150,000 marchers brave downpour to back miners

Barrie Clement,Kathy Marks
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:18

IN SCENES reminiscent of the great protest rallies of the 1960s, London yesterday witnessed the arrival of a torrent of demonstrators gathered to oppose the closure of coal mines and to call for a change in government industrial policy.

Despite drenching rain they came from throughout the country and from every social class in a dignified show of solidarity for communities facing devastation.

The official police estimate of the marchers was 150,000 but organisers put the total at more than 200,000.

The size of the protest was three times that of the 1989 poll tax march and was on a similar scale to an anti-war demonstration in 1985 and protests against the Vietnam war in the 1960s.

The demonstrators ranged from miners' bands marching under vast, colourful banners, to members of the Milton Keynes Small Business Association with hand-written placards. Thousands of coaches were chartered and special trains laid on.

Much of central London was cordoned off to allow the demonstrators to pass from Victoria Embankment to a rally in Hyde Park. Marchers took at least three hours to pass. Good- natured throughout, the march spanned the ages from families with young children to the white- haired Michael Foot, former leader of the Labour Party and veteran of hundreds of protest campaigns.

Seldom can the builders of Trident missile submarines have marched with CND activists and the Green Party. Bands at regular intervals attracted their supporters in a carnival atmosphere. Only the members of the anarchist group Class War and the Socialist Workers' Party had police escorts.

'I was crying for the first 100 yards of the march,' said John Clayton, a miner from Stillingfleet colliery in North Yorkshire. 'I couldn't believe the level of support for us. It's quite


At the rally, John Smith, leader of the Labour Party, issued a challenge to the Prime Minister: 'Go down the pits you want to shut, look at the investment and the modern machinery which would be written off. Ask about the reserves of coal which would be abandoned.

'Think about the suppliers and all the British companies and workers who would lose their markets and their jobs. Speak to the miners whose skills are unique and irreplaceable. Perhaps above all visit their families and communities and think of what will happen to them if your plans go ahead.'

The downpour was particularly heavy during a speech by Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, whose hat and coat exuded steam under the hot lights of the platform.

He called on the crowd not to desert the miners and their cause. 'This time British miners are not just fighting for jobs in the mining industry. Don't leave us isolated. Support us all the way until we see this policy reversed.'

Miners were being regarded as dots on a computer screen, he said. 'We are not dots; we are human beings, and we have a right to work and to produce valuable energy for Britain.'

Norman Willis, general secretary of the TUC, which organised the demonstration, said the labour movement would have to fight to keep open the pits for which the Government had granted 90 days' grace. But people should not fall into the trap of thinking that the rest of the coal or energy industry was safe. 'No pit, no factory is safe, no shop, no office, no hospital, no school, no bus or train or any other service is safe. No job is safe.'

(Photograph omitted)

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