Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Reflections after a night of remembering the miners’ strike 30 years on: What lessons are to be learned for contemporary protest. 26th March 2014

This event originated when a few, and I mean a few, of us at Cardiff University wanted to do something to remember what some see as that great nadir of the post war trade unionism movement, the 1984 -85 miners’ strike.  I for one had been very active during the strike.  Although from a mining area of South Wales and from a mining family, where both of my grandfathers had been miners, at the time of the strike, and for some five years previously, I had been living in Sheffield South Yorkshire.  Of course Sheffield was in the centre of the Yorkshire mining area and was also the location of the HQ of the national union of mineworkers the NUM.   Sheffield was a hub of activity for demonstrations at other activities during the strike many of which I was involved in and of course I still had strong family connections in South Wales, so the events of that time are deeply ingrained in to my memory.

At the end of the dispute I was deeply disappointed that the miners had not been successful in their aim of protecting their industry, their jobs and their communities.  Although I felt a strong antipathy to Thatcher and her other Tory cronies at the time that was nothing new.  I was and still am a proud product of the community that created me where the values of socialism, mutualism and working class solidarity provided a firm bases for meaningful community cohesion. No, what give me a deep and gnawing disappointment, to the extent that I sometimes had difficulty getting up to face the day after the strike, was the way that people who should have supported the strike were often very mealy mouthed in that support or outrightly collaborated with the Tory press and Government in their strategy of portraying the miners as mindless militant thugs intent on bringing down the government through violence and intimidation; the so called “Enemy Within” as the Tory government successfully marketed it as. You had the high profile turncoats and naysayers like Neil Kinnock and Kim Howells but I also had members of my own family and people who prior to the strike I would have considered radical and intelligent individuals but who quickly subsumed to the mindless manta of the time “I cannot condone the violence”.  Have a look at this news report from the time from 7.35 on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTbBr4qIT6A .  I was at a number of these demonstrations which many people who had made their mind up through watching events in the comfort of their living room had not.  Kinnock in that news excerpt talks about the “missile throwers and the battering ram carriers” I wonder how many of those demonstrations he had been at the frontline on.
No redemption: Arthur Scargill makes a televised appearance
There was violence, of that nobody can deny but the picture of miners going in to demonstrations hell bent on throwing missiles and engaging in violent activity is not one I recognise. I would say that nearly all, if not all the violence I witnessed during that strike that came from the miners’ side was in retaliation to violence and provocation from the police.  I have recounted my experiences from Orgreave elsewhere where increasingly it is being recognised that rather than being the pitched “Battle of Orgreave” as it is referred to it was an outright ambush staged by the police from beginning to end.  The image that the police provided at the time of the air being blac with missiles coming in their direction simply did not happen as they were later forced to admit.
Orgreave was but one and not an isolated incident of what can ol be described as what felt at the time an out an out attack on the organised working classes. For example prior to Orgreave a rally had been held outside the Memorial Hall Sheffield followed by a march to Weston Park I and a number of Welsh miners, who were intending to set off in their coaches to return to Wales, stayed near the hall after the main body of marchers  had left to go to the park.  Without warning and with no provocation and to our total surprise a number of police vans came speeding in to the square area and just started assaulting and dragging off for arrest some of the miners. I tried to intervene myself only to be pinned to the wall by a particularly burly copper and told “don’t even think about it”.  Some of the miners fought back valiantly particularly as they were taken by complete surprise and were then punched and beaten with truncheons.  These were proud strong working men; would you really expect them to meekly take a beating for no reason?
No redemption: 24 August 1984

One of the things I remember from that day and that still pains me to this; I think it was a Saturday afternoon in central Sheffield that this happened so it was very busy; there were plenty of people about.  Members of the public could see what was happening, it was obvious.  Now I am not expecting people to intervene directly but I remember imploring passers-by to look at what was happening but I also remember, with anguish, the look on their faces.  They didn’t want to look, they didn’t want to see, they preferred not to know.  If ever there was a time in my life when I truly understood the meaning of  the saying “all  that it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing” it was then.
No redemption: Police clash with Easington residents
As I said at the beginning of this piece the outcome of the miners’ strike did leave me disheartened and disillusioned and not least with my fellow human beings and generally with the society around me.  However, it is true time is a great healer.  The miners’ strike was a battle that we lost and to be honest I wonder if we could ever have won it as Thatcher had primed herself well, but still we had to fight, just rolling over and capitulating was not an option.  The  loss of a battle though does not mean you have lost the war and you are only ever truly defeated when you stop trying.  The way I look at it know is the experiences of the miners’ strike are all part of the learning process and what is important is that we learn from and build on those experiences.  People don’t want to know about the inequalities and injustices that go on around them because if they did they might feel that they should try to do something about them and that would make the feel uncomfortable and who would want that?? There is poverty and injustice in this world where there shouldn't and it is important that we shout about it from the roof tops (and on Twitter as well ;-)) so that people find it difficult to walk on by and ignore it.

Photos form 1984-5 Miners’ Strike Keith Pattison 

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