A new book on the dispute is a reminder that the scars of the miners’ strike of 1984-85 have not yet healed, says PETER LAZENBY
Justice Denied: Friends, Foes and the Miners’ Strike
Edited by David Allsop, Carol Stephenson and David Wray
(Merlin Press, £15.99)
SOMETIMES a book can be judged by its cover and Justice Denied is one of them. Its front cover comprises one of the most iconic photographs in the history of industrial conflict in Britain.
It shows a police cavalry officer galloping at a young woman photographer, Lesley Boulton. The officer’s baton is raised, preparing to sweep down on her, while Boulton’s left arm is raised in protection.
The dramatic scene was caught by another photographer, the legendary John Harris. As it happened, the baton missed Boulton’s head by a fraction, though she felt the brush of air as it swept past.
Justice Denied is a collection of writings by individuals recollecting, or analysing, events before, during and after the miners’ strike against pit closures in 1984-5.
Some chapters are based on academic research and examination of records, while there is new material dealing with theories about who provoked the strike — the Thatcher government or the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers.
One examines the theory that the closure of Cortonwood colliery in South Yorkshire was a mistake by local management of the National Coal Board but that once the decision had been taken, provoking strike action across the Yorkshire coalfield, there was no going back.
Certainly the Tory government had made preparations for the conflict, whenever it was to come. Coal stocks at power stations were high.
Had there been plans to create a national police force to act as a militia against a well-organised, left-led union? Or did such a force emerge in response to local constabularies’ reluctance to become involved in a confrontation with workers in their own communities?
Certainly, Margaret Thatcher believed the miners had to be defeated if she was to implement her plan for a new Britain with a neoliberal economy, unrestricted by resistance from organised labour.
But there is much more to Justice Denied than academic analysis.
The book also contains moving accounts from participants in the strike which recall the solidarity in communities, the sharing of meagre food supplies and the support from workers and families across Britain and beyond. The international aspect of support for the striking miners has been well-documented elsewhere but nevertheless bears revisiting.
The aftermath of the strike continues, 33 years after the epic struggle began, and the book deals particularly with the outstanding issue of what happened at Orgreave and the efforts to win an inquiry by the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.
What happened at that cokeworks outside Rotherham remains a burning issue, not only among the thousands of striking miners who were there.
They were brutally assaulted by police, savaged by police dogs, wrongfully arrested and wrongfully charged, but finally exonerated.
“No justice, no peace,” is one of the slogans of the campaign and rightfully so.
In telling contrast to the front, the back cover of Justice Denied carries a photo of some of the tens of thousands of people who every year attend the Durham Miners’ Gala — living proof that the spirit of the mining communities lives on, despite the best efforts of Thatcher and her cronies.