The miners' strike 1984-5

Submitted by Anon on 6 March, 2004 - 8:46

The events

13 July: Government withholds tax refunds to striking miners.
19 July: NUM/NCB talks last three days. Despite NUM willingness to negotiate, the NCB are ordered to stand firm by the government. Some of the NCB officials wanted to settle. They were later sacked or resigned.
31 July: South Wales NUM fined £50,000 and the High Court seizes South Wales NUM funds. The union had defied an injunction against picketing granted to two haulage firms. The Tories are beginning to up the stakes.
The miners and the socialists

Karen Waddington, speaking at "Ideas for Freedom"

When your safe little world is turned upside down you start asking questions about why the world is run like it is - for profit - and you want answers.

During the strike like everyone else involved (my partner was a miner) I began to read the left wing papers because they were supporting the miners. You could find out what was happening in these papers and they were not calling us "the enemy within", but working class heroes. The left was everywhere, visiting the kitchens, on demonstrations. Even on a Saturday morning in the village you could see at least four different groups selling their papers.

Some socialists had started coming to our picket meetings. There we met Socialist Organiser (as the Alliance for Workers' Liberty was known then) through Ellen and her husband the late Rob Dawber. Ellen's dad was one of the pickets. Ellen and Rob used to chat to people after the meetings. Rob worked on the railway, and had been trying to organise solidarity action. Ellen had been involved in organising miners' solidarity action in the big NHS dispute in 1982, a dispute the miners had come out on strike for.

Ellen told me about a day school organised by Women's Fightback (a former campaign and newspaper, it stood for a working class women's movement). There I met other miners' wives who seemed just as interested in finding out the answers to questions as I was.

The workshops opened my eyes. We had one on the women's involvement in the Irish struggle, one on the Greenham Common women. We not only talked about what was happening in the strike but also about bigger political ideas and how it was possible to organise the world so that human need rather than money was the deciding factor.

We talked about how ordinary workers could have a say in how society was run. It was a bit like the way the soup kitchen was organised: we had all managed without a boss to organise us, we organised ourselves..

Not only were these people giving me explanations but also solutions, both long term but more importantly short term, not just saying come the glorious day comrade everything will be fine but how to get from where where are now.

The day the strike ended the Wath miners walked back to work in a procession with their families, into the pit yard, banners flying and shouting. It was very moving. Although we all tried to keep on brave faces it was one of the most moving days of my life w- e all realised that we had lost although it was very difficult to accept and to admit.

The defeat was to have lasting consequences for the miners, their families, the community and also I think, more importantly, the labour movement of Britain.

The mining communities have paid the price with unemployment, which has led to a generation who didn't see a real future and turned to drugs. There has been a regeneration of sorts but it has taken a long time. The pits have been replaced by bypasses, roundabouts and call centres, there is little union organisation in the call centres, although our local paper ran an article on the recent civil service strike showing the picket line at the Manvers site (Manvers was the local pit where the strike first began).

When the strike ended many women wanted to carry on with various fights in their own communities, with groups they had made solidarity with and with their own education, and trade unions at work.

When working class people get involved in strikes and struggle they become conscious of their class, its power and potential to make changes.

It's important that socialists are not just there with "the answer is socialism" but with explanations, able to talk and listen, discuss new ideas and experiences. We need to arm the working class with these ideas, so that the next time we don't have to start from stage one but be many steps in front of the ruling class and its ideas.

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