The weather was dreadful. Really, really dreadful. But then again, it was Glastonbury weekend, so maybe it should have been expected. With a display of the grim humour that got many through the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, it was suggested that Thatcher was behind the heavy rain that lashed the NUM march through Barnsley, in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the year long strike. “She pissed on us in life and now she’s pissing on us in death”.
Hundreds gathered in the historic Miners’ Hall at the NUM headquarters in Barnsley, in preparation for the short march through Barnsley town centre. On display was the paraphernalia of a once proud industry that had bound communities together, clustered around the pit heads of South Yorkshire. An industry that was cruelly crushed by a government hell-bent on destroying the unions, in their determination to further a free market agenda that dogs us to this day.
The march began to assemble in the increasingly heavy rain. With union banners on display from collieries and regions all over the country, the over-riding atmosphere was of camaraderie and of pride. The brass band struck up and the march was off in a blaze of sound and colour, in defiance of the slate grey sheets of rain.
Just off the Dearne Valley Parkway lies Cortonwood. Now a retail park with stores such as Argos, Sports Direct, McDonalds and Matalan, it is hard to believe that this was once the site of the colliery where the strike started. It seems sadly symbolic that in this place, where men once hewed coal from the ground and began the march out that led to the most bitter strike of recent history, the forces of commerce have moved in. Bulldozed away the remnants of industry and replaced them with stores full of consumer goods, fast food and minimum wages.
When the strike began, I was an 18 year old coal worker, bagging coal at a distribution yard in Huddersfield. I still remember the gritty crunch of coal dust in my mouth and how it ingrained itself into your skin. I remember how the old guys who drove the delivery trucks, after a lifetime of handling coal had been stained a dirty grey colour. I had nothing but respect for those that did the job of hauling coal to the surface and when the lorries started to bring coal from the working pits into the yard (under the pretence that it was destined for hospitals), I resigned.
Back at the Miners’ Hall, there was a rally. Looking out over the sodden congregation, Ian Clayton opened with the observation that soon the steam would begin to rise and that it probably wouldn’t be the first time in this historic venue. Ian and all of the speakers that followed, Kevin Coyne from Unite, Women Against Pit Closures and NUM President Nicky Wilson, gave fine speeches, full of pride in their culture and defiance against the neo-liberal machine that has brought the industry to the brink of extinction.
Sadly, Owen Jones didn’t show up, but George Arthur of the Freedom Riders gave an often humorous insight into current policing practises, following the arrest of two Freedom Riders protesters at Sheffield train station earlier in the week. NUM General Secretary Chris Kitchen closed the rally by ironically thanking South Yorkshire Police for assisting in the town centre road closures, “the last time the police showed me where to park was at Orgreave”.
There is still hope for the future of the coal industry in the UK. The NUM and Unite have joined together in a venture called Coal Combine. At the Carbon Capture & Storage / Coal Combine Seminar in January, delegates from deep mines, surface mines and coal burning power stations took part, uniting not just the two unions but workers from the energy sector. The newly launched website can be found here.
I attended the march as a photographer, but that 18 year old coal worker of my past marched under the banners in solidarity with a battle which may have been lost, but shoulder to shoulder with my comrades in the war for rights and justice which continues.
See a short video of the march at the Sheffield Star here.
This Saturday the NUM headquarters in Barnsley will host a march and rally to mark the 30th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike.
At 10.30am, visitor will have the opportunity to visit the historic Miners’ Hall, before marching through Barnsley, proudly displaying a number of the union’s banners. This will be followed by a rally by a rally back at the Miners’ Hall, with speakers including the Mayor of Barnsley Councillor Tim Shepherd, NUM National Secretary Chris Kitchen, NUM President Nicky Wilson, Women Against Pit Closures, columnist Owen Jones and broadcaster Ian Clayton.
From 3pm a buffet will be served at Gawber Road Working Mens’ Club, followed by live music from the Dublin Raiders from 7pm.
The event will also serve to launch the new website ‘Cleaner Coal’, that marks a joint venture between the NUM and Unite with the aim to unite workers in the energy sector. The new website can be viewed here.
You are invited to the official opening of Images of the Past – The Miners’ Strike exhibition at the Harland Café, 72 John Street, Sharrow, Sheffield S2 4QU on Thursday 10th July at 6pm to 9pm.
This is an exhibition of some of the many images taken by Sheffield photographer Martin Jenkinson, who died in June 2012, marking the 30th Anniversary of the 1984 – 85 Miners’ Strike. It commemorates the part he played in the strike as the photographer for the NUM paper the Yorkshire Miner.
The iconic images, some of which have not been seen until now, are from the book ‘Images of the Past – The Miners’ Strike’ which was released in March this year. The book was written by Mark Metcalfe and Mark Harvey, with the images contributed by me (Martin’s daughter) and his wife Edwina on behalf of Martin. I am pleased to say Mark Metcalf has agreed to speak about Martin and his work during the strike on the night.
If you’re not able to come on July 10th please come and see the exhibition which will run though out July at the Harland. Info for opening times and location can be found here.
If you would like to attend or know of someone else who might like to, please can you let me know as I need to inform the venue of how many we will be expecting.
The TUC have agreed to support Orgreave Mass Picnic & Festival, on Saturday 14 June 2014. If anybody wishes to attend the event, Barnsley’s Trades Council is providing transport from Barnsley, picking up at 10:30am and returning to Barnsley at 7pm. The coach pick up point will be outside the White Bear on Church Street. Therefore if anybody would like to book a place on the bus, please let Dave Gibson know ASAP. The bus is free to all.
Following on from last week’s news item, a meeting was held on Friday 18 April at West Cornforth Community Centre, County Durham, to design a new banner, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike.
An Informal Social, with Buffet and Private Bar, Hosted by East Leeds Labour Party. Guest Speaker: Ian Lavery MP
(striking miner during 1984/5, former President of the National Union of Mineworkers and now Chair of the Trade Union Group of Labour MPs).
Thursday 24 April 2014
7.30pm, the function room of The Barnbow Pub (formerly ‘The Manston’), Austhorpe Road, Crossgates, LS15 8EH.
£10 on the door (£8 in advance) or £5 concessions.
Free entry for 1984/5 strikers and Women Against Pit Closures activists.
To reserve your place at the advance price of £8, e-mail email@example.com
THE enduring spirit of the miners’ strike will inspire future campaigners three decades on when it is encapsulated in a new banner.
Work on a commemorative 30th anniversary banner starts next week so it will be ready in time to be paraded at this year’s Durham miners’ gala.
The Durham Miners’ Association (DMA), Durham Bannermakers, the union Unite and Durham Unite community support centre have teamed up for the project.
Organisers want the public to help design the banner ahead of the gala on Saturday, July 12, which will mark the 1984-85 miners’ strike over pit closures – one of the longest and bitterest acts of industrial action in modern British history.
The trade union movement is leading and funding the project as a sign of ‘unbroken spirit 30 years on from the heroic struggle of the National Union of Mineworkers’.
As well as being a tribute to the past, it will be used by Durham Unite and the DMA for future campaign work.
Unite regional community coordinator, Joe Rollin said: “We’re asking for the community to come together, young and old, to inspire and create the banner so it reflects as many aspects of the Durham community as possible.
“Every year tens of thousands of trade unionists come to Durham to celebrate our shared history as well as look to the future, I hope our new banner will take pride of place at this year’s gala, which will be bigger than usual as this year marks the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike.”
Davy Hopper, general secretary of the DMA, added: “The banner will preserve the history and heritage of that strike, remind people what we were up against to protect our jobs and the fact that they have to fight back against the capitalist society that is making so many lives a misery.”
A meeting about the banner will be held at West Cornforth Community Centre, on Station Road, West Cornforth, in County Durham, on Friday, April 18, from 11am to 3pm.
Guest speakers on the morning will include Mr Hopper and Mr Rollin along with Florence Anderson and Heather Wood, key figures during the strike, and there will be group banner design work from 1.30pm.