Socialist Worker

When Santa gave out some solidarity

Twenty years ago 165,000 miners and their families faced Christmas on strike. Supporters made it a celebration of struggle, says Gwyn Davies

Issue No. 1932

Families of striking miners at Fickley pit, South Yorkshire, enjoyed a great Christmas

Families of striking miners at Fickley pit, South Yorkshire, enjoyed a great Christmas

I WAS seven in 1984 and when it came to December the overwhelming thing I remember was being so proud of my Mam and Dad.

Ten months out on strike and they were fighters and heroes.

Dad worked at Betws, a pit near Ammanford in South Wales.

There’d been a bit of trouble getting people out on strike at the start but once the arguments were clear it was 100 percent solid.

Dad was on the picketline from day one. He was just so clear that our lives were finished if the jobs went.

We had very little money and he didn’t like having to tell us we couldn’t have things we wanted. But he was hard as steel on staying out.

Mam had never done anything political or with a trade union before—she was typical Welsh Mam, all enveloped in the family and our lives—so unselfish.

But she transferred all that to backing the strike. I watched her make a speech near the end of the strike to a group of council workers and that woman was transformed, I tell you.

I just couldn’t have imagined her doing that sort of thing before.

When it came to Christmas we were expecting nothing.

And then we were told there was a party at the students’ union in Swansea put on by trade unions and other supporters.

I was very nervous—I had never talked to a student and even Swansea seemed a bit frightening, silly as that may seem.

When we got there, there were coachloads from all over. We ran in and rushed around popping all the balloons! Bloody hooligans!

The students were a bit nervous with us at first—they didn’t know what to expect from us either. But we all got along famously in the end.

There was more food than we’d seen for weeks and presents galore. I took home loads.

I remember we had paté that some French union had given—we hadn’t a clue what it was! And I got a beautiful wooden bicycle model. I treasured it.

I don’t regret a moment of the strike. Dad died last year and I put his picket badge on his coffin.

He was a great man. We had a hard year, a bitter year, but these were also times of great kindness and solidarity.

You were part of something bigger than yourself. I hope I feel that same intensity of a social movement again one day.

And we were right. It is us who can hold our heads high this Christmas, not like bloody Thatcher, Kinnock and Blair.

In many ways it was the best Christmas of my life.

It was a lovely time—and it was a very political time

Louise Henderson is the daughter of a miner. She lived in Thorne, a village near Doncaster.

‘I was 14 at Christmas in 1984. I remember my mum going off to York to collect for the miners.

My mum was the picket in my family, not my dad, although he was a very strong union man. My mum and her friends kept the canteens and the collections going.

I can’t remember any hardship that Christmas. My overriding memory is of going to the Working Mens’ Club—I’d never been in one before and it was a new experience—for the Christmas party.

There was a fantastic atmosphere and there were a lot of presents for the kids.

This had come from the collections by other workers. I got a token for £1 and I went off to Woolworth’s and bought “Last Christmas” by Wham.

It was lovely for kids that Christmas.

I was very political at the time—support for the miners was fundamental for me.

The big things I remember were things like my mum going picketing.

And I remember standing up to a policeman at my school and telling him that Thatcher was the real criminal.

I started going on CND and anti-apartheid demonstrations and bought Socialist Worker for the first time.

There was a feeling that the strike should have been over by Christmas. The miners had already been out for ten months.

The anti-Tory and anti-police feeling was so strong among the miners and their families. We booed any Tories who came on the TV.

That feeling has never gone from these areas.’

For more on the Great Strike see Striking Back, a photographic history of the strike, £10 from Bookmarks.

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Sat 18 Dec 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1932
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