7. Common Ground
"we were guys on shifts with some coming from mining communities."
(quote from miner at one of our public meetings).
"The dispute had an effect on the personal lives of the mining communities but it also affected policemen's life as well. We had to work long hours (sometimes 12 to 14 hours) and ok we were being paid, but it was stressful for family life. We had a job to do and, despite the difficulties, did the best they could in an unfriendly environment."
While we were given considerable detail of the distinct experiences of those involved in the Strike, whether miners, police officers or others, we were also struck by the extent to which some of these experiences were very similar, indeed even shared.
Many police officers came from mining families. This created inevitable tensions – "Coming from a mining community I found it difficult to explain to my father (miner) how we justified our actions at that time."
"My wife's maternal grandfather and some of her extended family had been Miners. They never held it against me."
"Police officers in my area (Lothian and Borders Police as was) were quite closely aligned to miners when off duty. Many officers from Mid, East and West Lothian were sons, brothers, cousins, good friends of miners and there was a good deal of mutual respect prior to the strike."
"I'm a retired Police officer who came from generations of miners on both sides of my family and my sympathies lie mainly with the miners although I found this difficult at times as the law must be upheld."
Some miners had been police officers. We heard of families where brothers featured on two sides, picketing miner and police officer. Many police officers lived in mining communities, even if they were not miners themselves. The ties of community played their part. We heard of one police officer involved in the Strike whose wife helped at the soup kitchen in their village –
"I was transferred to Blairhall was to build bridges with the local community during and after the strike.
Both my sons were invited to, and attended, the Christmas Party in the Miners' Welfare Institute and received their share of confectionery sent by French miners to their counterparts in the village. My wife was overcome and humbled by the fact that people who were literally struggling for their very survival could even think about her children, let alone involve them.
My wife was so touched by this that she contributed home-made soup to the strike kitchen on a regular basis done with the deliberate intention of showing that I, as a Police Officer, was human, open, approachable and compassionate, whilst not detracting from the firmness with which I policed the village as a family we cared about the community we lived in and wanted to be part of that community and not detached interlopers.
Relatives, acquaintances and neighbours faced each other on opposite sides of picket lines and, with some exceptions, the daily routine consisted of half-hearted pushing, shoving and good-natured banter."
"Another measure of the outcome of bridge-building can be demonstrated on a more personal level when my youngest son was hospitalised with a life-threatening illness. My wife and I were overwhelmed with offers of help from the people of Blairhall – to babysit our other son to let us go to hospital, do the shopping or walk the dogs. We had empathised with them during their time of need and we felt that they were reciprocating during our difficult time.
I strongly believe that I personally policed our community with its best interests always at the forefront of my mind. I also consider that Fife Constabulary policed the strike without fear or favour based on the needs of the entire population and with an eye to the future welfare of all residents of Fife."
On all sides, we heard of acts of compassion, charity and humanity, small and large, many entirely unheralded.
There were many police officers who sympathised with the miners and the aims of the Strike – "some police would put money in the tin at the gate." (quote from miner at one of our public meetings).
Many miners recognised that individual police officers were simply doing their job, albeit this recognition was stretched to breaking point over the months of the Strike as they developed a growing belief in political interference.
During some of the main flashpoints throughout the Strike, at those times of the day when men were crossing picket lines or deliveries were being made, there were ranks of miners and of police officers. Although separated by profession and, at times, seemingly on opposing sides, in each group there were similarities.
The participants were mostly male, often young and inexperienced in anything of the scale of this Strike. Training was limited or non-existent –
"I joined the Police Service in August 1983, so I was still in my probationary period when the Miners' Strike started. I was 19 years of age.
I had received some Public Order training prior to the Strike, during my initial training at the Scottish Police College and again locally with Strathclyde Police. This consisted mainly of Shield training (as Public Order was called then) and was very basic compared to the training given today.
I was never called upon to put this training into practice throughout the Miners' Strike or at any other time throughout my service.
Rest days were cancelled, court attendance was still expected and extra resources were allocated as and where required. If I remember correctly, all leave was cancelled, unless it was for a previously arranged special occasion, e.g. Officer marrying.
We were told that the situation would be handled the same as any other Public Order event but we were told there was a possibility of 'rogue, militant groups' infiltrating pickets and that the situation could escalate at any time…
further advised that we should remember those on the picket lines were ordinary members of the public and should be treated as such.
A number of officers, including senior officers, highlighted the fact that Lanarkshire had a strong mining history and a number in our ranks would be related to Miners or knew Miners in their social circle. We were asked to apply common sense and appropriate responses in our dealings with the Pickets."
Many did not want to be there:
"The miners' strike was a disaster for everyone…No-one joins the police to police an industrial dispute. During the strike we were in a position we didn't want to be in."
(quote from a police officer at one of our meetings)
There were police officers from mining families who felt the pressure, internal and external, of simply being there and doing their job. There were miners who were struggling to support themselves and their families, often surviving on the charity of others, wishing that circumstances might change to allow them to go back to earning their living as they had before. At the same time, in the case of the miners, there was a strong feeling that this Strike was a struggle for the future of mining, and not, as on previous occasions, simply about improved pay and conditions.
"We were not on strike to have a fight. We were on strike for our lives"
"That [1972 strike] was a strike about money. This was about jobs and communities."
(quotes from miners at one of our public meetings).
Many spoke of a shared understanding in the early days of the Strike, with local police officers and local pickets broadly sympathetic to the role of the other, sharing flasks of tea (or even "by and large the police would buy a couple of beers and we'd sit and have a blether" – miner at public meeting) and, occasionally, "getting into character" at specific times of day for the moments of confrontation.
"cops and miners offered each other cigarettes and chatted.
for most of the time hundreds of miners stood in the public road outside Bilston Glen Colliery, chewing the fat with each other, and sometimes with police officers. the miners were generally a group of fit, healthy young to middle-aged men, standing opposite to a similar demographic of slightly less numerous police officers
We were grown men, in the late twentieth century, not 8 year old schoolboys, and yet we were behaving like kids in a particularly rough, ill-disciplined and hazardous playground maul.
miners objected to the fact that, occasionally, women police officers were on duty at picket lines and engaged in the reaction to a 'push'. They felt it was unfair of the police to use women in this role because they, the miners, did not feel that they could use force against women."
As mentioned in Chapter 4, in the early stages of the Strike there seems to have been a greater degree of mutual respect and understanding, or at least that was how it seems now. Those involved on all sides were often local men who knew each other and felt a shared sense of wider community, albeit the Strike started to put a strain on that. And the increasing use within policing and mining of men from elsewhere, something necessitated by a variety of factors, not least increasing numbers and tensions, caused some of the fractures in that shared sense of community.
Retired officers and miners spoke with regret of this as an exacerbating factor.
As matters developed, various young men were often on opposite sides, literally and metaphorically, but they stood close by each other in the same weather, with the same frightening conditions when fast-moving lorries thundered past or when horses jostled ranks of men to try to keep control. Those moments experienced in common, charged with fear and adrenaline, happened for short bursts of time each day, increasing the tension and the risk of confrontation.
As the Strike wore on, miners felt increasing frustration and, at times, despair. Heightened emotions resulted from high stakes.
Through their evidence, at meetings and in written submissions, it was possible to detect a shared humanity on all sides.
We heard stories of men falling to the ground, both miner and police officer. In some of those moments, we were told that those near the fallen man sheltered him from the crowd who might have trampled him. We heard that this happened for fallen miners, aided by police officers, and police officers, aided by miners.
"Senior police would liaise with local trade union leaders daily and talk about codes of conduct for the day. By that I mean, codes of conduct on both sides."
"Took time to develop a good relationship with the miners and their leaders
There was a strong feeling of sympathy to the lot of the miners and their families on the part of the police
It was often clear to us that many of the miners did not wish to be on the picket lines
Miners concerned having become a bit violent through utter frustration."
Given the length of the Strike, we heard of the continuing demands on the police of trying to deal with other duties, for example, large-scale murder inquiries. Our understanding from miners and police officers is that, when approached about the need to remove officers for such inquiries, the miners agreed to scale down their pickets to free a number of officers for what was recognised by all as something important.
Following the Strike, some time in 1985, a football match took place between miners and police officers. That match has taken on apocryphal proportions, with various descriptions of opportunities taken to settle some of the grudges from the Strike. It sounded almost like the popular stories of football matches played between German and British soldiers on Christmas Day 1914. What struck us was the fact that two parts of the community, divided by the events of the Strike, were looking to engage with each other in a way which emphasised their shared humanity as opposed to what separated them, even if it involved some of them trying to kick lumps out of each other.