Chapter 14: July – August 1984 - 1st dockers strike...Fitzwilliam riot...hit squads and more local riots

Chapter 14:
July – August 1984

1st dockers strike...Fitzwilliam riot...hit squads and more local riots


From the 9th July, at midnight, the leadership of the TGWU called a national dock strike. It seemed at the time there was the chance of a "second front" being opened up in the class struggle. Particularly as one of the main basic issues was at stake in both the miners and the dockers situations: job security. Many dockers had already shown some solidarity with the miners by blacking some coal and iron ore movements. But it was wishful thinking.

The strike was called by the TGWU's national docks committee after British Steel had used workers who were not registered dockers to unload iron ore at Immingham dock on the Humber. The ore was bound for Scunthorpe steel works and had been blacked by Immingham dockers in support of the miners. The use of non-dock labour was a direct contravention of the terms of the National Dock Labour Scheme (DLS) which provided dockers with job security and large redundancy payments should they choose to leave. The union case was partly that British Steel had been asked not to bring in private contractors to move ore until the outcome of the 9th July negotiations were known. The union leaders had been hoping that by then some kind of deal would have been cobbled together over the miners' strike so that the dockers could be kept out of it. The effect of the national strike call was to push the issue of how to organise effective blacking of coal and iron ore neatly to one side, turning it into a national disagreement purely within the dock industry between the TGWU and the National Association of Port Employees (NAPE) over the precise wording of the DLS agreement. At the same time, it played on dockers' real fears over the future of the DLS which had come under greater pressure from the Government and employers as the volume of port trade had declined and dockers had become less and less willing to accept volutary redundancy as unemployment had risen. The truth of this could be seen from the way that, as the strike was called, a train-load of iron ore was taken from Immingham to Scunthorpe unhindered. The 13000 registered dockers in the DLS ports stopped work as soon as the strike was called, but the major non-DLS ports (around 22000 were outside the scheme) such as Felixstowe, Harwich and Newcastle, carried on working. The effect of the stoppage at this stage was to strand 75% of cargo along with over 100 tankers and cargo ships, although there was every possibility that cargo could be re-routed through non-Scheme ports.

Throughout the strike there were virtually no picketing initiatives taken. This was not something that could simply be put down to the dockers' reluctance to participate in the strike, or even to bureaucratic union control of the strike. The simple fact was that there had been traditionally very little reason for dockers to picket out other dockers. Until the few years previously, they had tended to "strike first and ask questions later" when their mates in other ports were in trouble, and strikes had been completely solid. For various reasons – the temporary security dockers had gained, the destruction of dockland communities, etc. - striking dockers could no longer rely on this sort of 'automatic solidarity' possibly even less than the miners could.

4th July Felixstowe finally voted to join the strike, but they were not prepared to disrupt passenger services. 16th July, Dover voted to stop all freight but on the same day tugmen in Swansea went back to work, as did 200 dockers at 2 oil industry supply bases. In neither case did the striking dockers do anything to counter this.

Over the next couple of days the reluctant strikers of Dover were given just the excuse they'd been waiting for when lorry drivers began to blockade Channel ports in protest at not being able to take their lorries onto the ferries. It began with a small number of owner-drivers using their lorries to block the entrance to a Townsend Thorensen ferry at Labis and quickly spread to Ostend and Zeebrugge. 300 lorries which had been parked on the M20 throughout the strike began to move off in convoy for Dover to neotiate with the harbour board. By next day the dockers' shop stewards had called off the freight ban "because of fears of violence in the port". So much for shop stewards.

Much was made by the press and TV of the fact that many of the lorry drivers were in the TGWU, which hid the fact that that great bulk of them, including all the initiators of the blockades ere self-employed owner-drivers, a petty-bourgeoisification of lorry drivers developed by capital in the aftermath of the Winter of Discontent, when lorry drivers were the most combatative. Nobody tried to burn their lorries.

With the precedent set by Dover, the strike collapsed. The next day there were votes all over the country to return to work. The dock bosses never even made any promises about any future breach of the DLS, promises they could have made because such promises are always empty – they just reaffirmed their commitment to existing procedures. All this was hailed by the TGWU's national docks officer, John Connolly, as a "great victory!"

During this strike, the miners blocked and occupied the Humber Bridge. Although some dockers met up with them, there was no attempt on either side to push things further, to spread the action and continue contacts – a great opportunity missed...

A major attack on cops and the NCB by striking miners, young supporters and the unemployed in Fitzwilliam, W.Yorks. 8 cops came to the house of a 26 year old miner to arrest him, but he refused to come out until they got a warrant. Word got round the village that the guy was to be arrested, so a crowd of 200 - miners and their families went to the pooice station where a local NUM official received an assurance that the guy would not be arrested if he went the next day to the police station with the branch official and a solicitor. But after the crowd dispersed, a police transit van repeatedly passed the guy's house with a cop inside shouting “Brendan, Brendan – we're coming for you”. Consequently, nearby Hemsworth police station, with only 3 cops inside, was besieged, its windows broken and the cops knocked out. So then, shortly before closing time, over 80 cops - many in riot gear - marched on the Fitzwilliam pub, where about 200 locals had gathered and physically battered them through the main doors into the tap room, breaking windows and glasses. Brendan, the wanted guy, was arrested and handcuffed to a lampost with a friend who was knocked unconscious with a truncheon and kept in hospital overnight. The guy's girlfriend and cousin were also arrested. In revenge, nearby Kinsley drift mine was attacked by about 200 where management, pit deputies and security guards barricaded themselves in for 3 hours as the windows in every building were smashed, along with the clocking-on machine and a forklift truck was used to smash down gates and take three vans, 2 being burnt, the other one just smashed up. £100,000 worth of damage was caused.

At Rossington, 300 pickets chopped down trees across the entry road to the pit and kept the cops at bay with burning barricades and fire hoses. After consulting with the NUM branch committee, the cops withdrew and the branch committee called in 4 top Yorkshire officials, including Jack Taylor, to disperse the crowd. They moved amongst the pickets saying, "We must be disciplined. We are the generals. If you don't take our leadership the fight will be lost. What you are doing is illegal. You'll be charged with unlawful assembly and riotous behaviour." This was the same NUM praised by the anarchists of Black Flag and DAM (Direct Action Movement), the same NUM which Class War refused to criticise because it was more concerned to court popularity than to try to help win a real struggle. Fortunately, none of the pickets moved in response to the cop-initiated NUM warning. In fact, some of them responded by occupying the pit yard, holding the management hostage, destroying the miners' personal records held in the colliery offices and rebuilding the barricades. The cops asked Jack Taylor and the rest of the NUM officials to fetch out the management 'hostages' but the pickets refused. Finally, 2 cop vans led by Rossigton officials got through to rescue the managers. They left under a hail of bricks leaving the assistant coliery manager behind, caught on the picket's barbed wire. He was finally rescued an hour later. Meanwhile, a group of women found a scab in the main high road and beat him up. Jack Taylor told a radio interviewer later, "I'll walk with them[management], I'll drive the vans, I'll do anything to get them out except carry them on my back." This is the same Jack Taylor who Dave Douglass (the previously mentioned anarcho-demagogue who flirts with the media, and who joined Class War during the strike) defended against accusations of being a Stalinist – " Jack Taylor is not a Stalinist by any definition" Pit Sense versus the State, 1993). It takes a Stalinist not to know one. [16]

A march of over 1000 miners from North Derbyshire cross the Notts border to go to Warsop colliery where there are officially 60 scabs. In the inevitable confrontation with the cops, a fence gets ripped out of the ground and the wooden stakes are used as weapons, thrown like javelins at the cops. One cop gets his ribs cracked and another an eye injury.
Towards the end of July (no date) cops arrested 3 people, including a sailor, suspected of planning several night-time sabotage expeditions. Next day, the sailors from Felixstowe (the port where the arrested sailor worked) went on strike and the 2 were immediately released.


20 strikers break into Longannet mine in Fife and overturn a van belonging to a scab. A scab's car in Hucknall, Nottingham, has his brake pipes severed. Lorry drivers at a coal loading point at Maryport, Cumbria are attacked and injured; one driver has his arm broken.


One formerly striking miner returned to work in Betws pit , South Wales. The p[eople of the village blocked the pits gates and besieged the scab's house. Some of the people from the neighbouring village of Blaendgarw attacked the cops from the rear. Lots of those arrested managed to escape.

8 young strikers from Shirebrook pit in Derbyshire and a farm worker set alight the shelter of a haulage company holding 5 NCB buses used by scabs – all buses were burnt out, causing £65,000 worth of damage, but the guys got caught. On January 8th they all got two and a half years, except the youngest, an 18 year old – he got 3 years. In 1969 young radical threw a molotov at the Ulster Office in London – the guy done for it, though not the guy who did it, got 9 months and friends were shocked. Nowadays, for doing what the Shirebrook guys did you'd probably get more (recently some first-time offenders – East European women - got 15 months inside for stealing £300 from Sylvia Syms the actress, money stolen without any threat physical or verbal, whatsoever).

In Brixton, S.London, an arrest in Railton Road turns into a fight and a barricade is built.
Round about this time (no precise date) 6000 people encircle Gascoigne Wood pit to prevent the entrance of only one single scab. Police vans were attacked. The cops and the scab were forced to retreat - “It was operationally unsafe”. In Brodsworth, Hatfield and Armthorpe, pits very close to one another, people built barricades and attacked the cops, using what the cops called “guerilla tactics” (no precise date).

In Bedwas, after a miner had returned to work, safety cover was withdrawn, preventing all work below – the NCB, by law, were compelled to cut off te electricity supply after a 24-hour period if maintenance men have not done their work. Safety cover had already been withdrawn at Solgirth, Frances and Monktonhall pits.

N.Derby scab gets a burning rag pushed through his letterbox in the middle of the night. No-one hurt. A garage blaze destroys 2 NCB vehicles in Retford. A coal lorry has its windscreen broken on an opencast site at Stavely. A stone is thrown through the window of a scab at Shirebrook. An electricity pylon for the Oxcroft coke plant in Derbyshire got sabotaged.

3 burning barricades across the road face cops escorting a solitary scab into Silverwood colliery, Rotherham. 8 cops are injured as the strikers mount hit and run attacks on cop cars, slipping out of the woods, hurling stones and metal bars, and disappearing again into the depths of the woods again shortly before 4 a.m.

Armthorpe: up till this time, for four and a half months, the picket line at Markham Main colliery in Armthorpe was one of the most peaceful in the country. Token pickets were organised between the NUM and the local NCB management at pre-arranged times, whilst the NUM official would phone the NCB manager to allow miners in to do safety cover. On this day, 3 scabs from outside the village (the NCB always targetted those furthest from the centre of the dispute to persuade them to go back to work), broke the strike for the first time. The convoy deploying the hooded scabs rushed through the entrance, scattering pickets and knocking several down. Cops from Manchester taunted the pickets waving £10 notes (the cops were raking it in in overtime, whilst the pickets relied on collections) and rolling coins at them.

Armthorpe: after a negotiated cop/NUM deal to reduce both cops and pickets because of the tension arising from the previous day, the cops withdrew from the village. When local council workers arrived in the morning to use road building equipment parked outside the pit entrance one of the few remaining pickets persuaded them to drive their vehicles and abandon them in the pit entrance (earlier that month, council workers driving to work had been stopped and searched by the cops in an aggressive and threatening manner, so the council workers had a clear sympathy for the miners). Pickets then used a crane, taken from the pit yard, to barricade the road with concrete blocks, and hijacked an excavator to help in the building of the barricade. A brazier was overturned to set fire to tyres and the barricade became a burning one. Other pickets roamed the colliery, causing damage to lighting and television monitoring equipment. Managers at the colliery, who should have left work at about 6 am, were trapped there and not relieved till noon.

Consequently, 52 transit vans of cops drove into the village to occupy it. Armthorpe was cut off from the outside by the cops, many of them in heavy riot gear, most of them without badges numbers, to avoid identification. Riot cops charged through the village and back greens chasing pickets. “One of the lads pelted the [police] van and ran through my garden. Police thought he'd gone into my house... [there were in fact 4 pickets having tea with this 59-year old woman]. ..My son locked the front door and I went round the back...The back door was unlocked but they kicked it in. Police said, “send the bastards out”. I said, “You're not getting in. Then he jammed the door in my face”. She received extensive bruising to the right side of her face and her right ear and 3 and a half months later was still suffering from recurrent headaches. She added, “I was once in favour of the police but there's no way they will get any help from me now.” In another incident, a woman had just got up to feed her baby - “I must have blinked because the next thing I knew, there were six riot officers in my kitchen. It was like the Keystone Cops. I was too frightened to do anything. I just stared. I then heard the window break. They caught up with one of the lads just outside my front hedge. There were six of them and the lad they were chasing was on the floor. They were knocking hell out of him...I had been watching the telly previous to this and I thought that the miners were at fault for starting the violence. I did not believe police in this country carried on like this.” She then went outside and demanded which of the 30 officers was going to pay for the damage that they had done to her window and kitchen. “All 30 officers started swearing at me. They said things like, 'Get back into the effing house, you slag'. I could not believe it. They thought they could do anything they liked because they knew they could not be identified and nothing would happen to them.” From 9 in the morning till early afternoon, the whole village was under curfew: nobody could get in or out – not even ambulances (for the injured pickets) or fire engines. Cops told journalists that 20 “paramilitary” pickets wearing balaclavas, camouflage jackets and overalls had been involved in the barricade, “a sinister new development” and justified the sealing off of the village by claiming that pickets were stoning any vehicle passing through. Despite the cops ostensibly having the situation under control, loads of miners and supporters, went round the other side of the village, took the cops by surprise and attacked them.

At Bentley pit, 30 to 50 masked pickets wrecked NCB equipment - a coal board bus and a colliery van, which they overturned to build barricades. Edlington – a barricade at the colliery gates was set on fire. 3 scabs at Kiveton were greeted with a a hail of missiles. 14 scabs throughout Yorkshire, 2 less than the day before. After almost 5 months – effectively solid.

At Easington colliery, Durham, 250 people gathered to stop a single scab from going in, as they'd managed to do for a week.. The cops take him in by a secret back door, breaking an agreement with the NUM. At once, people from neighbouring villages and pits arrive and attack the NCB buildings and vehicles. 71 windows are smashed, 2 cars are turned upside down and four more had their windows smashed. 3 cops hospitalised, one needing 3 stitches. A picket suffers a broken leg from being truncheoned.

Elsewhere, a South Yorkshire picketing group seized some bulldozers and used them to destroy several NCB offices.

2 cops are injured in Kiveton Park. At Ellerbeck open cast colliery near Chorley, Lancs, 3 cops are injured as pickets throw stones at private contractors' trucks.

Meanwhile a scab died because of the NCB's lack of safety – crushed to death by a hydraulic support he was using for roof repairrs 2000 feet underground at Cotgrave Colliery. Scabs always have their own best interests at heart.

Dockers at Hunterstone (west coast of Scotland) refused to unload Polish coal from the coal ship Ostia destined to go to the Ravenscraig steel works where fights between pickets and cops were taking place every day. The management then called upon steel workers to unload the ships. The dockers then brought the entire port to a standstill. The TGWU national docks committee declared that they were in favour of a national strike, leaving each port free to decide through a ballot. As soon as the strike of the Hunterstone dockers was announced, dockers from Hull, London and Liverpool stopped working. By the 29th, the 12 Scottish ports were on strike.

After 8 days withdrawal of safety cover at Polkemmet pit by the NUM when 6 strikers turned into scabs, the NCB declares that there's 13 million gallons of water in inaccessible shafts. Engineers say it'll take 6 months to remove the water and up to a year longer to return the pit to production. The pit is normally the main supplier for Ravenscraig steel plant, which has continued production with imported coal. Before the strike, Polkemmmet supplied Ravenscraig with about 400,000 tonnes of coal a year.

In Limehouse, E.London, during a circus, a kid with an air gun shoots cops who are standing around; when they try to arrest him, lots of people attack them, and they are forced to flee. Some people might say that to suggest this was part of the general mood/subversive current of the times is stretching speculation to the limit: however, you have to think about what would happen nowadays if such a thing happened - the most likely outcome is that the crowd would have pounced on the kid, or at the very least, let the cops do what they wanted.

14 cops injured by flying pickets in Kiveton Park, S.Yorks. In Woolwich, S.E.London, 200 youths attack the cops and break shop windows following a dancing competition.

At the end of October, the head of the Met, Sir Kenneth Newman, declared that during this previous summer in London, "there were many mini-riots which had the potential to escalate to Brixton 1981 proportions. But they were quickly and effectively extinguished....the prevention of public disorder is at the top of our list of priorities."

One could sense this volatile rumblings-under-the-surface type atmosphere at the time. And me and a group of friends and contacts wanted to contribute to this atmosphere. We had a project of occupying a disused church off Holloway Road, North London. The building needed a lot of cleaning – it was partly squatted by pigeons, and hadn't been used for over 30 years, but was an unusual place, being round with a round corridor around it and a few rooms, plus a stage We aimed to use this as a base for support for the miners and to somehow agitate to spread the struggle, as well as having free concerts which might have been used for collections for the miners. With this in mind, we hoped to go along to schools to distribute leaflets attacking 'education', to workplaces attacking work, to discos attacking the disco scene etc.etc. Plus we thought we might cover the area with interesting graffiti and maybe do a bit of appropriately-targetted vandalism. Plus use the place for mass meetings and discussions. Unfortunately we were a bit slow to take it over, and the place got squatted by some rock band which used it as a studio. In part this delay was my fault, since, having suggested the idea I really wanted to be part of it from the word go, feeling somehow I was indispensable, but I decided to go off to France for a couple of weeks because my girlfriend, who was there seeing her family, was getting jealous about another relationship I was having (yawn)...All this personal stuff aside (fairly petty stuff which nevertheless can have an effect on events), it was a project that could, in very different circumstances, be adapted in almost any historical period – though the best situation to do such a thing, the least voluntaristic, is when people are starting to move (the pre-Iraqi war situation with the schoolkids strikes and mini-riots would have been such an opportunity, for example). Of course, everything depends on how much such agitational texts connect to such movements, how much they have to say about the immediate moment, how abreast with reality they are. And also today such an occupation is far more likely to receive the attention of the cops very quickly, so they probably wouldn't last very long – but enough people can do quite a lot, even in 24 hours.

Posted By

Red Marriott
Jul 5 2009 08:14


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Jun 17 2016 22:18
Throughout the strike there were virtually no picketing initiatives taken.

I don't know about nationally but for Immingham this wasn't the case, pickets were formed and the participants were very vocal about the dispute being support for the Miners, in rejection of the TGWU's attempts to frame the dispute being about the DLS. There was a brief flurry of interviews and articles about it in the left wing party papers. They didn't get any support from the national TGWU mind.

In fact they got more support from striking miners who were trying to link up with the dockers at all the ports on the Humber. The police kept the two groups mostly separate.

Also the train drivers were pretty solid in Immingham while the strike was on, most of the scabbed ore had to come in through lorries.