Tagged: British Steel

Memories from the picket line of ex-pitman arrested four times during the miners’ strike

Thirty years on from the end of the miners’ strike Norman Strike – his real name – still cuts a discordant figure.

He was one of the few whose life changed for the better following the miners’ strike, but he admits he still feels a great deal of bitterness about the events that occurred and indeed is more angry now than he was then.

Referring to the current Government, he says:

“[Margaret] Thatcher was terrible, she was evil. But these buggers are worse than what she ever was. They have done much worse to the working class than what she ever got away with. It is all as a direct result of us getting beat.”

Mr Strike, a retired teacher, had three spells at Westoe Colliery, in South Shields, and was arrested four times for picketing during the year long dispute between the miners and the Government which began as a protest over pit closures.

“My problem is that I have always had a big mouth and when people were just standing around passively and not doing anything, I was trying to organise them,” he says.

 “The police aren’t stupid and would see that and I would be lifted out. In September at Wearmouth [Colliery] I led a charge to try and stop the ‘scab’ buses going back in and I was arrested.

“Much to my shock the magistrate remanded me for 14 days in Durham Prison because he said I could not be trusted due to my previous arrests.”

The 64-year-old, who now lives in Essex, was present at the infamous Battle of Orgreave when on June 18, 1984 picketing miners attempted to blockade the British Steel coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire.

In all 93 arrests were made, with 51 picketers and 72 policemen injured. All charges against those arrested were eventually dropped and police were later forced to pay half-a-million pounds in compensation after a number of lawsuits were brought by miners’ for assault, unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution.

 Recalling that day, he says:
“It was warm and many of us had stripped to the waist. We were also completely outnumbered. At Orgreave the police were armed to the teeth, they had huge shields and crash helmets.”

When I suggest some of what occurred was a case of “six and two threes”, he replies:

“It was more like twelve on one. When you get hit with a truncheon it bloody hurts, I can tell you.

“The worst I ever saw from our side involved the cowards who would stand at the back and lob bricks at the police. We would shout at the buggers to stop.”

At the time Mr Strike was friends with The Redskins, a punk rock band whose songs were inspired by their left-wing politics. Famously he was invited on stage when they appeared on Channel 4’s The Tube, which was filmed in Newcastle.

But his plan to make a short speech about the strike was thwarted when his microphone was switched off.

The Redskins had two numbers and on the first number I stood in the background with a tambourine,” he explains.

“ When they introduced the second song they said I was a Durham miner who had been on strike for 35 weeks. I had prepared a speech for 20 seconds which we reckoned was enough time before the producer latched onto what I was doing, but they were a bit quicker than what we anticipated.”

After the strike ended the ex-salvage worker, whose job it was to recover machinery from the coal face, never went back to Westoe and instead headed for the bright lights of London, where he began rebuilding his life following the break-up of his marriage.

He returned to the North-East last year to help promote a film about the strike ‘Still The Enemy Within’ and says his involvement back then represented the most momentous year of his life.

“What resonates most was the community spirit,” he says.

“If someone was going to get their gas cut off we would all go and stand outside the house so they couldn’t do it. It’s that thing that parents talk about, the ‘good old days’ when everybody stuck up for each other.

“Now everybody is out for themselves and it’s a case of ‘I’m very sorry you are having a hard time, but I can’t do anything about it’. Back then we were all broke, but people were wonderful.

“It was also the catalyst that led to other things for me. I went to London and eventually went onto university and became a school teacher, directly because I met teachers and other people during the strike who told me I was clever and planted a seed in my head.

“ It also made me more determined to fight against injustice whenever I see it. If the miners strike wouldn’t have happened, I would probably still be a miner.”

I can’t resist ending the interview by asking Mr Strike about that surname. “It’s real,” he says.

During the strike I would get stopped by the police and asked ‘What’s your name’? ‘Norman Strike’ The response was ‘Oh yeah, I’m Arthur f****** Scargill.’ I began carrying my birth certificate to prove who I was.

“It is just so unusual to have someone called Strike involved in the greatest strike the country has seen.”

Source – Northern Echo, 05 Mar 2015

Ex-Monkton Cokeworks staff to get their day in court

Battling ex-cokework employees from South Tyneside will have their fight for justice heard in court.

A date has been set for the High Court to review the progress of about 350 former coke oven works illness claims against British Steel and British Coal.

This will include claims lodged by former workers at Monkton Cokeworks in Hebburn, which closed in 1992, after a long and high-profile people’s protest against the works, which had operated since 1936.

Led by Hebburn-based former county councillor Jennie Shearan, protesters living near the  plant claimed it had sparked serious medical issues among the local population, including respiratory problems.

The new legal fight involves former coke oven workers, who claim they have been left with cancers and respiratory diseases because of exposure to harmful dust and fumes, several decades ago.

Law firms Irwin Mitchell and Hugh James are working jointly on two large group litigation claims against British Steel and British Coal. A spokesman for Irwin Mitchell confirmed that ex-workers from the former Monkton Cokeworks plant are among the 350 people fighting for justice.

Formal legal action in the case was launched last October and the High Court has confirmed it will review the progress of the claims on October 16.

A landmark judgement against a Phurnacite plant in South Wales in the High Court in 2012 paved the way for the legal action in other regions, including the North East, Yorkshire, Humberside, Derbyshire and South Wales.

The majority of the affected workers were employed in a range of occupations at coke oven works, such as Monkton, between the 1940s and 1980s.

Some of these ex-employees now suffer from cancer, emphysema, asthma and chronic bronchitis.

Lawyers for the former cokework employees allege British Steel Corporation and British Coal Corporation and their subsidiaries failed to correctly assess the risk of working in coke ovens, and failed to adequately protect workers from significant dust and fumes.

Roger Maddocks, a specialist workplace illness lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Hundreds of former coke oven workers are now suffering from terrible conditions, simply because of the work they carried out on a day-to-day basis.

“Employees have a basic right to be able to go to work and return home safely at the end of the day.

In August 2012, former coke oven workers suffering from lung cancer became entitled to industrial injuries disablement benefit, subject to meeting certain employment-related criteria.

Source –  Shields Gazette,  08 Aug 2014