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Miners' Strike 40th anniversary. Scargill continues to put record straight.

Updated: Mar 15


Arthur Scargill has been embarking on a series of invitations from collieries involved



Speaking to a packed audience at the Miners' Club at Hatfield Main Colliery in Yorkshire the enthusiam for commemorating the struggle in which miners' wives were always prominent, he received a standing ovation once again.



Arthur Scargill's speech at Hatfield Main Colliery, 9th March, 2024


The Miners’ Strike, 1984/85

Today, I’m here to honour miners and their families who in 1984/5 fought the greatest workers’ fight since the days of the Chartists and the Tolpuddle Martyrs: to save pits, jobs and our communities.

I especially want to pay tribute to the young miners in 1984-1985 who were in every sense fighting for the future – and the magnificent Women Against Pit Closures who were at the forefront of our struggle.

Who can forget that amazing day, 12 May 1984, when more than 12,000 women from mining communities around the British Coalfields came together in Barnsley to stage a historic march and rally in support of the NUM’s fight against pit closures? What a march and what a rally.

They were supporting our Union’s right to take strike action, which was and is governed by United Nations and International Labour Organisation Conventions No. 87 and 98.

The miners’ strike of 1984/85 brought our Union unprecedented support from workers in countries around the world – including France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, East Germany, Ireland and South Africa.

I for one never forget the French CGT miners led by my comrade Alain Simon coming across the Channel and into the coalfields at Christmas 1984 driving lorry-loads full of food, provisions and gifts for our families, especially our children and provisions for our communities.

Like hundreds of thousands in Britain’s trade union and Labour movement, they provided support for us throughout the dispute.

Their reason for doing so was simple:

Forty years ago, the Tory Government led by Margaret Thatcher declared war on the National Union of Mineworkers.

The Tories had been preparing for a showdown with the NUM since before the 1979 General Election. They could not forget the victorious miners’ strikes of 1969, 1972 and 1974.

In the Spring of 1982, I was handed a copy of a secret Government plan prepared by NCB chiefs earmarking 95 pits for closure, with the loss of 100,000 miners’ jobs.

It became clear in the following period that the Union would have to take action that would win maximum support and have a unifying effect.

A special conference was held on 21 October, 1983, and delegates from all NUM Areas were given a detailed report so that they could vote on what action – if any – should be taken.

Conference voted unanimously for a national full overtime ban which over the next four months, had an extraordinary impact. Government statistics confirm that it succeeded in reducing coal output by 30 percent, or 12 million tonnes.

It cut national coal stocks to about the same level as they had been during the successful miners’ unofficial strike in 1981.

On 1 March, 1984, NCB Directors in four Areas announced the immediate closure of five pits: Cortonwood and Bullcliffe Wood in Yorkshire, Herrington in Durham, Snowdown in Kent and Polmaise in Scotland.

On Tuesday, 6 March, Coal Board Chairman Ian MacGregor confirmed that a further 20 would be closed during the coming year, with the loss of over 20,000 jobs.

At a National Executive Committee meeting on 8 March, two days later, Scotland and Yorkshire sought endorsement from the NEC for strike action in their Areas. They were given authorization in accordance with National Rule 41, and the NEC confirmed that any Area could if they wished adopt the same policy.

On 12 March 1984, Area strikes began.

I’m fed up of reading or listening to critics saying we “picked the wrong time of year” for a strike. The industrial action started in November 1983: an appropriate time for miners to start industrial action.

At a Special National Delegate Conference on 19 April, 1984, delegates rejected a call for a national strike ballot and voted to support and strengthen the 180,000, or 80% of Britain’s miners who were already on strike on an Area basis in accordance with National Rule 41.

PICKETING TARGETS

From the start, I was convinced that the steel industry should be the Areas’ main picketing target – far more than power stations or, indeed, the pits in the few Areas that had rejected strike action.

It was obvious to me that the NUM needed to fight Government and Coal Board plans for pit closures at targets which were their weakest link. On the basis of information I had, I argued that the obvious targets were the steel plants at Scunthorpe in Yorkshire, Ravenscraig in Scotland and Port Talbot in South Wales, and the coking plants which supplied them.

In 1984, the Government had only three weeks’ supply of coke for the steel works in stock – a fact confirmed in the later memoirs of Margaret Thatcher and her Energy Secretary Peter Walker.

Scunthorpe was supplied by Orgreave Coking Plant in South Yorkshire which is why I believed it was a crucial target for mass picketing. Its coke supplies could be cut off as had been the case in shutting the Saltley coke depot in Birmingham during the 1972 miners’ strike.

My argument was originally rejected by Area leaders who believed that the main targets should be power stations, docks – and those Areas which had not joined the Strike.

Following the decision of the Special Conference on 19 April, a National Strike Co-ordinating Committee advised and/or instructed Areas that picketing should be undertaken on an Area basis in accordance with National Rule 41. NUM Areas also set up Co-ordinating Committees whose task was to select picketing targets, provided they were in accordance with the Conference decision and Rule 41.

It was not until May that my view on Orgreave was accepted.

The Yorkshire NUM had reached an agreement with the British Steel Corporation to allow provision of enough coke to protect Scunthorpe’s ovens – not enough to produce steel. Weeks passed before the Yorkshire NUM discovered that British Steel was breaching that agreement and smuggling in enough coke for producing steel!

British Steel’s duplicity led Yorkshire and other Areas to accepting my arguments about Orgreave. The scene was set for that what has become history – often distorted history.

I’m fed up with reading and listening to historians and media experts saying that miners “walked into a police trap” at Orgreave on 18 June 1984 – it’s untrue.

Picketing started at the Orgreave coking plant on 23 May, and by the 27th thousands of pickets had responded to the call for mass picketing at this plant which supplied the coke essential for Scunthorpe steelworks.

Of course police numbers grew accordingly. By 30 May, the growing number of pickets had led to a substantial number of us being arrested, including me.

The plan for a mass picket on 18 June, larger than ever, was widely known and publicized. Accordingly, of course the police were turned out in larger numbers. On 18 June, some 10,000 pickets were there – and we knew the police would descend in greater numbers – 8,500 of them.

We were there for a reason and with a strategy. We did not “walk into a trap”, nor did the police “wave us in”. To co-ordinate our actions, I had purchased – from a little shop in Sheffield – six walkie-talkies for communication amongst picket leaders, including Dave Douglass and NUM Yorkshire Vice-President Sammy Thompson.

It has long been admitted that the police brutality on that day was a deliberate tactic used by the State to wage war against the National Union of Mineworkers. 123 people were injured; a number had to be hospitalized, including me. 95 – including some of the worst injured – were arrested and charged with riot, unlawful assembly and violent disorder. These charges were, of course, discredited and dropped with the acquittal of the first group who were tried.

Those facts are often repeated in media accounts of the Battle of Orgreave.

What is virtually never reported is that before the end of the day (as Dave Douglass records in his book “Ghost Dancers”) the police were forced to close the plant, a decision confirmed in a telex from British Steel’s Chairman, handed to me by the BBC’s Labour Correspondent, Nicholas Jones.

The tragedy was that instead of then stepping up our action, the pickets were withdrawn the next day, despite my desperate urging that picketing should be stepped up. From my hospital bed, I contacted NUM Area leaders and urged that the picketing should be increased, as it had been at Saltley.

Had that happened, I have no doubt that Orgreave would have stayed closed and Scunthorpe would have faced immediate closure. The impact of that and the effect elsewhere would have forced the Government to settle the strike.

“REFUSAL TO NEGOTIATE”

For 40 years, I have been accused of refusing to negotiate a settlement with the NCB, and of ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’. This was and is a lie.

The NUM settled the strike with the NCB on five separate occasions in 1984: on 8 June, 8 July, 18 July, 10 September, and 12 October – only to have the NCB renege on these settlements due to what we now know was Government instruction.

The most important ‘settlement terms’ were agreed between the leaders of the pit deputies’ union NACODS and the NUM on 12 October 1984.

NACODS had just conducted an individual ballot and obtained an 82% vote for strike action.

Following the NACODS result, the conciliation service ACAS invited the NCB, NUM and NACODS in to see if there could be a negotiated settlement.

After futile discussions with the NCB, the NUM and NACODS held a joint meeting in which on behalf of the NUM I drafted the following proposal:

“That the NCB withdraw its pit closure plan, give an undertaking that the five collieries earmarked for immediate closure would be kept open, and guarantee that no pit would be closed unless by joint agreement it was deemed to be exhausted or unsafe.”

This proposal was accepted by NACODS and acceptable to the conciliation service ACAS. It was then submitted to the NCB. It was emphasized that if the NCB did not accept this joint proposal, the NACODS strike would go ahead.

On the eve of reconvened discussions at ACAS, I learned that the NACODS leadership had inexplicably reneged on its agreement with the NUM and had instead reached an agreement with the NCB for an amended colliery review procedure.

No explanation has ever been given by NACODS for this U-Turn, or sell-out, which had terrible historical consequences, leading as it did to the destruction of Britain’s deep coal mining industry.

Over the years, I have repeatedly said: We didn’t “come close” to total victory in October, 1984 – we had it, and at the very point of victory we were betrayed.

On 21 February 1985, we held a Special Delegate Conference at which the NEC called upon the trade union movement not to leave the NUM isolated. The NEC called upon all our members to stand firm and those not yet involved to support our Union against the Government’s attempt to destroy us. This was carried unanimously.

Inexplicably, by 28 February, one week later, five Areas had written to the NUM Secretary asking for a recall Conference to agree an immediate return to work without a settlement.

That Conference took place on 3 March 1985. The NEC’s position was for continuation of the strike, as instructed by Conference on 21 February.

The resolution to call off the strike and return to work was proposed by the South Wales Area and seconded by Durham. The vote to return to work was carried by 98 votes to 91.

The three National Officials, Mick McGahey, Peter Heathfield and Arthur Scargill advocated the continuation of the strike – as did the Yorkshire Delegation.

The Miners’ Strike of 1984/85 remains not only an inspiration for workers but a reminder to today’s trade union leaders of their responsibility to their members, and the need to come together in direct action to challenge Government and employers against all forms of injustice, inequality and exploitation.

It is a privilege to be here today with all of you who took strike action in 1984 and you who supported our strike - you marched into history, and entered the pantheon of working class heroes and heroines.


Arthur Scargill

9 March 2024



Watch the day's events here from Consortium News:


George Galloway, Arthur Scargill and Ken Capstick, Miners' 40th Anniversary at Hatfield Coliery

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