1972 miners' strike: The dispute which led to a state of emergency being declared 50 years ago

Fifty years ago this winter, the country faced power cuts, thousands were laid off and life ground to a halt as the miners went on strike.

Thursday, 27th January 2022, 2:17 pm

It was the first national walkout since 1926 - and it was a major showdown between the NUM and Ted Heath’s Tory Government.

The 1972 strike crippled the country across January and February as picket lines were put in place, coal supplies dwindled, and the Government declared a state of emergency.

In Kirkcaldy, support was rock solid - 100% of miners at Seafield and Frances Collieries walked out at the very start of the pay dispute.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Miners returning for the first back shift after the strike at Frances Colliery.

That saw some 3500 men on strike, with an immediate impact on coal supplies.

Read More

Read More
1984 blaze that destroyed What Every Woman Wants store in Kirkcaldy

Local merchants limited deliveries to regular customers as they tried to stretch out their reserves.

The mild winter was on their side, but it was clear this was not going to be a short dispute, and the ripples quickly emerged.

A pint by candlelight - with the lights off by order of the Government, these regulars at the Novar Bar in Kirkcaldy still managed to get a pint

The first flashpoint came when Nairn Williamson got coal supplies from down south.

That sparked an immediate 24-hour picket of their factory.

Two lorries were turned away, and two more simply U-turned, opting against crossing the line. A Fife Free Press photographer sent to capture the scene was also sent on his way as police stood by to prevent any trouble.

Miners march through Kirkcaldy to the Adam Smith Hall

Scottish NUM leader, Mick McGahey, told a rally of 500 miners in the Philp Hall: “There will be no battle without casualties. Sacrifices will be necessary.”

As the miners dug in, Kirkcaldy’s huge network of factories felt the pinch.

The first big lay-offs came at Nairn’s where 330 workers from a payroll of 2000 were sent home as production of lino was suspended.

By the fourth week, February snowfall made things even bleaker as the temperature dropped.

Heavy snowfall and plunging temperatures hit hard during the miners strike as this front page shows

Kirkcaldy’s newly opened swimming pool reported coal supplies were now critical and it may close, and emergency plans were drawn up by Kirkcaldy social work department which sent lists of names daily to the National Coal Board of people who were old, sick or with young families.

Then came the Government’s big announcement as Heath declared a state of emergency.

Factories were limited by law when they could operate in a bid to conserve coal supplies, while the lights went out in shops, and even the use of floodlights for sports fixtures required authorisation.

Nairn’s laid off 480 more workers and every other factory reported substantial drops in production.

They included from Babygro,Nelbarden, GEC/AEI, AH McIntosh, Rank Strand, Barnet & Morton in Kirkcaldy, and United Glass Containers in Kinghorn, while British Aluminium in Burntisland reported a major drop in orders.

All three of Kirkcaldy’s cinema swerve hit as the lights went out, and there was doubt over Fife Flyers’ game against Whitley Warriors going ahead.

It toom until the end of February to broker a resolution.

The Wilberforce Inquiry was set up, and its recommendations on pay were agreed, and the miners went back to work.

With maintenance work done, they quickly returned to full production, and businesses across the district got back to full working weeks.

Thank you for reading this article on our free-to-read website. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

Please consider purchasing a subscription to our print newspaper to help fund our trusted, fact-checked journalism.