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The Miner's Strike 1984/5 Arthur Scargill exposes further truth emerging from released accounts


The Miner's Strike 1984/5


Arthur Scargill, President of the National Union of Mineworkers 1982-2002


Wombwell WMC, Saturday, 23rd March, 2024


I am privileged to be at this commemorative event today for a number of reasons.  First, it’s being held in Wombwell where members of my family lived and in the area near to Wombwell Main Colliery where my father worked until the day he retired – and in an area adjacent to Cortonwood, which has become legendary all over the world.



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 in accordance with Rule 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.



By February 1984, the overtime ban had cut national coal stocks to  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.  



It was obvious that the Union had to respond and 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 and 180,000 miners were on strike.



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 with the overtime ban 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 most vulnerable target was steel:   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 and 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 and Scotland and South Wales discovered that British Steel was breaching agreements and smuggling in enough coke for producing steel!  



Bill Sirs, General Secretary of the steel-workers’ union ISTC, agreed with British Steel and refused to help the NUM by instructing his members not to cross picket lines to work – an action which in itself would in my opinion have virtually settled the dispute.





British Steel’s duplicity led Yorkshire and other Areas to accepting my arguments about Orgreave.  



Picketing started at there on 22/23 May, a fact later confirmed by South Yorkshire Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Clement, and by the 27th thousands  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.



Orgreave, 18 June 1984



I am fed up listening to historians, the media and unfortunately even some of our own members saying that on 18 June at Orgreave the police “welcomed in the pickets” and directed them to the plant.



This State propaganda only feeds the lie that on 18 June 1984 we were helpless victims, who were herded by the police like cattle to the slaughter – nothing could be further from the truth



Media accounts of the Battle of Orgreave are misleading and untruthful.  Today I want to put the record straight.



The Union knew exactly where we were going and picket organisers knew what we were doing. Pickets had been at Orgreave for several weeks, and we had made it public that we wanted a mass picket on the 18th of June.




The NUM had called on the wider trade union and Labour movement to join us on that day.   It was no secret – and of course once the State knew, the police were turned out in great numbers – 8,500 of them, to be exact, including members of the army dressed in police uniforms.



From the time we arrived, the police – far from welcoming us in – began their attack.  By mid-morning, dozens of miners had been injured and were being taken to Rotherham Hospital – including me.



I have unexpected support in the evidence given by Assistant Chief Constable Clement at the trial of our members who were beaten and arrested on 18 June and then charged with riot – for which they could have been imprisoned for life.



At their trial nearly a year later, Mr. Clement, reading from his notebook, told the Court that by 6:50 a.m. on 18 June 1984 there were about seven hundred demonstrators on the road which was topside of the police cordon and the Orgreave plant.  He stated that he decided to deploy “long-shield” men shortly after 8:00 a.m. and that at about 8:10 a.m. there was a “dramatic increase in violence” as the first convoy of  empty lorries arrived at the plant, at which point as many as 2,000 pickets charged the police lines.



As a result, Clement decided that the safest and most effective way to deal with the pickets was to use mounted police, so he ordered the ranks to open and the horses, 14 in two ranks, to advance.



But this manoeuvre was only partly successful because while some 6,000 pickets were facing the police attack on the top side, possibly half that number were further down the road, on the other side of the plant.



Clement stated that it was when lorries filled with coke were ready to leave the plant at 9:25 a.m., a second charge from pickets took place down Highfield Lane and the police had to prepare for a further push. 



He said it had not been his intention to drive the pickets over the bridge above the road but he had to do so because most of the by-now 8,000 pickets had regrouped at the junction of Orgreave Lane.



Clement stated in Court that he now had to put into operation  his plan to clear the entire topside area.  Mounted police went in with short-shield men following behind to “mop up” demonstrators who found their way round the horses.  



One of the most famous images from the Battle of Orgreave is a mounted policeman, truncheon raised, bearing down on photographer Lesley Boulton, camera round her neck, who was bending protectively over a wounded picket on the ground.  This was an example of Mr. Clement’s “mopping up” instruction.



What was a paramilitary force  inflicted injuries on trade unionists not seen since the massacre at Merthyr in South Wales in 1831 when 24 men were killed  and hundreds injured– and at Featherstone in Yorkshire in 1893 when two strikers were shot dead and hundreds badly injured by the South Staffordshire Regiment.



I’d like to add a bit of personal information that emerged during the “riot” trial of our colleagues in 1985.  



Michael Mansfield, the principal defence barrister, having examined Mr. Clement’s notebook asked whether he’d had any other notebook apart frim that produced in Court.  



Mr. Clement initially said no, but pressed by Mr. Mansfield admitted he’d forgotten that he did have another notebook which was duly produced despite an objection from Mr. Clement’s barrister.



He was asked by Mr. Mansfield were there any other notations that had been entered on 18 June 1984 about which Mr. Clement hadn’t told the jury?  Clement admitted, yes, just one, not actually connected with this “riot” trial, but with Arthur Scargill’s  injuries on the day



Clement had referred to Scargill as “provocative”.  “My knowledge of Scargill goes back a long time”, he said referring to the 1980 steel strike when Scargill made a nuisance of himself by mobilizing the NUM Yorkshire Area to support striking steelworkers and closing British Steel’s Hadfield plant in Sheffield.



Forced to examine his second notebook by Michael Mansfield, Mr Clement identified me as standing with fellow-picket Dave Moore at the other side of the bridge at 11:30 a.m. but denied that either of us had been knocked to the ground.  He said that I could not possibly have been hit and knocked unconscious by a shield-carrying officer on the bank as those officers stayed on the road.  



At this point, he was shown a photograph taken by Arthur Wakefield, an NUM picket and photographer, which clearly showed Arthur Scargill on the ground surrounded by shield-carrying policemen, and an ambulance worker.  



ON 18 JUNE, ORGREAVE COKING PLANT WAS CLOSED



What is virtually never reported is that before the end of the day on 18 June 1984, because of our mass picket, British Steel had to close the plant.  BBC Labour Correspondent Nicholas Jones gave me the telex from British Steel Chairman Rober Haslam ordering the closure.  Denis Doody, a former miner, later a full-time Official and Executive member of UCATT, who was at Orgreave on 18 June, confirmed he heard it on the radio in the midst of a cheering crowd – and Dave Douglass, a member of the NUM Yorkshire Area Executive, who was also there on the day records in his book “Ghost Dancers” that the plant was closed.



I have no doubt that Orgreave would have remained closed had the picketing returned in greater strength the following day, thus emulating what the working class of Birmingham accomplished in 1972 at Saltley Gate.



The tragedy at Orgreave was that instead of 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 in 1972.



Had Orgreave stayed closed, the Scunthorpe steelworks 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 National Coal Board, and of ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’.  This was and is another lie, by the Coal Board and by the State.



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 SELL-OUT



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 personally 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 1985, one week later, five Areas wrote  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 the 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.   I am convinced that if the women who played such a central role had voted on 3 March 1985, they would have voted to continue the Strike until victory was ours.



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 my privilege to be here today to pay tribute and to honour the courageous miners and their families, and the magnificent women’s support groups who for one year and four months withstood everything the State could throw at them. 



You have already marched into history, and entered the pantheon of working class heroes and heroines.



Arthur Scargill


Wombwell Working Men’s Club

Saturday, 23 March 2024

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