Miners’ Strike 1984: The Battle for Britain – Communities

The Battle for Britain. 6 March 2024 will be the fortieth anniversary of the start of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. Channel 4 have launched a series of programmes to commemorate the strike: ‘Miners’ Strike 1984 – The Battle for Britain This review by Gary Ironmonger covers the first part of the three part series. Gary’s review of the second part, The Battle of Orgreave, can be read here.

Gary was a 22-year-old miner at Cortonwood pit in South Yorkshire when the Miners’ Strike began. He was out on strike until the very end.

Communities

This review aims to give a view of the first episode alone “Communities’, rather than use it as an introduction to an explanation of the Strike and its impact on the Labour movement.

Community is a good starting point for a programme about the Strike because for many miners the strike was as much about defending communities as it was about defending jobs. The pit as the major employer was interwoven with the vibrancy of the community. As one of the strikers featured in episode 1 pointed out, it was through the Miners’ Welfare that a significant element of social life was organised, such as thriving sports clubs through to the ubiquitous Miners Welfare social clubs.

The programme told the story of Shirebrook in Derbyshire, and as the programme progressed it could be seen that C4 had a significant archive of filming from Shirebrook which provided good background. There was also an impressive number of strikers and miners’ wives who also contributed to the programme. In addition, there was a few contributions from the scabs although these were mainly from the first scab at Shirebrook who turned out to also be a willing accomplice to the National Coal Board in attempting to get more people across the picket lines. 

The story of the effects of the strike is generally developed alongside the timeline of the strike. There is an explanation of how the strike started with the proposed closure of pits – including Cortonwood in South Yorkshire where I worked. Miners at Cortonwood called on the Yorkshire NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) to call out the Yorkshire coalfield in line with agreed Yorkshire policy. From there the strike spread to other areas. This gives the Strikers and the main Scab featured in the programme a chance to articulate their views on what this meant to them.

We then had plenty of footage of the picket lines at Shirebrook and the obligatory senior copper to tell us that they aimed to be even-handed in their policing but things changed when they needed support from other forces and the Met had a different way of doing things. My experience of the South Yorkshire police shows that blaming the Met is overdone, although it is true that they did bring extra levels of violence to the picket lines. However, in many cases their actions were under local police leadership. 

As the summer progresses and the number of scabs at Shirebrook increases the programme concentrates on the rising tensions using archive footage and the testimony of the strikers on the programme to tell the story. 

It also moves on to show how the women got more involved in the strike as it progressed, either in support groups or going on national demonstrations and joining the picket lines. The women’s support groups show how the strike was not just about the men’s jobs but was about the community. They were an excellent example of working-class self-organisation in adversity and this was eloquently expressed by the women on the programme. 

As we move on towards winter the number of scabs is rising and the programme gets the views of both the strikers and the scabs on this period. It also shows how the community in Shirebrook has moved on to become more divided and how entrenched people’s positions had become. The strike ends in defeat and the testimony of the strikers show how bitter a pill this was to swallow.

It’s interesting to hear the view of the former NUM pit delegate who felt the strike was lost by Christmas and that true leadership means ensuring an end to the strike before it turned into a rout. I have sympathy with this view although I would put the timing as the end of January rather than Christmas. I would certainly have liked to have gone back when strikers were in the majority. However, the retreat at the end of a strike you lose isn’t easy as I, like many other activists, was reluctant to go back even though it was clear we had already lost.

This is also the point where people are able to talk about the aftermath. Many of the strikers said that there was limited malice after the strike in Shirebrook. However, this wasn’t the same in other communities. Certainly, in the ones I lived and work the animosity created as a result of the scabbing was great then, and is still around today.

At the end of the programme people are able to explain what the loss of the strike and the pit (Shirebrook closed in 1993) meant to them. The loss of the pit was clearly seen as ripping the heart out of the community and as a result it leaves us with a deep sense of loss, especially loss of community.

Overall, the programme is a good one to watch as it gives a feel for what the strike meant to the people who lived it and some of them are able to give voice to this on Channel Four.

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