Thursday 18 June 2015

The miners' strike: the turning point.

There have been may occasions in our history when the armed might of the state has been used against "ordinary people."  The Peterloo Massacre of 1819 is but one example, and I'm sure proper historians can think of umpteen more.

However from the end of the Second World War in 1945 the spirit of "all in it together" more or less prevailed and, on the whole, by and large and in the main, governments of whatever stripe coped reasonably benevolently with people who disagreed with them.  Demonstrations were allowed, albeit perhaps with  a few unjustifiable arrests.  Strikes happened and were sorted out.  If Labour were in power they were often settled over beer and sandwiches at No 10.  We rubbed along reasonably peaceably.

I think it's fair to say that, for the first 35 or so post-war years, albeit with many hesitations, and with a few  steps backwards as well as forwards, things did get better, both socially and economically, for the vast majority of people.  But form 1979, on the election of the Conservative government with Margaret Thatcher as prime minister,  the post war consensus evaporated and the homogeneity of our society took a distinct turn for the worse.

The crucial turning point was the Miners' Strike in 1984.

Admittedly the government was greatly provoked by the intransigence of the miners' leader, Arthur Scargill. However, Mrs Thatcher respond in kind, referred to the miners as "the enemy within," and used the police  and many tactics of dubious legality to smash the strike.

The worst episode of the strike happened exactly 31 years ago today , on the 18th June 1984, indeed, then as now, Waterloo Day, when a contingent of 6 000 police, recruited from all over the country, were sent to prevent  the miners from picketing a coking plant at Orgreave, near Rotherham here in Yorkshire.  At one point, with no evidence of a warning, mounted police charged the pickets on the pretext that miners were throwing stones  at them.  The miners claim that stones were thrown only after the police charged.  (It is also claimed that the BBC, yes, the BBC, reversed their film footage of the events in order to  to show the stone throwing before the police charge. )

Ninety-five miners were arrested and charged with riot and unlawful assembly.  None were convicted.  Tthe cases against them fell apart under cross- examination by the defence lawyers.  Evidence of police corruption is alleged.  Thirty-nine of the accused miners  sued South Yorkshire police for wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution, and were compensated by a total of £425 000, though with no admission of liability.

The miners have called for a formal investigation or, better still, a public enquiry into the allegations of police corruption. Last week their request was turned down on the grounds that it was all too long ago for reliable evidence to be collected and examined.

What utter nonsense.

Admittedly the Hillsborough disaster was five years later in 1989, but that, after a long struggle by relatives of the survivors, is at last being fully investigated, with allegations of corruption against the same South Yorkshire police.  And historians and other are perfectly willing  to investigate and find new evidence about, say, the death of Richard III in 1485.

It is no wonder that "ordinary people" are driven to the conclusion that the establishment thinks it is above the law, and by hook or by crook will remain so.  It was to overturn this concept that the barons of the thirteenth century  forced King John to seal  (not sign) the Magna Carta in 1215.  It clearly needs a refresher.



  1. Another example of government repression is the General Strike of 1926 when hundreds of 'communists' were arrested BEFORETHE STRIKE TOOK PLACE.
    David Peace, an old boy of Batley Grammar School, wrote a novel about Orgreave which is vivid if incoherent.
    When Thatcher said there is no such thing as society she set out to prove it.

    1. Will try to get a copy of David Peace's book: thanks for reminding me about it..

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