Miners’ strike anniversary brings memories flooding back

MEMORIES ... Coun Ed Malcolm. Below, the Battle of Orgreave during the Miners' Strike of 1984-5.
MEMORIES ... Coun Ed Malcolm. Below, the Battle of Orgreave during the Miners' Strike of 1984-5.

THE 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike has brought back memories for a leading South Tyneside politician.

Coun Ed Malcolm, a former miner at South Shields’ Westoe Colliery, was also a regional official with the National Union of Mineworkers, as Britain became locked in its most bitter post-war industrial dispute in 1984/5.

Stikes - Miners Strike Orgreave coking plant'injured pickets led away from Orgreave today

Stikes - Miners Strike Orgreave coking plant'injured pickets led away from Orgreave today

The strike was prompted by the Government, led by Margaret Thatcher, saying it planned to close 20 pits with a loss of 20,000 jobs.

However, NUM leader Arthur Scargill claimed the Government’s true intention was to close more than 70 pits over a three-year period.

Cabinet papers from 1984, released earlier this year, revealed National Coal Board chief Ian McGregor had planned to shut 75 pits.

In South Shields, miners at Westoe Colliery came out in protest at the proposed closures on March 6, 1984.

A series of regional disputes began, and today is the 30th anniversary of Mr Scargill declaring a national strike.

Coun Malcolm, now lead member for resources and innovation at South Tyneside Council, said: “The miners’ strike of 1984/85 was the most momentous industrial dispute in post-war British politics.

“Thirty years on, the truth is finally coming to light, about how twice the miners’ strike came close to being settled, the high cost (in financial terms) to the Government and the miscarriages of justice, most notably for those miners arrested at Orgreave, and the role of the police.

“Without a doubt, the Government provoked the miners into striking at a time and in circumstances least favourable to the union, but as history shows, unions can seldom pick the time and place that best suit them for a confrontation.

“The miners of Westoe Colliery were on strike from day one, with many of them participating actively in the strike by picketing, fundraising and helping with the food kitchen, which was set up with the aid of the women’s support group.

“Westoe miners were involved in picketing in their own coalfield, in other coalfields, and at locations such as Bilston Glen and Ravenscraig steel plant in Scotland.

“They were well represented at the Battle of Orgreave on June 18, 1984, where I witnessed first-hand the cold calculating brutality of the British State. The iron fist was certainly out of the velvet glove that day.

“Orgreave proved to be a turning point, the miners realised that the full force of the state was levelled against them.”

As the strike continued there were growing calls in some quarters for the miners to return to work without a settlement, and on March 3, 1985, Coun Malcolm was among those with a “heavy heart” who voted to return to work two days later.

He recalled: “I had been elected to the Durham Area Executive during the strike, and I supported the moves to return to work without a settlement, because the men were battle-weary, and I felt that saving the union was essential.

“Westoe miners marched back to work with their heads and banner held high, but they were going back to fight another war with the NCB - a war of attrition, which lasted nine years and ended with the closure of Westoe Colliery, which still had millions of tonnes of reserves.

“We now know it cost the Government £10bn to defeat the miners and £28.5-£33bn to virtually destroy the coal industry.

“During the strike thousands of miners were arrested, 966 were sacked, 200 jailed and two miners died on picket lines.

“In 1984 the miners had a choice - they could surrender or stand and fight. To my eternal pride the miners, choose the latter.”

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul