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The Miners' Strike. Jarrow 2024. Address by Arthur Scargill, Former President NUM


Today I’m here to honour miners and their families who in 1984/58 fought the greatest workers’ fight since the days of the Merthyr Rising (1831), the Tolpuddle Martyrs (1834), the Newport Chartists (1839), the Featherstone Martyrs (1893) and the Suffragettes (1903).


I honour, as I always have, the young miners fighting for the future – and the magnificent Women Against Pit Closures who for a year were at the forefront of our struggle to save pits, jobs and mining communities.


Who can forget that amazing day, 12th 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 the United Nations Charter and International Labour Organisation Conventions 87 and 98.


The NUM had held a Special Delegate Conference on 21 October 1983; the Union knew the Government was planning pit closures, and voted unanimously for a national full overtime ban which over the next four months had an extraordinary impact.


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


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


At a National Executive Committee meeting on 8th March, one week later, Scotland and Yorkshire sought endorsement from the NEC for strike action in their Areas.  They were given authorisation in accordance with National Rule 41, and the NEC confirmed that any Area could if they wished take the same decision.


On 12th March 1984, Area strikes began.


I’m fed up of  our critics saying we “picked the wrong time of year” for a strike.  Our fight-back started in November 1983 – an appropriate time for miners to start industrial action.


At a Special Delegate Conference on 19th 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 Area strike 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.


On the basis of information I  had, I argued that the obvious targets were the steel plants at Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire, Ravenscraig in Scotland and Port Talbot in South Wales – and the coking plants which supplied them.  For that reason I saw the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire as a crucial target for picketing.


My argument was initially rejected by Area leaders who believed that the main targets should be those Areas which had not joined the Strike.


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


I’m fed up with reading and listening to historians and media experts who say that miners “walked into a police trap” at Orgreave on 18th June 2024.  It’s untrue.


Picketing started at Orgreave on 23rd May, and by the 27th thousands of miners – and supporters – were responding to the call for mass picketing at this plant which supplied the coke essential for Scunthorpe steelworks.


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


On 18th June, 10,000 pickets had arrived by early morning.  We KNEW the police would turn out in greater numbers and they did – 8,200 of them.


But we were there for a reason – and with a strategy.  We did not “walk into a trap”.  We had worked out how to co-ordinate our actions.  From a little shop in Sheffield, I had purchased several walkie-talkies for distribution among picket leaders – including Dave Douglass.  And our lines of communication held through the early part of the day.


It has long been admitted that the police brutality at Orgreave on 18th June 1984 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 hospitalised (including me).  95 – including some of those worst injured – were arrested and charged with riot, unlawful assembly and violent disorder.  These charges, of course, were discredited and dropped with the acquittal of the first group of miners who were tried.


What is virtually never reported is that before the end of the day the police were forced to close the plant in accordance with a telex from the British Steel Chairman Sir Robert Haslam.  A copy of that telex was later handed to me by BBC Correspondent Nicholas Jones and the closure is referred to by Dave (Douglass) in his book “Ghost Dancers”.


The tragedy was that the pickets were withdrawn the next day.  From my hospital bed I had urged Area leaders to step up the picketing on the 19th,  to increase the pressure as we had at Saltley in 1972.


Had that happened, I have no doubt that Orgreave would have been 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.


Nine years after the strike, my conviction about “picketing steel” was confirmed by none other than Margaret Thatcher.


In a chapter titled “Mr. Scargill’s Insurrection”  in her 1993 Autobiography, she wrote on Page 350  of her concern in March 1984 that energy and steel  could be hit by our strike action.  She wrote:


“The CEGB  estimated endurance at about six months but this assumed a build-up to maximum oilburn – that is, using oil-fired stations at full capacity – which had not yet begun.  We had to judge when this should be set in train because it would certainly be described as provocative by the NUM leadership.


“We held off while there seemed a prospect that NUM moderates might force a ballot.  However, I decided on Monday 26 March that this nettle must now be grasped.”  She went on to write:


“Industrial stocks were, of course, much lower than those at the power stations:  the cement industry was particularly vulnerable and important.


“But it was BSC whose problems were most immediate.  Their integrated steel plants at Redcar and Scunthorpe would have to close in the next fortnight if supplies of coke and coal were not delivered and unloaded.  Port Talbot, Ravenscraig and Llanwern had stocks sufficient for no more than three to five weeks.”



“REFUSAL TO NEGOTIATE”


For 40 years, I have been accused of refusing the 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 on 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 and in consultation with my two closest colleagues, Michael McGahey and Peter Heathfield, I drafted the following proposal:


“That the NCB withdraw its pit closure plan, give an undertaking that the five collieries earmarked for immediate closure be kept open, and guarantee that no pit will 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 emphasised 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 – despite the TUC leaders urging them to stick to the agreement they had reached with the NUM!


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.


On 21st February 1985, we held a Special Delegate Conference at which the NEC called upon the trade union movement not to leave the NUM isolated.  We 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 28th February, just one week later, five NUM Areas asked for a recall Conference to agree an immediate return to work without a settlement.


That Conference took place on 3rd March 1985.  The NEC’s position was for continuation of the strike, as instructed by Conference less than a fortnight earlier.


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 myself –  supported continuation of the strike.


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 men and women who took strike action in 1984, their families and all who supported the NUM and supported the strike.  You marched into history, and entered the pantheon of working class heroes and heroines.



Arthur Scargill


22 June 2024

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