Britain's coal miners' strike formally ended today in much the same way that it began a year ago, with confusion and bitterness.
At dawn, in dozens of coal mining communities around the country, hundreds of chanting miners paraded back to their pits behind bands and union banners, and to the cheers of families and communities who had supported them through a year of extraordinary hardship.
The marching miners were joined by their wives and members of the women's support groups who ran community kitchens that sometimes fed hundreds of people daily and distributed food parcels during the strike. Television films of scenes around the coal fields showed people in windows above the parade route weeping as the processions passed and throngs of villagers often joining the miners on the march back to the coal mine gates.
The end of Britain's longest strike generally is viewed as a victory for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, which refused throughout to yield to the union's demands. But public opinion polls have shown disapproval of all the key actors in the conflict, and the strike has taken a social and political, as well as economic toll on the country.
Many miners acknowledged that they were going back with nothing to show for the year-long hardship, but said they at least found dignity and fellowship in today's mass return to the coal fields.
At several other fields, however, there was still resistance to going back to work until an amnesty was declared for about 700 workers fired during the strike. In some cases, small bands of pickets were enough to turn back long columns of miners who could not bring themselves to cross any kind of picket line.
Late today, it was estimated that about 85 percent of the miners were working, with about 27,000 still out.
On Sunday, a national delegates conference of the National Union of Mineworkers voted narrowly to reject the views of the union leadership and to end the strike without reaching a settlement with the state-run National Coal Board over plans to close 20 unprofitable mines of the 174 in Britain. The delegates ordered that a return to work begin today for the 90,000 to 100,000 miners who were still on strike as of Sunday out of a total mining force of about 186,000.
But in Scotland, with about 12,500 miners, and Kent, the smallest region with 2,000 miners, regional union officials voted yesterday not to go back to work until an amnesty was granted by the coal board for miners who had been arrested during the strike for a variety of offenses.
Today, however, the Scottish solidarity appeared to be crumbling as more than 700 miners went back to work. According to coal board figures, this means a majority of Scottish workers, now numbering 6,800, have returned. There were also moves to reverse yesterday's vote.
In Parliament today, Thatcher vowed that there "cannot be an amnesty in any way for those who have committed serious criminal offenses" during the strike, such as assault and arson. But coal board officials have indicated that those involved in minor offenses might be reinstated.
It was small bands of pickets traveling from Kent, in southeastern England, to several of the bigger coal mines in Yorkshire in the Midlands, that prevented today's return from being larger. At Cortonwood colliery in Yorkshire, where the first walkouts in what was to become a much larger strike began on March 1, 1984, a column of about 850 returning miners turned around at the gate today rather than cross a picket line of three Kent miners.
At Barrow colliery in Yorkshire, about 1,000 miners being led to their pit by a lone Scottish piper and union chief Arthur Scargill also turned around when they reached the gates where a few Kent and Yorkshire miners were picketing.
And in one of the more bizarre episodes, hundreds of returning miners at two pits in Northumberland were turned back by managers when they arrived late for their shifts, causing angry exchanges and calls for a renewed strike locally.
Scargill, who has warned the coal board that they will now face "guerrilla war" by miners, said today, "It is evident that you get problems when you don't have a negotiated settlement."
Nevertheless, despite the confusion and emotion of this first day back for many, there did not seem to be any major confrontations between returning miners and thousands of miners who had returned earlier.
Coal board spokesman Michael Eaton said he was "encouraged by the orderly return to work in so many places today," and said "it is now in the interests of everyone in the industry for normal work to resume quickly."
Trade and Industry Secretary Norman Tebbit, who has recovered from serious injuries received in an IRA bomb attack last October and who has been mentioned as a possible future Conservative Party leader, said today that the strike "has proved that the days when union leaders could expect their members to obey the call to strike, whatever the pretext, are gone."
Scargill, who has sought to picture the miners' stance as a victory, said his union fought against the entire establishment bureaucracy of coal board, government, police, judiciary and media, all biased against his campaign to prevent any coal mines from closing. He has also blamed the other labor unions for not supporting him.
The government has said Scargill was pursuing a political strike and sought unreasonable demands in protecting unprofitable coal mines that were costing the taxpayers millions of dollars worth of subsidies to keep open.
"Scargill is casting around for scapegoats," Tebbit told a Conservative group today. But "power has shifted back from the political union bosses to where it should be -- with the ordinary grass-roots members," he said.