By David Ayrton
It is with sadness that we record the death of Michael McGahey, lifelong Communist and Vice-President of the National Union of Mineworkers from 1973, and throughout the duration of the Great Strike of 1984/5. A great workers` leader left the world on January 30th. He died of emphysema, at the age of 73. When he was 14 years old he both started in work in the Scottish coalfield and joined the Young Communist League. He was the son of his father, who was a checkweighman in a Lanarkshire pit and a founding member of the Communist Party in 1920.
As Marxists we seek to combat mysticism and sentimentality. In this sense we can only analyse the role of an individual in a rational and scientific manner. Nevertheless any class conscious worker or socialist who had any real knowledge of his role in the labour movement can only, at the point of his passing away, celebrate his life and mourn his death. Arthur Scargill remembered Mick McGahey for his 'unswerving loyalty to British miners and to the international working class'.
Today he is canonised by the type of elements who condemned his principled stance, standing side by side with the miners` President, and later SLP General Secretary, in carrying through at leadership level the requirements of the mobilised ranks of the miners` union in the battle against the Thatcher Government`s pit closure programme. The 'Financial Times' in marking Mick McGahey`s death quoted John Monks, the present TUC General Secretary, who paid tribute to McGahey thus: 'Hewn from the rich seam of Scottish communism, he was a man of warm humanity and unflinching integrity'. Tony Blair, in similar fashion, is cited as describing him as 'a genuine great of the trade union movement, combining dedication to principle with a toughness of mind'. Correct as these statements are, it was the predecessors of Blair and Monks, namely Willis and Kinnock, who, made of the same anti-Communist material as this pair of charlatans, did their utmost to stab the miners and their leaders in the back when they stood at the head of the working class struggle to role back the tide of Thatcher`s reactionary policies. Unlike them, in his lifetime McGahey stood as a thorn in the side of the British bourgeois establishment and during the miners` strikes of 1972 and 1974 he was seen by the Tory Prime Minister of that time as a subversive danger to British 'democracy'. This sentiment was echoed by the media servants of the capitalist class, who vilified him in a way only surpassed by the vitriol that they have directed against Scargill. Indeed, it is to McGahey`s credit that in the 1980 NUM election to succeed Joe Gormley as NUM President, ineligible to stand himself because of his age, he gave full backing to Arthur Scargill for the post.
In March 1984 Mick McGahey stood firm, alongside Arthur Scargill and the mobilised sections of the NUM, in opposing a ballot, which would have rescinded the decisions taken by the Scottish, Yorkshire, South Wales and Kent areas of the Union to take strike action to defend the coalfield communities from the blight of unemployment and depression. Indeed it is no accident that the fake 'Lefts' of our present day mirror the bourgeois attempt to besmirch such a principled stand. They repeat the type of lies that are peddled, even when marking the death of this fine man, in the 'Financil Times', that such a rejection of a ballot when calling a national strike contravened the NUM`s own rule book. In fact, it was precisely the provisions of Rule 41 of the NUM Constitution which empowered the union`s National Executive to endorse the strike action called by the area unions and to call a national strike. The same bourgeois rags now seek to show division between Scargill and McGahey during the Great Strike when no such divisions existed, other than, as Arthur Scargill said at Mick McGahey`s funeral, 'whether we should drink tea or coffee.'
Mick McGahey remained a loyal Communist all his life. In doing so, in some senses, he represented all that was best in the working class. In the school of the working class movement he became educated in Marxism, in all its aspects. He had a deep knowledge, not only of political economy and the history of the working class movement, but also of the cultural heritage of humanity. And yet, at the same time, it might be said that with his loyalty came the weight of revisionism that the Communist Parties had adopted in the post-war period. The dominance of petty-bourgeois sectors, who brought the influence of the capitalist class into the Communist Parties, resulted in the adoption of the bankrupt policies of Euro-Communism and of ideas which accepted parliamentary democracy in the form that we know it under capitalism, as opposed to that what real Communists see as the highest form of democracy - the dictatorship of the proletariat. In doing so, the Communist Parties subordinated themselves to the leadership of the capitalist class in their own respective countries.
Mick McGahey was under pressure from such forces to turn his back on the class consciousness and the class loyalty that had been bred into him, they could never succeed in their mission. His name will, rightly so, remain splendid in the collective consciousness of those who will shake off the impediment of revisionism in the coming period and meet the challenge of the crisis of capitalism with a real strggle to establish a socialist society in its stead. In achieving such a goal we will have completed the task to which Mick McGahey dedicated his whole life, like his father before him.
It should be said, that the misleaders of the world Communist movement could never eradicate the deep sense of class consciousness that was passed on as the inheritanceof families such as the McGahey family. It was the case that the Communist Party, in the aftermath of the Great Strike, opposed the re-election of Arthur Scargill as President of the NUM, backing instead the campaign of the right-winger Johnny Walsh. However, those determined to maintain principled leadership at the head of the NUM were successful in keeping Scargill in his post. Not least of these was the head of the Scargill campaign in Scotland. That man`s name was Michael McGahey Jnr.
Rest in Peace, Mick McGahey. All condolences to his family and friends. 'We may have brave men - but we`ll never have better'. We salute the life of a great workers` leader and we record our black mourning at the time of his death.
Michael McGahey was born on May 29th 1925 and died on January 30th 1999.