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Volume 54 Number 5, March 3, 2024 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Movement

Rally Marks the 40th Anniversary of the 1984/1985 Strike and the Miners' Fighting Spirit

The miners' strike of 1984/1985 was a heroic struggle of this important contingent of the working class, as the ruling elite stepped up the neo-liberal anti-social, anti-worker offensive, and prepared to smash the movement of the working class and people not just in defence of their jobs, wages and working conditions but in its aspirations to determine the future of society and defend the rights of all. The strike represented the determination of the miners, as part and parcel of the fight of the whole working class movement, that there has to be an alternative to the world as it exists, dominated by those that have no concern for the welfare of working people.

According to reports, hundreds joined the march on March 2 through the streets of Dodworth near Barnsley in South Yorkshire to a rally at Dodworth Miners' Welfare, marking the 40th anniversary of the outbreak of the strike, after 19 weeks of an ongoing overtime ban.

Guest of honour was Arthur Scargill, the former leader of the miners who stepped down as president of the National Union of Mineworkers in 2002.

Eric Richardson, event organiser said prior to the rally: "You'll never understand the camaraderie in a coal mine, and that bond will remain with us for the rest of our lives. And this is the result of it. We shall walk up the high street today with real pride."

Speaking outside the rally, Arthur Scargill said: "It's important to come today to pay tribute to the miners, their families and the women against pit closures who fought so hard during 1984 and 1985. The important thing is, people stood together - all over Britain and all over the world we became known for sticking to principles. It was an important part of history. People took part in an historic dispute - they marched into the pantheon of the trade union movement."

Earlier in the day, hundreds of people had gathered by Dodworth mining memorial to reflect on the strike and all those who had lost their lives in the coal-mining industry.

Arthur Scargill (front left) at the 40th anniversary of the 1984/1985 strike

Prefacing the text of his speech made at Dodworth Miners' Welfare, Arthur Scargill issued a statement condemning Israel for the slaughter of 30,000 innocent people including children and the unborn in Gaza as nothing less than genocide. The perpetrators should be arrested and jailed for life, his statement said.

In his speech, Arthur Scargill said: "Today, I'm here to honour miners and their families who in 1984/5 fought the greatest worker' fight since the days of the Chartists and the Tolpuddle Martyrs: to save pits, jobs and our communities. That includes our young miners who were in every sense fighting for the future - and the magnificent Women Against Pit Closures who were at the forefront of our struggle."

In outlining the history of the strike, he said: "Forty years ago, the Tory Government led by Margaret Thatcher declared war on the National Union of Mineworkers.

"The Tories had been preparing for a showdown with the NUM since before the 1979 General Election. They could not forget the victorious miners' strikes of 1969, 1972 and 1974.

"In the Spring of 1982, I was handed a copy of a secret Government plan prepared by NCB chiefs earmarking 95 pits for closure, with the loss of 100,000 miners' jobs.

"It became clear in the following period that the Union would have to take action that would win maximum support and have a unifying effect.

Barnsley miners wives banner at the 40th anniversary of the 1984/1985 Strike - Photo: Tom Ingall, BBC.

"A special conference was held on 21 October, 1983, and delegates from all NUM Areas were given a detailed report so that they could vote on what action - if any - should be taken.

"Conference voted unanimously for a national full overtime ban which, over the next four months, had an extraordinary impact. Government statistics confirm that it succeeded in reducing coal output by 30 percent, or 12 million tonnes.

"It cut national coal stocks to about the same level as they had been during the miners' unofficial strike in 1981.

"On 1 March, 1984, NCB Directors in four Areas announced the immediate closure of five pits: Cortonwood and Bullcliffe Wood in Yorkshire, Herrington in Durham, Snowdown in Kent and Polmaise in Scotland.

"On Tuesday, 6 March, Coal Board Chairman Ian MacGregor announced that a further 20 would be closed during the coming year, with the loss of over 20,000 jobs.

Arthur Scargill resisting arrest at Orgreave 1984

"At a National Executive Committee meeting on 8 March, two days later, Scotland and Yorkshire sought endorsement from the NEC for strike action in their Areas. They were given authorization in accordance with National Rule 41, and the NEC confirmed that any Area could if they wished adopt the same policy."

Arthur Scargill continued: "On 12 March 1984, Area strikes began.

"At a Special National Delegate Conference on 19 April, 1984, delegates rejected a call for a national strike ballot and voted to support and strengthen the 180,000, or 80% of Britain's miners who were already on strike on an Area basis in accordance with National Rule 41."

On the battle of Orgreave, he said: "Orgreave Coking Plant in South Yorkshire was a crucial target for mass picketing. Its coke supplies could be cut off as had been the case in shutting the Saltley coke depot in Birmingham during the 1972 miners' strike.

"Picketing started on 26 May 1984, and by 30 May police tactics had turned vicious with substantial attacks and arrests of pickets (including me). It was a signal that the Union's members and the trade union movement had to meet this illegal State force with mass picketing, as they had in Birmingham at Saltley in February 1972 and in London at the mass picket in July 1972 which freed the Pentonville Five.

"On 18 June 10,000 pickets faced 8,500 riot police in a scene reminiscent of a battle in England's 17th Century Civil War. That day, over a hundred were arrested and beaten, 95 of whom were charged with riot, unlawful assembly and violent disorder, and dozens were hospitalized (including me).

"Police brutality, deliberate provocation and lies were later exposed in Sheffield Crown Court, and the charges were dismissed, with some compensation eventually paid to the victims."

Arthur Scargill concluded: "The Miners' Strike of 1984/85 remains not only an inspiration for workers but a reminder to today's trade union leaders of their responsibility to their members, and the need to come together in direct action to challenge Government and employers against all forms of injustice, inequality and exploitation.

"It is a privilege to be here today with all of you who took strike action in 1984 and you who supported our strike:

"You marched into history, and entered the pantheon of working class heroes and heroines."

For the full text of Arthur Scargill's speech, see:

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