I left the house at 6.30am and the rain was lashing down. It’s still lashing down as I write this at 11.30pm!Anyway I made my way up to Newcastle and arrived soaking wet at roughly 7.30. I grabbed a coffee at the Haymarket and met up with Margaret from Militant and a couple of other members. The coach arrived shortly afterwards and we piled on, the inside resembling a sauna as we all steamed away in the warm. The passengers were mainly Militant supporters, as they like to be known, with a few SWP members as well. They got straight on with the job of selling their paper,’Socialist Worker’, and I bought one to see what news they had about the strike.
I sat next to a lass called Pat who was in the SWP and who worked at Newcastle Poly. We chatted about the strike and she told me she’s been down to Westoe a few times. She gave me £10 she had collected on the bus. She spoke a lot about the SWP but was equally talkative about the shortcomings of the Labour Party, especially Tony Benn and his role in pushing through the hated Incentive Scheme when he was the Energy Secretary in the last government.I agreed with a lot of what she said but was still suspicious of her motives.
The rain was still pissing down when we arrived in Sheffield so we sprinted across the road and into the university where a long queue was waiting to register for the conference. I was pleased to see Keith Smoult there because it would be good to have a Westoe lad to chat to, and as Keith was a member of the Young Socialists he knew quite a lot of people there, including Geoff, the ‘head; Militant man who took us into the canteen whilst he went to sort out tickets for us. It seemed like the miners were the stars of the moment because when we got into the main conference hall all the front rows were occupied by NUM members. I got a load of badges from them for my flat cap.
The hall was full to capacity with people from every union, some of whom I have never even heard of! All of the speakers in the morning session made comforting noises about supporting us miners but seemed to me more concerned with electing left wing union leaders and politicians into various obscure roles. A collection was taken which raised over £2,000, half of it to go to the NUM the other half to Broad Left. A group of people, whom I later discovered were all SWP members, complained and said all of the money should go to the miners and a lively debate followed. However, the SWP motion was rejected, much to my disgust because I felt they had very valid reasons.
At lunchtime I was persuaded to attend a fringe meeting to be addressed by someone called Tony Cliff and to be about our strike. It was a small room but was packed, and to be honest, when I first saw and heard the guy I thought to myself,’who the bloody hell is this!’ He was an old guy, short and stocky with wiry grey hair sticking out from either side of his head, and wearing glasses.He had a strong foreign accent which I found hard to understand at first.However, once I was tuned in I found myself agreeing with almost everything he said. He wasn’t like the other speakers I had heard because he openly criticised Scargill and the NUM leadership saying they were tactically naive!He drew comparisons between the ’72 and ’74 strikes and now, saying we couldn’t win this one just by closing down power stations, mainly because of the time of year but also because we would not get support from other trade unionists unless we began campaigning for support now amongst the rank and file. He warned that the other trade union leaders would do to us what they had done to the NGA at Warrington, and the people at GCHQ. They would stab us in the back and leave us to fight on our own.He said our only hope was to appeal to workers directly by going to their meetings and explain exactly what the strike was about. He got a tremendous round of applause and I for one thought what he had to say made sense, even if it did depress me a bit.
A Yorkshire miner spoke next and made and appealed for money to send pickets into Notts. He also spoke with passion and got great applause, and he got £644, a sum that surprised me because we had never ever got into three figures. One thing I will say is that the SWP are certainly a party of action!
As I headed back to the main hall I met a lad called Yunus from Newcastle who I had seen down at Westoe a few times. He said I should collect money outside the hall instead of listening to hot air inside. I was a bit dubious but he got me a bucket covered in ‘support the miners’ stickers. He assured me it was ok but a steward disagreed. After Yunis had a word with some official I was given permission to stay, so I did.
I was soon joined by some Yorkshire lads who were a bit cool towards me at first but after 20 minutes or so we were getting along like a house on fire. One of the lads was called Ian and works at Silverwood Colliery. We got along particularly well, joining forces to verbally abuse a little runt of a man who more or less accused us of collecting the money for ourselves. Ian told me later he was a union official from Barnsley who didn’t like the idea of anyone organising but elected officials. I told Ian about the officials at my pit and he said we should organise ourselves.
We spent the whole afternoon collecting, and such was our success that I was forced to put half of the bucket into a box at my feet because the bucket was so heavy!One big Scotsman tossed a quid into the bucket every time he came out to use the bog, which he did on a regular basis.He either had a weak bladder or too much to drink but whatever I was impressed by his generosity.
Geoff, the Militant guy came to ask me why I wasn’t listening to Tony Benn, and when I told him he was not happy and stormed off. He came back with some even bigger official from Militant who told me the SWP were a bunch of small time losers. I told him to piss off,so he did. Tosser!
When Keith and I counted up what I’d collected we were staggered to find the sum of £102.77p. We were over the moon but when we met some of the Wearmouth lads we decided to give them half, knowing they’d put it to good use.
The journey home was spent talking politics, and one thing I am sure of and that is I have totally lost faith in the Labour Party because its long overdue for them to get off the fence and support us instead of trying to pander to the middle classes. They are a disgrace to all those who have gone before and founded the trade unions with their blood.
Before we went home we bought fish and chips for the few lads on the Westoe picket line. After all, they are giving up their Saturday night and deserve a little treat. The bloody lodge won’t give them one!