This secondary assembly offers the author’s view of the miners’ strike of 1984-5, drawing similarities with the current recession crisis and highlighting the benefits of community life
Ronni Lamont, the author of this assembly, taught at Gedling Comprehensive School in Nottingham during the period of the miners’ strike of 1984-5. The school is on the opposite side of the road to the former Gedling Pit.
Preparation and resources
- Many images and first hand reports can be downloaded from the BBC website
- You might like to play some music by Billy Bragg as the students assemble.
- You will need 2 readers
Reader 1: I opened the door to a policeman in uniform, and another man who identified himself as a detective.
Reader 2: [As policeman/detective, to Reader 2] Mrs Lamont? You reported a burglary?
Reader 1: [To the audience] I had indeed. Our house, in a Nottingham suburb, had a padlocked outhouse, which contained the gas boiler and a chest freezer. The day before, I’d got home from the school where I taught to find the padlock forced, and evidence that someone had rifled through the freezer. I told the police this and, after we’d been and looked at the outhouse, the police sat down and we talked over a cup of tea.
Reader 2: [As policeman/detective, to Reader 2] The problem is the miners. They’ve been on strike now for six months. Some of them are pretty desperate, living on handouts and sympathy. They were probably looking for food.
Leader: In March 1984, the government announced a series of coalmine (or pit) closures. The coal industry wasn’t profitable, and the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, decided to start closing down the pits. There had always been a confrontational relationship between Mrs Thatcher and the unionised industries, and the miners were arguably the most highly unionised of all.
So, without a ballot, the National Union of Miners leader, Arthur Scargill, announced that the miners would strike indefinitely, which meant that most of the pits stopped working. But the miners of Nottinghamshire, at the southern end of the pit area, decided they wouldn’t go on strike without a ballot. So they formed the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and continued to work.
Along the Nottingham/South Yorkshire border, huge demonstrations of striking Yorkshire miners tried to stop the Nottingham miners working. Massive numbers of police, drafted in from all over the country, were brought in to keep the two sides apart. One man died whilst on picket line duty, and many others were injured in the riots. And, behind all the headlines about this, the striking miners continued to go without their wages in order to oppose the destruction of their work and their way of life.
Leader: Looking back now after 25 years, it’s clear that most of the pits did need to be closed down. We didn’t know about global warming then, but coal from British pits was expensive and was contributing to the problem as it was used in homes, factories and power stations. The Government couldn’t continue to subsidise an industry that had a limited life.
Reader 1: As a teacher working in a school with many children of miners, I knew that these students were suffering enormously. Our local pit was out on strike. We had police on the school gates daily, and when one of our students broke into the closed pit opposite one day for a laugh, 18 vans of police arrived to sort out the potential riot.
Reader 2: [Now to the audience, also] The children and their families suffered hardship, living on strike pay for almost a year before the miners proudly went back to work.
Reader 1: A pit wasn’t just a place of work; it was the centre of a community. Almost everyone living in a pit village worked at the pit, or had relatives who did. It was dirty and sometimes dangerous work − up to a mile underground, sometimes working in flowing water, bringing out the coal. Most retired miners had health problems relating to their work underground. But it paid very well, and jobs stayed within families.
Reader 2: Each village had a ‘Miners Welfare’ − a social club, where the miners came together. If you’ve seen the club in Peter Kay’s ‘Phoenix Nights’, that’s what it was like. A place to be together, to drink, to have fun, and to pass the time. Miners were a close-knit group, as you’ll know if you’ve seen the films ‘Billy Elliot’ or ‘Brassed Off’.
Leader: 25 years later, very few pits remain. Those miners who were classed as ‘scabs’ − who ‘broke’ the strike and went back to work − may still be ostracised, even now, for their action.
The sites were redeveloped, but few of the jobs that they provided paid as much as the pit did, and many miners were unable to retrain. South Yorkshire is stilled classed as economically depressed today.
We now see the strike as history, a difficult time in our nation’s life, and symptomatic of much that was happening in the politics of the 1980s.
Today, many people are experiencing difficulties in the backlash of the credit crunch. All kinds of workers are losing their work and their way of life, similarly to when the miners lost their’s 25 years ago. However, the pit closures were planned and strategies were put in place to help those who had lost their jobs. Today, we are still floundering − strategies have yet to emerge, as the news continues to get worse and worse. Unlike the miners, many losing their jobs today don’t have that tight-knit sense of community of being part of a larger group who will care for each other. It was largely this sense of community that enabled the miners firstly to strike and then to support one another as the jobs vanished. Where do we find community like that today?
For many here, this school is the community that you relate to. Together we take pride in one another’s achievements as we move forward in difficult times and better ones. The sum of the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts, and we rely on each other for support, friendship and help. Change will continue to affect us, as a group and as individuals, but together we can work to create a positive and beneficial experience rather than one that frightens and damages us.
The school community extends beyond those of us here today: parents, guardians, those who use the school premises for sport and leisure, also relate to this place. We are not a ‘Miners Welfare’, but this community affects many people in the surrounding area, and we can all work together to ensure the lives of those around us can be as good as possible.
You might like to listen to these words, or use them as a prayer:
Together we are stronger than when we are apart.Together we can cherish those we love Those whom we care about.Those with whom we work and play. Together we are stronger,Together we are wiser,Together we can face whatever life throws at usAnd smile, and cry, and laugh
Music suggestion: Play some brass band music as the student leave.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2009
About the author: Ronni Lamont