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Wild Boys? Violence During the 1984 – 1985 Miners’ Strike

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posted on 2023-11-30, 16:10 authored by Richard E. Ilet

The miners’ strike which took place across the coalfields of England, Wales and Scotland between March 1984 and March 1985 was arguably the biggest domestic event in the UK between the end of the Second World war in 1945 and the Brexit referendum of 2016. Most of the membership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) struck in an effort to stop pit closures and the consequent job losses. This put the union and its membership in direct conflict with the divisive but democratically elected Conservative government led by Mrs Thatcher. A strike of this length and geographical spread was unheard of in post war Britian. Another facet of the dispute which was unusual is that unlike the strikes by the NUM in 1972 and 1974 the union was split with large numbers of members, most notably in Nottinghamshire but also in other locations, working throughout the strike. This led to intimidation and violence by strikers against working miners and more occasionally by working miners against strikers. This meant that large scale intervention by the police was inevitable.

This work seeks to explore why the miners’ strike which began in March 1984 was more violent than other post war industrial disputes in the UK. Much has been written about this event in academic and more popular accounts. Previously no attempt has been made in a published account to make a systematic analysis of the attitudes of rank and file police officers during this dispute. It is the view of this researcher that as it is the humble participants who are likely to be carrying out the violence, receiving the violence or at the very least witnessing it then the most promising approach was to interview police officers and striking and working miners who were involved in the miners’ strike which began in 1984. So, after referring to many of the secondary sources on this event and looking at material in various archives, this researcher carried out numbers of interviews across England and Wales.

Some of the results produced by this research may be surprising. Whilst of course the reasons for violence are many and complex, this work indicated that the biggest single cause of violence in this dispute was that the NUM was split. In the South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire areas where there were large numbers of striking and working miners in close proximity there was violence from the first days of the strike. However, interviews with striking miners and former police officers in Kent and south Wales show that in these areas where the strike was solid for many months there was little or no violence until limited attempts to return to work were made in the autumn of 1984. Splits made violence likely but not inevitable. Accounts from former pickets and a former Warwickshire police officer show that despite the NUM being split in Warwickshire and Leicestershire peaceful picketing was possible in this area in the early days of the strike.

Many strike supporting accounts of the 1984 – 1985 miners’ strike see the police as the main or even sole driver of violence in this dispute. Whilst this research found no evidence to exonerate the police it also found that the reality was more complicated with many former officers speaking of limited contact with pickets and much of their deployments during the strike being nonevents. Some of the former officers found working the strike unremarkable whilst others found it, at times, terrifying. None of the former officers expressed any support for the pit closure policy or any enthusiasm for the Thatcher government.

History

Supervisor(s)

Stephen Hopkins; Tara McCormack

Date of award

2023-08-30

Author affiliation

Politics and International Relations

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD

Language

en