My friend John picked me up at 6.30am to go to Whitburn workshops because we heard that C.O.S.A staff were still working. Whitburn is halfway between South Shields and Sunderland on the coast and was the site of one of the most militant pits in the North East before its closure in the sixties. A lot of the men who used to work at Whitburn Colliery now work at Westoe, and are very proud of their militant past. They believe the pit was shut down because of its militancy because there was plenty of coal left there. All that remains now is a few rows of colliery houses and a waste heap. The N.C.B now use part of the site for offices and workshops.
We were surprised by the size of the picket when we arrived, about 70 men, mostly from Wearmouth colliery. We parked the car in a nearby housing estate and then joined the 6 men present from Westoe. The first thing they said was to ask where the rest of the pickets were. I told them they were standing outside of Westoe doing nothing. A Wearmouth lad asked us the same question, only he used more colourful language. All we could do was agree with them that the Westoe lads should be here but we have nothing to do with organising things and had just come off our own initiative.
Talking to the Wearmouth lads made us realise just how bad our own union officials were. Not only do the Wearmouth lads have their own bus to transport pickets, they also have a strike H.Q where pickets can get a hot meal when they return from picketing. This is not that much of a surprise because their officials are predominantly left wing and were prepared for the strike well before it happened. That was why they had invited Scargill to come and speak the other week.
This mornings picket was a partial success with the mechanics from the workshops agreeing to join the strike. The mostly female COSA members refused to join us and after a bit of pushing they were escorted in by the police. John and I returned to Westoe where the last payslips were being dished out and I was determined to confront our lodge officials and ask them to arrange for men to be sent to Whitburn in the morning to support the Wearmouth men.
In the pit yard a long snaking queue had formed to await the opening of the pay office at 9. I spotted the lodge secretary and chairman talking to some of the lads so I approached them to tell them about Whitburn. When I finished telling them what was happening their attitude really riled me. They said Whitburn had nothing to do with them, and if Wearmouth chose to send pickets then that was their business. I said that scabbing was every miners business and that if we didn’t nip it in the bud it would spread. The Secretary got angry at this and asked me what experience I had of being on strike, giving the answer himself and calling me a ‘red troublemaker’. He added that the Westoe men had shown what they thought of my abilities at the last lodge elections by not voting for me. This was true but it doesn’t mean that what I said was any less true. Anger then got the better of me and I shouted that it was a disgrace that we weren’t supporting the Wearmouth lads, and how could they be so organised whilst we weren’t. He replied that when I was doing his job I could do what I liked, but as I wasn’t and he was, then he would not be responsible for ‘wasting Lodge money’. I exploded at this and called him a ‘stupid bastard’, and said he wouldn’t have a lodge to be secretary of if we lost the strike! I stormed off and suffered more ‘red’ taunts from the men in the queue who agreed with the secretary. I was even more angry because there were members of the ‘unofficial’ strike committee present who did nothing to support me. Very disappointing.
Outside the pit gates I met Margaret, a Militant member, and she took me to a nearby pub and let me vent my anger. She also introduced me to some lads from the APEX union who gave me a cheque for £25 made out to the lodge. We had a good discussion about the strike and she invited me to go to Sheffield on Saturday for the Broad Left Organising Committee conference. I’ve been to Broad Left miners meetings in Easington so I agreed to go, especially as they are paying. John is going as well so at least I’ll have someone to talk to if it gets boring.
Kath is NOT pleased about me going to Sheffield because Saturday is the one day we get to spend some time together. I told her she’d better get used to it because winning this strike is my top priority, and because I’ve been a very vocal supporter of Scargill since before he was elected national President I can’t now take a back seat and watch others do the fighting. She went to bed in a huff.