The Battle of Orgreave

The national miners strike had been in full flow for over three months, but events outside a coking plant near Sheffield would change how so many viewed the government and police force forever. On 18 June 1984, striking coal miners picketed the plant, where coal was transported to produce steel. It was regarded as vital for Arthur Scargill, the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers during the strike, the severely disrupt the transportation of coal to the plant.

Around 8,000 miners were at Orgreave throughout the day. The success of mass picketing had been shown in strikes during the previous decade; with Scargill leading 30,000 picketers to force the closure of Saltley Gate coking plant near Birmingham during the 1972 miners strike. however, at Orgreave, a change to how picketing of this size would be policed gave the miners a slimmer chance of victory.

Police officers from all over the country could be drafted in to a ‘tension area’ and could pass the boundaries of a local police force without needing to inform. It meant that 6,000 police officers lined up at the plant, as opposed to the 800 which were overwhelmed at Saltley Gate in 1972.

The clashes between the striking miners and the police on that day were some of the worst ever seen during an industrial trade dispute. The police charged at miners on horseback and beat the strikers with batons, yet no police officers were charged for the aggressive tactics used. However, 55 miners were prosecuted.

Those who were on the picket at Orgreave talk to the attitude of the police, how officers heckled the miners and thanked them for all the extra overtime the strike was providing. Others have pointed out that officers removed or covered their numbers, to prevent identification.

There has also been criticism of how the British press covered the events at Orgreave. The Sun labelled Scargill as a dictator as he led from the front on the picket line. Others have criticised news footage of the clashes, claiming that it was altered to show the miners attacking the police and not the other way around.

Other examples of this is the war metaphor, which was overplayed throughout the duration of the strike, and Orgreave was no exception. Margaret Thatcher described the miners as the enemy within, and from then on certain publications leapt on the opportunity to expand on this. portraying the miners as an enemy force which must be defeated to undermine the trade unions was splashed across the front pages of many a paper during the strike.

Outside of the union and those supporting the miners, the NUM were given little to no support by the British media. This left them with the almost impossible task of facing up to a government hell bent on crushing them and making the NUM an example to other trade unions.

Orgreave was the most divisive point in the year long strike. It showed exactly what the government and state thought of the striking miners and exemplified how they would be treated. From here on in, the support and opposition of the NUM strike would be made clearer.

The accounts from those miners caught up in the aggression from South Yorkshire Police that day would have earned the miners support in their cause, but ultimately their fate was sealed. The ending of the strike in March 1985 was effectively the final nail in the coffin for the UK coal industry, and for hundreds of communities which had relied on their local coalmine for generations.

There has been a campaign to start an inquiry into the actions of the police at Orgreave, much like the one into the same police force and their role at the Hillsborough disaster five years later. It will be worth the wait for those who were involved at Orgreave, but the fact that it has taken 36 years and counting to open up to what happened outside the coking plant is a scandal in itself.