My quiet community of miners was falling apart. Desperate miners began to drift back to work, especially when the NCB started offering financial incentives, knowing that crossing the picket lines was terrifying and demoralising. Stories began to fly around the community of families being pulled apart, of brother fighting brother and homes being vandalised. News reports showed images of riots, of picketing miners standing toe to toe with the police in full riot gear. It was hard not imagine that there was any difference between 1984 and 1642 apart from the weaponry.
Both sides believed in what they were doing and were fighting for what they believed was right. Secondary picketing and anything but peaceful protests limited to six men after giving the police five days’ notice, had been rendered illegal giving the police the power to arrest the seventh man if he didn’t turn away. The 1984 Trade Union Act had rendered the dispute illegal exempting the striking miners from claiming any sort of state benefit.
Miners picketed in their hundreds, sometimes in their thousands, fighting to protect their futures by mortgaging the present for an undefined period and often travelling under the cover of night from all points on the map. At home they were faced by worried wives, children too young to understand why Christmas was cancelled, acts of violence, family breakdowns that would take generations to fix, if they ever could, and financial problems that would haunt them for years,
To keep warm they risked arrest for trespass scrabbling in the spoil heaps for coal, and to put food on the table they went cap in hand to collect food parcels.
The police came prepared and armed to uphold the law and protect the greater population and their possessions. They were often outnumbered and always viewed with hatred by the pickets.
Both sides acted with extreme prejudice and the hand to hand battles at the picket lines were often vicious as feelings ran out of control. Neither the pickets nor the police were ever local to the site of picket line, like guerrilla armies they were drawn in from far and wide and faced the opposing ranks with an all- consuming belief that they were the enemy. At ‘the battle of Orgreave’ 5000 miners gathered outside Orgreave coking plant and were met by police from ten counties. By the time the fighting was over, 41 police officers and 28 miners were injured.
By the end of the strike over 11,000 miners had been arrested and over 8,000 charged with disorderly conduct.
It was only a matter of time before someone died.
Soon enough, reports circulated of someone dropping a breeze block off a bridge on the motorway and killing a taxi driver taking scabs to work in Wales. I was horrified. By the time the strike ended the death count was ten, including six picketers and three teenagers searching for coal on the spoil heaps.
For me as the wife of a miner trying hard to hang on to some semblance of normality and not lose hope, the greatest tragedy was the slow degradation of the community; the change in the people driven to out of character acts by sheer desperation. I could understand, even find justification though it saddened me, for acts of random violence by the menfolk, spilling the blood of brothers and sons as the dispute drove a stake into the heart of family over differing opinion. Every man wanted to appear strong, but there comes a point where strength is found in self- belief and defiance of a force that seeks to rule without consideration of consequence. But these were the men, not the women, who hovered in the background working tirelessly to keep mind, body and family together. And they were certainly not the children, who might repeat what they hear, but in innocence of what it all meant.
One day I caught a news report of a scab bus running the gauntlet of angry protesters. Among the protestors were women I recognised, their faces gouged by fury and intent on violence, holding up toddlers to the bus windows and chanting ‘scab’. The voices that echoed the loudest were those of the toddlers. I felt like the world had come to an end.
After twelve long months almost to the day, the strike ended. Normality returned, but nothing could ever be as it was.