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Scargill was indeed right

Miners and their families were fed a diet of crocodile tears amid a concerted offensive against their leadership

Alone among Britain's national daily media, the Morning Star stood shoulder to shoulder with the mineworkers' union in their 1984-5 struggle to defend their pits, jobs and communities.

Even the newspapers nominally opposed to Margaret Thatcher's brutal and divisive Tory government could not countenance backing the nationwide NUM strike.

Miners and their families were fed a diet of crocodile tears amid a concerted offensive against their leadership, especially president Arthur Scargill.

He was reviled as a fantasist misleading the miners over the scale of pit closures demanded by National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor and who was seeking a confrontation on political grounds.

The just-released documents detailing secret Downing Street meetings on the dispute reveal that Scargill was, as our paper asserted then and subsequently, right.

The NUM did not go on strike to overthrow the government.

The conspiracy was on the other foot.

Ever since Edward Heath's government had lost its industrial confrontation with the miners in 1974 and called a general election over "who governs Britain," the Tory Party was obsessed with engineering a conflict in which it could defeat the NUM.

The party deputed Nicholas Ridley to draw up a plan to utilise all the power of the state to provoke an NUM strike and to smash the union.

His plan involved building up coal stocks at power stations, arranging to import coal through scab ports, recruiting large numbers of lorry drivers prepared to drive at full speed through picket lines, expanding dual coal-oil power stations, slashing benefits to strikers' families and putting the police on a united, nationwide war footing.

The wonder is not that the power of the state prevailed but that the mining communities resisted for so long.

Some areas of the coalfield were effectively under military occupation as police reviled as Thatcher's bootboys acted lawlessly, beating up whoever they pleased and fitting up miners and their supporters.

Recent revelations about the South Yorkshire Police role in fabricating evidence against Liverpool football fans at Hillsborough had their reflections in the police riot against miners at Orgreave coking plant.

The national broadcaster went along for the ride, with BBC TV news showing miners throwing stones before being charged by police on horseback.

Only years later was it explained that film had been "mistakenly" transposed. There were three cavalry charges before any retaliation by miners and their supporters.

The basic right of freedom of movement was suspended during the strike, with cars carrying suspected miners denied entry to Nottinghamshire.

All such infringements of human rights were catalogued at the time but were either denied or ignored by politicians and media.

Opposition leader Neil Kinnock, serial election loser and rider in style on the EU gravy train, was as useless as a chocolate teapot, more concerned with undermining Scargill than backing effective solidarity with the miners.

Many trade unionists supported their coalfield comrades, especially in raising funds, food and clothing, but a combination of sectional conservatism and venal complicity prevented the scale of solidarity action that could have won the day.

The clock can't be turned back, but the lessons of 1984-5 remain as valid today.

Working people need their own news and political organs to challenge the assumptions of a media overwhelmingly in the hands of big business and to pose a class solidarity approach in opposition to capitalist orthodoxy, whether conservative or liberal.

 

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