Thirty years ago, the Miners’ Strike of 1984/5 came to an end after a whole year, leaving a bitter legacy. It was a year which pitched the National Union of Mineworkers against Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government, set strikers against strike-breaking ‘scabs’ so one-time workmates became enemies forever, and it divided father from son and brother from brother.
Miner’s daughter Beverley Trounce has commemorated the 30th anniversary in her book From a Rock to a Hard Place in which she relates how the strike started, how miners clashed with police, and how families struggled to survive with little or no money coming in for months on end.
The women of those mining communities, particularly in the Yorkshire coalfield, came to the fore during that year of tumult, supporting their men and joining the struggle with heart and
determination. In this extract from the book, Aggie Curry tells her own story with pride and passion…
My husband was a miner at Armthorpe pit when the strike began. I’d never been that political and just used to vote Labour because that’s what you did in the mining background I came from.
When the strike started I thought it would just be like the other short-lived, local strikes which happened from time to time and I wasn’t interested. I thought it was just the ‘red raggers’, which is what we used to call the militant ones, kicking off again.
Then I met a woman who was fundraising for the striking miners and she persuaded me to go to a meeting. Seeing the determination on the faces of the lasses there got me hooked and I knew I had to get involved. From then on I was totally committed to the strike and it made me angry that the rest of the unions wouldn’t come out to support us even though the miners had always done it for others.
I helped out at the soup kitchen and joined picket lines all over the place. Some of the miners warned me not to get too aggressive with the police or I’d be arrested. Well, I didn’t want to hold back, so I didn’t and I shouted what I liked.
It got physical as well and I was pushing and shoving on the picket lines along with the men. The police had me marked as a trouble causer, and once when I wanted to leave the line to go and buy a packet of fags, a cop insisted on coming with me so he could keep an eye on me. On the way to the shop a scab’s wife spat in my face.
Yes, the poverty was bad but I’m a survivor. We lost our house, went without food and other basic necessities that normally you take for granted.
As far as I’m concerned Thatcher took food out of my kids’ mouths. She thought it she made life hard for families then the women would persuade the men to go back to work. Well she was wrong. I used to go fundraising everywhere including London, where, on the whole, we received fantastic support.
One day I passed a building which had a sign saying National Union of Journalists, so in I went. Wherever I went I’d go to union offices, trying to build up support from them for the miners, and when I found I was outside the NUJ offices, I went straight in to ask for help and they gave it.
We were so poor and that winter we were very cold but we weren’t going to give in. It was just as difficult for a long time after the strike because we then had to start paying arrears and sorting our debts out.
The community pulled together and we all helped one another. When my dad died, the soup kitchen provided the snap (food) for the gathering after the funeral.
I tell you what: people say Thatcher destroyed communities – well she didn’t destroy MY f******* community!
The longer the strike went on the more determined we were to stay out. People were asking me to give talks about the strike, and I was even asked to speak in Denmark. The first time I was terrified. It was at Sheffield University and my legs were shaking.
I had to stand on a box. My stomach was churning and I had to keep clearing my throat. I can’t remember what I said but I do remember that at the end I got a standing ovation.
My dad had just died but my mum was in the audience and we looked at one another for a long time while they were clapping.
A scab’s wife had also been asked to come and speak that day but I said: “What I’ve got to say comes from the heart – not from a piece of paper like hers.”
The strike made me political and I went to Greenham Common with Anne Scargill and Betty Cook. I organised a mass demo and rally during the strike in my village and was convinced nobody would turn up. I needn’t have worried though because on the day it was so packed with people you could barely move.
The strike affected me and my family for many years because we’d lost our house and it took us a long time to get another and pay off debts we’d built up when we had no income coming in.
I’ve a big collection of badges and I was offered £1,000 for them but I’d never sell because the pits and the strike are part of me now.
From a Rock to a Hard Place: Memories of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike by Beverley Trounce, £12.99, The History Press, Stroud, Gloucs, tel 01453 883300.