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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 17:22 GMT
Former miners reflect on strike
Miners in cage
Scotland's mining industry suffered during the 1980s
Two former miners from Midlothian talked to BBC News Online Scotland about the 1984 miners' strike on condition they were not identified.

"John", aged 62, worked as a miner for 34 years at collieries at Arniston, Bilston Glen and Monktonhall before being made redundant at 60.

"Mark", 59, was a miner for 28 years and worked at the Easthouses and Bilston Glen collieries.

They gave different views on the strike which divided communities.

John said he believed the strike was orchestrated by the UK Government because it wanted to crush the trade union movement.

He said: "What the National Union of Miners (NUM) said was true, because the strike shattered us, absolutely shattered us.

Scargill lost a lot of ballots prior to the 1984 strike and I'm sure he didn't want to lose another one
Former miner Mark
"The government wanted to shut the pits."

Mark took a different view and argued the year-long strike actually proved the country could do without so many pits and miners.

He said: "The NUM presented a case to the government for shutting the pits. It exposed the truth that the country could be run without large amounts of coal.

"If you can run the country for a year without a lot of coal, then do you really need all of the pits?"

But John disputed this and said the government did not forego coal for a year.

He said: "The coal was imported. Of course, we'll never find out how much it cost the country, but it would have been billions of pounds.

Unions 'picked off'

"The oil in Scotland subsidised the strike. The strike could have been settled within two months. But the government wanted to keep it going in order to hammer the union into the ground.

"And once it had done that, it picked off the other unions one-by-one.

"You can see that today. Unions, politically, have no power whatsoever. Being in a union today won't do you any good.

"I was in a union when the pits closed and was made redundant when I was 60. "

Arthur Scargill
Arthur Scargill's decision not to hold a national ballot was controversial

John added: "That's why I say unions no longer have the strength. Whether the strike was a good thing or a bad thing depends on your point of view.

"Perhaps the unions had too much strength at one point."

Mark said the amount of days lost through strikes and absenteeism within the mining industry before 1984 was "astronomical".

He believed there would still have been a strike if NUM leader Arthur Scargill had held a national ballot on strike action.

Scargill opted against a ballot because the NUM executive had earlier voted in favour of collieries being able to hold individual strikes as they saw fit.

No animosity

Both miners agreed they did not harbour any animosity towards the Nottinghamshire miners who continued to work throughout the strike.

Mark said he believed miners were forced into strike action.

"I knew people in Bilston Glen who didn't want to strike. But once they were on strike that was it.

"Regarding the ballot, Scargill lost a lot of ballots prior to the 1984 strike and I'm sure he didn't want to lose another one.

When the Tories got back in again, Thatcher said the party would not face another defeat
"He lost ballots on wages and other issues. So at that particular time he did not want to lose.

"In 1974 we had a strike but didn't need pickets at the gates because there was a ballot and miners voted on strike action."

John added: "The Nottingham miners worked through the strike and they still haven't got a job."

Mark said the crucial aspect of the strike was that the government had stockpiled or imported coal and was ready to fight it out with the NUM.

John said: "In the first strike, before Thatcher came to power, the miners won.

'Cost millions'

"When the Tories got back in again, Thatcher said the party would not face another defeat."

John said National Coal Board Chief Ian MacGregor was brought in by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the sole aim of crushing the NUM rebellion.

"When MacGregor was brought in it infuriated the miners, with rumours it cost millions to bring him over from America," John said.

"He was only brought over here as a figurehead to cause trouble. He caused the same kind of trouble in America, where there were similar strikes."

Mark said Ian MacGregor "was not a man afraid of confrontation".

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher vowed to defeat the strike and face down the NUM

"Unfortunately, the two men who were doing battle - Scargill and MacGregor - were very similar in their approach," he added.

John said anyone in any doubt about how serious Thatcher and the state treated the miners' strike should look at archive footage of the Orgreave battle and other skirmishes between the miners and police.

"There is no way that the police behave in the same way today as they did in 1984," John said.

"Just look at the bus loads of known football hooligans who can travel to games these days without the police lifting a finger - despite knowing they will cause trouble.

"During the miners' strike men were being arrested without having committed a crime.

"And of course, Thatcher gave the police a pay rise to ensure they were onside during the strike."

'Start again'

John said: "When a pit shuts there can be anything from 1,000 men upwards losing their jobs. And 90% of them will be looking for the same kind of work. You maybe have an important job and role when you're down the pit. But when you come to the surface and go outside to look for a job then what can you do?

"You basically have to start again.

"During the Thatcher years she closed all the heavy industries - not just the coal mines. Once you lost the coal industry, then the rest began to fall.

"Once the government started to import coal it offered people cheaper electricity, but they never actually got it. The government lied to the people."

John added: "Nothing much is built in this country anymore because Thatcher stopped it."

'Miss comradeship'

Mark said that in 1984 the need for coal was deteriorating and demand had been falling since the war.

He said every industry faced "a need to be competitive and stay competitive", otherwise there was little or no chance of remaining viable.

But John said successive governments did nothing to help the UK's manufacturing industries.

He said: "There's not a country in the western world apart from the UK which doesn't subsidise its railways or other heavy industries.

Injured miner
Miners and police clashed on the picket lines

"After the strike I was lucky because I got a job, a better job than the one I had. I would have still been in it today if they hadn't of made me redundant when I was 60."

Mark said: "I loved working in the pit, I really did. It was a disaster when the pit finally closed.

"But looking back I'm glad I've moved on as it was a really bad, unhealthy job with dust everywhere.

"You didn't realise how bad a job it was until you tried something else. If I'd worked the last 20 years down a pit I'd hate to think how it would have affected my health."

John said: "You could argue with another miner and it would be over and done with in five minutes. But when I came out, the first thing I was told was: 'watch your back'.

"You miss the comradeship."


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