Thatcher's miners face final defeat

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The Independent Online
THEY can see it now for the deceit it was, the Thoresby pitmen. 'We were used, then shat on,' they said with a shrug at the colliery last week.

Outside the school, redundant men waited to collect their children. Those born in the strike, the children of '84-'85 whose fathers crossed violent Nottinghamshire picket lines and kept cutting the coal, move up to 'big school' next year. They are the last generation of a mining community, a reminder to the colliers of their own learning curve.

It came to an end lastweek, but it began on dark, raw mornings of the strike with hostile Yorkshire pickets minding Notts business. It led to strike- breaking, the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), heroic status in the Thatcherite pantheon, and a seemingly close relationship with ministers.

'You are the true voice of the modern mineworker,' Cecil Parkinson, then secretary of state for energy, told the UDM's 1987 conference. 'There are no plans to privatise the industry; no plans, full stop.'

Last week, the Government chose the coal industry's private buyers. The UDM, partners in a consortium that bid for 15 pits, expected to get six and got none. The men who defied Arthur Scargill, will not be allowed to own their own pits. The relationship has turned from acrimony to contempt.

'The penny dropped two years ago, that's when we realised they didn't think they owed us anything,' a man on the afternoon shift said. The announcement in October 1992 by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, that 31 collieries would close, included seven in Nottinghamshire. Five would later be identified by a Commons committee as potentially profitable.

They still shut, although Thoresby has remained open, employing 700 miners near the village of Edwinstowe, where Maid Marian wed Robin Hood.

Legends ofthe Government's perfidy abound, of promises whispered behind ministerial hands then betrayed, the pits sold instead to Richard Budge, who did well out of opencast mining during the strike. 'They've looked after one of their own,' they agreed last week on the 500 home estate built by the Bolsover Colliery Company when it sunk Thoresby's shaft in 1925.

Nobody expects Mr Budge to be as benevolent an employer as Bolsover, which built the welfare club and endowed the chapel. Andy Pinnick, 43, who took redundancy 13 months ago after 26 years at Thoresby, believes Mr Budge will not pay the same wages. Mr Budge already operates Clipstone which is expected in the industry to have only a short working life.

Mr Pinnick is unemployed, his redundancy invested in his wife's hairdressing salon. 'It was wrong to split the union. Everything Arthur Scargill said would happen has come true. I worked through the strike, but I realise now I was working for the Government, not me.'

In 1987, Sherwood constituency went to the Tories but Labour won in 1992. Kevin Barron, the Yorkshire NUM MP who campaigned at Thoresby, believes the result ended Conservative interest in the area. 'The UDM had served its purpose. There was resentment in other parts of British Coal that Notts pits that should have closed had been kept open. They got, at most, seven extra years, that's all.'

Most of Thoresby's UDM officials took redundancy last year. Neil Greatrex, the UDM president, believes his predecessor, Roy Lynk, mistakenly led Notts miners to believe the Government would look after them.

'The Tories don't give a shit. I thought we'd get the Notts pits, and I thought it because of indications from ministers, and because the bid was good enough. But I was under no illusions about that bunch of bastards in government.

'The night before Heseltine's announcement, we were in London to see him. He told us to go home and rest assured we were safe in Notts except for two pits.

'Six months later, Heseltine told us: 'We still owe a debt to your organisation, and we will put that right.' Thatcher and Tebbitt complained about our treatment. They were treated with contempt.'

Few on the Edwinstowe estate still work at Thoresby. It has become a commuter pit. Those still on the books fear Mr Budge will give priority to short-term profit. 'I can't see it lasting after contracts for the power stations run out in three years. All I want to know is whether the redundancy scheme will be maintained. They can shut the bastard pit for all I care,' said one man. Mr Budge hopes to increase the market for coal by displacing imports and finding new export markets.

The club used to occupy two buildings, but recently concentrated on one. 'This isn't a pit community now. The last miner on this street took redundancy last month,' Andy Blaylock, 31, said. He left Thoresby last year, something of a local legend. He stayed out on strike, one of a few dozen NUM diehards out of 900 Thoresby miners who came out at the beginning of the strike.

He has no sympathy for the others. 'The UDM backed the Government all the way. They didn't learn the lessons of history, and they thought a Tory government would honour its debts. Because of Tory energy policy, Budge will have no alternative but to rake out the pit of coal and shut it. To me, they've got what they deserved.'

Business section, page 1

(Photograph omitted)

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