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Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

76. Tuesday July 31st, 1984.

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2009 at 11:34 am

South Wales NUM have been fined £50,000 by the Tory courts and their assets have been seized for contempt of court. What else can anyone have but contempt for a system run by the ruling class for the ruling class? Surely this action will spur the rest of the TUC into the fight to support us. Not before bloody time!

I’m frustrated at being out of action but for once I have to pay attention to my family. Mind you, I did manage to go along to a picket line at Steetley Quarry, County Durham this morning by telling Kath there would be no trouble. No one seemed to know why we were here other than Dolomite, used in steelmaking, was being stored there along with Polish coal. There were about 700 men present and we managed to stop all the lorries going in. The picket was broken up by rumours of riot police being on their way. Bollocks, but at least we had a victory to celebrate.

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75. Friday July 27th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2009 at 10:02 pm

The ‘top secret’ picket was a bloody farce and achieved nothing more than costing those of us daft enough to turn out a night’s sleep! Only one thing brightened up an otherwise useless picket and that was the sight of one of our lads, Brian, turning up pissed with all his gear in a carrier bag because he’d been told we were leaving straight afterwards. He was so pissed that when one of the lads took his bag he assumed they were putting it on the coach for him. They weren’t, as we saw another lad stagger towards the entrance trying to pretend he was one of the scabs going into work. He might have got away with it if it hadn’t been 3am and him staggering so much. As it was, him and Brian’s full wardrobe were arrested, both being released at 5.30. This could have a lot to do with the smell coming from Brian’s socks!

Back in Penicuik we said our goodbyes to Willie and Marlene, and an official thanked us for coming but said we wouldn’t be needed in Scotland again. I guess this proves that a deal has been done, which is a depressing thought. How the hell can we win when our own union doesn’t support us?

Kath and the girls were shocked when I got home and they saw all my cuts and bruises. I’ve had to promise to spend some time with them until I recover. I need a rest.

74. Thursday July 26th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2009 at 12:42 pm

The early picket at Bilston Glen was the most militant so far but there was no attempt to form a push. Instead everyone seemed content to throw stones and bottles at the police lines to get revenge for yesterday. News came through that a coachload of Durham miners had been arrested in Tranent for allegedly harassing a scab and everyone seemed to go mental. Lads began tearing down the fence outside the pit yard which the NCB had spent thousands having strengthened. Huge tyres were rolled over from a nearby garage and then set on fire, and within minutes thick black smoke was belching out from the flames and two trees had also caught alight. Missiles kept raining down onto the police lines.

A fire engine roared up, siren howling, but we formed a line across the road and Keith Smoult asked the firemen not to cross our ‘official picket line’. They agreed and turned their engine around and drove off to massive cheers from the pickets and looks of disgust from the pigs. The stoning continued until bus loads of pigs began to arrive and we beat a tactical retreat.

Back on our coach we were told we were off to Dalkeith police station to protest about the arrest of our lads in Tranenet. As soon as we arrived we piled off the coach to join the large crowd gathering at the top of the bank that ran up to the station. No sooner had we got there when we were scattered by pigs coming straight for us with truncheons drawn. It was a mad stampede for safety with the pigs tripping anyone who got too close to them. I managed to reach our coach and jumped on, gasping for breath. About a dozen lads had got there before me and they lined the windows watching the chaotic scenes outside. I could see a group our lads hemmed in by the pigs so I ran a few yards and shouted to let them know where we were. A pig yelled at me to,’Get back on the fuckin’ bus or you’re nicked’. He pushed me forward and I had no choice. He told the driver to leave immediately, even though most of our lads were missing. Fortunately none of them was arrested and they managed to get back in time for the afternoon picket.

It was a very subdued picket, with the highpoint being the Tranent Lodge Banner being marched right up in front of the police as an act of defiance. Unfortunately that won’t stop the scabs. Only mass pickets will.

We all went for a final drink in the Miners Welfare and there was a strong rumour going around that the Scottish officials have signed a deal with the pigs to reduce picketing. More resentment has been caused by a Scottish picket being overheard saying this morning, ‘Let the Durham lads go in front. They’re getting paid for it’.Yeah, 170 Durham men arrested at Bilston Glen, that’s what we got paid!’ Let’s hope the rumours are untrue, and let’s hope if they are, the Scots lads can organise the pickets over the heads of their weak officials., otherwise it will all have been for nothing.

At about eleven we were told the final picket will be at 2.30am and it’s all top secret. Most of the lads are too pissed to notice.

73. Wednesday July 25th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2009 at 3:20 pm

The mood of the men this morning was very militant, especially amongst the Durham lads, and I saw all the lads I’ve come to respect, Tommy Ashurst from Easington, ‘Cosh’ from Herrington, and lads from Wearmouth and Sacriston, all of them up for a fight.

This morning’s picket began with a push that was quickly broken up by cowardly bastards throwing stones from the back, one of them hitting a lad just in front of me and splitting the back of his head open. Some of us ran to the back of the picket and told the lads either to join the push or fuck off! We formed up again and linked arms, but this time I was on the outside of the front line. i was trying to avoid the crush for once but there wasn’t much difference. We crashed into the police lines and began a strong push. The ‘man down’ shout went up but this time most of us ignored it and continued pushing. as I was out on the edge I could move more and to my shock I spotted a man getting trampled on the floor. I shouted for help and grabbed his arm and began pulling him out. Other lads helped and we got him to the side of the road. he looked in his fifties and his face was white and he was unconcious. Another lad took over who said he was a first aider and I rejoined the push. It broke up angrily, and the pickets were furious because there’d been loads of arrests and at least a dozen lads injured. The man I helped pull out had had a heart attack but was still alive as they took him away. the lads were saying that the pigs had been vicious and had deliberately tripped lads up and then gave them a kicking when they were down!. Punches were aimed at stomachs and faces and the violence had really gone up from the pigs.

Our response was a hail of missiles raining down on the pigs, with loud cheers when one of them went down. In my opinion that was just stupid because it’ll just make them worse next time we clash. anyway the situation was diffused by one of the Scottish union officials telling everyone to assemble at the Dalkeith Strike Centre for a special meeting to discuss tactics. a real novelty.

When our coach got there we were given a standing ovation from the Scots pickets for our support, and the 100 Durham lads arrested and in hospital. There must have been about 700 men in the hall and I was wondering how we could never get more than 200 on the picket line.

The Delegate from Monktonhall gave a rip roaring speech that spoke of defying the police and ended by urging us all to go to Bilston Glen ‘the noo’, and take the pigs by surprise and take control of the main entrance to the pit. this was greeted with loud roars of approval and we all started to pile out of the hall and into cars and coaches to take the ‘Glen’. There was a real positive buzz on our coach because we felt there was a real chance of us achieving something solid. We were wrong!

Our coach was the first to arrive and we filed out and stood defiantly in front of the gate, which was ‘guarded’ by a few security men. More lads started to arrive in dribs and drabs but not the hundreds we were expecting. At most we were 200 but at least our hosts from Arniston and Penicuik stood alongside us. Some of us wanted to invade the pit and occupy it because our numbers were too small to hold the gate. Lads started to talk about riot police with dogs being inside the pit so we just stood in front of the entrance with the sun beating down on us. the only event of any note was the arrival of a car full of pensioners come to see about their fuel allowance so we let them through. The guards turned them back and I guessed that meant we were in for trouble.

I had just taken off my shirt and given it to Marlene, who was across the road, for safe keeping when double decker buses full of pigs started to arrive. I ran back and joined the back row of pickets right in front of the barrier and gasped. there were bloody hundreds of them, lining up in ranks and marching to stand in front of us. There were ambulances and police vans rolling up, and they started to rush into the pit yard behind us, coming from the sides. We linked arms and steeled ourselves.

We didn’t stand a chance! We were bloody massacred! Without any warning they crashed into our front ranks and forced us back. I was terrified I was going to break my back as we were forced hard up against the barrier so i pushed forward with all my might to get away. Suddenly an arm snaked around my neck and I was choking and forced to leave go of the lads either side of me as I struggled to free the arm. I kicked backwards and the arm went and I pushed forward again. My luck ran out when my arm was grabbed and in an instant I found myself up against the barrier facing two pigs. One of them grabbed me by my ears and pulled me over the barrier and I landed on my head. I felt blood on my face but before I could do anything boots started to fly into me and I tried to curl up to protect myself, arms covering my face. I’ll never forget one of the pigs saying as he kicked,’ Ah’ll teach you to interrupt ma fuckin’ dinner’. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so bloody painful. They dragged me over to a van and literally threw me into the back of it, where I was badly trampled by some pigs getting out. One bastard deliberately kicked me in the head as he got out! A picket helped me onto the bench that lined the van and I was suffering from double vision and pain everywhere. Another man was thrown into the van and even with my blurred vision I could see he was in trouble with his breathing and was in a lot of pain. a lad shouted for an ambulance but they just ignored us. The man was also helped onto the bench.

After a hazy ten minutes or so in the van I was roughly grabbed and told to get out, then I was frogmarched to another van with my arm up my back and shoved in. The first thing I saw was Butch grinning at me and I sat next to him. We swapped tales of how we’d been lifted whilst a poor lad lay on the floor with a broken ankle moaning loudly. he was in agony and his face was contorted with pain. The whole thing was made worse because it was sweltering hot inside the van because we had no ventilation. We shouted for an ambulance and the door opened and a pig told us one had been sent for. We could plainly see an ambulance just outside and when we pointed this out the pig told us it was for police use only! I couldn’t believe it and said to Butch that they wouldn’t be putting that on the telly or in the papers. That lad was forced to wait for 35 minutes in sauna like heat whilst an ambulance stood empty outside. Outrageous! Thatcher’s Britain 1984. We know who the ‘enemy within’ really is after today.

We were kept waiting in that bloody van for over an hour and there was a puddle of sweat at our feet. The only thing that kept us amused was the fact that one of our fellow prisoners was the toilet cleaner from Dalkeith who had got carried along with the enthusiasm and found himself arrested. He kept saying,’They can’t arrest me. Ahm no a miner. I’m in NUPE’! He amused Butch and me anyway.

We were eventually taken up the road to Dalkeith Police Station, photographed and charged, then put into cells. I had one to myself which was clean, with a toilet bowl in the corner and a thin mattress along one wall, opposite the grey door. The only light came weakly through thick glass tiles and I regretted having taken off my shirt because it was quite chilly. I lay on the thin mattress and tried to get some sleep, though my head and ribs were aching badly. I had a cut on my head and a black eye. I was roused from my attempt by Butch calling my name. I went to the hatch in the door, which had been left open, and looked out. At another hatch opposite and to my right I could see Butch grinning like a loony, proudly displaying a pig’s silver button. I couldn’t believe his nerve and had to laugh when i tried to imagine where he’d hidden it when we got searched. Butch is a good laugh, and a good picket and he cheered me up a bit.

I was lying down again when I heard voices and a key turn in the lock. I jumped to my feet as two westoe lads were shoved into the cell, Geordie Allen and John Scott. They told me there were 12 Westoe lads in the cells and we spent ages talking about what we’d seen and heard. Geordie Pape’s son had been taken to hospital and his dad was really worried about him until he was brought into the cells a couple of hours later, bruised and battered, but fine. I got bored and started to write my name on the cell wall. Geordie and John were laughing at my gyrations and asked what the hell I was writing with. They laughed when I showed them my fly zipper!

We were finally fed by a policewoman at 6.30 who shoved three paper plates of fishcake, chips and peas through the hatch, and some lemonade supplied by the NUM and 3 cigarettes. I was so hungry I almost ate the plate as well. As John and me smoked our fag, and shared Geordies cos he doesn’t smoke, Geordie shouted for seconds through the hatch, and we were gobsmacked when three more plates of food were passed through. Geordie started on his but John and me held back feeling sure they’d made a mistake. However, hunger got the better of us and we gobbled up the warm food, giggling like loonies between gobfulls of food. I heard a gruff Scots voice calling to us so I went to the hatch. An angry looking Scotsman shouted,’Yous Geordie bastards have eaten wor dinner’! I ducked down to tell the others and we couldn’t help laughing whilst the Scotsmans protests got louder. We heard him arguing with the policewoman that the men in his cell had not been fed, with her shouting back that 33 meals had been served so they must’ve been fed.. It was only after the pigs had searched their cell for empty plates and found none that the lads finally got their food.

We were released at 8.30 and told that although we were free to picket we would be banned from every picket line in Britain if we got lifted again. He also told us we would hear by post when we were due to appear in court.

We had a few pints and then headed for an early night to be ready for the morning picket.

72. Tuesday July 24th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2009 at 8:45 am

We didn’t get much sleep but Butch is so likeable that you can’t get mad at him. We had a breakfast of hot egg rolls and coffee which set us up nicely for the morning, and we waited outside for the bus to Bilston Glen.

The first person I met when we arrived was John Sturrock, who is a photographer, an excellent one, nut we barely had time to talk before the first push began and I joined in the front rank, linking arms with the pickets either side of me. The initial clash was a violent one, with the front rank of the pigs kicking the hell out of us whilst the rank behind tried to punch us. At one point the lines seemed to reverse, with us pushing the opposite way, but it was bloody chaotic, and very painful. My shins were actually bleeding and the whole experience was intensely claustrophobic and the push eventually broke down. We could see lads being arrested and being dragged away, whilst two men were being carried into ambulances on stretchers. We angrily regrouped and charged into the pigs, but their lines had been reinforced by busloads of pigs. The push was broken up by some idiot throwing a rotten goose egg, and the resulting stench actually saw a few lads throwing up. We made a half hearted third attempt but were too weak and it soon broke up with a few more arrests. We had to content ourselves with shouting abuse at the handful of scabs who went in.

The afternoon was a huge disappointment after the excitement of the morning because we didn’t have enough pickets and there was no attempt to organise, with the majority enjoying the hot sunshine.

We went to the local Miners Welfare this evening and most of the lads got pissed, including Butch, so hopefully that means we can sleep tonight.

71. Monday July 23rd, 1984.

In Uncategorized on July 23, 2009 at 9:02 am

I had an early start to the day, getting up at 3.30am so I could get to the Armstrong Hall for 4.30 and get a lift to Tow Law. My first day back since May and it was a big disappointment. Apathy was rampant and there were only about 100 pickets. Just a bit of loud shouting when the lorries sped in. The ‘highlight’ of the picket was when someone threw an egg at a copper and missed by a mile.

The order came through to call in at the Philadelphia Workshops near Houghton le Spring where there was a picket to try and stop COSA staff from going into work. I had a run in with a vicious pig who really pushed me hard in the chest for no other reason other than I was facing him! I went for him but some lads came to my rescue and we got away from the front. Time to go home.

This afternoon I got a phone call from Gary telling me that a coach was leaving from the hall to go to Scotland and that 55 men were required. I rang the union and volunteered and was told to report to the hall at 5.30pm with a sleeping bag.

I went down to the Women’s Aid Refuge and told Kath I was off to Scotland again. She seemed resigned and warned me not to get arrested. She told me to be careful and ring her to let her know what was going on.

We arrived at Dalkeith Strike Centre at 9.30pm and it was a much more relaxed journey than the one we had last month. We only stayed a few minutes whilst details of accomodation were picked up. We were to be in Arniston and Penicuik but a bit of a row broke out because the people in Arniston wanted the lads who had stayed there last week to return. This caused the lads who hadn’t stayed there to think it was the best place to stay and demanded that the ‘rubs be put in’. I couldn’t be arsed to join in such a petty squabble so I volunteered for Penicuik. The SWP already had a few members there so I wanted to experience something new, and meet more people.

After dropping off half the lads in Arniston we headed for Penicuik, stopping off at Shottstown Miners Welfare for a piss. I wasn’t too surprised to see the two union officials from Westoe, sent to help co – ordination, were with us, leaving no one in Arniston to co – ordinate with. We spotted none other than Mick McGahey sitting at a table full of empty whisky glasses. A lot of the lads were excited to see him but not me. I’d met him before and also heard loads of tales.

We were given soup and bread, and a free pint, and as we were eating Mick came swaying over to give us a pep talk. His speech was slurred and it was sad to see a man who was once one of the top fighters in the NUM reduced to a drunken old man. He spoke of his hope of renewed talks bringing about a quick settlement, but when the men started to ask questions about the Incentive Scheme, the 4 day week and sacked miners he just put on his most sincere face and voice and promised us there’d be no sell out! He put enough money behind the bar for 2 pints for each man so we all cheered loudly as he left. He called back and said he was seeing Arthur in the morning and he would tell him what a fine body of men we are. Bullshit!

Exit Mick Senior, enter Mick Junior, a big lad with thick glasses, curly hair and a flair for organisation. Within minutes we had all been allocated places to stay and were on our way.

Dave Butchard, Micky Cunningham, Andy Halliday and me were all sent to the home of Willie and Marlene Forsyth. Andy got the couch because he’s ancient, over 50. Dave, Micky and me got the son’s bedroom, a bit cramped but fine. As I try to note this down ‘Butch’ is poncing round the floor in his silk underpants, a horrible sight, and I get a strong feeling we won’t get much sleep because Butch is as mad as a hatter. Anyway, the Forsyths have made us feel really at home so roll on tomorrow.

70. Saturday July 14th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Today should have been the 101st Durham Miners Gala but because of the strike it’s been called a rally instead. I fail to see the logic behind the name change but there you go.

The Westoe contingent, two bus loads, left the Armstrong Hall at 8.45, half an hour late due to another cock up by our Lodge officials. It was pissing down with rain, and on a normal Gala day this wouldn’t have dampened our spirits but 18 weeks into a strike it did. Everyone seemed quiet, though a few of the pickets were in a very optimistic mood due to the dockers having come out on strike earlier this week and they talked enthusiastically about Thatcher not being able to fight on two fronts. Admittedly the dockers have the power to really damage the Tories but the bastards are clever and I can’t see them letting it happen. They’ve come too far and will find any way to compromise, just as they did with the railway workers. I hope I’m wrong, but the TV and the papers are doing all they can to stop a dual front.

The rain was still pouring down when we arrived in Durham and we tramped onto a wet field to get ready for the march. I had brought Jennifer and Sasha along with me and they were just enjoying the whole experience. Kath had refused to come, choosing to go shopping instead. I wasn’t too surprised when it was discovered that the poles for our lodge banner had gone missing, and when they were finally found and fitted, we were almost last in the procession.

There were banners from every coalfield, including Scotland and Wales, and it was a really colourful spectacle. We lined up behind the Cortonwood banner and there were ‘Victory to the Miners’ and ‘Unite to Fight’ placards everywhere. Some people had even turned them into rain hats. The brass bands were playing and we set off to march through the city, down towards the racecourse by the river where the rally was to be held. Jennifer and Sasha’s faces were glowing with pride as crowds of people lined the streets and cheered us on, and I was proud as well, proud to be fighting back against Thatcher and the Tories.

Scargill gave his usual defiant speech, full of passion and anger at those unions not supporting us. Dennis Skinner was excellent, equally full of passion and fire, and one of the few true Socialists in the Labour Party. A low point for me was Betty Heathfield, wife of Peter, General Secretary of the NUM, who was appealing for Women’s Support Groups to come down to London so they could hand a petition to that champion of the working classes, the Queen! I hope no one turns up!

The real moment of magic came when Kneel Kinnock stepped up to the microphone and made most of the crowd disappear, but not before they’d booed him loudly for his traitorous lack of support for miners and their families. The bastard is more concerned about getting Labour elected than he is about his core supporters, and he even had the nerve to criticise violence on the picket lines. I was glad to see people turn their backs on him and walk away, especially as this was the same man who only a year ago had got a standing ovation. Miners at least now see him for the soft reformist he is.

Anyway, despite the rain it was a good day out and the girls enjoyed playing with other kids whose dads were also on strike. I’m glad I took them.

69. Wednesday July 11th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on July 12, 2009 at 6:29 pm

I finally appeared in court in Bishop Auckland to face the heinous charge of ‘Obstruction of the Highway’ after being arrested at the start of May. This has been one of the tactics the Tories have used to prevent us from being effective, and it bloody worked. Bastards! I tried to defend myself but to no avail and was found guilty and fined the maximum of £50, with £30 costs, to be paid back at £1 a week due to my having no income. No real complaints because the pigs only lied a little bit. At least I don’t have to go back to Woodside and can resume picketing at Tow Law so it was well worth it!

68.Friday July 6th – Monday July 9th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2009 at 11:04 am

Keith Smoult, Gary Marshall and myself travelled down to London to attend ‘Marxism 84’ at the University of London.

Keith and myself, along with Yunus Bakhsh were allocated lodgings with a lovely Irish woman called Anne in Holloway (not the prison!) She made us feel very welcome and didn’t complain if we came back late, which we mostly did. Also, we were usually pissed because comrades kept buying us beer. It was a really welcome break from the boredom of Woodside, and I for one learnt a lot.

We attended as many meetings as we could, eager to meet new people and learn loads of things we knew nothing about. The highlights for me were Paul Foot on, ‘From Wilson to Kinnock, The Tragedy and the Farce’, Chris Bambery on ‘Ireland’, Duncan Hallas on ‘The French Revolution’, Ian Birchall on ‘Emile Zola’ (brilliant!), and Tony Cliff on everything!!

Socially it was excellent and it was great to meet up with Ian Mitchell and Steve Hammill again. We had a miner’s fringe meeting where we discussed our fears of a sell out of the strike because of the ‘constructive talks’ taking place between MacGregor and the NUM, and he vapid outpourings of Heathfield, Taylor, McGahey and co. Steve Hammill has drawn up a leaflet that outlines what constitutes a sell out, and what a victory should be, including the divisive Incentive Scheme being scrapped and the average integrated into our basic rate of pay, a minimum 15% pay rise, reinstatement of all sacked miners, retirement at 55, a 4 day week, and no pit closures without consultation. It was just heartening to talk with lads in the same situation as ourselves about positive things instead of the apathy we have to face on a daily basis. We should get together more often!

Keith and me were so broke over the weekend that we had to walk back to Holloway after meetings, and on Sunday had to share a plate of chips between us for dinner. Sheila McGregor noticed, bless her, and gave us £5 each. We celebrated with a takeaway meal and caught the tube back to Holloway instead of walking.

We had to come back on Monday, partly because I am up in court on Wednesda, but also to appease our wives. That’s one thing the three of us do share in common, and iy isn’t getting any better as the strike drags on!