The Miners 1984
I must tell you that what we have got is an attempt to substitute the rule of the mob for the rule of law, and it must not succeed. It must not succeed. There are those who are using violence and intimidation to impose their will on others who do not want it. The rule of law must prevail over the rule of the mob.
– The then Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Ten deaths resulted from events around the strike: six picketers, three teenagers searching for coal, and a taxi driver taking a non-striking miner to work.
There was a long history leading up to the violent rout of the British coal miners of 1984. It started in the 18C with the invention and development of the steam engine. In those days the Cornish mines (the writer is an ex cornish tin miner) were as deep as they could go without being flooded and the steam driven pump enabled mines to sink to 350-400 fathoms and to be dug under the sea. Steam took over from water power in industry and the whole Industrial revolution exploded from the blackened bodies of the coal miners and quickly spread around the world. Coal was found in the North of England so it was no coincidence that industry developed there also.
As an ex miner, I can gurantee that no job was harder, more physically demanding and ridden with risk. I visited a coal mine in Accrington and crawled with pick wielding miners into ‘rooms’ no more that 18 inches high where men lay between pit props and hacked away at the life blood of British wealth.
There were many strikes as mine owners squeezed the last ounce of work from these brave men, and when the mines were nationalised and the government became the mine owners, very little changed.
Having broken their bodies and sacrificed their health for the wealth of Britain, and so the mine bosses could live in obscene comfort, the miners were told by Mrs. Margaret Thatcher that the nation basically had no further use for them and would close 20 pits with the loss of 20,000 jobs.
What was not known at the time was that under the direction of Thatcher a huge stockpile of coal had been built up to safeguard against a possible strike. It was clear that this was not simply an industrial dispute, but that this was designed from the beginning as a direct government/Union war and Thatcher intended to win.
On March 5 1984 the government announced the accelerated closure of 5 pits and that Cortonwood Colliery at Brampton Bierlow, and Bullcliffe Wood colliery, near Ossett and Herrington in County Durham, Snowdown in Kent and Polmaise in Scotland were to shut within five weeks.
No provision had been made to retrain or relocate the men thrown out of work by Thatcher’s action. Clearly she was taking the battle to their front gates. On 12 March 1984, with no other possible course of action available to them the NUM called a national strike.
It was an honourable dispute. It was the only strike I can recall that wasn’t about pay but was about saving jobs for other people.
– Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover
A widely reported clash during the strike took place at the Orgreave Coking Plant near Rotherham on 18 June 1984. This confrontation between striking miners and police, around 5,000 on each side, was dubbed ‘The Battle of Orgreave’. Violence flared after police on horse-back charged the miners with truncheons drawn and inflicted serious injuries upon several individuals. In 1991, the South Yorkshire Police were forced to pay out £425,000 to thirty-nine miners who were arrested in the events at the incident. Other less well known, but also bloody, police attacks took place, for example, in Maltby, South Yorkshire. These confrontations contained organised police lines including charges by police and police mounted on horseback. In some cases miners organised themselves against this.
Propanda & False Allegations
As the strike went on, a series of media reports sought to cast doubt on the integrity of senior NUM officials. In November 1984, there were allegations that Scargill had met Libyan agents in Paris, and other senior officials travelled to Libya. Links to the Libyan government were particularly damaging coming 7 months after the murder of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London by Libyan agents. In 1990, the Daily Mirror and TV programme The Cook Report claimed that Scargill and the NUM had received money from the Libyan government. These allegations were based on allegations by Roger Windsor, who was the NUM official who had spoken to Libyan officials. Roy Greenslade, the Mirror’s editor at the time, said much later he believes his paper’s allegations were false. This was long after an investigation by Seumas Milne described the allegations as wholly without substance and a “classic smear campaign”.[
It was also claimedthat Arthur Scargill diverted money donated by Russian miners during the strike. The NUM received payments from the trade unions of Afghanistan (which was occupied by the Soviet Union at the time). Soviet miners who sent money to the NUM would not have been able to obtain convertible currency without the support of the Government of the Soviet Union and Thatcher claimed to have seen documentary evidence that suggests that the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, authorised these payments. The diaries of Anatoly Chernyaev, a senior party official in the Soviet Union at the time, also lends credence to the interpretation that the funding was provided at the behest of the Soviet government.
Arthur Scargill who, as President of the NUM at the time, led the men was later to be hung out to dry by his own actions. A hero for most of the year long strike he was villified and demonised by concerted press action throughout the year. Everyone in the area could be subject to police provocation. At the time I was Divisional manager for a large company and my office was just outside Chesterfield. Living in Manchester I started my UK tours from home so went to the office perhaps three times per week. On the M1 roundabout at Heath I was stopped, on almost every occasion I entered it, by a gang of police whose actions were identical on each occasion. The police would wave me in to the side where I would wait behind a lengthening queue of other cars to have our registration plates checked and to answer questions. Clearly designed to breed dislike of the strike in the general public it had the opposite effect on me. Several of our female staff were from coal mining families or from coal mining neighbourhoods. I saw at first hand what they were going through and not one weakened in that year.
On my way from Baslow to the office I passed police water cannons, armoured vehicles, personel carriers parked in the streets of Chesterfield. It was war. The second English civil war and make no mistake, Thatcher was going to win if it killed her.
In December 1994 the tories got what they had really been at war for and that was the privatisation of Britains coal mines under RJB Mining, now renamed as British Coal
They were skilled and courageous men who had built the prosperity of Britain. They were treated like criminals by Mrs Thatcher, and they were right economically as well. It’s a story that will never be forgotten.
– Tony Benn, MP for Chesterfield at the time of the strike
The following was kept secret for years:
Dame Stella Rimington (Director-General of MI5, 1992 – 1996) published an autobiography in 2001 in which she revealed MI5 ‘counter-subversion’ exercises against the NUM and the striking miners, which included the tapping of union leaders’ phones. However, she denied that the agency had informers in the NUM, specifically denying that then chief executive Roger Windsor had been an agent.
There were 15 former British Coal deep mines left in production at the time of privatisation, however, by March 2005, there were only eight major deep mines left. Since then, the last pit in Northumberland, Ellington Colliery at Ellington, has closed whilst pits at Rossington and Harworth have been mothballed.
Scargill had constantly claimed that the government had a long-term plan to reduce the industry in this way. He was right.
Was the strike Scargill’s fault? This is what he says:
‘For 25 years, I have been accused of refusing to negotiate a settlement with the NCB, and of “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” – a blatant lie.
‘The NUM settled the strike on five separate occasions in 1984…The first four were sabotaged or withdrawn following the intervention of Thatcher.’
On the fifth settlement, Thatcher had agreed ‘to settle the strike on the union’s terms’ – until the pit deputies’ union Nacods ‘inexplicably’ failed to join the walkout as promised, paving the way for Thatcher to withdraw from settling again and leading to the closure of 164 pits.
1985 The shame of modern Britain. The signal big business was given to line their huge pockets, the continued bankers feeding frenzy and the total disregard for the working people of the UK started, in the opinion of this writer, on the day Thatcher declared war on her own people. Now the gap between rich and poor is expanding faster than the stars fly from the big bang.
Scargill, according to history , was wrong, but Thatcher, according to the millions of British people whose lives have been changed for ever was the embodiment of evil. Revered round the world, the iron lady bashed both foreign potentates and working class Britons with her now infamous handbag.