Readers may recall that during our review of the last Mark Thomas gig at the Dukes we promised you tell more about the University and the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85. The return of Mark Thomas to the Dukes on the 29th November (of which we hope to offer a review) has prompted us to make good on our promise.
The Lancaster Miners Support Group (LMSG) was well established, after a protracted political birth (the Left!), in the early days of the strike in 1984. The only University contribution at that time was through the friendship of a prominent member of the LMSG and a well-placed member of LUSU. Through him every two weeks LUSU clandestinely printed 1000 copies of the fortnightly bulletin that was distributed by LMSG throughout the local area. The actual Lancaster University Miners Support Group (LUMSG) resulted from an initiative by one of the organisers of the Lancaster Social Education Summer Project. This was a heavily camouflaged scheme to provide a summer camp for miners’ children. The organiser arranged with a sympathetic member of the LUSU executive for there to be a miners’ stall at the Societies Bazaar at the start of the academic year in early October. Run by members of the University branches of ASTMS and NALGO, the stall raised a lot of money and aroused enough interest for a campus support group to be set up. LUMSG brought together students, technicians, clerical staff and lecturers. Its main activity was the regular collection of money (and some food) outside the Spar supermarket on campus every Thursday and Friday lunchtime. Initial opposition from university management was overcome after the intervention of a supporter on Council, though there was continuing sporadic harassment by the ‘University Beadle’. The collections were kept up throughout the winter, and established a regular ‘clientele’ of contributors. Two of the group’s members came from Accrington and had already built up connections with Burnley strikers, who worked at Agecroft where they were greatly outnumbered by scabs. The bulk of the money (some £2000 in total) went to Burnley, and about once a month several Burnley miners joined their University supporters in a mass collection in Alexandra Square. At Xmas a Burnley miner’s wife undertook a sponsored swim at the University pool. Her 100 lengths brought in a total of £290, which was spend on record tokens for the children of the Burnley strikers. Donations were also made to Bates Pit, Blyth.
Miners appeared on campus to speak at a number of public meetings organised by LUMSG, which were reasonably well-attended. Also a minibus took supporters from the University to the strike committee rooms at Burnley, where discussions with miners revealed the extent of political awareness gained by many of them during the dispute. After the visit the university party travelled to the picket line at Huncoat power station. Probably hundreds of people put their hands into their pockets at some point during the two academic terms in which the group was active, and no-one there will forget the £50 cheque dropped into our bucket by one female student just before Xmas (‘I had more left over from my grant than I expected’, she explained). Physical support at meetings or on collections, however, never involved more than twenty or so people. Only a handful of academic staff took any active part (although some were involved in LMSG) and most Labour Party and Communist Party members were conspicuous by their absence. Technicians and students were better represented and both ASTMS and the Labour Party levied their members; the technicians raised £250 in his way. On balance it was well worth doing. We promoted the miners’ cause twice a week in a way that could not be ignored, and annoyed the campus Tories enough for one academic’s office door, festooned with miners’ posters, to be spattered with egg yolk one weekend. And for years afterwards there were still envelopes with ‘Coal Not Dole’ stickers circulating in the internal post.