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A Magazine for Sheffield

Orgreave: Beaten up, fitted up, locked up

Why justice for miners attacked in the "brutal ambush and a police riot" at Orgreave is long overdue. 

A march with banners and a brass band
Neil Terry

50th Anniversary celebrations were held around Britain this year in honour of 'The Battle of Saltley Gate'. We will always remember 1972 when the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) held a national strike for the first time since 1926. Workers who mined coal in dangerous and difficult conditions producing fuel, energy and products for Britain and the world went on strike for better pay, amassed considerable support and solidarity from all over Britain and won!

Saltley Gate, a coking plant in Birmingham, became the turning point in the success of the strike when a mass gathering of miners and supporters closed the plant down, leading to victory and significant wage increases.

The Conservative government of the day, and successive governments, always remember the Miners' Strike of 1972 as well. Its success contributed to the Tory defeat in the 1974 general election and they have been punishing the NUM and the Trade Unions ever since.

Sadly not all anniversaries are to be celebrated.

Why we need an Orgreave Inquiry

Ten years ago, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign was launched and this year is a reminder of justice both delayed and denied. We set up in 2012 to campaign for a full and independent inquiry into the police riot and state involvement in the 1984/5 miners' strike mass picket at the Orgreave coking plant on 18 June 1984.

The outcome of the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel into the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster gave us renewed hope that an inquiry into what happened at Orgreave in South Yorkshire would reveal the truth and get justice for the miners. The NUM, social justice activists, lawyers and politicians have worked since 1984 to highlight that what happened at Orgreave was one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in an industrial dispute.

March 1984 to March 1985 was a year like no other. Approximately 160,000 miners were striking to protect their industry, jobs and communities in response to government plans for the accelerated and unnecessary mass closure of coal mines throughout Britain with a potential loss of 70,000 jobs. The support and solidarity the strike received in Britain and throughout the world was phenomenal.

A poster that looks like a police poster, saying "A serious crime happened here" with a photo of a police officer on a horse hitting protesters
Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

Three months into the strike, the NUM called for a mass picket of the Orgreave coking plant on 18 June 1984 to prevent the movement of coke to the steel works in Scunthorpe, add to the effectiveness of the strike and boost the morale of the strikers.

On their arrival at Orgreave, thousands of miners were lured into the field by the police. The atmosphere was good humoured, it was a hot summer day and many miners were even playing football and cricket.

What followed was a brutal ambush and a police riot. Thousands of police, including mounted police and dog handlers, many police armed with shields and truncheons, violently assaulted the miners. They chased, battered and incapacitated people at random.

Many miners were seriously injured and 95 were arrested and charged with offences that could have resulted in life sentences if convicted.

Almost a year later, the cases went to court but the police evidence was so unreliable that the trial collapsed as the prosecution had no choice but to offer no evidence and the miners were acquitted.

Some miners brought civil claims for malicious prosecution, assault and unlawful arrest and those claims were settled and compensation paid out by South Yorkshire Police.

However, the police and government never admitted any wrongdoing and no officers were ever prosecuted or disciplined for the violence, lies and perjury.

An Orgreave inquiry should help to reveal the truth about what happened at Orgreave and throughout the year-long strike, ensuring it is finally placed in the public domain and leads to justice for the miners. Despite years of representations from campaigners, politicians, trade unions, lawyers etc the government continually refuse to allow any kind of Orgreave inquiry.

The dangers of Neoliberalism

The Tories asserted at the time that many of the pits were no longer economically feasible. It had nothing to do with economic viability, it had everything to do with revenge and the race to neoliberalism. Since 1972, the Tories had been planning their retribution for Saltley Gate. They were determined that the trade unions would never have the upper hand and began making clandestine arrangements to destroy organised labour and the British Trade Union movement, embarking upon a programme of mass privatisation, casualised labour and a militarised police force.

Jump ahead to 2022 and that plan has been executed. Those in power vilify trade unions and marginalise health and safety. British manufacturing has declined in favour of cheaper imports produced by exploited low paid workers in other countries. Wages have fallen in real terms and precarious work is rising. Public services are denied essential funds and many have been privatised. Current employment laws undermine workers rights and encourage divisions amongst employees. Hunger and homelessness rise and a culture of hate crimes and xenophobia has been developed.

While poverty increases and the rich get richer, draconian policing laws criminalise protests and stifle dissent. Meanwhile, the right-wing media regurgitate lies to demoralise the people who are struggling for a better world.

Mark Thomas at the Orgreave benefit

Mark Thomas at the Orgreave benefit

Neil Terry

Why Orgreave matters

Many have raw and vivid memories of the injustices meted out throughout the strike. Being on the receiving end of a state-directed paramilitary police force who behaved with impunity has left physical and emotional scars.

The media demonised and lied about the miners and the courts criminalised many of them. The impact of the destruction of the mining industry has spread through generations and our communities. A strongly held belief amongst campaigners is that the unreformed brutal and premeditated actions by South Yorkshire Police led operations at Orgreave and the perjury and falsified evidence that followed led to the police's cruel conduct and cover-ups at Hillsborough, including the blaming of innocent football fans.

Never give up

The government mobilised unprecedented resources to discredit, demoralise and criminalise miners, the NUM and its leaders. Our campaign for truth and justice, however, continues to reveal the reality about Orgreave and is creating an awareness amongst younger generations who see that the injustices they campaign against have many similarities with the miners' struggle.

Our dynamic campaign involves many creative activities as well as public speaking, writing articles, lobbying politicians and organising demonstrations. We work with other campaigns and organisations, showing solidarity, joining picket lines and organise music, art and cultural activities. Our latest 'Never Be Defeated' gig highlighted our 10th Anniversary with a fabulous night of music and comedy in Sheffield.

Miners' Strike 40th Anniversary

2024 is the 40th Anniversary of the miners' strike and plans are already being made to commemorate the strike and celebrate the amazing resistance and solidarity shared by so many.

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