Chapter 12: May – June 1984 ...More imaginative actions...Orgreave... ...Central London comes to halt...Maltby riot...


Chapter 12:
May – June 1984

...More imaginative actions...Orgreave...
...Central London comes to halt...Maltby riot...shops looted...

May 4th Bogside colliery in Scotland became unserviceable because of subsidence and flooding. On the motorway from Port Talbot to Ravenscraig, the cops escorted a lorry convoy very fast, but pickets still managed to smash quite a few of them up using the overhead bridges as vantage points.

In Notts, some strikers' wives convinced some of the wives of scabs to go on strike against housework.

In Mexborough, Yorkshire, following the banning of spikey punk hair and clothes kids wrecked part of their school and then came out on strike in solidarity with the miners. In a village in Fyfe, schookids decided, independent of any outside suggestion, to go out after school to march in support of the miners and stop scab coke lorries getting through to Ravenscraig. They were stopped by the cops but the initiative was taken up by the old age pensioners of the village who, both men and women, harrangued and battered on the lorries to such an extent that the next day several drivers reported to 'their' haulage firms that they felt too ashamed to continue delivery of scab coke.

May 7th: striking miners from Markham, Derbyshire, cut through an 11,000 volt cable, cutting off supplies to the Oxcroft disposal plant near Bolsover and the nearby village of Clowne. The cable was cut open with a saw and acid poured onto the inner plastic cores before it was short-circuited with a screwdriver. Not recommended to amateurs. Some people were badly damaged sabotaging electric cables etc. during the strike.

Late May at Bentley (Yorkshire) concrete blocks were thrown into the cage and chimneys were destroyed. At Silverdale (Staffs) the pit cables were cut. At Harworth (Notts) pit offices were ransacked. At Betteshanger (Kent) 8 pickets held and blocked the bottom of the pit.

Late May to June saw the calling of a union mass picket at Orgreave Coking plant, which was to be the scene of more encouraging actions: there the rioting got out of the control of the Union, partly because it spread out onto open ground, thus immediately superseding the cliched push 'n ' shove ritual confrontation so beloved of Leftists. A telegraph pole was used by the strikers to roll down the hill on the advancing cops. The same use was made of a burning wagon. Barricades were erected and set alight. "Pickets" would attack the cops in small groups from the rear. Lamposts were uprooted and walls pulled down for ammunition. There was, without doubt, a momentary practical breakthrough away from the ritualised spectacles of picketting. Given the fact that the cops knew perfectly well where "surprise'' pickets were going (they'd bugged the NUM phones, after all), pickets were very often very contained. What's wierd is that throughout the strike branch secretaries would continue mentioning things on the phone even though it was obvious the phones were tapped. A few places had a rota of different strikers phones being used - helping by-pass the cop and MI6 buggers. Even better – a few used no phones at all, using a rota of different organising groups to reduce the possibility of leaks - later done by some of the hit squads. Why this was very rarely done for picketting can only be put down to the NUM's mania for maintaining control. And permanent control of phones is the compulsion of bureaucrats; in many uprisings the phone exchange buildings prove to be a vital centre of conflict (in May 1937 in Barcelona, for example).

Orgreave (May to June '84) was intended to be the miners' Waterloo. Pickets physically prevented from going to Notts were positively encouraged by the police lines to go to Orgreave. Awaiting the pickets were 6000 cops intending to escort the highly paid scab lorry drivers. The cops marched military-style up and down the long straight road past the coking plant, bringing with them a retinue of cavalry, ferocious dogs and vans full of armour and weaponry.

The media too played its part: footage on the BBC News showed miners setting fire to a shed requisitioned by the cops followed by the cops charging in retaliation. As always, the reality was the reverse of the image: it was the cops who baton-charged up till then peaceful pickets, and the miners who retaliated by burning down the shed, the BBC just swapping the video sequence. But, to show some pretension to balance, towards the end of the Battle of Orgreave, they did show footage of a cop repeatedly hitting a miner who was on the ground on the head with his truncheon, about the only cop violence they did show; the cop in charge justified this savagery with the words, "That picket could have had a knife on him". Given the general recognition by strikers that the media was an arm of the State, there should have been a boycott of the media – a refusal to give interviews as a clear public statement that the media was part of the enemy. Although physical attacks on the media were a fairly common part of the struggle, this was contradicted by the fact that loads of NUM officials as well as miners who had no official status continued to politely talk to their would-be executioners. When I suggested a media boycot to an NUM branch secretary he said, "But then we'd never get our ideas across." On the contrary – the idea that the media are part of the forces that have to be opposed would have been clearly got across to those willing to listen, whereas some people talking to them whilst others were rightly attacking them just communicated confusion. But behind this attitude was simply the flattery some people get from their 15 minutes (or whatever) of fame. As one Derby miner said, "Scargill's vain...a peacock – hates to go anywhere there's no cameras."

But what began for the Government as an exercise for the National Riot Force in humiliating the strikers ended in the government not really winning a clear victory. For one thing, in the middle of June British Steel suspended the lorry convoys. But sadly not for long. And word got round to an increasing section of the UK population about the viciousness of the cops, which meant the government had partly lost the propaganda war.

However, unlike at Saltley in '72, the Coking Depot was not closed down. Partly because, unlike at Saltley, no-one went round the workers of the nearest major town – Sheffield, just up the road - to demand that workers practically recognise themselves in the miners strike and down tools to come down to Orgreave, or better still, do something independantly. Scargill, domesticated by media attention, fetishised this media and contented himself with making an appeal on TV – hardly a substitute for one-to-one contact, hardly a substitute for offensive solidarity. And even those who were critical of Scargill didn't want to see the difference between talking on telly and speaking to workers directly. And Scargill maintained his image of credibility – he claimed to have been pushed to the ground by the cops. In fact, as he admitted about 16 years later, he lost his footing on the sloping field and slipped. This was the occasion for a top cop at Orgreave to bemoan with self-righteous indignation, "It's the lies that get me." This said whilst constant statements were made that the cops were only responding to the violence of the miners. Which is not to justify Scargill's pointless lie intended to make him look like a victim just like everybody else. However, it's true The Great Leader did get arrested. One radical Yorkshire miner and his wife were not so taken in by this image of credibility: "Scargill goes down to Orgreave in his chauffeur-driven car, gets himself arrested, and has his chauffeur pick him up at the police station."

“There weren’t many arrests at the time. People got arrested when they went to hospital. One lad was surrounded by horses and beaten to the ground. I tried to talk him into going to hospital. But when we got there we were told not to go in – they were arresting injured miners.” - another miner at Orgreave.

Undated: Some miners poured a mixture of oil and gloss paint onto the convoy from Orgreave as it was passing under a motorway bridge. The aim was to black out the windscreen of one of the lorries – they missed but caused a number of police motor bikes – outriders who escorted the convoy and radioed to other cops to nick any stonethrowers, etc. - to skid and fall over.

Also undated: Knottingly Town Hall Notice board spray-painted with “Police Scum, Police Filth, Fuck off Kinnock.”(Kinnock, fearing the prospect of having to ride the tiger of a victorious miners strike, or – just as bad - be toppled from his leadership of the Labour Party if they won, had made his reluctance to support the strike very clear, if muted - "Lions led by donkeys" was his recuperative put-down of the strike, though he was always careful to support the 'ordinary' miner and certainly pretended to support the strike).

Many miners were arrested in Notts for simply distributing “The Miner”, the NUM rag, through people's doors. Likewise, throughout the strike, many people collecting money for the miners were arrested &/or had their collection boxes confiscated.

On June 7th, at the height of the battle of Orgreave, there was an interesting miners support demo in central London. The following is an eyewitness account:

“Central London came to a standstill on June 7th ’84 as the various battles at Orgreave started getting underway. Channel 4 (‘Strike: When Britain Went To War’, Saturday, January 24th 2004) shows a traditional pro-miners strike demo strolling down Fleet Street with a voiceover saying “Central London came to a standstill”. This was true but, inevitably, banal, and made it look like any other big demo – say, the anti-Iraqi war ones of 2003. What happened was a little different from most demos. For a start, the demo wasn’t that big – 10 to 15,000 It started off from Kings Cross, rather boring amid the usual paper sellers, me with a couple of comrade-friends, and a little bag of scurrilous badly stenciled but readable double-sided A6 size leaflets, small, crammed full with meaning and to the point (such modesty!):

Next to a picture of cop with a skull for a face and a £ sign on his helmet:
Bollocks to false choices!

Work or Dole, Left or Right, Unions or Bosses – We’re getting burnt – burn ’em back!

Smash wage slavery! Smash the commodity economy! Smash hierarchy! Smash the show!
Picture of Molotov cocktail burning.

Victory to the rioters of Orgreave, Mansfield, Caen, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Morocco, Tunisia, Hong Kong, Gdansk, Miami, Toxteth, Brixton, Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich, Soweto, etc.etc.etc.etc.etc!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Destroy capitalism before it destroys us!!!.......for the end of alienation, for the beginning of conscious history!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

On the other side were 2 newspaper cuttings, one from the Daily Mirror, Monday May 21st 1984:
Police sell bus to the pickets
Striking miners have tricked police into selling them a bus.
Officers thought it was meant for a group of pensioners.
They even had a whip-round to pay the road tax. But miners
made a deal with the old folk at St.Helens, Merseyside. They
agreed to pay £1000 for the bus – and give it to the pensioners
AFTER the strike was over. The bus was waved through police
lines at Parkside Colliery, Merseyside, by officers who thought
the pickets on board were their own reinforcements.

Then:
The latest car sticker: MINERS DO IT WITH TELEGRAPH POLES.
( a reference to the previously mentioned incident at Orgreave when striking miners used a big telegraph pole to attack the cops)

A cutting from the Times, July ’81 –
2000 Hurt in Job Training
More than 2000 young people are injured each year in accidents while working in the Government’s Youth Opportunities Programme for the Unemployed. In the 12 months to June the accidents included five deaths and 25 amputations and now the special programmes board of the Manpower Services Commission is to seek advice from the Health and Safety Executive.

And next to that:

The Right To Work = The Right to be humiliated, to be exploited; the right to be forced to sell our activity in order to buy our means of survival from a system which insults, isolates and lies to us without end; the right to produce surplus value to maintain the accumulation of commodities & of commodity relations. The ‘right’ to be reduced to the absolute margins of existence – with or without work, food or video recorders – is the only ‘right’ capitalism grants to the vast majority. The choice is simple: death to the world market and it’s guard-dogs – or else our death – slow or quick.

* * *

Short but sweet......and sour.

''I gave out a few of these but not many – it felt like I was competing with the SWerps or with Militant, so I mostly left them in the bag. I walked along the demo with a can of beer, losing my friends but chatting a bit, a bit awkwardly, with people on the demo, partly about Orgreave. We walked from Kings Cross up Grays Inn Road, towards the end, near Theobalds Road, when there was a tussle with the cops; they were trying to nick some oldish (50s – my age now) miner, and slapping him around a bit, and demonstrators were trying to stop them. I chucked what was left of my can of beer at the cops and from what seemed like nowhere, a snatch squad of three or four grabbed me; I dropped my bag with the leaflets, clung like fuck onto a lampost whilst struggling with the rest of my body but they still managed to get me and I was pushed, my arms in a twist, into a building for traffic wardens. Amazingly, they didn’t thump me, even when I asked the arresting cop, “What does it feel like – sitting on a volcano?”, to which he remained silent, which was his right.

I was then shunted in a van off with a couple of other blokes who’d been nicked to a police station near Covent Garden, where the cops, surprisingly hurriedly - in 70 minutes or less, went through a bureaucratic procedure that would normally take at the very least 4 hours for 4 blokes– we weren’t even put in the cells, and they didn’t have time to verify names and addresses. The arresting cop, who was taking down my details, said something like, “We’ve been reasonable with you haven’t we – not as bad as you people who are always against things think we are – we haven’t beaten you up”. One bearded miner, when asked his age, said, “You can’t charge me – I’m only 13 – I’m under the age of criminal responsibility.”

Normally cops, when they release you under your own surety, just put you into the street, but these decided to put us in a van and when we asked, after a minute of driving, what they were going to do with us, they said, “We’ve got to take you back to where you were arrested.” One miner says, “They’re taking us somewhere so they can torture us”. We notice the traffic outside is completely blocked and that there are cops on motorbikes up ahead clearing the traffic to make a path for us to get through. And as we turn from Southampton Row into Theobalds Road the whole of Theolbalds Road is blocked with cops across the road and cops on horses lining it all the half mile or so up to Grays Inn Road, with hundreds of them surrounding the main police station there, and demonstrators mingling around, with a couple of buses stopped in the middle of the road.

As we got out the cop van the crowd cheers, a brass band strikes up something or other and men rush to carry the released miners on their shoulders, followed by loads of cameras. I duck and dive out of the way, totally paranoid of the cameras, and run back to the lamppost where my bag of scurrilous leaflets remains, untouched. As I pick it up I bump into a friend. I tell him what’s just happened. “Oh – so London stopped for you". Apparently the miners had gone up to the bus drivers and told them that they were forming a picket line because miners had been nicked and one old miner had been beaten up, so the bus drivers stopped because they didn’t want to cross picket lines. Can you imagine such solidarity today? (well, it could happen – but it would require more intimidation and probably more violence against the cops who are psychotically super-confident and always raring for a punch-up; nowadays a few blokes outside a pub on a Saturday night, chucking a couple of glasses into the road, can get an instant response by the riot squad dressed in all their gear, shields ready along with all their other new equipment). The whole of London at a standstill for almost 2 hours in mid-week – it was a great feeling. And it was just a third of the demo – about 4000, the rest having marched on before the tussle with the cops. Compare this with the demo of 250,000 against the decimation of the pits in 1992 when nothing happened. It shows what people can do when there’s a movement of solidarity, confidence and practical hope in the air.''

On the previously mentioned Channel 4 programme mentioned at the start of the above eyewitness account (January 24th 2004) a striking miner said about the demo: “You can’t lose when you see that many people walking up road – I mean they absolutely stopped London…How can you lose? - I thought – you can’t lose this”. Yet they did lose, and we lost with them. Nevertheless, it was touch and go – so near yet so far. But more about that later.[12]

Also on this day, June 7th, railwaymen at Charing Cross spontaneously went on strike after the arrest and assault of a driver, and also because railwaymen had seen the police brutality outside the Shell building that day – as far as we know, the first post war instance of a wildcat over police brutality. Cunningly manipulative as ever, LBC, the London phone-in radio station, invented the ridiculous idea that miners were embarassed by this inspiring example of class solidarity. Whether this ideological divide and rule tactic had the desired effect of railwaymen mistrusting miners, though, is unlikely.

Some time this month (no date), 25 windows were smashed in the pit shower block and four scab cars in the car park at Harworth pit, North Notts, had their tyres slashed and windscreens smashed.

On June 15th at Maltby, 200 miners linked up with local youth to attack the police station, to loot and wreck some of the shops refusing to give credit. Some also wrecked shops that were giving credit . It happened over two week-ends running. Several cops were injured, including the police chief. On the third week-end, local branch officials of the NUM toured the streets to ensure that there was no repetition. Although the Maltby branch secretary, Ron Buck, made the obligatory criticism of the police and their arbitrary arrest policy, he condemned the violence, putting it down to skinheads, some of who were from outside the village, and dissociated the NUM from this violence. This, presumably because of the simplistic popular image of skinheads as fascists (at the time there were a minority of explicitly left-wing skinheads, including a rock band, The Redskins). Although putting the violence in the village down to outsiders, this bureaucrat had to admit that miners had been involved in anti-cop violence in Armthorpe, Woodlands and Barnsley. Amongst the usual cop brutality, one person arrested was denied insulin for his diabetes, a potentially life-threatening act.

On June 27th the Yorkshire NCB offices in Doncaster were attacked by more than a thousand miners. NCB employees were forced to shelter for a bit in the local police station after bricks, sontes, eggs and bottles were thrown at the scab office workers and windows smashed. This was a successful surprise attack – the cops having been diverted to Scunthorpe, where 25 police units faced just 9 peaceful pickets (one suspects that this was down to an intelligent diversion of phone tapping – deliberately misleading the cops).

Also on June 27th, pickets ambushed a convoy of scab buses and cars heading for Shirebrook colliery in Derbyshire, about half a mile from the pit gates. Two pickets were hit by a mini-bus. A scab leader's car was jostled and kicked. The NCB claimed that the number of scabs was over 500 in Derbyshire – the true figure was just over 100 out of 10,500. As the handful of scabs were bused out of the pit, a line of cops three-quarters of a mile long stood on either side of the road, whilst the mini-buses carrying the scabs had been fitted with grilles and the drivers wore crash helmets.

Posted By

Red Marriott
Jul 5 2009 08:24

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1926-1985: So Near - So Far - a selective history of the British miners

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