RE-VISITING THE MINERS STRIKE 1984-85
The small mining villages situated near Doncaster and Barnsley , Yorkshire , showed to me in a series of episodes, the ‘civil war' nature of the miner's strike of 1984. The working people around Stainforth, Armthorpe and Woolley certainly could testify to the ruthless nature of ‘the enemy within' the capitalist state. That the miners suffered a defeat that took almost a full year to play out demonstrated the creative combativity of their struggle. Capitalist grandees of business cheered on the assaults led by the police but the whole spectrum of society knew from daily visions on the TV and in the media that this was a war, albeit oftentimes edited or ignored to lessen impact. The cynical but consistent failure of the ‘responsible left' i.e. Labour Party and Communist Party leaders have, ever since left a legacy within the working class that will never be forgotten. The twenty-five years have passed since those eventful days but still the memories have not dulled the clarity to those involved. This was a social mugging by the state that left many lessons ingrained.
My recall goes back to Stainforth/Hatfield four miles north-east of Doncaster . In itself not dissimilar in design and aspect to the housing familiar to me around the Ford factory in Dagenham, Essex. However Stainforth, and it's adjacent coal mine of Hatfield Main, was to witness some extraordinary sights during one sultry day in the August of '84. The strike had been going for five months and not a single strike-breaker had dared to challenge the village population by attempting go to work. But on the 21 st August that changed. Three scabs, we were told, had broken the strike and had ‘gone in' to the accompaniment of many flying missiles and protection from the armed attendance of the Greater Manchester Constabulary soon after dawn. Myself and reporter Simon Veevers*, had been at Armthorpe, three mile away, another strongly supported strike village, when we were passed a message from one of Simon's innumerable contacts in the area about the earlier ‘goings on' at Hatfield Main. We hightailed there to find a not a stand-off but a sit-off. The police lines had meanwhile been reinforced by another detachment from London 's Met, whilst the whole village, older men, women and children were behind their side - miners sat across the end of the pit lane in blockade.
The time was approaching when the police would move to bring out the vehicle containing the scabs through the only exit from the pit. The strike-breakers hadn't gotten their hands dirty for pay that day. Their purpose was purely to create a psychological wedge in the remote countryside village and facilitate the use of the big city forces mobilised by the Association of Chief Police Officers to do their worst. There were no token attempts at negotiation or notification with the miners and villagers on the part of senior police officers. They knew why they were there. It mattered not to them that one of the scabs had been gently persuaded to rejoin the strike and had left the ferrying wagon with now, just two aboard for the gauntlet run through the Stainforth's defiant line. In fact if a scab was limbless with a bad back and total memory loss he would still have been told “the force is with you”. The mercury was rising and we could sense the fidgety impatience throughout the ranks of the closely packed, overdressed lines of blue.
On a simple signal both left and right wings of police charged forward - punching, kicking and truncheoning all before them. Of course the majority of the miners climbed to their feet and scattered to avoid the blows. Others sat their ground and were overwhelmed with hardwood sticks, steel toe-capped boots and shields. Men women and children ran. There were subsequently many days like this at Stainforth with divisions of police-horses and dog-handlers rampaging through the little alleyways that criss-crossed the miners housing.
Some months after the 21 st August I was asked to print four sets of photos for a forthcoming court case in Doncaster . A miner who had been collared immediately the police charge had started was now, we learned, being charged with assaulting the police! The fact that he had stopped breathing after his beating and had been resuscitated in the emergency room altered not the states victimisation at all. The pictures clearly showed his distinctive tee-shirt being enveloped by a sea of blue. He obviously had neither time nor weapons for assault as against the police ….. I'll not name the miner for I write this story without his permission. On the day in court, the files of photographs were passed to the solitary circuit (miners'strike) Judge, prosecution counsel, defence counsel and myself.
After affirming to tell the truth with my hand raised and left foot on the bible the prosecution questioned me, not on what I had seen as a witness, but on how my exhibits could be trusted – being that I worked for a revolutionary newspaper! The judge interjected, countering the prosecutor with, “ the witness is here to confirm the validity of the photographs – do you question their truth?” The police prosecutor bowed his head and said, “No your honour.” Had the prosecution embarrassed the judge with their witch-hunt of objective truth? Surely not a conspiracy to validate the objectivity of the Big-Wig? No matter the judge duly found him guilty on the verbal from several of Manchester 's law enforcers. Photo evidence is obviously inferior to police testimony.
The judge vindicated his ‘profession' without a jury. The officers did their job. I and the miner had been the only unpaid attendees. He did three months. These court cases were repeated with monotonous and banging-up regularity over the ensuing months of miners' appearances. Justice is class justice, always was, always will be - better be the day when the ‘rules of court' and judgements are passed down by the working class themselves.
The convoys of police marauding around Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire has left many indelible memories for me, but standing out in starkest relief on reflection is the recall of those seemingly little but obstinate organisms that grew in town and village around the pit. This is the way of social being. It will be again. Perhaps not for us. But it will be I'm sure. * Comrade Simon Veevers was with me in court that day too, but sadly he is no longer with us. He died at the start of winter last year. He was a class fighter who did everything he thought he could do and more to advance miners strike in 84-85. His stories and interviews were often the only breath of truth to reach mining areas amid a sea of putrid and toxic lies from well-paid scribblers and editors.
Ray Rising – a News Line photographer and partisan - 1 st May 2009
A collection of photographs taken by Ray and colleagues at the Hatfield picket line: August 21st '84