The brutality of Orgreave is still relevant today, it’s shaping our demands on June 18th


“What happened on that day at Orgreave was police brutality of the highest order and the most sustained, vicious police conduct seen in an industrial dispute.”

By Kate Flannery, Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

18th June will be a busy day for the British Labour movement. We are continually reminded of how relevant the year long 1984/5 Miners’ Strike and justice for Orgreave still is in relation to our economic and legal system today as we see the TUC and trade unions mobilising for a massive turnout for the ‘We Demand Better‘ national demonstration in London on 18th June 2022.

The strike was a monumental attempt to preserve jobs, industry and communities. Government involvement and the outcome of the strike set the tone for industrial relations and the policing of strikes and demonstrations in Britain and the Tories used everything at their disposal to ensure the strike was broken. The wealth of the richest increases, whilst fuel, food and energy poverty escalates. Draconian legislation steamrolls over our rights to the point of criminalising people who protest against injustice and inequalities. But of course, this is exactly the neoliberal world the Tories yearned for when the state orchestrated their unrelenting attack on the miners and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The Tory government strategy of the 1980s to dismantle the nationalised industries and the mass trade union membership of workers within those industries such as railways, steel, electricity and gas, stemmed from the victorious miners’ strike of 1972. This year is the 50th anniversary of the mass pickets that took place at the Saltley Gate coking plant in Birmingham when the NUM successfully closed the coke work gates, won a significant pay increase and played a pivotal role in the Heath Tory Government’s election defeat in 1974. The mass privatisation of the nationalised industries that followed in the 1980s would enable fragmented private ownership and private control and opportunities for the Tories to damage the mobilising and negotiating strength of the trade unions.  

The 1977 Report of the Nationalised Industries Policy Group, a Tory think tank chaired by Nicholas Ridley MP (known as the Ridley Plan) became the revenge blueprint for how the Tories would provoke and attempt to conquer Britains most powerful union, the NUM. The hostile war like language in parts of the report talked about anticipating ‘battles’ with trade unions and seeing nationalised industries as ‘enemies’. The Tories were planning to wage a war on vast numbers of the population and strive to destroy organised labour. 

Orgreave was a processing plant on the border of Sheffield and Rotherham that turned coal into coke to feed the furnaces of British Steel in Scunthorpe. The NUM called for a mass picket of Orgreave on 18th June 1984 to attempt to prevent coke being transported out of the plant, to increase the effectiveness of the strike against the mass pit closures planned by the Tories and the National Coal Board.

What happened on that day at Orgreave was police brutality of the highest order and the most sustained, vicious police conduct seen in an industrial dispute. Thousands of striking miners, from all over Britain gathered at Orgreave on this hot summers day wearing jeans and T-shirts where they were lured into a field and viciously attacked by police in full riot gear, many on horseback and armed with shields and truncheons and assisted by dogs.

95 miners were arrested on false and spurious charges which could have resulted in life imprisonment for some of them. The following year the court case against the arrested miners collapsed due to fabrication and invention in police evidence being exposed by the miners’ lawyers. The prosecutions failed and the police were ultimately in danger of being seen to commit perjury for making false statements in court. Some miners were compensated yet the police have never admitted any liability for assault, wrongful arrest and malicious prosecutions, not one officer has ever been disciplined for any offence and the government never accepted any responsibilities for their political role in these police actions.

Anyone who was aware of the systematic and violent police operations used against the miners all over Britain throughout the strike, will understand that the Tory government had prepared and mobilised unprecedented resources to undermine, demoralise, humiliate, criminalise and discredit the miners, the NUM and its leaders. 

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign continues our important work for an inquiry into government involvement in the direction and use of a militarised police force in an industrial dispute, a false narrative perpetuated by the government and the media and the misuse of the courts and the benefits system  to frighten and starve miners back to work. 

Mining communities were once thriving communities. Throughout the strike we saw wonderful mass rank and file, grassroots trade union and community support and solidarity. We all knew what was at stake because the devastation and social deprivation caused by pit closures has had long lasting effects. The Tories may have been victorious in 1984/5 but the working class of Britain have suffered high levels of unemployment, illness, low life expectancy, erosion of pay, terms and conditions, destruction of public services, homelessness, food poverty and massive food and energy prices. The accumulation of the Tory authoritarian and punitive legislation is a serious threat to our right to protest. 

Come along and join us at our Orgreave Anniversary Rally on Saturday 18th June 2022, 1pm, City Hall, Barkers Pool, Sheffield. If you’re planning to attend the TUC rally in London then wear your Orgreave solidarity T-Shirt and look out for our banner being carried by our comrades from Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.

Featured image: Orgreave Truth and Justice annual march. Credit: Neil Terry Photography

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