The battle for Britain: the 1984-85 coal miners’ strike

Crossing the line … a mass picket confronting police at Bilston Glen, Scotland in 1984. Photograph: John Sturrock/

In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal-miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an ’intellectual’ and a superior person generally. For it is
brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior.

George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

God Knows

Don’t talk to me about us losing
Don’t tell me what we should have done
Don’t give us points because it wasn’t like a game
We didn’t go through all that Hell for fun

Don’t write about us in statistics
We are more than numbers on a roll
We are individuals with our own hopes and dreams
Not machines that hew the Nation’s coal

In this world where money is the yardstick
People seem expendable today
Makes you wonder where this so called progress is to lead
Who’s the planet meant for anyway

If we have been beaten by the system
If the wheels of progress crush our pride
We can hold our heads up as the closures seal our fate
They may win, but God Knows, we have tried

Jean Gittins, December 1985 (

The 12th of March of this year marks the 40th anniversary of the British coal miners strike, the longest and largest industrial strike in the history of the country, ending only on the 3rd of March of 1985. We observe the anniversary not to mourn the strike’s failure, but to register its political and social consequences and to try still to listen to its resonances. And the strike can only be judged finally as a failure if it is altogether forgotten.

We are naively wont to say that we must learn from history, so that our mistakes be not repeated, or that we never learn from history, for each generation must learn, or fail to learn, anew. But both affirmations are too simple. Shared lessons from the past, if they exist at all, depend on continuities of experience over time, the telling and translation/transmission of that experience through words or other media that may perdure beyond the moment of any single experience, and the acceptance, remembrance and cherishing of the “stories” of the experiences that render them “historical” for individuals and communities. Such abiding and devotional story telling is fragile and always treacherous, for all manner of reasons, yet it is that which underlies and sustains any imaginable ethos or way of being in the world.

These rather abstract remarks are meant only as an overture to E.P. Thompson’s vital thesis, in his work The Making of the English Working Class (1963), that social “class” is not a thing or a sociological substance, but a historical phenomenon that exists in relationship to other classes.

… class happens when some men, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs.

And “class consciousness” (our “history-making story telling”) consequently, …

is the way in which these experiences are handled in cultural terms: embodied in traditions, value-systems, ideas, and institutional forms. If the experience appears as determined, class-consciousness does not. We can see a logic in the responses of similar occupational groups undergoing similar experiences, but we cannot predicate any law. Consciousness of class arises in the same way in different times and places, but never in just the same way.

This, in turn, implies that a social class can assume no fixed social identity or role, nor any permanent or inherent self-awareness, for they change, fragment, re-compose differently or disappear as relations of social production and re-production alter.

For those on the “left” – and here we move again to a certain level of abstraction -, who traditionally attributed and continue to attribute “revolutionary” virtues to the working class, as an/the essential agent of anti-capitalist politics, E.P. Thompson’s historicization of class and of the modern working class was conceptually and practically troubling, undermining as it did the seemingly privileged protagonism of this class against capitalist oppression. Furthermore, this same historicization told a story of such complexity that it became possible to imagine forms of capitalism in which class does not “happen”, to employ Thompson’s expression, that is, in which workers do not have “common experiences” and therefore fail to “feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs”. And again, consequently, no common class consciousness or working class culture/ethos emerges, or no such culture or ethos succeeds in resisting the many ways in which capitalism regenerates itself through the increasing fragmentation and meaninglessness of common experiences.

Pier Paolo Pasolini, in the mid-1970s, contended that capitalism had evolved into a new kind of fascism characterised by the obliteration of the past, of past forms of peasant and working class life, leaving no dimension of these older ways of being untouched. In the place of richly textured and local experiences and cultures, contemporary capitalism tends towards a homogenisation of desire and everyday life, under the guise of “freedom of choice” and “difference”, thereby destroying historical pluralities of class and their utopian possibilities. In other words, peasants and workers could be described as opposed to capitalism because they carried with them worlds – of the past and the present – that were still (completely and/or partially) outside capitalist social relations and from which antagonism to these later could emerge and be sustained. For Pasolini, what capitalism was in effect executing was the anthropological erasure of these other worlds (what he did not hesitate to call a “genocide”) and in its wake, the so-called “revolutionary working class” would die with them.

It is our belief however that this so often celebrated and eulogised “revolutionary working class” never existed, if by that was/is imagined the entitled agent for the overthrow of established capitalist political and social system, or as Karl Marx put it, what “the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” (The Communist Manifesto, 1848) Taking our cue again from E.P. Thompson, under capitalism, class identity was always fluid, radical class conflict was always unpredictable and class consciousness was never stable nor uniform. And at all of these levels, class was informed and fed by relations and imaginaries that were never reducible to the social-class functions of workers in a capitalist economy.

A “lesson” from the British miners’ strike was surely this: that the country’s working class was never united behind the miners’ struggle; no general strike, even partial, ever materialised in support of the miners, but not because they were fools or mislead – the “vanguardist thesis” -, but because there was no felt common “working class” experience at the time, nor consequently, a common “class consciousness”. And this absence extended even to the coal miners, for not all of them would join the strike, and those who did, did so for many and sometimes different reason, and with varying degrees of conviction. This is in no way to diminish the militancy and significance of the strike, but rather to broaden our understanding of the event (and similar events) and to develop a more nuanced and complex understanding of what opposition to capitalism can and perhaps should be.

If Britain’s coal miners were “revolutionary”, it was perhaps in the older sense of this word, as the “act or fact of moving in a circular course”, or of “revolving”, or of “turning back on itself”. The miners’ strike was never about wages, nor even exclusively about coal pit closures as such – the miners knew better than anyone that coal was bloody-, except to the extent – and herein was its radicalness – that the closures would destroy the way of life of dozens of communities and thousands of lives.

The miners fought to defend an ethos that lay beyond the ken of, and therefore opposed to, Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberal politics of “privatisation and entrepreneurship” and what they were had then to destroyed – they were, in her own words, they were the enemies from within-, which is precisely what her government set out to do from the moment of its election.

“In the early 1980’s I/we knew it was coming, we were warned enough by our NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] leadership and other sources. Thatcher and her government wanted a showdown. Where I live there were a dozen collieries within a 20 mile radius … I fought not just for “my pit” but for the mining community next door.” (The Guardian, 05/03/2015)

And as the strike unfolded, what the miners (and those who cared to see and learn), discovered in the flesh that the government would employ all of the necessary violence to break the strike, for it could not and would accept any other outcome. In other words, the strike revealed a conflict of worlds and the failure of the strike paved the way for the dismantling and undoing of decades of working class “successes” across the country, as expressed in practices and laws engendered in the latter’s struggles, the shattering of the economic and material conditions that sustained the miners’ communities and social life and the ideological dissemination of a culture of money and consumption as the exclusive standard of value. These “successes” were learned and they would be extended and implemented with ever increasing finesse and violence across the world.

The police went to war with the mining communities. They did actually take a personal and not a ‘professional’ attitude towards the dispute. We know that by the way they responded on perfectly legal, non-violent, peaceful and quiet picket lines of under six people. When for example a train stopped with supplies of iron ore or fuel to power stations or iron works. They felt personally outflanked, their side lost. At Immingham, our handful of bridge pickets from Hatfield who succeeded in stopping all fuel and ore by rail; found themselves the subject of great police annoyance. A police inspector saying ‘we have to stop all this’. The picket’s cars and vans couldn’t stay in the vicinity, it being a 24-hr picket of course meant there was nowhere for people to sleep or take a minute out of the rain. No shelter was allowed to be erected, the little polythene tent had to be removed. No fire could be lit. A chair was too close to the road (a very quiet road). So it went on ‘Have you been drinking?’ … ‘If you throw away that chip bag you will be arrested’.

The dark forces waiting in the wings have not vanished because the miners’ strike is over … they are still there. The implication for the labour movement at large and civil liberties in general are deadly. Things have already changed far more than most people realise. The passage down the slippery slope to a markedly more repressive system has accelerated alarmingly.

Dave Douglass, Come and wet this truncheon

If those who place themselves on the other side of this conflict have failed to learn, it is in large part because of the loss of these communities, the loss of working class cultures, of their ways of being, which once lost, can no longer serve to transmit their past. We learn about them as “historians” do, at a distance. And it is then that their stories can fail to illuminate our experience.

Yet communities are not static (as the mining communities demonstrated during the strike, with the changing roles of women, the solidarity with other “communities” outside the miners’ villages and towns, and the like); they form, change, fracture and recompose, die and are born. The failure and tragedy of capitalism is that it may colonise human lives, but it needs those lives beyond it, to live; it feeds on that which lies beyond monetary value. A fully realised capitalism would be a world without life, with all that lives being reduced to a commodity form, to monetary value; but it is life transformed into money that renders money possible. would be death. And for this reason alone, there is an obligation to memory, to the memory of the stories of those who have sought to secure and preserve their lives as communities of freedom and equality.

We make E.P. Thompson’s words are own, when he writes about the Luddites, extend these words to the British coal miners and their heroic strike of 1984-85.

I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties.

Our only criterion of judgement should not be whether or not a man’s actions are justified in the light of subsequent evolution. After all, we are not at the end of social evolution ourselves. In some of the lost causes of the people of the Industrial Revolution we may discover insights into social evils which we have yet to cure. Moreover, this period now compels attention for two particular reasons. First, it was a time in which the plebeian movement placed an exceptionally high valuation upon egalitarian and democratic values. Although we often boast our democratic way of life, the events of these critical years are far too often forgotten or slurred over. Second, the greater part of the world today is still undergoing problems of industrialisation, and of the formation of democratic institutions, analogous in many ways to our own experience during the Industrial Revolution. Causes which were lost in England might, in Asia or Africa, yet be won.

… the conventional picture of the Luddism of these years as a blind opposition to machinery as such becomes less and less tenable. What was at issue was the “freedom” of the capitalist to destroy the customs of the trade, whether by new machinery, by the factory-system, or by unrestricted competition, beating-down wages, undercutting his rivals, and undermining standards of craftsmanship. We are so accustomed to the notion that it was both inevitable and “progressive” that trade should have been freed in the early 19th century from “restrictive practices”, that it requires an effort of imagination to understand that the “free” factory-owner or large hosier or cotton-manufacturer, who built his fortune by these means, was regarded not only with jealousy but as a man engaging in immoral and illegal practices. The tradition of the just price and the fair wage lived longer among “the lower orders” than is sometimes supposed. They saw laissez faire, not as freedom, but as “foul Imposition”. They could see no “natural law” by which one man, Or a few men, could engage in practices which brought manifest injury to their fellows.

E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class

As a guide to the miners’ strike and its significance, we share below two pieces by David John Douglass, member of The National Union of Mineworkers-NUM and Industrial Workers of the World-IWW. This is followed by three documentary films dedicated to the strike: Ken Loach’s Which Side Are You On? Songs, Poems and Experiences of the Miners’ Strike, 1984 (1985), Mike Figgis’ The Battle of Orgreave (2001) and Owen Gower’s Still the Enemy Within (2014). And we conclude with the closing pages from George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (1937); with words that still resonate.

That fight in 84-85 involved the whole community, it was not only about unions. It was partly about unions but it was about an industry, it was about a way of life. The miners were almost an ethnicity, with father to son for hundreds and hundreds of years in the same miner family. And we had a very strong revolutionary and radical tradition. So, all of the politics of power, fuel power was about political power and not just about energy. It was about more than that. It was about “Who rules ?”, where is the balance of political power based on fuel power, if they shift the balance to nuclear industry away from coal, then they’ve got the thing nailed down, since nuclear workers will not challenge governments and cant just walk off the job as we did. British coal is almost dead now, and they will not finish until we are gone completely.

They wanted us to shuffle off our mortal coil and die quietly but we will not. The only industry that we have today is the bank industry and speculation. They destroyed manufacturing in Britain, they destroyed our ability as workers to take control back off them and run society ourselves. Because we made the means of production. And they’ve taken it away from us. So now we actually don’t produce anything. People are unemployed, people are desperately poor, we have a lot of drug addiction, anti social crimes, we have ill health, high infantile mortality, low life expectancy, low education achievement, all of these things. My book is called Ghost dancers because it’s the same that what they tried to do to Native Americans. They not only defeated American Indians. They wanted to take away their identity, who they were and wipe out even the memory of who they were. You know, my father was in 1926 strike, my grand-father was in 1926 strike, my grand-father was in the 1890 strike ! (laughs) And when we went on the picket line in Doncaster in 1983, we had a man who’s been in 1921 strike and 1926 strike. Retired, but still on the picket line ! That’s why this is very, very important for us. We are not prepared to forget the past, we are not prepared to give up hope in the future. We have to fight to retake control of our communities, reconnect our real history, not the captains and the kings, not the Union Jack, that bollocks… But our real traditions, people who fought for our own class interests. This is not just about nostalgia, this is about tomorrow, not about yesterday.

I think the Left, in general, is totally irrelevant, in brief. I think it’s anti-working class, they hate the working class. It’s an anti-working class Left. They think we’re homophobic, they think we’re racists, they think we’re sexists, everything’s wrong, we’re it. There’s no dialogue with us at all. They don’t understand working class aspirations. The Left is strongly dominated by petit-bourgeois liberalism, they don’t understand class struggle. They’re interested in liberal posturing. There’s an huge gulf between us. Do you see, here, the Left … ? They’re not talking to working people here, they’re just talking to each other. They don’t want anybody from the outside in, because they might ask them some good questions.

David John Douglass (from an interview with Fabien Delmotte, for the French syndicalist association, Autre Futur – 26/10/2013)

Come and wet this truncheon

Dave Douglass

Classic pamphlet by miner and anarcho-syndicalist Dave Douglass on political policing during the British Miners’ Strike of 1984/5 – when the state acted like an occupying army in working class areas. First published in 1986.

There have been a number of small pamphlets on various aspects of the police in the 1984-85 miners strike. Some by Civil Liberties and Civil Rights organisations have exclusively dealt with the wider implications for ‘civil rights’ in Britain. Others have been written by lawyers, outraged at the extension of police powers without any legislative authority. Some sociological groups have written of the way in which the police haven’t played to the ‘social contract’ and ‘policing by consent’. Doubtless there will be others. Already the leftist groups have started to put into print their ‘lessons’ of the miners strike from which we are all supposed to learn. This pamphlet deals with the way in which the police operation confronted us as ordinary working people, the things that shook us and the changes we have gone through as individuals and a community as a result. Where the works of other people help to illustrate the point or authenticate something I’ve said I’ve quoted from them, after all it is not enough that WE know what happened it is essential that you know.

I am awe that after reading everything high-lighted here (and there is much much more that could have been said) there will be some who still will shake their heads in disbelief, something in their very human fabric will not allow them to believe that the police in Britain have acted like this and are about to carry on acting like this as a matter of course. To those people I can only say, there were some in our community who thought that way too, about the blacks, about the Irish, about the youth and the way the police dealt with them. Left ‘lies’ and horror stories of what the police were doing to those sections of these islands were met with utter cast-iron disbelief. Then the police called on us, and those members of the community EXPERIENCED the nature of the police and SAW IT in operation day by day. Perhaps your faith in the guardians of law and order is too deep to be shaken by a small pamphlet. You may one day have it shaken in a different manner by those you at present so implicitly trust.

MAY 1985

One of the early days we went to Orgreave, before the pattern of events was etched into our collective class memory. An older miner previously uninvolved with picketing but remembering his service on the line in 1972 and 1974 joined in a non-violent but full-bodied push against the police lilies on the bottom road.

The police line began to buckle, suddenly the sound of hooves was heard and at full pelt the mounted police squad crashed into the unarmed pickets. ‘Hey-up’ he shouts. ‘That’s not fair.’ NOT FAIR!

The naive, simple sense of injustice of that man, was a dying expression of a feeling that had previously existed among ordinary mining folk. That showed, whatever problems, conflicts and confrontations we’d had with the police, they still adhered to some inherent sense of fair play, of common justice, of mutual respect.

Since the bloody days of ’84 that feeling has been completely laid to rest FOREVER.

People like my Dad ….a veteran of the 1926 strike, sharp on class understanding then, had heavily moderated through the 40’s and 50’s. Never would hear a word against the police, always believed they were only doing their job. The reward for his and his comrades’ moderation was a society of inherent fair play, the rough edges of conflict had been rounded off. The Welfare State was a safety net and a steady progress of life was ensured. The bad old days had gone.

Now near the end of his life he sees the clock turned back, sees the naked partisan brutality of the police; mutters that ‘Churchill’s troops are back again’. The society of ‘bash the miners back down their holes’ is rife again. He, like many a retired miner, will never trust the police again. He has been betrayed by a society he had been led to trust.

The women, children and teenagers of the villagers have had the horrors of occupied Ulster exploded on their streets, have felt the sharp edge of uncontrolled brutality and repression charging down their garden paths, smashing through their back doors into their kitchens. Holding them afraid to go to sleep at nights as the searchlights from the blue lamped Range Rovers sweep the streets and explore the windows, doors and front gardens, as the police vehicles rush here and there or the silence of the night is broken by a police car’s loud speaker calling out repeatedly the name of a young militant.

The children with their little bellies in knots of fear for the giant men in black uniforms who have invaded the warm sanctuary of their family home. Tortured them with the fear of their Dads being hurt or jailed or killed. Have swept their mothers off the streets, taken them away kicking and screaming, leaving the child at once alone, vulnerable and confused. Oh yes, we as a people have relearned a lesson taught us at regular intervals of our history about words like ‘justice’ and ‘fair play’ under this system.

The police have generally recognised that the miner in the dispute stood firm with the community as a whole at his back. For this reason when the police have moved en mass into the pit villages they have chosen to attack the community at large, all are guilty whether they be miners or not.

Ernest Cusworth, a dustman with the South Yorkshire Council is scared to leave his home following a vicious attack by the police. Mr Cusworth who is 54 years old, suffered a fractured collar bone when he was jumped on by police as he went to work.


In the First Report of the Independent Enquiry by the NCCL, the council warns of the implications of the strike and warned of a possible ‘drift towards acceptance of the denial of liberties’.

‘The strike. . . has been the occasion of the most massive and sustained deployment of the police ever experienced in Britain. By 8th November 1984, 7,658 arrests had been made in England and Wales alone. .

The report highlights the way in which civil law and criminal law became merged with the police sliding over to taking the civil options of the employers and making them into criminal cases. It was something which we shouted to the four winds but nobody: not the press, the police, or the courts were interested that SECONDARY PICKETING IS NOT AND WASN’T A CRIMINAL OFFENCE. The police never did have any responsibility for enforcing CIVIL LAW. In particular things like cordoning off pickets because they were engaged in secondary picketing was not their remit and they had not legal authority to do it. But they did it. Who was going to stop them’? They never did have the right to stop us demonstrating or rallying or protesting – that is supposed to be our civil right, but that has never guaranteed we could do it.

The report highlights the way in which the police went to any extent to get tiny numbers of strike-breakers through. There was no legal obligation on their behalf to do so, when the numbers involved and the risks of injury or disorder were disproportionate. Cortonwood for example. On 9th November, a solitary strike breaker was accompanied by anything between 1,000 and 2,000 police officers.

‘In addition to being an inappropriate use of scarce police resources. such decisions promote disharmony and discontent amongst those picketing; this can contribute to alienation and ultimately more public disorder. .

The locally based SHEFFIELD POLICEWATCH – a team of independent people who have followed the activities of the police made their first report over the period April-October 1984. One of the things they noticed very clearly was the deliberate removal or non-wearing of police identity numbers. The obvious purpose being to avoid detection in any subsequent complaint by villagers or pickets. They noted the following occasions: 

‘Cresswell 9th April; Orgreave 2Cth April; Orgreave 31st .May; Shirebrook 11 th June; Crowle 24th July; Markham 30th July; Gascoine Wood 17th August; Markham Alain 23rd,.August; Brookhouse 29th August; Kiveton 24th September; Brodsll’orth 12th October; Brodsworth 19th October.


Riot police in full charge. ‘Take no prisoners’, many of us have heard them shout that as they advance. The logic of the situation demands that where they would have to arrest large numbers of pickets they would be ‘held down’ holding the prisoners. They could not then engage in the sport of chasing and hitting pickets. The tactic thus developed of laying into the miners in an attempt to seriously injure them and beat them off the street. When a picket was felled, he would be left laying just where he was. If he managed to crawl away while the fighting continued elsewhere he got away with it, if he was still there when the police returned he would be picked up and charged. One such man was a 58 year-old miner from Wath. He managed to crawl away although he had kidney damage and two suspected broken ribs. The branch President Bernard Jackson was also a victim that day. A fellow miner arrested with him was so badly beaten about the face the police became worried they had gone too far and so released him on the spot, they could always then claim the injuries had happened elsewhere. When Barnard and the others were put into the vans, the old finger in the eyes trick was employed (they think if they partially blind you you’ll be in so much pain you won’t cause any trouble on the way to the police station), and the men were made to sit on the floors, in easy reach of the police boot.

Wath Committee-man, John Beard, was arrested as he tried to calm things down. ‘This copper said I’ve had enough of Wath village’ then he smacked me round the face and arrested me. Both he and Barnard swear that police threw bottles and bricks at the pickets. They also smashed the picket’s hut after trying to tip it over and set fire to it. Picket huts were an easy target for the police and virtually every hut in Yorkshire was either totally destroyed, like the ones at Hatfield they set on fire, or else badly damaged.


Every pit village in Britain has its own unique story to tell of this strike. There will be many featured tales, covering all aspects of the year of hardship, struggle and courage, but all, without exception will feature the special way in which the police dealt with them. The people of Fitzwilliam in North Yorkshire, for example, will remember till their dying day the police riot that ripped through their village.

The trouble began with the appointment of a new Chief Inspector, Inspector Reece. He admitted in court that although he had only had the job six days he had come to carry out ‘more positive policing of the area’. Being more positive took the form of leading his men on a punitive raid into the village under the cover of night. Some 50 armed (with clubs) police officers charged into the area in what was described in the court as ‘a synchronised pincer movement’ descending on a pub they knew was a popular place for miners, their wives and friends in a provocation so hard the police knew that there would be resistance, indeed calculated on their being resistance and then used this as an excuse for extremes of violence which shocked the village to its roots. The police claimed they had been subject to a hail of missiles for several hours, in fact on their own admission only one of their men was injured in the whole operation. Police doctors however treated six of the men in the cells who had been snatched from the streets.


Ralph Summerfield, one of the moderate North Yorkshire officials was knocked to the ground and mercilessly beaten with truncheons. It was the 30th Oct (84) a normal picket at his pit, when suddenly the police introduced dogs. While talking to an inspector in an attempt to get them to withdraw the dogs, the riot police swept up and knocked him to the floor.

Police smashed the window of the minibus he was driving with a truncheon – which was then used on his face. Another minibus driver was threatened with arrest when he tried to move his vehicle.

No trouble

The force involved were West Yorkshire who, said Ralph, ‘are supposed to be taking a softly-softly approach. There’s never been any trouble there before when there’s just been a normal picket. There weren’t enough pickets to cause any trouble. But there were dogs behind the front line and riot police waiting. I’m convinced they came down to sort us out. I don’t condone brick throwing but, when they use dogs, that’s what gets lads’ backs up.’ Three days later, Wooley was again the scene of indiscriminate assaults and arrests, when police chased miners on to a nearby estate after an inspector in charge assured miners’ officials there would be no trouble if the pickets were kept in order.

Trouble erupted when, despite the assurance and an orderly picket, riot police, horses and dogs were brought in, said Church Lane Treasurer Jack Carr. Pickets were chased on to a nearby housing estate, which was ‘swarming with riot police’. There the police continued to make indiscriminate attacks.

After knocking him to the ground with a riot shield and kicking him where he lay, they dealt him three blows to the head with truncheons, causing injuries that needed hospital treatment. Later, as he and others retreated from the dogs, his son was arrested as he came to assist. Ralph insists it was a ‘normal picket’ until the police brought in the dogs.


‘They let them go on long leads, biting indiscriminately,’ he said. ‘As soon as that happened, the balloon went up and our lads started retaliating by throwing stones. I was trying to remonstrate with one of the inspectors on duty, to get him to stop using dogs.

While I was talking to the inspector, trying to get some sense back into the situation, 12 to 20 coppers in full riot gear came and attacked us.’

After the attack, he and a group of others were moving away from the pit chased by dogs. ‘My son Glen came back to assist me and they arrested him, alleging that he’s been throwing stones,’ said Ralph. ‘He hadn’t – he only came back because I was in trouble.’

Among the injured that day were Rob Hunter, from Wooley, taken to hospital after being bitten on the chest by a dog, and Reg Greaves, from Houghton Main.

‘There was a village bloke, about 60 or 70, who I saw get a real bang ‘with a truncheon from police in riot gear,’ he said. ‘He was just sat on a wall, watching.’ Among those arrested was Church Lane President Eric Richardson. ‘He was just rallying the lads round’ said Jack. ‘He wasn’t involved in any pushing.’


The pattern of assaults in villages was so regular that an obvious plan existed for all these operations, the police riot through the village. The ‘short, sharp shock’ of attacking the community at large, intimidating the young’uns and teenagers, chasing off coal pickers, attacking houses, and using all force available against the pickets themselves. Attacks on pubs and clubs became one of the set features of the police campaign. The Coronation Club, in Thurnscoe on November 20th (’84) was no exception. Hickleton Branch Delegate Ken Cole was in the club when the police burst in, knocking 62 year old Walter Davies to the ground. Next there was a bump at the door and a young lad about four feet tall (aged 14) ran in. Following him were ten police men, who grabbed the lad by the neck and hauled him away.

Ken, who was on the picket line earlier in the day, said the picket dispersed after the strike-breakers’ bus came out of the pit. ‘As far as I was concerned everything was over.’ he said. A group of people gathered near the village hall, well away from the pit, as Ken went into the Club. Half a dozen police vans were still parked near the pit.


Three-quarters of an hour after the picket had finished, Ken looked out of the Club window and saw riot police charging up the road towards the Club. ‘They were pounding up, with smiling faces, with truncheons and shields chasing lads,’ he said.

‘I’ve come to the conclusion that the Metropolitan police are just brutes. I think they are loving it. I think they’ve got the intention that if there’s people gathered they’re going to have a go at them and bray them.

In among those lads were women and children and they chased them up the streets just to clobber them. They weren’t doing anything. I’m certain of that – they were just stood there watching’. Walter Davies, who has to take tablets for a heart condition and whose wife is also ill, says he lay unconscious for two minutes after being knocked to the floor.


The Metropolitan Police became infamous for their anti-Northern hostility, the abuse being directed at the miners’ Northern accents, ‘thick Geordie bastards’ or ‘ay-up ay-up ayoup’ in mock imitation of the Yorkshire greeting. At Coal House in Doncaster they poured off the buses shouting ‘we’ve come 200 miles to get you bastards, who’s first?’ Also a little touch of their own, after wrecking pickets cars at Cotgrave they left their calling card: a little sticker which read: ‘YOU HAVE JUST MET THE MET’. Burned out picket huts were found to have such stickers on their windows or nearby lamp posts. Black miners were especially singled out by the Met for the normal torrent of racial abuse, ape like gestures and monkey like cries. This open racial hostility for the first time brought the meaning of what that means home to many of the miners standing with their black mates, many of them having been guilty of similar remarks in the past albeit in a ‘friendly’ way. Seeing the class enemy display a shocking example of it led many miners to realize it really wasn’t a joke.


Armthorpe village, near Doncaster, has been under police occupation, experiencing some of the worst police violence of the entire dispute.
• Several witnesses confirm that, on August 22nd, during a picket of Markham Main, Armthorpe, police:
• sealed off the village, banned journalists from entering and halted bus services;
• trapped pickets between rows of houses and indiscriminately beat anyone in the area not in police uniform;
• broke into the houses of miners and non-miners alike, where they damaged property and threatened and injured householders including elderly and disabled;
• forced pickets to lie on the ground before kicking and beating them. There is also evidence once again, that troops were involved in the exercise. Yorkshire Area NUM’s legal department, who are compiling a dossier of witness statements, have appealed for any witnesses not yet interviewed to get in touch.


About midday on August 22, police charged pickets from the gates of Armthorpe pit, where the pit yard has been used as a police headquarters housing 250 to 300 police vans, plus other vehicles, horses and dogs.

Across the road from the colliery are two streets, Paxton Crescent and Charles Street. Where they meet, to form a horse-shoe shape, is a single entrance to an area of gardens and garages, enclosed on all sides by houses.

Police in riot gear converged on the fleeing pickets from neighbouring parts of the estate, forcing them into the enclosed area, in what witnesses described as ‘a military style operation.’ There, truncheons and riot shields were used to beat pickets and residents alike.

Local householders let pickets into their homes for refuge – but to no avail. The police forced their way in, breaking doors and windows, as well as property inside the houses. Some were not miner’s homes.


Householders were intimidated and threatened – and in some cases injured – by the invading police. In one case, a 59 year old woman was trapped behind her door when a policeman kicked it open. He then rammed the door into her, several times, while holding her behind it. He then left the house after discovering there were no pickets there.

In another, the 66 year old wheelchair-bound wife of a retired miner complained about the police behaviour from outside her front door. She was abused and threatened with the truncheon if she did not shut up. She compared the police with the Nazi Gestapo.

Pickets were dragged from gardens and homes and severely beaten before being thrown into police vans. Some were forced to lie down before being kicked and trucheoned, with as many as seven officers attacking a single picket.

Some had to be taken to hospital. The police continued marching up and down, maintaining a ‘military style’ presence in the area, according to witnesses.

Earlier on the 16th Aug the Sheffield Police Watch Group recorded the morning’s events:

6.55 AM: All the miners were herded into the corner beside the pit entrance. We were across the road from them. Any miner on our side of the road is asked to cross over and is tightly herded in. Some miners object. Police move through the pickets to get to the back of the miners. The miners are now completely surrounded. Packed together very tightly surrounded by police. Approximately 250 miners and 250 police …

7.05AM: Working miners arrive in a little van which is completely darkened. You cannot look in. The miners start pushing and the police lines nearly break. Police reinforcements come running up and some police run into the crowd. There are lots of shouts and people are falling down and being kicked and trampled on. Miners are thrown out of the pack covered in dust. One small stone is thrown into nowhere. Miners are grabbed by three to four police as they come out, and arrest them. The police keep on pushing the miners back although there is nowhere to go. The police are still inside the group of miners fighting.

I counted 16 arrests. Mainly people who were trying to get out of the pack or who had been laying on the floor.


Throughout the dispute the police regarded not only our picket lines as being a threat to them, but also felt personally engaged in a struggle against the strike itself.

Partially this is reflected in their attitude towards our whole community and those non-miners in it who supported the strike. It was also very clear in their attitude to every success we had, for example when the train drivers refused to cross our picket lines or when a lorry turned back. The drivers inevitably being abused and the picket, no matter how small, being harassed as punishment for its success.

The special treatment singled out for the people collecting for the miners their frequent arrests and confiscation of funds, even to the extent of arresting a Santa Claus in London for collecting toys for the miners’ children for Xmas.

Even at the end of the strike, the police didn’t feel like backing off. In Durham as in other coalfields the lodges decided to march back into work. The banners would fly, the women and children would turn out, the local community would salute the stand of the miners and the men would march, heads high, back through the colliery gates. The gesture would not be lost on the police, it would be too strong an act of defiance, even though no Laws were being broken.

At Wearmouth the police were waiting as the men and their families marched back to work. Without rhyme or reason the police threw up a cordon across the pit gates and blocked all entrances with their vans.

Having thus blocked the miners triumphant return they attacked the whole column of marchers. Eye witnesses said: ‘Police went berserk kicking and punching miners and marchers alike’ (The Durham Miner, March ’85). No consideration was given to the children and old people on the demonstration, indeed the whole object seems to have been to teach the miners a lesson in front of their families and community.

Dave Hopper, the Lodge Secretary, made the point that after a year of pulling out every stop to get people into work, they now turned round and tried to stop people going back to work! Everyone who was there comments that a squad of police made a ‘bee line’ for the banner, which was hauled down and badly torn.

The sheer weight of numbers of police intent on smothering our action has undoubtedly led to the abandonment of normal crime control. The so-called ‘Fox’ was given rein for weeks before members even of the county police force in which the brutal rapes were taken place were actually recalled to look for him.

As Arthur Scargill said at the Durham Big Meeting, we know he’s not a miner or the police would have had him ten times over.


So said the ordinary, non-Nazi German population when they discovered near the end of the war what had happened to the Gays, Gypsies, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, Jews, and anyone else who didn’t fit in to the ‘German-ness’ of the new order. The people of the allied countries seeing the massive scale of the genocidal operation, involving as it did tens of thousands of victims, and mass movements of people involved in the calculated murders couldn’t believe it.

On another level, tens of thousands of people proclaim that they didn’t know the stuff outlined in this pamphlet was going on. They didn’t. But actually some friends did their best to first of all pin down the facts because always our accusations were put down as left wing extremist lies and propaganda, and next to have those facts available for the people to know.

Those friends, such as the GLC collected the evidence, but the press did not want to know … although of course they read it and knew it was correct. The TV investigative journalist side fought like hell to release the truth and with few notable exceptions were knocked back. The facts revealed, were on offer, but the media chose to ignore them.

Using the remit of Policing London the GLC Police Committee was able to dig into the mechanics of policing the miners. These facts were published in the (Number 13) July/August ’84 edition of their bulletin. and yet all but a relative handful of the British population know of their findings: We have the freedom to print what we want, say what we want SO LONG AS THE STATE ENSURES THAT ONLY A MINORITY OF PEOPLE WILL HEAR OR SEE WHAT WE HAVE TO SAY.

The GLC Police Committee dug into the cops own journals to discover their disposition towards people they were policing. The police papers readily admit that the boys in blue were far from ‘cool’ or in control of themselves. . . but who ever reported that, after police riots? Nobody!

There have been complaints of fatigue due to long shifts as well as the boredom of hanging around: As a PSU Commander, my concern was that the men kept restrained in carriers or on standby for long periods would be difficult to control when actually confronted with a public order problem. Police Review 27.4.84.

That they came to us in great numbers even the toddlers in the pit villages can tell you, yet the average British punter saw the ‘Bobby’ as understaffed and outflanked by massive columns of our miners.

In the first 10 weeks of the strike the National Reporting Centre arranged 220,000 assignments from a pool of 13,500 men. Its work has raised the spectre of a national police force emerging. Hall claims that the NRC stops the development of a national force. Former Chief Constable John Alderson says that in practice the NRC is the national operational centre.

The public believed (and still believe) the police went against their wishes to the coalfields, in fact the common crack among the southern forces particularly was that easy money could be made, and a license to do what you wanted was the name of the game. Policemen often boasted to poverty-stricken miners of the money they were making at our expense. Rubbing that in was the cause of many bitter confrontations near the end of the strike, waving fivers at the pickets or worse still toys at the miners children at Xmas time, together with shouts of ‘My kids getting one of these, what’s your dad getting you?’

‘A policeman transported into the coalfields would have to work 40 hours overtime to earn £500 for a weeks’ work – and apparently this is not unknown. £400 a week is fairly common’ Tribune 6.4.84.


Its just about generally accepted that the police tapped miners phones all during the dispute. The Telephone Engineering Union has agreed anytime, anyplace, anywhere, to come forward and tell us all just how many and how they were selected IF they will not be jailed for doing so. At present of course they are subject to the Official Secrets Act, but they know, and we of course know, it’s happened on a massive scale. The GLC report makes mention of this matter also:

‘A Yorkshire journalist was on the phone to the Yorkshire NUM when a police radio message about traffic on the roads came over the line. The.NUM employee said he was going to get a tape recorder and added ‘hello copper, can you hear me?’. . . the interruption stopped immediately. A Yorkshire miner has also claimed that on phoning the Barnsley strike control centre he had been connected to a police emergency service’ Guardian 4.5.84.

On April 29th David Norman, General Treasurer of the Post Office Engineering Union, challenged the Home Secretary to let members of his Union investigate claims of phone tapping during the miners’ strike.

‘If Mr Brittan claims it is a ‘smear’ to suggest that members of the NUM are having their telephones tapped during the dispute then I ask him if he would be prepared for the POEU to conduct its’ own public investigation into the allegation and give it immunity from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. ‘

None was forthcoming, but the POEU know anyhow.

In South Wales the owner of a hire coach service was phoned by the NUM asking about hiring one to go picketing in Derbyshire. Minutes later the Derbyshire police phoned asking how many pickets were coming on the bus! David Norman put it this way:

‘To our certain knowledge, the process of tapping telephones is systematic and widespread, far more widespread that we are led to believe by official statements. ‘


Perhaps it will not come as too much of a shock to know that if they tap phones they also read letters as well, although they’ve been doing this for some time. They are taken from the sorting offices to the local POST OFFICE INVESTIGATIVE BRANCH. . . in the case of London its UNION HOUSE in St. Martin’s-Le-Grand (near St Pauls). The methods are not very sophisticated and haven’t changed much over the years. . . the steam from a boiling kettle, or a hot needle, or a thin straw gummed along the edge to stick into the letter and be wound round and drawn out. They are trained to take special care to replace any loose hairs drawn under the envelope flaps or watch for any of the other traps people set for them. See article in Guardian, April 18th, 1984, by Nick Davies…on phone taps etc.

At times they simply split the envelopes and read the contents, then stick the envelope back into the delivery circuit. Parcels from abroad can be searched easily as customs or under the old trick of ‘Found damaged and resealed’.


Having read your incoming mail and discovering that you are a subversive, bomb-throwing hell-raiser, they will then check on the sources of the letters i.e. who is writing to you. They will then stop and read their mail, thus getting not only your replies but also a host of new people to check on from that person. So a huge network of suspects can be built. If they are on the phone (easily checked) a tap can be applied and another segment of ‘free society’ gets entrapped in the State’s net.

The report to the Yorkshire Area of the NUM covering only the first six weeks of the strike made a strange prediction about the role of intelligence gathering.

‘Intelligence gathering is not only important to the state in respect to further criminal charges which might be brought later, for example conspiracy, but is important in any post strike period. If miners lose the strike the NCB will make a sweep of the union, rooting out radicals, militants and political party members. The intelligence information for this sweep will have been gathered from the thousands of arrested men. . . . The strategy had three objectives firstly to criminalise the strikers both within their own organisations and in the eyes of broader society, secondly to thin out the numbers of men available for picketing and thirdly to gather masses of intelligence on activists for use in a post-strike situation. ‘ A State of Siege. . .Op Cit.

After six weeks of the strike such a prediction or even gentle suggestion of actually losing the strike didn’t enter the head of any active picket or branch leader. In retrospect the formulae is proved to be accurate. The police, where they can force a conviction immediately, get them sacked from their job, with the pledge from the Board that they will never be re-employed. Thus the militant is evicted from their job, their social standing and their political effect, at least in that very strategic corner of society. Where the police have been unable to win a conviction in the court the evidence they present is given to the colliery manager who then chooses what the ‘due process of the law’ says, finds they are guilty of being militant and sacks them for misconduct. Lastly where they aren’t even brought to court and no charges are made, the police file is passed onto the manager or the area director of the Board who thus processes the prosecution with the same devastating effect.

While police video and surveillance cameras swept the picket line, Coal Board protagonists would identify various pickets … ‘do you want us to get that one?’ and the managers disposition to get rid of active trade unionists became the next order of the snatch squad who win draw or lose at court had served their class purpose in ridding the industry of its mining militants. It was a form of ‘shoot to kill’ policy on an industrial level.

Lastly the unemployed and now victimised miners become a political suspect on whom much is already known, as they graduate towards leftist groups as a means of finding redress for their problems. They become those ‘most likely too’ and for the rest of their days (while the system lasts) will have the quiet surveillance of the Special Branch never very far from their collar (or phone).


They didn’t come to ‘contain’ us or ‘match us in numbers’ as the popular press would have you believe. They came to bury us, to show us the futility of resistance, the job of getting scabs in, or scab fuel in, could have been done with a force a quarter of the size, that was never the point. The point was to take on the pickets, the scabs were almost irrelevant to the operation.

‘At Ravenscraig in Scotland, where police mounted a carefully planned operation stretching over 50 miles and formed a human chain five deep in places’ (Guardian 4.5.84)
‘Mounted police riding into the pickets could clearly be seen loosening their boots from their stirrups and kicking pickets in the back with their steel toe clips’ (Morning Star 8.5.84).
‘At the Hunterston steel depot in Scotland, five miners were taken to hospital after 2,000 police had been used against 800 pickets; one had a broken arm after a mounted police charge.’

Taking Polaroid photos of suspects is supposed to be unlawful, but that never bothered the law men. Worse still, if anyone tried to use even passive resistance they were given the Gestapo treatment. As one ex-soldier said:

‘When it came to my turn I refused to have my photo taken, I kept my head down and as a consequence I cannot be sure exactly who was responsible for what happened. I know that one officer walked up from somewhere else and said to the other two who were holding me ‘Get that bastard’s head up’ then ‘Pull his hair’. Someone did pull my hair but this did not make me raise my head. Next after saying ‘Grab his nose’ the officer tried to force his fingers into my nostrils. I moved my head from side to side. Then I heard the same officer say ‘Right Bastard’ and I was violently punched in the face. The punch landed on the top of my nose between my eyes. The officers then held my head in an arm lock and forced my head up. My glasses were broken and fell to the floor. They managed to take the photograph.’ (State of Seige, Op Cit pg. 36)

Another ‘torture’ feature was the widespread use of plastic tie-bands in place of handcuffs. These tin plastic straps are designed for industrial use for hanging cables and pipes etc. and work on the ratchet system, the tighter you pull the more notches go down the ratchet and the firmer the grip. Applied to the wrists at full bite, usually with the hands behind the back, they are impossible to break off and the more you struggle the tighter they get. I myself had the dubious pleasure of having these tie-bands put on me. We were on our way to the Trent Wharves and had got to within two miles of Gunness when a massive road block was encountered. I was arrested for refusing to turn round. The Northumbrian police force officers stuck the bands on me, my arms behind my back and pulled the plastic tight. I was left alone in the back of transit while the struggle continued further down the road. At first I tried to ignore the pain in my wrists and arms, but it grew steadily over a period of about 30 minutes, my hands started to swell up and felt like they were going to burst, while my arms felt drained of blood, the wrists throbbing and the vessels under the arms aching. I began to loose consciousness and slipped to my knees on the floor of the van. Then a police officer came by looked in the window and said ‘You enjoying that sunshine?’ and went away. I was sweating like a pig and was laid flat and just on the verge of going over when they came to cut them off me. It was agony but none of them could cut through them. I was then dragged out of the van and put into another vehicle to be transported to Scunthorpe Police Station. I lost consciousness on the way, and was only particularly conscious when they got me into Scunthorpe. The desk officer got some big industrial cutters out of a drawer, and with two officers holding me, the other cut them off. The surge of blood and withdrawal of numbness as it gradually spread through my limbs was almost as agonising as having them on. All together they were biting into me for nearly six hours from going on to being cut off. For weeks the red and white seals were on my wrists and the sensation lasted for days. My solicitor mentioned it in the court and I had asked several times to take an official complaint about them, but I was told they were ‘pretty commonly used during the strike’.

The police, by the way, call them ‘plastic handcuffs’ giving the impression to the court that they are something specially made for the job.

If many of the police behaved like they were mad, the outpourings of certain of their officers was hardly less nutty. Inspector Malcolm Biggins sees himself as a sort of Joan of Arc of the police force. He quite seriously and in public expressed the view the NUM President was controlled by the devil. Biggins from Sutton Coalfield knew the signs and it was clear the pickets were ‘demons possessed’. He had taken the precaution of leaving the picket line to pray for their souls. Miraculously when he returned, their mood had changed.

Inspector Biggins who wrote an article in the newsletter of the West Midlands branch of the Christian Police Association of which he is the branch secretary, went on to say that during the past year God had raised up Billy Graham to try and save Britain but Satan had raised up Arthur Scargill to knock him back and wreck havoc.


Emphasising the way in which courts dealing with the miners took on a whole different character and dished out special treatment, we had the case of Kevin McVann, a Yorkshire miner and a defence witness in a picket line case. After having given evidence, the judge found him, the witness guilty and bound him over to the sum of £250 to keep the peace. The stipendiary magistrate didn’t like the fact that Mr McVann had went to the picket line and could have shouted ‘scab’.


‘Remarkable thing this British justice. A handful of scabs turn up outside the Conference hall, trying to push their scabberous propaganda. A reasonable assumption is that their presence could lead to a breach of the peace. So the boys in blue take a leaf out of their picket line treatment book and try to stop them making their way to the Blackpool centre?

Not a bit of it.

The police provided a bodyguard for the scabs and actually escorted them through Blackpool town centre. And if any delegate tried to argue with the scabs they were moved on. Somebody say something about even-handed justice

‘I am aged 34 of the above address. I was one of a party of pickets who traveled down from Scotland to Ollerton on the 25th April 1984. I was lodged at 7 Maid Marian Way with Mr Spencer, the owner.

I picketed Ollerton Colliery at shift times on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I was not involved in any trouble on the picket line. On Friday morning at 4.50am I left the house I was staying in to go to the picket line at Ollerton Colliery.

I walked across the fields to the main road which is called Whinney Lane and walked in the direction of Ollerton Colliery when a car stopped containing two men in the front seats. The passenger wound down the window and said to me: ‘Are you going picketing?’ I said ‘Yes ‘. He said ‘Jump in, we’ll give you a lift up. ‘

I got In the rear door on the passenger side and in a short while I thought to myself we didn’t seem to be going to the Colliery for I was in some difficulty because I was not familiar with the area and I’d always walked. I had never gone by car. When I’d been in the car about ten minutes I knew something was wrong. The car stopped for some reason – I think at a junction – and I tried the back door. I couldn’t open the door for some reason and I thought of winding the window down to try and open it from the outside but the driver turned around and said ‘Just relax Jock. .

They just drove and drove. We left the housing scheme and went out into the country for about 20/30 minutes. The two men got out of the car and one of them opened the back door and said ‘Get out of the car and put your hands on top ‘. I got out of the car and I knew these men to be police officers. I did as I was told, faced the car and put my hands on top of it. The one on my right spoke to me and I turned my head to look at him.

I then felt a thump on my left side at the bottom of my ribs. I staggered and looked to see where the blow had come from and the Policeman was hitting me again. This blow caught me in about the same area and I fell down on my backside with my left leg straight out in front of me and my right leg bridged. They had a Mack truncheon or cosh or something about 15 to 18 inches long I think.

And with that truncheon or cosh they hit me twice on the knee and on my inside thigh. One of them said (the one that had been in the passenger seat) ‘It’s a waste of fucking time lifting you ‘se Jocks – this is the way to treat you ‘se. ‘ I was on the grass looking up at them and the one who had been in the passenger seat said: ‘You have found your way down here and you will find your fucking way home … They got in the car and drove off at speed.

I managed to get up and walked in the opposite direction and eventually found my way. From there I found my way eventually to the house I was staying in. Mr Spencer sent for the Doctor and he suggested I should report the attack to the police but I told him it was a waste of time as, in my opinion, it was the police who had attacked me. My injuries were photographed.

I have no facilities for doing anything down here. I have no support down here. I therefore give permission for the person who took this statement, whose name I do not know, to forward it to such places as he thinks will do most good, so that it can be fully investigated. ‘

Robert Malone, 19 The Circle, Dendemall By Dalkeith, Midlothlan, Scotland.

Mr Malone’s injuries were shown on TV and videoed by the NUM.

‘Whilst trying to maintain public order in the coalfields, the police service has unwittingly allowed itself to be portrayed as Margaret Thatcher’s puppet. . .the police service has been. . .used to pursue a political goal rather than one of public duty.’ (Letter from a police inspector back from picket duty in Nottinghamshire.)

The Guardian 6.6.84


We estimate in excess of 18,000 perhaps 19,000 police in operation against us; and since we don’t believe they breed that fast, unless the incubation period for cops is roughly similar to that of frog spawn, we have had many suspicions of military involvement.

Actually nailing down the story has evaded us throughout. At one time we thought we actually had it with a sly photo of an Army sergeant who was driving a police transit. A hysterical pursuit of the photographer through the streets, a quick change of the precious film and its replacement by a new one, and eventually the scenes of capture by the ‘pit spy’. The rage that his actions had engendered and the dramatic way they seized the camera and pulled out the film seemed to prove our widespread suspicions. However despite our featuring the photo in pride of place under the Sun newspaper parody headline ‘GOTCHA’, we hadn’t. The explanation for the soldier in the police vehicle and for the paranoiac pursuit of the cameraman was explained by saying he was a member of the London Bomb Disposal Squad who often it seems use police vehicles and work in close relation to the London Metropolitan police.

Hundreds of Geordie, Scots and Yorkshire mining families with sons or brothers in the Army (the growth in unemployment and the imbalance of wealth and industry in favour of the South, left only the pits, the dole or the Armed Forces as a means of living) swear to having seen their relations in police uniforms on the picket lines. Some swear that they have seen them face to face and spoke to them, while others say they have seen them clearly on TV. In all cases the army has described the stories as ‘rubbish’. Though pit folk involved swear to their accuracy, no proof has yet emerged and the story remains a widely believed folk tale.

The nearest we got to actually putting meat on the bones of the story came when a young parachutist walked into the Barnsley Offices of the NUM to ‘give himself up’. His story is as follows. His mother was a paraplegic and his father a life long (though now retired) mineworker. He had joined the Parachute Regiment and was attached to a Special Forces Group. For the previous two months he had been in operation on the picket lines with a number of soldiers from different groups. He wore a police sergeant’s uniform when on these duties. Officials at Barnsley discussed the question with the lad and subsequently involved people from our legal department to try and establish the possible come back on the soldier if, as he had requested, made a public statement or had a press conference. Despite all warnings of probably military and legal action against him, the soldier agreed to go ahead and the Barnsley offices started talking in terms of a press conference: Sadly a day or two later, the soldier returned, he had suffered yet another setback, a tragedy. His father had been coal picking along the railway line and had been struck by a train and lost a leg. His mother was now totally helpless, his father not in a position to fend for himself or his wife, so he would take a compassionate leave from the services. The question of a press conference, legal retaliation with all the social and political furore which would follow was now unthinkable.

You can take this story as it was given, personally I believe the bloke, but how extensive the Army involvement has been will probably remain a secret until the granting of a ‘Freedom of Information Act’ or a sympathetic Civil Servant leaks the relevant document of instruction to some head of the Forces.

Our frustrating failure to find real evidence still leaves certain strange facts laying around. One is, as said, the huge number of men in police uniforms which seemed to come from nowhere and vanish away again at the end of the dispute.

The number of police uniform clad characters who were clearly under regulation height, was not only a delight for some of our pickets but also a source of amusement to many of our women folk who lost no time in ridiculing the ‘unshaved bairns’ and ‘dwarfs’. Many heard officers addressing underlings as ‘corporal’ (a rank which doesn’t exist in the police force) and some of the uniforms, apart from being totally ill fitting, stepped straight out of the police museum. Strange, double-breasted jackets with different colour trousers, ancient ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ Helmets etc.

For many such reasons we have suspected Army involvement. . .but perhaps that is not important. The important thing is that, as a whole, the police force have become a paramilitary force, a section of the Armed Forces for use in times of civil disturbance … a de-facto Political Police Force.


If proof of Army involvement has been elusive, evidence of police provocateurs operating among the pickets is more easy to come by. One of the clearest cases was that of a Nottingham police sergeant Mr. R.A Lake, who spent weeks on plain clothes duty posing as a miner. His role has been subject to official complaint.

In Derbyshire, miners videos picked out men in the crowd wearing NCB jackets and strike badges. Their role was to start a push two or three rows from the front, eventually pushing men they had selected as ‘leaders’ through the cordon where they were arrested. Still photos of the provocateurs were circulated to every strike centre and support group in case they had been miners or outside supporters. They were neither. It is clear the police planted people in crowds especially for the purpose of singling out ‘leaders’ and having them arrested.

One plan was simply to stroll up to pickets and start boasting of activities supposedly engaged -in elsewhere, in the hope of encouraging statements from pickets about what they might have done or seen done. The pickets were later picked up and arrested. At other pickets unidentified people in NCB gear would suddenly start throwing stones which would then lead to a concerted baton charge, subsequent arrests being made for far more serious offences than would have otherwise taken place on that day. Also the stones would land where many suspected they were meant to, on the front rows of advancing pickets. This had the effect of stopping pickets advancing, and making many reluctant to go into the front ranks for fear of being hit from behind by bricks, etc.

Nobody ever identified these cock-eyed stone throwers as miners, even though at times we organised our own snatch squads to try and catch them. The press picked up the story of ‘outsiders’ as being members of the left-wing groups, but our long experience with so named ‘revolutionary left’ is that they would never get down to such actions as throwing stones, generally saving their efforts for selling newspapers or trying to talk us all to death. We are convinced, that although some stones were justifiably (and usually accurately) thrown in self-defence, there were frequent times when the people who did this were police agents for the reasons just mentioned.

Brian Walker, Branch Secretary at Newstead Colliery, was leaving a Nottingham Council meeting at Berryhill, Mansfield, when he saw three men, dressed as miners, climbing into the back of a police vehicle. Their pally relations with the police, and clear fact that they were not under arrest, seemed very strange. Later that day while watching a news bulletin about a demonstration outside Berryhill Miners offices, he recognised the same three men and got right onto the TV company. He subsequently appeared on local and national TV pointing out the activities of the men in question. They were clearly seen pushing miners to the front so that fellow officers could arrest them.

‘Snatch Squads arrests have nothing to do with proper legal processes and the men who are arrested by this strategy are picked out not because they are suspected of any offence but because they are prominent union officers or activists or because they have had some personal confrontation with a police officer at some time or other during the strike. Men are targeted and then ‘lifted’ from inside the picket by a wedge-shaped charge of police officers. The fact that the police manage to effect these arrests at all is a clear indication of the peaceful attitude of the great majority of pickets. (A State of Seige. . .op cit)


That this was a special kind of police operation ought to be obvious to even the most cynical liberal, but what happened also was that a special type of police were deployed, by an even more special type of authority. THE ASSOCIATION OF CHIEF OF POLICE OFFICERS came on the scene as a sort of ‘War Office’ to carry through the political and class war against a section of the miners. The director of that war office, otherwise called the NATIONAL RECORDING CENTRE, was (as always) the president of the ACOPO in our case David Hall, the Chief Constable of Humberside. He took the reins in the early months of the strike. He claimed that, within three and a quarter hours of our pickets first going to the Nottinghamshire area, he had mobilised 1,000 officers. A few days later, he had mobilised 8,000 involving special support squads (riot police) from all parts but two of Britain’s police forces, all with similar transport and equipment. It was no great deal … they had been waiting since 1974 when they started to prepare for just such an operation. It had been planned from the announced closure of Cortonwood right through to a computer plan of how we would react, and how they respond at each and every turn. The police were certainly ‘only doing their job’ but that job was an overt exercise, not in carrying through the law such as it is writ, but in prosecuting the class was in a totally partisan way the dictat of Downing Street.

ACOPSs are not elected by anyone and are not accountable to anyone except the Home Secretary who was hand picked by Thatcher herself.

A State of Seige (report to the Yorks area of the NUM) comments that: ‘They have become the high command of a national riot force, what the chair of the South Yorkshire Police Authority calls ‘a Junta’ operating from the National Recording Centre. ‘ (A State of Siege. Policing the coalfields in the first six weeks of-the miners’ strike. Susan Miller and Martin Walker.)


Official figures admitted up to 8,000 police reinforcements deployed in anyone day to picket lines. Added to the available native county force of 5,000, even the Conservative government figures talk of some 13,000 repressive bodies in the field. Plus of course the accompanying hardware; the vans, horses, cars, helicopters, checkpoints, surveillance checks, phone taps, dogs and computers that go with them.

An ordinary police operation? Even the most naive, must see there is something far more sinister going on. The rewards have been great. With overtime of 40 hours payments to constables of £500 a week has not been uncommon. For those with a psycho bent there had been ample opportunity to beat people senseless without the penalty of enquiries or press complaints.

As members of the Met’ shouted at COAL HOUSE Doncaster, ‘We’ve come 200 miles to sort you bastards out’; and, ‘Come and wet this truncheon!’

ON SUNDAY, 24th of February, 1985, more than 80,000 trade unionists marched in support of the miners- Behind the Lancashire banner miners from Agecroft, Bickershaw, Bold, Kirkless, Parkside and their supporters throughout Lancashire.

The march was headed by a fine Scottish Pipe Band in full national dress. The first banner being the Scottish banner, followed by NUM banners from all over the British coalfield. Following behind in the march were a mass of trade union banners from all over Britain.

On a fine clear day a carnival atmosphere was felt despite a noticeably high police presence. As part of the procession gathered in Trafalgar Square to hear the speakers, a young woman selling newspapers has them scattered all over Whitehall by a police officer, obviously upset by the content of the Paper. This resulted in an instant reaction by marchers to defend the young woman, which was answered by a massive over reaction by the police, in which they halted the procession thus preventing people from getting to Trafalgar Square.

They halted the rest of the rally on Whitehall opposite Downing Street, with a dense cordon of police, then systematically attacked the rear of the procession. Eventually using mounted police with batons drawn, women, children, old and young, even a brass band, were shown no mercy as the police ran riot in Whitehall.

In the wings 12 army water cannons were waiting for orders. At the rear of Whitehall itself people arrested were subject to police brutality as they were put into police cell wagons and, when they were gone, police coaches. The police riot lasted over 2 hours in Whitehall and afterwards onto the embankment.

Ironically the majority of the NUM marchers were in Trafalgar Square, while police were giving supporters a taste of what they have given miners for the past 12 months, and a hint of what’s to come in the future with soldiers waiting in the wings.

Lancashire Miner


My previous document on the strike, TELL US LIES ABOUT THE MINERS deals with the outrageous press cover up. With one exception, they have conspired to keep the truth of the police and law court operation against the miners a secret from the people of Britain. Paul Foot in his Mirror column tried almost single handedly to set the record straight. This pamphlet makes no apology for quoting from his July 12th expose …


King Herod it is said slew all eligible male children in an attempt to get the one he considered guilty. The British Army worked off the same maxim in occupied Ulster. What they did, was to round up all those eligible (for service with the Irish Republican Army) from teenagers to old men and put them in concentration camps without trial, judge or jury. As the song of the period said:


During the coal strike many of us encountered aspects of policing which seemed to prove that the principle underpinning internment had already been approved. Only the scale of the operation was different, the principle it seems had already been given its blessing by Government departments.

After having been nicked during the dispute and being battle weary I wished to avoid another arrest. With that in mind I approached Harworth Colliery with the intention of taking part in a quiet non-confrontational picket. When me and my mate got within 1/2 a mile of the colliery we saw large numbers of police, driving in and marching in to the colliery. We then resolved that today we were not getting involved. We sat on the grass, two of us just watching the day go by in a farmers’ hedge side nearly a mile from the pit. Suddenly we noticed a group of police on horseback riding towards us, truncheons drawn. We sat. They arrived. 

‘Come on, you’re going down to the pit’ they shouted.

‘Are you kidding?‘ we replied. ‘There’s going to be trouble down there we want no part of it, we’re staying here.’

‘Get fucking walking or you’ll get trouble here’ they said and started wheeling their horses up behind us and pushing us out of the field. When I stopped a guy who looked in charge, I protested, ‘look, I am being taken from a place where there is no trouble, no breach of the Law, and being taken to a place where I have reason to believe a breach of the peace is about to occur. I have no wish to be involved in a breach of the peace or any trouble.’ The considered answer didn’t take long: ‘You’ve come here for bother, now you’re going to get some.’

We were then marshalled down the streets of Harworth like slaves before the ancient Roman masters. All the while other such captives were being forced to join us, local residents out shopping or sitting on walls, all were rounded up and herded by police on horseback down the street. We were then channelled into a tight square of police. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the police then attacked the captives and started arresting them. Many of course for ‘breach of the peace’.

The following correspondence via the local Member of Parliament from the Home Office willingly concedes that ‘containment’ necessitates the rounding up of people who may not be involved in order to catch those who are who are.


During a week when regiments of police decided to invade the Doncaster pit villages, captive miners were taught a lesson few thought possible. Adrian Simpson received severe head injuries and a broken jaw, was in intensive care, many thought he might die. He recovered though, minus many teeth. He emerged from the hospital to a charge of assaulting the police. For the crime of fighting to defend other miner’s jobs he is under suspension and threat of losing his own, apart from facing a lengthy jail sentence.

In the same village (Hatfield Colliery) an 85 year old partially blind, woman was terrified. She had her back door broken down, kicked in by half a dozen riot police with shields and clubs – ransacking her home looking for pickets for a full ten minutes. They wrecked items very personal to her. When neighbours took the complaint to the local police station they were met with laughter and derision.

In the next village of Armthorpe, a similar rampage was under way. A 59 year old woman, taking too long to open the door for riot police had it kicked open, into her face, and then rammed again and again into her as she fell back against the wall.

A heroic 66 year old miner’s wife, in a wheelchair, came to her door to complain about police rampaging through her front garden. She was told, by a police man waving a truncheon at her, that she could have some too, if she wanted.

Enter the brave boys. Another woman in a wheelchair, Mrs Brenda Stout, was assaulted by two of the upholders of the Law and Order on the 27th of July at a colliery in Leigh. In order to force her from protesting she was seized round the back of the neck with both hands, while the police accomplice turned her chair round by prising his knee into her back.

At Brodsworth Colliery (August 2nd) it was the turn of a 14 year old boy to be attacked and inflicted with a broken leg.

An unusual sight for mainland Britain – pickets forced to lie prostrate on the ground, in a line, under the threat of cops with truncheons until the meat wagons arrive to take them away. That’s what happened in the village of Armthorpe. Pickets left handcuffed to lampposts on the main street – that’s what happened at Cresswell. Where occupants of houses giving tea to visiting pickets were threatened with arrest. As were women and teenagers who refused to move away from their own front gates and ‘get yourselves back inside those houses’. Kiverton Park Miners Welfare was attacked by police who let dogs off the leash into the room where families with children were having their meal. Women kitchen volunteers were badly bitten and children terrified.

On May 19th they did the same in a raid on Blidworth Village Hall. A journalist who happened to be present in the hall reported:

‘A police van containing about ten men roared up to the village hall, at least four constables hurled themselves at the door, burst it open, and wide eyed with anger, rushed inside … terrified children screamed. Police raged around inside the hall saying they ‘suspected something may be happening’. In fact nothing more sinister was happening than tea-making and a game of dominoes.’

Of course something more sinister has happened, as we know from identical operations in Ulster. The name of the game is INTIMIDATION. Police interrogation of children at school and stopped on the streets, was a widespread event in Nottingham.

The whereabouts of parents, picket operations, parent’s political views. The children’s own view of the strike … all of these carefully logged where they have managed to extract information.


They’ve been cynically preparing this mixture of social poison since we beat them in 1974. This they admit themselves. It is not, as has been said in certain parliamentary circles, something which got ‘out of hand’. Its been coldly and clinically planned and if it’s been enthusiastically and zealously put into operation, it’s because the faceless powers behind desks and phones have made sure they only recruit the right sort of person who unquestioningly get on with the job of beating down the workers.

Where are all the constitutional checks and balances so famed of the bourgeois political theory? The separation of powers and administrators to prevent the rise of such unchecked actions? The judiciary, as we have seen, fell nicely into line.

The press in almost any bourgeois democratic country, in the world would have bawked at the march towards a de facto political police force under a single centralised control … but this? This press of ‘ours’ at best remained silent, more usually kids the millions that the poor old British Bobby, one step removed from Toy Town’s Mr Plod and still in the garb of Dixon of Dock Green is only doing his job, nowt has changed and England, Merry England carries on. ‘The warmth of the Tory living room is secured by the knowledge that the police are outside the window, holding the gates of civilisation shut against the barbarian Blacks and Irish now suddenly reinforced by the hooligan pit men down from the North or up from the valleys. The wild men are coming down from the mountains of history and out of the dark past.

We, the miners, are pushed out on to the margins of society. We are now its’ enemy – We are the ‘terrorists’ now. To quote Thatcher, we are ‘the enemy within’. The police have moved massively onto the streets and roads of Britain. The roadblocks everyone by now, will know about. But they are not just on the motorways and intersections of Nottingham they were on the outskirts of pit villages, like Armthorpe sealed off from any visits by their Doncaster neighbours. They were on the roads to Humberside, the roads off into the North of Yorkshire … and everywhere they choose just to put them. At times they have been at the end of people’s streets, anyone trying to leave the street has been arrested, on ‘obstruction’ charges!

That the miners and their action has been criminalised can be seen in the totally illegitimate use of the Police National Computer to monitor the movement of miners cars. The vehicles being entered into the ‘stolen and suspect vehicles’ index.


Anything a policeman tells you to do from standing still, or going back into your house when ordered, anything from not giving away newspapers to your neighbours or holding an NUM banner – anything you refuse to do no matter how non-provocative or lawful is met with the ‘obstruction’ charge. Thousands of our comrades, men, women and teenagers, miners and other village folk, have been arrested under that charge.

That charge means ‘do everything and any time any police officer tells you, and do it without protest.’ By now many people will know that cars refusing to surrender their passengers at road blocks, refusing to open their doors, have their windshields shattered by police carrying truncheons; who also get a kick of knocking the doors off the cars, thus wrecking them. Many PSUs carry a variety of fire officers’ axes, especially for the purpose of smashing windshields, axing doors off the hinges, or if you refuse to open the boot or take too long about it, that too is axed open.

Car drivers passing the scenes of such wanton destruction have stared in disbelief at police wielding axes through windshields, and pulling young men by their hair through shattered glass, out onto the bonnets of the cars, where they have been beaten senseless. The police proved they could stand the gasp of the passing motorist, secure in the knowledge that the press, radio and the TV will be holding the ruling class line and telling no tales.

They all ‘piss in the same pot’ as we say.


When stories started to drift out of the mining villages being under ‘police occupation’ we meant just that.

At Blidworth, in a street where Doncaster miners were staying as the guests of local people, massive numbers of riot police suddenly occupied the street and surrounded the houses, turning searchlights onto the premises and flooding the gardens with helmeted, riot shielded men, carrying clubs. The both implicit and explicit threat being that everyone in the street was going to be attacked as punishment for housing Doncaster miners. The only way in fact a bloodbath was avoided, and a carnage of destruction missed, was to allow the Doncaster miners to be evicted without a fight.

They were escorted by a huge party of police vehicles from Blidworth right to the edge of their own village in Yorkshire. The lads all the while wondering every mile of the dark and deserted roads, if they were going to be stopped and battered. The unfortunate miner’s families who had housed the Yorkshire miners were not subsequently spared of any violence and were the subject of much harassment, physical abuse and eventual arrests.

Before going into action, many police removed their numbers, thus demonstrating a PREMEDITATED inclination to brutality and assault. After all if one claims to have been carried away’ in the heat of the moment’ its as well to have taken off all forms of recognition two hours before that ‘moment’ arises! Sometimes the numerals are interchangeable for the same purpose.

On May 10th at Ollerton, a cop vigorously engaged in putting the boot into pickets was identified as 1150. A little later he re-emerged in another clash as 5110, this time leading an ambush party engaged in jumping out and downing isolated pickets, as they walked away to their cars.


‘And the Courts give them Justice
As Justice is given,
By well-mannered thugs.’

The Courts have, without exception, bent over backwards in finding ways of attacking previously existing civil liberties and customs. Bail conditions – remember that is BEFORE being found guilty of any offence or even having been tried for any offence;


It meant of course that you couldn’t speak at any meeting, even in your local pub, or attend a rally or give out a leaflet, sell a newspaper, or speak through a loud hailer outside the local shopping centre. Such bail conditions have not simply taken away the right to picket, they have taken away the right to exercise any of the functions one would expect a bourgeois democratic system to have; and if they can be whipped away without so much as a muffled protest from the so-called ‘guardians of the unwritten constitution’ – did we ever have such ‘rights’ in the first place? – so much the better for the State.


‘This came in the form of bail restrictions that cite, ‘you must not leave your homes at all between the hours of 1pm and 9am.’ some 20 hours of house detention, in some cases lasting for months duration BEFORE ANY TRIAL LET ALONE CONVICTION. Miners have ended up in jail for failing to comply with such outrageous conditions, one of them for addressing a National Union of Public Employees conference. The whole scene is given an additional stroke by continually adjourning the Court hearing, thus extending the period in which your free movement and liberty can be prevented. As ‘A State of Siege’ comments;

‘The Criminal Law is very specific and so can be easily used in political situations; no matter of great legal concern is ever argued out in a Magistrate’s Court, nor is motive ever considered. Because the police officer is so well received in the Magistrate’s Court, it is an uphill struggle for the defendant to prove his or her innocence, while guilt
is virtually taken for granted. ‘

In the case of quite a number of Yorkshire lads, they spent weeks in Lincoln Jail without trial or proof of any guilt for breach of what was anyway only the stupid, cover-all ‘obstruction charge’ bail restrictions. Malcolm Pitt got 19 days in jail for taking a party of Japanese miners too close to a picket line, contrary to his bail conditions. Will anyone really, seriously tell us about ‘a free country’ and ‘freedom of speech’ again?


It seems incredible, but the miners are now the subject of the dismissive attitude which attends the accusations of black folk and Irish people of outright police brutality. Incredible, to us the ordinary mining folk. After all, for decades we ‘played the game’, were Law abiding and constitutional. Few then would have spat on the flag or welled up with hate at the sight of-a police uniform. Despite passionate histories to the contrary, we had become ‘your average Law abiding citizen’. That we were subject to such horrors at the hands of the police, who were previously considered the guardians of decent people, is to us a life changing experience.

That we as self designated ‘honest people’ are not really believed comes as an even greater shock. It’s a kind of yawning ‘oh yes, police violence!’ response to our tales. And yet, it really did happen to us. As Mr Kevin Barren MP discovered when he came to tell the pickets not to throw any stones at the police and to ‘calm things’ and for his pains had his arm broken and his head clouted by the police who didn’t care who or what he was about … you have to see it to believe it. That happened to Kevin in one day, on a visit to the picket line. I told him personally, that if he had come back the day after and tried to tell the police not to hit innocent people and they had knocked him down again, by the third day he too might have thrown stones at the advancing lines of riot police.

The day after Arthur Scargill was arrested at Orgreave, the pickets had been penned into a corner by multiple black lines of police. For no reason whatsoever (nothing was happening, there were no pushes, no shouts, no offensive in any shape by the crowd of bored-looking pickets) the police ranks parted and the mounted psychopaths rode into the captive crowd, spurring the reluctant horses to push over men, and flaying their night sticks to the left and right. Both TV channels reported that evening: ‘Police horses were called in to restore order.’

AUGUST 21st 1984

The Government’s efforts to install a solitary scab at every pit in Yorkshire came to my own adopted village of Hatfield, Doncaster. The police, in short, rioted through the village, the population of which, men, women and children had turned out to show their disgust at the scab. This scab’s name was Mr Freeman, who had miraculously managed to get a golden handshake/redundancy lump sum from far away Scunthorpe steel works and be taken on at Hatfield within a blink of the eye, a few years back, before the advent of the strike. He had not of course become part of the village, and lived with the gentry farmers, out in the middle class, farm-owners’ village of Belton.

The police brief that day was, so we were told at the subsequent public enquiry, to escort the scab in and out of work. However they continued to attack the villagers for a full three hours after the scab bus with its’ solitary sleeper had left. A young lad was placed in intensive care after a severe beating, an old retired miner, tottered on the brink of the same department. Women and children were ruthlessly stampeded through their own streets, while old folk had their doors smashed open and their rooms ransacked by police engaged in totally cavalier ‘search and destroy’ raids to find ‘pickets’.

In the next village of Armthorpe, the next day, police went from house to house, breaking, entering and dragging away anyone who looked to them as though they might have been a picket. Obviously not a picket in their living rooms or having a cup of tea in someone’s kitchen, but of the correct age, look and general sort of person who the cops had encountered on various picket lines. It was called, when applied to young black people in London, ‘SUS’ (on suspicion that they might be about to commit a crime.)

The police went to war with the mining communities. They did actually take a personal and not a ‘professional’ attitude towards the dispute. We know that by the way they responded on perfectly legal, non-violent, peaceful and quiet picket lines of under six people. When for example a train stopped with supplies of iron ore or fuel to power stations or iron works. They felt personally outflanked, their side lost. At Immingham, our handful of bridge pickets from Hatfield who succeeded in stopping all fuel and ore by rail, found themselves the subject of great police annoyance. A police inspector saying ‘we have to stop all this’. The picket’s cars and vans couldn’t stay in the vicinity, it being a 24-hr picket of course meant there was nowhere for people to sleep or take a minute out of the rain. No shelter was allowed to be erected, the little polythene tent had to be removed. No fire could be lit. A chair was too close to the road (a very quiet road). So it went on ‘Have you been drinking?’ … ‘If you throw away that chip bag you will be arrested’.

Note the way food collectors, a Santa Claus included, were arrested, others obstructed, food confiscated etc. Collections for almost anyone but the miners’ families would have gone unnoticed and unmolested. The short truth was that the working class support, ‘rattled them’ personally, because they did see themselves as part of a side, and perhaps even some of them, part of a cause.


We didn’t get all they had ready, but we nearly did. On the last day at Orgreave, police at the top gate had tear gas, but an anti-cop wind flowing in their direction stopped its use. At Hatfield, on the 21st August, police officers with tear gas bags (a smart shoulder bag for grenades) and stick together gas guns were behind the scenes, or rather in the wings, their bloody offensive with clubs obviously made their new toy unnecessary. It was not a question of ‘if’, only more a question of ‘when’.

The jail sentences mounted in length and number. Leon Britton urged life sentences for miners caught in confrontation with scabs, police or coal board property. The press howled for blood and the TV interviewers gently pushed for more custodial sentences for what were previously minor civil offences.

The Chief Constables became more publicly political, expressing their views on the left wing dangers of certain trade union leaders etc. All the while they and their Tory cheerleaders were wetting themselves at the thought of trying out their newly issued plastic bullets on the miners. Stocks near the end of the dispute were around 3,500 rounds at up to 20 different forces. The end of the strike robbed them of the opportunity to use them on this occasion, but the certainty that they would have been used and undoubtedly will be used in future, similar disputes is a deeply felt belief in the pit communities.

It is highly probable that contrary to a year’s old report in The Times the AMAC (below) was supplied to key areas of the coalfield struggle and was under wraps ready for a good opportunity to go into action. The fact is it is here and once it comes out onto the streets it will never go away again until the type of social system we live under is radically changed.

The sight of the police battle wagon, stone proof, electric force fielded, armoured from top to bottom would tend to throw the most determined picket into despair. I showed a photo of the new assault vehicle to some Irish activists who quickly commented ‘I wonder what it would look like after being hit by a paving stone from a twenty storey block of flats?’

Because repression breeds resistance, it is inevitable that the miners would not have taken kindly to being shot by gas grenades, tear gassed or fired at by plastic bullets, neither would they take kindly to the armoured truck firing high pressure water hoses or electrocuting them. They would invariably have hit back with something stronger than the odd stone or two. Given the response of other European workers to attacks, the petrol bomb might well have become a feature of miner’s resistance. However the forces of ‘law & order’ were already kitted-up with even harder stuff in readiness for just such a response … and so the drift into deeper and deeper armed police repression goes on. Its’ process has now already started to take on the characteristics of the State’s war in Ireland.

The dark forces waiting in the wings have not vanished because the miners’ strike is over … they are still there. The implication for the labour movement at large and civil liberties in general are deadly. Things have already changed far more than most people realise. The passage down the slippery slope to a markedly more repressive system has accelerated alarmingly.

Day by day, the walls are closing in around all of us. The only rights we have are those we have successfully fought for or defended. There are no rights enshrined in some untouchable glass case that we can always refer to to protect us from autocracy. The end of our strike left us as a union and as a movement bereft of a whole range of civil liberties and expected safeguards we thought we enjoyed. The powers of the police have expanded enormously. ‘The role of the Law and Law Courts has blanketed everything we had previously marked off as being ‘industrial relations’ and not, therefore, their territory. In a word there is nothing that they cannot do to us, and nothing that we have that cannot be taken off us, if we are unable to fight to keep it or to hold them back.

‘This is why the recent disputes was never simply the miners private campaign or a struggle as to whether some Yorkshire village or another would have a pit in it or not. This is why support from and participation in that dispute by other sections of the trade union and labour movement was never an act of philanthropy. It has been, and still is a battle for our survival, of the people’s means to resist. A battle for all progressive people and people engaged in a vast array of protest organisations. Most assuredly the features of repression used against us, and the infringements of our previously assumed rights, will become the yardstick in dealing with any section of the working class or the wider population who are seen to pose a threat to this government and the faceless powers who pull the strings in the background.

Whoever it was said:- ‘If they come for you in the night, then they will come for me in the morning. . .’ was dead right. We’ve had some of it, now I believe they are looking for you.

David John Douglas.
NUM Branch Delegate, Hatfield. May 1985

First published in 1986
Printed by Aldgate Press, London E1
D. Douglass, Doncaster DAM-IWA: PO Box 96, Doncaster. Cambridge DAM-IWA: c/o Grapevine, 25 Gwydir St, Cambridge.
South London DAM-IWA: 121 Railton Rd, London SE 24. Canary Press: c/o Housmans, 5 Caledonian Rd, London N I.

OCR’d for December 2006

Certainly it was a fight we had no choice but to undertake, a battle the working class will never forget, and one we certainly didn’t deserve to lose, for these ordinary folk, not trained soldiers or wild eyed zealots, had laid everything flesh and blood and even life could offer on the line. They had no more to give. Visit the former pit communities today and you will still see the results of that defeat, although come to think of it, visit almost any workplace in Britain and you will see it too. We must never forget who were our friends and who were our enemies in that war, nor the need to start seriously looking for the means of taking our revenge. Yes we will cheer when Thatcher kicks the bucket, but it’s the whole stinking system she fought for and defended which needs to go to the grave with her. That would be a lasting legacy for the pit communities of 84/85.

A year of our lives – 20 years since the great coal strike of 1984-1985

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglass looks back on the great miners strike, twenty years on. Recalling information about the strike, the reasons behind it, the Tories’ and Labour’s attacks on the working class and finally how the strike was lost.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1984/85 miners strike, arguably the most important working class struggle of the twentieth century. Some have seen the miners strike of 1926 and the subsequent general strike as a greater potential revolutionary movement. I wouldn’t argue with that, for a brief period the state and the misleaders of the trade union movement held their breath, while the tanks were mobilised on the streets and the military took up position while workers followed the call for class solidarity. But the moment was short lived, in its revolutionary potential anyway, for the miners it was to last 9 bitter, betrayal and starvation filled months.

The 84/85 movement, however, posed a far greater physical challenge to the guardians of law and order, in terms of confrontation and mass movement of workers taking to the streets to challenge control by the state. In terms of rank and file control (at least initially) and involvement of the whole community, the offensive by the women of the coalfields and sometimes the children, establishment of miners support groups across industry and the labour movement, the world wide mobilisation of solidarity support and sometimes action, 84 was far more an actual movement, politicising vast numbers of people, both within and without the pit communities. (Of course 26 had its moments, derailing the Flying Scotsman, was unmatched by anything we pulled off in 84 for example).

The pit communities were ‘closed’ communities in the sense that, mining isn’t a trade you just come to out of the blue. It is a profession passed on father to son, in many cases for generations (women and little girls had worked in some coalfields, but by the 1840s were prevented by legislation from underground labour, pit brow women continued into the 1960s). It carries with it, its own culture, its own view of history and how that has impacted upon the mining communities. When miners spoke on public platforms during the strike, of ‘the struggle of our fathers and grandfathers’ most academics assumed they were talking figuratively, but they weren’t, they were talking actually, about the impact and perceptions of struggles which had gone before. The effect of this was to ensure mining communities were already highly politicised, with deep class perspectives and socialist traditions. It had been scarce ten years earlier the Edward Heath government broke its back on the miners strike, and twelve years since they had wrecked his incomes policy. So the miners and their families entered this struggle well aware of the scale of the challenge being mounted. Although some had taken some convincing at first, by March 1984 few were unaware that Thatcher was moving in to smash the social power of the miners by breaking their union in an all or nothing confrontation.

Almost universally the ‘left’ has cited the decentralised nature of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as a weakness. This is a strange view indeed, without the semi-autonomy of the miners areas, the strike in the form it was launched could never have happened. Behind the view is a notion that some how the miners could simply be ordered out on strike by a national leadership running a national union. They would never have worn that, which is in part why the old Area structure and strong branch autonomies remained.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher was elected it was clear her whole strategy at home would depend on being able to heavily defeat the unions. Most had responded to this perspective by staying out of sight and hoping she wouldn’t notice them, with the miners she and her party strategists had long planned to take them on as a prelude to her whole social and economic programme; the miners had to be fought and defeated (most will perhaps be aware of the Myron Plan and Ridley Commission, strategies drawn up following the defeat of Heath to take on and defeat the miners in the future, using scab drivers, mass policing, an anti-strike movement and support for a nuclear alternative). A steady game of chess had been stalking the board for three years prior to the outbreak of the strike. The union leadership had been trying to forge a strategy which would take the miners as a united national body into conflict with this government, on our terms, but it had failed. Failed because although the miners were a militant bunch, and would fight on wages and conditions when they felt particularly aggrieved, they had never really been too arsed about fighting pit closures. Hundreds had closed over the preceding twenty years, the failure to fight this was only partially due to the collaboration of NUM leaders, the other was down to the ambivalent attitude of the miners to pit work.

We didn’t actually like the pit, we didn’t actually like working on god awful shifts, in crippling dust and heat in cramped and wet conditions. True we were all proud to be miners, but that didn’t mean we liked working down the mine! So fighting for jobs, especially these jobs was never going to be a catchy slogan. NUM leader Arthur Scargill had disastrously tried to link the question of pit closures to pay rises together on a single ballot paper, in the hope that the desire for the latter would deliver up a mandate on the former. The members were furious and felt they were being conned, and the strategy backfired. The National Coal Board (NCB) for its part was also wrong footed, for a start they were not sure what the aim of a showdown was about. Most senior managers would agree the union was too strong and needed its wings clipping in a showdown, many would agree there was surplus capacity in the industry and it required fine tuning, perhaps a little surgery. Few on the NCB side would agree to any perspective of decimating the industry or stomping the union out of existence, the bulk of them had come up through the ranks, and themselves were generational pit folk, albeit ‘on the other side’.

What the bosses of the Coal Board hadn’t realised was that this whole strategy was aimed at destroying the NCB as an organisation, and with it, most of them. For a time it looked as though the NCB would concentrate on taking out ‘capacity’ (shutting pits) in areas were they figured they could get away with it: Durham, Northumberland, Scotland, Wales. Rank and file efforts to generate a major fight back on closures in these areas failed to move, with great residual bitterness. Polmaise in Scotland, Bear Park in Durham, Lewis Merthyr in South Wales all had tried to demonstrate the need for solidarity action and a national stand. At Lewis Merthyr pickets had started to be deployed around the country. At Hatfield Main in Doncaster the Women’s Support Group was founded to lobby for support for strike action for Lewis Merthyr and the branch voted to strike. The Doncaster panel was calling for strikes in the entire Doncaster coalfield in support, but other parts of Yorkshire were hostile. The South Wales Area came out en masse and the strike was endorsed under rule 41 by the National Executive Committee, the way was open for South Wales to then picket out and call for support from the other areas. However the demand for a national ballot was acceded to and following the usual press propaganda war, warning of hell fire, and murder, the vote was lost by 61%. The NCB could continue its selective surgery without confrontation.

That was not the strategy however, and under Thatcher’s orders, industrialist Ian MacGregor was called in because Thatcher didn’t trust the NCB chiefs to do the scale of closure and conduct the fight to the finish with the NUM. The US imported undertaker [originally brought to the UK by the Labour Party on the board of British Leyland] threw down the gauntlet in Yorkshire – Cortonwood would close in days, what are you going to do about it? The Yorkshire miners as a whole had been very reluctant to fight for miners elsewhere, it must be said, but now the challenge was at home, and it was clear this was a fight, initially yes for 50,000 jobs and 50 pits, but also whether or not the remaining miners would have any backbone, what sort of regime would remain for the survivors and would we have a union at all. Those things were worth fighting for. Again an area strike was called by pit delegates and at mass meetings throughout the coalfields endorsed at the pit head in a show of tens of thousands of hands, although there had also been a successful ballot in the Yorkshire Area three years earlier. Again the NEC approved the action under rule 41 and the Yorkshire pickets set off to call out their fellow miners in all the other areas. This time we would not respond to calls for a national ballot. Other areas joined the action, some very reluctantly and picketing and mass meetings seen strong arguments, especially in Wales were the miners had felt particularly let down by Yorkshire, but within a week 80% of the miners and 134 pits were on strike nation-wide. At the others despite calls to support the strike, and with the active assistance of Thatcher’s strike breaking teams and undercover agents, an anti-strike movement later an anti-union movement was developed.

What must be remembered is that this uneven response by key areas was not an accident, it had been designed to happen, and designed by the former Labour government.

The miners strike of 1974 had brought down the Tories and imposed a Labour government, but the miners had refused to call off their strike during and after the general election. The implication was clear to any government, strike action could shift governments, and it needn’t be once every five years. Power resided elsewhere other than in parliament. The working class as a class had power if it wished to exercise it for political and class ends. Labour didn’t like this any more than the Tories and had set up a think tank to design strategies to ensure this didn’t happen again, just as the Tories had done in fact. Chief target of the strategists had been the centralising, unifying, feature of national pay bargaining. It meant that miners wages and conditions for the first time were debated on a single national table by a single national union body representing all the areas. It had ended area disparities and area inequalities. National pay bargaining had meant for the first time that a miner in the Scotland could be paid the same rates for the same class of work as a miner in Kent, or in any one of the far flung coalfield areas.

The eyes of the miners in all areas, and the strength of their resolve would be unified in one union around conference decisions. It had been this feature, brought about by the National Power Loading Agreement of 1963 which had cleared the way for successful strikes in ’69, ’72 and ’74. It was this feature which Labour now moved to break. This it did by introduction of the Area Incentive Schemes, over the top of national conference decisions and against the decisions of national ballots. The Midlands and Nottingham in particular ignored ballot decisions and with the green light from NUM leader Joe Gormley, effectively a fifth columnist, the area incentive scheme was adopted, entirely unconstitutionally. Wages and conditions, as well as perspectives for the future, would now be locally coloured to a large extent. Area strategies would be seen as more important than national ones. Old fault lines, first established in the anti 1926 strike movement, the anti miners union of Spensorism which had been established in Nottingham, now opened up wider with the generous payments of incentives in selective areas. Nottingham and Leicester convinced themselves they had a long term future of their own, the other coalfields areas were not of concern. This “I’m all right Jack” attitude was crucial in dividing miner from miner and area from area, but it had been created as a political and social ploy, it wasn’t some natural development.

Some have made the ballot the central issue of the strike. Of course it wasn’t, but it is important to understand the degree to which the rank and file dictated tactics during this strike. Many in the leadership had seen the picketing operations and the semi-official nature of the strike movement as a temporary measure, a kick-start to get the thing rolling on a more official basis. Once the strike started, and the full design of the other side revealed, once we were able to let the activists hammer home the message of the gravity of this situation, once the bulk of the rank and file were fully convinced of the necessity to take this on, we could then call a national ballot. Wrong, although a special conference was convened in Sheffield, and a rule change had gone through conference to change the rule requirement for national action from 55% to 51%. The members now on strike could see no need for any ballots. They thought we in the leadership of the union were trying to sell them out, were looking for an excuse to call off the strike. So they instructed their delegates at pit after pit to vote against a national ballot and to continue the strike to victory. It was an entirely understandable reaction, but in retrospect a mistaken one. A national ballot at this stage of the struggle, with emotions running high and the bulk of the collieries at a standstill would without any doubt whatever have won a massive strike mandate. Of course this wouldn’t have stopped the hardened scabs going in, nor stopped the reactionary forces operating in Nottingham trying to break the union and the strike, but it would have robbed them of their legitimacy, and taken some of the edge off the excuses put forward by other unions showing only lukewarm support or outright scabbing.

For a time, the pickets spreading out in brilliant manoeuvres from coalfield to coalfield and pit to pit, rolled all in front of them, the sheer buoyancy of confidence of the pickets won over by far and away the bulk of doubters in coalfield after coalfield. Even in Nottingham where only a minority, perhaps a third of miners actually actively supported the strike, men refused to cross picket lines and were, if not happy to go home, at least went home without too much fuss. Solidarity started to come through strongly on the railways, and among the seafarers. Some power stations started to realise that our jobs were literally their jobs too and took blacking actions. Thatcher’s reaction was the drafting of a de-facto national police force, which would be given its head to do anything it had to do to stop the pickets getting through, and to break up picket lines. The police were signed up as the NCB’s own security firm to ensure scabs got to work on time and in one piece regardless of numbers and costs. Roadblocks and curfews were imposed and the striking villages were saturated with an occupying police force. Government strategies were then based around getting at least one scab into every pit in Britain. In Yorkshire, this would be the major diversion, along with the Orgreave steel coking plant. These police second fronts would stop the pickets in Nottingham and allow the scabs to work and coal to be produced. The bitterness of escalating violence and counter-violence is now legendary, but what it did was open up political ideas on class violence, on counter violence, and the justification for armed struggles. The IRA, for example, only lost sympathy during the strike when they failed to kill Thatcher and her cabinet. The scab herding taxi driver’s death in Wales was seen and justified almost everywhere as a legitimate action which had simply gone wrong, a casuality in a war which had already claimed two of our pickets without any such fuss in the press. The hypocrisy over Libyan financial assistance for the strikers, when Thatcher was pouring extra oil in from every despotic country in the world, all were educations in the real class divide in world events.

Across the world, working people mobilised in solidarity with the British miners and their families. The scale of the operation is breathless. Tens of millions of pounds were raised and distributed through rank and file networks of women, and local support groups. Families fed, clothed and cared for 12 bitter months of struggle. Sympathetic councils suspended rents, kept school canteens open during holiday months, and did what they could, whilst on the other side the DSS stopped benefits and found ways to force real poverty on people’s welfare entitlements regardless of age. The nature of this state started to be revealed in very real terms, and that wiped some mist from the eyes of many about places like Ireland, and what was going on there, the struggle of black people down in London and other places. Social roles were starting to be challenged. Women not only ‘manned’ soup kitchens and the welfare infrastructure but argued among themselves about strategy, pickets, slogans, marriage and kids and ideas in general. Would groups be ‘ladies’ or ‘wives’ or ‘women’? Sexual stereotyping, attitudes to gays, religious groups, everything which had been taken for granted was now no longer taken for granted.

Victory was within grasp, we could feel it and taste it. Thatcher and MacGreggor have both admitted as much. If the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers union (NACODS) had implemented either of its mass pro-strike mandates, if the dockers had continued their blacking actions just days longer, if the TUC had implemented its national conference decisions, we would have won hands down.

Just think of what that victory would have meant in political terms, in class terms in social terms, coming at the end of such a polarisation of class forces and determined action on both sides. Twice in ten years an industrial union based on a community would have smashed a government policy and almost certainly would have smashed the Thatcher government too. Think of the consequences of that. The other side, not just the Tories and their establishment, but the whole parliamentary circus, of Labour and Liberal trembled. That we didn’t succeed was a consequence of conscious traitors in the trade union leadership, particularly in power stations, and steel works and among NACODS who saw and chose a side, consciously joining in to ensure the defeat of the miners. But it was also action by those individual workers who could not see the consequences, refused to see anything but their own selfish greed, which derailed us. At the end of the day, the dockers at Immingham, who allowed non union non dockers to load coal onto scab lorries, and in the process smashed their own dock labour scheme, and most of their jobs nation-wide. The power station workers who scabbed every day, and ultimately saw two thirds of their own jobs go with the closure of the coal fired stations. The coking coal plants like Orgreave that worked on through the cavalry charges and pitched battles at their gates. The blackleg miners in Nottingham and Leicester, thrown on the scrap heap and their own pits closed and communities decimated. The armies of female office workers, whose wages and conditions came from being part of the white collar section of the NUM. Whose allegiances and inflated self opinion however kept them working right through the strike, collecting money and donating flowers to the nice policemen only to discover if you don’t need coal mines, you don’t need coal mine HQs and blocks of offices, and finally joined the miners… on the dole queue. The scabbing steel workers in Scotland, Wales and Yorkshire, all closed down and dead and buried. Scab mercenary lorry drivers spreading strike breaking, from the miners, through the dockers, and the print workers, through animal activists, through nuclear campaigners and presiding over destruction of social communities and solidarity and compassion.

Certainly it was a fight we had no choice but to undertake, a battle the working class will never forget, and one we certainly didn’t deserve to lose, for these ordinary folk, not trained soldiers or wild eyed zealots, had laid everything flesh and blood and even life could offer on the line. They had no more to give. Visit the former pit communities today and you will still see the results of that defeat, although come to think of it, visit almost any workplace in Britain and you will see it too. We must never forget who were our friends and who were our enemies in that war, nor the need to start seriously looking for the means of taking our revenge. Yes we will cheer when Thatcher kicks the bucket, but it’s the whole stinking system she fought for and defended which needs to go to the grave with her. That would be a lasting legacy for the pit communities of 84/85.

David Douglass

First published in Black Flag. Lightly edited by for typos, grammar and some clarifying information such as full names and acronyms.

Three brilliant documentary films dedicated to the British coal miners strike.

Ken Loach’s documentary recounts the effects of the infamous Miner’s Strike of 1984. Loach’s holistic view of a conflict that shaped modern Britain encompasses interviews with key participants, as well as platforming the songs and poems they were inspired to write during their ordeal. It’s an unconventional investigation, but one that is ripe with Loach’s signature focus and sincerity.

Originally commissioned for the South Bank Show, LWT refused to show the finished documentary claiming it was too politically biased. Channel Four eventually broadcast the film after it won a prize at the Berlin Film Festival. (from the BFI)

A documentary by Mike Figgis about Jeremy Deller’s reenactment of The Battle of Orgreave (2001).

The violent confrontation between police and miners outside the coking plant at Orgreave in South Yorkshire was one of the crucial episodes in the 1984 Miners’ Strike. Made 17 years later in the same village, The Battle of Orgreave centres on a reenactment of the brutal confrontation made with the participation of many relatives of former miners as well as re-enactment specialists. Mike Figgis’s film of Jeremy Deller’s reenactment, originally shown on Channel 4, combines footage of the day’s event with interviews with several key protagonists. Mac McLoughlin, a former miner and serving policeman on the field in 1984, reveals details about the buildup within the police force prior to the stand-off; David Douglass (NUM) talks about the meaning of the confrontation in relation to the trade union movement; Stephanie Gregory (Womens’ Support Group) reminisces about the effects on family life; and Tony Benn talks about the media’s role in covering up the truth about the strike in 1984. (from the Artangel Collection)

For more on the misnamed “Battle” – for it was effectively a police riot against the miners -, see The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and The Guardian piece by David Conn, “The scandal of Orgreave” (18/05/2017).

Owen Gower’s Still the Enemy Within (2014)

The literature on the British coal miners’ strike is extensive and we cannot hope to provide anything resembling a full bibliography of the events. Anyone wishing to pursue the matter further may consult a bibliography put together for Sheffield City Archives here.

The Road to Wigan Pier

George Orwell

Socialists have a big job ahead of them here. They have got to demonstrate, beyond possibility of doubt, just where the line of cleavage between exploiter and exploited comes. Once again it is a question of sticking to essentials; and the essential point here is that all people with small, insecure incomes are in the same boat and ought to be fighting on the same side. Probably we could do with a little less talk about’ capitalist’ and ’proletarian’ and a little more about the robbers and the robbed. But at any rate we must drop that misleading habit of pretending that the only proletarians are manual labourers. It has got to be brought home to the clerk, the engineer, the commercial traveller, the middle-class man who has ’come down in the world’, the village grocer, the lower-grade civil servant, and all other doubtful cases that they are the proletariat, and that Socialism means a fair deal for them as well as for the navvy and the factory-hand. They must not be allowed to think that the battle is between those who pronounce their aitches and those who don’t; for if they think that, they will join in on the side of the aitches.

I am implying that different classes must be persuaded to act together without, for the moment, being asked to drop their class-differences. And that sounds dangerous. It sounds
rather too like the Duke of York’s summer camp and that dismal line of talk about class-cooperation and putting our shoulders to the wheel, which is eyewash or Fascism, or both.
There can be no cooperation between classes whose real interests are opposed. The capitalist cannot cooperate with the proletarian. The cat cannot cooperate with the mouse; and if the cat does suggest cooperation and the mouse is fool enough to agree, in a very little while the mouse will be disappearing down the cat’s throat. But it is always possible to cooperate so long as it is upon a basis of common interests. The people who have got to act together are all those who cringe to the boss and all those who shudder when they think of the rent. This means that the small-holder has got to ally himself with the factory-hand, the typist with the coalminer, the schoolmaster with the garage mechanic. There is some hope of getting them to do so if they can be made to understand where their interest lies. But this will not happen if their social prejudices, which in some of them are at least as strong as any economic consideration, arc needlessly irritated. There is, after all, a real difference of manners and traditions between a bank clerk and a dock labourer, and the bank clerk’s feeling of superiority is very deeply rooted. Later on he will have to get rid of it, but this is not a good moment for asking him. to do so. Therefore it would be a very great advantage if that rather meaningless and mechanical bourgeois-baiting, which is a part of nearly all Socialist propaganda, could be dropped for the time being. Throughout left-wing thought and writing–and the whole way through it, from the leading articles in the Daily Worker to the comic columns in the News Chronicle–there runs an anti-genteel tradition, a persistent and often very stupid gibing at genteel mannerisms and genteel loyalties (or, in Communist jargon, ’bourgeois values’). It is largely hum-bug, coming as it does from bourgeois-baiters who are bourgeois themselves, but it does great harm, because it allows a minor issue to block a major one. It directs attention away from the central fact that poverty is poverty, whether the tool you work with is a pickaxe or a fountain-pen.

Once again, here am I, with my middle-class origins and my income of about three pounds a week from all sources.

For what I am worth it would be better to get me in on the Socialist side than to turn me into a Fascist. But if you are constantly bullying me about my ’bourgeois ideology’, if you give me to understand that in some subtle way I. am an inferior person because I have never worked with my hands, you will only succeed in antagonizing me. For you are telling me either that I am inherently useless or that I ought to alter myself in some way that is beyond my power. I cannot proletarianize my accent or certain of my tastes and beliefs, and I would not if I could. Why should I? I don’t ask anybody else to speak my dialect; why should anybody else ask
me to speak his? It would be far better to take those miserable class-stigmata for granted and emphasize them as little as possible. They are comparable to a race-difference, and experience shows that one can cooperate with foreigners, even with foreigners whom one dislikes, when it is really necessary. Economically, I am in the same boat with the miner, the navvy, and the farm-hand; remind me of that and I will fight at their side. But culturally I am different from the miner, the navvy, and the farm-hand: lay the emphasis on that and you may arm me against them. If I were a solitary anomaly I should not matter, but what is true of myself is true of countless others. Every bank clerk dreaming of the sack, every shop-keeper teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, is in essentially the same position. These are the sinking middle class,
and most of them are clinging to their gentility under the impression that it keeps them afloat. It is not good policy to start by telling them to throw away the life-belt. There is a quite obvious danger that in the next few years large sections of the middle class will make a sudden and violent swing to the Right. In doing so they may become formidable. The weakness of the middle class hitherto has lain in the fact that they have never learned to combine; but if you frighten them into combining against you, you may find that you have raised up a devil. We had a brief glimpse of this possibility in the General Strike.

To sum up: There is no chance of righting the conditions I described in the earlier chapters of this book, or of saving England from Fascism, unless we can bring an effective Socialist party into existence. It will have to be a party with genuinely revolutionary intentions, and it will have to be numerically strong enough to act. We can only get it if we offer an objective which fairly ordinary people will recognize as desirable. Beyond all else, therefore, we need intelligent propaganda. Less about ’class consciousness’, ’expropriation of the expropriators’, ’bourgeois ideology’, and ’proletarian solidarity’, not to mention the sacred sisters, thesis, antithesis, and
synthesis; and more about justice, liberty, and the plight of the unemployed. And less about mechanical progress, tractors, the Dnieper dam, and the latest salmon-canning factory
in Moscow; that kind of thing is not an integral part of Socialist doctrine, and it drives away many people whom the Socialist cause needs, including most of those who can hold a pen. All that is needed is to hammer two facts home into the public consciousness. One, that the interests of all exploited people are the same; the other, that Socialism is compatible with common decency.

As for the terribly difficult issue of class-distinctions, the only possible policy for the moment is to go easy and not frighten more people than can be helped. And above all, no more of those muscular-curate efforts at class-breaking. If you belong to the bourgeoisie, don’t be too eager to bound forward and embrace your proletarian brothers; they may not like it, and if they show that they don’t like it you will probably find that your class-prejudices are not so dead as you imagined. And if you belong to the proletariat, by birth or in the sight of God, don’t sneer too automatically at the Old School Tie; it covers loyalties which can be useful to you if you know how to handle them.

Yet I believe there is some hope that when Socialism is a living issue, a thing that large numbers of Englishmen genuinely care about, the class-difficulty may solve itself more
rapidly than now seems thinkable. In the next few years we shall either get that effective Socialist party that we need, or we shall not get it. If we do not get it, then Fascism is coming;
probably a slimy Anglicized form of Fascism, with cultured policemen instead of Nazi gorillas and the lion and the unicorn instead of the swastika. But if we do get it there will be a struggle, conceivably a physical one, for our plutocracy will not sit quiet under a genuinely revolutionary government. And when the widely separate classes who, necessarily, would form any real Socialist party have fought side by side, they may feel differently about one another. And then
perhaps this misery of class-prejudice will fade away, and we of the sinking middle class—the private schoolmaster, the half-starved free-lance journalist, the colonel’s spinster daughter with £75 a year, the jobless Cambridge graduate, the ship’s officer without a ship, the clerks, the civil servants, the commercial travellers, and the thrice-bankrupt drapers in the country towns–may sink without further struggles into the working class where we belong, and probably when we get there it will not be so dreadful as we feared, for, after all, we have nothing to lose but our aitches.

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3 Responses to The battle for Britain: the 1984-85 coal miners’ strike

  1. Samfanto says:

    Haven’t yet read this text but regardless of the significant differences with it I’d probably have after having browsed it, I’d like to add this to your list of references – an even longer text on the history of the British miners and the strike (plus some other important struggles of the UK working class ) : .

  2. Samfanto says:

    Only browsed this fairly superficially so far. But, despite feeling I have significant differences with your text, I’d like to add the following extensive history of the miners and of the ’84-’85 strike (as well as other working class struggles at that time) to your strike references:
    It also includes an account of the ’72 miners strike, which was a famous victory, sadly not famous enough:

  3. Julius Gavroche says:

    Thanks very much for sharing the references and the links.

    In solidarity,


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