelessness etc. Further details will be announced shortly.
Banner Theatre are creating live and on-line programmes. This will be available for booking around the country. Details here:
We are asking the Labour and Trade Union movement and their supporters for donations towards making taking the 50th anniversary of Saltley Gate of Saltley Gate as a sign that great victories are possible through solidarity and determination. These can be sent to Birmingham Trade union Council.
A Message from Arthur Scargill
On 9 January 1972, Britain’s miners went on national strike for the first time since 1926. Miners had fallen dramatically down the wages “league table” whilst terms and conditions had reached a point at which they were no longer prepared to accept pennies instead of pounds.
The NUM’s Areas commenced picketing at power stations, docks, ports – wherever road transport could deliver or collect coal; the Tory Government, determined that our claims should not succeed, was importing coal together with what was termed “cheap” oil and using nuclear power to keep energy supplies going.
The trade union and Labour movement was by and large supportive - yet, despite messages of solidarity from individual unions and the TUC, national trade union leaders in the energy sector weren’t calling on their members to support us, while in road transport, scab drivers were transporting imported coal and oil to power stations.
Faced with this, miners deployed flying pickets to the power stations, ports, wharfs and non-union transport companies, confronting self-employed scab drivers. Whilst picketing was in many cases proving successful, miners were still having to battle in all parts of the country. Against this background, I certainly wasn’t expecting what happened in the early afternoon of Saturday, 5 February.
As a member of the Yorkshire NUM Executive Committee and picket organiser for the Barnsley Area, I received a phone call requesting help in closing down a coke depot in the centre of Birmingham, Britain’s largest city.
Within two hours, 400 Yorkshire miners were on their way by coach, with me and my fellow-Branch Official Alvin Philips following in my car. On reaching Birmingham and we realised that the term “coke depot” didn’t convey the reality of Saltley, with stocks that looked to me as high as Mt. Everest!
We were warmly welcomed by Birmingham’s working people; the Trades Council, local Labour Party, Communist Party and Co-operative Party; hundreds of families came forward with accommodation and meals, and looked after us over the coming days.
At 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, what had been a handful of local NUM pickets, reinforced by miners from Yorkshire closed down the Saltley depot for the rest of the day. We were able to do that because the pickets were in the majority – however, on the Monday morning we were met by over 1,000 police determined that Saltley would be kept open.
Yes, there was violence: it came from the police and resulted in substantial numbers of injured pickets. By Tuesday, 8 February, it was obvious we needed more assistance from the trade union movement.
With the help of Frank Watters of the Communist Party, Moira Symons of the Labour Party, Dick Knowles of the Co-op. Party and the Trades Council Secretary, arrangements were made for me to meet with local and regional leaders of key trade unions of the day, including the TGWU, AEU/AUEW, NATFHE, Vehicle Builders, the GMW, the EEPTU and the FBU.
All the union leaders and representatives I met listened to my heartfelt argument that what we needed wasn’t money or messages but strike action – and they agreed one by one to organise to ensure that we would get the support I was asking for on Thursday, 10 February.
The morning of 10 February1972 realised an event which I believe will symbolise forever what trade unionists united are capable of achieving.
On that day, 20,000 women and men marched to join the miners on the picket line at Saltley Gate, and in so doing they marched not only into the history of the British trade union and Labour movement but into the international pantheon of working class struggle.
That day is also seared into the collective memory of our class enemies. The Tories in particular remain terrified that the working class of Birmingham proved in 1972 that workers had the power to determine events.
I’ve always savoured the memory of then Home Secretary Reginald Maudling’s declaration – on 10 February – that the Saltley depot would remain open; two hours later, word reached Maudling and the Tory Government: Birmingham’s working class had closed Saltley Gate.
President, National Union of Mineworkers 1982-2002
(4 October 2021)
Posted by John Tyrrell, 29/11/2021