Since I, and quite a few others are now banned from picketing at Tow Law, we were asked if we wanted to go away on flying picket duty. I got a phonecall from the Lodge Secretary asking if I wanted to go. I said yes straightaway, grateful for the chance to stay active. We were going to Lancashire where there are pits still working. As soon as I put the phone down I rang Kath to break the news. She took it surprisingly well and wished me good luck. I told her we would probably be back before the weekend. I felt a lot easier in my mind with her backing. We had to be at the Armstrong Hall for 3pm.
After packing my holdall I received a call from Mike Simons of the SWP asking for news. When I told him we were heading for Lancashire he gave me some phone numbers of comrades in Manchester who I can call if we need accomodation. We both agreed that our most likely target would be Agecroft Colliery because that’s where local union officials have told their members to ignore picket lines. Bloody disgusting! I promised to keep Mike informed of any newsworthy events because he is one of the people who write Socialist Worker.
At the Armstrong Hall the 15 of us going were given £32 subsistence allowance from the Durham NUM which is to make sure we can eat. The Secretary told us to be careful and not to forget to keep in touch with our families because he didn’t want worried wives and girlfriends ringing him to find out what was happening.
There were about 60 pickets at the hall and there was a lot of bad feeling about only 15 of us being allowed to go, with the majority view being that as many men as wanted to go should be allowed to go. I agreed, but the Secretary explained that he had no say in the matter because the decision had been taken by the Area Executive. He added that all the Lodges have been split into four groups, with each group consisting of four pits who would work together as picketing teams. Westoe has been teamed with Sacriston, Wearmouth, and Herrington, and these pits will work together on all future flying pickets.
The coach finally arrived with 10 pickets from Sacriston on board and we loaded our bags into the boot. The coach then headed to Wearmouth where we picked up 20 men, then finally down to Herrington where the final 10 men boarded. Fully loaded we set off for Lancashire with only the few union officials on board knowing exactly where we were going, and they refused to tell us, though god knows why because it wasn’t as if we could tell anyone!
The journey took about three hours and I passed the time chatting to a lad from Westoe I’d sold a few copies of Socialist Worker to, Gary Marshall. We got on really well and have a lot in common. He told me he is growing increasingly disillusioned with the Labour Party, of which he’s been a member for 13 years. He hates Kinnock, more now because of his almost total lack of support for us miners, and he said he agrees with a lot of the stuff he reads in Socialist Worker. I think he’s got real potential as a party member so we agreed to try and stick together on this picket.
We arrived at Bold Miners Welfare to find it full to capacity with Durham miners. I recognised loads of faces and was pleased to see Arthur Oxley, who bought me a pint but before we could settle in the order came to get back onto the coach because we were heading to Manchester where accomodation had been arranged at a social club in Eccles.
We arrived at the Greenbank Labour Club around 9pm and a lot of the lads were whingeing about not being able to stay in Bold. I discovered that a lot of them had been in Bold last week and had managed to fix themselves up with comfortable lodgings, and so were pissed off because they were too far away to take advantage.
The club was full of people celebrating the Bank Holiday and watching the Steve Davis, Jimmy White snooker final on a big screen TV. We struggled through the crowd with our luggage and sleeping bags and followed a woman upstairs who showed us the room we would be sleeping in. She welcomed us and said we could stay for the week, and that alternative accomodation would be fixed in people’s homes in the morning, though probably not for all of us. I told Gary I would ring some contacts in Manchester to try and get us somewhere to stay.
I phoned a comrade called Irene Davis and she told me to ring a guy called Phil Ramsall, which I did. He gave me the address of a guy called Mick Brightman who only lives five minutes away. Phil asked me to ring him again in the morning after picket duty. I told our union man where we were going but he wasn’t pleased and said we should all stick together. I insisted we were going and he’s told us to report back to the club at 4.15am!
After a few wrong turnings and some directions from a local pub we finally found the address we were looking for. We were nervous about knocking on a strangers door but it was bloody freezing so I knocked gingerly. The door was opened by a smiling face who welcomed us into a lovely warm room whilst he went off to the kitchen. He soon returned with hot coffee and egg sandwiches, and whilst we ate he asked a stream of questions about how the strike was going in Durham. He told us that him and his wife Jane were students but that he had once been involved in a strike at a place called Gardners that had lasted 26 weeks!! We said ours wouldn’t last that long and that we couldn’t imagine how hard it must’ve been for him. He introduced us to Jane and she told us they were both studying hard for exams. We took the hint and said we’d like to sleep if it was possible because we had to be up at 4am to return to the club. he told us to make ourselves at home. He showed us into a front room which was full of books and had a bed settee. I was amazed by all the books, being an avid reader myself but Gary reminded me we needed to sleep so we settled down, top to toe on the settee and within minutes Gary was knocking out zeds! I will soon join him.