1984 Miners' Strike Symbol of support
Italian bag of sugar representing friendship
This Yorkshire World Collections object was one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.
In 1984, less than three decades ago, one of the most bitter strikes in history happened resulting in over 20,000 men losing their jobs. At the time it was likely that most people who lived in coal mining villages worked for, or had something to do with the pit. There was great comradeship and communities were very strong. They supported each other in difficult times, for example if there was an accident in the pit.
Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Prime Minister at the time, threatened to close 20 coal mines in the north of England. Many miners chose to strike and spent a whole year without work. Other workers refused to cross the picket line. Crossing the picket line and working when others were striking was looked on badly by your fellow workers and resulted in being excluded from your community. These were small communities where everyone knew everyone else and the act of crossing the picket line undermined the solidarity of the workers’ cause. Workers weren't able to claim income support, or 'benefits' as they are now known, which meant that many families had no income at all during the strike and went hungry.
Margaret Thatcher was despised by people all over the world and was accused of being heartless and cruel. Her argument was that the pits were no longer economic to run, but she appeared not to care if communities were destroyed as a result of her policies. There were many violent confrontations between miners and police. Hundreds of police were drafted from all over the country to deal with the strikers, and were paid overtime and given extra rewards to do so. Some people believed they were encouraged by Margaret Thatcher to fan the violence, so that the miners fight for their jobs was discredited.
The strikes were on television all over the world and many people sympathised with the miners and sent food parcels, distributed by the National Union of Miners (NUM). One mining family in Italy, who had seen the troubles of the miners on Italian television, sent this sugar bag. Such a simple kindness but it meant a huge amount to the mining family in Bentley, Doncaster, who received it.
This ordinary everyday item has become a symbol of support for the families of the striking miners in 1984. It was a sign of friendship and international solidarity. The sugar bag was featured in the BBC’s History of the World series and was one of the selection panel’s favourite objects.
Listen to this audio track of Miners' wives talking about food parcels they received.
- What does it mean to strike?
- What different things could people be striking for?
- This bag of sugar was a symbol of 'solidarity'. What does this word mean? How is it different from friendship?
- The word 'solidarity' can also mean 'team spirit' or 'shared aims'. Think of examples of things you feel strongly about that you could apply these words to. It could be to do with friends, school, where you live or something you like doing.
- What were the miners mining in Yorkshire?
- Where else in the UK did mining take place and what did they mine for?
- Coal is a fossil fuel. Why was coal so important 30 years ago?
- Why does coal seem not so important today? What has replaced it domestically?
- What other materials are mined in the world today and where?
- Suggest students do their own research and ask older people to give them one sentence of their memories of the Miners' Strike. They don't have to come from mining areas to do this as most older people will have strong views about this period in history.
- Watch a BBC video of the clashes of 1984 from the link below.
- Ask students to imagine and write about something they would feel so strongly about that they would be prepared to give up e.g. their pocket money, computer games or favourite trainers.
- Make a list of things you think you would need if you were back in 1984 and a miners' family on strike.
- Research how different viewpoints of these events were represented by different sections of the media. What do you think were the reasons for this?
- How does media portrayal of events effect how people view the events? Can you think of any other examples of this?
Art and Design
- The design on this sugar bag looks quite modern today even though it is 30 years old. Compare the design of this sugar bag with one today and design your own.
Young person's response to this object:What struck me about this object was that upon first looking at it, is doesn’t seem very interesting. However when you learn its significance you realise the huge social impact it has.
Map link: Bentley near Doncaster, a long way from Italy where this bag of sugar came from!»