Weekend Video: The Battle of Orgreave

The Battle of Orgeave was a major conflict between police and pickets during the famous 1984-85 Miners Strike in Britain.

Police charge pickets in the Battle of Orgreave, June 18 1984.
Police charge pickets in the Battle of Orgreave, June 18 1984.

In 1984, the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher had targeted the National Union of Miners (NUM), considered Britain’s strongest union. The goal of the government was to break the miners union, and break the back of Britain’s labour movement. Thatcher had been part of the Tory government which was humiliated by two miners strikes in 1972 and 1974, the last of which brought down the Tory government Prime Minister Heath.

Orgreave
During the 1984-85 strike, an agreement had been made with the NUM for limited amounts of coal to enter the British Steel coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire to ensure that their furnaces were not damaged. However, miners discovered that the government was smuggling even more coal than the pickets were allowing.

In response, the National Union of Miners, under the leadership of their president Arthur Scargill, decided to launch a mass picket to shutdown the Orgreave coking plant and cripple British Steel industry. By doing so, the miners hoped to bring more power to bear against the British government.

Mass picket
On June 18 1984, about 6,000 miners arrived in Orgreave for a mass picket. But through the use of domestic security agency spies in MI5, the British government organized a police force of roughly the same size to confront the mass picket. Events during the day would lead many to believe the police and the government had conspired to instigate violence, produce arrests, and demonize the miners.

Photographer Lesley Boulton narrowly avoids a police baton. This photo by photojournalist John Harris was only printed in one British paper covering the Battle of Orgreave.
Photographer Lesley Boulton narrowly avoids a police baton. This photo by photojournalist John Harris was only printed in one British paper covering the Battle of Orgreave.

As the miners tried to move into position they faced a series of assaults from police lines, including charges by mounted police. Miners responded by throwing rocks and setting up barricades. The result was 93 miners arrested and more than 50 injured by police. The arrested pickets were charged with rioting but every single case before the courts collapsed by 1987. The police were accused of planting evidence and making false statements and generally using the incident as a means to publicly discredit the miners. Not a single police officer was ever disciplined or charged for their violent conduct.

Aftermath
Thatcher and the right-wing press (much of it now controlled by Rupert Murdoch) used the battle to attack the miners. Thatcher described the miners as “the enemy within”. By March 1985, the miners were defeated, and much of the coal industry was shutdown with “pit villages” (mining towns) suffering greatly with thousand thrown out of work, with thousands also “blacklisted” by employers. Britain’s labour movement has not yet recovered from this harrowing defeat.

To tell the story, Rankandfile.ca presents “The Battle for Orgreave”, an hour-long documentary produced in Britain by Yvette Vanson where participants tell their stories set the record straight.

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