The Miners’ Strike 1984
Article, ‘The Battleground by John Pilger – 29 August 1984’
“This is a war started by a Government which is using the police as weapons”
PHOTO The Battleground by John Pilger-29 August 1984 PHOTO
This is frontline Britain in the summer of 1984. The motorway into Nottinghamshire is a ribbon of police vans, convoy after convoy with headlights on.
Here the roadblocks begin. I have experienced roadblocks in many countries—countries at war and countries under siege—and there is a familiar feeling and reflex action as you approach them. Your stomach tightens and you reach for identification papers.
Policemen press their faces almost to the windscreen. A car ahead is waved to the centre: the people in it are told to get out.
Another car is turned back. There is no appeal and clearly no freedom of movement. If this was not mainland Britain it would be Northern Ireland.
It was here that Sydney Richmond, a retired miner, and his son Norman refused to get out of their car. Neither is involved in the miners’ strike; they were on their way to visit relatives.
The police, says Mr. Richmond, who is 70 years old, struck him in the face and knocked him to the ground. His son, who is not a miner, was beaten up. Both were handcuffed so tightly that Mr. Richmond, who suffers from thrombosis, bled through the palms of his hands.
Mr. Richmond’s solicitor confirmed his injuries. Neither Mr. Richmond nor his son were charged with anything and they are suing the police for assault and wrongful arrest. What happened to them was not unusual.
Colin Dixon is on strike in Ollerton. He was driving with his son Darrell when the police stopped him. “They laid into me,” he said, “and wrapped the seat belt around my neck. I was dragged to the ground and six of them kicked me. One put his boot in my chest.”
“My son is a schoolboy. He got the same treatment. He was handcuffed so tightly the blood was all over his wrists. He was released, and I was kept for 36 hours without anything to eat or drink.”
The Dixon’s, like all the striking miners I interviewed, have the statements of witnesses to back up their stories. They are also suing the police.
A recent report called ‘A State of Siege’, by Susan Miller and Martin Walker, finds that many arrests of miners are illegal, that few miners have committed any offence, that phone tapping and Special Branch enquiries into personal lives are common and that magistrates are giving blanket bail conditions, regardless of the merits of each case.
Solicitors of men I have interviewed agree with these findings. One of them told me: “Striking miners are in a minority in Nottinghamshire. Their children are beaten up at school, their wives get obscene phone calls from working miners. The police have an anti-intimidation squad, but they rarely prosecute working miners.”
Men with no previous convictions have been barred from their own homes at certain times simply because their homes are near the pit. The police told one man that if he was seen outside his own home in a group he would be accused of picketing. Another man’s bail conditions prevent him from visiting the legal aid centre in Ollerton.
Colin Dixon has to ask permission of the police to visit his mother’s grave, which is near the pit. So does his father, who is retired.
One man was told he could not take his children to school. The magistrates lifted this one condition, but he must carry his bail conditions with him at all times—echoes of Pass Laws in South Africa. Ordinary liberties are being eroded in Britain: That is the news from the coalfields.
In Ollerton there are police on the streets, police in forecourts, police in the cemetery. Near the pit is a mobile, high-powered radio unit able to call in para military squads in minutes.
People looking at videos in shop windows have been told to move on under threat of being charged with “unlawful assembly.” Like many children, Paul Naylor, aged twelve, was stopped by the police.
“I was asked who my father was,” he said, “and what my address was and what I thought about the strike. I told them I was confused … but I don’t think I am confused now.”
The latest violence on television in the miners’ strike was last week at Easington in County Durham. I have known the people there for ten years. They are patient, and law-abiding, but now they are frustrated, with empty bellies and unable to feed their families for a week on what a policeman gets in overtime in a day.
This is an industrial war started by a Government which is using the police as weapons. And as in any war, there is violence on both sides. The other side of the violence is seldom shown on television.
Last April three policemen stopped Bob Cooper in Ollerton. They asked for identification. He handed them his green picket’s card. “They tore it up,” he said. “Then they held me against a wall and punched me and left me on the ground.”
In June, at Orgreave, Mr Cooper went to help an injured miner and was bending over him when a mounted policeman charged him and smashed him in the neck with his truncheon. He crawled away and was charged again. This time the horse ran over him.
Mr Cooper has spent four weeks in a neck brace and callipers. He cannot straighten his knee. His neck muscles may have wasted. He has constant headaches. He too, is suing the police for assault.
Miners at Ollerton and elsewhere on the coalfields say that police in plainclothes have joined the picket line and pushed them from behind into the arms of other police, so that violence and arrests are inevitable.
This is not shown on TV. Nor are scenes of policemen waving their pay packets at hungry miners and shouting, “Eat grass,” at them. At Ollerton two observers of the National Council for Civil Liberties watched police drag a woman along the ground by the arm after she had shouted at working miners in vans.
That also happened to Jackie Naylor, the wife of a miner, and typical of the courageous women standing beside the men.
These women have told me that what causes so much anger directed against the miners by authority is that the miners are striking to save their industry, not for money, and the Government simply does not understand this kind of principled stand.
“We set up one stall in Mansfield,”said Mrs Naylor. “It was to collect food and clothes and like, and the council stopped it. The Quakers have given us a hall for a soup kitchen. My family gets one food parcel a week. We don’t have a lettuce leaf at the moment, but we’re not complaining. We’ve got right on our side, and we’re fighting back. It’s time that happened isn’t it?”