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Mayor condemns Thatcher for killing coal industry

CONTROVERSIAL WOMAN ... Margaret Thatcher is still reviled by many in the region for her ruthless treatment of the miners  but it now emerges she also saved the deal which brought Nissan to the region. She is pictured at the wheel of a Nissan Bluebird in the factory.

CONTROVERSIAL WOMAN ... Margaret Thatcher is still reviled by many in the region for her ruthless treatment of the miners  but it now emerges she also saved the deal which brought Nissan to the region. She is pictured at the wheel of a Nissan Bluebird in the factory.

THE Mayor of South Tyneside today condemned ex-PM Margaret Thatcher as the woman who “butchered” the borough’s mining community.
Coun Ernest Gibson spoke as it was revealed that the Tory Prime Minister secretly considered calling out troops at the height of the 1984 miners’ strike, amid fears that the dispute could destroy her government.

According to newly-released files from the National Archives, Tory ministers were so concerned at the outbreak of a national docks strike while the miners were still out, they considered declaring a state of emergency. Plans were drawn up for thousands of soldiers to commandeer trucks and move supplies of food and coal around the country. It was probably the closest Mrs Thatcher came to defeat in her battle with the trade unions, but the scheme was never implemented, when the dockers’ action petered out after less than two weeks.

The 12-month confrontation between the Conservative government and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), led by its left-wing president Arthur Scargill, was one of the defining episodes of the Thatcher era.

It saw some of the worst industrial violence the country had witnessed and, from the outset, both sides were clear there was more at stake than the plan by the state-owned National Coal Board (NCB) to close 20 loss-making pits.

Mr Scargill declared the NUM was engaged in nothing less than a “social and industrial Battle of Britain”, while at No10, one official wrote it was “a unique opportunity to break the power of the militants in the NUM”.

By the summer both sides appeared locked in a lengthy war of attrition, until early July, when the sudden escalation of a local dispute at Immingham docks into a national strike appeared to offer the miners the chance of a breakthrough.

Inside No10, John Redwood, the head of the policy unit, warned the NCB’s position was “crumbling”, but said that giving in to the unions would be “the end of effective government” in Britain.

On July 16, with the Ministry of Agriculture warning of panic-buying of food stocks if the docks strike took hold, Mrs Thatcher summoned a meeting of key ministers to discuss declaring a state of emergency under the Emergency Powers Act.

Ministers were nervous that calling out the Army could make matters worse and, five days later, the dock strike was ended.

South Tyneside Mayor, Coun Ernest Gibson, was a 19-year-old miner during the strike.

He said: “Before Margaret Thatcher, the mining community was just like one big family; everyone looked out for each other. There was a lot of camaraderie.

“All that changed during the strike. She butchered the communities that had once been so strong.

“Everyone was out for themselves and fighting for survival.

“If she had not interfered, I’m sure we would still have had a vibrant mining community in South Shields.

“What she destroyed was not only the mining community, but everything associated with it.

“The local shops, where miners went for their tools, lost trade.

“It had a huge impact – one anyone who was a miner at that time will never forget.”

Twitter @shieldsgazpaul

 

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