Today has been the most frustrating and disappointing day of the strike so far, and also the most violent!
Scargill had called for a mass demonstration in Mansfield to show the strength of the strike, and to show support for the 11,000 Notts men out on strike with us. Our Lodge officials responded by providing ONE coach, leaving a lot of the regular pickets disappointed. Fortunately Ian Wilburn had helped to organise an extra coach through Newcastle SWP to show our officials they aren’t the only ones who can organise, and that the SWP isn’t just interested in selling papers.
There were only 15 of us and the bus turned up late so we didn’t have time to round up more people, which was disappointing. The men on the union coach were each given £5 subsistence allowance so we decided to do the same out of the money we’d collected in Manchester. We’ll try and claim it back off the Lodge later.
We caught up with the Newcastle Poly coach at a service station and that was full. The guy who had organised the coaches, Simon, told us he was having trouble getting the Labour Party and Militant members on board to contribute towards the cost of our coach. I offered to pay for it from our funds but Simon refused and said he’d sort it.
We arrived in Mansfield at 11am and asked the driver to return at 4pm. The rally was to start from a community centre and return there after we’d marched through the streets of Mansfield. The car park of the centre was jam packed with dozens of colourful banners and we pushed our way through to our Lodge banner. There were lots of surprised faces amongst the Westoe men when we showed up. I was shocked when Tommy Wilson and his henchmen gathered around Ian Wilburn and Keith Smoult and threatened to beat them up! They said nothing to me but there was a very hostile atmosphere and I warned Ian and Keith to stay well clear of Tommy and his thugs. The only reason I can think of for Tommy’s reaction is that he’s a union official and perhaps felt his authority had been challenged. Whatever, it was totally out of order and completely over the top.
The march set off and was a wonderful sight, with ‘Victory to the Miners’ placards everywhere. Ian, Keith and myself kept to the edge of the march so we could sell Socialist Worker, and keep out of Tommy’s way. I quickly sold all my papers and so did Ian and Keith. One thing that was very noticeable was the low profile of the pigs, though there were helicopters buzzing constantly overhead. I felt tremendously proud as we marched through the crowded streets of Mansfield and felt that such a huge display of solidarity couldn’t be ignored by the Notts scabs. My pride soon turned to embarrassment as a large group of lads began chanting,’Get your tits out for the lads,tits out for the lads’ at some young shopgirls leaning out of a window. To make it worse there were lots of Women’s Support Groups present. I tried to shout at the lads to stop but only got verbal abuse in response, except for one lad who said it was ‘only a bit of fun, a laugh, and anyway the lasses love it’. They just couldn’t see anything wrong with their behaviour but how can we expect women to support us if we treat them with such disrespect? I was relieved when the chant changed to, ‘Piggy,piggy,piggy,oink,oink,oink’, a variation on the ‘Maggie’ chant. At least it was aimed at an enemy.
As we marched back into the car park I decided to stay at the entrance to see if I could spot any familiar faces. It was wonderful to see all the different support groups and banners and I felt very encouraged. A young woman approached me and tried to sell me a copy of, ‘The Next Step’, the paper of the Workers Revolutionary Party. When I looked at the front cover I was shocked to see the headline was calling for a national ballot to unite the miners! I advised her to join Militant, or the Tory party but she continued to argue that a ballot was the only way to unite the miners. About as revolutionary as Neil Kinnock! I think RCP stands for the Ray Chadburn Party. The woman was very persistant until I was forced to swear to get rid of her.
I was relieved to meet up with Phil Ramsall and Irene Davis and we stood discussing which pits would be mass picketed because we felt this was the real reason for the rally. As the speeches began I was totally gobsmacked to hear Scargill introducing Tony Benn as,’The greatest Energy Minister we have ever had’. I couldn’t believe my ears because it was Benn who introduced the divisive Incentive Scheme, despite a national ballot rejecting it two to one. That’s ballots for you! In my opinion it is the Incentive Scheme which has caused the Notts miners to scab because they earn huge bonuses in their nice thick seams. At Westoe we earn next to nothing for working 7 miles out under the North Sea in wet conditions and relatively thin seams. Benn is a misguided fool who believes all we have to do is vote in a few hundred left wing MP’s like him and we’ll have some kind of Socialist Utopia. Bollocks! Scargill gave out his usual fighting rhetoric but made no call for a mass picket. Very disappointing.
Speeches over we headed to a nearby pub for some dinner. We had fish and chips and a pint before Phil and Irene had to leave. I joined some of the students from Newcastle Poly who were sitting with some Westoe lads. Two of the students, Brenda and Joan turned the discussion to the sexist chants on the march, and said they were,’Fucking disgusting and fucking demeaning’. One of the lads responded by saying,’If you were my wife I’d give you a good hiding for using foul language like that’! I could see Brenda was really angry and I tried to diffuse the situation by chipping in with,’How would you feel if I asked your wife or daughter to get their tits out?’ One of the lads jumped up, really offended, and Brenda jumped up, even more offended. Thankfully the landlord called ‘time’ and ordered us all out. In the bogs we heard some lads saying that Scargill had done a deal with the pigs that had allowed the rally to go ahead in exchange for no picketing. I didn’t want to believe that one but it did explain the low police presence and the absence of a call for mass picketing. The news had reported that there were over 40,000 people present, and if they’d gone to picket we could have shut down Notts completely. To me it was a missed opportunity.
We left the pub and were strolling towards the car park, enjoying the sunshine. Suddenly we heard glass braking and saw a mob of riot police in full gear appearing from behind the community centre and started beating up two lads, kicking and punching them. We all started shouting and running towards the lads intending to help them but were stopped in our tracks by the sight of mounted police on huge horses galloping out of the community centre, clubbing anyone who got in their way. I was momentarily frozen but the sight of a man falling to the ground with blood pouring from his head shook me into life and I started to run across the road to a church doorway. I remember thinking they couldn’t touch me there because it as sanctuary. Daft! People were shouting and screaming and scattering in all directions as they tried to avoid the horses. I watched in shock from the church doorway as a woman with a pushchair was hit and fell to the ground, the pushchair falling over and her child screaming! Not one of the pigs following the horses stopped to help her. They were too busy hitting anyone they could catch! They were dressed all in black with crash helmets, plastic shields and truncheons. I ran out and helped the woman and her child into the doorway, then ran out again to help a man covered in blood back to safety. It was a massacre, and as far as I could see, totally unprovoked. It looked like a battlefield.
Eventually we felt safe enough to make our way back to the car park where coaches were constantly moving out. I spotted some Westoe lads and ran to join them. The lads told me that everyone had been told to leave by 3.30 and anyone left would be arrested and charged with rioting! Someone had gone to find our coach whilst our party grew by the minute as people returned, each with their own horror story to tell. There were pigs everywhere, pushing people about and shouting at people to leave, arresting people for no reason.
We were very relieved when our coach arrived and the pigs started to roughly push us on board. We did a head count and were relieved to find no one was missing. We let on a load of lads from Doncaster whose coach had gone. One lad was hiding under the back seat because pigs were after him. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief when we hit the M1 and left Mansfield behind.
One of the Yorkshire lads told me that a lad had been wearing a toy cops tit helmet and some pigs started laying into him. His mates retalliated by throwing bottles at them. That’s when the riot police appeared, a real life Trojan Horse.
A cynic might say that because this all happened as the pubs were closing the pigs could justify their actions by blaming ‘drunken hooligans’ who left them no option but to respond as they had, and then make an example of those arrested to discourage others from coming to Notts.
Another cynic might ask what all those pigs and horses were doing in a community centre in the first place? Marx said,’Political power is the organised power of one class for oppressing another’. It’s about time we started oppressing them for a change!!!