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From The Socialist newspaper, 26 June 2019

From our history - the Great Miners' Strike 1984-85

35th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave

Riot police attacked a mass picket of the Orgreave coking plant in 1984, photo West Midlands Police (Creative Commons)

Riot police attacked a mass picket of the Orgreave coking plant in 1984, photo West Midlands Police (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge)

Last week, the Socialist reported the Orgreave Truth and Justice march near Rotherham/Sheffield commemorating events which occurred at the Orgreave coking plant during the Great Miners' Strike (1984-85).

The marchers were not only keeping alive the memory of that titanic industrial battle - between the heavy battalion of the organised working class and the British capitalist state, as represented by the Thatcher government - but also demanding an independent public inquiry in order to bring some justice to the miners who suffered at Orgreave and thereafter.

The 'battle of Orgreave', on 18 June 1984, involved nearly 10,000 pickets and 4,000 police. Police, including mounted police, attacked the pickets and made nearly 100 arrests, including National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Arthur Scargill. Many miners sustained injuries from police truncheons.

Subsequently the belief has grown that Orgreave was a deliberate trap sprung by the police acting on orders from the political establishment to smash the NUM

Despite evidence of assaulting striking miners and subsequently perverting the course of justice and committing perjury - the so-called Independent Police Complaints Commission said in 2015 it would not pursue a criminal investigation into the actions of South Yorkshire police on that day "because of the passage of time".

The following year, then Home Secretary Amber Rudd justified blocking an inquiry on the grounds that "ultimately there were no deaths or wrongful convictions".

The fact that there were no deaths given the repeated baton charges by mounted police was purely fortuitous.

Moreover, there were no "wrongful convictions" only because 95 miners facing charges of unlawful assembly had their cases dropped after six weeks on trial because police evidence was deemed "unreliable".

Rudd was clearly seeking to protect from exposure the political establishment's role in conspiring to break the miners' strike.

Jeremy Corbyn has said a future Labour government would guarantee an inquiry in what happened at Orgreave.

The Battle of Orgreave - eyewitness report

I remember that it was a beautiful sunny English summer's day. But that was as good as it got. As I arrived the amount of pickets was surprising as getting to a picket was very difficult in 1984, everything was put in your way by police road blocks etc.

The police at first were very accommodating, directing pickets to specific areas. Today we know this as 'kettling'.

The pickets were in good spirits. Against us were lined the massed ranks of police, in ordinary uniform at first. These officers soon stood down for those kitted in full riot gear.

These storm troopers soon weighed into the pickets who fought back manfully at first but all we had were fists and feet against batons, shields and helmets. The blows were relentless, bloodied pickets were everywhere.

The memory that has stuck with me is the look on the faces of the police, they were loving the pain and terror that they were paying out to people fighting to save their communities.

One comrade from my pit was trampled by a horse and even after the end of the year-long strike couldn't return to work for another three months due to the extent of his injuries. What a price to pay for wanting to secure a future for your family.

Spare a thought for the men and women we have lost over the years? They will never see justice for their fight and carry the stain of the lies from the media, police and politicians to their graves.

La lutte continue!

Ian Whitehouse, Sheffield

Laying bare the nature of the capitalist state

During the course of the 1984-85 strike 500 miners joined Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party) after drawing socialist conclusions.

This edited extract from Peter Taaffe's book - 'The Rise of Militant' (available on socialistparty.org.uk) - indicates the strategy proposed by Militant, as well as giving a taste of workers' reaction to the horrendous attack by the state on the working class.

Revenge for the Tories' humiliation at the hands of the miners at Saltley Gate in 1972 [a successful blockade of a fuel storage depot in Birmingham by NUM 'flying pickets'] was taken by the police on the Orgreave picket line.

The most brutal methods yet seen in this or any previous dispute were played out in the full view of the world's media.

The conflict gave the impression of a virtual civil war in the mining areas of Britain.

Eyewitnesses at an earlier battle reported: "The baton charge has returned. This brutal police method of attacking pickets, synonymous with the industrial battles of the 1920s, has become a standard tactic of today's police... The idea is to hurt people, intimidate people, frighten people."

Even Arthur Scargill was arrested on a trumped-up charge of obstruction...

On the day of the first Orgreave battle there were about 7,000 pickets assembled. Eyewitnesses said: "It was then that the real battle began.

"It was the most terrifying thing I have been through in my life... What made it worse for me was that this was happening in the village where I'd lived most of my life...

"I saw an elderly miner of about 60 have his head split open by a baton... The riot police would march straight up to you shouting 'one two, one two' and provoking the miners: 'Come on then, have a go'...

"And one snatch squad policeman went too far and got snatched himself! They had to send police horses in to get him back - he was in a far from healthy state when he emerged from the picket."

A group of miners from the North East writing later in Militant about their experiences at the battle at Orgeave commented: "They were treating us like animals, chasing us with dogs and horses.

"Some pickets outside the plant had been shoved into this field - it was completely flattened, concrete lamp posts and walls crushed.

"Lads were coming away crying, heads bleeding, bruises all over their backs, some having to be carried..."

Brutality

These brutal scenes at Orgreave, together with similar scenes that were enacted in numerous pit villages throughout the coalfields, laid bare before the miners and working class as a whole the nature of the capitalist state.

An army of occupation descended on the coal fields, particularly in the heartland of the strike, the Yorkshire coalfield.

Such actions changed forever the consciousness of workers, particularly the miners. Because of this Militant's ideas found a powerful echo.

It shared with and assisted in all the struggles of the miners but at the same time put forward a strategy which it considered was capable of ensuring victory.

Following the first battle of Orgreave (6 June) Militant advised that at local level, direct approaches should be made, backed up by arguments and mass leafleting, to steelworkers, lorry drivers and power station workers.

The leaders of the TGWU [now Unite] and the ISTC (steelworkers union) should back up this campaign with a national internal drive in support of the miners.

Wherever possible mass meetings should be organised and a call for solidarity, addressed by striking miners...

Conferences of shop stewards should be organised, specifically to prepare for solidarity action. These conferences should be called either directly by the NUM, by local trades councils or by the Broad Left Organising Committee.

This strike also now demands national action and a national coordinated drive for solidarity by the Trades Union Congress.

It would be naive however to put too much faith in the TUC. The left unions should therefore come together independently to organise solidarity.

At the same time Militant believed that the NUM could put before such a conference in detail all that was needed in solidarity action, to stop the movement of coal and win this strike.

High on the agenda of such a conference would be the calling of a one-day general strike. It would result in a magnificent show of strength of the entire labour movement around the miners and prepare the way for an historic victory.

A civil war without guns

Miners lobbying the TUC, photo Dave Sinclair

Miners lobbying the TUC, photo Dave Sinclair   (Click to enlarge)

The 1984-85 miners' dispute was the major episode in the Thatcher government's planned and phased onslaught on the organised working class.

As Ken Smith says in the Socialist Party publication 'A civil war without guns', the British capitalist state used all its resources to smash the powerful and militant NUM:

"It was not long after the unprecedented violence at Orgreave, provoked by the police, that Thatcher referred to the miners as the "enemy within"...

"Once started, Orgreave was a battle that neither side could afford to lose.

"Thatcher and the Tories threw everything at it: state forces; propaganda: political pressure on the Labour and trade union leaders and the full force of the legal system against arrested miners.

"Police 'gladiators' were instructed from early on by police officers with loudhailers to "take prisoners".

"In reply the miners mobilised the biggest, most determined, pickets this country has ever seen."

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