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Last Updated: Friday, 23 January, 2004, 10:55 GMT
Miners' strike 1984: The miner's story
Dave Nixon
In 1984, Dave Nixon was a 27-year-old miner with a young family to feed, but like thousands of other miners, he embarked on a strike with the aim of saving the pits.

He and his colleagues at Hatfield Main Colliery, South Yorkshire did not realise it would mean a year of hardship and that the strike would end in failure.

In February 1984 we were like a coiled spring ready to be triggered.

We knew a strike was imminent and that trigger came with the announcement that nearby Cortonwood Colliery would close. In the same month, a week before the strike, my son Matthew was born.

Miners picking coal from a tip
Striking miners picking coal from a tip
Of course we knew it would be a long strike but we were willing to suffer the two months we thought it would take to convince the Coal Board that their arguments were unjust.

Immediately we began arrangements to picket mines outside Yorkshire in support of action against the closures and contrary to reports these were peaceful demonstrations, apart form the odd bit of verbal abuse.

In the early months, we stood toe to toe with your average community police officers, enacting the age old tradition of the ceremonial push and shove.

Providing fuel for the fire was the greatest challenge
As suddenly as the push started it would stop. Pickets and police pulled out sandwiches and chocolate bars and swapped them while talking about the latest football results.

These were replaced back into pockets and the push and shove resumed.

On one rare occasion I actually broke through the line of police. As I emerged on the other side I found that I was surrounded by a mass of boys in blue.

'Bloody hell', I thought, 'and what do I do now?' They totally ignored me, what an insult! I casually walked around the cordon of police and returned to the picket line.

Potatoes

Times were hard that year. We were clothed in handouts; food was short, and Christmas of '84 passed us by, surviving on the 15 that the Social Department grudgingly gave us.

That was 7.50 per child, nothing to the parents. And we were fortunate: the majority of miners received nothing.

At home potatoes became our staple diet, which tasted sweeter when they were pinched from the local farmer's field.

The sky just fell on us with stones, sticks, bits of railings, bricks, ball bearings
Bill King, police officer

This was supplemented by the weekly food parcel and a hot meal provided by the hard working men and women who ran the soup kitchen.

Providing fuel for the fire was the greatest challenge. One winter's day I forced my bicycle three miles through snow that was a foot deep in order to hack at the frozen cokeing coal that had spilled from the rail freight wagons down onto the rail embankment.

The bicycle was the only transport I owned, allowing me to carry one bag of coke. The cold was biting and I was feeling a little, well, let's say, not too pleased with the world.

As I arrived at my usual place of digging I saw at the other side of the tracks another striking colleague loading up a trailer - whereas I only had a bike. He was a lovely chap, but from that day on I hated that man with venom.

Pride and sorrow

What kept us going? Simply the support of Trade Unions, Labour Party branches and caring individuals, but most important the realisation that failure would mean an end to our mining communities.

Twelve months on and my son was a year old. In the early hours of a March day I cradled him in my arms and with my daughter at my side we walked alongside people from the community, colleagues and friends of Hatfield Colliery NUM, COSA (colliery officials union) and a few supporting NACODs members.

Following the colliery band we marched back to the pit through the community we fought for, not with our heads held high but bowed low in sorrow.

I remember clearly the pride, elation, bravery, fear, sadness and sorrow; every emotion that one would expect to experience in a lifetime, brought together during the 12-month strike and looking back I truly say, no regrets.

Hatfield Colliery went into administration in December and faces closure. Dave's brother still works there.

The Miners' Strike was shown on BBC Two on Tuesday, 27 January, 2004.




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