“I will never stop fighting … You must be joking?” said Arthur Scargill as he joined striking railway workers on the picket line in Sheffield.
The former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers is 84 and maybe not as nimble on his feet as he once was, but the fire in his belly would seem not to have died down. Nor have his opinions mellowed.
“I’ve nothing but utter contempt for the leadership of the Labour party, particularly [Keir] Starmer,” Scargill said in response to a question on Labour’s attitude towards this week’s strikes. “Quite frankly, the Labour party has blown it completely. It does not represent the working class of this country.”
Scargill joined the picket line wearing the same cap he wore when he was arrested at Orgreave coking plant 38 years ago during the miners’ strike. Then he was escorted away by police and later found guilty of two charges of obstruction and fined £250.
His visit on a sunny Thursday morning to Sheffield train station was much more relaxed. It was unannounced and warmly welcomed, although most of the looks were along the lines of: “Is that who I think it is?”
Scargill was joined by his 21-year-old grandson Thomas Logan, who hopes to also have a future role in the trade union movement. Scargill joked his grandson was more militant than he was.
“He is just like any normal granddad,” said Logan. “A bit more opinionated maybe. He’s tried to influence me from an early age and he has succeeded. It’s his storytelling, which strikes the flame in you … he does it well.”
Scargill was president of the NUM for 20 years, leading the miners to a defeat in the 1984-85 strike, which marked a turning point in postwar history. After stepping down as union leader he became something of a recluse as he warred with those who once followed him.
Chris Kitchen, who has been general secretary of the NUM since 2007, once accused Scargill of trying to destroy the union. He also pointed to the “second-to-none” pension Scargill received from the NUM.
In an interview with the Guardian in 2014, Kitchen said: “I don’t see much difference between the way Arthur has lived his life and the capitalist system he built a reputation for fighting – in that he’s all out for his self. And he’s done very well out of it.”
Scargill still gives speeches and is the titular leader of the Socialist Labour party, which he set up in 1996 in reaction to Tony Blair and his amendment of clause four of the Labour party constitution.
On Thursday, Scargill said he felt duty-bound to offer his support to railway workers. “I’m here because I’m a trade unionist and a socialist. When people have to take strike action in order to get a living wage and stop unnecessary redundancies, it’s time that workers come together,” he said.
“I would call on every railway worker to come out on strike and force this government into retreat.”
He added: “We wouldn’t be here today if our forefathers had not taken action against the laws of the land at the time. They knew that they had to take action in order to get justice. Think about the suffragettes, think about the Tolpuddle Martyrs, think about the Jarrow marchers … it is an ongoing struggle.”
According to Scargill’s allies, he was demonised in the 1980s and is still being demonised today. His appearance on Tuesday at a picket line in Wakefield, where a byelection is being held on Thursday, prompted Boris Johnson at PMQs to accuse Labour of being “out on the picket lines literally holding hands with Arthur Scargill”.
“That’s a tribute to me,” said Scargill. “Quite honestly, for a pillock like him … the criminality he’s got. The only crimes I’ve ever committed are attending a picket line.”
Scargill hopes and predicts this will be the summer when the trade union movement fights back.
“Are you NUJ [National Union of Journalists]?” he asked the Guardian. “Because it will be your turn next.”