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'No regrets, I would do it all again tomorrow' - striking miner

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: March 07, 2014

  • Robert Lloyd, Tyrone O'Sullivan and Brendan Wheatley at Tower Colliery in 1999 and (left) former miner Huw Battenbough.

  • Miners march through Swansea in protest against pit closures.

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This week marks the 30th anniversary of the start of the miners’ strike of 1984-1985. Geraint Thomas looks back at a bitter industrial dispute that tore Britain apart .

WHEN Huw Battenbough first went underground at the age of 16 he thought that he had a job for life.

He was wrong.

For the social and economic make-up of the country was to undergo a bitter revolution in the decades that followed. And it was the 1984 miners' strike that was the epicentre of it all.

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Now aged 56 the grandfather from Pontardawe recalls the bitter industrial dispute more or less 30 years to the day it all begun.

The former miner in Abernant Colliery, above Pontardawe, which closed in 1988, says: "I was on the bus, on my way to work, when I heard about the strike and when we got to Abernant there was a picket line so we just got off and joined in.

"We knew the strike was coming. I think it was all political myself, Thatcher hadn't forgiven the miners for bringing down Edward Heath's Conservative Government in the 1970s."

When it came to throwing his hat in the ring Mr Battenbough said the choice was an easy one.

"I didn't want to lose my job and I trusted the union, what they told us was right at the end of the day, they did close the 75 pits," he said.

In South Wales 99.6 per cent of the 21,500 workers joined the action at the start and that number only reduced by 6 per cent by the end - no other area retained such a level.

As the strike took hold the police were deployed in large numbers to keep order; especially when some men were persuaded to cross the picket lines.

Mr Battenbough adds: "There were around six or seven scabs who went back to our pit. It wasn't very nice because I knew two or three of them personally. That is what was so upsetting, you thought you knew somebody, you worked with them, and all of a sudden they turn around and go back to work."

A feature of the strike was the violent clashes between the miners and police.

"It was quite rough at times," said Mr Battenbough.

"The police were waving their wage packets at us and taunting us saying, 'Come on now boys, push' that sort of thing.

"I saw one of the boys getting beat up by two policemen; we were expecting it to be honest.

"I was arrested on the picket line and taken in. I was on the picket line, at the front, and there were about 300 men pushing so I had no choice but to go towards the police.

"They handcuffed me and dragged me to a van, threw me in the back and took me to the police station. Because it was a Monday they laid a special court on. They took my photograph and said I had to keep the peace for a year and not picket anywhere.

"Quite a few of the boys got arrested outside Abernant. I did go back a few times after but I had to be careful."

He says the way entire communities supported the striking miners is something that has always stuck with him.

"It was tough but we were all in the same position.

"I used to help go around collecting money and food parcels, the community was very supportive, especially the women, without them I don't think we would have survived.

"They were so good at organising things."

It was particularly tough over Christmas 1984.

"It must have been terrible for my mates with big families, especially at Christmas time when you had the police shouting, 'I will have toys for my kids at Christmas!'."

Eventually it became clear that the Iron Lady was not for turning and after a year of hardship and sacrifice the miners reluctantly returned to work.

"I was quite gutted when they said we should return to work because we wanted to get something out of it, but there was no moving Thatcher. It had nothing to do with the miners; she wanted to break the unions.

"But I have no regrets, I would do it all again tomorrow and I would go back to work underground."

Nostalgia

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