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1984: The beginning of the end for British coal
The 1984 miners' strike was the most bitter industrial dispute in British history.

But ten years earlier the UK's coal industry appeared to be on the way up.

A cross-party agreement - the "Plan for Coal" - appeared to secure the future of mining in Britain, two years after the February 1972 miners' strike, which had crippled the country's power supplies.

Over 200 million tons was to be produced by 2000, which meant major expansion and investment for the industry.

Former miner Steve Brunt was one of many men who was attracted by the good pay and hours being offered at the collieries.

No subsidies

"I went into the industry in 1977 when there was a big push. I'll never forget it, there were adverts all over the place: 'We want more men in mining'."

But the rosy outlook in British pits did not last long.

"Three or four years later they threatened to close a number of pits and people were stunned," says Mr Brunt, now a senior tutor at Northern College in South Yorkshire.

The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, backed off after miners threatened a national strike, but the Conservative Government was unwilling in the long term to prop up what it saw as a failing industry.

Violence and hardship

Mrs Thatcher appointed Ian MacGregor as chairman of the National Coal Board, and after just 12 months at the helm the Scottish-born tycoon announced the closure of 20 uneconomic pits and the subsequent loss of 20,000 jobs.

Miners at the endangered Cortonwood colliery in Yorkshire walked out on 5 March 1984 in protest at the plans. Within a week more than half the country's miners were on strike.

The action started relatively peacefully, but the stakes were high in a dispute that had thousands of men fighting for their jobs pitted against a government desperate to keep coal supplies flowing.

The year-long strike, led by NUM leader Arthur Scargill, soon became characterised by violence and the hardship suffered by the miners and their dependents.

Destroyed communities

"It was horrendous. We didn't know where the next loaf of bread or pint of milk was coming from, nor did we know when we'd have hot water," says miner's son Stuart Taylorson, who was nine years old when the strike started.

"It was really, really hard."

And the privation has lasted much longer than the year of the strike - 20 years later some former mining communities are still struggling to get back on their feet.

Only 12 deep pits in the UK are still producing coal and three of those are due to close in 2004.

Mr Brunt, who recently ran a course on the miners' strike at Northern College, says that although the situation is improving in many former mining areas, the effect of the strike was overwhelming.

"They are struggling to cope - it's going to take two or three generations to work through."

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A miner and colliery
Miners were shocked by the announcement of pit closures

Arthur Scargill
NUM leader Arthur Scargill fought one of Britain's most bitter industrial disputes
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