“STRIKERS forge ring of steel around Britain,” read the main headline in the Glasgow Herald of Thursday, January 3, 1980, reporting that a world blackout of steel exports to Britain had been imposed by the International Transport Federation as the first national steel strike in 54 years began. The steel workers had gone on strike in support of a 20% pay increase demand, and also fearing long-term plans to axe plants and many thousands of jobs. (Margaret Thatcher, in her book The Downing Street Years, said the steel industry “was suffering the after-effects of overambitious policies of state intervention.”).

The strike dominated the news headlines for weeks, and much attention was focused on the issue of massed strike pickets. On February 20 there were angry scenes at the Wishaw and Bellshill yards (above) of Steel Stockholders Ltd; 23 strikers ended up spending the night in the police cells. The strike leader in Scotland spoke of “police brutality ..... the mood of the men is now pretty bitter” and added: “We are prepared to use any means possible to stop steel from moving. If it means standing in front of a lorry to stop it moving, we will do it.”

A national deal was reached after 13 weeks, but, as this paper reported on April 2, though the two main unions recommended acceptance of a near-16 per cent pay rise , many angry strikers saw this as a “sell-out.” Union leader Bill Sirs warned that a battle would still have to be waged to protect jobs.