Whether you’ve seen Billy Elliot or are preparing to see Billy Elliot this coming weekend, hearing stories from participants in the miners’ strike will certainly enrich your experience. Rachel Naughtin, our music director for Billy Elliot, mentioned the musical to some of her students’ families and discovered that they had personal connections to the 1984-85 miners’ strike in the UK. The strike is integral to the story of Billy Elliot, and it was awesome to get in touch with people who had participated. Our first story in a series of three comes from the son of a miner in Fitzwilliam.
“It is easy to underestimate the conditions that miners work in. My dad suffered a fractured skull down the mine when he was 50 and died never having worked again. With this background I had full sympathy for the miners’ strike and was fortunate to be involved supporting the young miners of Fitzwilliam as they fought to keep Kinsley Colliery, their pit, open, in really life scenes straight out of Billy Elliot.
It included a night time invasion of the village by teams of riot police ending with dozens of miners arrested and placed on curfew. We responded by organising a mass meeting, which ended 10 minutes before the curfew kicked in as police vans were parked outside. The meeting included speakers from the National Union of Mineworkers and a visiting South African mineworker who was given a standing ovation for their fight to improve conditions.
This led to a march of solidarity outside the court house as many of the miners were acquitted, but unfortunately a number were committed to jail. They were sent to the Victorian Armley jail where I visited them, and others, accused of the “major crime” picking potatoes from the farmer’s fields to feed their families.
In a parallel with today, the miners had to fight an avalanche of “fake news” spread by the government and the employers. At that time mass meetings took the place of today’s social media and built support for the strike.
I was proud to stand alongside the young miners and to meet their grandparents on the picket lines as they recanted stories of the 1926 general strike while keeping warm in front of winter fires. The young miners fought to keep their pits open and the communities alive. As the son of a miner, that was enough for me.”