TV review: Miners’ Strike: A Frontline Story & memories of Ogreave

Dave Gorton, Chesterfield Socialist Party

The 1984-85 miners’ strike changed the political landscape in Britain forever. Capitalism was laid bare, as a government of the rich sought to starve striking miners back to work – where many would face redundancy just a few months down the line – to reassert the primacy of their system, which had been rocked by the strike waves of the 1970s.

Forty years on, there will be repeated attempts in all the media recollections to portray the strike as between two sides – striking and working miners. In reality, it was organised labour and the capitalist state which faced a head-on collision.

BBC Two’s ‘Miners’ Strike: A Frontline Story’ did indeed spend considerable effort talking about ballots, Arthur Scargill, and Nottinghamshire miners’ ‘democratic rights’ to try and slant history. But ultimately, it failed. The naked class battle – a civil war without guns – was too obvious for it to be completely expunged.

The documentary follows a well-trodden path. Opening with pieces on the closeness of mining communities and how growing up meant “love, safety and security”, moving on to the differences between the coalfield areas, then through to picketing, violence, the hardship, and finally, defeat.

What was missing was any analysis covering the role of the majority of trade union leaders, the Labour Party under leader Neil Kinnock doing little more than sitting on the fence, and why, in a dispute that had been systematically planned for years by Thatcher’s government, simply relying on the tactic from the early 1970s of flying picketing was not going to be sufficient to lead to overall victory. It was going to take wider strike action involving other workers.

What was included was generally handled sympathetically. You will be stifling tears at the story of the striker who couldn’t get a grant to bury his week-old son because the Tories changed the benefit rules to punish striking miners. Incredibly, his son was buried inside the coffin of an unrelated person whose family had agreed, seeing their plight.

Similarly, you will seethe with anger and probably tears again at the absolute violence faced, particularly from the police at Orgreave. The newsreels still shock today. One miner recalled thinking at the time that nobody had tried to stop them reaching Orgreave. It was a trap. Eventually, 15 miners faced life imprisonment on charges from that day. But the prosecution case collapsed completely and all walked free.

Most interestingly, one of the key strikers and flying pickets featured in the documentary is seen at the end wandering through a much-changed geographical landscape, expressing his support for wind power, only decrying that the people of the coalfields had not been allowed to be involved in a managed transfer from fossil fuels to green energy.

For all its faults, Miners’ Strike: A Frontline Story is worth the watch, but also read the political analyses which will be featured in the Socialist over the coming months.

Memories of Orgreave

Paul Marshall, striking miner 1984-85

Having forced myself to watch the episode of Channel 4’s ‘Miners’ Strike 1984: The Battle for Britain’ about the Battle of Orgreave, it still sends shudders down my spine, even after nearly 40 years. The brutality shown to us by the police will never go away. Lies spoken and printed by the so-called free press changed my outlook forever: never trust, never forget, never forgive.

We fought to save our industry, while others surrendered even before war was truly declared.

In the end, cowards and traitors, both outside our trade union and within it, alongside those who never lost a day’s pay, gave the mining industry away without a fight. To those, eternal shame, for it is they who must shoulder the blame.

At least we fought all the way, so our heads will never be bowed in shame.