THE GREAT MINERS STRIKE 1984-85 – PART TWO: Mounted police and riot squads attack the miners at Orgreave

Scargill speaks to pickets at Orgreave. He told reporters later: ‘Ther have been scenes of almost unbeleivable brutality . . . reminiscent of a Latin American police state’
Scargill speaks to pickets at Orgreave. He told reporters later: ‘Ther have been scenes of almost unbeleivable brutality . . . reminiscent of a Latin American police state’

IN the last article we saw how the state had leapt into action from the outset of the strike to try and break it physically through the use of the police and the courts.

Far from being cowed, the miners responded with increased determination.

A  260-mile march from Kent to Nottingham arrived triumphantly in the city on April 14, to be met in the centre by 7,000 miners and trade union supporters.

In his speech to the mass rally that followed NUM President Arthur Scargill called on other unions to join the action telling them: ‘Stop saying you support us, come out and join us.’

The demand for a General Strike, which had been advanced only by the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) and its industrial section the All Trades Union Alliance (ATUA) back on April 13, began to be seen as the correct way forward by whole sections of the NUM membership.

They were becoming acutely aware that no one union, no matter how militant,  could defeat the entire capitalist state on its own.

On April 24 Scottish miners began a march from Fife to Glasgow demanding a General Strike.

But in the first clear indication of the treacherous role that Stalinism would play, the Scottish area NUM leadership, which was dominated by  the Stalinists, called off the march, so opposed were they to the demand for a General Strike.

The strike was also exposing the counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism internationally when the Polish Stalinists ignored an appeal by Scargill not to break the strike by exporting coal, instead they doubled the export of scab coal to  Britain.

Despite the machinations of the Stalinists, the call for the organisation of the General Strike  was winning growing support.

A lobby of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Council meeting on May 23 to demand the TUC organise General Strike action against the Thatcher government was called by the ATUA and over 1,500 miners and supporters joined the mass lobby. 


While the TUC sat on its hands and refused to mobilise the trade union movement behind the miners, the state was becoming increasingly violent towards pickets.

Mounted police were used to protect convoys transporting scab coal into Ravenscraig steelworks while 292 pickets travelling in six coaches from Fife were stopped and arrested in one police swoop.

The effect of this escalating state violence was to stir up forces in the mining communities that had not been seen in any previous struggles.

On May 12 ten thousand miners’ wives marched through Barnsley in the first national women’s rally.

Women’s Support Groups, which would play a crucial role in the development and maintenance  of the strike gained a momentum nationally.

Outraged by the violence meted out to pickets by the police, women joined the picket lines in solidarity with their husbands, sons and boyfriends.

This resistance by women and youth soon drew a vicious response from the state.

In the town of Blidworth in Nottinghamshire police mounted a night raid on strikers’ homes terrifying children  and assaulting pickets from Yorkshire who were staying with the families.

Police violence against strikers and their families would escalate later in May with an attack on a mass picket at the British Steel coking plant at the village of Orgreave, near Sheffield in South Yorkshire.

This first ‘battle at Orgreave’ began on May 28, a few days after the High Court had ruled that the union could not even ask scabs to join the strike.

The NUM rejected this ruling and within days they found themselves under assault from thousands of riot police.

On that day in May, Scargill was provocatively knocked to the ground.

The following day more than 6,000 pickets confronted a vast army of police using dogs and horses to attack the picket.

100 miners were arrested while scores more were brutally assaulted as police on foot and horseback charged the crowd.

Scargill himself was arrested in a week which saw the state ratchet up the degree of violence it was prepared to use.

Scargill told reporters: ‘There have been scenes of almost unbelievable brutality … reminiscent of a Latin American police state.’

But even the violence at Orgreave during this period would be eclipsed by the savagery of the police on Monday June 18 when ten thousand pickets from all over the country travelled to Orgreave to stop the scab coke entering the plant and found themselves facing a huge force of police drafted in from ten counties.

The police force assembled that day for the now notorious ‘Battle of Orgreave’ comprised of 40 to 50 mounted police plus a number of dogs and their handlers.

For the first time in Britain the force contained Police Support Units, sometimes known as short shield squads as they carried not the normal full length protective shield used to guard against missiles, but short shields that could be used aggressively in conjunction with batons.

These units, in full riot gear would act as ‘snatch squads’, rushing in after the mounted police had charged and beating or snatching any pickets unable to escape.

These tactics had been developed by colonial police forces in Hong Kong for use against rioters.

But it was not the miners who rioted on that baking hot day, it was the police themselves.

Twice the police commander in charge ordered the mounted cavalry to charge the picket whilst demanding that the picketers disperse and leave the field outside the coke depot.

The miners refused to disperse and a third charge with the ‘snatch squads’ following behind was launched, laying about the unarmed miners with their batons.

Still the violence had not reached its fever pitch.

By the afternoon the majority of the pickets had left the field and gone into the town seeking food and drink, the pickets who remained in the field played football and relaxed in the sun.

The police, now outnumbering the remaining miners decided to ‘have it out’ with them once and for all.

The next charge by the cavalry and the snatch squads did not have as its aim protecting scab lorries, there were none, or dispersing an unruly crowd. It was a blatent and unprovoked attack designed solely to inflict physical damage on men fighting for their jobs.

The miners fled across the field with many seeking shelter in the town. Now completely out of control the mounted police careered through this small town terrifying local inhabitants of all ages.

At the time the capitalist press and the police launched a huge campaign of vilification against the miners at Orgreave, reversing the truth to claim that it was miners who had rioted on that day.

The truth, however, soon emerged as the miners arrested that day were one by one acquitted by the courts of any criminal acts.

Indeed it was the police themselves who would eventually end up in the dock, but many years later.

In 2001 the South Yorkshire police force was ordered by the courts to pay half a million pounds damages and costs to 39 miners arrested that day.

Orgreave has become and remains to this day a potent symbol of the brutality of the state and the heroic refusal of the working class to submit to the slavery that capitalism seeks to impose on workers as a solution to its crisis. 

• Continued tomorrow