The Strike

No bugger had predicted that the strike would turn so nasty.

It were 1984 and coal mines all over Britain were being closed down. Us men who worked there, we ‘ad no option but to strike if we wanted our jobs back. Coal were our living, weren’t it? We had always known that some people wouldn’t be happy with us – Thatcher, for one – but it needed to be done, didn’t it? The government were closing down the mines left, right and centre and we weren’t the only buggers who refused to let them do the same to ours. It had been Scargill’s idea to strike but we all followed through with it. It were a good idea.

We’d seen it in other places and we did the same in ours, stood there with our placards, some of us arm in arm. We could see the police heading our way but it weren’t such a shock; we’d heard from other mines that the coppers liked to put the frighteners on you by turning up and threatening to arrest you if you didn’t “end the strike peacefully.” Bollocks. We saw ‘em – the violence in their eyes, the way they stood with their shields out and visors down, like they were just gunnin’ for a fight.

What did shock me was the ferocity with which they went after the men. I saw Billy standing there with his dad, both of them with placards that read, ‘Cole Not Dole’ and ‘Save Our Pits’. I’ve known Billy since I were little, we grown up together on Earl Street. We used to play cowboys and Indians, running down the street on our imaginary ‘orses, shootin’ each other with guns made from tree branches. His dad were a lovely man. Billy’s mam had left when Billy were only little, and his dad ‘ad done a brilliant job of raising him. Anyway, now Billy had joined the same pit as me and his dad and we’d go to work together every day. Billy and his dad were standing there, doing nothin’. Yeah, they were shouting at the copper but so were everyone, so you couldn’t pick ‘em out as being troublemakers.  Next thing I knew, some police bastard on an ‘orse rushed up to them and hit Billy’s dad over the head with his baton. He went down like a sack of spuds and Billy tried to get the truncheon off the copper, but the copper was having none of it and he walloped Billy around the shoulder. Billy’s dad would never hurt a fly, he never laid a finger on Billy in ‘is whole life and now he was gettin’ battered for asking to be treated fairly.

Some of the men tried to run away when the coppers came. I don’t blame ‘em. You see a bloke on an ‘orse riding at you with his baton out, ready to swipe at you, you’d run too. Some of ‘em were chased by the police but a few managed to leg it.

The police were apparently on our side. The official line was that they had been ‘mobilised to stop pickets from preventing strike-breakers from working.’ This were crap. They’d been “mobilised” to keep us in order. Our colliery didn’t have many strike-breakers anyway, but the police seemed more concerned with keepin’ us under watch. One of ‘em told us about the pickets at Rossington; they’d tried to trap 11 safety inspectors inside the mines and attacked the police with missiles when they tried to intervene.


Those of us who hadn’t left stood our ground. We weren’t goin’ to be frightened into fleein’. I had Big John on my right and Jamie Wilson on my left. We’d worked at this pit for bloody years and we’d earnt the right to fair wages. We’d definitely earnt the right to keep our bloody jobs at the very least. We left the house at some godforsaken time in the morning, did a day of backbreaking and suffocating work in the mine then went home when it were dark. Even so, despite the shit of the job, we all loved it. Your fellow pitmen were like a family and, like a family, we were gunna pull together now more than ever.

We weren’t stupid. We’d all left school early on but Kevin, our foreman, he left school after his O levels so we called him ‘The Professor’. He said that the strike would be over before we knew it, that we wouldn’t lose our jobs and that Thatcher would see sense before it went much further. But not all of us reckoned that was true. We’d heard about one local lad who’d hung himself when his pit had been closed down. He didn’t have another job to go to and with no qualifications, he wasn’t fit to be anything other than a pitman. He’d left behind his lass and his baby girl, who now had to fend for themselves.

Did Thatcher didn’t know about any of this? She was sitting there in Downing Street, oblivious to the chaos she had caused by deciding to close the mines. It didn’t matter to her; she wasn’t the one who’d be on the dole and scrounging for food if her workplace closed down. She could issue any order she’d like, and the government would have no choice but to follow through with it. She must have read the headlines in the papers, though. She couldn’t be so thick that she didn’t realise what she was doing. I don’t know much about the woman, but you couldn’t be Prime Minister and be completely addled. Apparently, when she became the Prime Minister, the ‘ole country was rotten and needed to be re-organised. Coal used to be one of the backbones of the British economy but now, in 1984, only about 17% of the mines in Britain were still operating. Yet still – still – the government decided to close down the ones that were still working. Hundreds of men were trying to get their jobs back, as well as earn fair wages and benefits like every other bugger in the country. But Thatcher didn’t give a flyin’ fuck about this, did she?

Nobody knew how long the strike would go on for. All we could ‘ope for was that everybody eventually saw sense and we could get back to the lives we knew and loved. We were told to trust the people in charge but it didn’t seem like they knew what they were doing.

I could only ‘ave faith that this would end one day.


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