Gdansk

In November, 1988, a crowd of around 20 000 cheered as the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, met Lech Walesa. He was a shipyard worker from the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk and leader of Solidarity, the independent Polish trade union movement.  

Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski had Thatcher’s car stopped before she reached the airport to board a Royal Airforce jet to London and presented her with a bouquet of flowers.

‘I came to see and to have a long talk with Mr. Walesa . . . . I knew that I had to come and feel the spirit of Poland for myself,’ said Thatcher.

Almost thirty years ago, 17th September 1980, Walesa led a strike against a programme of economic austerity in which the Gdansk shipyard would close.

Walensa’s key demands were reinstatement of sacked workers and a wage rise for those in work. Strikes spread to other industries and throughout Poland.

‘We shall not be found wanting when Poland makes the progress toward freedom and democracy its people clearly seek,’ Thatcher said, garnering praise for her support of a free trade union movement.

Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mine Workers, in the miner’s strike, 1984-85, key demands were no different from Walesa, with his claim that the National Coal Board in the name of economic austerity had a ‘hit list’ of 75 pit closures and the government was stockpiling coal and converting power stations to burn other fossil fuels.

The spirit of Poland, support for a free trade union movement, and freedom of movement were reported sorely missing from the spirit of Thatcherism. 84 000 miners and then there were none. Lest we forget, that’s democracy for you.

Aberfan: The Young Wives Club, ITV, 9pm, directed by Joe Williams.

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http://www.itv.com/hub/the-aberfan-young-wives-club/2a4601a0001

The Aberfan Young Wives youngest member is sixty-one and its oldest members in their nineties. The joke was that the group voted to remove the ‘Young’ part from the group title, but there’s not a lot to laugh at here. The Young Wives Club meets every week and was formed almost 50 years ago in the Welsh mining village of Pantglas after around one-hundred tonnes of coal slurry from tip No 7, resting on a stream bed, in heavy fog rolled down the hill and over Pantglas junior school and the houses on Aberfan road. 144 people died, 116 of them children between three months and fourteen-years old. Jeff Edwards was the last child to be pulled out of the wreckage alive. The National Coal Board paid out £500 compensation for every child killed. One teacher was dug out his arms around two children trying to protect them, the other infants in his classroom by his side. Innocents killed by the Coal Board as surely as Thomas Hamilton’s bullets. Lest we forget.