THOUSANDS of trade unionists and their families will today mark the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike 35th Anniversary at the Annual Orgreave Rally in Sheffield.
June 18 1984 saw the second battle of Orgreave, when 10,000 pickets, seeking to prevent lorries leaving the coking plant near Sheffield, were met by a 6,000-strong contingent of police drafted in from all over the country.
Striking miners in jeans, T-shirts and pumps were met with a massive force of uniformed, mounted police and riot police with batons and shields, and police with dogs.
Some described the scene as being like a medieval battle, others said it had echoes of the Peterloo Massacre when the hussars brandishing swords weighed into an unarmed pro-democracy protest in Manchester.
After the 18 June confrontation, 95 miners were charged, and ultimately none were convicted, as the main trial collapsed after police were cross-examined by defence barristers including Michael Mansfield.
As reported in the News Line book ‘The Miners’ Strike 1984-85 in Pictures’, ‘The first battle of Orgreave began on Monday, May 28, when (NUM leader Arthur) Scargill was knocked to the ground outside the coking plant near Sheffield.
‘The next day, more than 6,000 pickets confronted a vast paramilitary police riot force, using dogs and horses.
‘About 100 men were arrested, but scores more were brutally assaulted in a series of charges by police both on horseback and on foot.
‘Scargill was arrested on May 30 during a week of the bitterest class conflict.
‘Scargill told reporters: “There have been scenes of almost unbelievable brutality … reminiscent of a Latin American police state.”’
The assault on May 28 followed a build-up of support for the striking miners.
As News Line reported: ‘In the mining communities the state attacks were stirring forces which had not joined earlier miners’ strike action.
‘May 12 marked an historic development in the fight against oppression in Britain when ten thousand miners’ wives marched through Barnsley in the first national women’s rally.
‘The formation of the Women’s Support Groups was gathering momentum nationwide and was a vital part of the huge mobilisation of 45,000 people on May 14 in Mansfield.
‘Women joined the picket lines in solidarity with husbands and boyfriends who returned home every day with fresh tales of brutality and unprovoked violence from the police.
‘Anne Scargill and 13 other women were arrested on May 16 at the Silverhill and Sherwood. Anne Scargill was later cleared on a charge of obstructing the police.’
The resistance of women and youth in the mining communities rattled the state.
The Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) May Day call for the organisation of the General Strike, as News Line reported, ‘was to win growing support during the ensuing months of the strike as it became clear that a single section of the working class could not defeat the entire state on its own.
‘Over 1,500 miners and supporters were to join a mass lobby of the TUC General Council meeting on May 23 in Congress House.
‘The lobby was called by the All Trades Unions Alliance to demand the TUC organise General Strike action against the Thatcher government.’
The TUC refusal to do this encouraged the government.
As the News Line book said: ‘With full state backing, NCB negotiators were given leave to treat NUM leaders with contempt. Talks on May 23 lasted just 65 minutes.
‘Scargill said: “It’s very apparent we are fighting government direction.”
‘The NUM was fighting the state on all fronts. The High Court ruled on May 25 that the union could not even ask scabs to join the strike.
‘The union rejected the ruling and within days was under assault from thousands of riot-armed police’ at the first battle of Orgreave on May 28.
In June, mass support for the miners was expressed in a series of large demonstrations and marches around the country.
Over 12,000 joined a march and lobby of parliament on June 7, a record 40,000 turned out on the Scottish NUM gala on June 9, and 250,000 workers took part in a Day of Action in Wales on June 12, with 12,000 marching through Cardiff.
A Day of Action in the north-east on June 15 drew 10,000 demonstrators into the centre of Newcastle while the Yorkshire Gala through Wakefield on Saturday, June 16, brought 35,000 miners and their families onto the streets.
On June 13, another round of talks between the NCB and NUM had broken down after a mere 90 minutes, with the union angrily condemning the board’s refusal to negotiate.
Facing an intransigent state attack and with the TUC aiding isolation of the the NUM’s struggle for jobs, miners turned to new forms of struggle and on June 16, Bettshanger and Tilmanstone collieries in Kent were occupied.
All the men who took part, including branch officials, were sacked. A similar sit-in by strikers at Whitwell pit in North Derbyshire was punished with the sack for the five men involved.
June 12 saw the death and police cover-up of 24-year-old David Jones, and June 15 the death of 55-year-old Joe Green.
Monday June 18 marked the second – and the biggest – battle outside Orgreave.
More than 10,000 pickets from all over the country descended on the plant from early morning.
By mid-morning, scores of pickets had been injured in some of the bloodiest clashes of the strike.
Scargill was struck down by a riot shield and was detained in hospital.
The ATUA conference in Sheffield, attended by 1,600 delegates, called for the organisation of the General Strike to defeat Thatcher’s Bonapartist dictatorship.
Kent NUM leader Jack Collins was among the speakers.
Later in the month 50,000 demonstators participated in a march and rally through London on June 27.
Fleet Street was packed with cheering print workers.
The Sun, the Daily Mirror, Financial Times and Sporting Life failed to appear that day because editors refused to print a statement from print unions in support of the miners.
Today’s march and rally is a tribute to the miners who led the fight against the Thatcher government to defend jobs and trade unionism.
This struggle continues today with large sections of industry from steel to motor cars set for huge cuts and closures.
The main lesson of the miners’ strike is that enormous heroism and combativity is not enough to defeat the ruling class and its police state apparatus.
The miners struggle to prevent pit closures could only have been won by the organisation of a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government that will expropriate the bosses and the bankers and bring in socialism.
This is the struggle that must be waged and won today.