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Bitter conflict changed the face of the Valleys forever; NUM to commemorate miners' strike of 25 years ago at event addressed by Arthur Scargill.

Byline: Sarah Miloudi

THE 25th anniversary of the miners' strike will be marked by a book, a one-day conference and a play beginning with the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The bitter conflict was one of the defining events in the history of mining areas like South Wales and led to scores of arrests, and even deaths, as men fought to secure their livelihoods.

It became one of the most aggressive trade union struggles since the 1926 General Strike, pitting the mighty National Union of Miners (NUM) against Mrs Thatcher's Conservative Government.

Up to 200,000 miners, joined by their wives, families and communities, campaigned for 12 months against pit closures which were announced by the Coal Board.

They clashed with police and caused huge splits in areas where miners started drifting back to work, causing some commentators to describe the events as the closest Britain has come to civil war for 400 years.

Pontypridd MP Kim Howells, who acted as a spokesman for South Wales miners during the historic strike, said: "It felt as if we were in siege.

"South Wales had one of the strongest coal fields in Britain and most of the workers went on strike.

"A lot travelled to other parts where the strikes were not as strong, areas like North Wales, to convince people to come out.

"But their efforts were intercepted, mainly by the police."

After the strike officially began on March 5 - sparked by the announcement that Cortonwood pit in Yorkshire, was to close - national walkouts began, and on May 4, 10,000 picketers gathered at the Harworth pit, in Nottinghamshire, in what had been the biggest protest so far.

Less than two weeks later South Wales miners, along with miners from Yorkshire and Humberside, held a one-day walk-out in solidarity.

Labour leader at the time Neil Kinnock also offered his support, but as empathy for the miners' plight escalated, so too did violence associated with the struggle.

More than 65 people were injured when protesters clashed with police at a coke plant in Orgreave, Yorkshire, on May 29, and less than a month later striking miner Joe Green was crushed to death by a lorry while picketing at Ferrybridge, Yorkshire.

A further 79 were injured when violence erupted again at Orgreave in June. Around 7,000 pickets locked horns with 3,000 police officers.

South Wales taxi driver David Wilkie became the next casualty, when at the height of the fierce conflict on November 20 two striking miners droppeda21kg concrete post onto his FordCortina car. At the time he was taking non-striking miner David Williams, of Rhymney, to his post at Merthyr Vale pit, and was killed outright in the incident.

Geoff Wright, former industrial editor of the Echo, said the worst of the violence broke out when a handful of miners returned to work.

Mr Wright, who reported extensively on the 1984/5 strikes, said: "It was like something out of the Wild West; frightening because it was so alien to us."

He added: "During a piece I wrote about the 20th anniversary I said that at the time, the strike seemed not out of the ordinary. But looking back it was a complete aberration."

Between January and February 1985, a series of talks between NUM executives and the Coal Board gave hope the conflict would be resolved.

An initial meeting on January 24 broke down, but by the end of Februaryhalf of the NUM's 180,000members had returned to work.

On March 1 the union called for an official return to work and ataspecial delegate conference at London's Congress House, NUM members voted resoundingly to call the strikes to a halt.

The strikes ended on March 5. By then 25 pits were shut down, including Cortonwood, where the historic strikes began.

OnMarch 21 this year, theNUMwill stage a day-long event in Blackpool to commemorate the events of 1984 and 1985. The gathering will be addressed by UK and international speakers including Arthur Scargill, the union's former leader who spearheaded the strikes.

March will also see the publication of a new book, Marching into the Fault Line, about the events, written by journalists Francis Beckett and David Hencke.

Dark comic play Maggie's End will also open on the London stage at the Shaw Theatre to mark the 25th anniversary of the miners' strike.

It has already played to sell-out audiences in north-east England.

NUM president Ian Lavery said it will be a "momentous" occasion to remember the strikes.

"We will remember the heroic struggle, which wasn't about pay or conditions, but about keeping mines open to produce coal for the good of our nation," he said.

sarah.miloudi@mediawales.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

STRUGGLE FOR JOBS: Miners campaigned for more than 12 months against pit closures; SUPPORT: The Rhymney Valley Women's Support Group, leading Penallta miners back to work following the strike; BATTLE OF WILLS: Police push into pickets at Aberthaw power station to clear a way for a lorry to go through; MARCHING ON: Glyn James joins protesters at the head of a march from Fernhill Lodge. Also pictured are Coun Katie Rees and Rhondda MP Allan Rogers; BACKING: Members of the Maerdy Women's Support Group were one of the many groups who lent their support to the miners
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 5, 2009
Words:881
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