THE GREAT MINERS STRIKE 1984-85 – PART THREE: ‘Now we are fighting the enemy within’ – Thatcher

A crane is set on fire at the pit gates in the south Yorkshire village of Armthorpe
A crane is set on fire at the pit gates in the south Yorkshire village of Armthorpe

THE brutal police riot at the Orgreave coke depot was not the only state attack launched against the NUM and striking miners in June 1984.

The Tory strategy of starving the miners back to work came into play.

Despite the fact that the union was in no position to make such payments, the Tories determined that they could make the ‘notional’ payment of £16-a-week, and deducted this money.

This contemptible attack that threatened the health of young children was met with defiance by the families of strikers, under the slogan ‘They won’t starve us back’. Kent miners’ wives occupied DHSS offices in Dover on Friday June 1st.

The key plank to the Tories strategy was to keep the miners isolated from any other industrial struggle, a policy that received the wholehearted support from the TUC.

Many trade unions suddenly found that potential disputes were miraculously resolved: this was illustrated when a leaked letter from Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary to the Transport minister insisted that the rail unions be offered a pay increase that would ensure they would not strike over pay alongside the miners.

Despite these attempts, the miners were far from isolated within the working class; indeed they enjoyed mass support as was shown in a series of mass demonstrations that took place around the country during the month of June.

Over 12,000 joined a march and lobby of Parliament on June 7th while a record 40,000 attended the Scottish NUM gala on June 9th.

A massive 250,000 workers took part in a Day of Action in Wales with 12,000 marching through Cardiff.

10,000 demonstrated in Newcastle on June 15th while the Yorkshire Gala in Wakefield on June 16th brought 35,000 miners and supporters onto the streets.

In London, 50,000 demonstrators marched on June 27th, and on that day print workers in Fleet Street stopped the publication of The Sun, Daily Mirror, Financial Times and Sporting Life because their editors refused to print a statement from the print unions supporting the miners.

The state responded to this increasing mass support with an escalation of violence which reached its head as we saw in the last article at Orgreave later in June.

But before then, on June 15th, the strike claimed its second martyr when Joe Green, a 55-year-old miner from Kellingley colliery in North Yorkshire, was crushed to death by a lorry whilst on picket duty outside Ferrybridge power station.

Joe Green’s funeral was attended by 8,000 miners who paid their respects to a loyal NUM member and stalwart of the picket line.

His friend, Arthur Scargill, spoke saying: ‘We owe it to Joe Green and David Jones to win this fight to protect our pits, keep our jobs secure and our mining communities intact. And make no mistake we are going to win this fight.’

In their fight against the state and against the attempted isolation of them orchestrated by the right wing of the TUC, miners began to turn to new forms of struggle, namely the occupation of pits.

On June 16th, Betteshanger and Tilmanstone collieries in Kent were occupied, followed by a similar sit-in by strikers at Whitwell pit in North Derbyshire.

The NCB reacted with fury at this new development and all the men taking part in these actions were sacked immediately.

The other tactic adopted by the strikers was that of hit-and-run, with thousands of miners moving from pit to pit to foil the police operations.

Much use was made by the strikers of the known fact that their telephones were bugged; completely fictitious plans were laid over the phone to mis-direct the police.

In July 1984, confrontations with the police spread from the Notts area into the mining heartlands of Yorkshire.

Individual scabs were used by the police in provocations with barricades being erected at the entrance to the Rossington pit near Doncaster after police attempted to help a lone scab break the strike.

Later on the same day, police in riot gear ran amok through the village of Fitzwilliam beating up miners and their wives.

On July 18th, Thatcher spelt out exactly and unequivocally the position of the capitalist class towards the miners in a now notorious speech to Tory backbenchers:

‘We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. Now we are fighting the enemy within. It is more difficult to fight but just as dangerous to liberty.’

The miners were now officially designated the ‘enemy within’ and the state stepped up its attacks using every weapon in its arsenal.

The Tories, in the shape of the Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, demanded that the police clamp down on food and money collections for the miners in London, while the courts began to move against the finances of the NUM, using the weapon of sequestration, a legal term for the state seizure of the union’s money and assets.

On July 31st, South Wales miners occupied their union headquarters after a High Court judge threatened the sequestration of the area assets.

Another first was recorded when on July 27th the TUC held its first meeting with the NUM !

It had taken the TUC over four months into the biggest and most serious industrial dispute since the 1926 General Strike before they could even bring themselves to meet with the NUM.

This entirely captured the treachery of the TUC towards  the war being waged by the Tories against an affiliated union.

Despite the new attack by the courts at the funds and assets of the union, the state faced an increasing determination from the thousands of wives and families drawn into the struggle.

This was shown in August when over 20,000 women, many of whom had never been on a political march in their lives, marched through London on August 11th.

At the rally after the march, Scargill again demanded industrial action from TUC-affiliated unions in support of the miners struggle.

In the face of this determined resistance, the state -inspired attempts to get a national scabbing campaign off the ground, fronted by a scab from Nottinghamshire dubbed ‘Silver Birch’ by an admiring Tory press, failed dismally.

Once again the state turned to the courts to apply even more pressure, encouraging two scabs from Yorkshire to seek a High Court order instructing the NUM to hold a national ballot in line with the Tory anti-trade union legislation.

The union – in adherence not just to its own conference decisions but also in accordance with the TUC decision at its recently held Wembley Conference which had voted not to obey this legislation – treated the Tory courts with the class contempt which they deserved.

Scargill, addressing a number of unions in Cardiff on August 13th, made exactly this point: that the NUM was upholding not only its own policy decisions but also those of the TUC in respect of the anti-union legislation being used against the Welsh NUM.

It was the TUC that was refusing to fight for its own policies and sitting on its hands while the courts seized the areas funds.

On August 15th,  South Wales miners and their wives occupied the Birmingham offices of the court-appointed sequestrators Price Waterhouse.

When the Welsh NUM refused to pay a £50,000 fine for contempt of court a High Court judge issued a High Court order seizing £707,000 of its funds.

Meanwhile, the unloading of scab coal from the ship Ostia at the Scottish port of Hunterston on August 23rd sparked a national dock strike.

And with the TUC Congress looming in the first week of September, Scargill told strikers on August 25th: ‘I am not going to the Congress to plead. I am going to the Congress to demand, as one trade unionist to another, the assistance of my brothers and sisters in the trade union movement.’

• Continued on Monday