Ex-pit workers on why the 1984-5 miners strike still matters

"You've only got to look around this room now," says Ken Burkhill. "It's bristling with history isn't it? It's emotional just being in here and thinking of the people that have stood on that stage and the speeches that have been made."

Almost 40 years on from the first days of the miners' strike, we are sitting in the Barnsley headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The walls are covered by the intricate, colourful union banners of pits which have long since disappeared from view.

But for Ken – a miner at Maltby Main Colliery for 23 years – the conviction that sustained him and tens of thousands of miners during the bitter and costly 12-month-long dispute is as strong today as it was in 1984.

As is the enmity towards the Conservative government of the time - and most especially Margaret Thatcher.

"There was only ever one union they were coming for and that was us," he says. "Make no bones about it, they set their stall out to ambush the miners and that's what happened from 1984 onwards. She (Margaret Thatcher) wanted revenge."

Left to right: Mick, Kevin, John and Ken meet at NUM Barnsley Credit: ITV News

Revenge, he says, for the miners' strike of ten years before - which brought down Ted Heath's government in 1974.

Ken, his lifelong friend and fellow Maltby miner Mick Connole, and John Dunn - who worked at Glapwell and Markham collieries - have come here to talk to me about their memories and experiences of the 1984 strike, but they're keen I understand where the roots of the conflict began.

All three speak of the Ridley Plan - a report drawn up in the aftermath of Heath's defeat which set out how the next Conservative government could fight - and defeat - a major strike in a nationalised industry.

"They knew, they had everything planned but I think that our resilience and our strength surprised them," says John.

Resilience and strength are apposite words for all three men. They are still fiercely proud of their heritage and fiercely political about the consequences of its demise. Mick reflects sadly on the loss of community, the pockets of deprivation and poverty left behind.

"In every village, anywhere, people walked to work. You had your feeder industries - brickyards, clothing factories, distribution businesses in every village. It all went. Every one. People had money in their pockets, there were none of these deprived areas. Everyone had jobs and it just went, almost overnight," he says.

"They closed the mine and the village died. Never recovered, just abandoned," adds John. "We haven't got any major industries any more. When people look at the insecure future they face, it's as a consequence of what happened to us. As the timeline from 1984 is followed through, we wouldn't be in this mess if the outcome of our strike had been different."

There are former miners who believe that outcome may have been different if a national ballot had been held instead of being left in the hands of different NUM regions and individual pits. Twenty miles or so down the M1 in North Anston, near Worksop, I meet Graham Yeates, who was an underground fitter at Cortonwood - the first pit to walk out. In 1984 he led teams of pickets across the region. Even so, he says he understood why some men chose to cross those picket lines."

A lorry rolls past Cortonwood picket hut in March 1985. Today a memorial stands in the pit's place. Credit: PA/ITV News

Some wanted to fight because they knew in the long run they were going to lose their jobs. Other people said it's a democratic vote, we've voted to work, we're going to work. I'm pretty much in the middle really, I can see both sides and I understand that", he tells me. "If we'd had a national ballot and had a 'no' vote, we'd have lost maybe one pit. But if we'd have had that, we would have kept everyone united. 'The miners united will never be defeated' we kept chanting. But we weren't united were we? That was the problem."

And Graham holds Arthur Scargill responsible for that division. "You don't divide and conquer your own troops do you? You're supposed to divide and conquer your enemy but we handed it to them on a plate. We were fighting for our livelihoods and we ended up fighting each other."

That such opposing views are still held 40 years later demonstrates just how deeply the miners' strike cut into the heart of the industrial, economic and social landscape not only of Yorkshire, but the nation. A defining moment of the twentieth century and in the lives of those who were there. One which Ken, Mick and John are determined will never be forgotten.

"It was my most noble year, the most noble thing I've done," says Mick.

"I would proudly say it was the best year of my life," adds John.

Why does it matter now, I ask, when mining has long been consigned to the past?

"Everyone in Yorkshire should be proud of the fact that the miners took them on and fought," Ken replies. "Future generations have got to look back in history and learn from mistakes. It's been hard this last 40 years but while ever we've still go breath in our body, we'll keep telling them to fight. Because if you don't fight you'll never win anything."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.