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From The Socialist newspaper, 13 March 2013

Three decades on: We want the truth about Orgreave

Miners' strike 1984-85, photo Dave Sinclair

Miners' strike 1984-85, photo Dave Sinclair

Over the last few months, the endemic corruption of South Yorkshire police during the 1980s has been exposed by the revelations surrounding the cover-up of the Hillsborough disaster. The Hillsborough Independent Panel released their findings in September last year.

But it was not just at Hillsborough that corruption took place - there can be no doubt that a similar cover-up took place at British Steel's Orgreave coking plant, involving officers from the very same force.

The events of 18 June 1984 - commonly known as the Battle of Orgreave - involved almost 10,000 striking miners and 4,000 police.

It was one of the most significant days of the 1984-85 miners' strike, in which the Thatcher government used all of the resources of the British capitalist state to smash the militant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Orgreave police battered miners with truncheons. 93 pickets were arrested, including NUM leader Arthur Scargill.

Some of those arrested still have criminal records as a result of the charges brought against them.

The chair of the recently launched Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Barbara Jackson, spoke to the Socialist.

Why has the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign been launched now?

The success of the Hillsborough campaign in finally securing an acknowledgement of the cover-up was a big inspiration. That showed that it might be possible to get justice for the victims of Orgreave too.

There has been a renewed interest in the issue following the BBC Inside Out documentary last year, in which police officers went on camera and stated that they had been told what to write in their statements.

That led to Orgreave being discussed in Parliament, and to the formation of this important campaign for justice.

What are the aims of the campaign?

We want a full public inquiry, that's been the aim from the start. We want justice for the victims of Orgreave, for the miners and their families.

But we also want to throw a spotlight on the political policing throughout the miners' strike.

Orgreave was not simply a case of a few rogue officers; it was directed from the top and was designed to break the strike through physical punishment, in order to deter miners from picketing.

Mini Orgreaves were happening for a full year throughout the UK coalfields. We believe that if we can open up the Orgreave case, the full extent of political policing in the miners' strike will be revealed.

How has the campaign progressed so far?

It's been mad! I'm exhausted. Every day we're receiving enquiries from the national press, who've been both interested and supportive.

We've also attracted a wide range of activists and supporters with strong connections to the miners' strike and to Orgreave.

The trade unions have been brilliant as well. So far 15 Aslef branches have donated to the campaign, and their national office is encouraging all branches to support it.

Locally a Unite branch has pledged support and money, and we're now looking at building support for the campaign within Unison.

A printing cooperative in London has also been really helpful, and they've produced Orgreave Truth and Justice T-shirts which you can buy from our website, to support our campaign.

What are the next steps for the campaign?

We're holding a public meeting at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield, where we'll be showing The Battle for Orgreave, which documents what really happened that day.

That's at 2pm on Saturday 23 March. We're really hoping that this will attract young people to the campaign.

Why would you urge young people to attend?

People need to know their history, where they're coming from. The example the miners set is an inspiration to others who are fighting for their jobs and conditions.

After nearly 30 years, this film stands the test of time and it still has the capacity to shock. We want young people to see for themselves what the miners went through at the hands of Thatcher and the police.

What does Orgreave show us that is still relevant today?

Orgreave shows that when you are a threat and taking effective action, the state will use everything in its power to stop you. In situations like this the police act as the enforcers of the government.

At Orgreave, the police acted like a militia putting down an insurrection instead of a trade union dispute.

The government's hands were all over the strike, directing the police through weekly and even daily cabinet meetings. Workers and trade unionists should always be prepared for this kind of violence.

What is the legacy of Orgreave?

Today Orgreave looks nothing like it did in 1984. The coking plant that Thatcher insisted would stay open is now closed.

When people who were involved in the miners' strike go back there they find it unrecognisable - the landscape has been transformed.

There's talk of renaming it Waverley, which is clearly an attempt to bury the memory of Orgreave. But the people involved will never forget - it's imprinted on their psyche.

Many feel unable to return there, the memories are just too traumatic for them. People who were involved often don't like to talk about it, almost like war veterans.

They find it necessary to repress the trauma they suffered as a result of the burning injustice that occurred that day, with the state using all of its power against its own people.

It wasn't just the police but the judiciary, the government, the whole weight of the state. Miners were arrested and dealt with in batches - often they were told to plead guilty.

One miner said at the time it was like "supermarket justice". You were on a conveyor belt.

How can people support your campaign?

They can raise it in their union branches. They can demand that their MP supports Ian Lavery's Early Day Motion calling for a full scale public inquiry into police conduct during the miners' strike.

We need people to write letters to local newspapers mentioning the campaign. Please contact us to support us and donate, and most importantly sign our petition for a full public inquiry.

We hold regular monthly meetings which we rotate around South Yorkshire and which are open to anyone. We're determined to fight for justice for the Orgreave pickets.

You can find out more about the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign by visiting www.otjc.org.uk or the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign Facebook page


In 1984-85, British miners were forced to take strike action to defend their jobs and their communities.

The media, Labour leaders and right-wing trade union leaders portray the strike as heroic but fated to defeat.

This is not true. Millions of ordinary working class people actively supported the miners, such as providing food and financial support.

However, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Labour Party leaders, especially Neil Kinnock, did not.

The TUC could and should have organised general strike action to support the miners and bring down Margaret Thatcher's Tory government. The strike is full of inspirational lessons for today's battle against austerity.


A Civil War Without Guns, the lessons of the 1984-85 miners' strike, by Ken Smith

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In The Socialist 13 March 2013:


Socialist Party news and analysis

Breadline Britain... Kick out the cuts coalition

Scrap the bedroom tax for all!

Welfare Reform Act will impoverish hundreds of thousands

Stop the Con-Dems ripping up our NHS

Them & Us


International socialist news and analysis

Venezuela after Chavez: Which road for the working class?

Portugal: Revolutionary spirit in fighting austerity


Socialist Party feature

Energy starvation and climate change


Socialist history

Three decades on: We want the truth about Orgreave


Socialist Party workplace news

20 March: PCS calls budget-day strike

DfE walkout - huge demonstration of anger

Dundee demo against construction industry blacklisting

Workplace news in brief


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Victory: TUSC strikes a 'real chord' in Maltby

Student occupation continues at Sussex

Justice for Alfie? Defend the right to protest

Warrington: One rebel defies the pro-cuts Heinz 47

TUSC Gospel Oak byelection rally: Offering an alternative

TUSC leads battle to save Mid-Staffs NHS

London: Save our fire service!

Campaigning against the cuts

Victory for attendance policy campaign at UEL

Sold-out non-sexist comedy night

Building Socialist Students in Manchester

Are you sick of your boss? Join the campaign!


Socialist Party review

Film review: Spirit of '45


 

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