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Feb 15

New Song: The Dirty Thirty

During the Miner’s Strike of 84/85, the Leicestershire coalfields continued to work, with two and a half thousand miners working through the strike.

Despite this, thirty or so miners refused to break the strike, despite being so isolated in their local area.

This song tells their story.

I am deeply indebted to author David Bell. His book The Dirty Thirty: Heroes of the Miners’ Strike gives a superb account of what happened and is what inspired the song.

I recommend it to you. It’s a brilliant piece of social history, and David gets out of the way and lets the people themselves tell the story.

Enjoy the song. The lyrics are below:

They were called The Dirty Thirty
So they wore that name with pride
As the only striking miners
They stood against the tide
And if you call them heroes
They would surely disagree
But the dirty thirty and their kin
Are all heroes to me

Let me tell you a story
For I really can’t ignore
The happenings in Leicestershire
In 1984
Two thousand and five hundred
Walked across that picket line
But a tiny band of miners
Would not go into the mine

They were called The Dirty Thirty
So they wore that name with pride
As the only striking miners
They stood against the tide
And if you call them heroes
They would surely disagree
But the dirty thirty and their kin
Are all heroes to me

The railwaymen at Coalville
They backed the miners too
And when a coal train came along
They would not let it through
And the women they were mighty
Maybe mightier than the men
They suffered so much hardship
But they’d do it all again

They were called The Dirty Thirty
So they wore that name with pride
As the only striking miners
They stood against the tide
And if you call them heroes
They would surely disagree
But the dirty thirty and their kin
Are all heroes to me

So here’s to Malcom Pinnegar
Or “Benny” to his friends
Who led the Dirty Thirty
Till the strike came to an end
And here’s to all the other lads
So principled and true
And those who stood beside them
As a worker’s meant to do

They were called The Dirty Thirty
So they wore that name with pride
As the only striking miners
They stood against the tide
And if you call them heroes
They would surely disagree
But the dirty thirty and their kin
Are all heroes to me

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34 comments

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  1. John Blakeney

    ermmmmmmmm……sorry Alun.
    i supported the working miners………
    no national vote…..no national strike.
    a pit by pit vote split the miners, and the union and the miners committed suicide by ignoring their own democratic rules.
    and then by sending in the thugs to picket the working pits.

    it was all organised by the Government..Thatcher’s personal and ideological hatred of the miners was the cause, and by using the “leaking” of the Hit list, she knew exactly what the response would be.
    and the use of a para-military police force allowed her to destroy the miners because the miners did exactly what she wanted them to do.
    lions led by a donkey……

  2. alunparry

    John, you don’t cross a picket line. That’s first principles. Without the working miners, Thatcher would have lost. Because of working miners, we all lost. They are not worthy of your support.

    I don’t think you can really complain about Thatcher yet support the working miners who made her victory possible.

    Have you read The Enemy Within by Seamus Milne? That shows just how close the miners came to victory. Not lions led by a donkey but lions deserted by donkeys perhaps.

    But to nail this old chestnut about the ballot, one of the Dirty Thirty does indeed feel there should have been a ballot.

    However, he is in a minority of one on that point and here’s why.

    A few years earlier, a judge had already ruled in court that local areas could simply ignore a national ballot if they so wished. So what difference would it have made?

    As Mel Elcock, one of the Dirty Thirty says: “The national ballot was killed in 1976 when there was a national ballot on the bonus scheme. Until then, everybody believed in the national ballot.

    “We got a national vote in 1976 on the bonus scheme but Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and South Derbyshire reneged on the ballot. That was the end of the national ballot idea.

    “A national ballot wouldn’t have made any difference: that was proved in 1976. We knew the Leicestershire NUM leadership would not abide by the result of a national ballot if it went against them.”

  3. Ian Babington

    Hi Alun,hope alls good with you. I wasn’t aware of the story of the Dirty Thirty before your song – something I’m ashamed of as have been living in Leicestershire since the mid-90s. I’ll definitely make a point of getting hold of the book too.

    I drive through what was the north-west Leicestershire coalfield almost daily, with a commute that takes me through Swannington, Coalville, Ashby etc on the way to Burton. The history is in the landscape and indeed in the place-names, while the social costs & problems that have arisen from Thatcher’s assault on the mining communities (infact on many working communities) aren’t hard to see if you spend anytime in Coalville town. Funny to hear talk of Big Society (BS in more ways than one), when the previous Tory government thought there was no such thing as society.

    Thanks again for making me aware of the story.

  4. alunparry

    The thanks go to David Bell really. His book is a fabulous example of what great social history should be.

    You’ll love the book. He lets the people who were involved tell the story.

    When I read the book I was really inspired by the story of what happened to these courageous, principled people and their families.

    The song is a portable way of spreading awareness of their struggle, but David’s book lets the Dirty Thirty and their families tell it for themselves, which is why I’d urge anyone inspired by the story to get hold of the book.

    (If you click the link for the book title in the body of the message it takes you to where to buy it at the News From Nowhere Radical Bookstore which is a workers coop.)

  5. David Bell

    If anyone wants a signed copy of the book, they can email me on david.j.a.bell@tesco.net
    It costs £7.99 but is post free.
    I think Alun’s song is simply wonderful, anmd a credit to the Dirty Thirty.

  6. alunparry

    thanks David. I hope the Dirty Thirty themselves get to listen to it and like it too.

  7. Tony Taylor

    A quarter of a century on it’s good to know that the Dirty Thirty’s courage and principle is not forgotten. Thanks to David through the book and Alan with the song for helping to keep the memory alive. I was privileged to be a member of the Miners’ Support Group in Leicester at the time. We used to have packed weekly meetings above the Unemployment Workers Centre, where as well as organising collections and pickets [given there were only thirty blokes on strike, we all had to muck in on the picketing too]we had fierce political debate. It was the greatest educational experience of my life and the lessons learnt serve me well today.

    To honour the Dirty Thirty we must carry on the struggle as it reveals itself today. La Lutta continua!

  8. Wooly

    The best way to get stories out there and listened too is to put them to music and yet again mr parry a great song telling another true story of life.

  9. Su Barton

    I helped picket at Whitwick early in the strike but was pregnant and had to retire from ‘the frontline’. So proud to have been there. Fighting back is so liberating.

  10. Su Barton

    Just remembered, it was Bagworth where I picketed. It’s near Whitwick though.

  11. alunparry

    Thanks to Tony, Woolly and Su for your comments. Lovely to hear from you all.

  12. John Blakeney

    hi Alun

    firstly:
    i have never crossed an official picket line in my life..but i have crossed an un-official picket line.
    during the stupid ” day of Action ” in 1980, after millions of working class people voted in a Tory government…sad, but a fact of that British election.
    the tories won the election and i supported Parliament above sulkimg election losers who called a day’s strike without even having our factory union members vote..
    i supported democracy. and not a dig in the back by the union shop stewards who growled at me..it did get nasty on the shopfloor.
    but I refused to bow to threats..if they had given me and everybody else a vote, I would of supported the majority.

    but with the miners strike…
    again.
    if a majority of miners voted in one pit for the strike..that’s fine..they have my total support.
    but so do the pits which voted no…they also have my total support.
    you cannot have it both ways…
    and by send flying pickets into those working pits destroyed any moral high ground the original reason for the strike gave.

    you support the democratic right to strike in an individual pit.
    then you must also support the right to say NO, or you then end up not supporting the right to disagree with you.
    and in all cases..the right to disagree is more important to me than any ideology, be it left or right.

    great song though..great lyrics…but you are singing about the reasons the Trade Unions lost their power and why millions of unprotected workers now earn £5.63p an hour.
    the Government pissed on all of us. but the Trade unions of that era helped her to finish us off.

  13. David Bell

    I am sorry, John, but if you back the scabs, you back Thatcher and her friends in the judiciary, MI5, the police, etc. And we all know what a scab is – something between a thief and a rapist (ie someone who puts his own needs before that of his fellow-men).
    As the great American socialist novelist Jack London put it: “After God had created the rattlesnake, the toad and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly amd glue. Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab. Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Judas sold his saviour for thirty pieces of silver. The scab sells his birthright, his country, his wife, his children and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled promise from his employer. A scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.” Jack London 1876-1916

  14. David Bell

    The Dirty Thirty were 30 working class heroes, to me and to thousands more. They would not scab.

  15. Ralph A Tebbutt

    Congratulations Alun. The Miners deserved to be supported then and they deserve to be remembered now.
    I worked in Leicestershire pits as a student in 1950s (Whitwick Colliery)
    I was proud of the Dirty Thirty

  16. david douglass

    John Blakeney. Can I suggest you read my book Ghost Dancers, pub Christiebooks, available from Waterstones. I suggest this not for vanity
    but because you clearly do not know how the strike started. We did have a vote by the way, every pit in the country at mass pit head meetings and mass area delegate meetings, then we had a national conference in April of 1984 and the conference, reflecting the votes and wishes of all the miners in the country voted to endorse the strike without requiring any further ballot. That was the majority view, had we lost we would have had a national ballot, we voted since 160,000 miners were already on strike, that we didnt need any further votes, just solidarity and loyalty. If you cant tell which side your bread is buttered on through the wire mesh on an armoured bus, protected by twenty thousand riot police, dogs and horses, you aint gonna find it on a piece of paper called a ballot by the way.

  17. Steve Cason

    Great song…you can feel the pain these lads went through…hope you guys make it up to the Miners Gala in Durham.

    Drop into the Unite stand…

    Cheers

    Steve

  18. Mel Elcock

    Great song Alan, Great book David, Ballot, Ballot, Ballot, pull your head out of the sand John, How many ballots no matter how overwhelming for strike action are then declared illegal by government on a technicality. My dad didnt need need a ballot in 1939 either, he volunteered, did the government hold a ballot? no, they sent out invitations to the party and you better turn up or else, whos democracy are we talking about John.
    Mel ( Dirty Thirty )

  19. alunparry

    Thanks for all your comments. Unsurprisingly I support those backing the striking miners.

    Firstly, you can’t subordinate real people’s communities, jobs, standard of living and futures to a piece of paper.

    Secondly, you call for a national ballot but then say the local pit would have the right to opt out because they have the right to decide. That means no national ballot would hold, just as the judge said, so even on a national issue like this one, the NUM can’t act as a national union but a splintered group of local areas.

    This is the reason there was no national ballot in the first place because what’s the point if you and the judge allow local pits to scab on it.

    It all gets a bit ludicrous because ultimately this isn’t an issue of democratic niceties or how small a group has the right to back out of a decision, it’s about the realities of destroyed communities and lost jobs and a trade union movement defeated that has had ramifications for us all.

    These things are more important than clauses and constitutions, but the judge had already undermined those anyhow.

    This was a classic case of which side are you on. The answer, to me at least, was obvious even as a schoolboy. It was obvious to the Dirty Thirty too and I salute them, and all those who helped them along the way.

  20. darren moore

    that old chestnut of a baa-llot! a smoke and mirrors argument. we voted with our feet to support the strike and defend miners jobs. Either we lined up with the strike or with the ruling class, it was a straightforward choice in the end.

    PS enjoyed the book and song – its true I dont think we were heroes we were just doing what all miners should have done

  21. Carrie Riordan

    I absolutely love this song, and it means so much to me. My father and my grandfather, as well as a few of my uncles, were members of the dirty thirty. I listen to their stories with so much pride in what they accomplished. I love them so much and I am so proud of them. They taught me a lot, and as Darren says- they weren’t heroes. They did what needed to be done, and people today could learn a lot from them. I am glad when they are acknowledged for their achievements. I was conceived during the strikes. It was tough for my family, but I stand by their decision. They did the same thing, and if I was put in that position, I would do the same. Thank you for such a beautiful song

  22. Alun

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write on here.

    It’s lovely to hear your thoughts and I’m glad you like the song.

  23. David Bell

    Carrie, you are so right to be proud of your dad, granddad and uncles for what they did during the miners’ strike. They may not have been heroes to themselves, but they are to the rest of us! I’m just pleased to have written their story, and to have had a small part in Alun’s song by sending him a copy of the book. It’s just very sad that Malcolm Pinnegar (Benny) has been given less than a year to live, but I’m pleaed he’s heard the song. “Bloody brilliant,” was his verdict.

  24. Peter Lucas

    Alun

    David Bell has suggested on my FB page that I sing this at a social at PCS Conference in Brighton in a few weeks (I asked friends for suggestions for a set list). All proceeds from the do will go to the union fighting fund.

    But it’s your song. Would you mind?

    Heard it for the first time today after David brought mentioned it and love it. It will be a new song to bring to the attention of PCS comrades, and another one about miners’ struggle to complement “Blackleg Miner” (which I know will be requested).

    In solidarity

    Peter

  25. alunparry

    Hi Peter

    I’d love you to sing it. Have dropped you an email too.

    Al 8-)

  26. David Bell

    Roy Bailey tells me (via email) that he heard you sing this song, and was really impressed. “I heard Alun sing his Dirty Thirty song – it is a really fine song and he sang with great passion and conviction. Your excellent book is well represented by this song.”
    Thank you again, Alun.

  27. alunparry

    Yes David he did and seemed to like it a lot. I love Roy so I really value his opinion. He’d read the book too so it’s great the story is getting around so much. And well done on getting the book reprinted too.

  28. David Bell

    The credit for getting the book reprinted must really go to Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves, the publisher. NB: This is an unusual posting: a writer praising his publisher! A rare event.

  29. David Bell

    There will be a Dirty Thirty evening on Oct 3rd in Leicester. (Leicester Adulkt Eductaion Centre in Wellington Street. I will be taking part along with Alun, the Red Leicester choir and Jane Bruton. More importantly, members of the Thirty will be there.

    Peter Flack writes, “We are planning on Alan doing a set that includes the Dirty Thirty song. We will also have the Red Leicester Choir. We run from 7 up to 9.30 at latest. First bit 7-7.30 is a wine reception, then Red Leicester will do about 3 songs, then your talk with readings from the book, then possibly Bennie very briefly, then Alan will do a set, then Jane Bruton to speak briefly finishing with a second short set from the Red Leicester choir.”

  30. Stephen Smith

    Really love this one Alun. If you get a chance have a listen to my song, ‘when the fire’s gone out’, ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Q5LoOn-YwA ) very similiar subject!

  31. Alun

    Hi Stephen

    I’ve only just got round to hearing your song as I’ve been ill for a couple of weeks.

    Absolutely love it mate. Great production too as well as a great song. Doesn’t half build.

    Are you local? I noticed you did the Liar Liar song which I thought was cracking too.

    Al

  32. John Pinnegar

    Hi Alun,

    I have just listened to your song and I absolutely loved it. I am Malcolm Pinnegar’s nephew and ‘Benny’ hasn’t been too well of late. However, I’ll mention it to him when I see him next, as I am sure he is unaware that he has now been imortalised in song.

    John

  33. Alun

    Hi John

    Actually he is aware. I was very proud to sing it to him in person at the back end of last year at a special commemoration for The Dirty Thirty in Leicester. It was an enormous honour and to say I was very proud to sing it to him doesn’t really do my feelings justice.

    He also spoke at the meeting and was deeply inspiring and straightforward, and I agreed with every word he said.

    He has also heard the final recorded track too which I sent down to him to listen to.

    Great to make your acquaintance too John.

    Al

  34. David Bell

    Hi John
    I took Malcolm a CD with a copy of Alun’s song on it. His comment was “Bloody brilliant.” He must be really proud of your Uncle. I keep checking with Margaret to see how he is. I know he’s now in a nursing home, managed by his daughter Colleen.

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  2. Dirty Thirty Song At PCS Conference :alun parry – songwriter

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