Backbone of the Nation
Mining Communities and the Great Strike of 1984-85
Imprint: Yale University Press
Forty years ago, Arthur Scargill led the National Union of Mineworkers on one of the largest strikes in British history. A deep sense of pride existed within Britain’s mining communities who thought of themselves as the backbone of the nation’s economy. But they were vilified by Margaret Thatcher’s government and eventually broken: deprived of their jobs, their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives.
In this groundbreaking new history, Robert Gildea interviews those miners and their families who fought to defend themselves. Exploring mining communities from South Wales to the Midlands, Yorkshire, County Durham, and Fife, Gildea shows how the miners and their families organized to protect themselves, and how a network of activists mobilized to support them.
Amid the recent wave of industrial action in the United Kingdom, Backbone of the Nation highlights anew the importance of labor organization—and intimately records the triumphs, losses, and resilience of these mining communities.
“Gildea’s book offers an admirably compassionate testament.”—Max Hastings, Sunday Times
“A vivid and evocative panorama for those either interested in the final throes of industrial society or who come from such communities.”—James Graham, The Observer
“A superb new book by the Oxford University historian Robert Gildea.”—John Harris, The Guardian
“Gildea has an ear for everyday oratory, and his interviewees come to life on the page. . . . Gildea’s assessment introduces rare nuance while remaining moving, drawing out memories of conflict as well as co-operation.”—Conrad Landon, Times Literary Supplement
“Drawing on 148 testimonies, Gildea, a University of Oxford historian, teases out a battle not only between the National Union of Mineworkers and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, but between different mining traditions and ideologies.”—Johnathan McAloon, Financial Times
“An extensive, enlightening and important oral history of the miners’ strikes of 1984–85, interviewing the miners and their families who fought to defend themselves.”—Murray Scougall, Sunday Post
“Gildea’s greatest contribution is his commitment to capturing the variety of miners’ experiences of the dispute.”—Ewan Gibbs, London Review of Books
“An evocative exploration.”—History Revealed
“Gildea uses the breadth of the voices in this book to draw a wider map of the strike. By bringing together accounts from across the UK, he has captured the local and regional differences within the national strike.”—Lucy Robinson, BBC History Magazine
“[Gildea] provides an exceptionally comprehensive account of the strike and the experiences of communities and individuals before, during, and after, conveying with unusual vividness its sometimes devastating impact.”—Pat Thane, Society
“Robert Gildea has done an outstanding documentary service with this book, [collating] the memories of nearly 150 individuals from across the six major coalfields.”—Patrick Hudson, The Tablet
“Shaped more by heartbreak than heroism, Backbone of the Nation is a rich and valuable record, if an unavoidably painful read.”—Rhian E Jones, History Today
“[A] powerfully told account of a defining period in modern British history” —Money Week
“At last, a book about the strike that gives an honest overview of what happened to miners, their families and communities. We entrusted Gildea with our memories, and he has, in return, told our story with dignity and a historian’s eye.”—Siân James, former MP for Swansea East
“Gildea has dug deep and struck the richest of seams. By inviting us to listen carefully to the men and women on the strike’s frontline, he’s created history that is revelatory, gripping, and—best of all—infused with humanity. In short, Backbone of the Nation is a masterpiece.”—David Hendy, author of The BBC: A People’s History
“I’ve been waiting for the definitive oral history of the Miners’ Strike. This is it: the voices of people I spent a year fighting alongside condensed and preserved with rigour and accuracy.”—Paul Mason, author of Live Working or Die Fighting