Posts Tagged ‘Armstrong Hall’

151. Monday March 4th, 1985.

In Uncategorized on February 19, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I attended my last picket of the longest national strike in modern times. I almost lost my voice hurling abuse at the scab buses going in. It’s them bastards I blame!

  Yesterday a Special Delegate Conference voted 98 to 91 for an organised return to work, with no conditions. The bastards have bowed down too far and betrayed the 600 men sacked during the strike. I’m ashamed of them!!

  At a mass meeting in the Armstrong Hall the Lodge officials ran true to form and merely informed the men to phone the pit to find out what shift to return on. They brushed aside complaints from men who’ve already phoned and been told to return to work at 10pm, night shift. The bastards are really rubbing it in because it’s just over a year since we defeated the managers plans to force all men to do night shift instead of volunteers. Our cowardly officials are back to being compromise specialists. I really hope the lads get rid of them all at the earliest opportunity!


87. Wednesday September 5th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2009 at 5:07 pm

I’m actually writing this diary on Saturday September 8th after having spent the last 3 days in Durham prison.

The day began at 7am when I left the Armstrong Hall in Neil Tate’s car to go picketing at Wearmouth as usual. I told the lads I was with that we shouldn’t just stand around being passive but needed to take some positive action.They all agreed.

We arrived at Wearmouth at 7.30 and joined the fifty or so men already in the car park. I had a chat with Dave Hopper, the Lodge Secretary of Wearmouth, and asked him why the fence hadn’t been removed because it was a real hindrance to us having a proper push against the pigs. Dave agreed with me but said there was nothing he could do because the pigs were at the pit 24 hours a day. He also told me that Sunderland Magistrates were taking a really hard line with arrested pickets. Two of his lads had been remanded in custody to Durham prison. I know one of them really well, Alan Margham, and I asked Dave to pass him my regards when he saw him. Little did I know that I would see him before he did!

By 7.45 there were at least 250 of us in the car park facing a line of about 200 pigs directly in front of the main pit entrance, only seperated by the bloody metal fence. a group of us began moving around the pickets because we were really pissed off with the passivity. After having had men lifted on a daily basis the hard core activists were also being reduced, and the picket had become really stale. We couldn’t allow it to continue because a passive picket would just encourage more scabbing. We started telling the lads we were going out onto the road on our right to form a push and asked everyone to join us. Accordingly about twenty of us moved onto the road and began shouting for everyone to join us. We soon had about a hundred men but the majority refused to move, even when we yelled at them and called them ‘plastic pickets’ and worse. I have a very big gob and my throat hurt with the effort of shouting but it did no good.

The scab bus was due so we formed up into a solid mass and started to move towards the pigs, who had rushed  to form a reinforced line in front of us. We chanted our battle cry of, ‘Zulu,Zulu,Zulu’ and then crashed into the pigs. Initially we made progress, forcing the pigs back a little until more reinforcements joined their lines. We could have broken through easily if the ‘plastics’ watching from the sidelines had joined us. As it was the push was broken by a group of pigs attacking us from the side and splitting off the front two lines from the rest of the lads. I was roughly grabbed around the throat by a pig and struggled to fight back and keep my feet. The bastard was choking me and he dragged me through the police lines. He threw me to the ground, and as I struggled to get my breath he leapt on me with his knee across my chest. I could see he was an inspector by his flat hat and he said”Got you at last, you big mouthed bastard. That’s your picketing days over’.I wondered if I’d been singled out as I was roughly  dragged backwards and thrown into the back of a police van. Within minutes the van was full, with 8 pickets and six pigs and we were driven the short distance over the bridge to the same police station we had stoned the week before.

Inside Monkwearmouth police station, which was so small it didn’t have any cells, with my ‘arresting officer’, a young PC, we were told to stand against the wall to have our photograph taken by an obese sergeant(is there any other kind?) with a polaroid camera. He told me the photo was for ‘official’ records,ie the photo albums they used to identify activists. The sergeant pressed the button and all four flash cubes went off and unexposed film shot out the front. I laughed out loud and so did the young PC but the segeant wasn’t amused. Cursing, he fitted new flashes and loaded new film. We composed ourselves, with me trying to look defiant and the PC smiling broadly. The same thing happened, flashes and film spewing out the front. I was laughing madly when an angry inspector burst into the room and demanded to know what the hell was going on! The fat sergeant said he couldn’t understand it because it had never happened before. He tried one more time with exactly the same results. The inspector grabbed the camera and threw it in a bin and ordered the sergeant to go and get a replacement.

Finally I was photographed and then taken into another room where the angry inspector was waiting impatiently. He said to the young PC,’What kind of abusive language did this scum use?’ The young lad was either very naive, very stupid, or a mixture of the two because he replied,’Sorry sir, but I didn’t actually hear him saying anything’. I thought the Inspector was going to explode. He yelled for the fat sergeant to take me away. As I was being taken out I heard the Inspector say,’Now what did you hear the bastard say?’ No doubt that cleared the young lads memory.

I was taken outside and locked into a tiny cell on one of them pig buses you usually see parked at football grounds. An uncomfortable hour later there were 12 of us in the cells and we were driven to Gill Bridge police station in Sunderland and locked into two cells, six to a cell. I was with three Westoe lads, one of whom had only been doing picket duty for a fortnight! I grew up in the same street, Chaucer Avenue, as one of the lads,Davy Larsen, and we spent the time chatting about our experiences over the past six months.

During the morning we were taken out to be photographed, again, fingerprinted and questioned, and finally charged. I was charged with,’Foul,insulting and abusive behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace’. The officer charging me asked if I had any outstanding charges against me and he grinned when I told him about Bilston Glen last month.

We were allowed to see a solicitor provided by the NUM and he told me we would probably be bailed and banned from going within two miles of Wearmouth, which is what I was expecting.

We had dinner of soya pie, potato and turnip which was bloody horrible but I ate it anyway. We were then let out of the cells and told to wait at the foot of the stairs that led up into the courtroom. We whispered amongst ourselves. I recognised one of the lads, Bob Robson, who had been one of the most voiciferous supporters of of going to jail in Bishop Auckland but had bottled out and phoned the TV instead. He got me worried when he told me the solicitor who had seen him had warned him he might be refused bail and be remanded in custody because of his previous arrest. This had happened to men who appeared before the bench previously. It wasn’t looking good. I was feeling a bit pissed off because he had seen a woman solicitor, as had most of the other lads, with only a few of us seeing the man. I suspected he must be a trainee or something because he told me I would probably be bailed.

It was 3pm when the first six lads were led up into the courtroom, and when they came back they told us they’d been bailed and weren’t to go within 2 miles of Wearmouth, as they’d expected. We were called up and I was a bit  surprised when the magistrate called the first four lads to the bench and left Bob and me to one side. The four lads were all released on the same bail conditions as the other six.

We were ordered to face the magistrate and he glared at us as if we were two lumps of shit. Bob was dealt with first, and despite the pleas of the female solicitor, was remanded in custody to Durham Prison until September 14th. Bob was led down looking totally shocked. I faced the magistrate and received the same sentence, with the magistrate saying I was being remanded because of my disgraceful past record and that he believed I would ignore any bail conditions imposed upon me. He also said something about me being a danger to public order but I was too gobsmacked to take it all in. What evidence did the bastard have that I would ignore bail conditions? He ordered me to be taken down and the guy who led me away said the time would soon pass. Easy for him to say. He wasn’t on his way to Durham Prison!

After being held in a cell for half an hour we were taken up to a yard and handcuffed together before being put into a van. It was an uncomfortable journey, made worse by the gobshite sergeant who accompanied us. He was one of those ‘ some of my best friends are miners’ types and was constantly trying to be friendly. I ignored the bastard but Bob chatted happily with him. The pig was condemning Scargill and picket line violence, and Bob was agreeing with him! I couldn’t believe it and wondered why he’d been on the picket line in the first place. Bob said he couldn’t wait to get back to work and that it would happen soon because there was no way we could defeat Thatcher. It made an already depressing journey worse and I worried about what Kath would say when she found out, and how Jen and Sasha would react. I was also angry that none of our lodge officials had been in court so how would Kath find out? I hoped Keith or Gary would call round to tell her. I felt as if I was about to start a life sentence instead of a few days on remand and resolved that in future I would content myself with being an ‘indian’ and leave being a ‘chief’ to others.

Once inside the prison gates the handcuffs were taken off and we were taken into the Search Tank, which is a room beside the main gate where incoming prisoners are taken to be searched. They searched everywhere, even the soles of my feet, and it was a humiliating experience. After the usual jokes about my surname we were taken into the reception area, and after another lengthy wait we were taken into another room full of men waiting to be admitted into the prison. One of these men was a long term prisoner waiting to be transferred to a prison in Scotland. He told me he’s been in Wakefiels Prison for seven years and this was the first time in all those years he’d been outside. He told me he was doing life for murder yet despite this I felt sorry for him. The other men were burglars and con men who passed the time by bragging about all the crimes they’d gotten away with before being caught for something trivial. When they heard what Bob and me were in for they were very sympathetic and gave us loads of advice on what to expect and what we could get away with. Bob said he’d done some time as a younger man and started talking and telling tales of his exploits as a criminal, trying to be the equal of the other men, daft bastard. He’s a bit of a know all is Bob. Anyway, I was glad for the advice and felt a bit easier in my mind.

We were examined by the prison doctor before being forced to have a bath in cold water full of disinfectant. The towel I dried on was like sandpaper! We were then issued with our uniform; one pair of underpants, one vest,a pair of socks with holes in the heels, a blue striped shirt, a pair of brown trousers that were too big, and a brown jacket stamped with ‘HMP Durham’ in case anyone tried to steal it. The whole outfit was completed by a pair of battered black slip on shoes, with mine having holes gouged in the heels, making it uncomfortable to walk, not that I expected to be doing a lot of that!

Washed, dressed and given a number, all we had to look forward to was prison food. I was bloody starving but when I saw what was on offer I almost lost my appetite. I was handed a plate with a blob of mashed potato, shrivelled up peas and a solitary hot dog sausage. A plastic mug of unsweetened tea was provided, presumably to wash away the horrible taste of the food which I gulped down with a minimum of chewing in the hope that my taste buds wouldn’t be irreparably damaged.

After our meal we had another long wait. I passed the time chatting with a con man who was on a three year sentence, and if he was to be believed, had £30,000 stashed for his release. He entertained me with stories of his many criminal exploits and the time passed quickly. He also gave me some cigarettes, which was great because I’d finished the few I’d been arrested with. I am grateful to the ‘screw’ who gave me the fags because prison rules stated that only sealed packets were to be given to prisoners. He told me he supported the miners, which came as a pleasant surprise because I had expected the screws to be bastards like the pigs are. In fact, all the screws we had contact with were great, with one in particular, being an ex – miner himself, doing all he could to make our stay less uncomfortable.

Bob and I were to be kept together, which came as a relief because I’d heard all the tales of homosexuality in prisons. Not that I’ve anything against homosexuals. I just didn’t want to experience it myself at first hand! At 9pm we were given a sheet, a pillowcase and a blanket. We carried theseinto B Wing because the remand wing was full. We climbed the metal staircase and I thought of the prison in ‘Porridge’. There was thick wire mesh strung beneath the landings to stop men throwing themselves off to escape the food! We were on the second floor, in cell B2 – 30, and it was really depressing when we went in and the door was locked behind us.

Our cell was bloody horrible. It was filthy, with fag ends on the cracked concrete floor. The arch window had thick glass panes that were filthy, and six of them were missing, causing a chill breeze to waft around the cell and circulate the stink from the plastic bucket full of piss and shit that stood in the middle of the floor. The decor was post – holocaust,damp grey walls and cobwebbed ceiling. We each had a metal frame bed with a thin ‘white’ matress that was full of stains, and mine was decorated with a schoolboy – ish drawing of a naked woman. We also had a blue plastic mug each, an orange plastic washing bowl and jug, and a plastic razor with no blade. Two wooden tables completed the furniture, all crammed into a cell no more than six foot wide and twelve long.

The screw, who Bob kept calling ‘Boss’, told us to make a final trip to the bog. The first thing I saw on entering was a contorted face behind a half door, complete with sound effects as he strained to shit. He put me right off and I was determined to hold my bowels as long as I could.

Back in the cell Bob was the first to spot two books and immediately grabbed the cowboy story. I was relieved until I saw the other book was a biography of Martin Luther. I skimmed it and quickly decided it wasn’t for me. I would happily have swapped it for the cowboy book.

At 10pm the light went out and we settled down to sleep. I was knackered but it took me a long time to drop off. I worried about Kath and the girls, and for me that is the worst thing about being locked up,not being able to communicate with your loved ones, and not knowing what is happening to them.

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.

67. Saturday June 30th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2009 at 8:44 am

This morning saw the ‘Coal Not Dole’ march and rally organised by our Lodge officials. It was a very disappointing turn out, only a few thousand people, but it could have been so much better if they’d told us about it and allowed us, the rank and file, to have some part in the organisation. All the Durham lodges were represented, plus a couple from Yorkshire and Kent, but when you consider the coal mining traditions of South Shields, which once boasted 3 pits, with even more in the close vicinity, then it was disappointing. I suppose that because the town has lost most of its industries and has a high level of unemployment, apathy is part of life. It’ll be a hell of a lot worse if Westoe ever closes!

We marched from the Armstrong Hall to the Bents Park on the seafront, and if anything, the rally was more of a disappointment than the march. The speakers were abysmal. Our Lodge Secretary introduced Jack Taylor of Yorkshire Area NUM as; ‘A future legend of the trade union movement’. Leg end is more like it! It was him who signed the deal to allow coal into Scunthorpe steelworks allowing them to break productivity records! He was full of empty rhetoric and received only lukewarm applause. Jim Slater was applauded only because of the seaman’s support, and because he’s from Shields, as his speech was boring, and only Jack Collins of Kent NUM came out with any credibility.

It’s typical of the total lack of organisation at Westoe that we couldn’t even hold a decent rally. Pathetic!


60. Sunday June 17th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2009 at 8:23 am

Got a phone call this afternoon telling me two coaches are leaving the Armstrong Hall at 3am tomorrow morning. My guess is they’ll be going to Orgreave but no one knows for sure. Kath is really pissed off and has warned me to pay more attention to her and the girls. She’s right of course but what can I do, I’m committed?

56. Wednesday June 13th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2009 at 11:04 am

What a difference a day makes! I can hardly believe what has happened today and it has restored my faith in the strike and my fellow pickets. My phone  hardly stopped ringing this afternoon with my friends calling to tell me what happened, even though the Lodge Chairman had asked them not to because he wanted to ring me himself. He finally rang me at 5.15pm and I really enjoyed his discomfort as he informed me of the decision that had been made.

What happened was that Gary Marshall spoke to all the pickets in the new soup kitchen at Harton Miners Welfare when they returned from the morning picket. He told them that the food they were eating, and had been eating for weeks, had been paid for in part by money he and I had been collecting. He asked if anyone could cite a single case of dishonesty against me, and then went on to detail my personal committment to the strike. He told them about what the Lodge Committee had done to me and finished by urging everyone to get down to the union meeting in the Armstrong Hall to speak in my defence. He said I was being witch hunted for being a member of the SWP.

The pickets all got into their cars and left in convoy, stopping traffic, honking their horns and generally making a noise as they drove down Stanhope Road. They stormed into the Armstrong Hall and shocked the officials on the platform. When they found that the minutes had already been read they demanded they be read again. A vote was taken, won, and the minutes were re – read. When the minute concerning me was read out Gary jumped up and proposed that all charges against me be dropped and this was quickly seconded, but before a vote could be taken a heated debate developed with the end result being that the proposal to say that I wouldn’t have to appear in front of the Durham Executive but that I was still banned from collecting funds and given a warning as to my future conduct. This was passed almost unanimously and caused visible displeasure to the platform. The bastards were seething! They were even more mad when a proposal was passed to give £3,000 to the Women’s Support Group. The platform protested strongly but were easily defeated by the wishes of the majority. This was a great victory for the pickets because for the first time they could see that THEY made the decisions, the rank and file and not the so – called leaders on the platform.

I felt so elated about what had happened that I went along to our newly formed South Tyneside SWP held in the North Eastern pub in South Shields. We have split from Newcastle because that branch was becoming too big and and people were able to hide from being actively involved. We are very optimistic about the future, especially Phil Turner, who only a few months ago was the only member in town. Now there are five more members, all Westoe miners and hopefully more will join us in the future. The meeting was excellent because everyone was buzzing from the events of today, especially Gary, and we all feel a lot more confident that the ideas of the SWP really do work in practice.

Kath is pissed off again because I think she was hoping to see more of me.However, she is also relieved the charges against me have been dropped. A good day!

48. Wednesday May 23rd, 1984.

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2009 at 12:23 pm

I am absolutely shattered, depressed and disillusioned, though not as much as I was after this morning’s union meeting, thanks to comrades rallying around me at our SWP branch meeting this evening.

I had arrived at the Armstrong Hall full of confidence after doing the early morning picket at Woodside Drift Mine. I was determined that the men were going to show their disgust at the way our officials are running the strike. The hall was full and I sat in the middle with Gary and Keith, preparing myself for a blistering attack against the platform.

The minutes of the previous meeting were read out and passed then Walter Slater, the Lodge Secretary, stood up to read the correspondence. The first thing he said was how disgusted he was about a letter he’d received from Parsons which revealed they’d had a letter from him appealing for funds. He said he’d never written a letter to Parsons yet this letter was written by him so it was obviously a forgery! The letter went on to complain about the behaviour of Norman Strike who had insulted the union Secretary at Parsons and taken an unofficial collection. Slater said he had always trusted me and asked if I was in the meeting. The bastard knew I was because he was looking right at me. I stood up and my legs were shaking and everyone turned to stare at me. He stuck the knife firmly in by saying that in all his years of union activity he had never been so shocked and disgusted by one of his members doing such a wicked thing! He asked me if I had committed the forgery or was it someone else?

I tried to defend myself against the implication that I had tried to get money for myself but I wasn’t allowed to say anything other than admit I had written his name on the letter. Tommy Wilson then stood up and launched a personal attack against my character, calling the SWP a bunch of ‘tin pot communists’ and openly accused me of forging the letter to raise funds for them. I was shocked and stunned as more people stood up to join in the attack, calling for me to be punished harshly to deter anyone else who might ‘wish to profit from the strike’. I was given the chance to defend myself but I was so upset and shocked I couldn’t express myself clearly, and even my mates didn’t look convinced. John Chapman, the Chairman, then asked that the Lodge committee be allowed to deal with me as they saw fit and this was agreed by a unanimous show of hands.

I felt awful and just wanted the floor to open up and swallow me as men looked at me with utter contempt! Gary and Keith tried to console me but even they didn’t sound convinced so I left the hall to hisses and went home on my own, thoroughly depressed.

At home my shame turned to anger and I vowed to pack it all in and just stay at home. Ungrateful bastards! Every penny I’ve collected has always been witnessed and accounted for, and the supposed ‘forgery’ wasn’t even an attempt at forgery because it bore no resemblance to Slater’s real signature, and the letter itself was the one I had gotten from Wearmouth which I’d photocopied with our Lodge heading instead of Wearmouth’s, and I’d put Slater’s name at the bottom instead of Dave Hopper’s. The only address was the Lodge’s, not mine, so how could I possibly profit from it? I have other questions now. Why has it taken over 5 weeks for the ‘forgery’ to come to light? How long has Slater had the letter from Parsons? Why wait until now if what I’m alleged to have done is so serious? I will have to ask these questions when I appear in front of the committee, whenever that is. My only crime has been stupidity, nothing else.

I had a lot of phonecalls from comrades urging me to attend tonights meeting so I went. I’m pleased I did because it put everything into perspective. Comrades convinced me that staying at home would be a bad idea because it would only serve to prove my ‘guilt’ in the eyes of the pickets. They’re right. They also think this was a deliberate ploy by the officials because I am a thorn in their sides and they want to get rid of me. It makes sense to me so I’ve decided to continue, albeit with a very bitter taste in my mouth.

Kath has been excellent and is also very angry at what’s been done to me. She has also urged me to continue, which is brilliant!

The NUM met McGregor today but talks broke down after just an hour. What a surprise!


39. Monday May 7th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Since I, and quite a few others are now banned from picketing at Tow Law, we were asked if we wanted to go away on flying picket duty. I got a phonecall from the Lodge Secretary asking if I wanted to go. I said yes straightaway, grateful for the chance to stay active. We were going to Lancashire where there are pits still working. As soon as I put the phone down I rang Kath to break the news. She took it surprisingly well and wished me good luck. I told her we would probably be back before the weekend. I felt a lot easier in my mind with her backing. We had to be at the Armstrong Hall for 3pm.

After packing my holdall I received a call from Mike Simons of the SWP asking for news. When I told him we were heading for Lancashire he gave me some phone numbers of comrades in Manchester who I can call if we need accomodation. We both agreed that our most likely target would be Agecroft Colliery because that’s where local union officials have told their members to ignore picket lines. Bloody disgusting! I promised to keep Mike informed of any newsworthy events because he is one of the people who write Socialist Worker.

At the Armstrong Hall the 15 of us going were given £32 subsistence allowance from the Durham NUM which is to make sure we can eat. The Secretary told us to be careful and not to forget to keep in touch with our families because he didn’t want worried wives and girlfriends ringing him to find out what was happening.

There were about 60 pickets at the hall and there was a lot of bad feeling about only 15 of us being allowed to go, with the majority view being that as many men as wanted to go should be allowed to go. I agreed, but the Secretary explained that he had no say in the matter because the decision had been taken by the Area Executive. He added that all the Lodges have been split into four groups, with each group consisting of four pits who would work together as picketing teams. Westoe has been teamed with Sacriston, Wearmouth, and Herrington, and these pits will work together on all future flying pickets.

The coach finally arrived with 10 pickets from Sacriston on board and we loaded our bags into the boot. The coach then headed to Wearmouth where we picked up 20 men, then finally down to Herrington where the final 10 men boarded. Fully loaded we set off for Lancashire with only the few union officials on board knowing exactly where we were going, and they refused to tell us, though god knows why because it wasn’t as if we could tell anyone!

The journey took about three hours and I passed the time chatting to a lad from Westoe I’d sold a few copies of Socialist Worker to, Gary Marshall. We got on really well and have a lot in common. He told me he is growing increasingly disillusioned with the Labour Party, of which he’s been a member for 13 years. He hates Kinnock, more now because of his almost total lack of support for us miners, and he said he agrees with a lot of the stuff he reads in Socialist Worker. I think he’s got real potential as a party member so we agreed to try and stick together on this picket.

We arrived at Bold Miners Welfare to find it full to capacity with Durham miners. I recognised loads of faces and was pleased to see Arthur Oxley, who bought me a pint but before we could settle in the order came to get back onto the coach because we were heading to Manchester where accomodation had been arranged at a social club in Eccles.

We arrived at the Greenbank Labour Club around 9pm and a lot of the lads were whingeing about not being able to stay in Bold. I discovered that a lot of them had been in Bold last week and had managed to fix themselves up with comfortable lodgings, and so were pissed off because they were too far away to take advantage.

The club was full of people celebrating the Bank Holiday and watching the Steve Davis, Jimmy White snooker final on a big screen TV. We struggled through the crowd with our luggage and sleeping bags and followed a woman upstairs who showed us the room we would be sleeping in. She welcomed us and said we could stay for the week, and that alternative accomodation would be fixed in people’s homes in the morning, though probably not for all of us. I told Gary I would ring some contacts in Manchester to try and get us somewhere to stay.

I phoned a comrade called Irene Davis and she told me to ring a guy called Phil Ramsall, which I did. He gave me the address of a guy  called Mick Brightman who only lives five minutes away. Phil asked me to ring him again in the morning after picket duty. I told our union man where we were going but he wasn’t pleased and said we should all stick together. I insisted we were going and he’s told us to report back to the club at 4.15am!

After a few wrong turnings and some directions from a local pub we finally found the address we were looking for. We were nervous about knocking on a strangers door but it was bloody freezing so I knocked gingerly. The door was opened by a smiling face who welcomed us into a lovely warm room whilst he went off to the kitchen. He soon returned with hot coffee and egg sandwiches, and whilst we ate he asked a stream of questions about how the strike was going in Durham. He told us that him and his wife Jane were students but that he had once been involved in a strike at a place called Gardners that had lasted 26 weeks!! We said ours wouldn’t last that long and that we couldn’t imagine how hard it must’ve been for him. He introduced us to Jane and she told us they were both studying hard for exams. We took the hint and said we’d like to sleep if it was possible because we had to be up at 4am to return to the club. he told us to make ourselves at home. He showed us into a front room which was full of books and had a bed settee. I was amazed by all the books, being an avid reader myself but Gary reminded me we needed to sleep so we settled down, top to toe on the settee and within minutes Gary was knocking out zeds! I will soon join him.

31. Wednesday April 25th, 1984.

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2009 at 11:17 am

Our first lot of pies cost £13 and we delivered them to the pickets at Tow Law using ‘Tonto’ Jackson’s  car. The lads really appreciated it, though they still didn’t do anything more than shout a bit when the scab lorries went in and out.

A meeting was held in the Armstrong Hall to discuss the idea of forming a Women’s Support Group, and to my great surprise about 200 women turned up. The meeting was organised by Margaret Reavey, a Militant supporter and one of the few who have spoken to me since I joined the SWP. She invited me to speak about fundraising, which I did.

The outcome of this first meeting is the formation of the Westoe Miners Wives Support Group, with Anne Kendrick elected as Secretary, and Ann Hall as Treasurer. Unfortunately their first task is to find somewhere to work from because the Lodge officials have refused to let them use the Armstrong Hall because, ‘it will be too noisy with a load of kids running around’. Honestly, they are a fuckin’ joke and totally out of touch with reality! Thank god we don’t have to rely on them to win this strike!