Miners strike 30 years on: Police ‘must be probed’
The 12-month UK-wide stoppage had taken its toll, but, despite their defeat, the miners were determined to return with dignity. Many marched back to their pits accompanied by brass bands.
Alex Bennett, who worked at Monktonhall colliery, near Musselburgh, says there are still bitter memories of the way the government, the employers and the police behaved during the dispute.
There were repeated clashes between police and pickets, at Bilston Glen colliery, near Loanhead, and elsewhere.
“There should be an inquiry into the policing of the strike in Scotland,” said Mr Bennett.
“It’s now come out from Cabinet papers that MI5 tapped our phones because they thought people like me were a threat to national security – I’ve never heard such nonsense. We knew that was happening 30 years ago, but it’s out in the open now.”
Mr Bennett, now a Labour councillor for Dalkeith, said there had been a change of policing tactics in June 1984, three months into the strike.
“The local police were not there any more. Snatch squads were set up and there were mass arrests.”
Mr Bennett was sacked after he was charged with breach of the peace for an incident on the picket line at Bilston Glen. He found himself out of work for three years after he was blacklisted.
The strike, in opposition to government plans to close pits across the country, had begun in March 1984 and was seen as a battle for the livelihoods of communities which depended on the mines. But it also became a trial of strength between the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the trade union movement.
Mr Bennett recalls that day, 30 years ago, when the strike ended. “We marched back to Monktonhall – all the kids had a day off school and the women all turned out; there was a big rally; we had a pipe band and a flute band.
“We knew we had not won the strike but there were also 200 of us who had been sacked during the strike in Scotland because Bert Wheeler [Scottish area director for British Coal] took a hard line, which didn’t happen elsewhere.”
Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay has been leading a campaign for an inquiry into the treatment of striking miners, pointing out a higher proportion were sacked in Scotland than in other parts of the country.
The Scottish Government has so far refused, but former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont promised her party would order an inquiry. Mr Findlay said: “The Thatcher government was involved in the politicisation of police tactics throughout the strike.
“In Scotland there were a disproportionately greater number of convictions.
“We need to establish the truth about whether the arrests, convictions and sackings were legitimate, or whether they were miscarriages of justice that stain the record of innocent people to this day.”
A reunion social will be held on Friday in Danderhall Miners Club to mark the anniversary. It will include tributes to miners who have since passed on.
And a film about the strike, Still the Enemy Within, will be screened in Fauldhouse Miners Club on Saturday.