30 years ago on March 1, 1984, the state owned National Coal Board under American Ian MacGregor aided and abetted, by the then Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher announced that it planned to close 20 coal pits with the loss of over 20,000 jobs. This decision was to go and pit Mrs Thatchers government against the NUM and its then president, Arthur Scargill.
The year-long strike that followed would change the political, economic and social history of Britain forever. The courage and determination of the striking miners, their families and communities would charge and inspire the political consciousness of hundreds of thousands of people, as it did for me, aged 16 and a half at the start of the strike.
It would see the full force of the state out to try and break and tear apart communities with the use of road-blocks, beatings, snatch squads, phone taps and the erosion of civil liberties.
Miners on picket lines were brutalised and attacked by baton-wielding police in full riot gear. For me at the time this was to be a year of great awakenings, seeing their fight, I started to see connections with other peoples struggles. The plight of the poor and unemployed, Nicuaragua and Apartheid South Africa, people being daily attacked by Margaret Thatchers rabid Government. I decided to take sides with with those who decided to take on the right wing policies of Thatchers government.
The rights and wrongs of whether the miners should have had a national ballot has been widely discussed, but like many others at the time I believed that once the miners were out, it was our duty to support and work for them. Within weeks of the strike starting 80% of miners supported the strike, standing against what they saw as the unjustifiable attacks on their right to existance and resistance.
Despite increasing hardships the miners fought on with determination and bravery. During the course of the strike over 6,000 were arrested, with over 20,000 miners being injured in acts of state violence.
Throughout the strike I would witness, how the right wing media tried to vilify and undermine. The media being used to lie, and used as a weapon to crush the miners resiliance, the media also enabling to misrepresent, and divide the movement.The propoganda part of Thatchers assault, was being pushed out everyday. At her so called enemy within.
Psychological pressure was also used, with the police encouraged to wave wads of cash at pickets, designed to undermine and demoralise, the use of scabs increased, bussing them through picket lines in a determined effort to break the will of the striking miners.
Throuhout the country, groups emerged, either as individuals or part of miners support groups, raising money and awareness, standing in solidarity. Disparate groups found common ground, from the Unemployed, the Peace Movement, students, other Trade Unions, all standing firmly behind the miners in their great struggle. The women from the mining communities in particular acted as bulmarks of strength, organising welfare and support, collecting food and money and giving much needed moral energy. Lesbian and Gay support groupss also played a vital role and consequently the NUM led the pride demonstration in London in 1985. It was an energising time, new friends were made, the camerardie that emerged was simply amazing.
Sadly eventually some miners started drifting back there will broken, but it should be noted that 63% of the miners stayed out to the bitter end, and finally they were defeated, there can be no denying this unfortunate fact.
Sadly they were also let down by the Labour Party, especially their spineless leader Neil Kinnock, who refused to attend picket lines or events supporting the miners, in effect helping Thatchers dirty war of attrition. Other Trade Union leaders let them down to, unfortunately.
30 years later I remember the courage and sacrifice made during this bitter struggle and the spirit of revolt they unleashed, and those who remained defiant to the end, and acknowledge the miners who were arrested and locked up on trumped up charges.The communities that never fully recovered from the financial blow of the strike. Those who fought for the survival of a humane society here in Wales and across Britain, and a vile government who used the state in almost all its entirety to defeat the miners and to teach the whole working class a lesson. Passions remain unwaned, and I feel the miners strike has left us with a legacy that we should be proud of, of a people and community standing together in solidarity in the face of adversity.
30 years on solidarity is needed more than ever, as we remember the miners struggle, and continue our own for jobs, social justice and welfare. in our opposition to the current Con Dem coalition Government, who are carrying on where Thatcher left off.
The fight continues.
Test Department and the South Wales Striking Miners
- Comrades in Arms