BBC News - 4 Mar 04

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305
(Copied 24 May 09)

'I Was a Flying Picket'

BBC News, Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 09:20 GMT

Tony Fletcher being arrested at Babbington colliery in 1985.

As an idealistic young miner living in the heart of the Yorkshire coalfield, Tony Fletcher wholeheartedly backed the strike and was arrested several times while picketing.

But the strike also convinced him to leave mining and in 1985 he went to study at Oxford. He now teaches trade union studies at Sheffield College.

"At my pit, Dinnington, we realised there would be a strike but no-one envisaged it would be a year. No-one was prepared for the long haul.

"I was initially part of the flying pickets, mainly going into Nottinghamshire. I live three miles from the Nottinghamshire border and five miles from Derbyshire so it wasn't a big deal.

"People thought: 'we just need to go and tell them how it is and they will turn around and go home'. And in many cases they did.

"The first big mass picket was in April at Babbington in Nottinghamshire. Previously there had been dozens of pickets but this time it was hundreds. Sixty of us got arrested including me; I got charged with obstruction.

Held in Cells

"We were put in the cells in Mansfield, about 20 of us in a cell meant for three. That was at midday and by 6pm we were hungry but all they gave us was frozen jam sandwiches.

"Then a policeman came in and said 'hey you, you've just been on the 9 O'Clock news'.

"We were all sent up before the magistrate and told not to go near any picket lines again - which of course we ignored.

":The picketing generally wasn't violent, not to start with at least. And I never picked up a stone the whole time, although of course there were those who did.

"Most of the time there was just sheer boredom; pickets taking the mickey out of the police and vice versa.

"I can remember certain days and places very vividly but the rest is just a blur. There was a bit of push and shove sometimes, sometimes not even that, just shouting.

Maxwell Donation

"I was arrested at Babbington, then Annersley, then Selby and it was starting to get a bit expensive for the union to fund my court appearances so I was sent off to London to try to do some fundraising.

"It was successful, by the end of the strike we were twinned with 43 organisations who would give us money; Social workers in Deptford; Lewisham teachers; even Robert Maxwell gave me £1,000 out of his back pocket.

"We needed it all because, although for about a third of people the strike was bearable, for most it was desperate. I knew of one chap who burgled his way through the strike. When it ended he just came back to work like normal.

"The strike started to collapse in late November. At Dinnington 14 people went back in one day. It caused a big fuss and they had to have a police escort.

Strike Crumbled

"I remember gathering stuff to make a barricade across the road and one chap leant out of his window and said 'you can take my car, it's just failed its MoT'; so that went on the fire.

"After Christmas people just started drifting back. No-one wanted to call off the strike but it was about preserving the union.

"It was never clear what would constitute victory. Clearly the government would not back down and we wouldn't have believed them even if they had said 'alright there are not going to be any closures'.

"Going back wasn't very pleasant at all. It was embarrassing, horrible, to march back behind the banners.

"It wasn't obvious at the time but I think working class solidarity had already disappeared and we hadn't realised it.

"The chant went: 'Miners united will never be defeated'. I used to say under my breath 'but we're not united' - and it was true.

"But if we were put in the same position again - knowing what we knew then - we would have acted in exactly the same way."