Employment

Ex-miners who took part in 1984 strike return to picket line at National Coal Mining Museum

The former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, Arthur Scargill, who led the strikes in 1984 paid a visit the museum picket line in solidarity

Striking museum workers and supporters stand on the picket line outside the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield. Image: Unison Wakefield District Branch

Ex-miners who took part in the 1984 strike and now work at the National Coal Mining Museum are back on the picket line to demand higher wages. 

The Yorkshire museum has been forced to close as around 45 staff have walked out over a below-inflation pay rise.

Many of those on strike remember standing on the picket lines during the miners’ strike against Margaret Thatcher’s government, and now work as tour guides in the museum, sharing their experiences with visitors. The museum says it has offered the maximum pay rise allowed by the government.

“I think it is an embarrassment to have a museum that celebrates the disputes of miners in the industrial struggles to have their workforce on strike because of poverty wages,” Unison Wakefield organiser Sam Greenwood told The Big Issue. 

“The museum obviously celebrates mining heritage, and within the museum there is a big display about the miners’ strike in 1984 to 1985, and it proudly talks about that, and I think they’ve forgotten what they are as an organisation.”

The museum workers are on their second of five days of strikes, seeking a flat rate pay rise of £2,000 each. They say they have rejected the museum’s offer of a percentage based raise because it will benefit those already earning the highest salaries more than those earning the least. 

Arthur Scargill, the union boss who led the 1984 strikes, visited the striking workers on the picket line to show support.

“These are extraordinary times in terms of how poor people are,” said Greenwood. 

“Museums aren’t the best payers, it’s always been a low wage job, but they’ve always treated the staff ok. In the past they might have accepted a very low pay rise because inflation was 3 to 4 per cent. But with inflation being so high, with low wages on top, the poorer paid staff can no longer afford to accept such pay rises when they can’t pay the bills.”

The museum is a charity that gets its core funding from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and says it has offered the maximum amount it is allowed to under the government pay remit. This equates to 6.8 per cent for the lowest pad staff.

In a statement published to its website, the museum said it hoped the situation can be resolved “particularly as the strike is timed for the school holidays which will deny our visitors, many of them children, the chance to hear the story of mining”.

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