November 28, 2014 by dontbringlulubook
30 years ago this month, Sarah Onions, then a full-time journalist, went to work for Radio Trent based in Nottingham in November 1984. The miners’ strike was already underway but one of the running stories for the Trent newsroom (led by news editor Dave Newman and deputy Phil Dixon) was the formation of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers or UDM. The breakaway union was formed mostly from working Nottinghamshire miners.These miners did return to work in the East Midlands coalfields but it cause bitterness – sometimes within families where one man stayed out on strike and one man went back to work.
The UDM officially formed in 1985 but had unofficially been organising since the summer of 1984. The pit strike had begun earlier in ’84 after the National Coal Board announced 5 pits would close (Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister at this stage). The leader of the National Union of Mineworkers Arthur Scargill started official strikes in Scotland and Yorkshire. Many other National Coal Board areas came out on strike too, with the notable exception of many Nottinghamshire pits who maintained production.
Radio Trent reporters were regularly sent to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire in the station’s Vauxhall Chevette OB vehicle to interview the new union leaders including David Prendergast and Roy Lynk.
Trent journalists also covered the so-called flying pickets or teams of radical union members who would attend and protest at collieries where breakaway miners had gone back to work.
Police attend a rally where striking miners faced miners who had gone back to work. It was held at the Notts NUM Headquarters in Mansfield in 1984/85.
Interestingly, according to the website http://www.j31.co.uk/1984_miners_strike.htm there was never any danger of power cuts because of the summer weather, coal stockpiles and Nottinghamshire output (unlike in 1972 and 1974 when Britain was put onto a 3-day week and the lights did go out under premier Edward Heath). In addition Prime Minister Thatcher made use of cheaper coal from Poland to keep British homes warm and lit. Poland’s hard coal industry had mined a record 201 million tons in 1979 in the Lower Silesia Basin region that runs along the country’s border with the Czech Republic.
By the winter of 1984/85 those men still on strike were often penniless and were reduced to looking for fuel any way they could. This sometimes meant illegally chopping down trees or scavenging coal from the waste heaps (for which some got fired).
The strike had ended by March 1985 and all the miners returned to work after a year out. They had no agreement from the government to keep pits open.
To this day in the coalfields there’s residual emnity in the community between those that went out on strike and those that worked. By 1993 all the pits in the UK had been closed including the collieries in Nottinghamshire.
Reporter Sarah Onions applied for the job at Trent to get more industrial experience or as her father, journalist Ron Onions, would urge young reporters – to get mud on their boots.
Information on coal production in Poland from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-sight/wp/2014/10/27/down-the-black-hole-of-mining-coal-in-poland/
Picture of Roy Lynk courtesy of http://www.nottinghampost.com/undercover-troops-used-striking-Notts-miners/story-20399844-detail/story.html