1984-5 - Miners strike


The Miners' Strike

In the aftermath of the Devolution debacle, the Labour government fell on a vote of no confidence - defeated by one vote (the SNP having voted with the opposition). The result was the general election of 1979 and the victory of a conservative government under Britain's first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Her determination to make nationalised industries productive led to her backing the rationalisation of the coal industry put forward by ncb chairman Sir Ian Macgregor. As this plan involved pit closures, the government soon found itself on a collision course with the National Union of Mineworkers under Arthur Scargill. The miners went on strike from March 1984 to March 1985. The strike was marked by mass picketing, which aroused strong emotions. In East Lothian many communities were affected. This is how the local newspaper The East Lothian News summed up its reporting as the miners went back to work.

LOOKING BACK ON MINERS' LOST YEAR

A year of sacrifice, bitterness and despair for Lothian's miners began on Monday March 12 1984 when mass pickets prevented any working at Bilston Glen and Monktonhall collieries. The start of the dispute over pit closures and job losses had begun - but it also signalled the start of some of the ugliest scenes at Lothian's pits. Tempers flared as 370 men tried to cross the picket line to clock on the morning shift. Flying pickets from other pits turned up in force and so began the first ugly scuffles as police and pickets clashed. Miners and NUM officials met at the Woodburn Community Centre, Dalkeith, to discuss the strike, but the meeting was suspended after clashes between officials, who ordered support for the strike, and miners demanding a ballot.

The following week a lone miner returned to Bilston Glen - amidst the fury of picket line hatred. Over March, April and May, the message was of support and consolidation. East Lothian's 1000 striking miners were given the backing of the district council who set up special advice centres to help with housing finance problems. Most miners' clubs had set up strike centres and 'soup kitchens' were set up to feed first the children - but eventually the strikers themselves.

NAILED

The Blinkbonny private mine company at Gorebridge also came out on strike. East Lothian's coal merchants revealed that stocks are almost exhausted and local MP Mr John Home Robertson accused the ncb of restricting the supply of coal to pensioners and young families.

In April came one of the most disturbing incidents of the strike when Bilston Glen Miner Abraham Moffat (53), the son of former Scots miners leader Alex Moffat, nailed himself to the floor of his Dalkeith home and refused treatment until he had spoken to NUM vice-president Mick McGahey.

In May, Prestonpans miners were arrested outside the Hunterston iron ore terminal as mounted police rode into pickets. The miners accused the police of trying to run them down but the police claimed their actions prevented someone from dying under the wheels of a lorry.

East Lothian Constituency Labour Party give their full backing to the miners and John Home Robertson accuses the Government of daylight robbery for withholding strikers' cash.

In June, the NCB called for a return of safety cover to Bilston Glen because of fears of damage to the pit.

As the strike went into its 15th week, half the central strike committee were arrested. They were some of the 17 men arrested by police at Bilston Glen as 200 pickets turned up following rumours that men were returning to work.

Flying pickets from Durham added to the picket line, and another 79 pickets were arrested at the start of another week of trouble.

The following week the ncb announced that coal was being produced - news which only heightened the tension outside the gates. Bilston Glen was sealed off during shift times.

DISCIPLINE

Rumours circulated that Monktonhall, employing 700 East Lothian men, is to be phased out, according to alleged secret NCB documents. Meanwhile, flooding was reported to have occurred at the pit.

Two East Lothian councillors found themselves at the centre of a storm. Monktonhall pit deputy and Tranent North district councillor Tom Ferguson offered to quit after a picket line row with num members. The local Labour Party refused the resignation and the matter is resolved.

Meanwhile, Regional Councillor David Thomson faced disciplinary action after he voted against Tory colleagues to accept a 10,000 grant to miners' wives.

The three-week lull of the holiday period in July was smashed when hundreds of pickets mass outside the two pits. Stone throwing was the latest cause for concern, destroying canteen windows. rows of barbed wire were placed all around 'Fortress Bilston'.

Tranent miner Philip Inverrarity made national news as the miners picketed outside his home. Police gave him an escort to Bilston Glen, clear of the 50 pickets. East Lothian Labour Party later called for a probe into the arrest of some 40 miners at the scene.

August heralded a visit from miners' president Arthur Scargill when he addressed a rally in Midlothian.

Bilston Glen branch secretary Jack Aitchison was sacked over the famous 'white line' controversy at Bilston.

East Lothian District Council pledged a donation of 5,000 to a relief fund for striking miners and their families. Money also comes in from youngsters in Rosignano, Italy.

In September, three working miners - part of the Bilston Glen Working Miners' Association - try to force a pit head interim interdict application at the Courts.

John Home Robertson made a plea for the public to support the miners' and their families to the end.

A row broke out at the official opening of the Lady Victoria and Prestongrange mining museum. The NUM refused to hand over the Lady Victoria branch banner and two Midlothian district councillors, Tam Darby and Mike Moore, walked out of the reception because of NCB deputy chairman James Cowan's presence.

REMANDED

Around 400 people took part in a march and rally in support of the strike. Leading the march were former Labour Party chairman Sam McCluskie and Alex Kitson, with John Home Robertson and the NUM's Eric Clarke.

In October, it was revealed that fines imposed on Lothian miners soared past the 7,000 mark and 19 men - including four officials - were sacked.

One of these was Monktonhall delegate and chairman of the central strike committee David Hamilton. He was later charged with the assault of a Dalkeith man but is refused bail. Petitions for his release and appeal to the lord Justice Clerk Wheatley fell on deaf ears and Hamilton was remanded. Local miners claim it was a ploy to stop his influence in the strike.

The 'numbers game' continued with the NCB claiming a drift back to work, but the union bitterly disputed the figures.

In November, the NCB claimed that half the workforce at Bilston Glen were back. 'Rubbish' said the union.

About 400 people attended a rally in Loanhead to support imprisoned strike leader David Hamilton.

A coach taking men to Bilston Glen was stoned as it collected miners in Tranent.

Walter Thomson quit Prestonpans Community Council over a 50 donation to the miners.

John Home Robertson slammed the ncb for not accepting doctors' certificates as proof of urgent need for coal supplies. East Lothian Constituency Labour Party continued their full support for the miners.

In December, David Hamilton was cleared of his assault charge. He claims it was a 'stitch-up' to keep him out of the way during a delicate period in the dispute.

East Lothian District Council voted to give a further 5,000 to the miners' relief fund - despite the objections from five Tory Councillors.

PRESSURISED

A row broke out over concessionary coal. The union claim it is going to 'scab' miners instead of pensioners and needy families. Three mps later stepped in to give their backing.

John Russell, chairman of the Prestonpans strike centre, was arrested outside the Blindwells open cast site and John Home Robertson called for an explanation to this and the police operation.

At Christmas the mining community came together to give children the best possible festive period.

In January, David Hamilton said he was disappointed by a letter from a bank which brought fears of miners being pressurised back to work, in order to clear debts.

A Monktonhall miner who was allegedly dismissed for a picket line offence then reinstated aroused the anger of the central strike committee, who claimed the NCB were 'looking after their own'.

The NCB then ended all doubts about the future of Monktonhall by saying the pit will be producing coal into the 21st century and beyond. A drive to recruit 250 young men as miners was announced as part of the Board's forward planning policy. Later it was revealed that 400 applications had been received.

In March, the union voted narrowly in favour of returning to work, but the Scottish pit delegates voted against a return, because of the NCB's decision to refuse an amnesty for sacked miners.

Two days later, the delegates reversed their decision and the strike was over.

East Lothian News, 8 March 1985. Reproduced by permission of the East Lothian News.

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