5. Wednesday March 14th,1984.

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2009 at 2:46 pm

From the reports I’ve heard from last nights picket at Dawdon it was a successful night and the Dawdon men have joined the strike. The news on Metro radio put it rather differently, calling the pickets ‘animals and hooligans’. Whatever, the result is what counts and the Durham coalfield is a step nearer being 100% solid. Apparently the Westoe lads did themselves proud spurring on what had been a passive picket with their war cry of ‘Zulu’. There was some violence, with a car being given a good shaking until the driver saw sense and turned round, and a few bottles being smashed, but there were no arrests.

This morning I had a bit of a lie in and didn’t arrive at the pit until 8.30am, just in time to shout and jeer at management as they crossed the picket line in their posh cars. I was then told that a coach would be leaving at 9 to go up to Northumberland to try and picket them out. They have voted overwhelmingly to stay at work, despite the fact that their pits are amongst the most likely to be shut by McGregor. It is up to us to make them change their minds and see sense.

There were only about 30 of us on the bus which had room for 55 so we were a bit disappointed at the turn out, especially as a lot of the lads had been at Dawdon last night. We had the dubious privilege of five lodge committee men, including the Treasurer, but none of them had any suggestions as to which pit would be the best one to picket. I suggested Ellington because that’s where McGregor became ‘the fall guy’ the other week. Mind you, I had no idea where Ellington was other than it was somewhere near Blyth, and I didn’t know where that was either! Fortunately for us the driver did and we arrived at 9.35 in time to catch the main shift of the day going down at 10. We told the driver to pick us up at 12 and then set up the lodge banner outside the main entrance to the pit.

It was bloody freezing cold, with a bitterly cold wind blowing in from the North Sea, just like at Westoe, and we stamped up and down and rubbed our hands together in a vain attempt to keep warm. The pit manager showed up and asked us to get off coal board property. We noisily refused and he stormed off to get the police to remove us. A few of the lads needed a piss but when they tried to go inside the pit they were refused entry by management who had magically appeared. This only riled us up the more and the lads relieved their bladders against the wall, much to the disgust of the management, but they had no choice.When you gotta go you gotta go!

Just as we were starting to get bored a delivery van turned up. We had a quick word with the driver and asked him not to cross our line. We were delighted when he agreed, turned round and sped off. We all applauded his action noisily, even more when two local union men appeared looking very grim. They told us to leave and that they had taken a democratic decision and that we should respect that. One of our union men told them that as trade unionists they should respect our right to picket and not to cross our picket line. The two of them stormed off to report to the men waiting in the pit canteen who had arrived before us.

Shortly afterwards  a bus full of men drove up and we lined up across the gate to stop it so we could appeal to the men to join us. A union official turned up and told the men that an emergency meeting was being held in the pit canteen to discuss what to do about our picket. We agreed to let them through but urged them to back us, stressing the issues of pit closures and the need for unity. I was disgusted when one of the men told me they had voted 10 – 1 against the strike but not that surprised when I learnt that they were also amongst the best paid miners in the country because of high bonus payments. This just goes to show how divisive the Incentive Scheme is because it gives men working in good conditions higher wages than those of us who worked in poor conditions, and it was a bloody Labour Government who did it!

The two union officials returned to make a final attempt to get us to leave. One of them said;’Thatchers laughing her head off at this mind. You lot will close the pits by being on strike!’ His mate added;’If we stay at work it’ll put pressure on the National Executive to hold a ballot.We want a ballot!’ Our union official respondedby telling them that we had voted with our feet, and besides, we were in line with a Delegate Conference decision to strike if any pit was closed on economic grounds. The two left in a huff to attend their meeting.

As we waited a TV crew showed up and tried to ask questions in a fairly aggressive manner. Our union oficial was brilliant and didn’t rise to the bait but put our case across well. Keith Smoult ended the interview by nipping the frontmans arse, with the guy complaining he’d been ‘goosed’. This gave us all a welcome laugh. A woman turned up and started to shout at us, telling us to,’bugger off back to where you come from!’ She told the eager TV crew that her man wanted to work but we put our bodies and placards in front of her to stop her being seen, much to her annoyance. She had a very cutting tongue and I felt sorry for her poor husband!

The two union officials came back looking very glum and told us that the men of Ellington had voted democratically to join the strike and from now on would picket their own pit. We cheered loudly, especially when we were allowed into the pit canteen for a hot drink. We asked the Treasurer for some funds and he responded by buying 7 sausage rolls! It was like Jesus with the bread and fishes!

We returned to Westoe in high spirits, immensely proud that the ‘Zulu pickets’ had closed the largest pit in Northumberland with no hint of violence. The local TV news reported that,’ Men from Westoe Colliery brought the NCB’s showpiece pit, Ellington, to a standstill with a peaceful and good humoured group of pickets, unlike the ugly and disgraceful scene at Dawdon last night’. That gave us a laugh because it was mostly the same men.

The news in general is good, with the Yorkshire lads having a lot of success in Notts, and  there are not many pits still working. Its looking good.

  1. It’s nice to be reminded of the media’s balanced, impartial repsonse to the Miners’ Strike. Or maybe not!

    Solidarity, rank and file initiative, raising political issues – the key principles of left-wing politics and effective trade unionism are all in this post.

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