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UK miners' strike (1984-1985)

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UK miners' strike (1984-1985)

The UK miners' strike of 1984–85 was a major industrial action affecting the British coal industry. It was a defining moment in British industrial relations, and its defeat significantly weakened the British trade union movement. It was also seen as a major political victory for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party. The strike became a symbolic struggle, as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was one of the strongest unions in the country, viewed by many, including Conservatives in power, as having brought down the Heath government in the union's 1974 strike. The later strike ended with the miners' defeat and the Thatcher government able to consolidate its fiscally conservative programme. The political power of the NUM and of most British trade unions was severely reduced. Three deaths resulted from events around the strike: two pickets and a taxi driver taking a non-striking miner to work.


Coal Mining in the UK

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[quantify] (though a number of UK mines ("pits") were profitable). By the 1980s, the government insisted that to return to profitability, the mines required investment in mechanisation and subsequent job cuts. Many unions resisted this.

A previous strike in 1974 by coal workers had played a major role in bringing down the Heath government. In response Conservative MP Nicholas Ridley drafted an internal report on the nationalised industries, in particular proposing how a future Conservative government could fight, and defeat, a major strike in a nationalised industry. In Ridley's and others' view, 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 profitability of the UK. The report, known as the "Ridley Plan" was later leaked to The Economist magazine and appeared in its 27 May 1978 issue.[1] The plan was thus well known and discussed by striking miners in 1983.

The National Union of Mineworkers

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. As a federation influenced by syndicalism, it represented and co-ordinated the affairs of local and regional miners' branches and regions, with the latter retaining a large degree of regional autonomy. The miners' unions were the largest and most powerful industrial combinations in Britain for decades, and exercised a great influence on the rest of the British labour movement. The first working class Members of Parliament, Thomas Burt and Alexander Macdonald, elected in 1874, represented mining constituencies and were funded by miners' associations, and miners' unions continued to enlarge labour representation in the House of Commons subsequently, although they took little part in the founding of the Labour Party.

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; combined with an evangelical religious style based on Methodism this led to an ideology of equalitarianism.[2] By the mid 1980s, miners in Nottinghamshire had a very different set of conditions from those in South Wales, for example. This made the question of "national" action a vexed one, and contributed to later disagreement over the question of whether a national strike ballot was necessary; the only nationally co-ordinated actions were the mass pickets at Orgreave.[3]

By 1983 the NUM was led by Arthur Scargill, a Yorkshire miner, militant[4] trades unionist, and socialist, with strong leanings towards communism.[4][5][6] 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".[7]

Government economic policy

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, and the taming of inflation displaced high employment as the primary policy objective.[8] Interest rates increased to slow the growth of the money supply and thus lower inflation, along with increases to indirect taxes such as VAT.[9] The fiscal and monetary squeeze, combined with the North Sea oil effect, appreciated the real exchange rate.[10] 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,[11] and 1981 saw taxes increased in the middle of a recession and rioting in part of London.

Two million manufacturing jobs were lost during the 1979–1981 recession,[10] Economically, this labour-shedding helped firms deal with long-standing X-inefficiency from over-manning,[10] enabled the British economy to catch up to the productivity levels of other advanced capitalist countries,[10] and brought inflation from an earlier high of 18% down to 8.6%.[10] 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—and manufacturing output had dropped by 30% from 1978. In 1983, discussing the greatly 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."[12]

Sequence of major events

A strike nearly occurred in 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.[13] It was widely believed that a confrontation had been averted only for the short term, and the Yorkshire miners passed a resolution that a strike should take place if any pit was threatened with closure for reasons other than exhaustion or geological difficulties. 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 5.2% raise, rejecting their leaders' call for a strike authorisation.[14] 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 1983, the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher appointed Ian MacGregor[15] 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.[16] However, this was achieved at the expense of a halving of the workforce in only two years. 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.

Pit closures announced

On 6 March 1984, the National Coal Board announced that the agreement reached after the 1974 strike had become obsolete, and that to rationalise government subsidisation of industry 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[17] and Wales would lose their primary source of employment. 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.[18]

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 strike action began when workers at the Manvers complex walked out over the lack of consultation. Over six thousand miners were already on strike when a local ballot led to strike action from 5 March at Cortonwood Colliery at Brampton Bierlow, and at Bullcliffe Wood colliery, near Ossett. The 5 March action was prompted 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.

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

The decision of the NACODS union not to strike created a tense situation in the mines, with NACODS deputies being labelled as "scabs" by union hardliners. On 23 October, one thousand pickets attempted to prevent a sole bath attendant from entering the threatened Emley Moor colliery.[19] Some of the NACODS members felt that going on strike would actually work against the cause, as lack of maintenance below ground could allow geological conditions to deteriorate to a state that would prevent the pit from reopening – defeating the whole goal of opposing closures; however, hard-line strikers were not always sympathetic to this line of argument. The first two pits to close in 1985 were Barrow colliery at Worsbrough Bridge and Ackton Hall colliery at Featherstone. Both were closed as they were unsafe for the miners to return to work in rather than because continued operation would have been "uneconomic".

Observation of the strike

At its beginning, the strike was almost universally observed in the coalfields of Yorkshire, Scotland, the North-East and Kent. Lancashire miners had originally been lukewarm about striking, but, ignoring the wishes of the working members, its leaders announced on 22 March that the strike was official.[20] Many miners in South Wales resented how their previous attempts to launch strikes in support of the steel workers and health workers had been largely unsupported, but there were enough pits in the region under threat of closure to gain momentum for the strike in the area. Support was less strong in the Midlands and North Wales. In Nottinghamshire, most of the pits had modern equipment and large coal reserves; most of the Nottinghamshire miners remained at work and the Nottinghamshire NUM disagreed with the decision to launch a national strike without a ballot. Many within the NUM condemned them as strikebreakers, and the Nottinghamshire branch eventually broke away to form the core of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers.

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 horse-back charged the miners with truncheons drawn - 51 picketers and 72 policemen were injured.[21] In 1991, the South Yorkshire Police paid compensation of £425,000 to thirty-nine miners who were arrested during the incident.[22] This was due to the fact that those arrested were charged with the wrong offences in law. Other less well known, but also bloody, police attacks took place, for example, in Maltby, South Yorkshire.[23]

Events that encouraged the end of the strike included an assault on a working miner in Castleford in November[24] and the manslaughter at the hands of the strikers of a taxi driver driving a miner to work in South Wales in December.[25] The strike 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.[26]

The union's funds had also run too low to pay for pickets' transport, and many miners had been unable to pay for heating over the winter. Some mining families resorted to scavenging for coal on spoil tips, a desperate move as most of the "spoil" was very dangerous and liable to slip. Three children died in this manner. Many others found themselves arrested for trespass and theft.

The formal end

The strike ended on 3 March 1985, nearly a year after it had begun. Some workers had already returned to work of their own accord, a symbolic victory for the Coal Board management, although ministers later admitted that the figures of returners were inflated to hurt the strikers' morale. To save the union, the NUM voted, by a tiny margin, to return to work without a new agreement with management. In the special conference that ended the strike, only Kent voted to carry on the strike. Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and South Derbyshire did not send any delegates to the conference.

The end of the strike was felt as a terrible blow to loyal NUM members, though many understood that the extreme poverty being suffered after a year without wages was difficult to bear. Indeed, in many areas, striking miners made a distinction between those who had returned to work after only a couple of months strike, and those who felt forced to return to work for the sake of their children, many months later.

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".

Issues in the strike

The question of a pre-strike ballot

The issue of whether a ballot was needed for a national strike had been complicated by the actions of previous NUM leader Joe Gormley. When wage reforms were rejected by two national ballots, Gormley declared that each region could decide on these reforms on its own accord; his decisions had been upheld by courts on appeal. 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 five weeks into the strike.[27] Many miners, especially at the threatened pits, were also opposed to a ballot because of the time required to organise one and the urgency of the situation arising from the accelerated closure programme. There was a fear that strike supporters would refuse to take part in a ballot. Critics point out that Scargill's policy of letting each region decide seemed inconsistent with the threatened expulsion of the Nottinghamshire branch after 20,000 out of 27,000 miners in the county voted against the strike.

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 striking miners as "the enemy within" and claimed they did not share the values of other British people.

"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.[28]

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.[29]

In August, two miners from Manton, who protested that the strike was not 'official' without a ballot, took the NUM to court. In September the High Court ruled that the NUM had breached its own constitution by calling a strike without first holding a ballot. Scargill was fined £1,000 (which was paid for him by an anonymous donor), 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.[30] By the end of January 1985, around £5 million of NUM assets had been recovered.[31]

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 [32]

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) did not support the NUM but seemed to support Thatcher's call for a national ballot. Solidarity action was taken, however, by the railwaymen of the National Union of Railwaymen and by dockers, who were both threatened with dismissal if they refused to handle coal. The Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union, actively opposed the strike; Ian MacGregor's autobiography[33] detailed how its leaders supplied the government with valuable information that allowed the strike to be defeated. The steelworkers' unions did not support the strike, a stance widely resented by the miners after the support that they had given the steel strike in 1980 and concessions were made by the NUM on deliveries of coke to steel works during the strike. The National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers (NACODS) nearly went on strike in September; this was one point where the balance seemed to be tipping in favour of the miners, but Scargill's subsequent contempt of court orders caused the NUM to be fined and lost it wider support in the trade union movement. 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 TUC, passing information about negotiations.[34]

Strike-breaking and journalism

The refusal of some miners to support the strike was seen as a betrayal by those who did strike. The opposite positions of miners in the adjacent coal fields of Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, where the former were striking and the latter strike-breaking, led to many bitter confrontations in the region. Instances of violence directed against working miners by striking miners were reported. In some cases, this extended to attacks on the property, the families and the pets of working miners.[35] 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 went on. The Morning Star was the only national daily newspaper that consistently supported the striking miners and the NUM.

Government action

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. Many picketers were subject to intimidation and often violence from the police. Police attempted to stop pickets travelling between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, an action which led to many protests.[36] The government claimed these actions were to uphold the laws of the land and to safeguard individual civil rights. Many miners have seen this as class warfare, with the police as the 'special bodies of armed men' that Friedrich Engels described.[citation needed]

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. Former striking miners have alleged that soldiers in police uniform were also used on the picket lines to avoid publicising the necessity of bringing in the military (this has never been proved). In many former mining areas antipathy towards the police remains strong to this day because of the violence meted out. The government was criticised[37] for abusing its power when it ruled that local police might be too sympathetic to the miners to take action against the strike and instead brought in forces from distant counties. The Labour MPs for Doncaster North and Castleford and Pontefract both raised concerns in Parliament over suggestions that the police had asked miners held in custody about their political allegiances.[37]

This strike was also the first in which the provision of welfare benefits were restricted in a way that miners saw as being used as a weapon against strikers. Welfare benefits had never been available to workers on strike but their dependents (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 dependents of strikers from receiving "urgent needs" payments and also applied a compulsory deduction from the strikers' dependents' 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.[38]

The majority of miners and their families had to survive the strike on handouts, donations from the European Economic Community's "food mountain" and charities. Poverty and hunger became rife in the mining heartlands.

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.[39]

MI5 "counter-subversion"

Dame Stella Rimington (Director-General of MI5, 1992 – 1996) 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.[40]

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.[41] 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.[41] 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.[41]

Socialist groups claimed 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".[42][43] 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."[44]

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,[45] and other senior officials travelled to Libya.[46] 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.[47] This was long after an investigation by Seumas Milne described the allegations as wholly without substance and a "classic smear campaign".[48]

In 2007 Daily Mail published an article based on declassified Soviet documents where Arthur Scargill personally contacted Moscow to secure sufficient funds, that were to be transferred through Warsaw.[49] The NUM received payments from the trade unions of Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Soviet miners who sent 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.[50]

The hint of a link tarnished Scargill, but trust of him amongst striking miners remained firm. Scargill was perceived as a militant hero by the unions,[51] and as a Marxist thug by most of the mainstream press. Scargill always denied these accusations and accused the government of fuelling a smear campaign. However, the ex-head of MI5, Stella Rimington, claimed in her autobiography, "We in MI5 limited our investigations to those who were using the strike for subversive purposes."[52]

David Jastrzebski of the then banned Polish trade union Solidarity voiced support of the striking miners. "Neither the British government's mounted police charges nor its truncheon blows, any more than the Polish junta's tanks or rifle fire, can break our common will to struggle for a better future for the working class."[53]


Two picketers, David Jones and Joe Green, died during the strike,[54] and three teenagers (Darren Holmes aged 15 and Paul Holmes and Paul Womersley aged 14) died picking coal from a colliery waste heap in the winter. The deaths of pickets David Jones and Joe Green continue to be viewed with suspicion. Jones was killed in Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, by a flying brick during fighting between police, pickets, and non-striking miners,[55] while Green was hit by a truck while picketing at Ferrybridge power station in Yorkshire.[20] The NUM names its memorial lectures after the two.[56] 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.

The impact of the strike was nowhere near as hard-hitting as previous strikes such as those of the early 1970s. With most homes equipped with oil or gas central heating and the railways long since converted to diesel and electricity, the only remaining significant sector of Britain's national infrastructure that was still reliant upon coal was the electrical generation industry under the Central Electricity Generating Board. The problem of potential power-shortages as a result of a coal strike had been recognised by the Thatcher government which insisted that Britain's coal-fired power stations create their own stockpiles of coal which would keep them running throughout any industrial action. This strategy turned out to be incredibly successful during the miner's strike as the power stations were able to maintain power supplies even through the winter of 1984. It also meant that the striking miners themselves, unable to pay their energy bills without wages, were the only ones who lost out.

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.[57] The strike subsequently emboldened the NCB to accelerate the closure of many pits on economic grounds.

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.[58] 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.[59] 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."[58]

Variation in observing the strike

Levels of participation in the 1984–85 strike by area[60]
Area Manpower  % on strike 19 Nov 1984  % on strike 14 Feb 1985  % on strike 1 Mar 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 available for the 1000 N.C.B. staff employees.

Mining and mining communities after the strike

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,[61] however, by March 2005, there were only eight major deep mines left.[62] 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.[63] During the strike, Scargill had constantly claimed that the government had a long-term plan to reduce the industry in this way. The miners' will to resist deteriorated rapidly and there was a very apathetic response to the intensive period of closures in the early 1990s, despite evidence that there was much more sympathy for the miners then than in 1984.

Nottinghamshire miners had hoped that their pits were safe, but they too were mostly closed in the 1985–1994 period. This was widely resented as a betrayal of the promises that had been made to working miners in the strike; they had been told that their jobs were safe and their industry had a future. The subsequent behaviour of the Conservative government was seen by most on the left, and in the "heavy" industries, to confirm fears about how they had been used to divide the miners' union.

The effect of the strike has been long and bitter for many areas that depended on coal. Many miners were forced into debt as the union did not make strike payments to its members, only paying money to strikers on picket. The problem was compounded as the union's failure to hold an official ballot meant that the strike was illegal and social security rules prevented benefits being paid to participants of illegal strikes. Further, the rules meant that any benefits paid to partners or dependents of striking miners were calculated as if strike pay was being received.

The closure of pits also affected engineering, railways, electricity and steel production, which were all interlinked with the coal industry. Unemployment reached as high as 50% in some villages over the following decade. Migration out of old mining areas left many villages full of derelict houses and earning reputation as ghost towns. The tensions between those who had supported the strike and those who had not, or who were police officers at the time, lasted for many years afterwards (and sometimes continues today, having been passed down to the next generation), eroding the strong sense of unity that had previously existed in such communities. 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.[64]

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.[65] 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.[66] In Merseyside, the Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley, had contained the "Cronton" pit and the neighbouring Metropolitan Borough of St Helens contained Sutton Manor, Bold and Parkside collieries.

Other areas have recovered and now boast a good standard of living. Recovery was quickest in areas where the economy was more diverse, such as in Kent or the West Midlands. Brodsworth boasted the largest mine in the country and is also enjoying relative affluence. Old colliery sites have often been turned into new industrial parks or retail parks. Xscape, an indoor ski-slope, forms part of an entertainments centre and outlet shopping complex built on the former site of Castleford's Glasshoughton colliery.

The Daily Mirror, which had been hostile towards the strike at the time, began a campaign to raise awareness of the social deprivation in the coalfields. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is an organisation that makes grants to aid the redevelopment of former mining areas.[67]

Although mining is now only a very small industry in Britain, as of 2003 it was reportedly more productive in terms of output per worker than the coal industries in France, Germany and the United States[68][69]

Andrew J. Richards' book, Miners on Strike, dedicated a chapter to how unusual it was in 1984 for a large-scale strike to be launched in protest at job cuts. In Britain, trade unions had traditionally launched strikes for claims on wage rises and rights at work, but strikes in defence of jobs had been very rare. Since the example of the 1984-5 miners' strike, union leaders have been much more likely to call for action in defence of jobs. Coincidentally, 1984 was the year when Harvard economists Richard B. Freeman and James Medoff published the book What do Unions do?, where such a strategy was seen as good for productivity and less of a pressure on inflation.

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.[70]

The strike was the background for the 2000 film Billy Elliot, based around County Durham mining communities Easington 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 "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.[71]

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. Several points in the film make reference to the difficulty experienced in "putting food on the table" during the strike.

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".

1980's satirical television show spitting image prominently made fun of the miner's strike during the early seasons including a spoof mcdonalds advert called macgregors saying lines as "there's an indifference at macgregors you will enjoy". in another memorable sketch entitled News at Benn there is footage of Margaret thatcher at a party conference overlaid with dialog by steve nallon saying "and after that we can publicity disembowel Arthur Scargill, as far as the elderly are concerned i think we should burn the bastards, then we can use them as coal and we wont need the miners act on trial"


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 2nd highest award given to musicals in the US).


A British children's book, The Coal House, written by Andrew Taylor[72] 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.[25][73][74] 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.[75]

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.[76]

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.[77]


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 "Daddy, What did you do in the strike?". 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. Billy Bragg's version of "Which Side Are You On?", neatly encapsulated the strikers' feeling of betrayal by the perceived indifference of wider elements within British society. Also in 1985, English punk group The Mekons portrayed the miners' situation in the song "Abernant 1984/5" on the album Fear and Whiskey.

The folk song "The Ballad of '84" contains the view that David Jones and Joe Green died as a result of the police's handling of events. U2's song "Red Hill Mining Town" from their Joshua Tree album is about the strike, according to lead singer Bono. On 7 July 1984 the anarcho-punk band Crass played their final show in Aberdare, Wales at a benefit for striking miners.

Chumbawamba recorded several pieces in support of the miners. These include the cassette only "Common Ground", recorded as a benefit for the miners. They also recorded a song called "Fitzwilliam", which described the Yorkshire village of that name after the strike. Fitzwilliam eventually saw around a third of its housing stock demolished due to the dominance of derelict properties. They also made a song called "Frickley" about the football club Frickley Athletic, which referenced the continued distrust of the police by those in mining areas after the strike. They also recorded an a cappella song entitled "Coal Not Dole", a popular slogan used by the miners throughout the strike.

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.[78]

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.

Banner Theatre recorded two cassettes – "Here We Go" in 1985 and "Saltley Gate" in 1993, with many songs from the pen of Dave Rogers. The best known are "Saltley Gate" about the mass Birmingham picket, "Maerdy, the Last Pit in the Rhondda" and "Busking for the Miners" which celebrates how Birmingham people supported the miners' struggle. "Monday Morning Rain" was written for Banner's 1989 show "In the Reign of Pig's Pudding" and is a poignant song about the effects of unemployment after pit closures – it is included in the album "Elixir of Life". Rogers also wrote songs for the New Vic Theatre production "Nice Girls", relating to the protest camps set up outside threatened pits by women from all over Britain in 1993. Banner toured these camps and created the song "Women on the Line" – this was later included in their video ballad "Burning Issues" which marked the twentieth anniversary of the 1984/5 Miners Strike and was developed with former mining communities in Yorkshire, Lancashire, the Midlands and South Wales.

The strike also inspired two entire albums. Freq, recorded in 1984 by ex-Hawkwind singer and lyricist Robert Calvert. Alternating with songs such as "All the machines are quiet" and "Work song" are five short tracks taken from speeches and demonstrations recorded amongst the miners themselves. The industrial group Test Department recorded the 1984 album Shoulder to Shoulder, in collaboration with the South Wales Striking Miners Choir. The album combined harsh industrial rhythms with the traditional songs sung by the male choir, and also included poetry and speeches from the strike.

Soul/punk/pop/rockabilly band The Redskins, who were notable for their left-wing views and lyrics, supported the struggle of the miners and the union. Their song "Keep on Keepin' On" was a rallying support for the strike, and the band played benefits in support of the strike. The punk/Oi! band Angelic Upstarts recorded a song supportive of the miners called "One More Day". Welsh punk rockers Foreign Legion's song "Another Day" is about the strike.

Paul Weller of the Style Council was a big supporter of the miners, In December 1984 he 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.

British pop trio Soho gave mention to the miners' strike in their 1990 hit song "Hippychick".[79]

Bradford-based rock band New Model Army wrote and released two songs about the strike: "1984", from their "The Price" EP of that year, and "The Charge", from their eponymously titled EP of 1987. "1984" was a graphic portrayal of villages under siege, phone-tapping and the strikers’ growing sense of bitterness and frustration. "The Charge" dealt with the aftermath of the strike, feelings of betrayal and the way of life that was lost with the miners’ defeat.

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.[80]

The 1994 song "The Truth Famine" by British folk metal band Skyclad – known for the social commentary in their lyrics – made reference to pit closures and their aftermath ("From Newcastle's shipyards to Nottingham's pits / They strip down our country and sell it in bits"). The album on which the song appears, Prince of the Poverty Line, is a loose concept album about urban decay in post-Thatcherite Britain.

See also

Organized labour portal



  • Map showing location of pits in 1984 and the closures each year up to 2004.
  • Includes lists of mine closure dates.

Further reading

  • Pages 18–19 give details of the 1991 payouts to miners from the Battle of Orgreave.
  • A novel.
  • Compilation of eyewitness accounts of the miners' strike from both sides of the dispute
  • A critique of policing methods in the coalfields during the strike

External links

  • Miner's Advice – website providing help and information to ex-coal miners
  • The official NUM website
  • A look at present day mining
  • Women in the miners' strike 1984/85 in the north-east of England
  • Norman Strike's Diary – an online version of a diary kept by one of the striking miners
  • Sources for the Study of the Miners Strike in South Yorkshire Produced by Sheffield City Council's Libraries and Archives
  • Cabinet office documents from 1984 concerning the strike (PDF format)
  • (French) (English) Radio Télévision Suisse, dated 1984.

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