Britain's 1984 Miner's Strike.

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Britain's 1984 Miner's Strike.

Postby Paul » 02 Jan 2015, 15:14

Despite various mentions on quite a few separate threads on here, I've noticed there hasn't been a specific thread devoted to the infamous miners' strike of 1984/5, in Britain.

Here's a fairly interesting commentary upon it, from Ms Raccoon's blog, written by a contributor. As she notes, there may be more information revealed soon under the 'Thirty year rule', regarding state 'secrets'.

As interesting, or more so, than the article itself, are the comments beneath it. Most are from contributors who were there at the time and know quite a bit about it and subsequent life experiences. For those interested it is at:
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Re: Britain's 1984 Miner's Strike.

Postby Paul » 02 Jan 2015, 15:19

Some of the better comments are, I feel, as follows:

It seems to me that industry and manufacturing the ’70s and onwards had massive opportunities for improved productivity, new products & processes. I worked in just such an industry for an international company. Meanwhile we had a lot of labour intensive smokestack industry of declining competitiveness, putting hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk.
Mix together some militant unions, bosses inadequate for the rapidly changing world, and a succession of floundering politicians, and confrontation was inevitable.
MT is now routinely blamed for the collapse of British industry. I don’t buy that. A lot of people have had their lives blighted by those events, but I guess things had moved on too far for positive & collaborative progress, if it was ever possible.
The issue was ‘who governs?’.
Just a view, but I was there.

I was there too and I thoroughly agree with you binao. What so many of the left wing commentators about the miners’ strike leave out of their crits then and now was the economics behind the crisis. Wilson had been closing pits throughout his premiership because they were simply uneconomic and more and more of them were trending that way. The same applied to other trad industries like ship building. One can still hear today the preening of workers and trade unionists over how ‘the men were wonderful craftsmen with ship building in their blood’ – whilst on the other side of the world, smaller, more sallow complexioned men were doing everything they could do and 20% better! Nor will I take any shit from the left about the nasty, brutal consequencies of deploying the police en masse as an army to confront the strikers. Many activists, provocateurs and miners were themselves brutal thugs; again, referring to the ship builders, remember what that estimable union leader Jimmy Reid had to say when reminding the cohorts during the Clydeside ‘Work In’ of 1971 of how they should behave. The fact remains that Arthur Scargill inspired by Jo Gormley, who was able to bring down Heath in the 70s, sought to remove the democratically elected Thatcher Government and replace it with an East German style state – I, for one, wouldn’t have enjoyed that very much.

I lived in a mining community although I had moved in before the strikes etc. the miners were good for the community. They funded brass bands, ran a welfare club really well and sold cheaper booze. They helped where they could.

They helped 4 young guys, of which I was one, set up and play in a rock group. They provided a place to practice, transport and financial support for us to make some pretty good headway. We used to practice on a Sunday afternoon after the strippers and bingo session.

Their living conditions had improved immensely but there were still quite a few miners rows which wee very nasty and not fit for use.

The town suffered badly after the strike. It’s probably never recovered. I moved on as I mentioned. To a yuppy executive home with all the trimmings. If the miners I knew had seen my new house and lifestyle they would have been pleased and happy for me.

Things change. I still think at some point in the distant the mines will be back.

I recall during the recent unedifying-almost traitorous- ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’ thing hearing on the radio from someone my age who grew up as the son of a miner in a mining town and as such HATED Mrs T with a passion AT THE TIME. Their pit did close, and Dear Ol Dad did loose his job and did remain unemployable up to his pension. However the Son -not being able to go ‘doOOOn pittt’ at 16- went on to 6th Form (co it was the only thing to do besides go on the Old King Cole), then to Uni -the first member of his entire family to ever go- and now is a well earning professional who owns his own home, cars, and iPad -miles away in distance and terms from the poverty of his youth. So now he has mixed feelings about Thatcher -mixed towards actually agreeing with what she did.

My in-laws lived in a Yorkshire mining town when the ’84 strike was on. Prior to that, I had enjoyed occasional healthy and robust debates with the locals but, once that strike began, it was taboo to hold, or even consider, any opinion other than unquestioning support for the strike. Any hint of an alternative view was greeted with clear aggression, not recommended with coal-miners who often have more muscle-power in their spit than between their ears.

I never thought I would again see such levels of absolute, visceral hatred as then applied to Thatcher and her government – but disturbingly, only this year as the Scottish referendum evolved, a very similar level of emotive vilification was evident, being applied north of the border to The Tories, Westminster and Cameron, in that order. Where Scargill led, Salmond followed.

At the time, I was a sales rep & my routes around the patch included swathes of mining villages in Derbyshire, Staffordshire & Yorkshire. I remember being stopped occasionally at road blocks & picket lines. There was, generally, good natured relationship between the pickets & the police, but that all changed when the Met arrived. Those guys just wanted a punch up. Equally, various groups with soft skinned hands started to turn up on the picket lines. These oiks (they are now called ‘activists’, I believe) wouldn’t have recognised a pick or a shovel for what they were. Nor the notion of turning up every day to do a useful job. But there they were, pretending to be ‘miners’. The real ones were pretty scathing about them, but none of this came out in the MSM at the time. As usual, they missed the point completely & simply promoted the band wagons they were riding on.

My grandad had been a miner & he was very keen that his descendants did something else. I remember that he took me down the mine once when I was small to make the point. He had zero sentiment about the industry & saw the ‘community’ for what it was.

I also knew a couple of miners in the during “the Thatcher years” at the time of the strikes. They impressed me because they (and their wives) worked as much overtime & extra shifts as they could to send their children to a private school. They saw this as a route for their offspring to something a lot better and saw the pit as a gravy train that couldn’t last much longer. They weren’t stupid & could see from the inside that the numbers just didn’t add up, so they were making hay while the sun shone. Their opinion of Scargill was very low – and they saw Mrs T as doing no more than what had to be done. But they didn’t say that to their workmates or the ‘activists’. They were already taking substantial risks. You have to be brave to be a ‘scab’.
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Re: Britain's 1984 Miner's Strike.

Postby Paul » 02 Jan 2015, 15:27


Speaking as a disinterested observer from the non-coal-bearing strata of society I loathed Scargill and genuinely feared him. This was purely based on his oratorical style, which he seemed to have modelled upon Adolf Hitler. Politically, without the Nottinghamshire miners it’s hard to see how Thatcher could ever have prevailed.

Insofar as the “heroic patriots” that were the miners are concerned, it’s my understanding that during the second world war some elements basically held the then Coalition government to ransom and gained huge concessions, in order to enable Britain to pursue it’s single-minded resistance against Germany’s military Hegemony. Perhaps the miners back then had a lot to gain after centuries of oppression (like the Irish), but it still bears mentioning that whatever their aims, they were only out for themselves and their own, which is also perhaps as it should be, but is not what the propagandists about “Society” would necessarily have us believe.

It’s hard to believe how bad things were in the ’70s in industry; equipment being ‘blacked’ if a supervisor picked up spanner, a pervading atmosphere of sheer bloody mindedness and uncertainty about everything. I recall a spell in a factory in Glasgow, putting in new kit, only to reinstall it elsewhere when the grants & patience were exhausted.
A spell later in the decade in LA was an eye opener; can do, will do, and when do you want it? And yes I know there are downsides to the US, but you could get things done, quickly & well, and there was the expectation of success, not failure.

During the late 1970s, my father (a photographer) did some work for a long-established medium sized manufacturer in Sheffield. At that time, steel was in short supply because of inefficiency in the steel industry exacerbated by constant strikes. He turned up to find them in full swing. Asking the foreman how they managed to keep going when so many firms were reported to be on short time or forced shutdown because of steel shortages, he was taken into the yard. There stood a shipping container, with several tons of steel bar in it. “We get it from Germany, now”, explained the foreman, “We ring the order through on Monday, and it rolls into the yard on Friday. If we order from British Steel, it’s on six weeks delivery when there aren’t any strikes.”

The irony of a Sheffield firm buying steel from Germany was not lost on him. His opinion of unions wasn’t too high, either.

The writing was on the wall for domestic coal production from the beginning of the 20th century, as one commentator put it the maximum output was in 1913. I can remember houses being heated by open coal fires and my parents bemoaning that the quality was poor because all the best stuff was being sold off to cope with the National Debt. How true that was must be a matter of some research. Then coal became expensive, and I can remember my father making briquettes out of coal dust with a little cement admixture – not through poverty, but because the coal supplied was too fine, and damped down the fire – an open fire requires lumps. (As an aside, many old coal waste tips contain a lot of coal, as only big lumps were saleable. Dust put into a steam engine’s firebox drops through the firebars onto the track. Now, fine coal is in demand for power stations, and it is economic to reprocess those waste dumps!)
There used to be a coal yard at every railway station of note, but these are now the car parks.
My father was a career soldier, and he was sent off to Suez at a day’s notice. We then lived in the NE of England, and the village where I went to school had many children from mining families. I was under strict injunction never to repeat the family criticism of coal and mining for fear of reprisals (Dad reckoned that coal miners were organised by Britain’s enemies, having been on strike in both World Wars). In one classroom I sat next to a lad who was routinely at the bottom of the class – I’d slipped down there due to having been in hospital twice (tonsils then appendix) – the class was organised in terms of where you were in the periodic tests and I hadn’t taken them. I remember the event still, because this lad (whose name escapes me nearly 60 years later) showed me a wooden model his miner father had made for him of a coal cutting machine. He also showed me his black eye and bruises received from his father who had no money for beer and took it out on the lad (he said). Tough love! We were 8 years old. My father (from a working class background himself) never raised his hand to me – not ever – and I formed a negative impression that has lasted until today. I have a recollection of being told that miners were on strike because mining is dangerous and they needed better pay. Anyway, childhood recollections aside, in the 1972 strike, my poor grandmother met her end in the cold and dark, and I find it hard to forgive that, too. I was trying to get some computing done on a mainframe computer that needed most of 3 hours to get running from cold, and one had less than 3 hours warning of power outages. I was pissed off, but never managed outright hatred.
The mines had to close, and miners had to lose their jobs for practical harsh economic reasons. Firstly, UK coal costs rose steadily in line with safety innovations and improvement in working conditions. For example, pithead baths were still not available at all pits, a decade after Nationalisation. Secondly, mechanisation increased the waste disposal problem, and that brought increasing costs. This culminated in the 1966 Aberfan disaster, which was followed by the Mines and Quarries Tips Act that brought still yet more cost overheads dealing with unsafe waste dumps. Eventually, one could buy coal on the international market for half the cost of home produced stuff. Then there was the damage that mining did to buildings and the infrastructure over them, for which the NCB had to pay compensation. In one house in Bolsover this was paid four times as different seams were worked underneath. Finally, the Clean Air Act(s) led to the demise of many open fire heated homes. Coal wasn’t so much pushed out of contention by gas and electricity as it priced itself out of the market. In many homes it was superceded by those awful paraffin stoves, and gas only became the fuel of choice for central heating when the North Sea gas fields opened.
I’ve never been able to reconcile the view that coal mining is a horrible and dangerous profession, which therefore demands high pay rates, with the view that it needs to be preserved at the cost of ever increasing subsidies so that generation can follow generation ‘doon t’pit’ to be injured or inflicted with ‘black lung’ (pneumoconiosis) in the interests of black spittle; allotment gardening; brass band playing; keeping one’s bath filled with the free issue of coal; the ability to brutalise one’s children whenever one wants, and the Labour Party.

Well I have been down more than a dozen coal mines – only one of which was still open last time I looked – and I have never met a better organised or motivated workforce than a set of blokes at a coalface. The point being that if one is not organised and not motivated in such a place you will not produce much coal, and there is every likelihood that people will get hurt. But it is just labouring work. Hard, hot, dusty and vile. I am sure that I breathed in more shit in my few cumulative weeks underground than in the rest of all my decades above it. Underground and waiting one day maybe to die alone in the dark, not a one of the men I met wanted their sons to follow them down and that should be enough to inform anyone.

All of the obervations above are true: Wilson closed more pits than Thatcher; the cost of UK coal was a multiple of that deliverable from overseas; Thatcher set out to break the NUM, got her ducks lined up and stomped them; the viability cut-off point when I was about was 1,000,000 tonnes per year because the overhead cost was like a paving slab around the neck of every man; communities did rely on the pit for every last copper of wealth that flowed in and were therefore dead when the pit closed… And so it goes on. The blame for it all should not appear against Thatcher’s name though. The miners were betrayed by the stupidity of their leadership and the bottomless cruelty of the Hampstead Heroes, the post-war anti-capitalist rich-enough-to-have-principles Benn, Crosland, Jenkins, Kinnock, Castle even, who pushed them on as the figurehead of the working man, and then left them to twist in the wind because it suited them to have such visible victims of the Tories. Dig that bastard Orwell up and let us see what they really thought of the workers. Wikipedia tells me by the way that 1049 miners were killed last year in Chinese mines. And don’t we all know that it was likely ten times that. Workers of the World, Unite! Indeed.

The highjacking of what we used to call the ecology movement was started on my watch too. The response of every sensible person to the appalling pollution and despoilation of the land that occurred up until at least the mid-eighties was twisted and bastardised. Until we find it now a new stick with which to beat the poor and keep them in their workhouses of debt the better to vote for their real slavemasters on the Left.

Happy New year to youse all, Comrades.

A sentiment (below) that I remember from the 1970s, as a boy.

I loved the 3-day 70’s. Candles when the leccy went off was cool. We played cards with mum and dad to pass the time and even got a game of Monopoly underway! I went to a footie game on a Sunday once because the evening kick-offs were prohibited and that was the only available date at the weekend. We had to voluntarily give the programme seller the normal admission price because the Club couldn’t legally charge an admission due to Sunday Trading Laws and how was THAT for Community Spirit!

Of course I was just a teenager having fun and adventures. Ten years older and like my dad I’d have been wondering how I was meant to get by on two days pay a week less…

As I remember the “cheap” coal that was coming into the country was from subsidised Australian mines, or slave labour in China. I do remember living in a pit town at the time – rumours of police tapping the phones of miners, protests, riots, free school meals for the underfed miners’ kids, and the local woodland being stripped of its trees for firewood.
Anyone who broke the strike was an outcast. One particular house had the word “SLAG” painted on it in eight foot high white paint. Another neighbour of ours was starved back to work – a full three days before the strike officially ended. Guys he had worked alongside for 15 years refused to acknowledge his existence again.
Not a happy time – and afterwards we had to start buying our own soap as my Uncle could no longer bring home carrier bags full of bars of “P.H.B” – or “Pit Head Bath”.

Should read 'SCAB' painted onto the man's house.

And maybe best of all......

@candles when the leccy went off was cool>>> I wonder of the kids these days can be as ‘cool’ about desperate times as we were pre global news reporting, ipads and smart phones. The winter of 1947 was a case in point. I was 11 and struggling with the mind blowing mental arithmetic of 11+ rehearsals, with a fantastic teacher in the council school. The nation was in deep financial crisis. Austerity had us in its most vicious grip and what a GLORIOUS WINTER we kids had. Ice skating on the village pond, rolling huge snowballs, snowmen. Sledging in the grounds of a posh hotel….no one moved us away. Whacking great slides with hordes of kids sailing along joyfully in the school playground!!!!!!. It went on for weeks on end. We were used to rationing and sharing out what little was to be had. Best winter of my life.
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Re: Britain's 1984 Miner's Strike.

Postby Yessica » 04 Jan 2015, 11:16

However the Son -not being able to go ‘doOOOn pittt’ at 16- went on to 6th Form (co it was the only thing to do besides go on the Old King Cole), then to Uni -the first member of his entire family to ever go- and now is a well earning professional who owns his own home, cars, and iPad -miles away in distance and terms from the poverty of his youth. So now he has mixed feelings about Thatcher -mixed towards actually agreeing with what she did.

That's an interesting comment. I wonder what it is with the left and mining.
It seems to be far more than a job for them and I have heard leftist go on and on about the qualities miners are supposed to have like bravery, steadiness and so on.

The miner seems to be the "ultimate male" at least for the New Left.

Mining used to be a dangerous occupation but shouldn't we all be happy that today this kind of bravery is no longer needed.
Our German coal is of substandard quality, mining is unprofitable to say the least but still the social democratic party wants to subsidize mines with billions to safe the miners jobs.
Why on earth? We have labour shortages. They sure would find another job. They seem to think working at an office is not as glorious and manly as toiling down in the mines.
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Re: Britain's 1984 Miner's Strike.

Postby Paul » 05 Jan 2015, 01:09

Thanks Yessica

It is interesting, and additionally so given that the same situation exists in Germany. Is there, in Germany, an entrenched position of a certain 'community' within the workforce, that is the miners, that hold a special position within society?

In Britain, coal and the mining of coal could be said to be, in some ways, almost the entire backdrop of the industrial revolution (and the enabler of it) and thence the whole set-up of Britain's empire. Take away the coal and the miners and hardly any of it would have been possible.

It's unlikely that anyone at the time stated things explicitly as such, but there was probably (or definitely) a deeper common consciousness that the whole edifice was based primarily on 'King Coal', as it was often called. The name alone signifies the common understanding of its importance

And after all, virtually everyone heated their homes with coal, and witnessed hundreds of factories doing the same. And then there were the railways. Everyone knew coal was vital. An absence of coal was unthinkable and impossible.

Hence the miners did occupy (and then dominate) a special position in the industrial set up, and quickly realised it. Everyone relied upon them. The flip side was the terrible nature of the job itself. So, it's not hard to understand how a certain proud (but maybe belligerent) mindset could develop amongst those doing the job.

It is horrible and is one of those utterly macho jobs. Unlike James Bond or a famous explorer, it's also without any glamour. It's probably akin to deep sea arctic trawler fishing and that sort of job, although even that seems to have a little glamour attached.

It's likely that the miners adopt a proud (but deserved) outlook, but in their heart of hearts would rather not be doing the job. Almost to a man (as is said endlessly by every generation of Britains' miners) they don't want their sons to follow them into the mines. As with all dangerous and nasty jobs, the only lure is the high pay. It's almost certain that nobody would go coal-mining if the pay was just similar to other 'normal' trade and craft jobs. Nobody would do it just for the macho-ness they could adopt.

Regarding the masses, the non-mining population in Britain, it is probable that, up to the 1980s, when there were still enough mines in operation (though a fraction of their former numbers), enough people still residually knew of the importance - or at least the history of the importance - and the almost legendary status that the mining communities had developed over decades, or even a century and more. Some of this was probably misplaced or excessive, at least by that time frame. To a great degree, the mining communities played upon (and relied upon) that popular support. Because of the historical factor however, a lot of the (genuine) popular support was understandable and even natural.

But the whole dispute became additionally hi-jacked by, bound up with, attached to and identified with the Left. The Left used the miners as the ideal pawns in a political fight. Even then it was pretty transparent, but because it was so huge and deemed so important, common cause allowed for somewhat divergent groups or interests to co-exist within the disputing population.

Tagging along were most of the youth, who saw the whole dispute as a spectacle, as exciting, as some kind of 'anarchy' movement and 'revolution'. Lots of punks still around at that time. Minor figures in the power stakes in reality, but the youth did make a lot of noise. Having said that, the shadow of rioting was still just under the surface. They were tense times.

In 1981 Britain had serious riots in many major cities, including London, events that actually destroyed the old post-war genteel (by comparison) ways for good. This was Thatcher's Britain and everyone was continually bated for dramatic action. The year before that, 1980, Thatcher sent the SAS into the Iranian Embassy in London, to end the siege, in dramatic fashion, an event that played out live on TV. Then in 1982, she declared war on Argentina, re the Falklands dispute and emerged victorious there too.

It's even more obvious in hindsight how total the dispute was likely to be. Right to the bitter end. Taking on Margaret Thatcher rarely ended well. Sieges, the SAS, riots, war and the largest and longest industrial dispute in British history. She came through them all.
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Re: Britain's 1984 Miner's Strike.

Postby Yessica » 05 Jan 2015, 10:34

Paul wrote:It is interesting, and additionally so given that the same situation exists in Germany. Is there, in Germany, an entrenched position of a certain 'community' within the workforce, that is the miners, that hold a special position within society?

Thanks for you explanation, Paul.

In Germany there definetly is a "community" of miners and their wifes and families that is said to be very tightknit and to operate by a system of certain values and beliefs.

There is a number of songs about mining - some of them very old. One of the most well-known which is also popular among the non-mining popular segment of the population is "Glück auf, der Steiger kommt". It is about mining silver and gold but for some reason became the hymn of those mining coal.
I think "Glück auf" is also the traditional salute of the miners.
Here is the text of the song for those able to read German with an literal and not very poetic translation done by me:

Glück auf, der Steiger kommt wrote:Glück auf, Glück auf, der Steiger kommt.
|: Und er hat sein helles Licht bei der Nacht, :|
|: schon angezündt’ :|

Schon angezündt’! Das gibt ein’n Schein,
|: und damit so fahren wir bei der Nacht, :|
|: ins Bergwerk ein :|

Ins Bergwerk ein, wo die Bergleut’ sein,
|: die da graben das Silber und das Gold bei der Nacht, :|
|: aus Felsgestein :|

Der Eine gräbt das Silber, der and’re gräbt das Gold,
|: doch dem schwarzbraunen Mägdelein, bei der Nacht, :|
|: dem sein wir hold :|

Ade, nun ade! Lieb’ Schätzelein!
|: Und da drunten in dem tiefen finst’ren Schacht, bei der Nacht, :|
|: da denk’ ich dein :|

Und kehr ich heim, zum Schätzelein,
|: dann erschallet des Bergmanns Gruß bei der Nacht, :|
|: Glück auf, Glück auf! :|

translation wrote:A salute, a salute, the foreman of miners is coming,
and he has already set fire on his bright light in the night
already set fire

already set on fire and it is shining brightly
and in the night
we are going down the mines

To the mines where the miners are
that are mining the silver and the gold
from the earth

One man is mining for silver and one man is mining for gold
but we are true to the black and brown sweetheart when it is night (that sweetheart is the earth)

Good bye, my darling, good bye (in this case the darling is his wife)
down the mines when it is night
I will think of you

and if I will come home to you, my darling
you will hear my salute in the night
Glück auf, Glück auf

Is it possible to link to youtube without having to be afraid to infringe copy right? There are a lot of versions of that song there. Many of them really worth watching because you can also see people wearing the traditional miners clothes and symbols.

I think the miners in Germany have some parades. One is done for their first day of work, one is done for their last day of work.
It is said that the miners invented the German carnival though I don't know if that is true, because carnival also starts the fasting period before Easter. However they definetly play a role in carnival, having their own carnival societies.

There are other occupations within the workforce that have an entrenched position such as people working in public service such people working on the rail ways. Young boys wanting to be train drivers is nearly a stereotype.

Mining, steel production and a well developed public sector have been the backbone of the industrial revolution in Germany. There are definetly some old loyalities there.
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