Academic journal article Capital & Class

The State, the Police and the Judiciary in the Miners' Strike: Observations and Discussions, Thirty Years On

Academic journal article Capital & Class

The State, the Police and the Judiciary in the Miners' Strike: Observations and Discussions, Thirty Years On

Article excerpt

One night, when there was a bit of trouble up at the pit gates--well, I say trouble, just someone had got in and pinched a bit of coal and they were after him--the police chased this man right down these backs outside here, and right into someone's back yard at 9 o'clock at night. So Andy who lives at number 17, he'll tell you about it himself, he went out of his back door and he saw these five policemen all on top of this one man. He said to them 'Heh, this is my house, this is my backyard, what d'you think you're doing?' And one of them actually said to him, 'Well, if it's your house, you get back in it or you'll get the effing same.' In his own backyard, in this day and age! To me, that's thugs, that's all they are. Ready to do just whatever they're told and they'll turn on their own class and kick them and beat them as soon as look at them. Oh yes, I can tell you, I'm full of hate. Some nights I cant sleep for sheer hate. (Heaton 1986: 130)

Introduction

Testimonies like the one above, collected through a series of interviews in one mining area a year after the miners' strike of 1984-85 had ended, are plentiful. The capacity of an industrial dispute to tangibly transcend the public world of the picket line into the private world of the home, through means other than simply creating hardship, is one reason why the miners' strike is not only exceptional, but also deservedly of interest to scholars of all disciplines. Thirty years on, 2015 seems a timely point to revisit one of the most embittered disputes in the history of British industrial relations, which still divides families, former colleagues and entire communities. For Margaret Thatcher's government and its supporters, the miners' defeat in March 1985 signified a triumph: finally, they could claim, a government had gained control of the militant, irresponsible trade union movement that had bothered successive governments, of both persuasions, throughout the post-war period. For them, never had the need to tackle demonic trade unionism been better documented than through the wave of militancy that convulsed British industry between 1966 and 1974. This caused particular embarrassment for the Conservative Party when the miners were believed to have been the cause of Edward Heath's 1974 general election defeat, and his replacement by Harold Wilson's Labour Party. Thatcher's government, elected in 1979, had a more pressing motivation for curtailing old industrial union power than simply enacting revenge: there was also a wider structural and economic impetus. The belief that the post-war settlement, largely based on Keynesian economics, had broken down, was completely vindicated in Thatcher's eyes by the Labour administration of 1974-1979, an observation accentuated only by the Winter of Discontent in 1978-79, which also served to dilute the public's support for trade unions. The government that took office in 1979 had a profoundly different motivation from that of any that had come before, and it was convinced of its solution, whatever the human impact. It asserted that, once strong industrial trade unions were controlled, monetarism would ensure that inefficient industries could be replaced by efficient ones, and collective strength could be replaced by entrepreneurial individualism (Dorey 1998).

But it was not only the ideology of the dominant political establishment that was changing. There was political change within the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) by 1984, as the broad-left culture became synonymous with 'Scargillism', the particular brand of leadership of its president, Arthur Scargill. This ensured that the union was a different beast than in 1972 and 1974, when on both occasions it had triumphed over Edward Heath's Conservative government (Taylor 2005; Beckett & Hencke 2009; Darlington 2005). The attention scholars have given to the 1984 strike reflects its exceptional nature. Unlike the strikes of the 1970s, which had been the NUM's first move into official militancy since 1926, the 1984 strike was different because of the role women played in it; and subsequently, women have developed a narrative of the strike unprecedented in other mining disputes (Seddon 1986; Dolby 1987; Holden 2005). …

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