A year after the miners’ strike the story goes on. Ian Sutherland went to Netherthird in Ayrshire to examine the attitudes and lessons which the strike
has left behind.
Fifi. Roslllont despite the throat of redundancy, one at tho minor: who Mom
to loan Netherthird
Right A bloat outlook at tho Barony colllory
2 The List 7- 20 Feb
In 1956, there were over seventy coal mines in Ayrshire. In 1986— a year after the ending of the miner’s strike — there are just two. There are few in south Ayrshire who believe that Barony and Killoch mines will survive 1987. Eight hundred miners have taken “the redundo’ from south Ayrshire’s collieries since the NUM dispute crumbled on 5 March 1985. The remainder are left in apprehension (but in little actual doubt) about what the future will bring.
Frank Lightbody is one of the strike veterans, holding on at the threatened Killoch operation, who sums up the feelings and fears of the mining families in Netherthird, near Cumnock. ‘There’s no future at all,‘ says Frank, ‘And ye ken by the atmosphere’.
‘The atmosphere‘ is something you will hear referred to again and again by the pit-men ofAyrshire. If feeling and apparent conviction reﬂect reality, something distinctly uneasy is taking place underground. Last year’s strike has changed everything — and a terrible mood has been born. ‘The atmosphere’ has come about, in part, because old ways are going and because old loyalities and accepted practices have altered profohndly.
The first victim of “the atmosphere’ appears to have been nationalisation’s proud creation of consensus management. The men of Netherthird are sharply aware that it has been replaced by something remotely akin to undeclared guerilla warfare. Sadly, such conflict may well be fought out over Ayrshire’s
mining corpse. ‘Deid’ , said one man of Killoch colliery, ‘and they‘ve jist forgot to give the pit a decent funeral’. It is bitterly claimed that men are constantly chivvied by managers. You even eat your piece ‘on the wing’. The conveyor belt hasn‘t stopped running since mining resumed — the bosses ‘follow you round the pit’. The heat. it seems, is on and it must be small wonder that Scotland’s coal production is higher now than when the NUM led its troops out through the pit gates on 12 March 1984.
The insidious presence and growth of ‘the atmosphere‘ has played no small part in impelling men to apply for redundancy. Billy Hodge is the former secretary of Netherthird’s active and tightly organised strike centre. At 34, askilled fitter and t down the pits since he left school, Billy Hodge has had his fill ofmining — at least in the way things have been since the end ofthe strike. ‘The pit‘s a different place — I used to actually enjoy going to work, the humour was there’. In the tense and suspicious atmosphere of 1986. where the odd scab has seen fit to quietly leave Ayrshire — accompanied by an angry silence - there is precious little left to laugh about.
Billy Hodge can see a future for Ayrshire coal operations from his back window in Netherthird. The future is open-cast extraction and it works. It works on non-union labour, working 12-hour shifts. The