30 years ago, miners across Britain were facing a bleak Christmas after months of being on strike. The Thatcher government tried to starve the miners back to work. But working class communities came together – with solidarity across the labour movement – to ensure that the Tories could not be the Grinch that ruined Christmas.
In 1984, three decade ago, miners across Britain were facing a bleak Christmas after months of being on strike. The Thatcher government tried to starve the miners back to work. But working class communities came together – with solidarity across the labour movement – to ensure that the Tories could not be the Grinch that ruined Christmas. We publish here this letter from John Dunn of Justice for Mineworkers, who recalls the strike Xmas of 1984.
30 years ago, this Xmas, my employer, the National Coal Board, sent this Xmas message to me, and every striking miner in the country. It was also printed in local newspapers to make sure we strikers got the message.
Not exactly a lot of festive cheer around at the time.
We had been on strike for 9 long months, in the middle of a cold, cold winter with no heating and no money. For those 9 months we had been battered by Thatcher’s paramilitary police, vilified as ‘The Enemy Within’ and abandoned by the TUC and Labour Party leadership.
The NCB thought Xmas gave them the opportunity to break our resolve by tempting us back with an out-and-out bribe. The message was “back to work or starve”.
(Incidentally, look at the wages on offer and compare them to wages today, 30 years later, in George Osborne’s ‘Prosperous Britain’, where the national minimum wage is just £260 a week!)
Only a few took the 30 pieces of silver and climbed aboard armoured buses to scab on their fellow workmates, ‘escorted’ into work by hundreds of riot police. The rest of us gritted our teeth, told the NCB where to put their ‘incentive’ and continued the fight. We might not have the money to buy our kids presents; we might be cold and hungry; but we would never be tarnished with the indelible stain of SCAB.
Whilst picketing and campaigning went on, efforts were intensified to make sure that, penniless or not, Xmas would be something never to be forgotten in our communities.
Trees were cut down for logs; surface coal seams were dug with a vengeance, despite the dangers (three died when seams collapsed). I remember workers at a local furniture factory delivering lorry loads of off–cuts outside the Miners Welfare for strikers’ fires. We were determined to be warm if not festive.
Now I’m one of those Bah Humbugers that hate Christmas, but I have to admit that, recalling that strike, Xmas brings a tear to my eye. It’s impossible to explain adequately the sense of community solidarity that existed, showing the best of working class versatility and strength at every level.
At a strike rally, in Sheffield on the 8th of November, I had heard the leader of the French Miners, Alain Simon, give a pledge that “every striker’s child shall have a toy for Christmas”. And, oh boy, was he true to his word. Lorries in convoy crossed the Channel delivering toys for every strikers’ child in time for Xmas – a gesture of true solidarity from our French brothers.
I remember walking into the Goldwell Rooms in Chesterfield, loaned by Chesterfield Borough Council to the Women’s Action Group (not all Labour Party members were like Neil Kinnock, and some Labour Councils had a bit of bottle in those days), and seeing it crammed full of toys and gifts, with French lorries still being unloaded.
Scared of spoiling what hard man image I had left, I went outside to see fellow strikers overcome with emotion. We had braved the might of Thatcher’s thugs only to be brought to tears by French teddy bears!
The food parcels were a little different this time; instead of the staples that we had become used to, we had fresh vegetables and even massive frozen turkeys. Talk about manna from heaven!
The strike centres were buzzing and bursting to the seams. Starved back to work for Xmas – dream on Maggie!
Not only did I get the previously undreamed of luxury of a Xmas pud in my food parcel, I had TWO massive frozen turkeys. They were so big they must have been part ostrich! Now this posed me a serious ethical dilemma – I was a vegetarian! I looked at the birds and made a decision – as an animal lover I could not let those turkeys die in vain!
My dad was a retired miner and only lived just round the corner so I staggered to his house with one of the turkeys.
“I’ve got a spare turkey for you, Dad”
“I’ve got one, our Alan gave it me.”
My late brother was branch delegate at Ireland pit and he’d also been given two turkeys!
I think that we, including the dog, dined on turkey until February, as did every striker.
Add to that all the parties in every village, the strike centre discos and celebrations of every description, and it added up, to what every striker will confirm, was the best Xmas ever.
I should feel sorry, I suppose, for the scabs, spending their Judas money but unable to share in such magnificent communal events; but I won’t – they deserve only loathing for betraying their union and workmates. They might have had the money, but we have the memories!
That festive season showed the labour movement at its finest with solidarity, generosity and a fellowship never seen before or since.
Add to that the local shopkeepers, our neighbours and friends who gave as much as they could to sustain us through what could have been a bleak and dispiriting time, and it becomes apparent why we argued that we weren’t just fighting for our jobs but also for our communities.
So this year, the 30th anniversary, of that strike Xmas, we will allow ourselves to be a little nostalgic and even misty eyed as we remember the greatest Xmas we ever had.
I myself will raise a glass in its memory, proud, unbowed and still fighting.
Merry Marxmas and a Happy New World to be won!