“Where are all the constitutional checks and balances so famed of the bourgeois political theory? The separation of powers and administrators to prevent the rise of such unchecked actions? The judiciary, as we have seen, fell nicely into place.”
Come And Wet This Truncheon: The Role Of The Police In The Coal Strike Of 1984-1985 is a 32-page booklet based on the experiences of the author, miner and NUM Branch Delegate, Dave Douglass. In the introduction, Douglass explains that although there are other pamphlets written on the subject of the miners’ strike, they cover such issues as civil rights and the extension of police powers. The author emphasizes that his booklet focuses on the “way in which the police operation confronted us as ordinary working people.” At the same time, Douglass realizes that those of us who’ve never had clashes with police will no doubt have a difficult time accepting that the “police in Britain have acted like this and are about to carry on acting like this as a matter of course.” That said, the booklet was written in 1986, and I suspect that a large portion of the population would not be surprised at some of the episodes of targeted violence recorded in these pages. I recall the footage of the WTO protests in Seattle 1999….
Douglass makes the point that some of us grew up with benign images of the police–Mr. Plod the Policeman (children’s book character) and Dixon of Dock Green (television programme), and some of the residents in mining areas suffered from those antiquated bucolic stereotypes when they found out the hard way that Thatcher, determined to destroy “the enemy within”–conducted a military style campaign against the strikers. Douglass notes that the government had “been cynically preparing this mixture of social poison since we beat them in 1974….It’s been coldly and clinically planned, and if it’s been enthusiastically and zealously put into operation, it’s because the faceless powers behind desks and phones have made sure they only recruit the right sort of person who unquestioningly gets on with the job of beating down the workers.”
The booklet is not a chronological account of the various clashes between miners, locals and police. Instead this is a record of state repression as Douglass records incidents of tactics used and some of the more egregious treatment (black and white photos included) meted out by police involved in the strike:
· Police ‘pincer’ type movements,
· Police beatings with truncheons (the title refers to the police taunts),
· Forcing people into protest areas,
· Agent provocateurs
· Raiding and smashing of homes of people who had nothing to do with the miners or the strike
· Police removing their identification
· Raiding of clubs and pubs
· The sealing off of a village and banning journalists from recording events
· Phone Tapping
· Use of police dogs against families of miners
· Hints of army/paramilitary involvement.
One set of photos comes with the caption “policing the Miners’ strike at Orgreave, Yorkshire May and June 1984” along with the newspaper headline “Police horses were called in to restore order.” These photos look more like assaults by the Mongol Horde updated to the 20th century with the Mongols wearing police uniforms and whacking their truncheons at anyone in their way. So much for bringing order.
According to the author, even some miners who’d witnessed the violence of the 1926 strike were shocked at the police tactics. Douglass argues that while the violence of the state was unleashed against the miners who were largely pilloried by the press “the implication for the labour movement at large and civil liberties in general are deadly.” Twenty years later, that’s clear.
If you would like to read more on the subject, I recommend Pit Sense Versus The State: A History of Militant Miners in the Doncaster Area by the same author.