Miners' strike 30 years on: Worth the price?

Memorial pit wheel A new memorial is one of the few remaining traces of a century of mining in the former pit village of Dodworth

It was a bit like that famous scene in the film Zulu.

A small band of nervous British troops silently watching the horizon for the first glimpse of a warrior army they had never seen but with a ferocious reputation.

But this was a pit gate in North Staffordshire in March 1984 and marching towards the thin blue line of uniformed police officers were a couple of hundred miners who had just got off their buses from Barnsley.

It was dawn on day one of the miners' strike against planned pit closures. I was there with a television news crew to film the first glimpse of the flying pickets from Yorkshire.

Local Staffordshire miners had already told me they were not going to cross any picket lines so the comparison with a well-rehearsed film script was not too far off the mark.

Opening shots

That relatively good humoured first morning gave no hint that we were looking at the opening shots of what became the most fiercely-fought industrial strike in modern industrial history.

For the following 12 months, based in the Midlands as a reporter for ITV, I regularly met Yorkshire miners bussed in through the night to picket pits in areas that were not as solidly behind the strike as back home.

Jack Carr and Steve Wyatt-former Dodworth miners-interviewed by Len Tingle for BBC Look North Former Dodworth miners Jack Carr and Steve Wyatt interviewed by Len Tingle for BBC Look North

Thirty years on I've been to some of those South Yorkshire communities where the pickets came from to ask whether the struggle was worth it?

"No question of it," I was told by former collier Steve Wyatt as we stood by a newly-installed monument to nearly a century of mining at Dodworth, near Barnsley.

Steve's absolute conviction is despite the fact that the memorial's small replica pit wheel is now the only trace left of nearly a century of mining in the village.

The strike failed to secure the future of the huge Dodworth Colliery which once stood a five-minute walk away from where Steve and I were standing along with Jack Carr, in 1984 NUM Branch Secretary at the pit but now a local councillor.

"We had no choice. The strike was an attack on our communities," said Jack. "OK, so we lost in terms of keeping the collieries open, but we couldn't just let it happen without a fight."

Road to nowhere

In fact, Yorkshire now has just two collieries left from the 56 operating before the strike. A workforce of over 80,000 is now down to under 800. Three decades later the fight is still going on to replace those lost jobs.

Dodworth has been luckier than most. The bulldozed pit top has now been redeveloped and 2,000 people work in the new industries that have moved on to what is now an industrial estate.

"It's a great achievement but the jobs are nowhere near as well paid or secure as what we had in the pit," I was told by Jack.

Other former coal communities have not fared so well.

Twenty miles away, on the outskirts of Doncaster, the lane that hundreds of miners used to tramp down for their shifts at Thorne colliery is now the road to nowhere.

It has been barricaded with reclaimed structural steel and bits of old conveyor belt to stop motorcyclists and vandals but the flattened pit top remains as untouched and derelict as the day the bulldozers moved off.

"We've been forgotten," I was told by George Derx, the mayor of the local town council of Thorne Moorends. "Shops, businesses and jobs moved out when the local pits shut down and they haven't come back."

For communities like this the miners' strike is no mere footnote in history. Here they are still living with the consequences of what miners see as their failure to stop the government from its wholesale dismantling of the industry.

Len Tingle Article written by Len Tingle Len Tingle Political editor, Yorkshire

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  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I'm told that the UK now uses more coal (in the power-generation industry) than ever before- but that it's almost all imported. Takes some genius to be short of generating capacity when GB sits on 300 years'-worth of coal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I remember as a 14 year old living in the central region getting up early to go up north and see what was going on. We had all seen the news reports, shocked by the violence displayed by both sides. A little naïve and stupid to think it would be anything else, didn't fancy the idea of going again. Nowadays I live up north and there is bugger all left for ordinary working folk, glad I chose I.T.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I was born not long after the strike ended in grew up in an ex-mining area (the local pit closed when I was 3). And even through I come from a Labour voting family, I've always privately thought that Thatcher was right to close the mines. You can't keep pumping public money into a declining industry. Times change and the world moves on. Such a shame that too many people still don't get that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Closing the pits might have made sense if the government had had some reasonable policy for re-employing the labour more productively elsewhere. In fact many of the miners have never worked again. As always with neo liberal economics the private sector reaps the rewards and the public sector picks up the tab for the social costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Rowdie> The miners went out on strike in accordance with the constitution of the NUM. Closure was all that was on the menu, we had no choice but to go out on strike to protect our communities. The BBC and other media outlets colluded with the government with the reporting of the Orgreave incident being the prime piece of evidence. I went out on strike, stayed out on strike and proud of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Thatchers goal was to asset strip the country and divide and rule the people by destroying any organised opposition. The Country is still suffering the effects of her lunatic policies and will continue to suffer but there will always be those who line up in the destroyed communities and places where industry used to flourish to extol Thatcherism because someone got rich off its back once.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Scargill's hatred of Thatcher and her Government (which had been elected democratically),was the cause of the death of the mining industry How was he allowed to take them all out on strike without a ballot. Is that democracy? Wilson closed far more mines than Thatcher but Scargill wanted Thatcher to obsession.You couldn't just keep unprofitable mines going for ever.Scargill wanted no negotiation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    All the deep mines in North West Leicestershire have closed but the area has recovered because the local authorities successfully worked together to regenerate the area environmentally, economically and socially.
    New housing, new roads, new businesses, and environmental improvements including the National Forest are all being developed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    What the government of the day failed to recognise was that the consequences of pit closure were far more than just the loss of unprofitable jobs. Mining bonded communities and there were no plans to replace those jobs. The real consequence of pit closures was crime, poverty and eventual dependence on overseas sources of energy. The true cost of closure was far more than the money allegedly saved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Amazing how many people still speak Thatchers words that have been proved to be lies. The miners lost but their cause was just. Modernisation was never on the agenda but closure was. The fact that the police lied in their reports just like Hillsborough, spied just like Lawrence and used the Army on the picket lines will one day be admitted but will still take many years of fighting for the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    A great shame. Pits that were planned to be mothballed had to be closed because the cost to the industry of the strike was so high.
    There would be more productive pits open today if the miners hatred for the Tories hadn't wrecked the industry.
    For Scargill, now proved to be a money grubber, this wasn't about pit closures, it was all about union power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Load of garbage, our coal was the cheapest in the world and it wasn't subsidied like polish and Australian coal ,I know I was there

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    "Worth the price". A strange question to pose as it implies that something came about as result of the strike that would not have otherwise occurred yet as the rest of the article shows, the areas devastated by the effective closure of the mining industry are still struggling to recover..

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I was working in RSA at the time and could not believe the scenes of violence shown on SABC news.
    I don't know mining, but I was a union member for decades, and my experiences in manufacturing industry in England & Scotland were of a kind of death wish and determination to prevent vital change for modernisation and competitiveness.
    I'm not blaming, I'm just saying how it was.
    Soul destroying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    As sore as the wounds of the Miner's Strike still are, it was the unions' failure to accept widespread modernisation of the industry that ultimately killed it altogether. The same could be said for widespread car manufacturing and shipbuilding - failing to keep up with overseas companies offering coal for a lower price. By 1984, it was too late - the death knell came the moment the NCB was formed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The miners were never even allowed a vote as to whether they should go on strike or not. What does that tell you? One would conclude from that the Union bosses weren't confident they would get the support.
    It was more to do with the hatred for Thatcher.Uneconomic mines were already being closed by Labour...Wilson closed far more than Thatcher, she just carried on the process.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    The BBC should apologise to the ex mining communities for their coverage of the strike.



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