Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/814/18762
30th anniversary of the historic miners' strike
The battle of Orgreave
On Saturday 14 June 2014 there will be a celebration of struggle and resistance marking the 30th anniversary of the great miners' strike. In particular, there will be a mass picnic and festival commemorating events which occurred at the Orgreave coking plant.
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 93 arrests, including NUM president Arthur Scargill. Many miners sustained injuries from police truncheons.
Taken to court in 1995, 15 mineworkers proved that the South Yorkshire police - echoing that of the Hillsborough stadium disaster - had significant parts of their evidence dictated to them by another police officer and that an officer's signature on an evidence statement was not genuine.
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."
Orgreave mass picnic and festival
Saturday 14 June, 11am - 7pm
Catcliffe Recreation Ground, Poplar Way, Catcliffe S60 5TZ
Orgreave truth and justice campaign
Secretary Barbara Jackson 0114 2509510
Militant was the forerunner of the Socialist Party. During the course of the 1984-85 strike 500 miners joined Militant after drawing socialist conclusions. This edited extract from Peter Taaffe's book 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 and more recently in 1981 was taken by the police on the Orgreave picket line (outside Sheffield).
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..."
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 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.
Socialist Books - special offer
A Civil War Without Guns - the lessons of the 1984-85 miners' strike by Ken Smith, £7.00
The rise of Militant by Peter Taaffe, £9.99
Both books for only £15 including postage
In The Socialist 11 June 2014:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Readers' comments and reviews