Workers Hammer No. 227
In honour of Wally Roberts, 1935-2014
It is with sadness that we report the death of Wally Roberts, a friend and for a period of time an active supporter of the Spartacist League. Wally, who died in April, was a stalwart of the heroic 1984-85 miners strike. Wally was a miner at Lea Hall Colliery in Staffordshire until ill-health brought on by his years in the pit forced him to retire. To honour his memory we recount here some of Wally’s experiences and observations during and after the strike.
In 1984-85, Wally was one of several miners who spoke at our public meetings. At a weekend school in Paris at the end of the strike, Wally remarked that women “became the backbone and inspiration of the strike”. In the aftermath of the strike in 1985 the Thatcher government was bent on teaching a lesson to the black and Asian population who had supported the miners. When cops went on a racist rampage in Birmingham, the Spartacist League participated in the defence of the hundreds arrested, and Wally spoke at a meeting in Handsworth, where his protest of the police dragnet was warmly received by the black community group who had organised the meeting. He said: “Trade unionists and black, Asian, Irish communities have the same enemy and must fight together.” He continued: “I have no illusions about the leadership of the unions but the fight must be taken up by the unions. Unions have power in this country that the bosses and the government can’t ignore.”
Wally recognised how central the question of the Soviet Union was in the miners great battle, noting that in 1983 at the TUC Congress before the strike, National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill was attacked for his correct statement that Polish Solidarność (Solidarity) was “anti-socialist”. Wally said, “The Solidarity scab union that the TUC supported, along with Thatcher and Reagan, was led by Lech Walesa who said during our strike that Thatcher was a ‘brave and wise woman’ and who welcomed Nottingham scabs to Poland. The point that the people who hate the Soviet Union are the people who hate the trade union movement and love the scabs, was brought home to us with the experience of the printers’ strike and the banning of unions at the government spy-centre [GCHQ] in Cheltenham.”
When Spartacist supporter Patrick Sliney was sacked in January 1985 for his fight to spread the miners strike and stop the scab coal in the Longbridge and Rover car plants in Birmingham, striking miners from Staffordshire pits, Wally among them, came to Rover to support the call for Patrick’s reinstatement.
Wally was one of the miners from four coalfields who marched with us on anti-apartheid demonstrations in 1985. In 1987, Dave Douglass of Hatfield Main NUM banned the sale of our paper at the pit after we criticised their call on the British ruling class to “Ban South African coal!”. In a letter printed in Workers Hammer protesting the ban against the Spartacists, Wally wrote of the call for sanctions: “To ask the government of a class which has waded knee-deep through the blood of India, Ireland and South Africa, to ask it to change — there is no way that will happen.” To call for import controls, he continued, “inflames people to nationalism: just what the ruling class want”.
Scathing in his contempt for Neil Kinnock and all the Labour-loyal traitors who knifed the miners strike and bolstered British capitalism, Wally represented the best of the proletariat in a time of intense class struggle in these isles.