Gary said he had a job waking me up this morning. We left the house as quietly as we could so as not to wake our hosts. We didn’t even make a cup of coffee. I was still half asleep but the cold air outside soon woke me up and we walked briskly back to the club without getting lost.
The scene that greeted us at the club made us realise how fortunate we’d been. There were men lying asleep on every available seat, the floor was covered in fag ends and the few tables were full of empty beer glasses. Two lads were playing pool, the pockets stuffed with paper to save money whilst another lad was making tea in a small kitchen.He told us they’d been drinking until well after two and the lads awake hadn’t slept at all.
Our union official came bursting into the room wearing a cowboy hat and firing a plastic gun which he used to wake the sleeping men! They told him where to stick his stupid gun, but got up anyway. He ordered us all outside and we shivered as we waited. The coach driver finally showed up at 5.15am and swore that was the time he’d been told to arrive. Our union man was given loads of abuse for robbing us of valuable sleeping time, but he kept insisting it was the drivers fault. I believed the driver!
The coach smelled foul with stale beer and farts and I was relieved when we arrived at Agecroft. Fresh air never smelled so good! We had to walk a few hundred yards to the pit and were surprised to find a power station next door which is bloody handy for the scabs. As we approached the pit we broke into a run chanting ‘Zulu’ in the hope it would scare the pigs. It didn’t.
We were expecting to join a mass picket but were disappointed to find there were only about a hundred of us present, facing twice as many pigs lining the road in front of the entrance. We joined the picket and I asked a picket where the hell everyone else was. He said they’d gone to a pit called Parkside which was also scabbing.One of our lads, Peter Farrish, provided us with some humour by walking up and down the police lines squeaking a toy pig he’d brought along, much to the visible annoyance of the real pigs. I couldn’t see him getting away with it for long, and sure enough when a push began at the arrival of the first scabs the pigs jumped on him and he was hauled away, as was another lad. All we’d achieved was two arrests but at least the push had warmed us up, and everyone had got stuck in, which made a nice change.
As soon as we’d lost one nutter, another made his presence known. He is a local striker called Stan and he made Peter seem like an intellectual! He had odd socks on, one yellow the other green into which his trousers were tucked, and he had a weird wooly hat sticking up on his head. He kept blowing on a mouth organ and shouted out obscure statements such as,’Agecroft you are doomed’, and ‘Who invented steam engine Agecroft?’ At least he added a bit of colour and humour to an otherwise depressing morning as the scabs streamed into the pit, not even stopping to talk to the six ‘official’ pickets allowed to stand by the gate by the pigs. Some of the scabs were taken into the pit by what looked like public transport buses. If they were public transport it is outrageous because the drivers must be in the TGWU and they had agreed not to cross our picket lines. I told our union official he should investigate when we returned to Manchester.
Stan, in one of his more lucid moments, pointed to some men across the road who we could see were drying dishes in the kitchen of the pit canteen. He told us they were the union officials at Agecroft and that the canteen was full of pigs kept in reserve in case of trouble. If what Stan says is true then it really pisses me off and is the worst case of backstabbing from NUM officials I have ever seen. Those bastards are feeding the thugs who beat us!
At 9.30 our coach returned and took us to Manchester Poly where we were given a breakfast of rolls and coffee. We really appreciate the solidarity they are showing us. I got a shock when I heard my name being announced over the tannoy system asking me to go to the nearest phone. I was worried, thinking something must have happened at home. I was genuinely relieved to find it was only Phil Ramsall wanting to talk. He came up to the dining area and I introduced him to Gary. We talked about the morning picket before he asked us if we would like to speak at some meetings and visit some workplaces. We agreed, providing he can arrange transport. I also said that we felt that Mick’s family could do without us as they were preparing for exams, and a quick call fixed us up with a new place to stay. He drove us to Salford and chatted all the way about what he hoped we could achieve during our stay. He’s very enthusiastic and I like that.
In Salford he introduced us to Hilary Burke who has a spare room in her house. She also made us feel very welcome and made us coffee while we told her how things were going in Durham. She’d put up some lads from Easington the previous week and they’d told her the strike was unlikely to last in the Durham area because the majority of men are moderate. I told her about the passivity of our pickets but also said I thought the strike will stay solid now we’re out.
She took us to a small factory where we did a paper sale and sis a bucket collection. Gary really seemed to enjoy the paper sale and grew in confidence as we stood there. We only sold a few papers and collected a few quid but at least we felt we were doing something useful. Hilary then drove us back to the club so we could tell our union official where we were. She also said she had room for another couple of lads and would prefer it if they were at least a bit political. I think she meant potential SWP members, or at least supporters. Gary and I discussed it and decided to ask two lads from Wearmouth, John and Keith, who we’d got on with quite well. We found them and asked what they thought. They were delighted after having spent a really uncomfortable night in the club so they jumped at the chance. They went off to tell their union man and we agreed to meet when we returned from collecting our stuff from Mick’s place. Again our union man got stroppy and accused us of being ‘snobby’, daft bastard. I asked if the coach could pick us from Salford and he said no. I asked if we were going to be at Agecroft all week and he said he didn’t know. I couldn’t be arsed to argue with him so just gave him Hilary’s phone number in case he needed to reach us and told him we’d make our own way to Agecroft.
Gary and me went round to Mick’s and explained why we were moving. Mick was great and said if he could last 26 weeks then so could we. We said we hoped we’d win long before that, and after a brief meeting with his young daughter, who’d never met miners before and was disappointed we were leaving, we headed back to the club with our gear.
As we waited outside for Hilary some of our lads confronted us and yet again we were accused of being ‘snobby bastards’. They asked why we hadn’t invited Westoe lads to come with us. I told them the truth and tried to explain about the SWP but they were unconvinced and told us to ‘fuck off’. Fair enough but I did feel guilty all the same.
Hilary picked us all up and drove us back to her place. She introduced us to a friend of hers, Bobby, who was visiting from Southampton and has been in the SWP since she was 22. We decided to go out for a walk to explore the area and also decided to have a Chinese take away to save Hilary the trouble of cooking for us.
When we got back to her place we discovered she’d made a huge pan of curry! None of us mentioned our meal and had big plates of food, giggling like mad when the women left the room. No chance of us starving just yet!
Gary and the lads went out for a pint but I decided to stay behind so I could write. Of course they thought I was interested in the two lasses, judging by the winks and nudges, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. Hilary was busy so I chatted with Bobbie. She was very enthusiastic about a writer called Victor Serge who I shall have to read when I find a chance.
John and Keith have been given a room up the road with a woman called Anne Robertson, and Gary and me are in the spare room. He claimed the only mattress, giving a bad back as an excuse. I’m in a sleeping bag on the floor. We can have a lie in tomorrow because Hilary has some meetings planned in Manchester, so we’ll miss the picket. Two less won’t make a difference.200 extra just might!