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Last Updated: Friday, 12 March, 2004, 11:36 GMT
Memories of the miners' strike
Working Lunch's Rob Pittam recalls the miners' strike of 20 years ago.

In the evening Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire miners had sat in the pub, addressing one another as "brother"; by the morning they were bitter enemies.

In between lay a night of terrifying rioting and the death of a picket.

Ahead lay a year-long dispute that would break their union and ultimately lead to the death of the coal industry.

On Friday 12 March 1984 Arthur Scargill had called for a national miners' strike in protest at planned pit closures.

Crucially, he refused to hold a national ballot, relying instead on flying pickets to bring the coalfields to a halt.

Protests

By the weekend the pickets were targeting the colliery in my home village of Ollerton in north Nottinghamshire.

Fighting raged along the main street which led to the pit entrance.

It was a terrifyingly violent confrontation between police, striking miners and colliers determined to work.

In the middle of it all a Yorkshire miner, 24-year-old David Jones, a father of two, was struck by a brick and fell to the ground; he died shortly afterwards.

News of the death brought the violence that night to an end.

But it was only the beginning of a dispute which would continue for another year.

Bitter

For those of us who lived through the miners' strike at close quarters it was as if a new Dark Age had descended.

All of the clichés are true. Families really were split. Marriages really did break up. Brothers really did fall out, often forever.

Savage fights between strikers and pickets raged through High Streets, spilled into back gardens and erupted in pubs and clubs.

I remember watching a pitched battle in the middle of a miners' welfare and seeing one miner with a broken nose crying, not because of the pain, but because it had been done by one of his best friends.

The villages themselves felt as if they were under siege, not just from pickets, but from police too.

They were there in their hundreds, guarding every major road junction, questioning people about who they were and where they were going.

At the end of the strike the NUM miners marched back to work proud and defiant, but they knew they had been beaten.

What was to come next was worse than any of them had expected.

A heavy round of pit closures began.

When the strike started there were 175 pits employing 180,000 miners.

Future

Today, 20 years later, there are just 12 deep mines in Britain, with 9,000 miners.

What's more, three of those pits will go in a few months with the closure of the Selby pit complex.

From then it is only a matter of time before the remaining mines run out of reserves or hit problems which mean they too will be closed and the coal industry will be finished.

Everyone I have spoken to who lived through the strike remembers it with pain, whichever side they were on.

The pain is still felt, too. Every year the family and friends of David Jones hold a dignified ceremony in Ollerton to remember his death at the spot where he fell.

This year for the 20th anniversary they did it all over again, led by his father - Mark Jones. He told me he is still bitter at his son's death and what happened to the miners after the strike.

It was a Dark Age indeed.

And when it was over it seemed that not just the mining industry, but Britain too had changed forever.

The miners had seen their strike as a fight to the death between their traditional brand of trade unionism and the new force of Thatcherism.

"If we lose," they said, "everyone loses."

But in the end it was the miners themselves who lost most of all.

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