I was working as a dustman for Newark and Sherwood District Council in 1984-5. We emptied bins around the pit villages of Ollerton, Rainworth, Blidworth and Calverton in Nottinghamshire.
I remember the bitterness that the strike caused. Two brothers I played soccer with stopped speaking to each other because one came out on strike and one kept working. They still haven’t spoken after 20 years.
Living in Nottinghamshire, rather than an area where the strike was solid, feelings were completely polarised.
Also, I can remember being stopped on the way to football games and our van searched for flying pickets. I thought, my dad fought a war against fascism — what’s going on here? Above all, I remember thinking that away from these mining areas no one knew, no one really knew, the extent of the battle.
There was the hugeness of it, that and the fact that the government was ploughing so much time and money into the strike. It was much more than an industrial dispute. It was about carving out a political future.
The politicisation of the women in the mining community was one of the most important aspects of the strike, possibly the single most positive thing that the dispute threw up.
The strike occurring when it did helped the women of the mining communities to realise their political needs. The feminist movement of the 1980s was really gathering pace. The women of Greenham Common had already come together to provide a tangible, immovable example of what women could achieve together.
But aside from that, the sheer scale of the strike meant that unlike 1972 and 1974 the women couldn’t afford to stay in the background even if they wanted to. And when they did step forward, the political climate meant that they weren’t happy simply to provide soup kitchens and run welfare centres — although many did this and enjoyed doing it!
They had an opinion and they were prepared to voice it. As the strike grew more and more bitter, the women took to the picket lines and stood shoulder to shoulder with their men. This was something that not all miners were happy about when the dispute started.
But that was the point. This was a battle like no other and nothing would be the same again after it. The role that the women played ensured that their position was in many ways advanced.
If the miners had won, I suspect that large areas of the north of England, South Wales and other mining areas would not be suffering the appalling social, drug and crime problems that moved in to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the coal industry.
I suspect that young people in this country would not be as politically apathetic as they are now — convinced that all the political parties are “just the same really”.
I suspect that the move to a more centralist way of governing, as across the rest of Europe, would have continued, but that the workers of this country wouldn’t have bought quite so cheerfully into the myth that it’s inevitable and for the best.
The talk is that we’re all stakeholders now. To me, all that seems to mean is that while the working person is screwed to the floor, he or she engages in a debate as to how exactly it’s to be done. But isn’t the issue that it shouldn’t be happening in the first place? Exploitation by consultation, that seems to be the way since the miners were defeated.
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