8 Days Remaining

Thursday 5th
posted by Peter Lazenby in Features

The Star’s Northern reporter Peter Lazenby recalls his experiences as a journalist in Yorkshire during the 1984-85 miners’ strike

As industrial reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post — the biggest newspaper covering Britain’s biggest coal field — my first experience of mining communities came during the 1974 strike which brought down Ted Heath’s Tory government.

At that time my local Labour Party on the outskirts of Leeds made links with Sharlston colliery — one of more than 50 Yorkshire coal mines — which was 30 miles away, between Wakefield and Doncaster.

A decade later those links were still there and a support group was established to help feed the 1,000 miners of Sharlston and their families.

A carload of miners would travel to our community every Saturday when we jointly ran street collections in the former textile town of Yeadon.

The memory of pensioners putting a precious handful of coins into our collecting tins is still with me.

The same thing happened in a neighbouring community, the market town of Otley, where activists had also “twinned” with Sharlston.

A group of teachers in Manchester supported Sharlston, arriving each week with a van packed with food.

There were regular fundraisers at our local trades club, which was owned by the Transport and General Workers Union.

The solidarity between our communities and Sharlston was exhilarating. And although the pit closed in 1993, friendships forged in 1984 still exist today.

I have the dubious honour of being the first newspaper reporter to be arrested during the strike.

Friends in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) told me of the huge police operation preventing freedom of travel to Nottinghamshire to picket.

Putting the reports to the test, I travelled with a car full of miners from Barnsley into Nottinghamshire. Soon after coming off the M1 we were stopped by a police car. The miners said they were heading to a pit for picketing duties. Police made us turn back, and escorted us up the M1 out of Nottinghamshire with a warning that if we returned we would be arrested.

We did return, by another route. The car was stopped again. A call on the police radio confirmed that we had already been turned back once, and we were all arrested.

The driver was taken away. The rest of us were detained for a short time and released with a caution.

Many miners were not so lucky. I interviewed arrested pickets who told me of the brutality they suffered at the hands of the police, both through beatings when mining communities were invaded, and as prisoners.

One miner told me how in the cells a police officer forced him to his feet by sticking a ballpoint pen into his nostril and hoisting him upwards. Similar reports were common.

For me the struggle waged by the miners lives on today.

There are live campaigns stemming from the strike.

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, demanding an inquiry into one of the police’s most brutal attacks on pickets outside Rotherham in South Yorkshire, continues and is worthy of the support of the whole of the labour and trades union movement — as are calls for a wider investigation into brutal attacks by police on mining communities.

On Saturday in Wakefield an event marking the end of the strike, entitled With Banners Held High, will feature speeches, debates, music, food, photographic exhibitions and a display of pit union banners.

The spirit of the mining communities lives on, as will be evidenced in Wakefield on Saturday, and is seen every year at the Durham Miners’ Gala.