'London became home to miners from all of the coalfields of Britain'.
I remember the cold nights giving way to beautiful mornings with clear blue skies.
I remember the sense of achievement as we joined miners from all over the country that had succeeded in getting through the police cordon.
However, the experience of sleeping in a car over a freezing night to take part in early morning pickets meant that after two nights, feeling as if we'd spent a week on Mount Everest, we travelled home to recover. This necessitated fresh carloads of pickets trying to break the police cordon to replace us. This was evidently wasteful because the hardest part was getting to the areas where we were needed, and there was always the fact that not everyone would get through.
This was my first experience of the support, as yet untapped, that was available to the striking miners. It occurred to us that what we needed were people in the area who would put us up and allow us to stay in the area for prolonged periods--who could do this?
Well, we began to telephone the secretaries of local Labour Party wards to ask for their help. The response was overwhelming. Very quickly we provided pickets with addresses and telephone numbers of local Labour Party activists who had made arrangements to host us in their ward.
We established these outposts in Wales, around the Nuclear Power Stations of Wylfa and Trawsfynydd. The contacts at Wylfa also led to support from the seamen's union and the dockers of Holyhead.
Trawsfynydd amusingly saw the miners helping the community in return by serving at the local garage and, most importantly, the local pub. Indeed, it was not only the miners who had a tear in their eye when the strike ended. Many in this most rural of villages did as well.
Further afield, in this manner we were assisted by the Labour Party ward in Alfreton. This contact gave us a base in Derbyshire. This provided access to the opencast coal mines of Derbyshire as well as an important geographic location close to Nottinghamshire. Our links led us to receiving the assistance of the council, as well as of course the ability to raise funds and to explain our cause to many in the local area who previously were susceptible to the press interpretation of the strike in Nottinghamshire.
That was the early phase of the strike. During April, May and June the NACODS fiasco came and went, Nottingham continued to work, and we saw the creation of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM). We had to resign ourselves to a very long strike.
I should explain that, with a few exceptions, there was little picket line violence in Wales. Indeed, little meaningful picketing at all. It is a fact of which I am very proud that of the 21,500 miners in Wales, all were out on strike. Indeed, the figures show that in November 1984, 99.6 per cent of these miners were out on strike; in February 1985, this figure was 98 per cent; on 1 March 1985, at the end of the strike, it was 93 per cent. An astounding achievement and one which emphasises the fact that this strike was strongly supported by the South Wales miners to the very end.
However, the solidarity of the strike brought other significant problems. Without strike pay and with the attacks on striking families, and with the reduction of welfare benefits and the sequestration of the union's funds, this meant that there was a dire need to feed the families.
In the confined area of the South Wales coalfield, where nearly everyone in the community was on strike, it became impossible for us to generate enough money in Wales itself. This led our support group to look further a field to where we could get such support.
The answer quickly became apparent--London.
London was a vast area where in the main most people were working. Further, and despite the Conservative government, London was a hotbed of anti-Tory dissent. Many workers were under threat by the Tory rate capping of local authorities. The Greater London Council (GLC) was another very obvious and open focus of anti-Tory policies. I remember the large sign above County Hall which informed the Houses of Parliament of the unemployed total for that day! In Cardiff or Swansea, you struggled to raise significant sums. In London, one meeting, one collection, would raise hundreds of pounds. London alone could sustain the strike in the South Wales coalfield.
I am extremely pleased that our support group thought also that we should not forsake the reasons for the strike in favour of funds to feed the families. Our support group decided to offer the audience at any meeting we addressed the opportunity to come to our community to experience what we were experiencing and to see for themselves what we were fighting for. This invitation proved to be extremely popular and effective. It did reinforce the reasons for the strike and it also meant that these groups on their return to London continued to raise funds for us.
They organised their own trips down to visit us and were welcomed at our so called 'Palace of Culture', the Onllwyn Miners' Welfare Hall. In so doing, the policy created a firm bond of friendship between the mining families of our coalfield and people from all walks of life across London.
In this way I became the person who met Mike Jackson and Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), probably the most famous of our support groups because of the apparent disparity in the lives of gay men and women in London, and miners from close knit villages in Wales. I am very pleased that today the LGBT community and young gay people are becoming aware of the bravery of those who made up LGSM. However, LGSM weren't the only support group we twinned up with.
We were supported by print workers in Fleet Street; council workers across North London, particularly those in the unions; Brent NALGO; librarians; members of the construction workers' union UCATT; school teachers and college and university lecturers; seamen, dockworkers and firemen.
These support groups not only raised funds for us, they housed us. They organised meetings at which miners' wives spoke about their experiences. They organised initiatives such as 'Oy, got a Toy' to get toys for our children that Christmas of '84. These support groups consisted of people who wanted to help us. They came from all across London. From Barnet to Brent, to Bexleyheath, people went out of their way to help us.
However, it was not only South Wales that London helped. London became home to miners from all of the coalfields of Britain. Indeed, it was difficult to exit from a tube station without being engaged by a miner raising funds for his area. All the accents of the UK's coalfields could be heard and Londoners opened their hearts as well as their wallets to miners from all over, in an act of selfless generosity Without London, the strike could not have been sustained--period.
Recently I walked past the University of London theatre, the Logan Hall. This reminded me of the support we received from the poets, musicians and comedians who supported us. This included the Striking Miners' Choir who filled halls in London and won hearts--despite the fact that it was a male voice choir! We had poets who undertook to raise funds through reading their poems at 'Poems and Pints' events. Indeed, our one strike-breaker in our community towards the end of the strike was welcomed as the police escorted him from his house by the village singing hymns--in an echo of the Welsh choral tradition.
There were concerts by, understandably enough, the Flying Pickets in a miners' welfare hall in Tonypandy. There was a collaboration between the miners' choir and the London band, Test Department. Of course there was that famous concert by LGSM and Bronski Beat. An unforgettable night for all lucky enough to have been there.
But, let me come back to the Logan Hall. This was probably the last fundraising concert for the miners in London. It was held on 9 March 1985, six days after the vote to return to work. What an eerie week that was. London seemed empty without its miners. The streets seemed deserted as if everyone had gone indoors to hide their grief.
But we had one more miners' benefit to deliver. The line-up was amazing, it was The Men They Couldn't Hang, The Striking Miners' Choir, Billy Bragg, and headlined by Elvis Costello! What a line up, what a night.
This was organised by our support group at Green Lanes in Haringey. We were fortunate to have made early contact there with social workers for the local authority, and the debt we owe them in providing this base and consistent encouragement can never be repaid.
However, our 'front man' who hired the hall had cause to remember the night for another reason. A clause in the agreement he had to sign stated that no political speeches were allowed! Imagine all those artists and supporters coming together to remember the miners and their gallant fight in such solidarity and stubbornness, and 'no political speeches'!
Well, our supporter who signed the agreement was informed subsequently by letter that, because we had breached this clause, he would not be allowed to hire any University of London premises for a number of years to come! We still find this very funny.
I was lucky to have been born into a mining community in the anthracite coalfield of South Wales. Though we didn't realise it as children, our community, the very environment we lived in, was based on the principles of self-help and compassion for others--whether in the galleries deep underground, for oppressed workers across the world, or democracy in Spain. Our reference points became those of our union, of our mothers and fathers, who shared the hardships of what it meant to live so close to nature.
I was pleased to have been able to stand shoulder to shoulder with those thousands of families in Wales and across the UK who set aside the cost to themselves personally to fight for their industry and a future for their families and communities.
And I will never forget the help we got in order to sustain the strike from our support groups including Labour Party members, the numerous trades union members, LGSM, as well as singers and poets, and the various ethnic minority people of North London.
In this respect the strike did not fail. Indeed, it was evidence of a remarkable fact that despite complete mobilisation of the government and its agencies, as well as the power of the media, most people supported the miners and did their utmost to help them win.
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|Date:||Jun 22, 2018|
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