For some strange reason today was designated May Day in Newcastle and a march and rally had been organised to mark the event. The SWP were out in force selling Socialist Worker and handing out hundreds of ‘Victory to the Miners’ placards, especially to the miners present though a lot of them ripped off the SWP logo at the top which I found petty and ungrateful. I had brought along a plastic bucket covered in ‘Coal Not Dole’ stickers to collect for the Westoe Miners Wives Support Group. Ian Wilburn had brought up a van full of women to collect as well, and to attend the rally.
As we stood talking we were approached by a Northumberland NUM official who asked me what I intended doing with the bucket. His tone gave me a few ideas but I contented myself with telling him the truth. To my amazement he said I was not allowed to collect on behalf of the miners. Here we go again I thought. I told him I was a striking miner and he demanded to know where I was from. I could have shown him my letter of authorisation from the Lodge but his belligerent tone really got my back up so I told him to mind his own business, and anyway, how did I know HE was a miner? This plainly shocked him because like a lot of union officials they have an inflated sense of their own importance. He told me who he was in an offended tone whilst a group of tough looking Northumberland miners gathered around him. A very angry exchange of words took place, culminating in him threatening to have me arrested if I made any attempt to collect. That did shock me and I asked him why he was so against me collecting. He said, ‘The Northumberland miners do not go begging or accept charity’. I pointed out that I was not one of his men and that it wasn’t begging but asking fellow workers to support us in our fight. I added that he’d better get used to it because it could be a long strike and we would need all the help we could get if we were to beat Thatcher and her boot boys. He just repeated his threat and said he had been fighting for his members since before I was born and there was nothing I could tell him about strikes. With that him and his henchmen stormed off to take their places at the front of the march. Anne Kendrick said he might be able to have me arrested but he wouldn’t dare do it to them so they decided to do the collecting.
We marched proudly through the streets of Newcastle cheered on by the shoppers. The rally was held in Leazes Park and we arrived there in brilliant sunshine and found a place to sit and listen to the speeches and to count the money the lasses had collected.
The speeches were full of the usual rhetoric from a poor selection of speakers, and it was only when Denis Murphy, the President of the Northumberland miners, got up to speak did I pay any attention. First of all he claimed that Thomas Hepburn was a Northumberland miner when in fact he was a Durham miner and founded one of the first ever unions in 1832. Then he claimed his men were the best in the coalfields and had been solidly behind the strike since day one. Wrong again because we had to picket the buggers out at Ellington. I don’t mean to sound petty but facts are facts.
The biggest shock came when Tom Sawyer of NUPE came onto the platform and presented Murphy with a cheque for £20,000! For a union who ‘doesn’t accept charity’ this struck me as the height of hypocrisy and I couldn’t restrain myself any longer. I rushed to the front of the platform and shouted, ‘I thought the Northumberland miners didn’t accept charity?’ Anne Kendrick joined in the attack, much to the concern of some officials who came running over to us and begged us to stop in the name of solidarity. We shut up and returned to our group because we’d made our point. However, I was still furious at the hypocrisy of that bloody official threatening to have me arrested for collecting coins whilst they eagerly accepted a cheque for twenty grand! bastards!
As the speeches ended we began to leave but a furious woman started shouting at me, accusing me of trying to use the women for my own political ends! When I learned she was Geoff Price’s wife the attack made more sense but was still laughable. Militant indeed.
Before I left the park I saw a stand run by the Newcastle Gay and Lesbian Group that made tin badges to order with a little machine they had. They offered to make me badges for a cut price 10p each if I would sign a petition supporting them. I would have signed it anyway but had 20 badges made that said,’Westoe Miners – Zulu Pickets’. I intend selling them for 20p each, with the profit going into the ‘pie fund’. They told me they’ll make more at the same price but I’ll see how these go first.
I made my way down to Jarrow where Neil Kinnock was unveiling a plaque on the Metro station to commemorate the famous Jarrow Marchers. When I arrived I met up with comrades from the SWP and we watched Kinnock pose for pictures with three old men who were amongst the last survivors of the march before making a short speech and unveiling the plaque. He then set off with his entourage to march through Jarrow to a community centre where he was due to speak. We were disgusted to see one of the old men was left standing on the platform, alone, with no one taking any notice of him, poor sod, so a couple of comrades went to get him a taxi whilst we ran to carch up with the march. The old man had served his purpose and then been abandoned. So much for socialism eh?
We caught up and positioned ourselves right behind Kinnock and the other so called dignitaries, proudly carrying our ‘Victory to the Miners’ placards. I have quite a loud voice, some would call it a big mouth, and I used it to good effect, shouting at Kinnock to get off the fence and support the miners, repeating it until he disappeared inside the sanctuary of the community centre. Our Lodge banner and officials were directly behind and the look on their faces told me exactly what they felt about my performance. Still, I expect they got their chance to suck up to Kinnock inside whilst I went home to sleep soundly in my bed.