Durham miner Norman Strike kept a diary of his life during the 1984‑5 strike. To mark the dispute’s 25th anniversary, he is publishing his diary daily on the internet.
Norman spoke to Socialist Worker about what motivated him to write. Below we publish excerpts from the entries for the first days of the strike.
“I decided to keep memoirs so that my young daughters might, when they were older, come to understand the reasons why they had to suffer without pocket money for a year,” says Norman.
“At the time I didn’t know just how important the dispute would be – its outcome has shaped the labour movement ever since. And there are lessons from that time that continue to be relevant today.
“I was reminded of that when I saw the protesters against the G20 summit on the TV news last week being corralled by the police.
“One of the key things I learnt during the strike was not to trust the union leaders, but to rely on rank and file members instead. To do that you have to have organisation and be prepared to have arguments.
“I started the strike as a Labour Party member and a supporter of Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner, both good left wing MPs. But the experiences and arguments I had during the course of that year changed me, and by the end of the strike I was a revolutionary socialist.
“So far I’ve had a great reaction to the diary from many of those who were around at the time. But my hope is that it will help arm a new, younger generation of militants for the fights that they’ll have in the future.”
Excerpts from the diary
Saturday 10 March, 1984
Attended a packed meeting in Sunderland today. National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) president Arthur Scargill warned us that it is now or never as far as fighting pit closures goes, and urged us to join Yorkshire and Scotland who are already out.
He ended by telling us to, “Get off our knees and fight like men to save our jobs and communities” and got a tremendous ovation. If that’s anything to go by, tomorrow our lodge will vote to strike. I will, of course, vote for strike. How could I do anything else with a surname like mine?
Sunday 11 March, 1984
At our mass meeting this morning over a thousand men voted to come out on strike. It was the best-attended union meeting I have ever been to.
After a lengthy debate someone proposed a rider to the main motion asking the national executive to hold a national ballot and this was passed, though a sizeable minority of us were against it. To be honest, I don’t want a ballot because I feel we would lose it and this is too important an issue to be decided by an aging workforce who won’t lose as much as us younger men.
Monday 12 March, 1984
When I looked at the rain lashing down outside this morning I was tempted to get back into bed. Instead I went off to picket at nearby Boldon colliery where coal is being stockpiled.
Finding I was on my own, I was ready to pack it in when a bloody huge lorry roared up. I told the driver I was an official NUM picket and that in the interests of solidarity he should go no further. His response was to jump down, saying, “Ya bloody jokin’ aren’t you son? Are you all there is? Not much of a picket line is it?”
After mumbling something about the miners not supporting him when he was on strike he climbed back into his cab and turned his lorry around. On his way out he told other drivers not to cross the line either. I couldn’t believe it. I had turned around seven lorries on my own!
Tuesday 13 March, 1984
Up 2.30am this morning so that I could walk the five miles to Westoe and picket the first shift. The pit is a mixture of “Sanddancers” – miners from the coastal area, and “Hillbillies” – those bussed in from the pitless villages of the Durham coalfield. Some of the Hillbillies have been at over five different pits that have been closed, and there are a lot of veterans of the 1972 and 1974 strikes.
The buses passed through the pit gate with not a single passenger on board. Westoe is solid.
Wednesday 14 March, 1984
Last night’s picket at Dawdon was successful and the men there have joined the strike. Apparently the Westoe lads did themselves proud spurring on what had been a passive picket with their war cry of “Zulu”.
This morning we went to Northumberland to try and picket them out. They had voted overwhelmingly to continue working. It was up to us to make them change their minds.
When we arrived two local union men appeared looking very grim. They told us that they had taken a democratic decision and we should respect it. We replied saying that as trade unionists they should respect our right to picket.
A while later the two officials came back. They said that after a meeting in the pit canteen that Ellington had now voted to join the strike. We cheered loudly, especially when we were allowed in for a hot drink. We asked our treasurer for some funds and he responded by buying seven sausage rolls. It was like Jesus with the bread and fishes!
Thursday 15 March, 1984
Went round to visit Dave Farham, a mate and fellow miner. He had been invited to speak to students at Newcastle Polytechnic and wanted me to go with him and a guy called Phil Turner, a student and member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Though weary of political groups, I liked Phil straightaway. He made no secret of his beliefs, as he explained that the meeting we would address was to commit the student union to giving the miners its full support.
The hall at the Poly was so crowded it gave me and Dave a panic attack. My legs were shaking as Phil led us onto the stage in front of about 500 students. I drew the short straw and had to speak first. I had nothing prepared, but I explained why we were on strike, and why it was so important, and got a good round of applause. Dave came forward to speak next but had to wait while a Tory student spoke against the motion.
Dave was brilliant. Not only did he answer the Tory, but he also attacked [Margaret] Thatcher’s goal of smashing the unions. He warned that if the Tories beat the miners, they would force students to pay for their education. Dave got a standing ovation.
A vote was called – and despite the Tories setting off the fire alarm in an attempt to prevent it being taken – the motion was passed.
Sunday 18 March, 1984
Tragically a young Yorkshire miner, David Jones, was killed at Ollerton Colliery in Nottingham the other day and the Tories are calling for an end to all picketing. Fuck them. We need to step up the picketing so the lad’s death won’t be in vain.
A group of us at Westoe are growing disillusioned with our union officials because they seem totally disinterested in picketing. We’ve set up an unofficial strike committee so we can get away from our pit and into the places that are scabbing.
Saturday 24 March, 1984
Got the coach to Sheffield for a rally of the Broad Left Organising Committee [a grouping of left wing union and Labour militants]. The hall was full to capacity. All of the speakers made comforting noises about supporting us but they seemed more concerned with electing left wing union leaders.
At lunchtime I was persuaded to attend an SWP fringe meeting with a speaker called Tony Cliff. The room was small but packed. When I first saw and heard the guy I thought to myself, “Who the bloody hell is this?”
Tony Cliff was old, short and stocky, and had wiry grey hair sticking out from either side of his head. He also had a strong foreign accent that I found hard to understand at first. But once I tuned in I found myself agreeing with almost everything he said.
He wasn’t like other speakers I had heard that day. Cliff openly criticised Scargill. He said we couldn’t win this strike just by closing down power stations – mainly because of the time of year. He said that the key to victory lay with the rank and file.
Cliff also warned that the other union leaders would stab us in the back and leave us to fight on our own. He got a tremendous round of applause, and I for one thought what he had to say made sense – even if it did depress me.
As I headed back to the main hall I met a lad called Yunus from Newcastle who I had seen down at Westoe a few times. He said that instead of listening to hot air inside the hall, I should collect money outside. Some Yorkshire miners, including one called Ian from Silverwood colliery, soon joined us.
The journey home was spent talking politics. One thing I am sure of is that I have totally lost faith in the Labour Party.
Tuesday 27 March, 1984
I was on picket duty this morning when Tommy returned from his trip to Nottingham. The stories he told were not designed to encourage anyone else to follow in his wake.
The police, he said, were turning back anyone who attempted to get there. Tommy said that when he finally made to the pit, pickets were so outnumbered by police that they were powerless.
Nevertheless our journey down to Notts later that day was exciting. Everyone wanted to see if what Tommy had said was true. We had a good laugh when a few of us sang an old hippie song, to which we had altered the words, called “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die”.
It went like this: “And its 1,2,3,4 what are we fighting for?/Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn/Next stop is Nottingham/And its 5,6,7,8 open up the pearly gates/Well there ain’t no time to wonder why/Whoopee we’re all gonna die!”
The way Brian drove us to Barnsley it could well have been true!
We arrived at the strike centre at midnight. The Wearmouth lads were also there, but unlike Tommy they encouraged us to get into Notts. They give us a pile of leaflets to give out – an appeal from Durham to Notts miners to join the strike.
It’s now almost 3am so I’m going to grab some kip. We’ve been asked to return to the strike centre at 7am and make our attempt to get into Nottingham. I can’t wait.
Read Norman’s diary of the miners’ strike at » normanstrike.wordpress.com/
See Norman on music TV programme The Tube in 1985. He’s on stage with the Redskins but unfortunately, producers switched his mike off. » www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVMVbBmj7MM
Socialist Worker’s 25th anniversary special on the Miners’ Strike is available at » The Miners’ Strike could have been won