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1984: 'I was fighting for a way of life'
Steve Brunt was a coal-face worker at Arkright Colliery in north Derbyshire.

He was a strike co-ordinator for the region and completely committed to the year-long industrial action.

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."

Three or four years later they threatened to close a number of pits and people were stunned. We had left all sorts of industries to go into the mines because of the money and the recruitment campaign.

We'd get instructions from HQ if there was going to be a big picket

I'd got two young children and I was 32. It wasn't easy. Life stopped for a year. All these things that you take for granted like holidays, trips away, Christmas boxes and nice birthday presents just stopped. You just couldn't afford to do it.

Fortunately my wife had a part-time job and we did get a little bit of picket money, but it was very little. We didn't pay the mortgage for the year.

But I was fighting for a way of life. It was for the communities and the people in these communities.

We had a number of strike centres in north Derbyshire and I became a co-ordinator in Arkright after the previous one was arrested.

We'd get instructions from HQ if there was going to be a big picket - a hit on a local colliery or in another area.


We had a system running with the Notts NUM lads. They'd got a coded system - it was a bit like Enigma! You got this piece of paper and with these different letters and numbers. They all matched to a particular pit and the date was in there too.

We'd tell people we would meet at a particular time and location and go from there. But the police use to follow us - by the time we got there it would be no secret most of the time.

You used to try and judge the temperament and behaviour of the police forces in terms of where they came from. And the ones with the worst reputation as far as we were concerned were the Mets [Metropolitan Police].

I remember being on the picket line in north Derbyshire when the Mets came. One shouted, "We hate spades, mate, but we hate miners more." Talk about wind you up.

'No angels'

The first few weeks you got your local bobbies to come down and you'd be chatting with them.

We went to Cadley Hill, south Derbyshire, in the early days. I was allowed onto a bus that was going into work to talk to the lads. I asked them to reconsider and come out on strike.

A couple of weeks later we went to the same place and we couldn't get near the pit gates, let alone get on a bus.

Clearly, they're not all angels that live in mining communities and some lads would quite relish the idea they could have a bit of a go - and I'm sure amongst the police force there's that kind of an element.

I saw men break down in tears because they'd given seven or eight months to the dispute and had to go back to work

But I can remember coming back from Orgreave one day with a couple of pickets in their fifties. They took their shirts off and they'd got big, black bruises on their backs - and I'm talking about grey-haired blokes.

These were middle-aged men being brutally beaten with a truncheon - what was all that about? It was just totally unnecessary, some of the brutality. On both sides might I add.

At the time I didn't like strike-breakers at all. We had a word for them and I don't want to repeat it because I think some of the men who went back in November and December had given a hell of a lot - all their savings had gone. The mistake was not to end the strike when we weren't solid.

I never agreed with attacks on strike-breakers' houses because you were bringing families into it and that was totally out of order. We were trying to convince and encourage those men through negotiation to join the strike.

I saw men break down in tears because they'd given seven or eight months to the dispute and had to go back to work. 100% union men absolutely destroyed.

One of the biggest regrets I've got is the lack of a reconciliation between communities, between areas. There's still this antagonism and hatred towards people that worked and people that didn't.

Twenty years on it's not time to forget, but time to forgive and move on.

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A miners' rally in Mansfield
Miners were stunned when the pit closures were announced

Pickets confront a miner trying to return to work
There were ugly confrontations between pickets and strike-breakers
Steve Brunt
Steve Brunt thinks communities should now reconcile their differences
In Context
Steve Brunt left the mining industry in 1989 and went back to university.

He now lives near Barnsley and is a senior tutor at Northern adult education college.

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