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.
“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.
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
The Government has been accused of sidestepping questions about delays into a possible inquiry into the actions of police during the infamous ‘Battle of Orgreave’.
For two years the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been investigating whether officers accused of fitting up striking miners on riot charges, including two from the North East, had a case to answer.
Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, a miner at the time who was at the South Yorkshire coking plant that day in June, 1984, submitted two questions to Home Secretary Theresa May about the matter.
He asked if she would find out when the IPCC would make its decision and what her department knew about the reasons for the delay.
In the Government’s reply, the Home Office said the IPCC had completed its assessment of the events at Orgreave and was taking legal advice before publishing its findings.
In the written reply, signed by Minister Mike Penning, he wrote:
“This has been a very complex exercise which has required the in-depth analysis of a vast amount of documentation from over 30 years ago. As the IPCC is an independent organisation the Government has no control or influence over the date of publication of its findings.”
Mr Anderson commented:
“The government should put “the vast amount of paperwork” in the public domain so that people and Parliament can see if they were misled.
“She sidesteps the second question about exactly what information she has and puts the onus onto an Independent body. Has the IPCC seen all of the paperwork that has not been released and if not why not?”
Orgreave was the scene of some of the bitterest clashes during the year long miners strike of 1984 to 1985.
In all 95 miners were arrested and charged with riot following it, an offence which carries a maximum life sentence.
All the charges were eventually dropped and 39 miners were later awarded £425,000 in compensation amid claims police witnesses gave evidence that had been dictated to them by senior officers as well as perjuring themselves.
It was in 2012 after a TV documentary repeated these allegations in light of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report that the head of South Yorkshire Police referred his own force to the IPCC.
It was South Yorkshire Police which was in control of the crowds at the 1989 FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest where 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death.
It was revealed officers had fabricated evidence – including having statements dictated to them by senior officers – in an attempt to blame the tragedy on the Liverpool fans, the same tactics used against miners at Orgreave five years earlier.
Mr Anderson added:
“(David) Cameron said Sunshine is the best policy. Well come on then, shine a light on this disgraceful chapter in our nation’s history.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 24 Jan 2015
Unite Community members joined other Trade Unionists yesterday to demonstrate against the slow progress being made by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), who have taken two years to carry out a scoping exercise. Which means two years to decide whether or not to investigate South Yorkshire Police’s actions at Orgreave in 1984. The Guardian has picked up the story. You can read it here.
Here are some pictures from the protest outside the IPCC offices in London
North East bus passengers will soon be able to use Oyster-style tickets, travel operators have announced.
Britain’s biggest bus operators – including Newcastle-headquartered Go Ahead and Sunderland-based Arriva – have announced plans to launch London-style smart ticketing across England’s largest city regions.
The pledge by Stagecoach, First, Arriva, Go Ahead and National Express aims to deliver multi-operator smart ticketing to millions of bus customers across England next year.
Greater Manchester will be an early adopter of what is described as a “transformational initiative”, helping support the area’s wider growth plans.
The smart tickets will then be rolled out across Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire along with the city regions of Nottingham, Leicester and Bristol.
The bus providers have spent several months finalising their plans and this work has included liaising with IT suppliers and the Department for Transport.
The announcement comes two weeks after North East councils took a step towards seizing control of the bus services, in a major shake-up of public transport – a move bitterly opposed by the bus companies.
Members of the North East Combined Authority voted unanimously for the Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for the Tyne and Wear area.
If passed by an independent review board the proposals will signal a new era of London-style bus services across the region, in which travellers carry a pass similar to the capital’s Oyster card and councils decide on fares and when and how often services run.The bus companies said their own plans represent a multi-million pound investment in what is the biggest smart ticketing project in the UK’s history.
The technology will allow smaller bus operators to be included and provide a platform to extend the system to other modes, such as trams and trains.
In a joint statement, Stagecoach Group chief executive Martin Griffiths, First Group chief executive Tim O’Toole, Go Ahead chief executive David Brown, Arriva chief executive David Martin and National Express chief executive Dean Finch said:
“Millions of people in our biggest city regions will benefit from this transformational initiative in London-style smart ticketing. It will deliver an even bigger programme and wider benefit than the capital’s Oyster system.
“Bus operators share the aspirations of our city regions to become growing economic powerhouses and we know high quality public transport is an important part of making that happen.”
Bus operators also urged central and local Government to work with them to improve bus services across the country.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 04 Nov 2014
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 Mineworkers– Yorkshire 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”.
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
The poorest regions in the UK are by far the poorest in all of Northern Europe and much more unequal, figures suggest.
Source – Welfare News Service, 22 Aug 2014
A Labour Government would appoint a Minister for the North East to ensure the region has a strong voice at Westminster, it was revealed today.
Ed Miliband would appoint a Minister for each English region in a bid to ensure the entire country received a fair deal from Government, and to help businesses in their regions attract investment from across the world.
The manifesto commitment came as Miliband also announced plans to divert £20bn in funding from Whitehall to local councils, to spend on improving transport links, building houses, providing training and creating jobs.
To qualify for the cash, councils would need to work together to create a “combined authority” – giving the North East an advantage, as it is one of the first regions to create such an authority.
They would also need to work closely with the local business community and draw up showing how they would use the money to create jobs in the private sector.
The North East had a regional minister under the last Labour government, with the post being held by Newcastle MP Nick Brown.
A Labour government would appoint nine regional ministers, who would sit on a new Regional Committee chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office.
Their duties would include helping local councils, central government and Local Enterprise Partnerships, the economic development bodies led by the business community, to work closely together.
They would also champion their area in Whitehall and ensure that the impact of policy proposals on every part of the country is considered.
Regional ministers will work with other Ministers such as the Business Secretary to implement an industrial strategy to create jobs in every part of the country.
And they will encourage tourism and act as a visible representative of their region at major events.
Speaking in Birmingham, Mr Miliband set out plans to strip national government of billions of pounds and send the cash directly to the regions of England for local politicians to spend.
But warned that funding will go to “city regions” and “county regions” where authorities have come together to create a combined authority.
So far, councils in the Greater Manchester area, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Greater Liverpool regions have created combined authorities – and the North East is about to create its own combined authority bringing together Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.
Mr Miliband is announcing that plans to devolve £20bn over the course of the next Parliament to combined authorities will be included in Labour’s General Election manifesto.
He said: “Labour’s message at the next election will be clear:
“Devolving power from Whitehall to our towns and cities is essential to generate the new jobs we need.
“We propose a new bargain: Cities and towns that come together with local businesses will be given historic new powers over transport, housing, skills and economic development.
“We are determined to make our great cities and towns the powerhouses for the creation of good jobs.”
> But he still seems set to continue on the same lines as the Tories regarding unemployment and benefits, so for most of us it’ll probably just be a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 08 April 2014
MP Sharon Hodgson has called on Ministers to apologise for the Government’s treatment of striking miners during 1984/5 dispute.
The Washington & Sunderland West MP has joined a new campaign to seek an apology from senior politicians.
The ‘Justice for the Coalfields’ campaign has been launched after the release of previously-confidential cabinet papers revealing that the Thatcher Government had a secret plan to close 75 pits at the cost of some 65,000 jobs, sought to influence police tactics to escalate the dispute, and actively considered deploying the Army to defeat the miners and unions.
Mrs Hodgson has joined colleagues in writing to Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude demanding a formal apology from Ministers for the actions of the Government during the time of the strike, and for the release of all information on collusion between the Government and the police at the time, particularly around the Battle of Orgreave, the pitched battle between miners and police in South Yorkshire in 1984.
Mrs Hodgson said: “The Miners’ Strikes may be a distant memory for some, but the wounds are still raw for many people around here, with communities and families torn apart.
“It was no surprise when these Cabinet papers showed that the Government had been lying about its plans for widespread closure and the use of force against striking miners, but that doesn’t let them off the hook. The very least that coalfield communities deserve is an official apology and complete transparency from the Government about the secret plans being made at the time. Any less would just be one more insult.”
> All very nice, although I cant help feeling they’ve been all respectful and waited until Thatcher died before raising the point.
But what I’d really like to see is a few Labour MPs – especially North East ones – getting equally worked up about what is happening right now. Or do we have to wait another 30 years until they get around to that ?
Source – Sunderland Echo 29 Jan 2014