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New Left Review I/148, November-December 1984

Huw Beynon

The Miners’ Strike in Easington

In the summer of 1983 the newspapers were filled with the rumour that the new Chairman of the National Coal Board would be Mr Ian MacGregor. MacGregor had been head of the US mining company Amax which, after its strike-breaking activities at the Belle Ayr open cast mine in Wyoming, was described by the United Mineworkers as the ‘leader of anti-union activity throughout the nation’. McGregor was subsequently invited by Eric Varley to join the Board of British Leyland where he built on his reputation for toughness. Then as Chairman of the British Steel Corporation, he extended this image and became identified as the man who most clearly represented the economic arm of Thatcher’s political philosophy. Both companies, under his guidance, were cut back, and over half their labour force paid off. On the Durham coalfield the idea of MacGregor moving across to the National Coal Board dominated conversation in the Clubs, in the Union Offices and on street corners. Most people thought the appointment unlikely: ‘I don’t think they’ll do it. It would be so provocative, let’s face it. I don’t think the ncb would want that and I can’t see MacGregor wanting it—why would he want to come in here and take on Scargill?’ But he did. He took the appointment and to many people this put the writing on the wall. One man put it like this:

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Hugh Beynon, ‘The Miners' Strike in Easington’, NLR I/148: £3

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