Tagged: Essex

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

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As a jobcentre adviser, I got ‘brownie points’ for cruelty

Former jobcentre adviser Angela Neville has written a play to expose the harsh reality of the benefits sanctions regime.

Angela Neville, 48, is describing events she witnessed as a special adviser in a jobcentre that prompted her to write a play about her experiences.

“We were given lists of customers to call immediately and get them on to the Work Programme,” she recalls.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry this can’t happen, this man is in hospital.’ I was told [by my boss]: ‘No, you’ve got to phone him and you’ve got to put this to him and he may be sanctioned.’ I said I’m not doing it.”

Neville worked as an adviser in Braintree jobcentre, Essex, for four years and has written a play with two collaborators, her friends Angela Howard and Jackie Howard, both of whom have helped advocate for unemployed people who were threatened with benefit sanctions by jobcentre staff.

The title of the play, Can This be England? is an allusion to the disbelief that she and the others feel at how people on benefits are being treated, she says. And she unashamedly describes the play, in which she also acts, as a “dramatic consciousness-raising exercise”.

Can This be England? deals with the quagmire that awaits people caught in the welfare system. Scenes are set in jobcentres and in characters’ homes addressing some of what Neville calls the “everyday absurdity” of what occurs, such as when people with disabilities and fluctuating health conditions are wrongly declared “fit for work” inflicting additional suffering in the process. It also examines the dilemmas faced by staff in jobcentres, many of whom Neville believes feel stripped of any power to do good and are crumbling under the strain as managers enforce new rules.

Full story in the Guardian

Source –  Benefits & Work,  03 Feb 2015

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/3006-as-a-jobcentre-adviser-i-got-brownie-points-for-cruelty

Tory MP defends ‘scumbag hooligans’ comment about Sunderland fans

AN MP who came under fire for labelling football fans “scumbag hooligans” on Twitter has defended his comments.

Thousands of Sunderland fans gathered in Covent Garden last night ahead of Sunday’s  Capital One Cup final clash.

Tory MP Robert Halfon sparked fury when he posted a picture of litter in the streets on Twitter and wrote: “Went to London for dinner. Wish I hadn’t. Scumbag football hooligans turn Covent Garden into a disgusting Cesspit.”

The member for Harlow in Essex soon found himself at the centre of an online firestorm and facing criticism from his own party.

Sunderland Conservative councillor Lee Martin wrote: “Nice to see @halfon4harlowMP has labelled the 5000 Sunderland fans in Covent Garden last night scumbags and hooligans. Idiot.”

But Mr Halfon denied his attack has been aimed exclusively at Sunderland fans.

 “My tweet was to do specifically with the state of the area I saw and walked on, which was much broken glass and huge amounts of dropped litter in the roads. Why is it wrong of me to point that out?

“I asked a police officer who told me that there were six clubs in the area. In no way was I, or did I, identify one club over another, in fact I was not sure who had actually done it other than it was people associated with football.

“I specifically did not attack fans from any club but was referring only to those who had left the broken glass. It is wrong to say I have mentioned or described any fan’s from any club in the manner described.

“I also make clear the distinction between genuine fans of which there are many, and have every right to enjoy themselves, and hooligans who throw and smash glass all over the road. As a football fan myself I have huge admiration for most British clubs.

“That was the context of my tweet, which inevitably has been twisted or misunderstood as attacking a particular group of fans, or particular club, which was far from the case.”

Other Twitter users questioned whether Mr Halfon would have been similarly critical of the mess left behind after other events.

The Times football writer Tony Barrett posed a picture of the debris left after New Year’s Eve celebrations, with the question: “London after New Years Eve – “scumbag New Year revellers” or just not enough bins?”

And freelance writer Daniel Storey posted a link to details of the clean-up operation after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, with the comment: “30 tonnes of rubbish on streets after diamond jubilee. Scumbag jubilee hooligans?”

Source – Sunderland Echo,  03 Mar 2014