News that Hatfield Colliery was to shut with almost immediate effect, left me feeling sick to my stomach. Over 100 years of proud mining heritage gone in almost a heartbeat, with the loss of 430 jobs.
The decision came after the Government refused to hand over any more state aid. The pit wasn’t due to close until this time next year, but the Government, and not for the first time I might add, pulled the rug from underneath the workers’ feet. Former coal miner and NUM branch delegate Dave Douglass, likened it to a ‘bereavement’. And it is, as highly-skilled men are thrown onto the scrapheap of life. What a kick in the teeth for those miners, who, only 30 years ago, almost froze and starved to death during the bitter winter of 1984-85, fighting for their livelihoods, trying to secure a better future for all. Hatfield – one of the last deep coal mines in England - will shut its doors, this time for good. But the proud miners didn’t go down without a fight. In fact they fought a bloody and heroic battle, not just during the miners’ strike, but over the decades that followed. Hatfield Colliery is particularly close to my heart, because I visited it only a few months ago as part of research into a book I was writing At the Coal Face – Memoir of a Pit Nurse. The book tells the life story of Joan Hart, who worked as the Sister at Hatfield pit for over 14 years. Joan, now 83, tended to injured miners both above and underground, often donning a hard hat, headlamp, pit boots, and overalls to reach her men. The miners at Hatfield knew that no matter how deep underground they were, and whatever their injuries, Sister Hart would always go to them. And she did. She told me they were the happiest and most fulfilling years of her 56-year long nursing career, which started when she was just 16 years old with the birth of the NHS. What made Joan’s job such a joy were the men. You see, the miners are a unique breed in that they look out for one another, as family would do. But the Government doesn’t care, because the coal we will import will be cheaper. Earlier this year, it agreed to provide £20 million of aid, approved by the European Union, so Hatfield could complete its business plan and mine until summer 2016. But whilst the Government was giving with one hand, it was taking away with the other - doubling the carbon levy from £9.54 to £18.08 per tonne of CO2. The knock-on effect was energy companies stockpiled coal in advance of the price hike, thus destroying the market. Ironically, this ‘green tax’ may make certain ministers, sat on their behinds in plush offices in Westminster, feel a little more holy, but what about the environmental impact of shipping coal half way across the world? The hypocrisy is staggering. It not only undercuts our prices, it puts our men out of work. Business Minister Anna Soubry insisted the Jobcentre Plus rapid response service would be available to help the miners into new employment or training. Yeah, right. The problem is there are no jobs for these skilled men to walk into. When the other pits closed, villages and their residents were left to fend for themselves. Zero-hour contracts and jobs in call centres beckoned. The miners did, and still do, deserve better. It is a bereavement, not only for the men, but for the whole of the country..