Still unbowed, ex-miners to mark 25 years since the start of the strike

IT has been described by some social commentators as the closest Britain has come to civil war for more than 300 years.

IT has been described by some social commentators as the closest Britain has come to civil war for more than 300 years.

The 1984 miners’ strike will be remembered as one of the most bitter disputes in the country’s history.

It resulted in at least three deaths, violent clashes between pickets and the police, mining families divided forever and pit communities split over the rights and wrongs of the campaign.

Colliery towns and villages in the North East were caught up in the whirlwind as the Thatcher government took on Arthur Scargill and his National Union of Mineworkers in a conflict many saw as a defining clash of political ideals.

Now those turbulent days are about to be recalled across the region as next month will be the 25th anniversary of the year-long strike.

The milestone will be marked in a region which saw its once-mighty deep mining industry disappear forever with the closure of the last pit, Ellington Colliery in Northumberland, four years ago.

Events are being organised across the country and locally by the NUM to mark the 25th anniversary of a strike which began in March 1984. On April 4, 200 former miners and their wives will gather in the Hirst Central Social Club in Ashington, Northumberland to celebrate the milestone and swap stories and reminiscences. A similar event is being held in County Durham in March.

The NUM is also staging a national conference in Blackpool on March 21 which will be addressed by UK and international speakers, including former president Mr Scargill.

The strike began following an announcement by National Coal Board chairman Ian McGregor on March 5, 1984, that 20 uneconomic pits would close, with the loss of 20,000 jobs.

Miners at Cortonwood Colliery in Yorkshire, one of the first earmarked for closure, walked out at midnight that day and by March 12 more than half of the UK’s 187,000 pitmen were out on a strike endorsed by their union.

It was not until March 3 the following year that the NUM executive voted narrowly for a return to work, following 12 months of tragedy, violence, bitterness and hardship for striking miners, their wives and families.

Two striking miners, Joe Green, 55, and David Jones, 23, were crushed to death while picketing at Ferrybridge in Yorkshire and Ollerton, Nottinghamshire respectively, as the dispute flared into violence.

There was revulsion in November 1984 when taxi driver David Wilkie was killed as he drove a miner to work at Merthyr Vale colliery in Glamorgan. He died when two striking miners dropped a 46lb concrete block onto his car from a bridge.

Now those who were involved in the dispute in the North East are preparing for emotional reunions to mark the anniversary.

The social evening in Ashington will be addressed by NUM national chairman Ian Lavery, who lives in the town and was a 21-year-old mineworker in Northumberland when the strike took place.

Yesterday he said: “I am calling the Ashington evening a celebration, although others are using the phrase commemoration. It is clearly not a celebration of a victory, because that would be folly, but I believe it is a celebration of what happened during the strike.

“It will be a get-together with a good drink and some music for lads and their wives who were involved in the strike to share memories and tell stories of what happened a quarter of a century ago.

“It is an unwritten fact that people who broke the strike will not be attending these events but they are a great opportunity for those who supported it through thick and thin to get together again.

“The events in Ashington and Durham will reunite people who were active during the strike and became politicised as a result of it.

“The politics of the strike were learned in miners’ welfares and social clubs across the North East and I am a prime example of that.

“I was 21 at the time and a bit wild but I was harnessed by the strike and politics in general and was groomed for a year. That didn’t all come from people like Dennis Skinner and Tony Benn but from people I had known for years and who I had never seen as politicians.

“It got ordinary working people interested and involved in politics.”


David Whetstone
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