1984 - Page 3
Closure Of Cortonwood In Yorkshire Caused The 1984 Strike
The closure of Cortonwood colliery in Yorkshire was announced on 1st March and on 3rd March 1984 the National executive of the NUM called a national strike ballot against the wishes of Arthur Scargill (President of the NUM). It was the catalyst that would lead to disaster and the virtual closure of the industry as many coal faces or districts would be abandoned and market after market for the coal would be lost and never recover.
The Area Director George Hayes had told the NUM that the pit was to be closed on 6th April 1984. This was a mistake as he had misinterpreted the message from Ian MacGregor that the industry had to lose 4m tonnes of capacity and 20,000 men. Cortonwood was not on the closure list as 80 odd miners had transferred there from a closed pit earlier and had been assured that the pit was to stay open until 1989 at least. George Hayes had jumped the gun and now there was no turning back, the damage was done.
The strike was by the majority of members of the NUM, except for the Nottinghamshire mines and a few others in Leicestershire / South Midlands.
The NCB stated that up to 20 pits that were losing money were to close. The Nottinghamshire miners had protested that a democratic vote had not been held before calling the strike, and refused to join.
The Derbyshire miners also narrowly voted against the strike locally, but were overruled by their union Executive, and came out on strike. Peter Heathfield the ex Derbyshire NUM Secretary and recently appointed General Secretary of the NUM refused to co-operate with the NCB regarding the number of pickets from Derbyshire to be deployed.
The strike started on Monday 12th March 1984 and was to last 12 months. Only half of the 184,000 miners were on strike. Quite a few Nottinghamshire pits were heavily picketed, mainly by Yorkshire miners – the ‘flying pickets’.
Prior to the start of the strike battling Nottinghamshire miners’ wives at Eastwood were preparing to ‘picket the pickets’. It was assumed that pickets from other coalfields would descend up to North Nottinghamshire pits and the lady in question a mother of three, Mrs Jane Paxton organised a wives’ co-operative to back up their men folk in going to work without a democratic vote. She wanted other miners’ wives to contact her in a bid to beat Arthur Scargill’s pickets.
In opposition an all-women picket line had gathered together at one Nottinghamshire mine to show support for their men folk who had come out on strike and as well as singing, chanting and shouting slogans were joking with the police officers on duty, but when further police officers drafted in from other parts of the country arrived to reinforce the ranks it appeared that several women were dragged brutally into waiting police vans, taunted with abusive language and had to spend a night in the cells. The local police force had no bother with the local pickets as many had some relative or friend in the mines. Ida Hackett (68 years old at the time, died in 2013 aged 96 and still admired afterwards) then became the chair for ‘Nottinghamshire Women Against Pit Closures’ after the first month on strike and later recalled the incident.
A striking miner sent to stand on a picket line signed for, and was paid £4 a day, plus in some cases petrol money for travel. Some miners only went on the picket line to collect that money, as some money was better than none.
It was difficult for members of BACM staff such as myself to get into the pit yard by car as the mob were intent in turning my car over on the first day until pacified by Billy Bracegirdle NUM union man at Ollerton who quietened them down to allow me to pass, by assuring them that I was one of a team keeping the pit open for them to return to after the ‘hostilities’ were over. I had no problem after that although some others did.
The opportunity to change the winding rope at Ollerton No2 shaft was taken and the underground men were laid off for 3 shifts.
Mob Of Flying Pickets At Ollerton
On 13th March 1984, 250 flying pickets from Yorkshire were deployed to Ollerton. Because they believed themselves to be unbeatable, being riled up by Arthur Scargill, they expected the men at Ollerton to join them and come out on strike. Some Nottinghamshire miners did come out on strike, including a few at Ollerton but the mines continued to work, albeit by reduced manpower.
Violence and wilful damage occurred at many sites. Over 3,000 policemen from all over the country were drafted in and deployed to keep the rival factions apart. They were equipped with riot gear, such as helmets, body armour, shields and batons. The pickets acted as a mob and were uncontrollable, pushing, shouting and swearing and violent. Some 300 pickets blockaded Ollerton pit lane in an effort to stop the 450 day shift men attending. Much violence occurred with punching and stone throwing etc resulting in some men and 7 policemen being injured and 5 arrests were made.
On Wednesday evening 14th March further pickets arrived from Scotland as well as Yorkshire swelling the ranks to about 1,000 ‘flying pickets’. Violence erupted on the picket lines and some of the 1,200 police were pelted with bricks and lumps of wood and other material. Seven people including three policemen were injured. One man was taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg whilst in a clash outside Ollerton colliery pit yard. There was trouble at Hucknall and 3 were arrested. NUM leaders called for a strike before they had held a ballot. The majority of Nottinghamshire miners wanted a ballot. It would appear that was when Arthur Scargill made his gravest error by refusing them that option. Mick McGahey Vice President of the NUM spoke against it also.
Garden gates, fences and other flammable things were set on fire on Forest Road, the main road through Ollerton village and everyone not associated with them were threatened and were very frightened. On 14th March 1984 there were only 21 collieries working normally in the whole of the country by 15th March 1984 and all were North Nottinghamshire. Of course there were a few miners North Nottinghamshire who decided that they would strike also.
Picket Killed At Ollerton
A picket (David Jones) was killed by a brick thrown at him (or he ran into a concrete lamp standard) whilst running away from a scuffle. Ugly scenes erupted and the noise of chanting and banging filled the air. Just by chance I was on duty in the Control Room on that particular evening shift with Richard Sneade Deputy Electrical Engineer and experienced with horror, the ugly sounds. It reminded one of the noise in the film where the ‘Zulus attack Rourke’s drift’. We locked the door as we were both scared assuming that they were about to charge the the buildings. The men underground at Ollerton requested that they be allowed to end their shift early and return home immediately, fearing for their family’s safety. I told the Overman to let them come up the pit as soon as they could and some men went straight home via the waste tip in their pit dirt, not bothering to bathe and change. Bob Anderson the Production Manager and Walter Standage the Colliery Manager were sent for to reorganise the work system. I told them that the men had come out of the pit and they agreed. Several houses in the village were attacked. Suddenly there was silence and unknown to us the pickets had dispersed following the arrival of Arthur Scargill, NUM President, only to reappear in greater numbers estimated at 1,350 and cause mayhem next morning at neighbouring Thoresby colliery pit lane where the day shift men were violently picketed and during the scuffles a fence was broken down as shown in the photo. Now 1,300 police were in attendance.
On 18th March 1984 3,000 police were deployed to Nottinghamshire to resist flying pickets. This number increased to 8,000. Pickets from Kent were turned back at the Dartford tunnel by police down there. On that day working miners mainly from South Nottinghamshire demonstrated at Berry Hill.
44 pits remained open but only 42 working on 20th March. The Area Director Jack E Wood held meetings daily and records of numbers of pickets and police were kept. On Monday 19th March 1984 430 pickets arrived, 120 going to Bevercotes and the total number had risen to 550 by next day when Mr Justice Nolan granted an injunction in favour of banning flying pickets.
North Derbyshire miners came out on strike. Some men at Bolsover carried on working. On Thursday 21st March 1984 there was a mass picket at many pits.
Management Kept The Pits Open At Weekends
Regarding the strikes 1972, 1974 and even though the Nottinghamshire miners were working in 1984, it still relied on management staff to carry out certain jobs at weekends then and as Roster Supervisor (a job I was given by Walter Standage the Manager) it relied on me to arrange such duties to be covered, albeit that sometimes due to circumstances, I was the only one left to carry out that duty! It was surprising what excuses some staff members made not to attend, particularly Area HQ personnel who had volunteered to help.
Overall these jobs during the strikes and overtime periods included on the surface.... Winding (a job I did not do but was asked to do first), Maintenance work, Control Room, Power House duties (including reading and booking the various dials throughout the shift), in between similar observations at the Main fan every half hour, Banking duties at No2 shaft, Lamp room duties to check on lamp charging and topping up batteries, cleaning and refilling oil lamps, checking Compressors, on Security checks and then assisting on Shaft exams on top of the chair, Onsetting in No2 pit bottom, Pumping, Paddy driving, Methane pump, Booster fan readings at 34s North side every half hour and also district Development fans exams and Conveyor exams underground were other jobs I did, sometimes doing several different jobs in the same shift and as mentioned before on a couple of occasions ended up underground on my own, after the previous team had given me a ride inbye down Draper’s paddy then doing my own Onsetting and Last man out of the pit routine after walking the 4 miles outbye after doing 20s Top Hard panel examination and taking Air samples at a suspected heating site as well as the Booster fan readings. Having passed my Deputy’s examination I suppose I was somewhat ‘qualified’ to do same with the necessary paperwork signed by Walter Standage the Manager. I used to phone the Control Room every hour or thereabouts to let them know I was o.k. I generally worked the Afternoon shift and my Deputy Philip Shaw the Night shift. The only concession was, you got ‘Monday off if you worked Sunday Night shift’. Of course our normal work was necessary during the rest of the week and sometimes that included something ‘extra’, due to circumstances – ‘a la’ heating exams for example.
Local NUM officials North Nottinghamshire called for their men to set up their own picket lines. Arthur Scargill made another visit to the area and appealed to the men to join the picket lines at Ollerton, amidst scuffles with police. Police set up road blocks and prevented the flying pickets from Yorkshire bothering us again.
Coal Orders Lost
Coal orders began to be lost and by 26th March 1984 none sent to Northern Ireland, Poland or others. There was lorry blockade on the M1 in South Yorkshire on 27th March and on that day pickets were sent to several North Nottinghamshire pits. At Cadley Hill 150 pickets turned up to late to stop the afternoon shift going in, they had had to walk from Coalville that was some 11 miles away. South Derbyshire pits came out. On 28th March Creswell was picketed heavily by Yorkshire miners and only about equal number of police. Next day more police were drafted in. Many thousands of police were brought to Nottinghamshire from all over the country. The strike had been fully followed in Yorkshire, Scotland, South Wales and Kent. But in other counties such as Staffordshire, parts of North West Lancashire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire the strike call had been refused. By 29th March only 38 pits were at work.