The event marked the South Yorkshire branch's closure after 87 years representing miners. The collieries nearby were either closed or privatised by 1994.
Dave Douglass joined the branch as a delegate in 1979 while working as a "ripper" on the coal face. Today he and other Hatfield members at times rasp or cough, a symptom of pneumoconiosis known better as
black lung disease, caused by inhaling coal dust. Douglass now provides advice to miners, widows and their families at the Miner’s Advice Centre in Stainforth.
Douglass was the delegate during the 1984-1985 miners' strike and has also served on the NUM area executive and the South Yorkshire NUM panel. Throughout the event miners still called Douglass by his nickname, "Danny the Red".
"When he first came to Hatfield, people despised him," said one former miner who got up to speak. But Douglass' dedication to the workers turned him and many others around. "He was a man who stuck by his
Another miner, Aggy, paid tribute to Douglass. "He's represented us. He's looked after us as workers. You can't disrespect this man," he said, pointing to Douglass. Another miner told how Douglass had paid for copies of the coroner's report for the widows of miners
out of his own pocket.
Douglass paid tribute to the workers themselves stuck by him and his radical politics and looks (a Castro-like beard) even when police arrested him for growing marijuana plants in his garden. Douglass is a
member of Class War and the Industrial Workers of the World and once wrote a regular column for the communist Weekly Worker.
Douglass recalled the Hatfield branch's reputation for inviting controversial speakers from the Black Panthers to Sinn Fein to the Palestinian Liberation Organization to South African apartheid activists and a guerrilla from El Salvador. The branch also marched
in the 1985 gay pride march to reciprocate for the solidarity fundraising by London's gay community for miners during the 1984-1985 coal strike.
"I am indescribably proud of the branch," said Douglass, citing the branch as one that never lost sight that "it's the members of the union that make the decisions."
As the speeches came to an end, the audience stood and gave Douglass a standing ovation for his service. The evening was thick with emotion as the former miners unashamedly hugged and kissed each other on the cheek, as they told their stories particularly of the '84/'85 strike, known to them as "The Great Strike". Aggy told a story about how he was jailed for 26 hours for giving a police officer a 'Sieg Heil' Nazi salute. The police arrested him for "impersonating a police
Betty Cook from Women Against Pit Closures said that the strike changed the role of women in mining communities forever.
"The strike really gave women confidence," she said. Women went on the front lines during the strike. The police broke Cook's knee on the picket line, making her one of an estimated 20,000 people injured, two
miners and a taxi driver killed during the strike.
She said that her involvement in the strike prompted her to go to college and then university. She recently spoke to working women in Germany. She now works as a call centre worker, one of the service jobs the government said would replace mining jobs. But even
those employers were planning to off-shore those jobs to the Mediterranean island of Malta. She called for working class access to education and a socialist society.
"Women during the strike didn't have a political voice. We've got one now and we’re going to use it," said Cook.
The NUM now has a membership of 3,042, largely due to the privatization and consequent closure of all but seven coal mines in the United Kingdom.
There are more people working in the mine nostalgia business than in the mining industry now, said Douglass, who denounced the closure of the coal fields as "industrial genocide".
The result is unemployment and disillusionment in former mining areas that the whites-only British National Party (BNP) is seeking to exploit electorally for the national election expected in May this year. In its February 2005 Voice of Freedom newsletter, the BNP claimed it was being smeared by the government and media just like the miners were during the strike.
The NUM leadership has angrily rejected the BNP call for a Miners' Memorial Day. "The racism and religious hatred pedalled by those on the far right is totally alien to the values of decent people everywhere and they will find little support in mining areas.
"It is a most disgraceful attempt by a fascist party to associate itself with the miners' cause in an attempt to win votes in mining areas. The BNP never supported the miners' cause in any way whatsoever nor have we ever wanted their support," said Steve Kemp, NUM national secretary.
Douglass called for a more direct approach to the BNP in miner communities. "We have to give them the boot, in more senses than one."
Banner Theatre and Rotherham band, Toe'In'The Dark, also entertained the crowd.