In which The Author remembers a story from the bad old days
This week, former mining communities right across the UK are marking the thirtieth anniversary of the end of The Strike. I was in Wales for only about the first half, but it had a big impact on my political awareness.
I don’t remember very much about the details of The Strike itself. However, Crass played a miners’ benefit at Trecynon Coliseum in July 1984 (see entries passim) and I finally found a name for my particular brand of anti-authoritarianism.
At Brunel University I joined some other students from mining areas shaking a bucket to boost the fighting funds around the country. I have vague memories of watching the Battle of Orgreave on the TV news. Closer to home, I have an even vaguer memory of a taxi driver being killed when a concrete block was thrown through the window of his vehicle. He was taking strike-breakers to work in the next valley.
For the first time in my life I saw working people being pitched against other; former colleagues were taking opposing sides and engaging in fairly brutal tactics against one another. In Aberdare, a chap named Paul Watson and his family were driven from their home because he’d dared to cross the picket line. The bad blood lingered for a long time, too. Until it was demolished in the late 1980s, the Waynes Arms on the Gadlys had a graffito on the side, executed in two stages by two different hands:
REMEMBER 1984, THE YEAR OF THE
I asked the guv’nor, in about 1987, why he hadn’t painted it over. He was a union man, and he wanted it to stay there as a permanent reminder of what they’d been fighting for. Fair play.
This little story appeared in an anarchist magazine called Pranks. I’m pretty sure my friends Andy and Maddy from Bristol Class War brought it to my attention. I can’t remember the exact details after nearly twenty years, but I’ll tell it anyway.
In a mining village somewhere Oop North, the picket line consisted of a handful of guys making a token appearance every day. The local copper would call by, say hello, have a chat, share a flask of tea, and go on his way. I daresay that in close-knit communities, this sort of low-key, good-natured protest was a far more representative picture than the cavalry charges at Orgreave which filled the TV News and the Tory papers.
Overnight there was a fall of snow, and the strikers amused themselves by building a snowman. One of the lads had young kids, and they were home from school because of the weather. The kids had a toy policeman’s helmet, so they let the snowman wear it. When the local bobby turned up as usual, they all had a good laugh.
‘Looks like I can take the rest of the day off, now he’s here to keep an eye on you.’
That sort of thing.
Unfortunately, the police inspector from the nearby town didn’t see the funny side. He happened to be driving past and spotted the unusual ‘special constable’ standing outside the gates. He pulled up, exchanged a few ill-tempered words with the strikers, threw his car into reverse, crashed straight into the snowman, and then drove away laughing.
Undeterred, the following morning the guys met up again and immediately started work on another snowman. They hadn’t long reinstated him to the ranks when – sure enough – the inspector drove up again.
When he saw what the boys had done, he really lost his rag. After shouting all manner of abuse at them, he reversed, put his foot down… and promptly wrote his vehicle off.
This time, the snowman had been built around a concrete bollard.