Under British rules the Government has to release its cabinet papers after 30 years. This year is the 30th anniversary of the Great Miners Strike and the publication of the Cabinet papers have revealed the true role of the Thatcher-led Conservative government in crushing the miners and destroying their coal industry. This led to a debate in the UK parliament which demonstrates that the scars of the cataclysmic miners strike are very much alive today.
… Thanks very much to Mike Phipps from the Labour Representation Committee, the left-wing movement inside the Labour Party, for compiling the following extracts from the parliamentary debate which appear on their blog.
On Tuesday October 28, the House of Commons debated the plight of coalfield communities 1. There was little coverage in the media, so below are reproduced some extracts from the debate:
Labour MP Michael Dugher (Barnsley East) [moving the motion]:
?That this House acknowledges the economic legacy of the pit closure programme in coalfield communities across the United Kingdom; notes that the recent release of the relevant 1984 Cabinet papers showed that the Government at the time misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics; recognises the regeneration of former coalfield areas over the last fifteen years, the good work of organisations such as the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, and the largest industrial injury settlement in legal history secured by the previous Government for former miners suffering from bronchitis and emphysema; further recognises the ongoing problems highlighted recently by the report produced by Sheffield Hallam University on The State of the Coalfields, which revealed that there are still significant problems for the majority of Britain?s coalfield communities, such as fewer jobs, lower business formation rates, higher unemployment rates, more people with serious health issues, higher numbers in receipt of welfare benefits and a struggling voluntary and community sector; and therefore calls for the continued regeneration and much needed support for coalfield communities as part of a wider programme to boost growth in Britain?s regions.
… After 30 years under lock and key, the Cabinet papers and the Prime Minister?s private office correspondence, recently released under the 30-year rule, about the 1984 miners strike have exposed one of the darkest chapters in our history. Contrary to denial after denial from Conservative Ministers at the time and from the National Coal Board, the Cabinet papers show that the Government of the day did have a secret plan from as early as September 1983 to close 75 pits, run down capacity by 25 million tonnes and make 65,000 men redundant. Many people warned at the time that there was a secret plan, but it is no less shocking to see, in black and white, in official Cabinet papers, just how much the public were misled?
… One of the Cabinet documents was a record of a meeting the then Prime Minister held in Downing street on 15 September 1983. It states absolutely clearly that Mr MacGregor, the chairman of the NCB, ?had it in mind over the three years 1983-85 that a further 75 pits would be closed?.
The final paragraph of the document reads: ?It was agreed that no record of this meeting should be circulated.? What a surprise!
… We know that significant pressure was placed on the Home Secretary to step up police measures against striking miners to escalate the dispute, which again is something that is denied. Released documents from 14 March 1984 show that Ministers at the time pressured the Home Secretary to ensure that chief constables adopted ?a more vigorous interpretation of their duties.
… At the time, it was claimed that the police were acting entirely on their own constitutional independence?what a joke.
Earlier this year, the National Union of Mineworkers, led by the excellent General Secretary Chris Kitchen, produced an impressive report, drafted by Mr Nicky Stubbs, following months of forensic analysis of the recently released Cabinet papers. The report has brought even more disturbing details to light. It shows that Ministers were even prepared to override normal judicial processes, and ensure that local magistrate courts dealt with cases arising from the dispute in a much quicker fashion. It also outlines how Ministers conspired to cover up the extent of their plans for the mining industry?
… Fundamentally, the Cabinet papers also show the true scale of the dishonesty in maintaining that the strike was about an industrial dispute based on economics, and it puts paid to the nonsense assertion at the time that Ministers were somehow neutral bystanders. The fact is that the Government of the day saw the strike in political terms. Far from Ministers being non-interventionist, they were in fact the micro-managers of this dispute.
… One paper from a Downing street meeting shows that Mrs Thatcher told Ferdinand Mount, a senior policy adviser, that her Government should ?neglect no opportunity to erode trade union membership.??
The Cabinet papers show that the public were misled about the plans for pit closures, there should be a formal apology for the Government?s actions during the strike. As for the revelations in the Cabinet papers, which show that the Government did try to influence police tactics, all the details of the interactions and communications between the Government and the police at the time of the strike should now be published.
… Thirty years on, we still need a proper investigation into what happened at Orgreave. It was welcome that South Yorkshire police referred themselves to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but we are still no closer to an investigation. There are serious allegations that police officers assaulted miners at Orgreave, and then committed perjury and misconduct in public office and perverted the course of justice in the subsequent prosecution of 95 miners on riot charges, all of which collapsed in court. What happened at Orgreave was not just a black day for South Yorkshire, it was a black day for this country. It is indefensible and completely shameful that there is still no investigation and the whole truth has yet to come out.?
Labour MP David Anderson (Blaydon): ?My hon. Friend is right to mention Orgreave, but it was not the only place. In Mansfield, exactly the same thing happened when at the end of a peaceful demonstration police stormed into the crowds that were left, 45 people were locked up and were banned from picketing and that case fell apart. Up and down this country, the police rampaged through villages where people had a history of being peaceful, and men were locked up who should never have been locked up because they were deliberately attacked by police who were not even from that part of the world??
Labour MP Jim Hood (Lanark and Hamilton East): ?Margaret Thatcher commissioned Nicholas Ridley, her head guru, to devise a plan to run down the mining industry and destroy the National Union of Mineworkers. The 1979 Ridley plan was born. Its basis was to build massive coal stocks, double nuclear power stations, change trade union laws to weaken trade unions? right to strike and defend their members, and to use the powers of the state to attack working people?
… The Prime Minister had tried that in 1981 but had to back off when her coal stocks were too low. The hapless Energy Secretary, now Lord Howell, was the fall guy for her failure, and she later sacked him, but her 1981 unpreparedness was not to be repeated in 1984, when she decided she was better ready to crush the miners and their union?
… The miners had been on an overtime ban for six months to oppose the declared NCB pit closures. The NUM did not want to go on strike and would have continued with the overtime ban indefinitely?the overtime ban was running the coal stocks down by the hour. Mrs Thatcher was facing another 1981 defeat and decided to provoke the NUM into taking strike action. On 5 March, the Tory Government announced an accelerated closure of five pits: Cortonwood colliery in Yorkshire, Bullcliffe Wood colliery in Derby, Herrington colliery in Durham, Snowdown colliery in Kent, and Polmaise in Scotland. The NUM in those areas immediately went on strike, and Ollerton, where I was the lead official, was picketed by Yorkshire miners the very next day, fighting to defend their jobs.
For the next week, thousands of police were imported into Nottinghamshire to stop picketing. Hundreds of miners were arrested and imprisoned in Mansfield police station and other places before draconian bail conditions were imposed on picketing miners??
Labour MP Ian Lavery (Wansbeck): ?The Cabinet papers revealed something quite sinister?a Government controlling the police, insisting that the police move in against miners, insisting that the Army should be involved against miners, the likes of myself and other honourable colleagues here who worked in the coal industry. My father, my brothers, my friends, were all miners attacked by the police, yet the Government know that we were right. At the same time, Thatcher was prepared to bring the Army in against ordinary, hard-working people. What an absolute disgrace?
… We saw what happened in Orgreave, with the police deliberately attacking miners, but there were little Orgreaves all over the country. It was not happening only in South Yorkshire. We saw it in Ashington, where I lived; we saw it in Blythe; we saw it in Easington; we saw it all over the place where the police attacked ordinary hard-working people. Has anybody ever had someone spit in their face? I cannot say how bad it is. A policeman spat in my face, and I can tell you that I am never getting over that??
Labour MP Pat Glass (North West Durham): ?It is hard to fully measure the impact of Government actions on communities like mine in the 1980s and the years following. Those of us who lived through them were under no illusion at the time about the way in which the Government misled the public, vilified our people and attempted to politicise the police. It is good that a light is now being shone on this?
… My mother ran a miners support group in 1984. It was the forerunner of today?s Tory food banks. We supported 24 families throughout the strike. The miners we supported were good, honest, decent people who did not deserve what happened to them and their communities. They certainly did not deserve to be labelled the ?enemy within? by the Prime Minister and other Ministers of the day. They were standing up for their communities, for their industry and for the dignity of the work that the Tory Government were taking away from them?
… We need to know exactly what went on between the Prime Minister?s office, MacGregor and the police in relation not only to Orgreave but to the hundreds of other state-sponsored illegal actions by the Government. I remember when my parents and my aunt and uncle set off from the north-east to travel to a brother?s funeral in Scunthorpe. They were turned back on the A1 by the police for no reason other than that my father was a trade unionist. They were dressed for a funeral, not for the picket line. As far as I am aware, my parents have never committed a crime. They have never been arrested and they do not have a criminal record, yet their movements were restricted because my father was a trade unionist. He was not even in the NUM??
Labour MP Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): ?Let us remember that it was a very honourable dispute; it was not about money, mammon and greed? Men at 60 were prepared to sacrifice the roof over their own head for a 16-year-old lad in a coalfield they did not even know existed. That was honour, and I am proud to have fought every single day. I would love to do it again??
Labour MP Wayne David (Caerphilly): ?I remember the strike, when I was a young man?a very young man?because I was involved in my local miners support group. We met in the local Conservative club, which nobody thought was strange because the whole community supported the miners in my village. We were absolutely clear that the fight was about defending jobs and communities. We were under no misapprehension at that time?it has been proven since: as far as the Conservative Government of the day were concerned, it was a political strike. They were out to break the trade union movement, and the vanguard of the movement was the National Union of Mineworkers??
Labour MP David Hamilton (Midlothian): ?There were sacrifices in my area of the Lothians: 46 men from one pit ended that strike sacked, 36 men were sacked from the pit up the road, and five were sacked from another. Let me tell you about victimisation: of the four branch officials at Monktonhall, three were sacked, and of the 12 committee members, eight were sacked, to make sure that when we went back to work we would toe the line?
… I worked in a colliery for 20 years and was there during the miners? strike. Although this is my story, it reflects what happened right through the coalfield. I spent from October to December 1984 in Saughton prison. I was accused of assaulting a man who had been my friend for many, many years. I had a two-day trial by jury in Scotland, after which the jury took 20 minutes to decide that it was a stitch-up. It took them 10 minutes to elect the chairman of the jury, so it only took them 10 minutes to determine that it was a stitch-up. That is what was happening the length and breadth of the country. I only say that because many, many miners went to jail and were found innocent, but they never got to go back to work??
Labour MP Jon Trickett (Hemsworth): ?I was a plumber at the time of the strike. I was elected to the council in the middle of the strike in September 1984. I spent part of my time going round pro bono fixing the heating and plumbing systems of striking miners. I was repeatedly stopped by the police, both in the process of my election and going about my lawful business. That exemplifies the experience of many tens of thousands of people in the mining communities during that time?
… The Government launched a full-scale assault on the mining communities and, in doing so, destroyed the independence of the police force. There were trumped-up charges all over the coalfield communities. Criminal justice was reduced to a political instrument. There is even evidence that members of the armed forces were dressed in police uniforms by the then Government, all this to achieve Tory party political objectives.
… But we are not simply speaking today about history. The Tory attitude to the miners and the former mining communities is symbolic of a wider view that they have of working people as a whole. We need only look at the explosion in the use of zero-hours contracts, temporary work and false self-employment to see that the Conservatives have not changed. They are still the same old nasty party…?
The above is reproduced from ?The miners? strike 30 years on? by Mike Phipps, 30th October 2014, published on the Labour Representation Committee?s blog: http://l-r-c.org.uk/blog/post/the-miners-strike-30-years-on/