The victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster have finally had their day in court. Not yet, though, the miners who were brutally assaulted five years earlier outside the Orgreave coking plant.
Yesterday, at long last, a jury found that 96 Liverpool soccer fans at the match at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England had been “unlawfully killed” and the victims of what proved to be fatal police mistakes.
Last year, unfortunately, the Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled that the police would not be investigated for charges of assault and misconduct against the 8,000-10,000 miners who went on strike leading up to the June 1984 “Battle of Orgreave.”
Dave Smith, a former miner and former president of Dinnington NUM was at Orgreave on 18 June 1984.
He said it was a hot day and they had been playing football, but the police arrived and all “hell let loose.”
“Horses came out, short shields came out; we tried to defend ourselves as best we could.
“Most of us were running like hell. We finished up down embankments, on to railway lines with dogs chasing us.
“People were seriously injured and I mean seriously injured, and left by the police.
“That’s not helping, that’s attacking, and we were attacked.”
Football obviously (and, not surprisingly, for the British working-class) connects the two tragedies. So, too, does the extensive evidence of police violence and subsequent coverup (which, as we know from recent events in the United States, is not confined to England). But, even more important, both groups of victims—the fans who were steered into overcrowded pens at Hillsborough Stadium and the miners who went to picket lorry drivers supplying coke to the steel industry and were subsequently attacked by police with short shields and truncheons (the first time they were ever used in Britain)—were treated as the “enemy within.”
Both events, remember, took place during the heyday of Thatcherism, which combined a free-market economic strategy with authoritarian populism. Or, as Stuart Hall succinctly put it (in Drifting into a Law and Order Society): “Make no mistake about it: under this regime, the market is to be Free; the people are to be Disciplined.”
Hillsborough (where the families and friends of the victims have won a victory) and Orgreave (where they have not, at least yet), each in their different way, represent attempts to impose that discipline.