ON THIS DAY    Witness      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1984: 'I had too much to lose by going on strike'

Paul Hayes was an apprentice miner at Ollerton Colliery in north Nottinghamshire, where only a third of the men went out on strike.

The 18 year old was faced with a difficult decision when the ballot was called at his pit.

He strongly believed the miners should strike, but risked alienating friends and colleagues - and the loss of his apprenticeship - if he joined the picket line.

We were due for a ballot the week after Yorkshire and the other areas had come out on strike.

I went in on the day shift at 0530 on Wednesday and when we arrived there was a large group of flying pickets who were blocking our way - that really was unexpected and they were very aggressive.


They made it clear they would stop us physically if we tried to cross the picket line - I think that influenced a lot of people not to vote for the strike when we had the ballot.

That evening we went to the pub. When we came past the bottom of the pit lane where there was an even larger group of pickets who were trying to stop the night shift from going in.

That's when the violence occurred and there were running battles in the street. We saw that it was going to turn nasty and carried on walking home.

The fighting was between the police, pickets and people trying to get to work.

The pickets were being very aggressive - a few stones were thrown. A friend, who did actually make it through the picket line when the police parted it, was punched.

Mining communities are noted for being very close-knit and solid communities.

" I felt I had too much to lose by going on strike "

But at the same time that made them quite inward-looking and people in one mining village did not take too kindly to people from another village several miles away coming down and saying, "You can't go into work."

I think that made the trouble inevitable.

I was very confused. Like many people from my background, the early 1980s was a time when we were becoming politicised by a government which seemed to be ideologically opposed to the traditional working class of heavy industry.

I voted for a strike and I was always in favour of the strike - but I carried on working. Looking back now, these were the actions of a young man and probably someone who was quite nave.

I felt I had too much to lose by going on strike.

I was an apprentice and there was always the fear that if you went on strike you were breaking your contract and therefore the management could take away your apprenticeship.

Smashed windows

And my girlfriend's father probably wouldn't have had me in the house - it would have split us up if I'd gone on strike.

The striking miners in Ollerton were in a minority. There was quite a lot of violence on both sides.

I knew some people who had their windows smashed - but they were striking miners. I think working miners probably saw it as retaliation for how they'd been treated by the pickets.

I allowed the fact I was in a majority of people who weren't striking to override my instinct to go on strike.

" I was helping to prop up a government that I didn't like "

I had an enormous amount of sympathy for the men on strike - and their families of course who were really making a tremendous sacrifice.

If the Nottinghamshire coalfields had come out as well then it would have made the strike very different - there would have been much more chance of the miners winning.

I was aware of that and also that through my actions I was helping to prop up a government that I didn't like.

But on the other hand I don't think it's for miners' unions - or any other union or single-issue group - to change the government. That is undemocratic and that is ultimately where they fell down.

In Context
Paul Hayes decided not to continue working as a miner and left the industry when his apprenticeship ended in 1985.

He went back to school and then to university.

He now lives in Sheffield and produces training resources for the housing charity, Shelter.

Search ON THIS DAY by date   

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |