The miners' strike 1984-5

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

We begin our series on the 1984-5 miners' strike. We will follow the events, re-tell the story and reflect on the lessons.
The events

1 March 1984: National Coal Board announces the closure of Cortonwood Colliery in Yorkshire and a cut back of 4 million tonnes of coal in the forthcoming year with a loss of 20,000 jobs. South Yorkshire miners go on unofficial strike.

6 March: Scottish and Yorkshire Areas of the NUM call official strike action. Polmaise pit in Scotland has been out against closure for three weeks.

8 March: NUM executive endorses Scottish and Yorkshire action and endorses in advance the decision any other area might take for strike action.

9 March: Durham and Kent call strikes. South Wales delegate conference recommends strike but over the weekend 10-11 March pits in the area decide by two to one not to strike.

Notts delegate conference declines to take action before area ballot. Northumberland and Leicestershire leaderships vote against a strike.

12 March: half of the miners on strike nationally. Flying pickets go into action to make it a national strike and enforce the area strike decisions. South Wales, despite vote, comes out immediately.

14 March: NCB admits that 132 out of 174 pits have been shut.

The National Reporting Centre (police co-ordinating office based at Scotland Yard) at the request of the Nottingham Police drafts 8,000 police officers into the county from half of the 43 forces in Britain.

Court rules that Yorkshire NUM must withdraw flying pickets.

15 March: David Jones, miner aged 23, is killed whilst picketing in Ollerton, Notts. Notts leaders call an area strike (but the strike is called off after an area vote and delegate conference).

15-16 March: Ballots in many areas held. Northumberland votes for strike. Cumberland, Midlands, South Derbyshire, North Derbyshire, Lancashire, Notts and North Wales vote not to strike.

18 March: Kent miners stopped by police and turned back at the Dartford Tunnel. Police occupy army camps in Nottinghamshire.

19 March: Yorkshire NUM found in contempt of court (the case is postponed indefinitely). NUM members picket 27 Notts pits and peacefully persuade their colleagues to join the strike action. Police decide to blockade the county of Nottinghamshire.

The miners are split. What happened next would be determined by the strength of the picketing by striking miners and by whether those pickets could be effective - talking to and convincing the non-striking miners - in the face of an overwhelming police presence.

The Flying Picket

"It was dinner time (14 March). There was 17 of us (from Thurcroft, South Yorkshire) and 700 bobbies. Four or five of the Bentinck (Notts pit) lads started across. At first the police said "Oh no they're not", but I said "Look, I'm long enough in the tooth not to cause any problems, I just want to have a chat with them". They were between 25 and 30 years old. I said, "This pit is going to close in eighteen months". "Aye, we know. And we're not bothered because we've been told that if we come out on strike we shan't be able to claim any redundancy". I said "Well what are you going to claim at your age? You'll get nowt or very little." "Ah, but what we'll get, we'll get alright." They'd actually resigned themselves to a bit of redundancy and a life on the dole." (Brian Beeston)

Unlike many branch officers in the Notts coalfield, those at Bentinck continued to work from the very beginning. Two of them were to go on to be the principal organisers of the anti-strike rally in Mansfield on May Day.

Roadblocks began appearing a few days after the onset of cross border picketing. Picketers had to find ingenious ways to get to the pit villages.

"We've been though more farms than I could count. Can you imagine creeping though a farmyard at three in the morning trying not to wake the dogs or ducks. Then you'd come out and the police'd be round the next corner. "Where are you going lads?" "Fishing". We went "fishing" a lot. It was cat and mouse. We'd find where they'd put the roadblocks, then they'd realise we were getting round it and it'd be moved." (E)

(Quotes are from Thurcroft, a village and the miners' strike)

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