GDR 'finance' for 1984-85 miners' strike

Miners and their families at the TUC conference in 1984
Image caption The strike saw up to 200,000 miners, joined by their wives and families, campaigning for a year against pit closures

Documents allegedly show East German Communists helped finance the 1984-85 miners' strike in Britain, say two historians.

They said papers suggested "substantial sums" were secretly transferred to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The papers also say miners were given free holidays in East Germany.

Dr Norman LaPorte, of the University of Glamorgan, and Manchester University's Prof Stefan Berger publish their findings in a new book.

The two academics say they have seen documents from the FDGB union - East German trade union federation - alleging East German Communists helped to finance the NUM during the bitter strike, which ended 25 years ago.

The papers also say that food parcels and clothing were shipped to British miners from the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Dr LaPorte said the pair had found the documents in the former East German Communist Party archives, which were now held in the federal German archive in Berlin.

"We first saw them after 1990," he said, adding they had been working on the book for about 10 years.

He said one of the documents talked about the possibility of giving financial aid during the strike.

"They said about being able to run a 'substantial sum of money' to the miners," he explained.

But the research suggests the Communists had some problems getting the money to the NUM.

Prof Berger said: "The records allege east European Communists helped to finance the NUM during the strike.

"My research finds that the NUM and the east European Communists wanted to keep the affair secret and had some consequential problems getting the money to the NUM.

"The documents talk about the possibility of using a 'go-between' from the French communist union CGT who would deliver the money straight from eastern Europe to representatives of the NUM.

"They also allege that East German FDGB Union helped the miners by providing free holidays for the families and children of British miners in the German Democratic Republic.

"The FDGB, the documents say, also coordinated the shipping of food parcels, clothing and so on to British miners."

He said the Communists perceived the NUM as an ally in the international class struggle against capitalism.

The research is published in Prof Berger and Dr LaPorte's new book, Friendly Enemies: Britain and the GDR 1949 to 1990.

Pit closures

Chris Kitchen, secretary for the NUM and the Yorkshire area, said: "The miners got a great deal of support both financially and other gifts from trade unions within the UK and internationally.

"I can't confirm or deny if we got support from the East German Communists. I wouldn't be surprised at all."

However, he added: "I don't think the strike was funded by the Communist Party to overthrow the government."

The 1984/85 miners' strike divided communities and became one of the greatest trade union struggles since the 1926 General Strike.

The conflict saw up to 200,000 miners, joined by their wives and families and sometimes entire communities, campaigning for a year against pit closures and job losses.

There were clashes with police and huge splits in some areas when miners started drifting back to work.

The strike brought the NUM, led by its president Arthur Scargill, into conflict with Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government.

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