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From Peterloo to Orgreave, the state always looks after its own

We must keep up the pressure for an inquiry into the terrible events at Orgreave and make sure that truth and justice prevail, says KATE FLANNERY

IT IS an honour for the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign to be attending the 135th Durham Miners’ Gala this year. 

To be at the Big Meeting again, the largest annual gathering of trade unionists in Britain, gives us all a great opportunity to meet up with comrades and friends, old and new across the country in the beautiful city of Durham to celebrate mining communities, the mining industry and trade unionism.

The links we have with the National Union of Mineworkers and the Durham Miners Association are immeasurable. 

Without the ongoing support and solidarity from the NUM, DMA and the wider trade union and labour movement, the OTJC would never have been able to sustain its work and activities.

2019 is a significant year for anniversaries. This year marks both the 35th anniversary of the miners’ strike and the police assault against striking miners throughout the strike and at Orgreave and 200 years since a peaceful rally in Manchester turned into a massacre of protesters by an armed cavalry.

Thirty-five years ago this summer, one of the most brutal attacks in the history of industrial disputes took place at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire when striking miners were violently assaulted by state sanctioned police and charged with riot.

In Manchester 200 years ago a peaceful rally in St Peter’s Field of 60,000 pro-democracy reformers — men, women and children — was attacked by armed cavalry, leaving 15 dead and more than 600 injured. It remains the bloodiest political clash in British history.

The so-called “Battle of Orgreave” in 1984 and the “Peterloo Massacre” in Manchester in 1819 stand beside many other historical examples where hundreds have been killed or injured by the state, such as the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the Amritsar Massacre in India in 1919 and Bloody Sunday of Northern Ireland in 1972. 

New, more restrictive laws were passed after both Peterloo and Orgreave, and in each case the state forces were congratulated by the government of the day for warding off what they called the threat of revolution. Both were ambushes planned by the state. 

At Peterloo, a huge crowd of between 60,000 and 70,000 peaceful and good-natured ordinary men, women and children were allowed to gather to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. 

At Orgreave, around 8,000 picketing miners, striking to protect their jobs and communities, were escorted into a field by police and shown where to stand. Again, the gathering was peaceful. 

At Peterloo, the government and local businessmen were frightened of the power of organised labour and wanted to make sure that what had happened during the 1789 French Revolution did not happen in England. 

They planned for a huge number of soldiers, cavalry and militia to attack the crowds. 

At Orgreave, the government planned to use thousands of police to attack the pickets and smash the unions in revenge for being defeated by the striking miners and other unions during the 1970s. 

At Peterloo, cavalry armed with swords killed 15 people and injured hundreds. They were not there to get the crowds to leave, but to kill and maim. 

At Orgreave, pickets were attacked by police in riot gear on horseback armed with long batons, and by police on foot using short batons and dogs. The aim was to brutally assault, injure and demoralise the miners. 

After Peterloo, the businessmen, army and militia were thanked by the Prince Regent for preserving public order and saving the nation. 

After Orgreave, when the strike ended, chief constables were invited for drinks at the Home Office with senior Conservative government figures to be congratulated on defeating the miners and unions. 

Whenever the state finds itself faced with large-scale protest it resorts to force. Those in power work to cover up the truth and build a false narrative after the event, with their allegations that troops or police had been attacked first enthusiastically taken up by the right-wing press and others. 

Both the governments of 1819 and 1984 absolutely refused to have any form of inquiry into their actions. We must keep up the pressure for an inquiry and make sure that Orgreave is not another state assault that passes into history, but that truth and justice prevail. 

While we fight injustice we celebrate our solidarity and achievements and the Durham Miners’ Gala plays a key role in doing that. 

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in June 1969 where the LGBTQ community in New York demonstrated against a police raid, in response to years of harassment and discrimination. 

This constitutes one of the most important events leading to the gay liberation movement and the fight for LGBTQ rights in the US and Britain. 

It is the 35th anniversary of the setting up of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and the 40th anniversary of the wonderful bookshop Gay’s the Word. 

LGSM have been key allies and have worked closely over the years with the NUM and OTJC. The NUM’s role in ensuring LGBTQ rights were prioritised in the labour movement is now well documented. 

It is also important to remember the role played by the NUM in supporting the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the liberation struggle in South Africa and other liberation struggles including the support it has given to the Cubans and Cuba Solidarity who celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Cuban revolution this year. 

In this edition of the Morning Star, there is an insert of the OTJC newspaper, At the Coal Face. We thank the NUM for their huge act of solidarity in sponsoring this.

Please come along and march with us at Durham and/or visit our OTJC stall in the big tent and say hello. We look forward to seeing you there.

Kate Flannery is secretary of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.


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