March 12, 2014 is the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the National Miners Strike. Local strikes had began at several Yorkshire collieries over pit closures, when Arthur Scargill, the NUM Miners union leader formerly called a national strike, that was to last from March 12, 1984 to March 3, 1985.
Over the coming weeks the inter-web is going to be full of miners strike commentaries, obituaries and articles, so The VOAG thought it would get its post in early. By the time March 12 arrives we will all be sick of miners strike articles and reminiscences.
It seems superfluous to write anything about the miners strike. It is such a well known, momentous event in working class history, that even the generation which has grown up since the strike is well acquainted with it. However, the news of an upcoming Conference on the Miners Strike, “Still The Enemy Within”, to be held on March 8, has prompted The VOAG to mark the anniversary with a short post.The Tory government claimed its intention was to close 20 pits with the loss of 20,000 jobs. When the strike began, Scargill said that the government had a long-term strategy to destroy the industry by closing over 70 pits. Not only did the Government deny this but Ian McGregor, the head of the Coal Board which managed the industry, wrote to every member of the NUM claiming Scargill was deceiving them, and that there were no plans to close any more pits than had already been announced. Cabinet Papers released this year indicate that McGregor did indeed wish to close over 90 pits.Support for the miners brought together disparate radical groups across Britain, involving more people in a greater intensity of activity, over a lengthier period than any other campaign in the history of the labour movement. There were many violent incidents during the strike, the worst being clashes between striking miners and police at Orgreave. Police charged crowds on horseback with their batons and several people were seriously injured. Watch this documentary which tells some of the story of “The Battle Of Orgreave”
The miners and their families suffered great hardship during the strike, many relying on food parcels, soup kitchens and other donations. On 3 March 1985 NUM delegates voted to abandon the strike at a specially convened conference. Two days later the miners returned to work. After the strike the pit closure programme of the conservative Government continued rapidly. In 1984 there were 170 coal mines open in the UK, by 2004 only about 11 mines were still open. The strike was a terrible defeat for the miners and following the strike the coal industry and British trade union movement were never the same again.