A miner’s story

A slightly different blog from me, this one. When you work in generalist HR, there is often one of the specialisms that is your thing over others. The discipline that you enjoy the most. Mine was employee relations and one of my particular areas of interest is the miners’ strike. I have always planned to make it a subject of a PhD, or maybe even a book, only other things keep getting in the way. I did however start collecting stories towards it.

This month, it is the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike. When one of the UK’s biggest trade unions entered into a year long battle with the government over the future of the coal industry. There is plenty to be said about the miners’ strike, and to say that opinions on it are divided even today is an understatement. I’m not proposing to give my opinions here. But I thought I would share a few of the stories that I have collected.

This miner’s story is from the so-called Battle of Orgreave. The name that was given to a pitched battle at the British Steel coking works which lasted several days. The National Union of Mineworkers considered Orgreave crucial to the strike; if coal could be stopped going into the plant, it could be a turning point for them.

The NUM organised a mass picket. MI5 had infiltrated the union and the police were prepared. Thousands of miners. Thousands of police. To call it a battle is a fair description. Here is one miner’s story.

I was 20 when I went to Orgreave. On the first day, we were told by the union to go on the back roads. The police were stopping cars on the main roads near the site and turning them around if they thought they were miners. We went the long way round, but no one stopped us. A few hundred people were there. We went right up to the gates and tried to stop the lorries going in and out. It was uneventful.

I went back the next day, this time in a minibus. We left from my pit, and went straight down the motorway this time. We parked about half a mile away from the plant, and walked over the fields. We couldn’t get near the place. We ended up being herded into a field. I remember that it was hot and dusty. You could smell sweat. I’m a big guy but I was genuinely scared. Nothing stopped me back then. I worked down the pit and played rugby league at the weekend. I was fit and strong, but I will admit I was intimidated. I’ve been at football games when it has kicked off, I’ve worked the door in pubs when there have been fights, but never has there been anything like Orgreave. It was hostile.

The police were lined up in front of us. There were thousands of them. They were pounding on their riot shields. The noise was relentless, deafening. Police were on horseback. You see that a lot now, but that was new back then. And then it all started. Charging, pushing, shoving, shouting. The police were charging in and dragging people off. Miners were being hit with batons right in front of me. Blood, sweat, noise. I have never seen anything like it. Police on horses swinging with their batons, colliding with people randomly. They hit people that were running away from behind. It felt like it went on for hours. One of my mates got into a fight with a copper. The copper hit him on the head with his baton, and split his head right open. There was blood everywhere. I dragged the copper off him, and got my mate away. I’d better not say how I got him away from the police. We got back over the fields to the minibus where we waited for everyone else to get back.

I never went back. All I wanted to do was fight for my job. I didn’t want that.

95 miners were charged with offences after the battle. Many were put on trial, but the trials collapsed when it became clear that evidence from the police was unreliable. Allegations have been made that police fabricated their evidence. South Yorkshire Police paid out £425,000 in compensation to 39 miners in out of court settlements. No officers have ever been disciplined. Questions are still being asked today about the actions of the police, and there is still a campaign running calling for Justice for Orgreave and seeking a public enquiry. South Yorkshire police has referred itself to the Independent Police Commission for review.

This is just a story from someone who was there.