Twenty-five years ago, an accelerated programme of pit closures triggered the miners’ strike, which divided friends and families and ended with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.
Strikers hold out: One year after the start of the 1984 miners strike at Cortonwood, a picket offers a model snowman to Police
Just as the images document that extraordinary year, so the sounds continue to echo down a quarter of a century. They are the chants in the set-piece battles between strikers and police – “Here we go, here we go!” and the martially rhythmic “The miners united … will never be defeated!” But even more memorable, perhaps, is the tersely poetic taunt of a striker asked about his colleagues who had defied the picket lines to return to work before the end of a the year-long walk-out: “I won’t always be skint, but they’ll always be scabs.”
Deep scars of battle
‘Downturn’ is a word all too familiar in former mining towns. But 25 years after the strike against pit closures began, can they cope in the latest recession? By Peter Hetherington
In his colourful constituency office, Ronnie Campbell is surrounded by the memorabilia of mining, from graphic posters of battles won and lost to a large colliery mural painted for him by a local drug addict. His desk is adorned with lumps of coal in a large bowl, from his last shift at Bates colliery – a final testament to 29 years of working underground.
Much as he tries, the MP for Blyth can’t escape the past, particularly his role as chairman of the National Union of Mineworkers’ local branch in the year-long miners’ strike, which began 25 years ago this month. “I was in the thick of it,” he recalls with a hint of pride and, perhaps, regret as he recalls the words of the late NUM vice-president, Mick McGahey, when the bitter dispute finally ended: “We never led you properly. We should have settled.”
Campbell, an earthy, passionate man, proud of his working-class roots, picketed far afield in 1984-85, particularly in Nottinghamshire, where the rival Union of Democratic Mineworkers was born to challenge the NUM. “We all got a thump or two from police,” he recalls. “I was hit with a truncheon on the back, and they had a habit of kicking us on the shins.”
Miners’ strike ‘doomed to fail’
It is 25 years since the beginning of the miners’ strike. Miners walked out of the Cortonwood Colliery in Yorkshire in protest at plans to close it. Correspondent Bob Walker talks to a miner who returned to work after six months – crossing the picket lines. Conservative peer Norman Tebbit discusses his memories of the how government dealt with the strike action.
The National Union of Mineworkers is alive and kicking, and is still representing miners, their families and their communities. The NUM is still very active industrially and politically. It is over twenty four years since the start of the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984/85. We warned then that if our arguments for a role for coal in our energy requirements were not heeded then the country would pay a heavy price. Twenty four years on we have been proved absolutely correct.
Most of the nation’s collieries have been closed, we are now at the mercy of foreign importers and gas and oil prices are rocketing. Our own gas reserves have been depleted at an alarming rate as we have squandered them in massive quantities in gas-fired power stations when we could have used coal. At the same time we have been squandering our indigenous coal reserves, with which this nation was blessed, by sterilising them in closed coal mines. At the same time we have been squandering the talents of our skilled workforce by making them redundant.