It’s thirty years this week since the end of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. That’s pretty terrifying for those of us for whom this was a seminal experience. For the generation who became politically active during the time of the Wicked Witch the NUM’s fight against pit closures was the ultimate litmus test. There wasn’t any middle ground (although the Labour leadership searched long and hard for it), you were either on the side of the miners or were with the witch and her evil minions.
I know, hard to tell who I supported, isn’t it?
Everything was a lot simpler when you were 18. Of course, today, I would be far more nuanced about it all. In a world struggling with the implications of climate change, the fervency with which I supported* a campaign to keep coal mines open is perhaps not something to bring attention to.
For me, as well as this being an important political event, the Miner’s Strike was my introduction to fundraising. The very wonderful film Pride has brought attention to the gay and lesbian community’s amazing fundraising efforts for the miners but there were support groups all over the country that raised very large sums indeed to buy food and essentials for the miners and their families.
As a fully committed member of the proletarian vanguard, I was of course studying for the revolution in…..Cambridge.
(I know what you’re thinking but I’ve always believed in infiltrating the enemy camp. And then living very comfortably there …while making mildly subversive comments. Very quietly. )
Anyway….I became a member of the Cambridge Miners’ Support group which concentrated largely on fundraising (apart from an unfortunate episode where we almost got the student union closed down because they funded our very inflammatory if completely unreadable pamphlet) . Our bucket collections and events continued throughout the strike and were much more successful than you might think in such a bastion of entitlement and privilege. True we got thrown out of a few college bars by the rugby clubs. But when we could collect we raised a lot, at the height of the strike we were raising over £300 a week. You could have bought Yorkshire for that in 1984…
But what I really took away from this and the point of this rambling anecdote about dodgy politics and worse dress sense, is that the money raised from all our events and hours of collections was dwarfed by other money being raised from the university. Early in the strike, a group of academics organised a standing order scheme that raised over £3,000 a week for the strike fund. It must have raised over £100,000 in total. In 1984 money. From one university.
And so while I learned very little about how to overthrow the capitalist autocracy from my student days, what later proved very valuable was the memory of those standing orders. And what a much more sensible way of raising money they were than the bucket collections in bars full of rugger buggers.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
* mostly verbally, of course. In the pub. I was a student for God’s sake.