Calls for inquiry on miners' strike

The Oxford Times: A mass rally of striking miners in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in May 1984 A mass rally of striking miners in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in May 1984

Calls for a public inquiry into the year-long miners' strike are being stepped up as communities across the country gear up to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the start of the most bitter industrial conflict in living memory.

A series of events will be held by miners, their families, supporters and union activists in the coming weeks, while the anger and bitterness which characterised the dispute will be re-kindled.

The recent revelation in government papers released by the National Archives that Margaret Thatcher secretly considered calling out the troops at the height of the strike has heightened the belief that a full-blown inquiry should be held.

Labour MP Ian Lavery, a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), has tabled an early day motion in Parliament, which " regrets that nearly 30 years after the strike ended, there are still men who were wrongly arrested or convicted during the dispute, who have never received justice". More than 60 MPs are supporting the motion.

Mr Lavery said he would continue pressing for an inquiry into the events of 30 years ago.

He told the Press Association: "People who live in great mining communities across the UK have not forgotten the strike and they will never forget.

"Passions have not waned. In 100 years time I am confident that people will say that their great grandfather was a miner and was proud to have taken part in the strike. That is how deep this thing runs."

Mr Lavery said the archive papers revealing that ministers considered declaring a state of emergency, amid fears that union action could destroy the government, backed up his belief that MPs and the public were misled.

"The Prime Minister deliberately misled Parliament and the public by saying the NUM was scaremongering about pit closures.

"They played down the impact of the strike, but it is now clear they were considering bringing in the troops."

The strike started in early March 1984 over pit closures planned by the state-owned National Coal Board and pitted Mrs Thatcher's government against the NUM and its fiery president Arthur Scargill.

Mr Scargill always maintained that the government planned mass pit closures as well as attacking the union, a sentiment which was backed up by a now-released note from an official at 10 Downing Street that said the strike was a "unique opportunity to break the power of the militants in the NUM".

Mr Lavery said the NUM also had a social structure in communities, with officials helping to deal with any problems, and that had been "totally destroyed."

"Many coal communities are still suffering from the closure of pits because nothing has replaced coal, but it is also devastating to see the impact of the demise of the NUM in these areas too," he said.

The strike started in Yorkshire but rapidly escalated, with thousands of police officers drafted into Nottinghamshire, the county which became a battleground as some miners continued to work.

Toni Bennett helped set up a women's group in Bolsover, which distributed food and other supplies to picket lines across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

"Nottinghamshire miners had a hard time because the area became known for the scabs. My husband went on strike, and I still feel very bitter towards the scabs," she told the Press Association.

"There are still families today who don't talk to each other as a result of the strike. I moved here from London 40 years ago and was struck by the community spirit, with people looking out for each other. That has gone. Young people can't get any work."

Pressure is also mounting for a full public inquiry into one of the most violent days of the miners strike when 96 people were arrested and 51 injured during clashes between pickets and police.

The day started peacefully on June 18 in 1984, when pickets started arriving at the Orgreave coking plant in Yorkshire but within hours there were pitched battles between miners and police, many on horseback.

The police maintain they were subjected to a hail of missiles from among the thousands of pickets who had gathered outside the plant to try to prevent lorries leaving, but the pickets say the police over-reacted.

Joe Rollin, chairman of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, said he believed the police were sending out a political message to miners that they would not tolerate mass picketing.

"We think that was a political decision made by Mrs Thatcher. The ramifications are still being felt today, with lasting damage to coalfield communities which suffer high levels of unemployment and drug and alcohol-related problems," he told the Press Association.

Campaigners have urged the Independent Police Complaints Commission to launch an investigation and expect a decision in the summer.

Academics from Sheffield University are among those who have been giving lectures in recent weeks in the run up to the anniversary.

Michael Jefferson, who comes from a coalfield area near Barnsley and whose father was a miner, said he had witnessed the decline of areas after pits closed, with jobs not replaced and drug-related problems increasing.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union leader Bob Crow said: "RMT fully supports the efforts by Ian Lavery to open the files and drag out the truth of the state campaign to criminalise the mineworkers, their supporters and their communities.

"Many of our activists were victimised, hounded and sacked for acting in solidarity with the miners and RMT will be supporting events the length and breadth of the country this year to mark the struggle of 1984/85 and to demand justice for communities that were wrecked and individuals who were framed during the state operation against the unions. The fight goes on."

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