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On Orgreave's anniversary all working-class communities can unite against state violence

IAN LAVERY on why justice for Orgreave is part of our struggle for justice today

YESTERDAY marked the 36th anniversary of what has become known as the battle of Orgreave. Its commemoration this year will be somewhat different to those gone by, but it will rightfully be held once again. 

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign has done so much to keep the pressure up on the government for an independent public inquiry into the incident. 

For many, Orgreave has become the embodiment of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike in which the full force of the state, under the direction of the prime minister Margaret Thatcher, was turned on ordinary men and women. 

For my own part as a striking miner during the year long dispute, I was not at Orgreave. I had intended to make the 2½-hour journey from my home in Ashington to the coking plant on the outskirts of Sheffield but like many was stopped from doing so.

Having been arrested on the picket line closer to home several weeks earlier I was banned from the front line on that day.

Whilst it lives in infamy for the sheer scale of injustice it was one day in a dispute that saw mini-Orgreaves on a daily basis up and down the country from Kent to Ayrshire and everywhere in between. 

I well recall the militarisation of our communities with police lining the streets and seeing the tensions boil over on the picket lines on many occasions. Many miners from the great northern coalfield will remember the scenes at Whittle Colliery where black billowing smoke from the lines obstructed the A1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh.

As a young man I stood shoulder to shoulder with men and women in my community and communities up and down the country to protect an industry that was their lifeblood. I still remember the disbelief I felt, seeing the extent to which the government would go to crush hard-working, honest, decent people. The full tools of the state were mobilised including the police, press and judiciary.

However, whilst that element of the strike was demoralising, who can forget the tremendous solidarity we received from the British and international working class in all its diversity. 

Christmas 1984 saw juggernaut after juggernaut arrive in the UK from the French trade unions who ensured that the children of every striking miner received a present to open. 

The miners of South Africa donated a day’s pay to the dispute despite their own perilous situation. Britain’s LGBTQ community famously supported the cause as did our Black and Asian communities who raised funds and supported miners practically during the dispute.

Whilst ultimately the strike was unsuccessful it did not have to end that way and until the very end the outcome was uncertain. Its sheer level of solidarity gives us the blueprint for diverse sections of the working class to come together and take on those who seek to divide us to keep themselves in power. This is the only way we will ever win genuine change.

Since the financial crash of 2008 there has been a transfer of wealth on an industrial scale that runs into hundreds of billions directly out of the pockets of working people into the pockets of the thousand wealthiest people in the country. 

Far too few people are talking about it and once again it is enabled by a hysterical right-wing press who use their position to spread poison and to divide and rule this great nation.

The current outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter protests following the appalling killing of George Floyd in the US has swept the globe. 

Many have pointed to it and suggested that it is a US only issue but this is to try to play down our own problems. 

Working-class people in Britain are ground under the weight of our elites but for people of colour a double burden is felt. Only by standing together can we ever overcome the deep prejudices on which the wealth of those at the top of our society is built.

To differing degrees our communities have faced the oppression and division of the ruling class in order to defend their interests. 

The anniversary of Orgreave provides a timely reminder not only of the injustice of that infamous day, but also the injustices that working-class communities in all their diversity have faced down the ages and continue to feel as we move into the future.

We should never forget and never cease to demand justice for those who have suffered at the hands of the state. We should take the lessons of the past and learn them for the battles that lie ahead.

As the trade union banners proudly proclaim, united we stand, divided we fall!

Ian Lavery is Labour MP for Wansbeck.


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