Reunited... at last: The striker and the scab

They were boyhood friends who played, drank and went to Ollerton pit together. Then came the bitter year-long strike, and they found themselves on opposite sides for the first time. Now, the IoS brings them together again, and they begin to rekindle their comradeship. Jonathan Owen meets them
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The Independent Online

Les Raine, 47

One of 123 miners at Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, who saw out the strike to the end. His close friend Leslie Saint crossed the picket line

I can remember going round to Leslie's house when I was a kid. I got to know him because I knew his younger brother. In our twenties we would go all over the place to see gigs. We were really good mates. We'd drink together, go to concerts together before, but that just disappeared with the strike. We were polar opposites. I was on strike and Les didn't come out at all.

For me the low point was seeing people driving past us everyday going to work. That was soul-destroying. I remember seeing them thinking, "Why is that bastard coming to work?"

We had a mutual friend, a guy in the Navy who got married in the middle of the strike. Miners from both sides went on a pub crawl together, but there was a very serious discussion first to make sure nothing kicked off between us that night.

I remember bumping into Les one time and he said, "Are we OK?" I just replied, "I'm on strike with my mates and you're at work with yours." That was the last time we spoke until the end of it.

When workers are on strike you don't cross picket lines, and to this day I wouldn't cross a picket line. Those miners that carried on working were helping to destroy an industry. I don't think they fully understood what we were trying to achieve. I never really felt violent or bitter towards them but tempers did run high.

But there was one occasion in the car park with a lad who had just gone back to work and he was waving his pay slip at me. If my mate hadn't held me back I would have killed him. That's how things were. I saw a lot of mild-mannered people who became nasty.

It wasn't a very nice feeling watching people going to work and earning money when you were trying to protect jobs. There were a couple of real low points. There was the night that the Yorkshire miner David Jones got killed in Ollerton, and you realised that the Nottingham coalfield wasn't going to come out on strike, and that you were going to be on your own and it would be a long struggle. And a few weeks into the strike, we were sent food parcels with Easter eggs in them. Someone said, "I hope to God we're not going to be out on strike for that long", and then obviously we ended up with Christmas cards after nearly a year out.

People forget that we were virtually imprisoned in our own village and there was a real restriction on movement, with very oppressive policing. I remember seeing miners being singled out and beaten by police.

Hatred is a strong word and you may get people that say there was hatred on the picket line, but there was certainly masses of animosity. Battle lines were drawn and that was it. The only weapon that the working man has got is to withdraw their labour, so I take a very dim view of people crossing picket lines.

A year on strike, when you've been struggling and trying to look after your family, is a long time. I still know families who've ostracised relatives over it. You go to funerals and see different people from different sides and they still don't speak. There are still people in this village who cannot talk to each other about the strike because they would come to blows. I don't think anyone who worked or was on strike during that period of time will ever forget it, will ever let it go fully. I'll get some flak for this – some will say what were you doing with that scab bastard – but we have to move on.

When the strike started, Les and I were on the same shift but we ended up on different shifts afterwards. The strike did affect things for the first 10 years afterwards. It wasn't ever really quite the same. I haven't been to his house since before the strike. I used to see him around in the village and we bumped into each other about four years ago. I've no animosity towards him. I live in a different village now, in Forest Town, which is a few miles away.

I have no regrets, none whatsoever. I would like to think I'd do it all over again; my principles haven't changed. I seriously don't think we had a choice.

History proved we weren't telling lies and that what we did at that time was right. The mining industry has been destroyed. Twenty-five years later, the debate has opened up, whereas at that point in time, because the lines were drawn so quickly and it was such an emotive subject, I don't think people were capable of a rational discussion on it.

During and after the strike I would not go out with Les; you'd made new friends. I'm not going to change my view and he's not going to change his. I was fighting for an industry and they would say they were fighting for democracy; it was two different disputes, to be honest.

It's important that for the good of communities, people sit down and resolve their differences.

Obviously I won't forget what Les did. He made the wrong decision, without a shadow of a doubt. But you have to respect people have different opinions and you cannot live in a time capsule. I think we will have more contact with each other from now on; we've hooked up with each other and are both on Facebook.

Leslie Saint, 52

Worked at Ollerton colliery from 1980 to 1992 and crossed the picket line in defiance of his colleagues, including his best friend Les Raine

We've got a lot in common, me and Les, always have had. We went to the same school and even share the same birthday, 15 March. We both like our football. I'm a Manchester City supporter, but Les is a dirty Maccam [laughing]. Me and Les played football together for the colliery. It was great – we'd get paid for playing! It was like being semi-professional and we had the Nottingham Forest player John McGovern as our coach.

We'd go out drinking every Friday and Saturday night and were both into our music, so we would go to gigs, too. We worked together down the pit. It was dangerous work and you relied on each other. You were a team: if one messed up you'd all get it in the neck, and you'd cover for each other too. If I had a hangover Les would carry me. He could do the work of two men.

We were really good friends before the strike, but during the strike we just didn't communicate, full stop.

Les is very committed in his views and so am I, and we both believed in what we were doing. But we stopped going to the same pubs. It was like a civil war here.

At the time you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. No one would talk to each other, let alone listen to what they had to say. For me the low point was seeing your mates on the picket line; at the time I hated everyone who was on strike. No one expected it to go on for a year.

I remember on New Year's Eve, when I was walking home and saw big Mick Ward, one of the nicest men you could ever meet. I said "Happy New Year" and he said "Fuck off". The strike had made him really nasty and bitter and twisted and it took me aback – I'd worked with him on the coalface.

I wouldn't use the miners' welfare club out of principle. My granddad was instrumental in building it but it was used by a minority in the village who used it to house Yorkshire miners to attack us.

They were intimidating us and attacking our homes, putting windows through in the village and just attacking people and all. I was scared. I was physically scared, but I never considered backing down. We wanted a ballot and I'd have sooner died than give up my right to vote.

It was absolutely horrible during that period. We lived in fear. I was targeted during the strike. I had bricks thrown through my windows and one time I was dragged outside and beaten by some strikers. I'm ashamed to say that a few of us planned to firebomb the welfare club and got milk bottles and petrol and everything, but the police must have got wind of it and the three of us were arrested the night we were planning to do it.

It was all very bitter but I knew that Les would in no way condone violence. He was very against violence and always had been. We just didn't talk during the strike, and made new friends.

After the strike the naivety, the innocence in our relationship had gone. It was still a friendship but it was more like a working relationship. It was as though you had to say "aye up" and all that. The pubs were never the same afterwards, and people still drink in different pubs.

I don't think we saw each other at a gig until Simple Minds – I think it was at Milton Keynes. I think that's been the only time since the strike. I didn't know Les had remarried or what he was doing for a job. I haven't seen him for probably four years before now.

We'll have more contact now we know how to get hold of each other. Les sent me a message last Thursday night asking if I want to be added to his friends list on Facebook.

I do like Les still to this day and I always have done. But obviously during and after the strike it changed because we were on opposite sides and we just lost contact.

I'm angry with myself and angry with Les in that we are both the same; we are both just mining lads but we were so stubborn. We've never really talked about that time before now. You just try to avoid it.

Without doubt, with hindsight, the miners that carried on working contributed to the demise of the industry, but at the time I thought we were doing the right thing. But I think back and still believe the only way the working-class man can voice his opinion on anything is through the ballot box.

What's upsetting to me is that within the working class there was a big divide and that's what Thatcher wanted – to split everyone. And what really hurts is that I was a part of that, but the only way to have unity is to have a ballot. I was fighting for the right to vote and that's important because once that's given up you're living in a dictatorship.

I'd do it all again, but with hindsight I'd have fought more within the union and demanded some sort of resolution.

There are still people who live in the village and we don't talk. They just walk straight past you like you are a piece as shit, but they are the ones that went against the union by going on strike without a ballot.

The strike divided people. Community is everything, and once that's gone what have you got left?

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