Nostalgia: Anger as strike-breakers cross Fife miners’ picket line in 1984

Scuffles break out between police and striking miners who were taking part in a march in Kirkcaldy in August 1984.
Scuffles break out between police and striking miners who were taking part in a march in Kirkcaldy in August 1984.

Failing equipment and workers crossing the picket line made for an explosive combination at Dysart’s Frances Colliery during the miners’ strike of 1984.

The National Coal Board (NCB) said the striking miners were playing a “dangerous game of brinkmanship”.

Police form a human cordon around two miners crossing the picket line at the Frances Colliery.

Police form a human cordon around two miners crossing the picket line at the Frances Colliery.

The row broke out after the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) withdrew safety cover in protest after two miners defied the strike and returned to work.

The NCB spokesman said the future of the entire pit was in danger and could be lost in a matter of days, claiming that the lack of safety cover had caused flooding, a build-up of gas and, with ventilation being cut off, a real possibility of an explosion.

The Coal Board also claimed that some “expensive” pumping equipment had been lost.

The two miners had taken the picket by surprise when they had reported for the day shift on Friday, August 17.

The two miners cross the picket line.

The two miners cross the picket line.

There was a swift reaction from the strike committee and there was a full picket of some 100 men when the two rebels finished their shift with 50 police officers holding back the jeering crowd as the men were whisked away by taxi.

However, on Monday, August 20 the pickets were out in even greater force and hurled abuse at the rebels as they arrived for work in a Coal Board bus just before 5.30am.

Two NUM representatives were allowed to board the bus to speak to the men. But they failed to persuade them to stay out. Some jostling followed but both the police and the union officials described the picket as peaceful, but by Wednesday morning tensions started to rise.

Some 200 pickets came close to blocking the access road to the colliery and as the two miners arrived by taxi, again escorted by police vehicles, the pickets surged forward, forcing the taxi to brush a hedge on its way into the pit.

The police presence had risen to around 100 officers who were struggling to contain the pickets, eventually forcing them back into a hedge and rose garden surrounding the adjacent Fife Police Headquarters. One of the protestors was arrested.

The following day, as the rebels arrived at 5am flanked by a police car and van, they were able to drive straight through with a even heavier police contingent greatly outnumbering the pickets.

When the numbers reached about 100, they were cordoned off on the pavement, hidden from sight by a line of police four-deep in places. Using a loud-hailer, a senior police officer warned the pickets that if they encroached on to the roadway or pushed the police, they would be committing an offence and would be liable to arrest.

Two minutes later, as the rebels arrived, the police moved forward and the pickets remained on the pavement.

They confined their protest to verbal abuse as the two men got out of their car in the grounds of the colliery.

On Thursday evening, tempers flared again as scuffles broke between police and striking miners during a protest march in Kirkcaldy.

Some 300 striking miners, wives and children marched through the streets from Templehall to Sauchenbush Community Centre in protest against the two returning miners.

The trouble began when the march passed within 20 yards of the home of one of the rebels. Some of the protesters stopped at the junction of Pentland Place and Benarty Street where scuffles broke out briefly, during which two men were apprehended by police.

Protests continued throughout the week and would escalate further as the two returning miners were joined by another four men.