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Orgreave: never forget, never forgive

Today is the 36th anniversary of the notorious police attack on striking miners at Orgreave in South Yorkshire on June 18, 1984. The miners' campaign for justice continues, writes CHRIS HOCKNEY, chair of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

EVERY year in June, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign holds a wonderful, vibrant commemorative rally at Orgreave, on the site where police rioted on June 18, 1984, viciously beating miners who were taking part in a mass picket at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire, during the miners’ strike to defend jobs and communities.

We meet and campaign to seek truth and justice for the miners, their families and communities, showing solidarity and friendship in a magnificent gathering of comradeship, with speeches, music, noise, banners, flags, placards and colour.

This year, because of the pandemic, the event is being held online on our Facebook page, at 1pm this Saturday (June 20).

To join in, please use our Facebook https://mstar.link/orgreave. The rally this year is about bringing justice campaigns together, with the title “Working Class Injustices, United and Strong.”

Speakers online include the National Union of Mineworkers, National Health Service, the Orgreave campaign, Shrewsbury 24, Hillsborough, Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association, Blacklisting, Justice4Grenfell and Janet Alder, sister of Christopher Alder who died in police custody.

We are all fighting against this current government, as it continues to attack ordinary people, and frustrate and deny justice.

After our daytime online rally, at 8pm musician Joe Solo, in a wonderful show of solidarity, has organised another great night in, and will be playing his album “Never be defeated.” Joe will be performing the full original album, plus a handful of the bonus tracks on the special edition, peppering it with the stories behind the songs, a history of the strike, and some wider class analysis thrown in for good measure.

To listen to Joe, please use the Facebook link https://mstar.link/listensolo.

This year will be the 36th anniversary of the police riot at Orgreave. All these years later, we still need to fight for the truth to come out, as the Tory government refuses to hold a public inquiry. They do not want us to know about the role of their government before, during and since the 1984-85 miners’ strike against pit closures.

The truth is very straightforward. After the success of mass pickets at Saltley Gate, and the defeat of the Conservative government in the early 1970s, the Tories decided to take revenge by destroying the trade union movement.

They produced the Ridley Plan, an extremely detailed and comprehensive blueprint to smash the trade unions and develop society according to their agenda.

Today, we live with the consequences; anti-trade union laws, attacks on working conditions and health and safety, loss of well-paid jobs, casualised and insecure cheap labour, zero-hours contracts, destroyed communities, increasing poverty and the undermining of the welfare state.

This is naked class hatred against working-class people. In 1984, the Conservative government set out to do what it took, and spend however much was needed, to smash the NUM, the strongest union, so that the labour movement would be demoralised and defeated.

They created a specially trained, militarised police force, permitting it to use intimidation, harassment, brutality and violence against workers, pickets and demonstrators. They used the legal system and the courts to destroy civil liberties.

The police riot at Orgreave in June 1984 was a pre-planned ambush. Pickets were escorted into a field by police and told where to stand.

This was so that horses, dogs, batons and shields could be used to maximise damage and injuries. The aim was to batter the pickets, then charge them with serious offences of riot and violent disorder, make up evidence, and use the courts to inflict possible life prison sentences.

The right-wing media would be used to develop a false narrative that the violence came from the pickets, not the police.

The trials of the arrested miners, held in 1985, collapsed due to the police evidence being shown to be false, with officers giving evidence lying in court. Since then, no action has been taken against the officers who committed the violence, made up evidence, lied and committed perjury and behaved with impunity.

The Tories have never officially owned up to their involvement in the dispute, despite evidence showing that the Tory cabinet was politically involved with the strike.

During the miners’ strike, two Yorkshire pickets, David Jones and Joe Green, were killed — David while picketing in Nottinghamshire, Joe on the picket line at a Yorkshire power station.

Nobody was ever charged over their deaths. David’s parents both died in recent months, so neither saw justice for their son. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign has tried, without success, to get a public inquiry, meeting with two home secretaries, Theresa May and Amber Rudd, and trying for further meetings with two more, Sajid Javid and Priti Patel. They will not budge. The Tories refuse to hold any kind of inquiry.

In 2016, Amber Rudd maintained that at Orgreave there were no deaths or wrongful convictions, no miscarriages of justice, that practices had now changed and: “There would therefore be very few lessons for the policing system today to be learned from any review of the events and practices of three decades ago.”

Sajid Javid and Priti Patel would not even meet with the campaign or look again at any of the evidence.

The Bishop of Sheffield has asked the government to set up a panel, similar to the Hillsborough Panel, but this has been rejected by the Home Office. Much of the information about Orgreave, policing practices and the miners’ strike is being held back from the public as a deliberate tactic, to be released in 2066.

By then, most of us will be dead. If the government gets its way, the truth will not come out and the miners who were beaten up, arrested and faced prison, and their families and communities, will be denied truth and justice. Forever.

Orgreave will become a distant injustice, to sit alongside other historical events such as the Peasants’ Revolt, the Peterloo and Amritsar Massacres, Newport Riots, Chartist suppression, Tonypandy, Bloody Sunday and so many others.

Just as the Conservative government in 1984-85 did what it wanted, this current Conservative government has the confidence to do what it wants, and get away with it. Since the prospect of a left-Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn ended in December last year, the government has blatantly lied during its handling of the current coronavirus pandemic, and statistics about the number of deaths are deliberately played down.

A false narrative is being pedalled by the Tories about how they are successfully managing this crisis. The government does not care about years of cuts destroying the NHS and public services, or about deaths in care homes, or about care workers and key workers dying because of the lack of personal protective equipment.

It lies about testing, tracing, and the risks to children, families and communities if schools are to reopen more.

Their lies are as blatant now as they were during the miners’ strike. Black and ethnic minority workers and communities are affected disproportionally by the virus, but the recent report into this has been vague, censored and redacted.

The government wants to deny the reasons why or look at solutions, because it is complicit in structural and institutional racism, and perpetuates all the inequalities which undermine health.

It uses racist language about creating the hostile environment, allowing racism and attacks to grow. The Windrush scandal was an inevitable consequence.

Black Lives Matter, but not to this government. The terrible events in the US, with police routinely assaulting and killing black people, attacking demonstrators and media crews recording the police violence, have their counterparts here.

Which is why people from so many different backgrounds are taking part in Black Lives Matter demonstrations in British cities, with many examples of racist police violence here.

The way to challenge this blatant racism and class arrogance is for workers and the wider labour movement to continue to fight for justice.

The problem for this Conservative government is that the trade unions and the left are still here, despite everything that has been done to try to destroy us.

We urge everyone to join with us on June 20 at 1pm in our online Orgreave rally; all the campaigns involved, and so many others, require truth and justice.

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