The Battle for Orgreave

In the UK today there’s been the biggest strike in a generation. As many as two million public sector workers have come out in protest against pension cuts and the raising of the pension age. Private sector workers often criticise those who work in the public sector, particularly on those (now) rare occasions when the public sector go on strike, but let’s not forget that most public sector workers are not high-flying civil servants and are very badly paid and do the kind of jobs that many of us would not want to do.

‘The biggest strike in a generation’ of course refers back to the 1984 miner’s strike. The miner’s strike was one of the nastiest incidents in UK industrial relations. In one sense it was a grudge match between the ruling Conservative Party and the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers). The NUM had brought down a previous Conservative government by strike action ten years previously. The two leading players in the 1984 miner’s strike were the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill, president of the NUM. Things kicked off in March 1984 when Thatcher’s government announced, via the National Coal Board, that 20 coal mines would be closed, putting about 20,000 people out of work.

The resulting strike by the miners dragged on for the best part of a year. Many miners did not join the strike. Communities were torn apart by it. Brother against brother. At least ten people were killed during the strike. The miner’s strike did succeed in staving off immediate closure of many coal mines. However, over the following 15 years most of Britain’s coal industry was shut down. When the strike started in 1984 there were 174 coal mines in the UK. By 2009 there were only six left. The 1984 miner’s strike and its aftermath can be seen as being behind the benefit culture in Britain. Entire communities who relied on coal mining for a living were put out of work without a hope of any other kind of employment. Doctors, particularly in Wales, signed-off perfectly active working age men as being sick, so that they could get extra welfare benefits. There was no other form of income for these men. Even all these years later, in the Welsh valleys a large number of working age males are on sickness benefits.

Of all the stuff that went on during the 1984 miner’s strike, what became known as the ‘battle for Orgreave’ was one of the worst. I won’t prattle on about Orgreave, which is in south Yorkshire. Instead here’s a documentary about it, from the striking miners point of view. The documentary is in four parts because of YouTube restrictions on the length of video that can be posted.

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