As vice-president of the National Union of Mineworkers, Mick McGahey was a driving force behind the transformation of the union in the 1970s.
Born on May 29th 1925, in Shotts, the militant centre of the Lanarkshire coalfield, he moved as a child with his family to Cambuslang, near Glasgow His mother was a devout Catholic but his father, James McGahey, who worked in the local pit as a checkweighman, was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. James McGahey spent a year in prison out of events arising from the 1926 General Strike. One of his children died while he was inside, a petition supported even by the priest to allow him to attend the funeral was denied.
At the age of 14, Mick followed his father into the mining industry and later into the Communist Party. He took his first union role at the age of 18 and was influenced early in the Scottish working class environment that stressed learning. Though he had little formal education he quickly became absorbed into a culture that regarded books as treasures, becoming an avid reader. He went to Communist Party classes and schools organised by the Scottish Area of the NUM. A particular hero was John MacLean, the Scottish revolutionary and teacher.
McGahey first came to public notice in 1948 when he spoke passionately against an unofficial strike, in the recently nationalised coal industry. Abe Moffat, the leader of the Scottish miners, encouraged McGahey�s passage through the union hierarchy. Within 10 years he moved from branch delegate to full-time area president by 1967. He then went to live in Liberton, just outside Edinburgh, with his wife, Cathy, and his three young children.
By 1971 McGahey was nationally known and unsuccessfully stood against Joe Gormley for the presidency of the union. Two years later he became the NUM�s vice-president, a position he retained until his retirement in 1986. From 1982 to 1986 he was a member of the TUC General Council.
Noted for a strong breadth of vision, McGahey was outstandingly influential in the mining industry. A self-taught working class intellectual, he could recite Robert Burns and Shakespeare at length and was known for a sharp interest in literature generally. When Lawrence Daly, also a Scot and then the general secretary of the NUM, ended a speech in favour of an incomes policy with a quote from Shakespeare, McGahey immediately undermined the force of this, by saying: "Comrades. Lawrence should have completed the quotation" � and then went on to do so, turning Daly�s argument on its head.
McGahey, as Scottish area president, broke a tradition of insularity to other coalfields. He was the undisputed leader of the uniquely talented group of activists in the NUM who mobilised miners for the 1972 and 1974 strikes, humiliating Edward Heath’s Tory government twice. Readers of tabloid newspaper regularly learned to vilify him `Red Mick�, no no-one who knew him did!
Chair of the Communist Party for a period, he was a Party loyalist through and through, backing the CPGB leadership in its war with the Morning Star. Nonetheless, after the dissolution of the CPGB, he joined the Communist Party of Scotland and privately let his doubts about revisionism be known. He died of emphysema aged 73 on January 30th 1999.
Sources: The Guardian February 1st 1999; Glasgow Herald February 2nd 1999