Arthur's army laments its loss of clout: Jonathan Foster joins Yorkshire miners for yesterday's protest march in London

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The Independent Online
ONCE around the park was all they were allowed. No mass lobby of Parliament. No confrontation with the capital city. No power any longer to influence events.

Doncaster station concourse at dawn yesterday heard enough laughter, was cluttered with enough placards, to present the superficial impression of a great force gathering. The 'Coal Not Dole' stickers had gone into a 1992 reprint, their bright yellow discs sparking flashbacks to 1984, when no one dared harm the Yorkshire miners without risking irreverent, proud retaliation.

They filled a special train from the depleted pit communities. Hatfield, Frickley, Rossington, doomed Armthorpe, where perhaps the richest pit in England is to be the first closure in Yorkshire since the latest redundancies were announced.

One of the miners, Chris, was carrying a bag of enamelled union badges, his swaps for trading at the rally. And in the polythene bag were all the pits and all the communities which did not board the Doncaster train, did not queue for buses in Sheffield. No Barnsley Main, no 'Icky pit' (Hickleton), Wath, Manvers, Yorkshire Main or Treeton; all closed already, and many others too. All the bright colours were there, and as he rummaged in the bag, you could hear the shouts on the people's picket lines, hear the laughter in clubs long since shut, smell the coal they used to cut, curse the fates and follies which made yesterday's train journey such a desperate gesture.

The old rolling stock pulled out. Jan Gardner and Sue Rich were cheerful, but demoralised. They joked about men, deplored what was happening to the miners. 'I want to know that I took part in the protest and heard all the speeches even if we don't win,' Ms Gardner said.

She represents the Dearne valley as it is now, with eight out of nine pits shut down. She is a voluntary worker for the Child Poverty Action Group. Its offices are over the road from a new estate of factories, built on old colliery land.

'Nobody's taken the factories. The miners have taken redundancy, paid off their mortgages, lived off what's left for a couple of years. Now they're on the dole.'

On the next seat, a psychiatric nurse from Doncaster. She specialises in stress, and reckoned her caseload would multiply if the collieries closed. A petition went up and down the train, and so did peals of laughter.

No one wanted sympathy from London, but they despaired of the 'foreign' South ever understanding what has been happening since the early 1980s. The demonstrations of 1992 are in part a lament; it was the steel and coal strikes of the 1980s that were the protests of hope.

Several of the Armthorpe lads have had enough of the pit. They prefer football, home life, anything would be preferable to than the confrontational, incompetent and arrogant management that they say has ruined Markham Main. Of course pits should be kept open, but they have had enough.

Once in the capital, confidence soared briefly. The Tube train was decorated with 'Coal Not Dole' posters. Passengers were mocked. 'You think we're all thick and keep pigeons,' one of Armthorpe's finest barked at a woman. She looked humbled; his mate turned and said: 'So how are your pigeons?'

In Hyde Park, Armthorpe's banner arrived. They wanted to be at the front, being at the front of the closure programme. They wanted the sycophantic 'supporters' from a Trotskyist party kept away from the banner. Armthorpe miners have not converted to revolutionary socialism and, almost as important to some, think Trots are ugly and badly dressed.

The march was a flop. The route guaranteed the least possible contact with the public - lines of demonstrators' coaches to one side, the Metropolitan police to the other. Briefly, in Kensington High Street, there were cheers from people at office windows and on the pavement, but then it was back into the park.

Forbidden to lobby Parliament - only 1,000 miners allowed in Westminster, and them by ticket - they had intended at least to disrupt London and fulfil the Evening Standard's assertion that the capital was 'under siege'.

In the event, traffic was slightly congested. 'It's been a load of bollocks,' one said.

As some of the others went for a good gargle in Soho pubs, Chris acquired a rare badge, Westthorpe colliery, the last pit to be closed before the 1984-85 strike. 'I need to get a lot more in the next few months unless something happens quick.'

(Photograph omitted)