|Josie Smith. a retired disabled miner arrested outside his back gate. Photography by Keith Pattison|
The history of the National Union of Mineworkers is one of struggle and sacrifice. Only two weeks ago trade unionists returned to Saltley Gate to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a key victory during the 1972 miners' strike and hear former miners leader Arthur Scargill pay tribute to the Birmingham workers who joined the mass picket that closed the gates of the coal depot and forced the Tory government to back down and meet the miners’ demands. But we also remember the hardship and sacrifice of the mining communities during the epic strike in the early 1980s when the NUM was brought to its knees through the indifference and hostility of the right-wing in the TUC and the determination of the Thatcher government to scrap the mining industry in this country.
Large-scale mining may have gone but the memory of the communities that sustained the industry and the union that Scargill once led is preserved in images and documents of the time.
Past Pixels was set up in 2009 to make images of working class struggle more widely available to a newer generation and over the past three years it has carved a niche for itself with a series of greeting cards dedicated to the memory of the miners and their union.
A new set of cards and posters has now come out to coincide with the opening of “No Redemption”, an exhibition of photographs by Keith Pattison, at the National Coalmining Museum in Wakefield this month.
In August 1984 Keith Pattison was commissioned by Sunderland’s Artists’ Agency to photograph the strike at Easington Colliery for one month. Instantly engaging with the struggle, he stayed there on and off for eight, till the strike ended in March ’85, working behind the lines to record events from the miners’ point of view.
Making, as the documentary filmmaker John Grierson said “creative use of actuality”, Pattison framed a narrative sequence of images from the optimism of August, through the deepening pessimism of winter right to the final vote to return to work.
These photographs concentrate not on the much publicised violence of the strike, but on how the village dealt with no money, a mostly hostile press and media and the overwhelming opposition of the State. Pattison found a community which rallied together to support each other – women and children feature strongly in these images – and he shows it against the landscape which shaped it; street corners, back lanes, crowded meeting rooms, all dwarfed by the colliery. Twenty-six years on, as government cuts begin to bite and unemployment grows, as youth and students take to the streets and are met by the might of police power, these images speak directly of resistance under siege.
There’s a short commentary about the image of the back of each card and Past Pixel cards can be ordered online at http://www.pastpixels.co.uk or from an increasing number of retail outlets. Further information about all the cards can also be obtained by writing directly to: Past Pixels, PO Box 798, Worcester, WR4 4BW