Westoe Lodge NUM strike meeting.

Sunday March 11th.

At a huge meeting in the Armstrong Hall the Westoe miners voted overwhelmingly to come out on strike from midnight. There were over 1000 men and an open debate was held with everyone given the chance to air their views. I voiced mine in support of the strike and there were even a dozen or so men who spoke agaist it. The secretary of our branch outlined all the events that led up to the strike call and reminded us of what Mr McGregor had done to British Steel, and at Consett in particular. He spoke well, and agreed to a rider being added to the resolution that called for a national ballot to be held. I voted against this because, being totally honest, I feel we would lose  and the strike would be over. This issue of jobs is far too important to be decided by men who are near to the end of their working lives. Its the younger miners who will lose out and face a lifetime on the dole. Scargill is right when he says no man has the right to sell his job because it isn’t his to sell, it belongs to the next generations. There’s millions on the dole already without us adding to them.

We will be fine because we just had a strike at Westoe  last September after the new pit manager tried to impose new shift patterns without consulting the unions. He just put posters up everywhere announcing that from September 26th everyone had to work the 10pm shift on a rota system. Now this may sound trivial but 7 years previously management had scrapped compulsory night shift and allowed it to be worked by any man who wanted it. The systen worked well, and essential maintainance and getting equipment into the pit was all done efficiently by the volunteer workforce. When the union threatened industrial action the manager responded by threatening to cut jobs. A huge meeting was held and we voted for strike. We were out for 7 days and it was a bitter experience because the fitters and electricians refused to join us, mainly because they have always done night shift. It wasn’t really that which caused the problem , it was their officials advising them to cross our picket lines, something no one should ever do. Then the buggers started speeding through our line in their cars, and that really wound us up. The police came out in force and we battled with them as they tried to move us on. It was pretty good natured because the film ‘Zulu’ had just been on the telly and we amused ourselves by trying different formations as we struggled with the cops, chanting,’Zulu! Zulu’ as we charged.

Anyway, we won that strike and the manager was forced to back down, and we got some experience which should put us in good stead for the coming battle.

  1. It’s great to read a first-hand account, from the time, of Westoe entering the Miners’ Strike. I became an active socialist in October 1992 when – a few days after the mass pit closures were announced – I encountered a Socialist Worker stall in South Shields town centre.

    Westoe was the local pit and it was on the hit list for closure. The horror at growing unemployment – locally and nationally – combined with the Tories’ ruthless arrogance was what galvanised me to become politically involved. It is inspiring to learn of what happened less than a decade earlier, especially the powerful sense of grassroots democracy.

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