The miners’ strike of 1984-85 was the longest and most bitter industrial dispute in the latter part of 20th century Britain . It had a huge impact on virtually every subsequent industrial and political development.The strike leaders – foremost of whom was Arthur Scargill – are still vilified, despite the fact that their claims have be proven correct. More than 27 million working days were lost in strike action in 1984 (mainly amongst miners). Over 11,300 miners & their supporters were arrested during the dispute. Over 5,600 stood trial, more than 100 jailed and 1,504 released without charge. Estimates place donations at over £60 million – warehouses were full of food and toys given to striking miners & their families. Sea-farers were sacked and rail workers victimised for taking solidarity action with the miners.
Over 700 miners were sacked and not reinstated. The Tories later admitted it cost nearly £6 billion to win the dispute, or £26,000 for every striking miner. From 1985-95 the Tories’ continued war against the miners cost over £26 billion in redundancy and benefit payments, keeping pits mothballed and lost revenue from coal. Thatcher and her cabinet were desperate for victory and prepared to go to great lengths to try and weaken or destroy the power of effective trade unionism, which they saw as an obstacle to their free-market policies. For the first time in a post- war national strike the police were openly used as a political weapon. Agents provocateurs and spies were deployed and the state benefits system used to try and starve the miners back. Former Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson admitted that Tory preparation for the strike was “just like rearming to face the threat of Hitler in the 1930s”. They prepared meticulously and ruthlessly – by stockpiling coal, beefing up the police’s powers and introducing anti-union laws – to defeat the miners in 1984 as a means to destroy the working class’s collective strength. Former political commentator Brian Walden described the miners’ strike as “a civil war without guns”; an all-out battle between workers and the ruling class.
Commenting on the confrontation at the Orgreave coking plant Margaret Thatcher described the coal miners picketing the plant as “the enemy within”. It was claimed the miners rioted on 18 June 1984 and that the police beating miners with truncheons and charging on horses were defending themselves. The same South Yorkshire force under the same chief constable, Peter Wright, was responsible for the policing of Orgreave and the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. Before the Orgreave confrontation, Wright planned to charge miners with riot, a charge which carried a potential life sentence. On 18 June 1984, around 8,000 miners assembled for a mass picket called by the NUM. South Yorkshire police now claim that 4,500 officers from different forces nationwide were there to police the coking plant. Miners were initially surprised that they were not turned away by police that day, as was common during the year-long strike, but allowed to assemble close to the plant, before being ushered into a large field, where police were massed at the bottom. A former W. Midlands officer said: “It would have been easy to turn people away, but the decision was taken to let them in. If you were to choose an area to defend, you would choose that site, and the police were decided: if there was to be a confrontation, we were not going to lose.”