Thirty years on, we need the truth about the miners’ strike
As we approached the 30th Anniversary of the Miners Strike, newly released papers showed the extent to which the Thatcher Government sought to escalate the strike, actively considering plans to deploy troops, close pits and put pressure on the police.
We know too that the battle between her Government and the miners didn’t just rage at Orgreave and in coalfields up and down the country, but through the press and media. Throughout the strike Thatcher and her ministers put pressure on the media and deliberately sought to portray the striking miners as ‘the enemy within’ accusing them as ‘intimidation’, ‘guerrilla tactics’ and ‘the rule of the mob’. Just as years later football fans at Hillsborough would face disgraceful and completely unfounded media accusations of drunkenness and violence, the links with their class cannot be ignored.
Only now, 30 years later is the truth starting to emerge. My constituent Andrew Birchall told me recently, “I don't want to romanticise the dispute, it was a hard tough time and many of us suffered then as now for our class.” Many miners lost their jobs, homes, families and confidence. Some never recovered. In the interests of justice they deserve the truth and an apology. That’s why Labour has called for the full release of all papers and an apology from Government as part of our Justice for the Coalfields campaign.
But beyond this, it matters to all of us that we understand what really happened. The story of the Miners Strike is one of women and men, faith groups, the LGBT community, Asian communities and many others besides who stood together against this attack on an industry, families and entire communities.
When Thatcher met with the wives of striking miners she thought she could divide them. It led to Women Against the Pit Closures. As Dawn Foster wrote in the Guardian recently, “the women marched, campaigned, collected money and picketed alongside the men.”
And solidarity bred solidarity. In 1984 when the LGBT community formed Lesbian and Gays support the Miners, David Donovan from the South Wales Miners told them, “You have worn our badge, “Coal not Dole”, and you know what harassment means, as we do. Now we will pin your badge on us, we will support you. It won’t change overnight, but now 140,000 miners know that there are other causes and other problems. We know about blacks, and gays, and nuclear disarmament. And we will never be the same.”
These moments of solidarity really matter. From the fight to reveal the truth about Hillsborough to the battle for equal pay this is how injustices are overturned. We cannot allow the real story of the Miners Strike to be distorted.