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It has been thirty years since Thatcher broke the miners' strike

The industrial action lasted for almost a year and marked the beginning of the end for the industry.

An injured picketer in Yorkshire in August, 1984
An injured picketer in Yorkshire in August, 1984
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

THIS COMING WEEK marks the thirtieth anniversary of the end of the miners’ strike.

The major industrial action saw miners from across England, Scotland and Wales hold out for almost a year in response to pit closures by Margaret Thatcher’s government.

The confrontation came to be remembered as a bitter stand off between her and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – headed by President Arthur Scargill.

The ending of the strike without the demands of miners being met resulted in the dissipation of much of the NUM’s power and the beginning of the end for Britain’s mining industry.

The strike ended with the National Union of Mineworkers passing a vote to return to work.

Employment - Miners' Strike - London National Union of Mineworkers President Arthur Scargill (left) with the organisations Scottish President Mick McGahey in 1984 Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

In the early 1980s the NUM were in a strong position. They had previously used industrial action successfully against Edward Heath’s government in 1974. This resulted in the government imposed electricity-saving three-day week to save electricity, the loss of a general election for Heath’s Conservatives in October 1974 and a dramatic increase in miner’s wages under the new Labour government.

4457686682_2ea04f9056_z Source: Matthepirate2000/Flickr

The 1984-85 industrial action was triggered by Thatcher’s plans to to close 20 coal mines and longer term plans to close more than 75 pits over a three-year period. 

Mines had been a nationalised resource since after the Second World War but had become something of a burden on the British State – surviving in large part on government subsidies.

The official strike was called by President of the NUM Arthur Scargill on 12 March 1984.

Battle of Orgreave 

The industrial action taken by the mineworkers was marked by mass picketing of coal mines across the United Kingdom and confrontation between those on strike and the police saw a number of individuals injured and eleven people killed. 

Miner's Dispute - Rotherham - 1984 One man injured during the Battle of Orgreave in 1984 Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

A major incident during the strike was the ‘Battle of Orgreave’. This took place in June of 1984 and saw around 5,000 police officers facing off against roughly the same number of miners.

The incident saw miners being charged by police on horseback with truncheons. In the course of these events more that 70 police officers and 50 picketers were injured. Eventually South Yorkshire Police were made to pay out more than €400,000 in compensation to 39 miners injured on the day.

4882008419_66bb144ef7_z Source: Beamish Museum/Flickr

The enemy within 

Papers that have come out in the years since the strike that show Thatcher’s government regarded the miners as ‘the enemy within’. 

Over the course of the strike a number of methods were used to discretely attack the unions. The reach of Thatcher’s operation against the miners included the MI5, police Special Branch, GCHQ and the NSA.

Covered in Seumas Milne’s book ‘The Enemy Within’, a range of covert action taken against the NUM was justified as its leaders were considered ‘subversive’.

Employment - Miners' Strike - Rotherham Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

End of the strike 

The strike came to an end on the first Sunday in March, 1985. After almost a year out on pickets, a delegate conference of the NUM in London voted by 98 to 91 to abandon the action and called for a return to work.

In the years since Britain’s coal mining industry has gone into terminal decline. Where there were once 170 operating coal pits across the Island, there is now only three.

The remaining coal mining industry was finally privatisated in 1994, becoming UK Coal.

Read: “We are winning this campaign”: Families tell water protesters to stop hunger strike 

Also: Teachers are miffed Junior Cert details were leaked to newspaper

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