How far was Thatcher prepared to go?

SOLOMON HUGHES uncovers secret documents which reveal how frightened ministers were at the prospect of Nacods members joining the ’84-5 miners’ strike. This article originally appeared in the Morning Star.

A FORMERLY secret file confirms that the Thatcher government did seriously consider using troops during the 1984-5 miners’ strike.

The file is an inch-thick bundle of Home Office papers bound in an orange cardboard file marked “secret” in large bold letters.

In April 2014 the Home Office said it would release the file “in the very near future,” but it kept it hidden until last month.

The file shows Thatcher’s government was alarmed by a potential strike by the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers (Nacods) in October 1984, eight months into the miners’ strike.

Nacods represented pit deputies — specialist managers who had important safety duties in the mines. In September that year Nacods voted by 81 per cent to join the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on strike.

Papers planning for a possible Nacods strike make up a big wodge of the file. Safety rules meant that a Nacods strike would close many more pits.

A file, headed “Secret,” from October 19 says: “We are making arrangements in the Police Department to obtain an assessment by Thursday evening next week from the CCU, Energy, Employment and Defence, in consultation with us and the police, of what is likely to happen next Thursday if the Nacods members take industrial action.”

The CCU — the Civil Contingencies Unit — was central to this cross-departmental planning.

The note says that “we also need to obtain with the CCU an assessment of how and where troops might be used, whether to undertake work that can keep coal supplies moving or in aid of the police.”

Leon Brittan was the chair of the CCU. It was run by “Brigadier Budd,” sometimes referred in the papers as simply “The Brigadier.”

The papers say that “the current formal assessment of the use of troops is that it is not a practical proposition, but that seems to be on the basis of maintaining full supplies to all consumers.”

This opened up the possibility of a plan to use troops in some other way — but “if a plan were to be drawn up, MoD would be in the lead.”

A Ministry of Defence representative at the meeting “may be able to say more about this.”

A second paper fills in the problems. It says: “The present Cabinet Office assessment, contained in the ‘Civil Emergencies Book,’ is that the use of servicemen to transport coal [from collieries to power stations] is not a practical option…”

“It would be difficult to organise a sufficiently large fleet of vehicles” to supply all power stations and “such action would be likely to lead to demonstrations and violence at picket lines and might cause sympathetic industrial action in other industries.”

While the plans said No to troops trying to get coal from the pits to all power stations, the government was considering using troops in some other way.

The papers say: “If a plan were to be drawn up for the use of troops in the coal industry,” the MoD would take the lead “under the CCU umbrella. It would require the approval of ministers before troops could be introduced.”

Under the authority of the CCU there were meetings described in another secret paper as helping to “focus the minds” of chief constables about the need to prepare to “move numbers of policemen around the country” during a Nacods strike.

The papers show that under the CCU officials considered five possible scenarios.

The “worst possible scenario” was “all Nacods members out. No pits working. Train supplies stopped. Utilities run on own stocks only, for limited period.”

Other scenarios which kept some pits open were also seen as difficult, so “some Nacods members working” might actually be “the most difficult for police” because they would have to choose which pits to police.

The prospect of “all Nacods members out, but working miners qualified to carry out inspection duties” could also “cause the most disruption” because “of the possibility of Nacods picket lines and because getting NUM members to perform these duties was bound to raise the temperature of the dispute.”

The Home Office preparations were so cross-departmental that they even looked at how a Nacods strike would affect benefits for strikers and their families.

Though these are Home Office files, they also include a letter marked “secret” from secretary of state for social services Norman Fowler to energy secretary Peter Walker about “the consequences that will ensue as far as social security benefits are concerned” if the Nacods strike went ahead.

At that time strikers could not claim benefits, but some of their families could — subject to a £15-a-week deduction because their spouses were on strike.

Fowler’s letter says that other miners would be subject to the no-benefits-and-£15-deduction regime if Nacods went on strike — even formerly working miners who were laid off rather than going on strike.

The government seemed content with this harsher benefits stance, even for the laid-off non-strikers.

The issue of benefits was so important that Fowler says: “I am sending a copy of this to the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Employment and [Cabinet Office permanent secretary] Sir Robert Armstrong.”

Even though the Home Office has no benefits responsibility, the Home Office file contains two more letters on miners’ benefits — including a letter to No 10 about the 35,000 (out of 138,000) strikers’ families who received supplementary benefit.

The year-long miners’ strike became a war of attrition, with miners and their families surviving on money and food collected in solidarity with the strikers.

The government’s cross-departmental co-ordination on the strike meant that the department in charge of policing the strike was also interested in what benefits were going to the strikers’ families.

In the end, despite the strong mandate, Nacods leadership did not join the strike. Looking at these papers shows that the Thatcher government finally won the strike, but it was a close-fought battle.


Orgreave Truth ‘A Personal Priority’

Burnham pledges to expose police abuses

This article by Conrad Landin originally appeared in the Morning Star


ANDY BURNHAM will make it his “personal priority” to expose abuses of police powers, including over the Shrewsbury pickets and the Battle of Orgreave.

Addressing Labour conference yesterday, the shadow home secretary pledged to fight for the future of police forces with the same vigour he has deployed in battling for the NHS.

He also said European free movement had benefited “private companies more than people and communities,” echoing concerns over the common market raised in a GMB union resolution passed on Monday.

Mr Burnham warned: “The truth is this — free movement, as it currently works, is widening inequality.

“Yes, it has built the economic power of the big cities.

“But it has also made life harder in our poorest communities, where the rules have been exploited to undercut people’s wages, undermine their job security and create a race to the bottom.”

He said the police had questions to answer over its “collusion” with the press, and its use of stop-and-search powers on young black people.

And he said historic abuses must also be put under the spotlight — picking out the brutal attacks on striking miners at Orgreave in 1984, the Hillsborough disaster and the arrest of 24 pickets at Shrewsbury after the national construction strike in 1972.

“We won’t know the full story of Hillsborough until we know what the same police force did to the miners in the aftermath of Orgreave,” he said.

“And to understand how an anti-trade union culture developed in parts of the police, we need the full story about the false convictions and imprisonment of building workers in Shrewsbury.”

Construction union Ucatt, which has long campaigned for full disclosure over Shrewsbury, welcomed Mr Burnham’s commitment to take up the fight.

The union’s acting general secretary Brian Rye said the move would “help ensure that a 40-plus year fight for justice” could be concluded.

“This demonstrates how Labour is reconnecting with workers and is prepared to take on the Establishment to win justice,” he added.

Labour promised to release files on the Shrewsbury cases into the public domain during this year’s election campaign.

The Oaks 150 Colliery Memorial

The Oaks 150 Colliery Memorial 1866-2016 (150 years) are looking to erect a memorial to those who died in the worst coal mining disaster ever to happen in England, which would be seen as a monument of national significance and demonstrate that the living will not forget the past. This is fully supported by the NUM Yorkshire Area.


Do you have relatives or do you know anyone who has who were victims of the Oak Colliary Disaster in Barnsley, at which 361 men and boys lost their lives?

Would you like to get involved?

Do you have any information or stories relating to the disaster?

If you can help in any way, please contact:

T: 01226 757024 or 01709 894636

M: 07518 154474


Please distribute this as widely as possible and help this small group of ex-miners to raise funds for a suitable memorial to those who perished 150 years ago.


OAKS 2 001 OAKS 3 001

TUC Conference

Dear supporters,
We had a very successful 5 days at TUC conference in Brighton, selling our merchandise to raise funds and meeting lots of influential Trade unionists who will help us carry our campaign further. As ever the ripples of meeting people carry far and wide and quite often we do not always know the effect we have but see below the link to an interesting blog by Dr Chris Cocking (who saw our stall) tactics and training of UK police forces by Hong Kong Police in preparation for strikes and public demonstrations.
We are now heavily involved along with a legal team working pro bono in preparing the legal submission to be handed to Theresa May in the early Autumn.
We still want invitations to speak to meetings and i refer you to our web site and the Tab, “Getting Involved” where there is a template motion that can be used at political and trade union branches or as the basis for a letter to Theresa May urging her to grant a full public inquiry as this would be in the public interest as well as justice for the mining communities involved in the 84/5 strike.

Bath Labour OTJC motion

A speech and motion in support of OTJC and an independent inquiry, from Bath Labour Party.

I want to quickly thank the executive committee and in particular Angela for giving me a few minutes to speak about this.

I am putting forward the motion that this constituency Labour Party supports a full public inquiry into the events that took place at Orgreave in June 1984. I would ask for you to vote for this motion for the following reasons:

As many of you know – and those of you that don’t will tell from my thick northern tones – I am a proud Yorkshireman. I’m extremely proud to be from a mining community and a family of hardworking former miners.

In 1994, when I was three years old, the village that I grew up in was declared the most deprived in the UK and the fourth most deprived in the whole of Europe.

The reason for this was that the village of Grimethorpe was a key battle ground in Mrs Thatcher’s ideological war on working people in this country – a story we know all too well in our movement.

My family were on the breadline and my father – along with his friends and colleagues – stood up for what he believed in against the Tories, who did whatever they could to break the union movement.

But my dad and his colleagues didn’t give up. They stayed out on strike and on the picket line for a day short of a year.

It was thanks to the people within our movement, including Bath Labour – but also miners from across Europe, who showed solidarity with people like my dad, sending food supplies and Christmas presents – who showed that there is such thing as a society – that they were able to sustain their right to legally withdraw their Labour in the face of attrition from Mrs Thatcher.

But at the same time, he and others in the village were victimised and terrorised by police officers – the very people that are supposed to be there to protect. This is a small part of a very big picture – and it happened in mining communities right across the country.

The Government at the time said that there were no secret plans to close pits that were highly profitable and productive.  But we now know this to be false.

After graduating from university, I spent three months working on a project for the NUM, where I read thousands of government documents relating to the strike.

Among them were plans to shut profitable pits in order to push the miners out on strike.

Among them were minutes of cabinet papers that showed the Thatcher government was – despite claims from senior ministers – a key actor in masterminding, provoking and micromanaging the strike.

Their plans included putting pressure on local magistrates courts to deal with cases arising from the dispute more quickly, pressuring local police forces to – and I quote “adopt a more vigorous interpretation of their duties”, but possibly most alarmingly, the government made contingency plans to change legislation so that it could declare a state of emergency and deploy the armed forces against striking miners – I thank God that their plans never came to fruition.

The cabinet papers only vindicate many mining communities who knew exactly what was happening, but it is no less shocking to see it there in black and white.

But one of the key events in the miners strike was the Battle of Orgreave as it has become known. It was here that the government deployed an extremely well trained and equipped paramilitary police force to try and break miners – and that they did.

We’ve all seen the images of the police knocking ten bells out of miners who were trying to get away.

During my time at the NUM there was one communication that I had with South Yorkshire Police, the force responsible for policing Orgreave. After submitting a freedom of information request for any communication between the government and police chiefs, I was told that the archives contained “a few scraps of paper” that had been held together by a piece of string.

This is the same police force that a few years later was involved in the biggest cover-up and miscarriage of justice that this country has ever seen – we all know that to be Hillsborough.

There was a riot at Orgreave, but it was a police riot – orchestrated and executed by police chiefs under pressure from a government determined to face down the trade union movement. Media coverage of the dispute has been questioned and everyone that was there – including some police officers – would tell you that the police went well beyond their constitutional duty.

But this year, the Independent Police Complaints Commission on 12th July of this year said that they would not be conducting an investigation into the actions of the police at Orgreave.

What sort of society do we live in when those responsible for such injustices are allowed to slip off the hook?

It is clear to any rational-minded person that this happened as a direct consequence of government pressure on the police. In a modern democracy, we need a police force that is independent, fair and impartial.

The Home Secretary has said that she will welcome and review any calls for an investigation and I believe that we owe it to our movement to support the calls for an investigation.

In former mining communities, we need this closure. Without the truth, there can be no justice, without justice, the wounds that still lay bare in communities like Grimethorpe cannot begin to heal. The Labour Party owes it to these communities to pressure the government to initiate this inquiry.

For those reasons I would ask you to support me in voting for the motion.

“Bath Labour Party will put on record its call for a full public inquiry into the actions of the police at the Orgreave coking plant on 18th June 1984 during the miners’ strike of 1984-85.

Former mining communities, ex-miners, their families and campaigners from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign have waited patiently for nearly 2 and half years for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to complete their “scoping” exercise, investigating whether to investigate the actions of the police on that day.

Bath Labour Party is disappointed that the IPCC announced on Friday 12th July 2015 that despite there being findings that police officers did use excessive force against picketing miners, manipulated evidence and told lies to the Crown Court at Sheffield when giving evidence, they would not be conducting an investigation into what has become known as the “Battle of Orgreave”.

The IPCC cited the passage of time and the fact that there had been no miscarriages of justice in the form of wrongful convictions as reasons not to investigate.

Bath Labour Party believes that the issue of Orgreave is of national importance and particular local importance to our movement, many members of which were directly affected in 1984 and beyond. A full investigation into the military style policing used on that day is now long overdue and only a full public inquiry can fully investigate this.

Bath Labour Party therefore calls on the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to order a full public inquiry into the deployment and actions of the police on 18th June 1984.”

Nicky Stubbs