Tagged: pit closures

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

Former Miners march on Parliament over 1984 strike

Former miners from the region will march on Parliament today (Tuesday, October 28) to demand more support for coalfield communities.

The protest comes as MPs debate the release of 1984 Cabinet papers which allegedly showed that the Government at the time misled the public about the extent of pit closures and tried to influence tactics used by police dealing with picketers.

Members from organisations including the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) and National Union of MineworkersYorkshire Area will travel to London to take part in a rally outside the House of Commons.

Dave Hopper, DMA secretary, said the impact of the pit closures was still being felt 30 years later.

“It is now only right that Parliament recognises just how badly ministers at the time treated the coalfield communities and acknowledges the full scale of the economic legacy of the pit closure programme,” he said.

The problems in the former coalfields are horrendous and made worse by the current Coalition Government’s policies.”

Parliament will debate a motion put forward by Labour which calls on the Commons to acknowledge the evidence that the Thatcher Government “misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics”.

It also urges Parliament to recognise the “economic legacy” of the pit closure programme in coalfield communities and back continued regeneration and support for areas affected.

Miners also want a full investigation into the so-called Battle of Orgreave, which saw brutal picket line clashes between police and union members, including many from the North-East.

What happened at Orgreave 30 years ago was a black day in South Yorkshire,” said Mr Hopper.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission needs to get its act together. If they can’t or won’t undertake a proper investigation, then Labour has said the Government should consider initiating a swift, independent review along the lines of the Ellison Review.”

Cabinet papers from 1984, released earlier this year under the 30-year rule, revealed Government plans to shut 75 mines over three years. The government and National Coal Board said at the time they wanted to close just 20.

Source –  Durham Times, 28 Oct 2014

Coalfield Communities Still Blighted By Deprivation & Unemployment

North-East coalfield communities continue to be blighted by deprivation, ill health and unemployment, an independent report has found.

The State of the Coalfields study paints a grim picture for the 599,000 people who live in County Durham’s former pit towns and villages.

The report noted that 8.6 per cent of residents in the communities had bad or very bad health, compared to a national average of 5.6 per cent.

The percentage of people who claimed disability living allowance was also higher in these areas – 8.2 per cent compared to 5.4 per cent across Britain.

The report, carried out by Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University and commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, found there were fewer jobs in all 12 mining areas examined, including those in County Durham.

Figures showed there were just 48 jobs for every 100 working age residents in the county’s mining areas in 2012. The national average is 67.

The communities’ employment rate of 71 per cent was below the England and Wales average of 76 per cent, while the number of people claiming unemployment benefits was 15.8 per cent, compared to a national average of 10.9 per cent.

 Professor Steve Fothergill, who led the research, said: “The pit closures may now be receding into history, but the job losses that followed are still a serious and contributing factor to the economic reality for most mining communities.

“The consequences are still all too visible in statistics on jobs, unemployment, benefits and ill health. The coalfields communities are seriously adrift of the national average.

“The job losses of the 1980s and 90s still cast a very long shadow.”

Peter McNestry, chair of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, said the tough reality for coalfields residents was that these problems would not go away overnight.

He added: “We have worked for 15 years to support these communities and to provide them with access to the resources, practical advice and funding that they need to help themselves.

“We have come some way to improving the situation in the coalfields but this report proves there is still a great deal of work to be done.

The report concluded that there was a compelling case for continued support and access to funding for coalfield communities.

It added that regeneration did work, noting that there was substantial growth in employment in other sectors of the coalfield economy, at least up to the start of the recession in 2008.

Source –  Northern Echo, 19 June 2014

Miners who ‘scabbed’ still get blanked in street

MINERS who broke the strike and “scabbed” can still expect to be blanked in the street 30 years on, according to a former union official.

Alan Cummings, 66-year-old former NUM lodge secretary in the ex-pit village of Easington Colliery, County Durham, explained: “People have long memories.

“There’s very few people talk to them and it split families. But we didn’t have a lot in this part.”

The strike held firm from March 1984 and the village pit which had 2,700 workers was lightly picketed. Then in August things changed.

A power loader named Paul Wilkinson from Bowburn, 10 miles away, was bussed in and hundreds of riot police made sure he got to work.

Mr Cummings, who still lives in a terraced house a stone’s throw from the former pit gates, said: “I have never seen as many police before in Easington.

“There’s only two ways into the village and it was completely blocked off. People couldn’t get in or out.

“After 6am there was vans and vans coming in. Pickets were called back from elsewhere and had to come across fields to get here. The atmosphere was really bad.”

Police and pickets fought through the day and serious disorder broke out when Coal Board property was smashed and cars wrecked.

Mr Cummings said the self-contained, isolated village had been law-abiding and needed little policing prior to the strike.

The treatment by officers – particularly those drafted in from South Wales and Lincolnshire – disgusted many locals, he said.

One striker received an out-of-court settlement of £5,000 for injuries he sustained in the protest, the ex-NUM official said. But it was a “hollow victory”.

“Miners’ wives and families in the street could not believe what went on – there was a sea-change in their attitude,” he said. “It’s been called a village under siege.”

The strike ended a little under a year after it began and the pit closed forever in 1993 – just short of 100 years since work began.

And Easington Colliery’s reliance on coal meant it was a disaster, Mr Cummings said.

“It’s been total devastation,” he said. “It’s my worst nightmare and I knew it was going to happen.”

Whereas the Germans planned pit closures in their coalfields, “here, they just wiped us out”.

The village had the second-highest percentage of colliery houses in the country and they were sold off to private landlords in the 1990s, bringing an influx of problem tenants and class A drugs.

Seemingly half the shops on Seaside Lane were shuttered and the working man’s club life, once so vibrant, was dying out.

Mr Cummings retained a passionate hate for Margaret Thatcher and did not care that the village’s celebration of her death last year upset some.

“What an epitaph she has in these mining communities: death, a lot of people have committed suicide, and no hope.

“All down to her, and some of her spawn that’s about now.”

But he also laid blame at the door of New Labour, which he said failed to make enough impact during its time in power.

Now those who have jobs work in call centres, for Railtrack, the Nissan plant at Sunderland or the Caterpillar plant in nearby Peterlee.

“But 99 per cent of them would come back to the pit if it was open,” he said.

Source – Shields Gazette,  03 Mar 2014

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Brassed Off – Police Brass Band Get The Boot

A replacement has been found for a police band that quit a theatre show amid vociferous protests over their involvement.

 

Durham Miners’ Association Band has agreed to take over from Durham Constabulary Brass Band in a production of Brassed Off, at Darlington Civic Theatre, next month.

 

The mining community, including Durham Miners Assocition itself, had objected to a band with police links taking part in the show, which tells the tale of a colliery band battling for its future amid pit closures and job losses.

 

Although the police band is made up of civilians, objectors felt its involvement was inappropriate given the resentment that still lingers over the role officers played in the 1984 Miners’ Strike.

 

Producer Jenny King, of the Touring Consortium Theatre Company, which is staging Brassed Off, acknowledged that it would have been much easier if the miners’ association band had been booked in the first place, rather than the police band.

 

She said: “We take this show all over the country and everywhere we go, we need local bands, if possible with a connection to the mining industry.

 

“We have two or three people sourcing bands and we are incredibly grateful to Durham Miners’ Association for coming to the rescue.

 

 

“The show will be all the better for it, their commitment will be fantastic.”

Ms King added that all brass bands used in the production are amateurs, as to pay professional rates would fall foul of the Musicians’ Union.

 

She confirmed that, although expenses are paid, the miners’ association band will not receive a fee for its role in the production, nor would the police band had it taken part.

Source – Northern Echo  22 Feb 2014