Page last updated at 07:23 GMT, Friday, 5 March 2010

Former NUM officer's fears in 1984/85 miners' strike

Ted McKay
Ted McKay says he received threatening phone messages at night

Ted McKay was at the centre of one of Britain's most bitter industrial disputes in living memory.

The 1984/85 miners' strike, which came to an end 25 years ago on Friday, divided communities and became one of the greatest trade union struggles since the 1926 General Strike.

Mr McKay, the former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) secretary for north Wales, campaigned in vain for a national ballot on strike action.

North Wales had two pits and one, Bersham colliery near Wrexham, went on strike while the other, Point of Ayr colliery, near Prestatyn, continued operating.

The bitterness of the dispute meant Mr McKay faced death threats to himself and his family.

"[It was] bad for the family. We were getting phone messages all night, every night. We were getting things shoved through the letterbox and my wife nearly had a nervous breakdown through it," he said.

"Somebody shoved rags through the letterbox and said it's just as easy to pour petrol on this and set it alight.

"They phoned my wife and said they were going to take my young son, seven years old, from school - whether these were miners or all the hangers-on that came, I don't know."

Arthur Scargill
Arthur Scargill was criticised for refusing a national ballot on strike action

The conflict saw up to 200,000 miners, joined by their wives and families and sometimes entire communities, campaigning for a year against pit closures and job losses.

There were clashes with police and huge splits in some areas when miners started drifting back to work.

The strike brought the NUM, led by its president Arthur Scargill, into conflict with Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government.

Mr McKay is still strongly critical of the leadership of Mr Scargill, particularly his refusal to hold a national ballot for strike action.

He said: "I was involved in two national miners' strikes in early 70s that were successful and the reason they were successful was that the union asked and got the consent and the authority to have a national strike," he said.

"Once the majority was for the strike, everybody came as one, it became 100%.

"In 1984, Scargill didn't ask and didn't get the consent and the authority for a national strike, and he never used or he was afraid to use the NUM's most powerful weapon, which was its own democracy."

Miners and their families at the TUC confence in 1984
Miners and their families were involved in a bitter struggle

The divisions caused by the strike were starkly illustrated by the differing actions of north Wales' two collieries.

"There were bad feelings with the few, not for the majority. Point of Ayr worked and they issued a letter why they worked, and what they were saying was they wanted democratic rights to have a vote," said Mr McKay.

"Now Bersham were out until, I think, the November but Bersham were picketed out and Bersham didn't want to come out and there were many attempts in Bersham right through the year for them to go back but they didn't have the courage."

Mr McKay argues it was not a national strike because it had not been "unified by all the miners".

"More miners were not necessarily against the strike, what they wanted to have was the democratic right to have a say and Scargill was afraid of that," he said.

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