As the government announces that there will be no inquiry in to the tragic events at Orgreave, Sheena Moore takes a look back at what happened
I remember this day over 32 years ago as if it were yesterday. It was the 18th of June 1984 a warm summer’s day and the strike was going into its fourth month. I was a 24-year-old somewhat naive young mother with a 2-year-old child and expecting my second. My then husband was 24 years of age. He had joined Hatfield Main Colliery a few years earlier having served in the royal navy. He relocated from the Norfolk area to Doncaster so we could be together. His name was John and he was from a farming family making him a bit of a novelty for the locals who teased him and taught him the pit banter which he loved.
The coal mine offered employment for all abilities from management, skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled and for those with a physical injury or learning disability. Everyone worked together and lived together in our community and we all looked out for and cared for one another. We were an interesting mix of migrants. My grandfather moved from Ireland like many others in search of employment and he found it sinking Hatfield Main Pit. This was at a time when on the doors of pubs and shops where the signs saying ‘’No dogs, blacks or Irish allowed’’. Over time these barriers were broken down and prejudice was not tolerated in the mining communities amongst the Irish, Italians, Polish, Ukrainian, German, Black, Scottish, Durham, Staffordshire or other workers. We were family, that’s how it felt and that’s how it was.
Two years prior to the '84 – 85 strike I remember that Margaret Thatcher was planning to close mines and had set about making the conditions right to render some pits to be uneconomically viable. The 1982 strike had been averted on this occasion because Margaret Thatcher and her conservative government were not quite ready for it. She needed larger stock piles of coal to ensure the country would not run out of it during the strike she was to provoke. It was all planned. We had voted two years earlier that we would defend any pit closure on the grounds of being uneconomic because we knew what Thatcher was up to.
The announcement of the closure of Corton Wood Colliery was Thatcher’s war cry to us. At this announcement a meeting was called in our local Miners Welfare. Cars were driving around our village and surrounding villages. With the use of loud speakers men were beckoned to attend the meeting that was to take place later that day. The word spread through the area of what had happened and that the strike would be on. I remember the atmosphere was electric and men packed the miners welfare spilling out onto the road as the meeting commenced. Miners in our area overwhelmingly supported the fight to defend their industry and jobs.
The miners were under no illusion as to what this fight was about and they intended to fight it as hard as they could to the bitter end. We had to. There was no other options open to us. We were already into an 18 month overtime ban. This was our last and only line of defence to save the coal industry, our jobs and our communities. The strike had been going for 3 months. Without any money coming in it was beginning to feel like an eternity. Hardship was biting and life was getting tougher despite the sunshine and the fact that many miners had a sun tan for the first time since leaving school.
I became politically active during the strike like many other miners wives, sisters, daughters and friend’s. From the very first week we knew we would have to lend our support wholeheartedly to the cause as this was not a strike for the faint hearted. We knew it was going to be hard going and was going to be over a sustained period of time. Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government wanted to smash the National Union of Mineworkers to enable them to bring in their Neoliberal policies we see today. With the NUM destroyed the backbone of the trade union movement would be broken.
The woman fought alongside the men. We attended meetings, speaking out to raise money for the strike fund and helped out in the soup kitchen. We relied on the soup kitchen.
That day, 18th June 1984, had started out like any other day for my husband. He got up early to get ready to go picketing but I do not recollect if he was fully aware of where he was going to be picketing that day. He met up with my father, brother and other striking miners to make their way to their planned destination.
It was not until later that day as our striking miners returned from Orgreave and we learned what had happened. It was like an army returning from a battle. They limped and staggered into the miners hall. Some were covered in blood most had injuries and were being tended to by first aiders from the colliery. The men looked shell-shocked and the stories began to unfold of the brutal attack they had endured at the hands of the police. Their injuries, the truncheon marks on their bodies and their bruises told a story we can never forget.
The miners had been set up. The police had allowed them to travel freely to Orgreave and had even been directed into what was going to be the battle field. Up until then the police had made it difficult for miners or their supporters to travel. Once in the field they were penned in - trapped. The pickets were hugely outnumbered by thousands of police drafted into the area.
The police had riot shields, long batons, truncheons, dogs, horses, and riot gear. Men broke their legs and busted their ankles trying to escape down an embankment. The pickets sustained awful injuries due to being stampeded by police officers on horseback. These were our family, friends, our flesh and blood and it has left such deep scars. They were not thugs, criminals or ‘’The Enemy Within’’.
The situation worsened when it became clear that 95 miners had been charged with riotous assembly following what became known as the Battle of Orgreave. This carried with it a possible life sentence. What was being broadcast in the main stream media did not fit with what the miners were saying had happened. They were portrayed as the aggressors and violent thugs. These 95 men and their families endured 12 months of agony as they waited for their cases to come to trial. The trial spectacularly collapsed but this did not heal the damage that had been done. All the government agencies and the establishment had colluded to set up 95 men and had got away with it.
For 32 years the miners and their loved ones have wanted truth and justice. I want truth and justice. I want it for my beloved father who has since passed away, I want if for my beloved mother also. I want it for other miners and dear friends who are no longer with us and I want if for all of us who are still around who remember what happened. Anyone who doubts the damage and done in our areas I invite you to come and take a look at our decimated villages. We have Margaret Thatcher to thank for this industrial genocide and years of Neoliberalism. This is why the enquiry into Orgreave has been ditched.
Amber Rudd – Tory Secretary of State delivered her decision in true cold, uncaring, brutal Tory style. She said there will be no enquiry into what happened at Orgreave. No enquiry into the brutal policing and no enquiry into who gave the orders for it. She said that no one died unlike Hillsborough. I say to her this is down to luck more than judgement. Many have gone to their graves with the memory that they were called out to the nation as ‘’the enemy within’’. Furthermore we did lose miners during the strike. What about David Jones, what about Joe Green? We treasure their memory.
The police, media and government colluded to demonise our striking miners. The government colluded with dishonest police officers who were setting about writing fraudulent statements to have innocent miners imprisoned for what could have been a life sentence. The BBC admitted that they ‘’innocently’’ changed the sequence of events on that day. They made it look like the miners were attacking the police.
I always believed that perjury and perverting the course of justice is an offence. Yet those who conspired to do this on a massive scale face no sanctions. As Andy Burnham pointed out in the House of Commons, we need to see the Cabinet Papers (which are marked ‘Secret’) to know Thatcher’s role in this criminal episode.
Getting justice for Orgreave is absolutely crucial to people today. There is a clear thread from the attacks on the NUM, the weakening of the trade unions and the vicious austerity the Tories are getting away with. If our miners were still working go you think the Tories would be laughing at us? Getting justice for Orgreave is part of the battle against austerity today.
More articles from this author
- Making saving life a crime: the brutality of the Nationality and Borders Bill
- The billionaires and the race to the bottom: why Sage care workers are fighting on
- ‘Striketober’: the new militancy sweeping the US
- Welfare that makes you ill: the cruelty of the DWP
- Antigone: a shining example of disability-inclusive arts and thought-provoking theatre - review
- Women's liberation and the trans debate
- Stagecoach in Scotland: next stop, strike action - News from the Frontline