Ken Radford, a former miner who was at the Battle of Orgreave, talks to Ann Czernik about how Margaret Thatcher’s funeral will not heal the wounds his family still feels from her policies
In 1984, Ken Radford was a young man who did not want much – just “a decent wage, food on the table, and a better standard of living” for his family and community in Oughton, South Yorkshire. Like his mates, and thousands of other miners across the country, he worried what would happen if the pits closed, and was drawn into a class war.
“Thatcher wanted to crush the miners. That was her goal, that’s all she wanted,” says Ken.
Thirty years on, this is the first time he’s spoken in depth about the strike. Ken and others like him never talk about it. It’s too hard, too painful, too raw still. “A lot of people talk in beer and they go home and sleep it off next morning,” Ken says.
For Ken, Orgreave brings back mixed emotions. He made good friends, good memories; he shook Arthur Scargill’s hand. But he says: “What them bastards did to us, it goes deep, lass. It really goes deep.”
During the strike, police put Ken’s village under surveillance. Men and women were regularly stopped from travelling and police boarded public transport, buses, stopping cars and vehicles going to power plants, coking and steel works. On 18 June 1984 police were directing the miners into Orgreave with smiles on their faces.
“That day at Orgreave was planned,” says Ken. “They guided the lads in, telling us ‘that’s where you go lads, go into that field there’. We didn’t realise at the time what was going to happen but we found out. They gave us shit. You’ve seen the pictures: lads in T-shirts. It was frightening.
“They cordoned us off, there were more police than normal and they were just going to town. They blocked off the gates down at the bottom. All of a sudden they were banging their shields and we knew what was coming. They were animals. I had a lot of respect for the police before but that day I could have killed them. They murdered us.”
Ken carried his haemophiliac father-in-law across the field to prevent him bleeding to death. “There was a war, the ranks just opened up, horses came and they just charged. I don’t know how many were injured, there were a lot of lads just covered in blood. It looked like a battlefield.”
But Ken remembers a better time. His wife stood by him, battling on the street. There was a sense of community, of cohesion. “There were more people together, people speaking.” They called him Red Ken and the name stuck for a few years. He wanted something done to save his community from poverty.
Today, he says the area wants flattening. His wife works at Meadowhall, the cavernous shopping centre between Sheffield and Rotherham built, ironically, on a former steel plant. Ken laughs: “That makes sense doesn’t it: knock down a rolling mill and build a shopping centre.”
He says of the traumatised landscape: “We need jobs and industry. There is always spare land round here. Every time I go to me mam’s, I go past pit head. It hurts. My kids have never seen a pit head. I keep saying I’m going to take them to Wakefield to the mining museum but I can’t do it.”
Ken has two daughters, one son and four grandchildren. He’s seen his lad, now 25, defeated by lack of work and opportunity since being laid off by a local engineering firm five years ago. Ken shakes his head . The social stopped his money because “they said he wasn’t proving he was looking for work – he’s been looking for years.”
His eldest daughter works for her sister-in law’s debt recovery business. His other daughter – on her own with two children since her husband left – works behind a bar.
During the strike, Ken was the poorest he’d ever been, but still remembers it being one of the best Christmases ever: “My wife got a fur coat out of it. I had a pair of real Italian leather shoes.” Help came from all over – often from unlikely sources. And half the time, miners couldn’t understand the descriptions on food on packets or the games that well-wishers sent.
Every child of striking families went to school in a parka because a factory sent a job lot. The fur coat came in handy when Ken was cutting up cloth and anything else he could find to keep his family warm. Now, he asks himself if it was worth it. “There’s times I start doubting, and I think ‘no, I took a stand’”. He clenches his fist. “It’s killing me that there are still people round here who say ‘Our lad hasn’t got a job. I don’t know what he’s going to do when I go’ – I say fight.”
Thirty years on, Ken says the hope, heart – and jobs – in this once-thriving community have gone, and the pubs are empty. “People would pop in after work. Late shift finished at 10pm – straight in for the last couple of pints. Days, you’d pop in for a couple of pints. It was a lad thing, we were just all lads. It were brilliant … That’s gone. Thatcher and her kind, they took it all away.”
The ‘advanced manufacturing plant’ on the site of the former coking plant will only provide a fraction of the number of old jobs and are predominantly highly skilled, postgraduate positions. Around the site, dozens of private, executive-style homes are being built in readiness – a million miles away from the high density, social housing and type of employment skills available in traditional mining villages.
As for Thatcher’s legacy, Ken says: “My lad’s out of work. He’s 25, he’s had three, maybe four years’ work in the past nine years. He’s a good lad. Thatcher destroyed him through no fault of his own … Thatcher took everything away – hope, everything – just for her own pride.”
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