It is coming up to 25 years since the end of the miners strike and there is a special question time event being held at the beginning of next month. I was having a sort out at home and came across a couple of letters I wrote that bought to mind my involvement in the strike at least from the City Council angle and helped to bring to mind a personal memoir of the events of quarter of a century ago.
The first letter was written by me as Labour Councillor for Hartshill from 1982-7 and it was addressed to Ron Swan Secretary of the Labour Group in Stoke and dated 23rd September 1984.
“As you will know all Councillor’s have been circulated with a letter from North Staffs Trades Council concerning ” the apparent lack of support given by the City Council to the miners in their fight against pit closures”. The letter then goes on to outline a plan of campaign itemising five ways in which the City Council can help the Miners in their fight for jobs and a future.
1 The confirmation of the free use of Council facilities by striking miners and their families.
2 The removal of blacklegging firms from the Council’s approved list of Contractors.
3 A substantial donation of at least £100,000 to the NUM hardship fund.
4 The use of the Council facilities as collection points for food and finance.
5 The use of the resources to prepare and distribute a newsletter outlining the miners case.
I went on to call for a special committee comprising of three leading councillors, one of whom could be a striking miner or a miner’s wife to meet on a regular basis along with Labour Party members. The Committee to be formed quickly to formulate a campaign of action”.
I ended the letter to Ron Swan
“I offer this as a concrete proposal as a means to deliver aid and comfort to striking miners engaged in this titanic struggle”.
Three days later I again wrote a letter this time to a number of Council Leaders in Manchester, St Helens, Barnsley, North Tyneside and Southampton. The only letter that I still have is the Southampton letter and I recalled that I would write to an authority that was miles away from a pit to see what assistance they gave. All the others had pits close to or in their boundaries.
The letter I wrote enquired about”¦. “the main contentious issue being a cash donation to the local NUM Hardship Fund. One question that was raised was whether a local authority which has two pits, Hem Heath and Florence, in its boundaries could use Section 137 of the Local Government Finance Act for the purpose of making a donation to striking miners funds”?
Within a few weeks all the local council I had written to but the fullest came from Manchester which included a full legal opinion which was able to demolish any counter arguments of legality of the action. This, of course, was in pre Internet days so the process of collecting information was rather laborious. But my research did the trick and silenced any doubters on the legality of what we intended.
The Labour group met and agreed the proposals put to it by the District Labour Party. However there was a hitch when a group of women Councillor’s including Margaret Hughes tried to wash their hands of the democratic decision because they feared that supporting the miners would prove electorally unpopular. They were eventually talked out of it and there was a common front.
The Council’s support continued to the end of the strike although it was considered a controversial one. On one occasion I went to Radio Stoke with Andrew Dobraszczyc then the Labour Group secretary. I sat mute as he answered universally hostile question.
There were street collections regularly as well in Hanley outside Woolworths and we did get support as well as antagonistic comments.
I did my bit away from Stoke collecting for striking miners outside a supermarket in Bath. What the miners made of the tin of anchovies I was given is anyone’s guess. I do recall the bon mot made by a South Wales miner to a rather fey young man who was opposed to the strike. It was a comment calling him “Sebastian” and telling him to go home to his teddy bear. At that time the adaptation of the Waugh novel “Brideshead Revisited” was popular on TV and one of the rather camp characters Sebastian had a teddybear
The main event and the meeting that for one November night made Stoke the focus of the national media was the shared platform between Scargill and Neil Kinnock, which was held in Kingshall. It was an emotional event as earlier in the day- 30th November 1984- a working miner had been killed when a concrete block had been dropped on a taxi in South Wales. The first few minutes of Kinnock’s speech was inaudible with cries of “traitor” “scab” and “Judas” and several members of the audience tried to rush the platform. Part of the platform was evacuated as a bomb threat was made against Kinnock. The Labour Leader denounced the death in Merthyr as well as the picket line violence. ” You shame us all,” he said of the people who had perpetrated the killing. Scargill himself denounced all violence “away from the picket lines”, dissociating himself from what had happened. It was certainly the most rowdy political meeting I had ever attended. Scargill himself was a regular visit to the area. I seemed to recall a march that ended in Hanley Park on a summer’s day with Scargill addressing the crowd.
The Strike ended in March. The news was inevitable, as miners had drifted back throughout the winter. It still came as a shock as the news leaked out during the AGM of Stoke South Constituency Labour Party AGM held in Meir.
The event had an odd coda. A few years later I was walking through Bloomsbury and noticed that the Communist Party Publishers Lawrence and Wishart were publishing a book on women and the strike. The front cover showed a picture of Margaret Hughes festooned with ” Coal not Dole” badges- the same Margaret Hughes who tried to pull out of supporting the strike prior to the Council meting.