The Miners’ Strike 1984/85
The 1984 strike followed on from the disputes in 1972 and 1974. In 1972 the miners came out on strike for higher pay, with a successful result. But by 1974 they had slipped back again. The government of Edward Heath refused to compromise on a 7% rise and a strike began whereupon the government declared a state of emergency, imposed a three day week and called an election which they duly lost.
The incoming Secretary of State for Employment, Michael Foot, implemented a Pay Board report which showed how miners’ pay had dropped since 1972. As well as increases in pay, there were two other important results of the strike; the implementation of a scheme for compensation of pneumoconiosis sufferers, and a new superannuation scheme which commenced in 1975.
In 1984 the Conservatives were back in power, and this time they were prepared, ready and waiting. They had many months’ supply of coal stockpiled in readiness for a prolonged dispute. In March 1984 NCB chairman Ian MacGregor announced that 20 pits would have to close, putting 20,000 miners out of work. Miners at Cortonwood colliery in Yorkshire, the first earmarked for closure, walked out at midnight on 5th March in protest.
Arthur Scargill, the NUM’s president, on 12th March called on members across the country to join the action in a national strike against pit closures. The strike turned into one of the bitterest disputes Britain has ever seen. The year-long strike brought hardship and involved violence as pit communities fought to retain their local collieries – for many the only source of employment.
Debate still continues over the tactics used by all parties; the use of the Metropolitan Police in local mining villages, biased press coverage, flying pickets, and so on.
There were major confrontations between pickets and police, a key one occurring at Orgreave in June 1984 where pickets were met by police in riot gear, police horses and dogs.
An important source of support for the miners came from other trade unionists such as the dockers and railway workers, and from within their own communities, particularly the women. Locally they set up action groups, organised the “Women against Pit Closures” conference, joined the picket lines and travelled the country speaking at political meetings and fundraising.
Throughout all this Thompsons was involved. There were sequestration proceedings against the union, and many criminal charges against individual trade unionists, often brought in the Crown Courts involving charges of conspiracy. Thompsons not only attempted to look after the interests of the union as a whole but also represented with considerable success many individual workers who faced these serious criminal charges.
One example of a case reported in the law reports arising out of the dispute was Thomas v NUM, a case which highlighted a number of issues, and where Thompsons once again represented the union:
Thomas & ors v National Union of Mineworkers (South Wales Area) & Ors  ICR 887
On March 9th 1984 the South Wales area of the NUM passed a resolution to support the national union in strike action and to stop work on 12th March. In November 1984, some members including a number of the plaintiffs, returned to work. They were met by large scale picketing. Six pickets were selected by lodge officials to stand at the colliery gates and a large number of others were kept back from the approach road by police. There was evidence of picketing near the homes of working miners and in one case outside a college one of the miners was attending, together with evidence of action outside other industrial premises. The plaintiffs sought injunctions restraining the NUM (South Wales Area) from organising unlawful picketing or demonstrations and from funding and organising secondary picketing outside South Wales.
The judge decided that the working miners were entitled to use the highway without unreasonable harassment, and the picketing at the colliery gates, at miners’ homes and at the college was unreasonable. The pickets should be limited to peaceful picketing by numbers not exceeding six. However, the judge refused to grant any injunction to restrain picketing at other collieries or secondary picketing since it was by no means inevitable that the same would involve criminal acts. He also rejected the claim brought against the national union and co-ordinating committee.
By January 1985 the strike was beginning to disintegrate as miners facing increasing financial hardship began to return to work. The strike came to an end on 3rd March 1985. By 2002 there were just 13 deep coal mines in the country where once there were 170, and the membership of the NUM had fallen to 5,000 compared to 187,000 in 1984.