1951-1964: The Colliery in its Heyday
Although the mining disaster of 1951 devastated the community, Easington managed to keep strong and move forwards, soaring to record coal mining outputs by the early sixties—well over one million tons by 1964. This was more than any other single colliery in the UK at the time!
However, by the 1970s, the country’s economy was experiencing difficulties due to high inflation rates. This would lead to tensions between the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) and the British government, particularly concerning wages and stockpiles of coal. This was only exacerbated by Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives’ goal to shut down coal mines across the country. Thatcher, elected as Prime Minister in 1975, would become a key player in the conflict between the miner unions and the British government.
1970s: Cutbacks and the Three-Day Week
In the early seventies, England had to employ conservation measures to counteract the dwindling coal stocks. Coal miners at this time were working-to-rule. Work-to-rule is when industrial workers do the absolute minimum work, or exactly what the regulations require them to do, but no more. While this was just shy of an actual strike, miners were doing this because their wages couldn’t keep up with the rate of inflation, or with the government’s regulations of the private sector. Ultimately, electricity use had to be cut back because there was less coal available.
The political effects of the Three-Day Week are important to consider. It pitted the Labour Party and the Conservative Party against each other, and served as an issue that both parties could point to and criticize the other for in upcoming heated political debates.
1984-5: Miners’ Strike
The catalyst for the 1984 miners’ strike took place on the 6th of March, 1984. The National Coal Board announced to NUM that 20 coal mines were going to be shut down. If carried out, this would result in the loss of over 20,000 mining jobs. The subsequent miners’ strike soon spread to many collieries around England, Scotland, and Wales, including Easington Colliery. Miners weren’t just fighting for their own jobs, explained Mick McGahey, who was the Vice President of NUM. They were also fighting for the jobs of workers in other industries, like steel and railways. “I want to emphasise the knock-on effects of the closure in pits and the loss of miners’ jobs,” he explained, which demonstrates just how intertwined with coal mining various industries were at the time.
There were many confrontations between the striking mine workers and the police, who would attempt to put them in jail. Sometimes, mine workers would run from the police and hide in their neighbours’ homes to avoid arrest. However, many men were still arrested for participating in the strike, as evidenced in the photographs below.
The strike would end up lasting until 1985, an entire year. However, due to a range of reasons, the strike began to flag. Morale began to drop. Because they were not working and receiving wages, miners and their families found themselves in a very difficult position financially. By January of 1985, many mineworkers had returned to work. By March of that year, NUM voted to call off the strike altogether. The strike was seen as a failure by many when Thatcher and her government proceeded to dismantle the mining industry following the strike.
Easington Colliery pit was the last pit in County Durham to be shut down, closing in 1993. This ended up costing the town many jobs, as a substantial amount of residents were affected, in one way or another, by the colliery. With the closure of the pits and the subsequent destruction of the pits in 1994 (for pictures of the demolition, visit this website), many residents—some whose families had been in Easington for generations—needed to look for work elsewhere. This led to a mass exodus of many families and residents of the community.
Today, Easington Colliery is a vibrant, beautiful town determined to put back the pieces of the community through inclusion, well-being, and friendship. Though given somewhat of a reputation by the media, Easington has much to offer and has a very proud history as a mining town, and continues to both remember its roots as a mining town and look to the future.
Just a Quick Message to Easington and ED RAW…
I’ve learned so much in the past couple of weeks about Easington Colliery and its amazing and rich history. I can honestly say that I know so much more about mining and its connections to politics and economics in the UK. I hope that this memory book will serve as an example of what we’ve learned, and I also hope that as time goes on people will add to this site to make it a grow along with Easington and ED RAW. You opened your hearts and community to us and I feel like I’ve been a part of something really special. To the ED RAW team, thanks so much for everything this summer– we’ll never forget it!