The ongoing BA strike is a major issue around here, with people’s jobs and livelihoods at stake, and both the company’s and the Unite union’s reputations potentially in tatters.
It dawned on me that strikes in a major national industry had significantly coloured 3 of my last 4 jobs. I was appointed to Woodlands, Doncaster in the South Yorkshire coalfields, soon after the end of the 1980s miners strike.
Woodlands was the model village built to house the miners from the nearby Brodsworth Colliery. Photos from the time show the distinctive spire of All Saints church in the background of images of the pit. The strike was over by the time I arrived, and the miners were back to work – but the tensions that had ripped families apart between strikers and ‘scabs‘ were still very evident in the community. The perception of loyalties broken festering on, like an almost unforgivable sin.
I got a chance, in 1988, under the guidance of the local colliery chaplain, to descend the kilometre or so underground at Brodsworth to see what it was like to be at the –er– coal-face. I picked up a piece of the coal, mainly power-station grade, as a souvenir; and was glad to have done so, as within months the mine was shut, and one of the largest employers in the industry was closed down. The raison d’être of the village and community, with most of the rest of the national coal industry, gone. Unemployment, lack of sense of purpose or direction, and family breakdown were significant concerns for some within the community; and the local church played an active and cheerful part in addressing some of the issues. Almost all coal we now use is imported.
My next posting was to another part of South Yorkshire’s industrial historic past, to Sheffield‘s world famous steel industry. Most of the people within our local community there, both men and women, had been involved in various ways with steel – when we still used to make things in this country… (There are some evocative individual stories here).
The main steel strikes had taken place earlier than the miners strikes, and by the time I moved to Wadsley in the late 1980s and early 90s swathes of the city were derelict factories and warehouses. All very Full Monty. Again in this second gritty South Yorkshire environment I was fortunate to serve in, the churches – and the pubs and working men’s clubs – became hubs of the local community. (Roy Hattersley’s mother used to walk her Yorkshire terrier through the church yard, and stop for a chat.) Politics and religion were often main talking points, rather than the taboo subjects, in my experience. And most of our steel is now imported.
The 1980s saw the demise of both the steel and coal industries. Blame can be laid at Maggie‘s feet, or the miners, or the unions, or whoever are the scapegoats of our political penchant of the moment – but it was clearly the de-Indutrial Revolution of our own time.
To the casual world eye the current strike appears to be harming both the unions and the company. “The World’s Favourite Airline” has lost some of it’s shine as BA’s famous slogan. May this strike not herald the end of another major British industry…