UK miners' strike (1984–85)

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The UK miners' strike of 1984-85 was a major industrial action affecting the UK coal industry. The strike by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was led by Arthur Scargill, although some NUM members considered it to be unconstitutional and did not observe it. The BBC has referred to the strike as "the most bitter industrial dispute in British history."[1] At its height, the strike involved 142,000 mineworkers, making it the biggest since the 1926 General Strike.[2]

The coal industry in the UK, nationalised by Clement Attlee's Labour government in 1947, was encouraged to gear itself toward reduced subsidies in the 1980s under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.[3] After a narrowly averted strike in February 1981, a series of pit closures and pay restraint led to a series of strike ballots and unofficial strikes. The 1984–85 strike is usually dated as beginning on 6 March 1984 with a walkout at Cortonwood Colliery in Brampton Bierlow, South Yorkshire, which led the Yorkshire Area of the NUM to call an official strike. The Polmaise colliery in Scotland was the first pit to be on full strike, having come out in January 1984 in protest at the decision to close both Polmaise and Bogside, but this was initially not supported by the Scottish NUM.[4]

The strike ended on 3 March 1985 following an NUM vote to return to work. It was a defining moment in British industrial relations, and the union's defeat significantly weakened the British trade union movement. It was a major political victory for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party. The strike became a symbolic struggle, as the NUM, one of the strongest unions in the country, was viewed by many, including the Conservatives in power, as having brought down the Heath government in the union's 1974 strike. Unlike the 1970s strikes, it ended with defeat for the miners and the Thatcher government was able to consolidate its economically liberal programme. The political power of the NUM and most British trade unions were severely reduced. Three deaths resulted from events around the strike: two pickets and a taxi driver taking a non-striking miner to work.

After the strike the much reduced coal industry was privatised in December 1994, ultimately becoming UK Coal. While in 1983 Britain had 174 working mines, by 2009, the number had decreased to six. Poverty increased in former coal mining areas, and an EU study on deprivation in 1994 found that Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire was the poorest settlement in the country.[5] In 2013, the UK consumed 60 million tons of coal, of which 50 million tons were imported.[6]



Coal mining in the UK

While there had been more than 1,000 coal mines in the UK during the first half of the 20th century, by 1984 there were only 173 still operating.[7] Coal mining had been nationalised by Clement Attlee's Labour government in 1947 and was in 1984 managed by the National Coal Board (NCB) under Ian MacGregor. As in most of Europe, the industry was heavily state subsidised- for instance, in 1982/3 the stated operating loss per tonne in the mining areas was £3.05, and international market prices for coal were about 25% cheaper than that charged by the NCB.[8] The calculation of these operating losses was disputed.[9] By the 1980s, the government insisted that to return to profitability, the mines required investment in mechanisation and subsequent job cuts.[citation needed]

A previous strike in 1974 by coal workers had played a major role in bringing down the Conservative government of Prime Minister Edward Heath. In response Conservative MP Nicholas Ridley drafted an internal report on the nationalised industries known as the "Ridley Plan", which was later leaked to The Economist magazine and appeared in its 27 May 1978 issue.[10] In particular, this report proposed how a future Conservative government could resist, and defeat, a major strike in a nationalised industry. In the opinion of Ridley, in common with other Conservatives, trade union power in the UK was interfering with market forces, causing inflation, and had undue political power, and therefore had to be checked to restore the UK's economy.

The National Union of Mineworkers

The mining industry was effectively a closed shop. Although this was not official policy, any employment of non-unionised labour would have led to a mass walkout of mineworkers.[11]:267

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was established in 1888 —initially as the Miners' Federation of Great Britain—and affiliated to the Labour Party in 1909. It became the NUM in 1945. In 1947, most of the collieries in Britain were nationalised (958 nationalised, 400 private).[12] There was excess demand for coal in the years following the Second World War, and a number of Polish refugees were drafted to work in the pits to meet the demand for coal.[11]:8 Over time, coal's share in the energy market declined relative to oil and nuclear.[13] There were large-scale closures of collieries in the 1960s, which led to significant migration of miners from the run-down coalfields (Scotland, Wales, Lancashire, the north-east of England) to the richer coalfields (Yorkshire and the Midlands).[14] Miners became known as "industrial gypsies" for their migration across the country.[11]:15 From 1969 onwards anger grew within the NUM due to pay cuts and job security, which led to the national strike of 1972 and overtime ban, and the subsequent national strike of 1974 (which led to a Three Day Week in Britain).[15] The success of the NUM in bringing down the Heath government demonstrated its power, but it also caused resentment (including amongst workers in other industries) at the demand to be treated as a special case in wage negotiations.[11]:11 The threshold for an endorsement of strike action in a national ballot had been reduced from two-thirds in favour to 55% in favour, following an unofficial strike in 1969 that saw around 40% of pits walk out over the pay of surface workers.[16]

The NUM had a decentralised regional structure, and certain regions were seen as more militant than others. Scotland, South Wales and Kent were militant and had some Communist officials, whereas the Midlands were much less militant.[11]:12 The only nationally co-ordinated actions in the 1984-5 strike were the mass pickets at Orgreave.[17]

In the more militant mining areas, strikebreakers were reviled and often never forgiven for what was interpreted as a betrayal of the community. At the time of the 1984-5 strike, there were still some elderly ex-miners who were ostracised in their communities for having broken the eight-month national strike in 1926.[18]

In 1984, some pit villages had no other serious industries.[11]:10 In South Wales, the miners showed a high degree of solidarity. They lived in isolated villages where the miners comprised the great majority of workers. There was a high degree of equality in life style, an evangelical religious style based on Methodism that led to an ideology of egalitarianism.[19] The dominance of mining in these local economies led the Oxford professor Andrew Glyn to conclude that no pit closure could be beneficial for government revenue.[20]

By 1983 the NUM was led by Arthur Scargill, a Yorkshire miner, militant trades unionist, and socialist, with strong leanings towards communism.[21][22][23] Scargill was a very vocal attacker of Margaret Thatcher's government. Prior to the strike, in March 1983, he had stated "The policies of this government are clear – to destroy the coal industry and the NUM".[24]

The National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers (NACODS)

Also working in deep coal mines were overmen and deputy overmen, who supervised the miners and ensured their safety, and shotfirers, who assembled and detonated explosions to dislodge rocks and demolish structures. No mining could legally be done without being overseen by an overman or deputy overman.[25] They were in a separate union: the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers. This union was much smaller (numbering 17,000 in 1984) and usually less willing to take industrial action.[25] During the 1972 strike, there had been some violent confrontations between striking NUM members and non-striking NACODS members, which led to an agreement that NACODS members could stay off work without any loss of pay if they would be faced with aggressive picketing at the workplace.[25] The NACODS constitution required a two-third majority for a national strike.[26]

Government economic policy

Margaret Thatcher in 1983

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, and the taming of inflation displaced high employment as the primary policy objective.[27] Interest rates increased to slow the growth of the money supply and thus lower inflation, along with increases to indirect taxes such as VAT.[28] The fiscal and monetary squeeze, combined with the North Sea oil effect, appreciated the real exchange rate.[29] These moves hit businesses—especially the manufacturing sector—and unemployment quickly passed two million, doubling the one million unemployed under the previous Labour government. The government reiterated that it would stand by these policies in October 1980,[30] and 1981 saw taxes increased in the middle of a recession and rioting in London and in inner city areas of several other British cities.

Two million manufacturing jobs were lost during the 1979–1981 recession,[29] Economically, this labour-shedding helped firms deal with long-standing X-inefficiency from over-staffing,[29] enabled the British economy to catch up to the productivity levels of other advanced capitalist countries,[29] and brought inflation from an earlier high of 18% down to 8.6%.[29] Socially, however, unemployment continued to rise, reaching an official figure of 3.6 million—although the criteria for defining who was unemployed were amended allowing some to estimate that unemployment in fact hit 5 million. In 1983, discussing the reduced UK industrial base, Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson told the House of Lords Select Committee on Overseas Trade: "There is no adamantine law that says we have to produce as much in the way of manufactures as we consume. If it does turn out that we are relatively more efficient in world terms at providing services than at producing goods, then our national interest lies in a surplus on services and a deficit on goods."[31]

Sequence of major events

Calls for national strikes

A strike nearly occurred in February 1981, when the government had a similar plan to close 23 pits, but the threat of a strike was then enough to force the government to back down.[32] Unofficial strikes were already underway in Kent and South Wales at the time of the back-down.[33] It was widely believed that a confrontation had been averted only for the short term. In fact, the principal reason for the government's decision to avert a strike at that time was because coal stocks were low, and a strike would have had a serious effect very quickly (see below). In 1982, the members accepted a government offer of a 9.3% raise, rejecting their leaders' call for a strike authorisation.[34] This was based partly on increased productivity, which enabled coal to be stockpiled so that when the expected strike came about, the effect would not be felt for a long time.

In June 1982, the South Wales NUM staged a strike in solidarity with striking NHS workers, but the other areas of the NUM did not partake.[35] This action cost the coal industry £750,000 in lost revenue.[35]

Most of the pits that were proposed for closure in 1981 were subsequently closed on a case-by-case basis by the colliery review procedure, and the National Coal Board cut employment by 41,000 between March 1981 and March 1984.[36] The effect of these closures was lessened by the availability of transfers to other pits, including the new Selby Coalfield where working conditions and wages were relatively favourable,[37] but there were some localised strikes in cases such as Kinneil Colliery in Scotland and Lewis Merthyr Colliery in Wales.[36] The industry's Select Committee heard that 36,040 of the 39,685 redundancies between 1973 and 1982 were of men aged 55 and over, and redundancy pay had increased substantially in 1981 and again in 1983.[37]

The NUM balloted members for a national strike in January 1982, October 1982 and March 1983 on the issues of both pit closures and restrained wages. In all three cases, a majority voted against a national strike.[36]

Appointment of Ian MacGregor to National Coal Board

In 1983, the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher appointed Ian MacGregor[38] as head of the National Coal Board (the UK statutory corporation that controlled coal mining). He had previously been head of the British Steel Corporation which, according to one of Thatcher's biographers, he had turned from one of the least efficient steel-makers in Europe to one of the most efficient, bringing the company into a near profit.[39] However, this was achieved at the expense of a halving of the workforce in only two years, and he had overseen a 14-week national strike in 1980, which at the time was the longest strike since the Second World War.[40][41] This reputation raised the expectation that jobs would be cut on a similar scale in mining, and confrontations between MacGregor and the leader of the miners, Arthur Scargill, seemed inevitable. Both MacGregor and Scargill believed that the British media were biased against them.[11]:241

On a visit to Ellington Colliery in Northumberland in February 1984, MacGregor's car was scratched and his tyres let down by miners angry at the decision to close Ellington and Bates collieries.[42]

Overtime ban

In protest at a pay offer of only a 5.2% increase, the NUM instituted an overtime ban in November 1983, which was still in place at the onset of the strike.[43]

Pit closures announced

A badge produced by Kent NUM in support of the 1984 UK miners' strike.

On 6 March 1984, the National Coal Board announced that the agreement reached after the 1974 strike had become obsolete, and that to reduce government subsidies to the mines they intended to close 20 coal mines, with a loss of 20,000 jobs, and many communities in the North of England as well as Scotland and Wales would lose their primary source of employment.[44]

At the time, Scargill said that the government had a long-term strategy to close over 70 pits. Not only did the Government deny this but MacGregor went on to write to every member of the NUM claiming Scargill was deceiving them by making this allegation and that there were no plans to close any more pits than had already been announced. Cabinet Papers released in 2014 indicate that MacGregor did indeed wish to close 75 pits over a three-year period.[45]

It was not widely known to the general public at the time, but the Thatcher government had prepared against a repeat of the effective 1974 industrial action by stockpiling coal, converting some power stations to burn heavy fuel oil, and recruiting fleets of road hauliers to transport coal in case sympathetic railwaymen went on strike to support the miners.[46]

Action begins

Sensitive to the impact of the proposed closures in their own areas, miners in various coal fields began strike action. In the Yorkshire coal field, miners at the Manvers,[11]:86 Cadeby,[47] Silverwood,[47] Kiverton Park[47] and Yorkshire Main[11]:218 collieries were already on unofficial strike on separate issues before the area NUM called for official action. Over six thousand miners were already on strike when a local ballot led to strike action from 5 March at the Yorkshire pits of Cortonwood Colliery at Brampton Bierlow, and at Bullcliffe Wood colliery, near Wakefield.[48] Neither pit was yet exhausted.[48] Bullcliffe Wood had been under threat for some time,[48] but Cortonwood had previously been considered a safe pit.[48] Action was prompted on 5 March by the further announcement by the Coal Board that five pits were to be subject to "accelerated closure" within just five weeks; the other three were at Herrington in County Durham, Snowdown in Kent and Polmaise in Scotland. The next day, pickets from the Yorkshire area appeared at pits in the Nottinghamshire coal field, (one of those least threatened by pit closures). On 12 March 1984, Arthur Scargill, president of the NUM, declared that the strikes in the various coal fields were to be a national strike and called for strike action from NUM members in all coal fields.

Some have claimed that the strike began spontaneously from action at a local level and that Scargill was taken by surprise by the pace of events.[49] However, Jimmy Cowan, director of the Scottish NCB, claimed that Mick McGahey's suggestion that he retire early in December 1983 demonstrated that the strike had been planned in advance.[49] In addition, the 1989 court case led by Gavin Lightman QC heard that a meeting was held on 7th March 1984, in advance of the declaration of an official strike by the Yorkshire Area's NUM, at which the [national] NUM discussed how to transfer finances to offshore accounts where they would be beyond the reach of domestic courts, which suggests that preparations were underway for the strike.[49]


Miners' strike rally in London, 1984

At its beginning, the strike was almost universally observed in the coalfields of Yorkshire, Scotland, the North-East and Kent. There was less support for joining the strike across the Midlands and in North Wales. The large coalfield of Nottinghamshire became a particular target for aggressive and sometimes violent picketing.[11]:264 Lancashire miners were reluctant to strike, but the majority refused to cross the picket lines that formed from the North Yorkshire NUM.[50] The picketing of Lancashire was much less aggressive than that of Nottinghamshire and was credited with a more sympathetic response from the local miners.[50]

A widely reported clash, known as the 'Battle of Orgreave', took place on 18 June 1984 at the Orgreave Coking Plant near Rotherham, which striking miners were attempting to blockade. This confrontation, between about 5,000 miners and the same number of police, broke into violence after police on horseback charged the miners with truncheons drawn – 51 picketers and 72 policemen were injured.[51] Arthur Scargill was himself arrested after refusing to move to a grassed area opposite the works.[52] Scargill was also hospitalised with concussion, although the accounts of how he became injured vary, with some claiming that a policeman struck Scargill in the back with the edge of a riot shield, and others saying that Scargill fell backwards over some fencing and hit his head.[53]

In 1991, the South Yorkshire Police paid compensation of £425,000 to thirty-nine miners who were arrested during the incident.[54] This was for "assault, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution".[55] Other less well known, but also bloody, battles between pickets and police took place, for example, in Maltby, South Yorkshire.[56]

Following the 1980 steel strike, many hauliers blacklisted any drivers who refused to cross picket lines to prevent their obtaining any work in the industry, which led to drivers' being much more willing to cross picket lines in the 1984-5 miners' strike than in previous disputes.[11]:144 The picketing failed to have the widespread impact of earlier stoppages which had led to blackouts and power cuts in the 1970s; electricity companies were able to maintain supplies throughout the winter, the time of biggest demand.[57]

From September onwards, some miners returned to work even in the areas where the strike had previously been universally observed. This led to an escalation of tension, and to some riots in villages such as Easington in Durham[58] and Brampton Bierlow in Yorkshire.[59]

Strike ballots by NACODS

In April 1984, a small majority of NACODS, the pit supervisors' union, voted to strike in support of the NUM, but this fell short of the two-thirds majority that their constitution required for a national strike.[26] However, in the areas where the strike was mostly observed, most NACODS members did not cross NUM picket lines and, under the agreement from the 1972 strike, were able to stay off work on full pay.[25] When the number of strikebreakers increased in August, Merrick Spanton, the NCB personnel director, stated that he expected NACODS members to cross the picket lines to supervise their work.[25] This threatened the agreement from the 1972 strike, which led NACODS to hold a second ballot on a national strike.[25] For the first time in their history, NACODS voted to strike in September by a vote of 81%.[11]:196 However, the government made concessions over the review procedure for unprofitable collieries, much to the anger of Ian MacGregor, and a deal negotiated by North Yorkshire NCB Director Michael Eaton persuaded NACODS to call off the strike action.[11]:197–200

MacGregor later admitted that if NACODS had gone ahead with a strike, a compromise would probably have been forced on the Coal Board. Files later made public showed that the Government had an informant inside the Trades Union Congress (TUC), passing information about negotiations.[60]

In 2009, Arthur Scargill wrote that the settlement initially agreed with NACODS and the NCB would have ended the strike and said of NACOD's withdrawal, "The monumental betrayal by Nacods has never been explained in a way that makes sense."[61]

Court judgments on legality of strike

In the first month of the strike, the Coal Board gained a court injunction to restrict picketing in Nottinghamshire, but the Energy Minister Peter Walker forbade Ian MacGregor from invoking it as the Government felt that this would antagonise the miners and cause them to unite behind the NUM.[11]:157–158 Thereafter, numerous legal challenges to the strike were brought by groups of working miners, who eventually organised as the Working Miners' Committee. David Hart, a farmer and property developer with libertarian political beliefs, did much to organise and fund the working miners.[11]:157–158

On 25 May, a writ issued in the High Court by Colin Clark from Pye Hill colliery and sponsored by David Hart was successful in forbidding the Nottinghamshire area from instructing that the strike was official and to be obeyed.[11]:165 Similar actions were pursed and were successful in the Lancashire and South Wales areas.[11]:165

In September, Lord Justice Nicholls heard two cases connected to the strike in succession. In the first, a group of miners from North Derbyshire argued that the strike was illegal both at area level, as a [very small] majority of the area's miners had voted against the strike, and at national level, as there had been no national ballot. In the second, two miners from Manton Colliery, which was in the Yorkshire area of the Coal Board and NUM but geographically in North Nottinghamshire, argued that the area-level strike in Yorkshire was illegal. The miners at Manton had overwhelmingly voted against the strike, but police had advised that they could not guarantee the safety of working miners against pickets.[62] The NUM did not send any representation to the court hearing.[62] The High Court ruled that the NUM had breached its own constitution by calling a strike without first holding a ballot.[63] Although Justice Nicholls did not order the NUM to hold a ballot, he forbade the union from disciplining members who crossed picket lines.[63]

The strike had begun in the Yorkshire area and had relied on a ballot result in January 1981, in which 85.6% of the area's members voted to strike if any pit were to be threatened with closure on economic grounds.[11]:169 This had originally been passed with regards to the closure of Orgreave Colliery, which prompted a two-week strike.[11]:169 The NUM executive had approved the decision by the Yorkshire area to invoke this ballot result as still binding on 8 March 1984.[11]:169 However, Justice Nicholls ruled that the 1981 ballot result was "too remote in time [with]... too much change in the branch membership of the Area since then for that ballot to be capable of justifying a call to strike action two and a half years later."[11]:171 He ruled that the Yorkshire area could not refer to the strike as "official", although he did not condemn the area's strike as "illegal" as he did in the case of the national strike and of the North Derbyshire area's strike.[11]:171

Scargill referred to the ruling as "another attempt by an unelected judge to interfere in the union's affairs."[63] Scargill was fined £1,000 (which was paid for him by an anonymous businessman), and the NUM was fined £200,000. When the union refused to pay its fine, an order was made to sequester the union's assets, but they had already been transferred abroad.[64] In October 1984, the NUM executive voted to cooperate with the court's attempts to recover the funds, despite opposition from Scargill, who later stated in court that he was only apologizing for his contempt of court because the executive voted for him to apologise.[11]:175–176 By the end of January 1985, around £5 million of NUM assets had been recovered.[65]

The situation in Scotland was different. A High Court decision in Edinburgh ruled that Scottish miners had acted within their rights by taking local ballots on a show of hands and so union funds in Scotland could not be sequestered. "During the strike, the one area they couldn't touch was Scotland. They were sequestering the NUM funds, except in Scotland, because the judges deemed that the Scottish area had acted within the rules of the Union" – David Hamilton MP, Midlothian[66]

Breakaway union

At the beginning, the Nottinghamshire NUM officially supported the strike, but the majority of its members continued to work and many considered the strike unconstitutional given the majority vote in Nottinghamshire against an area strike and the lack of a ballot for a national strike.[11]:262 As many working miners felt that the NUM was not doing enough to protect them from the intimidation that they were suffering from pickets, a demonstration was organised on May Day in Mansfield, in which the representative Ray Chadburn was shouted down, and fighting ensued between protesters for and against the strike.[11]:264

In the NUM elections of Summer 1984, members in Nottinghamshire voted out most of their leaders who had supported the strike, so that 27 of the 31 newly elected were opposed to the strike.[67] The Nottinghamshire NUM then opposed the strike openly and stopped all financial payments to local strikers.[67] The national NUM attempted to introduce "Rule 51", which toughened discipline on area leaders who were seen as working against the national policy.[67] This was nicknamed the "star chamber court" by the Nottinghamshire working miners.[67] It was eventually prevented by an injunction from the High Court.[68]

A group of working miners in Nottinghamshire and South Derbyshire resolved to set up a new union: the Union of Democratic Mineworkers.[69] This new union gained members from many of the isolated pits in England – including Agecroft and Parsonage in Lancashire, Chase Terrace and Trenton Workshops in Staffordshire, and Daw Mill in Warwickshire.[11]:274

Although the vast majority of Leicestershire's miners continued working during the strike, its members voted to stay within the NUM.[11]:276 Unlike in Nottinghamshire, the NUM leadership in Leicestershire had never attempted to enforce the strike,[70] and Leicestershire official Jack Jones had publicly criticised Scargill.[67] There were also some pits in Nottinghamshire where roughly half the workforce stayed in the NUM, such as Ollerton, Welbeck and Clipstone.[71]

The TUC neither recognised nor condemned the new union.[70] The UDM was eventually de facto recognised as the Coal Board included it in wage negotiations.[11]:304–305

Ian MacGregor strongly encouraged the UDM.[71] He announced that NUM membership was no longer a prerequisite for mineworkers' employment, which ended the closed shop.[67]

The formal end

The number of strikebreakers increased further from the start of January, and this group was sometimes referred to as the "hunger scabs" as the strikers were struggling to pay for food as union pay ran out towards the end of the strike.[72] The hunger scabs were frequently not treated with the same contempt by strikers as those who had returned to work earlier in the strike.[72] In several collieries, fights broke out between the hunger scabs, some of whom had previously been active pickets, and those who had broken the strike earlier.[72]

The strike ended on 3 March 1985, nearly a year after it had begun. The South Wales area called for a return to work on the condition that those sacked during the strike would be reinstated, but the Coal Board rejected this argument and had improved its bargaining position by the increased number of miners returning to work.[73] Only the Yorkshire and Kent regions voted against ending the strike.[74] One of the few concessions made by the Coal Board was to postpone the closure of the five pits originally under dispute: Cortonwood, Bulcliffe Wood, Herrington, Polmaise and Snowdown.[75]

The issue of sacked miners was particularly important in Kent, where several miners had been sacked for a sit-in at Betteshanger Colliery.[76] Kent NUM leader Jack Collins said after the decision to go back without any agreement of amnesty for those sacked during the dispute, "The people who have decided to go back to work and leave men on the sidelines are traitors to the trade-union movement."[77] The Kent NUM organised a continuation of picketing across the country, which delayed the return to work at many pits for another two weeks.[77] Some sources claim that the Scottish NUM continued the strike alongside Kent.[78]

In several pits, miners' wives groups organised the distribution of carnations at the gates on the day the miners went back, the flower that symbolises the hero. Many pits marched back to work behind brass bands, in processions dubbed "loyalty parades". Arthur Scargill led a procession, accompanied by a Scots piper, back to work at his local Barrow Colliery in Worsborough, but this procession was stopped by a picket of Kent miners. Scargill said, "I never cross a picket line," and marched the procession away from the colliery.[77]

Issues in the strike

The question of a pre-strike ballot

The role of ballots in NUM policy had been the subject of dispute over a number of years, with a series of legal disputes in 1977 leaving the status of ballots in NUM policy unclear.[79] In 1977, the implementation of a new Incentive Scheme had proved controversial, as different areas would receive different pay rates.[79] After the NUM's National Executive Conference rejected the scheme, NUM leader Joe Gormley arranged a national ballot on the subject.[79] The Kent Area (which opposed the Scheme) sought a court injunction to prevent this ballot, but Lord Denning ruled that "the conference might not have spoken with the true voice of all the members and in his view a ballot was a reasonable and democratic proposal".[79] The result was a rejection of the scheme by 110,634 votes to 87,901.[79] The NUM areas of Nottinghamshire, South Derbyshire and Leicestershire nevertheless resolved to adopt the Incentive Scheme for their areas, as their members benefitted from increased pay.[79] The Yorkshire, Kent and South Wales areas sought an injunction to prevent these areas' actions on the grounds of the ballot result.[79] Mr. Justice Watkins ruled that, "The result of a ballot, nationally conducted, is not binding upon the National Executive Committee in using its powers in between conferences. It may serve to persuade the committee to take one action or another, or to refrain from action, but it has no great force or significance."[79]

Scargill did not call a ballot for national strike action, perhaps due to uncertainty over the outcome. Instead, he attempted to start the strike by allowing each region to call its own strikes, imitating Gormley's strategy over wage reforms; it was argued that 'safe' regions should not be allowed to ballot other regions out of jobs. This decision was upheld by another vote by the NUM executive five weeks into the strike.[80]

The NUM had previously held three ballots on a national strike, all of which rejected the proposal: 55% voted against in January 1982, and 61% voted against in both October 1982 and March 1983.[11]:169 Before the March 1983 vote, the Kent region, which was one of the most militant areas, argued for national strikes to be called by conferences of delegates rather than by ballots, but this argument was rejected.[81] As the strike began in 1984 through unofficial action in Yorkshire, there was pressure from those already on strike to call it official immediately, and those NUM executives who insisted on a ballot were attacked by pickets at an executive meeting in Sheffield in April.[82] In contrast, a sit-in down the mine was held by supporters of a ballot at Hem Heath in Staffordshire.[83] Although the Yorkshire area had a policy of opposing a national ballot, this was opposed by some within the Yorkshire area such as the NUM branches at Glasshoughton,[84] Grimethorpe, Shireoaks and Kinsley.[11]:82

Two polls by MORI in April 1984 found that the majority of miners supported a strike.[85] Ken Livingstone wrote in his memoirs that Scargill had interpreted a Daily Mail poll that suggested a comfortable majority of miners favoured a national strike to be a trick and that he would actually lose a national ballot.[86]

In local votes in South Wales, only 10 of the 28 pits voted in favour of striking, but the arrival of pickets from Yorkshire led virtually all miners in South Wales to strike.[87] The initial vote against strike by most lodges in South Wales has been interpreted as an act of retaliation for the lack of support from the Yorkshire area in previous years when numerous pits in Wales were closing.[88]

Area ballots taken on 15 and 16 March saw verdicts against a strike in Cumberland, Midlands, North Derbyshire (narrowly), South Derbyshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire (with around 90% against), Nottinghamshire and North Wales.[89][90][91] The Northumberland NUM voted by a small majority in favour of a strike, but it was below the 55% needed for official approval.[89][90] The NUM leaders in Lancashire argued that, as 41% had voted in favour of a strike, all its members should strike "in order to maintain unity".[90]

The Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher enforced a recent law that required unions to ballot members on strike action. On 19 July 1984, Thatcher said in the House of Commons that giving in to the miners would be surrendering the rule of parliamentary democracy to the rule of the mob. She referred to the union leaders as "the enemy within" and claimed they did not share the values of other British people; advocates of the strike used the quote to suggest Thatcher had denounced the striking miners themselves.

"We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty". On the day after the Orgreave picket of 29 May, which saw five thousand pickets clash violently with police, Thatcher said in a speech:

I must tell you... that what we have got is an attempt to substitute the rule of the mob for the rule of law, and it must not succeed. [cheering] It must not succeed. There are those who are using violence and intimidation to impose their will on others who do not want it.... The rule of law must prevail over the rule of the mob.[92]

Neil Kinnock also supported the call for a national ballot in April 1984.[83] Arthur Scargill's response to the incident was:

We've had riot shields, we've had riot gear, we've had police on horseback charging into our people, we've had people hit with truncheons and people kicked to the ground.... The intimidation and the brutality that has been displayed are something reminiscent of a Latin American state.[93]

Votes for strike action by NUM area

The table below shows a breakdown by area of the results of the strike ballots of January 1982, October 1982 and March 1983, as well as the results of individual ballots held in areas in March 1984. The table is taken from Callinicos & Simons (1985).[36] Cases from 1984 where lodges voted separately (as in South Wales and Scotland) are not shown.

Votes for strike action by NUM area, 1982-1984[36]
Area / Groups Members (approx)  % for strike action, national ballot of January 1982  % for strike action, national ballot of October 1982  % for strike action, national ballot of March 1983  % for strike action, area ballots of March 1984
Cumberland 650 52 36 42 22
Derbyshire 10,500 50 40 38 50
S. Derbyshire 3,000 16 13 12 16
Durham 13,000 46 31 39
Kent 2,000 54 69 68
Leicester 2,500 20 13 18
Midlands 12,200 27 23 21 27
Nottingham 32,000 30 21 19 26
Lancashire 7,500 40 44 39 41
Northumberland 5,000 37 32 35 52
Scotland 11,500 63 69 50
Yorkshire 56,000 66 56 54
North Wales 1,000 18 24 23 36
South Wales 21,000 54 59 68
Colliery Officials 16,000 14 10 15
Cokemen 4,500 32 22 39
National Average 45 39 39

Mobilisation of police

The government mobilised the police (including Metropolitan Police squads from London) from around Britain to uphold the law by attempting to stop the pickets preventing the strikebreakers working. Police attempted to stop pickets travelling between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, an action which led to many protests.[94] The government claimed these actions were to uphold the laws of the land and to safeguard individual civil rights.

The police were given powers to halt and reroute traffic away from collieries, which led to some areas of Nottinghamshire being very difficult to reach by road.[95] In the first 27 weeks of the strike, 164,508 "presumed pickets" were prevented from entering the county.[95] On 26 March 1984, pickets protested against the police powers by deliberately driving slowly on the M1 and the A1 around Doncaster.[96]

When a group of Kent pickets were stopped at the Dartford tunnel and preventing from travelling to picket the Midlands, the Kent NUM applied for an injunction against use of this power.[96] Sir Michael Havers initially denied this application outright, but Mr. Justice Skinner later ruled that this power of the police may only be used if the anticipated breach of the peace were "in close proximity both in time and place".[96]

In addition, bail forms for all picketing offences set restrictions on residence and movement in relation to the Coal Board's property.[96] Tony Benn compared these powers to the pass laws of the Apartheid regime.[97]

During the industrial action 11,291 people were arrested and 8,392 charged with offences such as breach of the peace and obstructing the highway. In many former mining areas antipathy towards the police remained strong for many years afterwards.[98]

On 16 July 1984, Thatcher convened an urgent Ministerial meeting and seriously considered declaring a state of emergency, with plans to use 4,500 military drivers and 1,650 tipper trucks to keep coal supplies available.[99]

Social security

The provision of welfare benefits became controversial. Welfare benefits had never been available to workers on strike but their dependants (i.e. spouses and children) had been entitled to make claims in previous disputes. However, Clause 6 of the 1980 Social Security Act banned the dependants of strikers from receiving "urgent needs" payments and also applied a compulsory deduction from the strikers' dependants' benefits. The government viewed this legislation as not concerned with saving public funds but instead "to restore a fairer bargaining balance between employers and trade unions" by increasing the necessity to return to work.[100] The Department of Social Security worked on the assumption that striking miners were receiving £15 per week from the union, but this was based on payments early in the strike and were not made in the later months when union funds had become exhausted.[11]:220

MI5 "counter-subversion"

Dame Stella Rimington (Director-General of MI5, 1992–96) published an autobiography in 2001 in which she revealed MI5 'counter-subversion' exercises against the NUM and the striking miners, which included the tapping of union leaders' phones. However, she denied that the agency had informers in the NUM, specifically denying that then chief executive Roger Windsor had been an agent.[101]

Public opinion and the media

Public opinion during the strike was divided and varied greatly in different regions. When asked in a Gallup poll in July 1984 whether their sympathies lay mainly with the employers or the miners, 40% said employers; 33% were for the miners; 19% were for neither and 8% did not know. When asked the same question during 5–10 December 1984, 51% had most sympathy for the employers; 26% for the miners; 18% for neither and 5% did not know.[102] When asked in July 1984 whether they approved or disapproved of the methods used by the miners, 15% approved; 79% disapproved and 6% did not know. When asked the same question during 5–10 December 1984, 7% approved; 88% disapproved and 5% did not know.[102] In July 1984, when asked whether they thought the miners were using responsible or irresponsible methods, 12% said responsible; 78% said irresponsible and 10% did not know. When asked the same question in August 1984, 9% said responsible; 84% said irresponsible and 7% did not know.[102]

The Sun newspaper took a very anti-strike position, as did the Daily Mail, and even the Labour Party-supporting Daily Mirror and The Guardian became hostile as the strike became increasingly violent.[11]:251–252 The Morning Star was the only national daily newspaper that consistently supported the striking miners and the NUM.

Socialist groups stated that the mainstream media deliberately misrepresented the miners' strike, saying of The Sun's reporting of the strike: "The day-to-day reporting involved more subtle attacks, or a biased selection of facts and a lack of alternative points of view. These things arguably had a far bigger negative effect on the miners' cause".[103][104] Writing in the Industrial Relations Journal immediately after the strike in 1985, Towers also commented on the way the media had portrayed strikers, stating that there had been "the obsessive reporting of the 'violence' of generally relatively unarmed men and some women who, in the end, offered no serious challenge to the truncheons, shields and horses of a well-organised, optimally deployed police force."[105]

The stance of the Daily Mirror varied throughout the strike. Having initially been uninterested in the dispute, the paper's owner Robert Maxwell took a supportive stance in July 1984 by organising a seaside trip for striking miners and by meeting with NUM officials to discuss tactics.[11]:251–252 However, Maxwell insisted that Scargill condemn the violence directed against strike-breakers, which he was unwilling to do.[11]:251–252 The Daily Mirror then adopted a more critical stance on the strike, and journalist John Pilger published several articles on the violence directed against strike-breakers.[11]:251–252

NUM links with Libya and the Soviet Union

As the strike went on, a series of media reports sought to cast doubt on the integrity of senior NUM officials. In November 1984, there were allegations that Scargill had met Libyan agents in Paris,[106] and other senior officials travelled to Libya.[107] Links to the Libyan government were particularly damaging coming 7 months after the murder of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London by Libyan agents. In 1990, the Daily Mirror and TV programme The Cook Report claimed that Scargill and the NUM had received money from the Libyan government. These allegations were based on allegations by Roger Windsor, who was the NUM official who had spoken to Libyan officials. Roy Greenslade, the Mirror's editor at the time, said much later he believes his paper's allegations were false.[108] This was long after an investigation by Seumas Milne described the allegations as wholly without substance and a "classic smear campaign".[109]

In 2007, the Daily Mail published an article based on declassified Soviet documents where Arthur Scargill personally contacted Moscow to secure sufficient funds, which were to be transferred through Warsaw.[110] Soviet miners who wished to send money to the NUM would not have been able to obtain convertible currency without the support of the Government of the Soviet Union and Thatcher claimed to have seen documentary evidence that suggests that the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, authorised these payments. The diaries of Anatoly Chernyaev, a senior party official in the Soviet Union at the time, also lends credence to the interpretation that the funding was provided at the behest of the Soviet government.[111]

Surveillance by MI5 on NUM vice-president Mick McGahey found that he was "extremely angry and embarrassed" about Scargill's links with the Libyan regime, but he did not express his concerns publicly.[112] In contrast, McGahey was happy to take money from the Soviet Union.[112]

The ex-head of MI5, Stella Rimington, wrote in her autobiography, "We in MI5 limited our investigations to those who were using the strike for subversive purposes."[113]

The then-banned Polish trade union Solidarity criticised Scargill for "going too far and threatening the elected government", which influenced some of the Polish miners in Britain to oppose the strike.[114] Scargill opposed Solidarity as an "anti-socialist organisation which desires the overthrow of a socialist state".[115] The supply of Polish coal to British power stations during the 1984-5 strike led to brief picket of the Polish embassy in London by striking miners.[116][117]


The strike was unusual in British history for the high amount of violence. Instances of violence directed against working miners by striking miners were reported from the start of the strike, with the BBC saying on 12 March that pickets from Polmaise colliery had punched miners at Bilston Glen who were trying to enter their workplace.[118] In some cases, this extended to attacks on the property, the families and the pets of working miners.[119] Ted McKay, a North Wales secretary who supported a national ballot before any strike action, said that he received death threats and threats to kidnap his children.[120] The intimidation of working miners in Nottinghamshire (often vandalism of working miners' cars but also pelting of working miners with stones, paint or brake fluid) was one of the main factors in the formation of the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers.[121] When questioned by the media, Scargill refused to condemn the violence, which he attributed to the hardship and frustration of pickets,[122] with the one exception being after the killing of David Wilkie (see below).[123] There was some criticism of picket-line violence from lodges at striking pits, such as the resolution by the Grimethorpe and Kellingley lodges in Yorkshire that condemned the throwing of bricks in particular.[124]

Occasionally, attacks were also made on working members of NACODS and on administrative staff at pits. For example, the National Coal Board announced in March 1984 that it would abandon the Yorkshire Main colliery after a deputy engineer suffered a split chin from being stoned (although the pickets claimed that he slipped on coal slurry) and the administrative staff had to be escorted out by the police.[43]

There was also violence in Nottinghamshire directed towards those who were on strike or who supported the NUM national line. NUM secretary Jimmy Hood reported that his car was vandalised and his garage was set on fire.[125] In Leicestershire, the word scab (mainly used against strikebreakers) was chanted by the working majority against the few who went on strike, on the grounds that they had betrayed their area's union.[126]

However, there were some pits that continued working during the strike without the levels of violence seen in Nottinghamshire. In Leicestershire only 31 miners went on strike for the full twelve months (commonly believed to be 30 owing to the "Dirty Thirty" badges, but there was actually an extra one who did not involve himself in the picketing[127]) and in South Derbyshire only 17, but these areas were not targeted by pickets in the same way as Nottinghamshire.[128]

Death of pickets

Two pickets, David Jones and Joe Green, died during the strike,[129] and three teenagers (Darren Holmes, aged 15, and Paul Holmes and Paul Womersley, both aged 14) died picking coal from a colliery waste heap in the winter. The NUM names its memorial lectures after the two lost pickets.[130] Green was hit by a truck while picketing at Ferrybridge power station in West Yorkshire.[131] David Jones's death was an early event that raised tensions between those on strike and those who continued to work. On 15 March 1984,[132][133] Jones was hit in the chest by a half-brick thrown by a local youth who opposed the strike, when he went to confront him over vandalising his car, but the post-mortem ruled that this had not caused his death and that it was more likely to have been caused by being pressed against the pit gates earlier in the day.[134] News of his death led to hundreds of pickets staying in Ollerton town centre overnight.[135] At the request of Nottinghamshire Police, Arthur Scargill appeared and called for calm in the wake of the tragedy.[135] However, several working miners in Ollerton reported that their gardens and cars had been vandalised during the night.[136] Ollerton Colliery closed for a few days as a mark of respect for David Jones.[11]:99

Beating of Michael Fletcher

In Airedale, Castleford (an area where the majority of miners were on strike), a working miner named Michael Fletcher was savagely beaten in November 1984 in a case that attracted much media attention.[123] A masked gang waving baseball bats invaded his house and beat him for five minutes, whilst his pregnant wife and children hid upstairs.[123] Fletcher suffered a broken shoulder blade, dislocated elbow and two broken ribs in the attack.[137] Two miners from Wakefield were convicted of causing grievous bodily harm in the incident, whereas four others were acquitted of riot and assault.[138]

Killing of taxi driver David Wilkie

See main article: Killing of David Wilkie

A taxi driver, David Wilkie, was killed on 30 November 1984. He had been taking a non-striking miner to work in the Merthyr Vale Colliery, South Wales when two striking miners dropped a concrete post onto his car from a road bridge above. He died at the scene. The two miners served a prison sentence for manslaughter.

Police across the country reported that the incident had a sobering effect on many of the pickets and led to a decrease in aggression.[123] Scargill said in December that those who returned to the strike after having taken the NCB's incentives for strikebreaking should be treated as "lost lambs" rather than traitors.[123]

Trapping of safety inspectors at Rossington

One of the most publicised acts of violence came on 9 July 1984 when a group of pickets at Rossington colliery attempted to trap eleven NCB safety inspectors inside the colliery. Camera teams were present as two police vans arrived to assist the safety inspectors and were attacked by missiles from the pickets.[11]:94

Attacks on lorries

Following the breakdown of relations between the NUM and the ISTC, NUM pickets threw bricks, concrete and eggs full of paint at lorries transporting coal and iron ore to South Wales.[11]:139 In September 1984, Viv Brook, the assistant chief constable of South Wales Police, warned that throwing concrete from motorway bridges was likely to kill someone, which was later referenced by the chief constable when David Wilkie was killed in late November[139]

Aggressive policing

Policing was extensive from the start of the 1984-5 strike, as part of a conscious policy to avoid the problems of the 1972 strike, when the police were overwhelmed by the number of pickets at the so-called Battle of Saltley Gate.[140] Many families in South Yorkshire complained that the police were abusive during the strike and often damaged property needlessly whilst pursuing pickets.[11]:120,247

During the Battle of Orgreave, television cameras caught a policeman repeatedly lashing out at a picket on his head with a truncheon. The officer was later identified as a member of Northumbria Police, but no charges were made against him.[53] There was public criticism of the heavy-handed policing at Orgreave, including from some senior officers.[11]:101 At the 1985 conference of the Police Federation, Ronald Carroll from West Yorkshire Police argued that, "The police were used by the Coal Board to do all their dirty work. Instead of seeking the civil remedies under the existing civil law, they relied completely on the police to solve their problems by implementing the criminal law."[11]:100

A motion at the Labour Party conference in 1984 won heavy support for blaming all the violence in the strike on the police, despite opposition from Kinnock.[141]


Union funds struggled to cover the year-long strike, so striking miners had to raise their own funds. The Kent area was particularly effective in raising funds from sympathisers in London and in continental Europe, which was resented by other areas of the NUM.[11]:229 The Yorkshire area's reliance on mass picketing led to a neglect of fundraising, and many of the striking Yorkshire miners were living in poverty by the winter of 1984 owing to a lack of union funds.[142]

Soup kitchen were opened in Yorkshire in April 1984, for the first time since the 1920s.[46] Wakefield Council provided free meals for children during school holidays.[46] The Labour-dominated councils of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Wakefield provided deductions from council-housing rents and local tax rates for striking miners, but the Conservative-ruled council of Selby denied any assistance (although the Selby pits had much higher numbers of long-distance commuters).[143]

In Leicestershire, the area's NUM did not make any payments to the few who went on strike, on the grounds that the area had voted against a strike.[144] Fundraising for the so-called "Dirty Thirty" striking Leicestershire miners was extensive amongst supporters, to the point that they redirected some of their excess aid to other parts of the NUM.[144]

Many local businesses in pit villages donated money to NUM funds, although some claimed that they were threatened with boycotts or vandalism if they did not contribute.[11]:220

The Soviet Union's official trade union federation donated £1 million to the NUM.[11]:228

The group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners held "Pits and Perverts" concerts that raised money for the striking miners. This led the NUM to become vocally supportive of gay rights in subsequent years.[145] The groups deliberately prioritised aid to pits in South Wales, as they felt that Scargill was distributing donations in favour of the more militant pits, which were mostly in either Kent or Yorkshire.[146]

The ISTC donated food parcels and toys during the summer, but did not give money as they did not want to be accused of financing the aggressive picketing.[145]

A wide network of several hundred miners' support groups were set up, often led by miners' "wives and girlfriends groups", such as Women Against Pit Closures. These support groups organised thousands of collections outside supermarkets, communal kitchens, benefit concerts and other activities. The strike marked an important development in the traditional mining heartlands, where feminist ideas had not previously been strong.[147]

Chesterfield FC gave discounted tickets to striking miners until the start of 1985, when it abandoned the policy on the grounds that the majority of North Derbyshire miners had returned to work.[148]

Variation in observing the strike

The figures below are given in Richards (1996). It should be noted that the figures of working and striking miners were an issue of controversy throughout the dispute, and some other sources give figures that contradict Richards's table.

Levels of participation in the 1984–85 strike by area[149]
Area Manpower  % on strike 19 November 1984  % on strike 14 February 1985  % on strike 1 March 1985
Cokeworks 4,500 95.6 73 65
Kent 3,000 95.9 95 93
Lancashire 6,500 61.5 49 38
Leicestershire 1,900 10.5 10 10
Midlands 19,000 32.3 15 23
North Derbyshire 10,500 66.7 44 40
North-East 23,000 95.5 70 60
North Wales 1,000 35 10 10
Nottinghamshire 30,000 20 14 22
Scotland 13,100 93.9 75 69
South Derbyshire 3,000 11 11 11
South Wales 21,500 99.6 98 93
Workshops 9,000 55.6 50
Yorkshire 56,000 97.3 90 83
NATIONAL 196,000 73.7 64 60

No figures are available for the 1000 N.C.B. staff employees.

Within the large Yorkshire area, there was regional variation in observing the strike: miners from the Doncaster area were considerably more militant than those from mines in North Yorkshire.[150]

At the South Leicester colliery, there was reportedly only one miner who stayed on strike for the full 12 months.[151]

Analysis of the situation in Nottinghamshire

A number of reasons have been advanced for the lack of support by the Nottinghamshire miners for the strike. This was compared to the return to work led by Nottinghamshire leader George Spencer in the 1926 general strike, but the Nottinghamshire miners had struck alongside other regions in 1972 and 1974.[152] Other explanations include the perception that Nottinghamshire pits were safe from the threat of closure, as they had large reserves left, and that the area-level incentive scheme introduced by Tony Benn caused Nottinghamshire miners to be amongst the best-paid in Britain.[152]

David Amos has noted that some pits in Nottinghamshire had closed in the early 1980s.[153] He argues that Nottinghamshire miners reacted in the same way in 1984 as they did to the unofficial strikes in 1969 and 1970, both of which saw blockading of Nottinghamshire pits by striking miners from South Yorkshire and both of which were regarded as unconstitutional under NUM rules.[153][154]

As the Nottinghamshire mines had attracted many displaced miners from Scotland and the north-east in the 1960s, it has been argued that they were reluctant to strike to stop pit closures when there had been no similar action to save their home pits from closure.[114][152] There was also a large Polish community in Nottinghamshire (especially Ollerton) who had been alienated by Scargill's policy of supporting the Communist government in Poland against the Solidarity union, which the NUM previously had a policy of supporting.[114] David John Douglass, a branch delegate at Hatfield colliery during the strike, has dismissed these suggestions as the Doncaster pits also had large numbers of displaced miners and Polish miners, yet the Doncaster area was amongst the most militant areas of the NUM.[114]

Nottinghamshire NUM executive Henry Richardson argued that the Nottinghamshire miners would have probably voted for strike had they not been subjected to so much intimidation within days of the walk-out in Yorkshire, which prompted many to defy the Yorkshire pickets as a matter of principle.[85] At some pits, the majority of miners initially refused to cross picket lines formed by Welsh miners but then returned to work when more aggressive pickets arrived from Yorkshire.[11]:98 After the strike, Mick McGahey, who had been one of the most prominent voices against a national ballot, said that he accepted "some responsibility" for alienating the Nottinghamshire miners through aggressive picketing.[11]:98 Jonathan and Ruth Winterton have suggested that the greater success of picketing in Lancashire, which was also a region with little tradition of militancy, might be ascribed to the more cautious tactics of the North Yorkshire area of the NUM, which worked with local officials in Lancashire to coordinate respectful picketing, in contrast to the aggressive tactics adopted by the Doncaster NUM in picketing Nottinghamshire.[50]

The Marxist academic Alex Callinicos has suggested that the NUM officials had failed to make the case to their members adequately and believes that the Nottinghamshire miners were simply ignorant of the issues.[155]

Responses to the strike

Labour Party

The Labour Party, then in opposition, was divided in its attitude.[156] Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, whose late father had been a miner in South Wales, was critical of the government's handling of the strike, but increasingly distanced himself from the leadership of the NUM over the issues of the ballot and violence against strikebreakers.[11]:6 Kinnock later said that it was "the greatest regret of [his] whole life" that he did not call for a national ballot at an earlier stage.[157] Kinnock condemned the actions of both pickets and police as "violence", which prompted a statement from the Police Federation that some officers would struggle to work under a Labour government.[158] He did not appear on a picket line until 3 January 1985,[159] after having said in November that he was "too busy" to attend.[160]

Kinnock was scheduled to appear at a Labour Party rally alongside Scargill in Stoke-on-Trent on 30 November 1984 - the day of the killing of David Wilkie (see above).[11]:294 Kinnock's speech developed into an argument with some hecklers who saw him as having betrayed the NUM by failing to support the strike.[161] Kinnock began by saying, "We meet here tonight in the shadow of an outrage."[161] When interrupted, Kinnock accused the hecklers of "living like parasites off the struggle of the miners."[161] As Kinnock went on to denounce the lack of the ballot, the violence against strikebreakers and the tactical approach of Scargill, he was asked by hecklers what he had done for the striking miners.[11]:295 Kinnock shouted back, "Well, I was not telling them lies. That's what I was not doing during that period."[162] This was a thinly-veiled attack on Scargill, whom he later admitted that he detested.[163]

Former party leader and prime minister James Callaghan (still an MP at the time) said that a ballot was needed to decide when to end the strike and return to work.[164]

Tony Benn was vocal in support of Scargill's leadership during the strike.[11]:300 In addition, 12 left-wing MPs refused to sit down in the Commons in January in an attempt to force a debate on the strike.[156]

Communist Party

The Communist Party supported the strike and opposed Thatcher's government, but expressed reservations about Scargill's tactics. Peter Carter said that Scargill had "the idea that the miners could win the strike alone through a re-run of Saltley Gate".[11]:298 The 39th congress of the party passed a motion that the strike could not succeed without sympathy from the wider public and other unions, and that the aggressive picketing was dividing the working class and alienating public support.[11]:299

Trade Union Congress

In contrast to the close cooperation with the Trades Union Congress in the 1970s, the NUM never asked the TUC to support the strike and wrote at the outset to say that, "No request is being made by this union for the intervention or assistance of the TUC."[11]:129–131 Scargill disliked Len Murray and blamed the TUC for the failure of the 1926 General Strike.[11]:130

Part way through the strike, Norman Willis took over from Murray as general secretary of the TUC. Willis attempted to repair relations between Scargill and Kinnock, but to no avail.[165] When speaking in a miners' hall in November 1984, Willis condemned the violence of the strike and advocated a compromise deal, which led to a noose being lowered slowly from the rafters of the hall until it rested close to his head.[165][166]

Triple Alliance

The NUM had a so-called "Triple Alliance" with the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation and the numerous railway unions. Solidarity action was taken by railway workers and few railway workers crossed miners' picket lines,[11]:150 but the NUM never formally asked the railway unions to go on strike.[11]:136 In contrast, Scargill demanded that steel workers not cross miners' picket lines and only work enough to keep furnaces in order.[11]:137–138 Bill Sirs of the ISTC felt that Scargill was reneging on an agreement to deliver coke during the strike.[167] British Steel was planning on closing another steel plant at the time, and steel workers feared that support for the miners might make their plant more likely to be closed down.[11]:137

National Union of Seamen

Hull cranes stand idle during the short-lived dockers' strike which began on 8 July

The National Union of Seamen supported the strike and limited transport of coal.[11]:140 Like the miners' strike, this decision was taken by a delegates' conference and was not authorised by a ballot.[11]:142


Transport leaders Ross Evans and Ron Todd supported the NUM "without reservation", but an increasing proportion of lorry drivers were not unionised and they failed to have much influence over the transport of coal during the strike.[168]

Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union

The Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union, actively opposed the strike; Ian MacGregor's autobiography detailed how its leaders supplied the government with valuable information that allowed the strike to be defeated.[169] The EETPU was strongly supportive of the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers and met with its leaders before the TUC had extended formal recognition.[70]

Mining and mining communities after the strike

Market for coal

During the strike, many pits permanently lost their customers. Much of the immediate problem facing the industry was due to the economic recession in the early 1980s. However, there was also extensive competition within the world coal market as well as a concerted move towards oil and gas for power production. The Government's own policy, known as the Ridley Plan, was to reduce Britain's reliance on coal; they also claimed that coal could be imported from Australia, the USA and Colombia more cheaply than it could be extracted from beneath Britain.[170] The strike subsequently emboldened the NCB to accelerate the closure of many pits on economic grounds.

Community relations

The tensions between those who had supported the strike and those who had not continued after the strike. Many of the strikebreakers left the industry as they were often shunned or even attacked by other miners. For example, almost all of the strikebreakers in Kent were found to have left the industry by April 1986, after suffering numerous attacks on their houses.[171] At the Betteshanger colliery in Kent, posters were put up with photographs and names of the thirty strikebreakers.[172] A wildcat strike took place at South Kirkby Colliery, and was supported by neighbouring Ferrymoor-Riddings, on 30 April 1985 after four men were dismissed for attacks on strikebreakers, and another wildcat strike occurred at Hatfield Colliery in April 1986 after it emerged that there was one strikebreaker who had not been transferred away from the pit, as the NUM had assured that all Hatfield's strikebreakers had been.[173] In contrast, many other pits that had been divided by the strike managed to work without any problems of harassment of one group by the other.[172]

The National Coal Board was accused of having deserted the strikebreakers, as abuse, threats and assaults continued, and many requests for transfers to other pits were declined.[173] Michael Eaton argued that "a decision to return to work was a personal decision on the part of the individual."[173]

A murder in the former mining town of Annesley, Nottinghamshire in 2004 was a result of an argument between former members of the NUM and the UDM, an indication of continued tensions.[174]

Challenges to Scargill in the NUM

Many miners were demoralised by the strike and sought work in other industries. Arthur Scargill's authority within the NUM was challenged increasingly, with his calls for a new strike in 1986 being ignored.[11]:303 Mick McGahey, who had stayed loyal to Scargill during the strike, became vocally critical of him afterwards. McGahey claimed that the leadership was becoming separated from its membership, said that the violence during the strike had gone too far and argued for reconciliation with the UDM.[11]:98,303 On the last point, Scargill said that it was a "tragedy that people from the far north should pontificate about what we should be doing to win back members for the NUM."[11]:303

Nevertheless, Scargill was able to become president for life of the NUM in 1985.[11]:171–172

Redundancy payments

In the aftermath of the strike, miners were often offered large redundancy payments in ballots (organised by the National Coal Board), and these offers were accepted even at the most militant pits. The manager of the militant Yorkshire Main colliery said at the time of the pit's vote to close in October 1985, "I know people who abused us and threatened us on the picket line and then were the first to put in for redundancy."[11]:239


The coal industry was finally privatised in December 1994 to create a firm named "R.J.B. Mining", now known as UK Coal. Between the end of the strike and privatisation, pit closures continued with a particularly intense group of closures in the early 1990s. There were 15 former British Coal deep mines left in production at the time of privatisation,[175] however, by March 2005, there were only eight major deep mines left.[176] Since then, the last pit in Northumberland, Ellington Colliery at Ellington, has closed whilst pits at Rossington and Harworth have been mothballed. In 1983, Britain had 174 working mines; by 2009, this number had decreased to six.[177]

Poverty in old coalfield areas

The 1994 European Union inquiry into poverty classified Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire as the poorest settlement in the country and one of the poorest in the EU.[178] The county of South Yorkshire was made into an Objective 1 development zone and every single ward in the City of Wakefield district of West Yorkshire was classified as in need of special assistance.[179]

The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is an organisation that makes grants to aid the redevelopment of former mining areas.[180]

Productivity improvements

In 2003, the reduced mining industry was reportedly more productive in terms of output per worker than the coal industries in France, Germany and the United States.[181][182]

Cultural references

Film and television

Independent filmmakers in 1984 documented the activities of the miners strike including questionable behaviour conducted by the police, the role of miners wives and the role of the media. The outcome was the Miner's Campaign Tapes.[183]

Socialist director Ken Loach made three films about the strike. Which Side Are You On? focussed on the music and poetry of the strike, and was originally made for The South Bank Show but was rejected on the grounds that it was too politically partial for an arts programme.[184] After winning an award at an Italian film festival, it was broadcast on Channel 4 on 9 January 1985.[184] End of the Battle... Not the End of the War? (1985) suggested that the Conservative Party planned tactics for defeating the NUM from the early 1970s.[185] The Arthur Legend, broadcast for Despatches on Channel 4 in 1991, analysed the allegations against Arthur Scargill of financial impropriety and links with Libya, and argued that the claims made by the Daily Mirror and the Cook Report were baseless.[186]

The strike was the background for the 2000 film Billy Elliot, based around County Durham mining communities Easington Colliery and Seaham. Several scenes depict the chaos at the picket lines, clashes between armies of police and striking miners, and the shame associated with crossing the picket line. The film also showed the abject poverty associated with the strike, together with the harshness and desperation of not having coal for heat in winter. The strike is also involved in the background to the plot of the 1996 film Brassed Off, which is set ten years after the strike when all the miners have lost the will to resist and accept the closure of their pit with resignation. Brassed Off was set in the fictional town of Grimley, a thinly disguised version of the hard-hit ex-mining village of Grimethorpe, where some of it was filmed.

The satirical Comic Strip Presents episode "The Strike" (1988) depicts an idealistic Welsh screenwriter's growing dismay as his hard-hitting and grittily realistic script about the strike is mutilated by a Hollywood producer into an all-action thriller starring Al Pacino (played by Peter Richardson) as Scargill, and Meryl Streep (played by Jennifer Saunders) as his wife. The film parodies Hollywood films by over-dramatising the strike and changing most important historic facts. The film won a Golden Rose and Press Reward at the Montreux Festival.[187]

The "1984" episode of the 1996 BBC television drama serial Our Friends in the North revolves around the events of the strike, and the scenes of clashes between the police and striking miners were re-created using many of those who had taken part in the actual real-life events on the miners' side. In 2005, BBC One broadcast the one-off drama Faith, written by William Ivory and starring Jamie Draven and Maxine Peake. Many of the social scenes were filmed in the former Colliery town of Thorne, near Doncaster. It viewed the strike from the perspective of both the police and the miners.

The British film The Big Man casts Liam Neeson as a Scottish coalminer who has been unemployed since the strike. His character has been blacklisted due to striking a police officer and has served a six-month prison sentence for the offence.

Airline Virgin Atlantic's 2009 television ad titled "Still Red Hot" commemorating its 25th year opens with a scene set in 1984 in which a newsagent yells the news of the day: "Miners' strike! Miners' strike!", showing the headline of a nondescript newspaper: "IT'S THE PITS".[citation needed]

1980s satirical television show Spitting Image made fun of the miners' strike during the early seasons including a spoof McDonald's advert, called MacGregor's, with lines such as "there's an indifference at MacGregor's you will enjoy". In addition, MacGregor is seen addressing a line of miners saying "You're fired!" to each in turn, before shooting them.[citation needed]

The 2014 film Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus, is based on a true story of a group of LGBT activists who raised funds to assist and support families in a Welsh mining village affected by the strike.[188]


The film Billy Elliot was turned into a musical, Billy Elliot the Musical by Elton John, and has been successful on London's West End. The musical has been brought to Broadway and won a Tony Award in 2009 for Best Musical (the highest award given to musicals in the US).


A British children's book, The Coal House, written by Andrew Taylor[189] and published in 1986, uses this strike as an important element of the story.

In 1996, William O'Rourke, an American, published Notts (Marlowe & Co.), set contemporaneously during the strike in 1984–85, filled with scenes in pit towns (especially Ollerton), among strike supporters in London, Cambridge, and elsewhere, but was never published in the UK, and barely read, even, or especially, in America.

There is a book based on Lee Hall's screenplay Billy Elliot. The book by the same title is by Melvin Burgess, published in 2001.

A 2005 book, GB84, by David Peace combines fictional accounts of pickets, union officials and strike-breakers. Graphic details are provided of many of the strike's major events. It also suggests that the British Intelligence services were involved in undermining the strike, including the making of the alleged suggestion of a link between Scargill and Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Val McDermid published the novel A Darker Domain in 2008 which has one of its plot lines set in the strike. Multiple reviewers gave the book acclaim for exploring the social and emotional repercussions of the strikes.[190][191][192] One reviewer pointed out that McDermid was raised in Fife, so much of her understanding of the events must have been shaped by her childhood there.[193]

A book about the strike, focusing on the women of a fictional South Wales mining community torn apart by the dispute, is Until Our Blood is Dry by Kit Habianic (Parthian Books, April 2014), which was named Welsh Books Council book of the month for May 2014. It is running in 350-word instalments as Morning Serial in the Welsh national newspaper The Western Mail throughout the 12 months marking the 30th anniversary of the strike.[citation needed]


Kay Sutcliffe, the wife of a striking miner at Aylesham in Kent, wrote the poem Coal not Dole, which became popular with the Women Against Pit Closures groups across the country and was later made into a song by Norma Waterson.[194]

The 2013 book Hope Now by A L Richards, an epic poem set in the mining communities of the South Wales Valleys, is based on the 1984 strike. The book is published by Landfox Press.

Visual arts

In 2001, British visual artist Jeremy Deller worked with historical societies, battle re-enactors, and dozens of the people who participated in the violent 1984 clashes of picketers and police to reconstruct and re-enact the Battle of Orgreave. A documentary about the re-enactment was produced by Deller and director Mike Figgis and was broadcast on British television; and Deller also published a book called The English Civil War Part II documenting both the project and the historical events it investigates (Artangel Press, 2002). Involving the re-enactors, who would normally recreate Viking battles or mediaeval wars, was a way for Deller to situate the recent and controversial Battle of Orgreave (and labour politics themselves) as part of mainstream history.[195]

On 5 March 2010, the 25th anniversary of the Miners' Strike, a new artwork by British visual artist Dan Savage was unveiled in Sunderland Civic Centre. Commissioned by Sunderland City Council, Savage worked with the Durham Miners Association to create the large scale commemorative window, which features images and symbols of the strike and the North East's mining heritage.[196]

In August 1984, photographer Keith Pattison was commissioned by Sunderland’s Artists’ Agency to photograph the strike in Easington Colliery for a month. He remained there on and off until it ended in March 1985, photographing from behind the lines a community rallying together against implacable opposition.

Twenty-five years later, on 6 May 2010, Election Day, Pattison took David Peace to Easington to interview three of the people caught up in the strike. A selection of the photographs together with the interviews were published in book form – 'No Redemption' (Flambard Press)


The strike has been the subject of songs by many music groups. Of the more well known are the Manic Street Preachers' "A Design for Life", and "1985", from the album Lifeblood; Pulp's "Last day of the miners' strike"; Funeral for a Friend's "History", and Ewan MacColl's songs "Daddy, What did you do in the strike?" and Holy Joe from Scabsville (and a related song "Only Doing Their Job" about police brutality). Newcastle native Sting recorded a song about the strike called "We Work the Black Seam" for his first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, in 1985. Social justice musician Billy Bragg's version of "Which Side Are You On?", encapsulated the strikers' feeling of betrayal by the perceived indifference of wider elements within British society. Bragg also was a large influence in spreading awareness of the strike through his music and outright disagreement with the Thatcher Government.[197]

Throughout the strike, the South London industrial music group Test Dept traveled on their educational "battle bus" to various mining towns, including Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, Paddington and Glasgow. They filmed images of the strike in one town and showed at their next gig, where they would meet with the miners, join pickets, and help raise funds. The songs of the South Wales Striking Miners' Choir and the speeches of Kent miner Alan Sutcliffe are included on their 1984 album Shoulder to Shoulder.[198]

Chris Cutler, Tim Hodgkinson and Lindsay Cooper from Henry Cow, along with Robert Wyatt and poet Adrian Mitchell recorded The Last Nightingale in October 1984 to raise money for the striking coal miners and their families.[199]

Dire Straits' "Iron Hand", from their 1991 album On Every Street, refers to the Battle of Orgreave. Folk singer John Tams' "Harry Stone-Hearts of Coal" which featured on his 2001 album Unity and which won Best Original Song at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards is set against the backdrop of the Battle of Orgreave.

In December 1984, Paul Weller of the Style Council put together his own charity ensemble, The Council Collective, to make a record, Soul Deep, to raise money for striking miners, and the family of David Wilkie, he also wrote a song called "Stone's Throw Away" which can be heard on the number one album Our Favourite Shop from 1985. The Clash played two benefit gigs for the miners at the Brixton Academy (6 & 7 December 1984).

The strike also inspired English composer Howard Skempton in 1985 to write a 5-minute-long piece for solo piano called "The Durham Strike", in memory of the Durham Coal Strike of 1892.[200]

In 2014, songwriter Brenda Heslop wrote a cycle of 12 songs to accompany Keith Pattison's Easington photographs, titled "No Redemption Songs", the songs will be released during 2014 on the Shipyard label, performed by her band Ribbon Road.

See also


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Further reading

  • Francis Beckett, David Hencke (2009). Marching to the Fault Line: The Miners' Strike and the Battle for Industrial Britain. London: Constable. ISBN 978-1-84529-614-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Callinicos, Alex; Simons, Mike. The great strike: the miners strike of 1984–5 and its lessons. London: Socialist Worker. ISBN 0-905998-50-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Campbell, Adrian, and Malcolm Warner. "Leadership in the Miners Union-Scargill, Arthur Rise to Power." Journal of General Management 10.3 (1985): 4–22.
  • Coulter, Jim; Miller, Susan; Walker, Martin (1984). State of Siege: Miners' Strike, 1984 – Politics and Policing in the Coal Fields. Canary Press. ISBN 0-9509967-0-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> A critique of policing methods in the coalfields during the strike
  • Crick, Michael. Scargill and the Miners (Penguin, 1985)
  • Holden, Triona (2005). Queen Coal, Women of the Miners' Strike. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-3971-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hutton, Guthrie (2009). Coal Not Dole – Memories of the 1984/85 Miners' Strike. Catrine: Stenlake Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84033-329-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • MacGregor, Ian (1986). The Enemies Within: The Story of the Miners' Strike 1984-5. William Collins. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-00-217706-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Milne, Seumas (1994). The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners. London: Verso. ISBN 978-1-84467-508-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Pages 18–19 give details of the 1991 payouts to miners from the Battle of Orgreave.
  • Peace, David (2005). GB84. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-22174-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> A novel.
  • Parker, Tony (1986). Red Hill, A Mining Community. Coronet Books. ISBN 0-340-42365-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Compilation of eyewitness accounts of the miners' strike from both sides of the dispute
  • Peter, Gibbon. "Analysing the British miners' strike of 1984–5." Economy and Society 17.2 (1988): 139–194.
  • Routledge, Paul. Scargill: the unauthorized biography (HarperCollins, 1993)
  • Wilsher, Peter, Donald Macintyre, and Michael CE Jones, eds. Strike: Thatcher, Scargill and the miners (A. Deutsch, 1985)
  • Winterton, Jonathan, and Ruth Winterton. Coal, crisis and conflict: the 1984–85 miners' strike in Yorkshire (Manchester University Press, 1989)
  • Stephen Whyles ISBN 978-1-4990-8957-8 " A Scab is no Son of Mine" a book about growing up in a mining community and crossing the picket line in the 1984 dispute

External links