The Miner and the Copper

by Harry on February 25, 2009


A few summers ago we were having our house appraised. I opened the door to the appraiser who took a step back, blinked, and then stared rudely at me for about 30 seconds. Then “Oh, you’re English”, he says. (The tip-off being the large picture on my T-Shirt of Zebedee saying “Time for Bed”). He was from a Yorkshire mining community; his father and brothers had both been miners but he was too young himself; his brother (somehow) came to the US to become a hairdresser, and my appraiser followed a few years later.

There’s probably a dissertation to be written about the migration of participants in the Miner’s Strike to the US. A BBC exec chased down the two protagonists in this wonderful Don McPhee photo, and although the miner in the picture (George Brealey) died in Edington some years ago, the copper who you can see trying unsuccessfully to suppress a smile now lives in Tennessee. Full story here. And, if it works, a gallery of McPhee’s pictures (they’re all great, but #4 of the kids being evacuated, and #6 of Wilson lighting his pipe, are fantastic). (Hat-tip, Chris, who thought this was more down my alley than his).



sg 02.25.09 at 11:25 pm

The copper in question claims not to have been suppressing a smile, and still doesn’t support the miners. This is just more bullshit Guardian myth-building, a society riven by class conflict trying to pretend that there is some positive tale of community to be found in a sorry tale. It’s also very convenient pro-union boosterism coming at a time when British unions are running a racist campaign against foreign workers, aka the only people in england who do their jobs, and the only people who clean up British peoples’ rubbish.

British society is broken, and no amount of desperate searching for fellow-feeling between lower middle-class yobs is going to fix it.


Eszter Hargittai 02.26.09 at 12:07 am

Very interesting photos. I especially like 2, 9, and 10.


AlanM 02.26.09 at 12:12 am

“coming at a time when British unions are running a racist campaign against foreign workers”.

Please, the word should probably be “xenophobic” not “racist”. If you’re going to favour us with sub-Dalrympian nonsense, please make it semi-literate.


sg 02.26.09 at 12:30 am

yeah whatever AlanM. Asking any of those strikers and they’ll no doubt happily tell you that all the “cheap labour” looks the same to them. you say xenophobia, I say racism, they say “class consciousness”, the devil is hardly in the detail.


Chris Williams 02.26.09 at 1:22 am

‘sg’, have you, you know, _read_ the agreement that the Lindsey oil workers got in return for going back to work? Why not take a look at it before you accuse them of a racist campaign? These were their demands:

No victimisation of workers taking solidarity action.
All workers in UK to be covered by NAECI Agreement
Union controlled registering of unemployed and locally skilled union members
Government and employer investment in proper training / apprenticeships for new generation of construction workers
All Immigrant labour to be unionised.
Trade Union assistance for immigrant workers – via interpreters – to give right of access to Trade Union advice – to promote active integrated Trade Union Members

Lots of racism there, isn’t there? Or perhaps not.

By the way, if anyone is interested in the policing of the 1984 miners’ strike, I note that there will be an exhibition on the topic running at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, opening this September.


Lewis Leavitt 02.26.09 at 4:35 am

In 2001 there was a filmed reenactment of the battle of Orgreave in Yorkshire . Many of the reenactors were miners and police who had participated in the original battle–the
reenactment was interspersed with interviews which were filled with cameraderie
between the members of opposing sides (actually bizarrely so—nothing like a TV camera to tame the beast in us). The only angry man was Tony Benn who was still
filled with piss and vinegar.


ejh 02.26.09 at 7:26 am

I would hope (an immigrant writes) that this discussion will not be instantly derailed by the trolling in the openig post.


J.P.B. 02.26.09 at 8:51 am

Photo #9 and #20 are the ones I personally like best, but the others are also very interesting and/or beautiful.

Whether there is racism, xenophobia or however one calls it or should call it in the Unions I do not know and more importantly it should not matter in the appreciation of the pictures.

By the way, why should the policeman not smile? I hear it happens more often when one is nervous.


sg 02.26.09 at 8:52 am

I don’t think (a foreign worker writes) that it is trolling to point out that that Guardian article is a desperate attempt to paper over a very large crack in British society. It is seeking to find common ground between a man who cannot speak for himself (because he’s dead) and a man who disagrees completely with the journalist’s wishful impression of the picture.

And it is doing so at a time when the Guardian wants to see more strikes and union activism of the sort pictured there, only targetting foreign workers. Polly Toynbee, the conscience of the British left, said so herself. In the new strikes, of course, both the guys in that picture will be on the same side of the line, and it will be Ahmed “Cheap Labour” on the other.


dsquared 02.26.09 at 9:06 am

The copper in question claims not to have been suppressing a smile

Since the story does in fact point out that there’s another photo taken seconds later in which the copper is smiling, I call “troll!” and second ejh’s #6.


Chris Bertram 02.26.09 at 9:23 am

_that Guardian article is a desperate attempt _ ….

to promote an exhibition and a TV programme celebrating the work of one of the Guardian’s most distinguished photographers.


Alex 02.26.09 at 10:27 am

If only there was some way to find out what the guy actually said? Turns out there is…

“The decent human people just got pulled into the middle of it all, like the first world war when you had German and English fighting men in trenches and the politicians and generals telling them to do this and do that. It was lions led by donkeys. Without having sympathy with what was going on in the big miners’ strike, at the same time you had an awareness of what it might be like for those communities in Yorkshire. I’m not suggesting that you agreed with their line, but family background, as in my case, would give you human sympathy.”………..So was that meeting with Brealey a humane moment? Thinking back 25 years, and with a lifetime of police work since he took a £40 monthly cut from his butcher’s wage to join the force, Castle won’t pretend when he isn’t sure. He says: “If I was a third party looking at the picture, I’d say it’s a snapshot in time, it’s getting folklore surrounding it and that’s nice – it sums up the British sense of humour. But all I recall is being more interested in crowd safety than having a conversation with a miner, which we were told not to do. The photo doesn’t catch the seriousness of the time.”


ejh 02.26.09 at 11:24 am

In #10 – those lads aren’t actually playing football, are they? That’s a football all right, but they look to me like they’re playing rugby league.

Either way, as anybody who’s been to Boundary Park can testify, it’s probably perishingly cold.


AlanM 02.26.09 at 1:34 pm

Re #11, I had no idea Jimmy Saville was an Anglican…


harry b 02.26.09 at 1:56 pm

I’m surprised no-one else who was around at the time has pitched in on the smiling. I was involved in several melees, and many encounters between miners and their supporters on the one hand, and coppers on the other. Many were peaceful, and especially at pits where the same coppers came over and again there was often an uneasy rapport. Certainly there was smiling, if often nervous. Some of the miners were very funny in their taunts of the police and, as in that picture, there were often coppers with enough of a sense of humour to smile. The article is right that there was a world of difference between Met officers and those from other forces.

The most tense situation I was in that didn’t break into a fight was not in the miners strike but outside Oxford police station after a NF/ANL chase. 3 ANLers were in the police station, arrested for some reason, and about 150 of us were outside the police station shouting “Let them out, Let them out”. Suddenly, a brick went through a barred window (thrown by a schoolfriend of mine, whom I saw do it). Everybody froze, and there were 2 seconds of something close to terror on both sides. Then, some wag shouted “Let us IN, Let us IN”. The chanter was looking the sergeant in charge straight in the eye with a grin on his face and, I swear, I saw the sergeant start to giggle. A roar of laughter went through the crowd, and Peter Moss (a local councillor) was allowed in and go the charges dropped within a few minutes.


Pete 02.26.09 at 2:02 pm

There is something wrong with the perennial class obsession, but trying to play the racism card isn’t helping either.


John Emerson 02.26.09 at 2:43 pm

Rhetoric and impaled bankers: a revolutionary new trolley-car paradigm, together with an introduction to problematology. 600 words.


Donald A. Coffin 02.26.09 at 3:13 pm

I found #7 (the refugee camp photo) & #9 (the man gathering friewood form derelict buildings) to be extremely moving.

I can’t comment directly on the photo of the cop (almost smiling, or not) and miner. But I can comment on anti-war demonstrations in the US in the late 1960s/early 1970s. And (some of) the cops were smiling, whether from nerves, or from amusement at what we were saying I don’t know. And I personally know of two cops who, while off-duty, were on the right side of the line.


michael e sullivan 02.26.09 at 4:13 pm

Am I the only one who hasn’t figured out why the miner turned appraiser in the US blinked and stared rudely at you until he recognized that you were English?


harry b 02.26.09 at 5:47 pm

He was completely befuddled by the unexpected picture on my T-shirt (A very large and colourful picture of various Magic Roundabout characters, including Zebedee saying “Time for Bed”.) I love that shirt.

google Magic Roundabout and Zebedee if you need more….


sg 02.27.09 at 12:09 am

Alex, dsquared, the Guardian article actually quotes the cop saying he doesn’t remember smiling. It’s not trolling. He said so himself, and Alex’s quote supports that. The miner is dead, he’s not there to support it.

The Guardian is trying to create a mythology around the miner’s strike of people just “doing their job” when really it was two powerful forces of lower-middle class struggle coming together, and one of those forces won – the force that supported Thatcher. That force is the one which is now driving the racist demonstrations against Mr. “Cheap Labour”. The Guardian wants to support that force, because that’s all that’s left of class activism in England, but they’re uneasy with the compromise required of anyone who supports a racist union movement. So they have to manufacture continuity between the deeply divided working class of the 80s and the united, racist working class of now.

They do this by pretending the lower middle class policeman was smiling at the lower middle class miner, when really he was just wondering if he could bash him. Which is why Alex didn’t quote the other miners from that article – because they identified the rift very clearly.


Chris Williams 02.27.09 at 12:29 am

‘sg’, did you read comment five? Do you think that I just made it up or something?


sg 02.27.09 at 1:23 am

Yes I did Chris and I don’t assume you made it up. The Union wants to unionise people who are going to be on barges in the river for 4 months. This is a sop. Read their slogans – “our country our jobs”, “british jobs for british workers”. They are tied to a free market left wing party which sold its soul to the City 10 years ago, and which coined a slogan – “British jobs for British workers” – which would be considered too toxic to touch by a left wing party in any other country in the developed world. You can pretend they care, but the reality is that the only demand in that list which is of even marginal benefit to the Italian workers is the interpreters, and even that’s probably a play for local jobs since the company has probably got a few onsite anyway. Union dues? They’ll be gone in 4 months, what benefit is that to Italian workers who are in any case protected by local employment law? And what protection will it be when they are confined to their barges because the local town is too racist for them?

No, the local workers need to be asking themselves why they couldn’t beat these Italians to a job even though the Italians would be paid local wages PLUS accomodation. The reason is undoubtedly that the local contracting company was demanding too much profit, and/or the British workers couldn’t do the job. We know a British company lost the contract from failure to deliver. Why should we think this is anything except racist protectionism?


ejh 02.27.09 at 7:26 am

So the miners were lower middle-class, people who aren’t allowed to apply for jobs couldn’t beat other people to them, the union used slogans that the union didn’t use…oh and “the only people in england who do their job” are foreigners, says our anti-racist commentor. Or, as I said, troll.


notsneaky 02.27.09 at 7:51 am

I have no idea on the bigger issues here, but do they really have the “british jobs for british workers” for a slogan? That’s very uncomfortably close to the Illyria for Illyrians thing.


sg 02.27.09 at 8:06 am

It’s a labour party slogan, notsneaky. But the Guardian is comfortable with it, doesn’t even seem to have much sense of where it comes from or where it’s heading.


Phil 02.27.09 at 8:06 am

do they really have the “british jobs for british workers” for a slogan?

Not really, no. It was a big slogan at the start of the dispute, but by the time it was settled it had more or less disappeared – and, as Chris has shown, you can’t honestly and seriously characterise the terms on which the dispute was settled in that way.

In any case, the issue was never about immigration or about individuals travelling to get work; it was about a sub-contractor bussing in a workforce and then bussing it out again. As the Circolo Karl Marx (an ex-pat group of Rifondazione Comunista supporters) put it, what the sub-contractor was doing was a question of services mobility, not labour mobility.


Phil 02.27.09 at 8:07 am

sg: lying troll.


ejh 02.27.09 at 8:44 am

I assume we’re going to have a lot of British contributions to this discussion, as apparently none of you do any work. According to our prejudiced friend.


Nich Hills 02.27.09 at 9:18 am

Taken by surprise when looking at photo #4. A black-and-white news photo of kiddies being evacuated from a British city to a place of safety. And realising it was not form the Second World War but the Troubles in the early ’70s.

Photo #6 is a fairly famous snap of Wislon.


ajay 02.27.09 at 9:35 am

Picture 4 reminds me of an anecdote from Martin Bell’s memoirs: he was told very firmly not to describe them on air as “catholic refugees” because this would only inflame the situation. He protested: “Do you think anyone’s going to mistake them for Protestants? That one’s got a crucifix in a pram!”


ejh 02.27.09 at 10:12 am

Heh. It can help to be a Catholic to spot that sort of thing. Or its absence. There’s an old lady in the Aragonese village in which I live: the first time I went into her house I was struck (as my C-of-E fiancée was not) by the complete absence of any religious icons on the walls. Immediately I knew which side she must have been on in the Civil War.

Re: Wilson and his pipe, I seem to remember that the late Paul Foot used to have a routine about Wilson’s use of his pipe in front of an audience. Unfortunately I can’t remember how it went…


dsquared 02.27.09 at 12:48 pm


Alex, dsquared, the Guardian article actually quotes the cop saying he doesn’t remember smiling

the article:

Among the material he found was a line of negatives of the whole Orgreave sequence; not a solitary shot but four, taken within a couple of seconds. The second frame is the famous one: “Perfect geometry, Cartier Bresson’s ‘the moment’, a picture which locks you in, wondering what’s going to happen next,” says Thorpe. But look at the last two on the strip of contact prints. In both, Castle’s grin stands out from his poker-faced colleagues, while Brealey is clearly clowning on with his ‘inspecting’.


sg 02.27.09 at 6:31 pm

From the article Alex quoted, dsquared: “I was more concerned about crowd security… the photo doesn’t capture the seriousness of the time”.

It’s wistfully trying to paper over some serious class divisions, as if everyone was just having an earnest disagreement. All very conveniently timed too, when British society is beginning to close ranks against Johnny foreigner.

ejh and Phil, newspapers from the area and the company involved at the time made it very clear that British contractors got a chance to tender to bus in their workers in place of the Italians. Those companies couldn’t fulfill the conditions of the tender, they were beaten to it by an Italian company which paid its workers British wages plus accommodation. These strikes and Gordon Brown’s nasty little slogan, and the Guardian’s support for this “spontaneous outbreak of protest” are very much dog whistle politics, which is why Italian workers who cost more than British workers were routinely referred to throughout the action as “cheap labour”. Euphemism much?

And how come my comments about British people are racist, but a demonstration against Italians is only “xenophobic”? I know that the Daily Mail is now classing 2nd and 3rd generation migrants as not being British, but I didn’t think commenters here would have decided “British” was a race?


AlanM 02.27.09 at 10:03 pm

Just to make it clear, if perhaps only to sg, my first post was making the point (snarkily) that sg was deciding that “British” , “Italian” and “Polish” (the nationalities involved in the dispute) were racial designations by his incontinent use of the word “racist”. I assumed a knowledge of the specifics of the case amongst people who would want to comment on the photo in the post would help them interpret my remarks in the way they were intended. I myself never believed the workers at Lindsey are either racist or xenophobic, and the evidence provided by Chris above shows they are not.

Amusingly, I assumed sg to be a Daily Mail reader of some kind, hence my accusation of his “sub-Dalrympian” rant. Now I know he’s just a troll, I shall write no more.


Phil 02.27.09 at 10:39 pm

an Italian company which paid its workers British wages plus accommodation

Really? The only concrete reference I’ve seen to what the Italians were actually paid said that their wages were 100 euro/month lower than their counterparts’.

To clarify my earlier comment, it’s not true to say that “British jobs for British workers” is “a Labour Party slogan” (and it’s inflammatory to say that it is). The slogan was used by Gordon Brown in one speech some time ago, and revived by the Lindsey strikers at least partly (I’d say largely) for the sake of throwing his words back at him. And it’s certainly not true that the Guardian is happy with “BJFBW” as a demand (and it’s inflammatory to say that it is). But then, it’s not true that “BJFBW” is what the strike was about, let alone what the settlement was about.

In short, sg: lying troll.


sg 02.27.09 at 11:53 pm

AlanM, if I were a daily mail reader i would have been supporting the strikers, so that assumption was pretty silly. But thanks for the clarification, as I said before I’m really uninterested in the fine distinction between xenophobia and racism. Whichever one the British want to use as the solution for their current problems, it’s not going to end well.

PhilM, Gordon Brown defended his use of BJFBW after the strikers used it “against him” (if indeed they were, since he coined it with the full knowledge of how it would be used as a rallying cry for protectionist labour activists – or do you really think he is so stupid he wouldn’t see that?). And the Guardian is definitely comfortable with it, I read three opinion pieces in one week defending the strikers and their use of the phrase, and there were about 1000 comments saying “oh look, the Guardian finally gets it”.

The company website stated clearly that they were paying their Italian workers the local wage. There was much debate about this because the “posted worker directive” requires this. “cheap labour” has been a rallying cry for the rights of 3rd world workers for years, it’s verrrry interesting to see it used in this country as a euphemism for “dirty eyetie”.


Phil 02.28.09 at 10:06 am

Gordon Brown defended his use of BJFBW after the strikers used it “against him”

And? What would you expect him to do, repudiate his own rhetoric and make a public self-criticism?

The company website stated clearly that they were paying their Italian workers the local wage. There was much debate about this because the “posted worker directive” requires this.

Once again, your confidence in your own opinion is running ahead of your grasp of the facts. The British government’s interpretation of the Directive, supported by the European Court’s rulings in the Viking and Laval cases, requires only that workers be paid the statutory minimum wage. More here.


sg 02.28.09 at 10:41 am

Nonetheless Phil, the company stated they were paying equal wage. The contract required a company with a group of existing workers to do a 4 month job, and wasn’t won on the basis of the cheapest labourers.


Chris Bertram 02.28.09 at 10:54 am

SG: looking through your comments on previous threads, I note two things. (1) You aren’t generally at troll and often have sensible things to say; (2) Since you came to the UK you have had some shit experiences and you have a bee in your bonnet about that. Well, fair enough, I’m not going to gainsay your experience. But please bear in mind that people who use CT threads as vehicles for their private obsessions impose a cost on other users and on the people who collaborate to provide this site. So play nice, or play elsewhere.

(By the way, on the substance, I agree with you that the recent strikes had a nasty racist undercurrent and that Brown’s pandering was deplorable, but it is just absurd to claim that the Guardian article was motivated as you suggest. And to describe the striking miners of the 1980s as “lower middle class” was also nuts.)


sg 02.28.09 at 12:33 pm

Fair enough point Chris, I certainly have a bee in my bonnet about “broken britain”, and i can be unreasonable about it. My apologies.

But I do think that there is a vague relationship between the Guardian’s rejection of the Tory narrative of “broken Britain”, their unwillingness to see anything wrong with those recent strikes, and a generally revisionist/blind viewpoint on working class attitudes towards race. Class division is what is the underlying cause of Englands social problems, the Toynbees of the world won’t see it because it implies that they are the problem; so in the end they have to deflect the criticism onto foreigners almost as much as the Daily Mail likes to. In the process they have to construct a wishful narrative of past class struggles in order to try and pretend that England is a society which can get along together as currently constructed.

On a slightly different note, I had a generally positive view of the miners’ strike, and I certainly sympathise with, for example, Alex’s respect for Arthur Scargill. But I do wonder, if they had won against Thatcher would anyone dare take the unions on now over coal and global warming?


Phil 02.28.09 at 12:56 pm

their unwillingness to see anything wrong with those recent strikes

I don’t think the Graun, or anyone else on the Left, is offering the strikes that kind of completely uncritical support. They contained some quite dodgy elements from the start and could easily have gone very bad. They didn’t, partly thanks to people on the Left who got involved instead of standing aside and crying racism.

In the process they have to construct a wishful narrative of past class struggles

I don’t think they are, though. That picture captures a small local victory for working-class irreverence, in the broader context of a brutal, crushing defeat – the sheer number of police on the left of the picture is just as important as the fact that one of them’s suppressing a smile.

if they had won against Thatcher would anyone dare take the unions on now over coal and global warming?

In that alternative timeline, I’m confident that some of the most creative thinking about green energy would be coming from NUM members and sympathisers. (During the strike itself Andrew Glyn played a blinder on the economics of ‘uneconomic pits’.)


Jonathan Derbyshire 02.28.09 at 12:59 pm

Harry, I think you’ll find this book of photographs of urban, working-class Britain in the ’70s and early ’80s riveting:


sg 02.28.09 at 1:40 pm

Phil, I have seen articles by Arthur Scargill recently about coal and global warming that seemed reasonably sensibly argued (though IIRC,wrong). However, I wonder if this is because the defeat of the strike has left him with a lot less to lose in the current environment than he (and the class he represents) would have otherwise had. In Australia in the 70s there were excellent Unionist/environmentalist combined campaigns, but there have also been nasty confrontations between, for example, anti-wood chipping activists and loggers unions. The two types of activists aren’t always natural bedfellows, and we would be talking potentially about a major industrial upheaval. How did the anti-roads activists and the unions get along? Or were the unions defunct by then?


harry b 02.28.09 at 2:37 pm

Oh thanks, Jonathan, that looks brilliant. Ordered.

I feel for the author/editor though. How annoying to have to use your middle name all the time because your name has, otherwise, been wrecked by someone else!

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