Today in London’s radical history: Striking miners march on Parliament, 1984

The recent verdict in the Hillsborough Inquest has opened up a can of worms which may yet bite more bastards in the arse (alright; so we can mix our metaphors with best!)

The campaign to open up an inquiry into police violence, lies and cover-ups (and the extent of state instigation and collusion) relating to the miners’ battles with cops at Orgreave in June 1984 has stepped up a gear, re-vitalised by the knowledge that many of the same top officers in charge then are now facing serious allegations over Hillsborough.

The 1984-5 miners’ strike against pit closures and mass job losses was raging… Thatcher’s government had hatched a deliberate and pre-meditated plan to provoke a strike which they could use to crush the power of the miners, rightly seeing this as a major part of taming working class collective organisation. This was a vital element in their plan for the restructuring of British social and economic life, as part of the ongoing reshuffling of capital in the interests of the rulers.

In June ’84, although the state had thrown massive forces into play against the miners (the first clashes at Orgreave had gone down just a week before), there was still a sense of optimism, that the miners could force Thatcher and co to back down.

Obviously this blog mainly limits itself to the rebellious past of London, and the frontlines of the strike were elsewhere… Nevertheless, London saw the odd bit of action. Apart from the tory plot being masterminded from here, and the plethora of miners’ support groups active in London which collected money, organised solidarity actions, and raised the issue constantly. As the first confrontations at Orgreave were taking place, and just a few days before the heaviest fighting on June 18th, a national demo took place in support of the miners’ strike in London.

On June 7th, as the House of Commons debated the miners strike, thousands of miners and supporters marched to lobby Parliament. A scuffle with the police about halfway led to some arrests – one of those nicked recounts what happened:

“Central London came to a standstill on June 7th ’84 as the various battles at Orgreave started getting underway. Channel 4 (‘Strike: When Britain Went To War’, Saturday, January 24th 2004) shows a traditional pro-miners strike demo strolling down Fleet Street with a voiceover saying “Central London came to a standstill”. This was true but, inevitably, banal, and made it look like any other big demo – say, the anti-Iraqi war ones of 2003. What happened was a little different from most demos. For a start, the demo wasn’t that big – 10 to 15,00.0 It started off from Kings Cross, rather boring amid the usual paper sellers…

We walked from Kings Cross up Grays Inn Road, towards the end, near Theobalds Road, when there was a tussle with the cops; they were trying to nick some oldish miner, and slapping him around a bit, and demonstrators were trying to stop them. I chucked what was left of my can of beer at the cops and from what seemed like nowhere, a snatch squad of three or four grabbed me; I… clung like fuck onto a lampost whilst struggling with the rest of my body but they still managed to get me and I was pushed, my arms in a twist, into a building for traffic wardens. Amazingly, they didn’t thump me, even when I asked the arresting cop, “What does it feel like – sitting on a volcano?”, to which he remained silent, which was his right.

I was then shunted in a van off with a couple of other blokes who’d been nicked to a police station near Covent Garden, where the cops, surprisingly hurriedly – in 70 minutes or less, went through a bureaucratic procedure that would normally take at the very least 4 hours for 4 blokes– we weren’t even put in the cells, and they didn’t have time to verify names and addresses. The arresting cop, who was taking down my details, said something like, “We’ve been reasonable with you haven’t we – not as bad as you people who are always against things think we are – we haven’t beaten you up”. One bearded miner, when asked his age, said, “You can’t charge me – I’m only 13 – I’m under the age of criminal responsibility.”

Normally cops, when they release you under your own surety, just put you into the street, but these decided to put us in a van and when we asked, after a minute of driving, what they were going to do with us, they said, “We’ve got to take you back to where you were arrested.” One miner says, “They’re taking us somewhere so they can torture us”. We notice the traffic outside is completely blocked and that there are cops on motorbikes up ahead clearing the traffic to make a path for us to get through. And as we turn from Southampton Row into Theobalds Road the whole of Theobalds Road is blocked with cops across the road and cops on horses lining it all the half mile or so up to Grays Inn Road, with hundreds of them surrounding the main police station there, and demonstrators mingling around, with a couple of buses stopped in the middle of the road.

As we got out the cop van the crowd cheers, a brass band strikes up something or other and men rush to carry the released miners on their shoulders, followed by loads of cameras… Apparently the miners had gone up to the bus drivers and told them that they were forming a picket line because miners had been nicked and one old miner had been beaten up, so the bus drivers stopped because they didn’t want to cross picket lines. Can you imagine such solidarity today? (well, it could happen – but it would require more intimidation and probably more violence against the cops who are psychotically super-confident and always raring for a punch-up; nowadays a few blokes outside a pub on a Saturday night, chucking a couple of glasses into the road, can get an instant response by the riot squad dressed in all their gear, shields ready along with all their other new equipment). The whole of London at a standstill for almost 2 hours in mid-week – it was a great feeling. And it was just a third of the demo – about 4000, the rest having marched on before the tussle with the cops. Compare this with the demo of 250,000 against the decimation of the pits in 1992 when nothing happened. It shows what people can do when there’s a movement of solidarity, confidence and practical hope in the air.”

 This is nicked from So Near So Far, a selective history of the British miners and their struggles.

Thousands of miners and friends went on to rally outside Parliament, where there was a lot more pushing and shoving… Altogether there were 100 arrests.

Hundreds of miners stuck around in London, and were involved in the defence of a Greater London Council festival against fascist attack a few days later… (watch this space for more on this).

In case you are like, thirteen, or have been in a coma for 33 years, you know the rest – the miners lost. Despite mass solidarity, hit squads, Orgreave, the incredible power of the mining communities, Women Against Pit Closures, an almost titanic effort which transformed the lives of thousands … there was too much at stake for the architects of the new right dream to lose this one. Most folk of a vaguely leftist, socialist, anarchist, communist, call it whatcha will persuasion would trace from ‘84-85 a careering downward slide in collective organisation, working class cohesion and self-confidence, the idea that a more egalitarian society is possible… or even at a more basic level, that we should have any kind of stable expectation of work or a reasonable share of the profits of our labour. The defeat of the miners was a pivotal event.

Inquiries and inquests are coming thick and fast relating to the ‘recent’ past – Hillsborough, the Undercover Policing Inquiry. A probe into Orgreave may yet join the list. It’s vital that these moments and cataclysms, processes of repression and secrecy happen; not just for the sake of the dead, the arrested, the wrecked mining communities which have never recovered. (Support the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign).

At the same time, it is true that one of the reasons the current incarnation of the state gives into the massive pressure to hold such inquiries is that they feel secure enough to do so. Huge as the campaigns to open up examinations are, the powers-that-be know that a) Public Inquiries are as much about covering up as revealing, and b) the threat is mainly in the past. We have not recovered our collective strength since the 1980s.

They don’t feel threatened enough.

How to put the ruling classes in fear – aye, there’s the rub.

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

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