Article By John Dunn (Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign)
Heard the one about the miners being defeated?
35 years ago the National Union of Mineworkers were fighting, as was later proven, a titanic fight for survival, not only for the union, but for the mining industry, their communities and ultimately for future generations.
Now there is not a single pit left in Britain. Formerly thriving mining communities are but a shell of what they once were, with empty shops and dereliction being the norm. All traces of the mines are gone; badly landscaped “country parks” have replaced them. We have been airbrushed out of history. Our union, the NUM, has now just a handful of members; my own area, the Derbyshire NUM, has actually ceased to exist.
It could, however, have been so very different. The Great Strike was a landmark event in our movement’s history. Had the TUC and the Labour Party leader, the now Noble Lord Neil Kinnock, stood alongside us and given the support required, the strike would have been won. And possibly Britain would now be a far different place: no zero hours contracts, no widespread low pay and poverty, full trade union rights, etc.
However, the Great Strike might not have ended in victory, but the miners themselves have fought on. The history and the fighting traditions of the NUM are now being kept alive by a single campaign, the Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign (OTJC).
A blazing hot day, June 18th 1984 was the scene of the most brutal police attack upon miners’ pickets ever seen. 6,000 police, armed with long batons and long shields only previously seen in Northern Ireland during “the troubles”, and backed up by mounted horse and dog units, attacked unarmed pickets clad in shorts and tee shirts, at the Orgreave coking plant, handing out indiscriminate beatings in an orchestrated attack. Only by sheer luck was no picket killed. Many still suffer the trauma of those beatings today.
Severely injured, they were thrown into pens and left for hours with no medical attention. Fellow pickets ripped off their shirts to use as bandages on their injured comrades.
Subsequently 95 pickets faced charges of riot. If found guilty, they faced life sentences. They had to wait for 15 months before trial – a terrifying psychological ordeal.
Several weeks into the trial, the sham prosecution collapsed. Defence solicitors had discovered that police officers’ arrest statements all bore similar wording, showing obvious collusion between officers. Recently some officers have admitted that their arrest statements were dictated to them by an unknown person in plain clothes.
In the few years since its inception, OTJC has gone from strength to strength, gaining mass support throughout the movement. Our campaigners address rallies, conferences, Labour Party and trade union meetings, and are present at almost every Labour Movement event.
In 2015 the “Independent” Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found “support for the allegation” that three senior police officers in command at Orgreave had “made up an untrue account exaggerating the degree of violence (in particular missile throwing)” from pickets to justify their violence and charges of riot. It also said that one of these senior officers had his statement typed and witnessed by a second officer, who led a team of detectives which dictated those identical opening paragraphs of the supposed arresting officers’ statements.
Despite taking almost three years to read the available paperwork, the IPCC never found any documents relating to the detailed planning of the operation, with, incredibly, the South Yorkshire police, in total charge of the whole operation, claiming they could not find them!
To this day, those operational orders remain “missing”.
Despite concluding that officers had colluded and committed perjury, the IPCC decided that, due to the passage of time and insufficient funds, they would not mount a public enquiry!
Far from deflating us, this verdict provided a boost to the campaign. For the first time ever, proof of a police conspiracy had surfaced.
Since then, three home secretaries – Teresa May, Amber Rudd and Sajid Javid – have come and gone, but not before May and Rudd first led us up the garden path. They have flatly refused any public scrutiny into those events.
Rudd herself, addressing parliament on Halloween, 31st October 2016, refused an enquiry on the grounds that “nobody died, it was a long time ago and the police have learned lessons”. It’s hardly surprising that Tory ministers would not want to expose a massive state conspiracy orchestrated by a Tory prime minister, Thatcher, against a single trade union, the NUM.
Again, this did not deflate us. Instead we reached out to the whole movement, addressing trade union meetings and conferences, Labour Party meetings, demonstrations, etc.
The response was phenomenal. As a direct result, a commitment to a full public enquiry is now official Labour policy and formed part of its last manifesto.
This year our annual Orgreave anniversary march on 15th June was the largest ever, supported by trade unionists from the length and breadth of the country. Speakers included Lee Fowler from the blacklist campaign, Steve Hedley of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union and Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union, together with hundreds of former striking NUM members. It will soon rank as a “must go to” alongside the Durham Miners’ Gala.
On the actual 35th anniversary of the Orgreave police attack (18th June 2019) a reading was performed before a sell-out audience of a long-lost play by Yorkshire writer Barry Hines (author of Kes, Threads, and The Price of Coal) called After the Strike. It had been discovered in the archives of Sheffield University. The play was written as a TV production, but, because of its stark depiction of police brutality and the despairing and devastating aftermath of the strike, it was never commissioned by the “impartial” BBC, who, we must never forget, had infamously reversed the footage of the Orgreave police riot on the TV news to give the appearance that the violence was started by pickets.
We must never forget that the Orgreave police riot was only the very visible tip of a giant conspiracy against we miners and our communities. Daily, throughout the strike, in isolated pit villages, similar police rampages took place, hidden away from cameras and public scrutiny. Whilst much has been revealed of Thatcher’s direct management of the attacks upon the NUM 35 years ago, the state conspiracy against us still goes on. Many of the crucial cabinet papers are locked away until 2066 at the earliest. It is unlikely that any of us will be alive to read them!
We face an uphill struggle, but we take heart that a tiny handful of volunteers can achieve so much in so short a time. Our thanks go out to all who supported us, 35 years ago, and up to the present day.
NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET.