1984-85 miners' strike
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The 1984-85 miners strike, otherwise known simply as "the miners' strike", was one of the most defining moments in 20th century British history, seeing a reverse in the strength of trade unions; the change from primary industry to retail, and the deterioration of community life in Northern England in the face of better living quality in the south.
In 1946, the Labour Party nationalised the coal industry under the National Coal Board, allowing for a national increase in safety and miners' wages rather than the varying qualities and pay in private industry. The industry enjoyed comfort until the 1960s when a lack of pay increase to keep up with inflation led to miners losing out. The earlier 1972 and 1974 strikes against the Edward Heath Conservative government saw the successful increase of miners' wages, and further investment into improving the quality of collieries. However, this was more in order to function with a depleted staff in future strikes than to increase production. When the Conservatives were elected in 1979 they sought to destroy trade union strength outright by weakening the human labour, and upscaled mechanisation of the industry to allow for redundancies.
In 1983 the government concluded in a report that, by their calculations, mechanisation would still lead to coal extraction being 25% more expensive than importing (lower quality) coal from abroad. In 1984 it was decided that a number of collieries would be closed. The majority of miners had lost interest in striking after the 1970s, and new laws brought in by the Thatcher ministry required a majority national vote for such strikes to be considered legal. Faced with this, the National Union of Miners called for one anyway. NUM leader Arthur Scargill became an easily-vilified figure in the press, especially for his refusal to condemn violence. Over the year the strike lost the support of the Daily Mirror and The Guardian, and strikers in Yorkshire became dependent on soup kitchens and donations from the Soviet Union to prevent them going back to work. By early 1985 the Union was on the defensive, and regional officers were negotiating the protection of employment if action was called off. In South Wales, a large number of strikers were starved back into work, and the proposal was rejected when the employers felt they had enough power. Yorkshire and Kent by this point were the only regions where the majority of miners actually were in favour of strike action; in the former case it was largely due to so many towns being dependent on collieries that further closures would effectively make the county impossibly jobless. In parts of Yorkshire the employment rate is still lagging behind national averages due to an ongoing brain drain.
The strike was notorious for the level of violence which took place. More extreme strikers were known for throwing bricks at employees and broken miners and scabs, breaking car and house windows. On the other side, police brutality was a common threat, and in the Battle of Orgreaves, South Yorkshire's police were reinforced with aggressive police from elsewhere. Violence here was extreme enough that random homeowners were attacked as strikers ran down streets away from horse-mounted units. Following the Hillsborough inquest allegations have been raised to the national stage that there was a culture of police coverups during the Thatcher ministry.
- "1984: The beginning of the end for British coal". BBC News (London).
- 1974: Miners' strike comes to an end, On This Day, BBC
- 1984: Dozens arrested in picket line violence, On This Day, BBC
- Retired police to back miners over 1984 ‘battle of Orgreave’, The Guardian, 1 Oct 2016