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The UK Miners' Strike was a major industrial action affecting the Britishmarker coal industry. It was a defining moment in British industrial relations, and its defeat significantly weakened the British trades union movement. It was also seen as a major political and ideological victory for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party.

The strike became a symbolic struggle, since the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was one of the strongest in the country, viewed by many, including Conservatives in power, as having brought down the Heath government in its 1974 strike. The strike ended with the miners' defeat and the Thatcher government able to consolidate its free market programme. The political power of the NUM was broken permanently. The dispute exposed deep divisions in British society and caused considerable bitterness, especially in Northern England and in South Walesmarker. Ten deaths resulted from events around the strike: six pickets, three teenagers searching for coal, and a taxi driver taking a non-striking miner to work.

State of the coal industry

Coal was a nationalised industry managed by the National Coal Board (NCB) under Ian MacGregor and, as in most of Europe, was heavily subsidised. A number of mines ("pits") in the United Kingdom were profitable and remained open after the strike, including some operating as of 2007. There were also a number of mines that were unprofitable and the government wanted to close. The viability of many of these mines was called into question but the government closed many before reports were collated, instead of using temporary offers of increased redundancy pay to encourage miners into voting in favour of pit closures. In addition, in order to increase the profitability for their owners, the mines required efficiency improvements, to be achieved by means of increased mechanisation and thus job cuts. Many unions resisted this.

The National Union of Mineworkers had a federated structure, influenced by syndicalism where branches and regions had a large degree of regional autonomy. Miners in Nottinghamshiremarker had a very different set of conditions from those in South Wales, for example. This made the question of "national" action a vexed one and contributed to confusion over the question of whether a strike ballot was necessary. The only nationally co-ordinated actions were the mass pickets at Orgreavemarker.

In 1978, the Ridley Plan for dealing with the power of the coal miners' union was leaked to The Economist magazine. It reported the plans of the Tory opposition, led at the time by Margaret Thatcher, and included the steps that any successive Tory government would have to take in order to avoid the fate of the 1970s Heath government, which was widely seen as having been brought down by the miners' strike of 1974. The plan was known and discussed by striking miners.

Sequence of major events

A strike nearly occurred in 1981, when the government had a similar plan to close twenty-three pits, though the threat of a strike was then enough to force the government to back down. It was widely believed that a confrontation had only been averted in the short-term and the Yorkshiremarker miners passed a resolution that a strike should take place if any pit was threatened with closure for reasons other than exhaustion or geological difficulties. In 1982, the members accepted a government offer of a 5.2 percent raise, rejecting their leaders' call for a strike authorisation. In 1983, the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher appointed Ian MacGregor as head of the National Coal Board (the UK statutory corporation that controlled coal mining). He had previously been head of the British Steel Corporation, which, according to one of Thatcher's biographers, he had turned from one of the least efficient steel-makers in Europe to one of the most efficient, nearly bringing the company into profit. However, this was achieved at the expense of a halving of the workforce in the space of two years. This reputation raised the expectation that jobs would be cut on a similar scale in mining, and confrontations between MacGregor and the leader of the miners, Arthur Scargill, seemed inevitable.

Pit closures announced

In 1984, the National Coal Board announced that an agreement reached after the 1974 strike had become obsolete, and that in order to rationalise government subsidisation of industry they intended to close 20 coal mines. Twenty thousand jobs would be lost, and many communities in the north of Englandmarker and in Walesmarker would lose their primary source of employment. Although not widely known at the time, the Thatcher government had prepared against a repeat of the effective 1974 industrial action by stock-piling coal, converting some power stations to burn petroleum, and recruiting fleets of road hauliers to transport coal in case sympathetic railwaymen went on strike to support the miners.

Action begins

Sensitive to the impact of the proposed closures in their own areas, miners in various coal fields began strike action. In the Yorkshire coal field strike action began when workers at the Manversmarker complex walked out over the lack of consultation. Over six thousand miners were already on strike when a local ballot led to strike action from 5 March at Cortonwoodmarker Colliery at Brampton Bierlowmarker, and at Bullcliffe Wood colliery, near Ossettmarker. The 5 March action was prompted by the further announcement by the Coal Board that five pits were to be subject to "accelerated closure" within just five weeks; the other three were at Herringtonmarker in County Durham, Snowdownmarker in Kentmarker and Polmaise in Scotlandmarker. The next day, pickets from the Yorkshire area appeared at pits in the Nottinghamshiremarker coal field (one of those least threatened by pit closures). On 12 March 1984, Arthur Scargill, president of the NUM, declared that the strikes in the various coal fields were to be a national strike and called for strike action from NUM members in all coal fields.


The decision of the NACODS union not to strike created a tense situation in the mines, with NACODS deputies being labelled as "scabs" by union hardliners. On 23 October, one thousand pickets attempted to prevent a sole bath attendant from entering the threatened Emley Moormarker colliery. Some of the engineers felt that going on strike would actually work against the cause, as lack of maintenance below ground could allow geological conditions to deteriorate to a state that would prevent the pit from reopening - defeating the whole goal of opposing closures; however, hard-line strikers were not always sympathetic to this line of argument. The first two pits to close in 1985 were Barrow colliery at Worsborough Bridge and Acton Hall colliery at Featherstonemarker. Both were closed as they were unsafe for the miners to return to work rather than because continued operation would have been "uneconomic".

Observation of the strike

Miners' strike rally in London, 1984
At its beginning, the strike was almost universally observed in the coalfields of Yorkshire, Scotland, the North-East and Kentmarker. Lancashiremarker miners had originally been lukewarm about striking, but, ignoring the wishes of the working members, its leaders announced on 22 March that the strike was official. Many miners in South Wales resented how their previous attempts to launch strikes in support of the steel workers and health workers had been largely unsupported, but there were enough pits in the region under threat of closure to gain momentum for the strike in the area. Support was less strong in the Midlandsmarker and North Walesmarker. In Nottinghamshire, most of the pits had modern equipment and large coal reserves; most of the Nottinghamshire miners remained at work and the Nottinghamshire NUM disagreed with the decision to launch a national strike without a ballot. Many within the NUM condemned them as strikebreakers, and the Nottinghamshire branch eventually broke away to form the core of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers.

Orgreave and other confrontations

A widely reported clash during the strike took place at the Orgreave Coking Plant near Rotherhammarker on 18 June 1984. This confrontation between striking miners and police, around 10,000 on each side, was dubbed 'The Battle of Orgreavemarker'. Violence flared after police on horse-back charged the miners with truncheons drawn and inflicted serious injuries upon several individuals. In 1991, the South Yorkshire Police were forced to pay out £425,000 to thirty-nine miners who were arrested in the events at the incident. Other less well known, but equally bloody riots took place, for example, in Maltby, South Yorkshire. These confrontations contained organised police lines including charges by police and police mounted on horseback. In some cases miners organised themselves against this.

The strike fades

Events that encouraged the end of the strike included an assault on a working miner in Castlefordmarker in November and the manslaughter of a taxi driver driving a working miner to work in South Wales in December. The strike failed to have the widespread impact of earlier stoppages which had led to blackouts and power cuts in the 1970s; electricity companies were able to maintain supplies throughout the winter, the time of biggest demand.

The union's funds had also run too low to pay for pickets' transportation and many miners had been unable to pay for heating over the winter. Some mining families resorted to scavenging for coal on slag heaps, a desperate move as most of the "slag" was very dangerous and liable to tip. Three children died in this manner. Many others found themselves arrested for trespass and theft.

The formal end

The strike ended on 3 March 1985, nearly a year after it had begun. Some workers had already returned to work of their own accord, a symbolic victory for the government, although ministers later admitted that the figures of returnees were inflated to hurt the strikers' morale. In order to save the union, the NUM voted, by a tiny margin, to return to work without a new agreement with management. In the special conference that ended the strike, only Kentmarker voted to carry on the strike. Nottinghamshiremarker, Leicestershiremarker and South Derbyshiremarker did not send any delegates to the conference.

The end of the strike was felt as a terrible blow to loyal NUM members, though many understood that the extreme poverty being suffered after a year without wages was difficult to bear. Indeed, in many areas, striking miners made a distinction between those who had returned to work after only a couple of months strike, and those who felt forced to return to work for the sake of their children, many months later.

In several pits, miners' wives groups organised the distribution of carnation at the gates on the day the miners went back, the flower that symbolises the hero. Many pits marched back to work behind brass bands, in processions dubbed "Loyalty Parades".

Issues in the strike

The question of a pre-strike ballot

The issue of whether a ballot was needed for a national strike had been complicated by the actions of previous NUM leader Joe Gormley. When wage reforms were rejected by two national ballots, Gormley declared that each region could decide on these reforms on their own accord; his decisions had been upheld by courts on appeal. Scargill did not call a ballot for national strike action, perhaps due to uncertainty over the outcome. Instead, he attempted to start the strike by allowing each region to call its own strikes, imitating Gormley's strategy over wage reforms; it was argued that 'safe' regions should not be allowed to ballot other regions out of jobs. This decision was upheld by another vote five weeks into the strike. Many miners, especially at the threatened pits, were also opposed to a ballot due to the time required to organise one and the urgency of the situation arising from the accelerated closure programme. There was a fear that strike supporters would refuse to take part in a ballot. Critics point out that Scargill's policy of letting each region decide seemed inconsistent with the threatened expulsion of the Nottinghamshire branch after 20,000 out of 27,000 miners in the county voted against the strike.

The Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher enforced a recent law that required unions to ballot members on strike action. On 19 July 1984, Thatcher said in the House of Commonsmarker that giving in to the miners would be surrendering the rule of parliamentary democracy to the rule of the mob; she referred to the striking miners as "the enemy within", and claimed they did not share the values of other British people. "We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty". On the day after the Orgreave picketmarker of 29 May, which saw five thousand pickets subject to violent attacks by the police, Thatcher said in a speech:

I must tell you ... that what we have got is an attempt to substitute the rule of the mob for the rule of law, and it must NOT succeed.
It must not succeed.
There are those who are using violence and intimidation to impose their will on others who do not want it....
The rule of law must prevail over the rule of the mob.

Arthur Scargill's response to the incident was:

We've had riot shields, we've had riot gear, we've had police on horseback charging into our people, we've had people hit with truncheons and people kicked to the ground....
The intimidation and the brutality that has been displayed are something reminiscent of a Latin American state.

In August, two miners from Mantonmarker colliery who protested that the strike was not "official" without a ballot took the NUM to court. In September the High Courtmarker ruled that the NUM had breached its own constitution by calling a strike without first holding a ballot. Scargill was fined £1,000 (which was paid for him by an anonymous donor) and the NUM was fined £200,000. When the union refused to pay its fine, an order was made to sequestrate the union's assets but it was found that they had been transferred abroad. By the end of January 1985 around £5 million of NUM assets had been recovered.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) did not support the NUM, seeming to support Thatcher's call for a national ballot. Solidarity action was taken, however, by railworkers and by dockers, who were both threatened with dismissal if they refused to handle coal. The Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union, an electricians' union, actively opposed the strike; Ian MacGregor's autobiography detailed how its leaders supplied the government with valuable information that allowed the strike to be defeated. Steelworkers' unions did not support the strike, a stance which was widely resented by the miners after the support that they had given the steel strike in 1980 and after concessions were made by the NUM on deliveries of coke to steel works during the strike. The National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers (NACODS) nearly went on strike in September; this was one point where the balance seemed to be tipping in favour of the miners, but Scargill's subsequent contempt of court orders caused the NUM to be fined and lost it wider support in the trade union movement. MacGregor later admitted that, had NACODS gone ahead with their strike, a compromise would probably have been forced on the Coal Board. Files later made public showed that the Government had an informant inside the TUC, passing them information about the negotiations.

Strike-breaking and journalism

The refusal of some miners to support the strike was seen as a betrayal by those who did strike. The opposite positions of miners in the adjacent coal fields of Yorkshiremarker and Nottinghamshiremarker, where the former were striking and the latter strike-breaking, led to many bitter confrontations in the region. Instances of violence directed against working miners by striking miners were reported. In some cases, this extended to attacks on the property, the families and the pets of working miners. Because of unsympathetic reporting, many miners were hostile to journalists and reporters who came near pit heads . The Sun newspaper took a very anti-strike position, as did the Daily Mail, and even the Daily Mirror and The Guardian became hostile as the strike went on. Only left wing newspapers such as the News Line, Morning Star, Class War, Workers Power, Militant, Socialist Organiser and Socialist Worker were consistently supportive of the striking miners.

Government action

The government mobilised the police (including Metropolitan Police squads from Londonmarker) from around Britain to attempt to stop the pickets preventing the strikebreakers working. Many picketers were subject to intimidation and sometimes violence from the police. Police attempted to stop pickets travelling between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, an action which led to many protests. The government claimed these actions were to safeguard individual civil rights. Many miners have seen this as class warfare, with the police as the 'special bodies of armed men' that Friedrich Engels described.

During the industrial action 11,291 people were arrested and 8,392 charged with offences such as breach of the peace and obstructing the highway. Former striking miners have alleged that soldiers in police uniform were also used on the picket lines, to avoid publicising the necessity of bringing in the military. In many former mining areas antipathy towards the police remains strong to this day because of the violence meted out. The government was criticised for abusing its power when it ruled that local police might be too sympathetic to the miners to take action against the strike, and instead brought in forces from distant counties. The Labour MPs for Doncaster Northmarker and Castleford and Pontefractmarker both raised concerns in Parliamentmarker over suggestions that the police had asked miners held in custody about their political allegiances.

This strike was also the first in which the provision of welfare benefits were restricted in a way miners saw as being used as a weapon against strikers. Welfare benefits had never been available to workers on strike but their dependents (i.e. spouses and children) had been entitled to make claims in previous disputes. However, Clause 6 of the 1980 Social Security Act banned the dependents of strikers from receiving "urgent needs" payments and also applied a compulsory deduction from the strikers' dependents' benefits. The government viewed this legislation as not concerned with saving public funds but instead "to restore a fairer bargaining balance between employers and trade unions" by increasing the necessity to return to work.. The majority of miners and their families had to survive the strike on handouts, donations from the European Economic Community's "food mountain" and from charities. Poverty and hunger became rife in the mining heartlands.

A wide network of several hundred miners' support groups were set up, often led by miners' "wives and girlfriends groups", such as Women Against Pit Closures. These support groups organised thousands of collections outside supermarkets, communal kitchens, benefit concerts and other activities. The strike marked an important development in the traditional mining heartlands, where feminist ideas had not previously been strong.

MI5 "counter-subversion"

Dame Stella Rimington (Director-General of MI5, 1992 – 1996) published an autobiography in 2001 in which she revealed MI5 'counter-subversion' exercises against the NUM and the striking miners, which included the tapping of union leaders' phones. However, she denied that the agency had informers in the NUM, specifically denying that then chief executive Roger Windsor had been an agent.

Public opinion and the media

Public opinion during the strike was divided and varied greatly in different regions.

Socialist groups also claimed that the mainstream media deliberately misrepresented the miners' strike, saying of The Sun's reporting of the strike: "The day-to-day reporting involved more subtle attacks, or a biased selection of facts and a lack of alternative points of view. These things arguably had a far bigger negative effect on the miners' cause". It was however argued that none of the facts presented were untrue and should by the same token be presented.

As the strike went on, a series of media reports sought to cast doubt on the integrity of senior NUM officials. In November 1984, there were allegations that Scargill had met with Libyanmarker agents in Parismarker. Links to the Libyan government were particularly damaging coming seven months after the murder of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London. In 1990, the Daily Mirror and TV programme "The Cook Report" claimed that Scargill and the NUM had received money from the Libyan government. These allegations were based on allegations by Roger Windsor, who was the NUM official who had spoken to Libyan officials. Roy Greenslade, the Mirror's editor at the time, said much later he believes his paper's allegations were false. This was long after an investigation by Seumas Milne described the allegations as wholly without substance and a "classic smear campaign.

It was also claimed that Arthur Scargill diverted money donated by Russianmarker miners during the strike. The NUM received payments from the trade unions of Afghanistanmarker (which was Sovietmarker-occupied at the time). Soviet miners who sent money to the NUM would not have been able to attain convertible currency without the support of the Government of the Soviet Union and Thatcher claimed to have seen documentary evidence that suggests that Soviet-leader Mikhail Gorbachev authorised these payments.

The hint of a link tarnished Scargill and yet trust of him amongst striking miners remained firm. Scargill was perceived as a militant hero by the unions, and as a Marxist thug by most of the mainstream press. Scargill always denied these accusations and accused the government of fueling a smear campaign. However, the ex-head of MI5marker Dame Stella Rimington claimed in her autobiography, "We in MI5 limited our investigations to those who were using the strike for subversive purposes."


Six pickets died during the strike, and three teenagers (Darren Holmes aged 15, Paul Holmes aged 14 & Paul Womersley aged 14) died picking coal from a colliery waste heap in the winter. The deaths of pickets David Jones and Joe Green continue to be viewed with suspicion. Jones was killed in Ollertonmarker, Nottinghamshire, by a flying brick during fighting between police, pickets, and non-striking miners, while Green was hit by a truck while picketing at Ferrybridge power stationmarker in Yorkshiremarker. The NUM names its memorial lectures after the two.A taxi driver, David Wilkie, was killed on 30 November 1984. He had been taking a non-striking miner to work in the Merthyr Valemarker Colliery in Merthyrmarker, South Wales when two striking miners dropped a concrete post onto his car from a road bridge above. He died at the scene. The two miners served a prison sentence for manslaughter.

The impact of the strike was nowhere near as hard-hitting as previous strikes such as those of the early 1970s. With most homes equipped with oil or gas central heating and the railways long since converted to diesel and electricity, the only remaining significant sector of Britain's national infrastructure that was still reliant upon coal was the electrical generation industry under the Central Electricity Generating Board. The problem of potential power-shortages as a result of a coal strike had been recognised by the Thatcher government which insisted that Britain's coal-fired power stations create their own stockpiles of coal which would keep them running throughout any industrial action. This policy turned out to be incredibly successful during the miner's strike as the power stations were able to maintain power supplies even through the winter of 1984.

During the strike, many pits permanently lost their customers. Much of the immediate problem facing the industry was due to the economic recession in the early 1980s. However, there was also extensive competition within the world coal market as well as a concerted move towards oil and gas for power production. The Government's own policy, known as the Ridley Plan was to reduce Britain's reliance on coal; they also claimed that coal could be imported from Australia, Americamarker and Colombiamarker more cheaply than it could be extracted from beneath Britain. The strike subsequently emboldened the NCB to accelerate the closure of many pits on economic grounds.

Variation in observing the strike

Levels of Solidarity in the 1984-85 strike by area
Area Manpower % on strike 19/11/84 % on strike 14/2/85 % on strike 1/3/85
Cokeworks 4,500 95.6 73 65
Kent 3,000 95.9 95 93
Lancashire 6,500 61.5 49 38
Leicestershire 1,900 10.5 10 10
Midlands 19,000 32.3 15 23
North Derbyshire 10,500 66.7 44 40
North-East 23,000 95.5 70 60
North Wales 1,000 35 10 10
Nottinghamshire 30,000 20 14 22
Scotland 13,100 93.9 75 69
South Derbyshire 3,000 11 11 11
South Wales 21,500 99.6 98 93
Workshops 9,000 55.6 - 50
Yorkshire 56,000 97.3 90 83
NATIONAL 196,000 73.7 64 60
No figures available for the 1000 N.C.B. staff employees.

Mining and mining communities after the strike

The coal industry was finally privatised in December 1994 to create a firm named "R.J.B. Mining", now known as UK Coal. Between the end of the strike and privatisation, pit closures continued with a particularly intense group of closures in the early 1990s. There were 15 former British Coal deep mines left in production at the time of privatisation, however, by March 2005, there were only eight major deep mines left. Since then, the last pit in Northumberlandmarker, Ellington Colliery at Ellingtonmarker, has closed whilst pits at Rossingtonmarker and Harworthmarker have been mothballed. In 1983, Britain had 170 working mines. In 2009 there are only four working deep mines . During the strike, Scargill had constantly claimed that the government had a long-term plan to reduce the industry in this way. The miners' will to resist deteriorated rapidly and there was a very apathetic response to the intensive period of closures in the early 1990s, despite evidence that there was much more sympathy for the miners then than in 1984.

Nottinghamshire miners had hoped that their pits were safe, but they too were mostly closed in the 1985-1994 period. This was widely resented as a betrayal of the promises that had been made to working miners in the strike; they had been told that their jobs were safe and their industry had a future. The subsequent behaviour of the Conservative government was seen by most on the left, and in the "heavy" industries, to confirm fears about how they had been used to divide the miners' union.

The effect of the strike has been long and bitter for many areas that depended on coal. Many miners were forced into debt as the union did not make strike payments to its members, only paying money to strikers on picket. The problem was compounded as the union's failure to hold an official ballot meant that the strike was illegal and social security rules prevented benefits being paid to participants of illegal strikes. Further, the rules meant that any benefits paid to partners or dependents of striking miners were calculated as if strike pay was being received.

The closure of pits also affected engineering, railways, electricity and steel production, which were all interlinked with the coal industry. Unemployment reached as high as 50% in some villages over the following decade. Suicides rose significantly. Migration out of old mining areas left many villages full of derelict houses and earning the reputation as ghost towns. The tensions between those who had supported the strike and those who had not, lasted for many years afterwards (and sometimes continues today, having been passed down to the next generation), eroding the strong sense of unity that had previously existed in such communities. A murder in the former mining town of Annesleymarker, Nottinghamshire in 2004 was a result of an argument between former members of the NUM and the UDM, an indication of continued tensions.

The 1994 European Union enquiry into poverty classified Grimethorpemarker in South Yorkshire as the poorest settlement in the country and one of the poorest in the E.U. The county of South Yorkshire was made into an Objective 1 development zone and every single ward in the City of Wakefieldmarker district of West Yorkshire was classified as in need of special assistance. In, Merseyside, the Metropolitan Borough of Knowsleymarker, which had contained the "Crontonmarker" pit, has often been named amongst the most deprived areas of both Britain and Europe, as has the neighbouring Metropolitan Borough of St Helensmarker in which Sutton Manor, Bold and Parkside collieries were situated.

Other areas have recovered and now boast a good standard of living. Recovery was quickest in areas where the economy was more diverse, such as in Kent or the West Midlands. Brodsworthmarker boasted the largest mine in the country and is also enjoying relative affluence. Old colliery sites have often been turned into new industrial parks or retail parks. Xscapemarker, an indoor ski-slope, forms part of an entertainments centre and outlet shopping complex built on the former site of Castlefordmarker's Glasshoughtonmarker colliery.

Whilst the strike was on, public opinion in the Home Counties (except Kent) was mixed, whereas in the Welsh valleysmarker, Yorkshire and other areas actually affected by the strike, support was high. It has become a symbol of the perceived indifference that the Tory Party under Thatcher had to problems of unemployment and poverty. The Daily Mirror, which had been hostile towards the strike at the time, began a campaign to raise awareness of the social deprivation in the coalfields. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is an organisation that makes grants to aid the redevelopment of former mining areas.

Although mining is now only a very small industry in Britain, as of 2003 it was reportedly more productive in terms of output per worker than the coal industries in Francemarker, Germanymarker and the United States

Andrew J. Richards' book, Miners on Strike, dedicated a chapter to how unusual it was in 1984 for a large-scale strike to be launched in protest at job cuts. In Britain, trade unions had traditionally launched strikes for claims on wage rises and rights at work, but strikes in defence of jobs had been very rare. Since the example of the 1984-5 miners' strike, union leaders have been much more likely to call for action in defence of jobs. Coincidentally, 1984 was the year when Harvardmarker economists Richard B. Freeman and James Medoff published the book What do Unions do?, where such a strategy was seen as good for productivity and less of a pressure on inflation.

The strike in popular culture

Film & TV

The strike was the background for the 2000 film Billy Elliot. Several scenes depict the chaos at the picket lines, clashes between armies of police and striking miners, and the shame associated with crossing the picket line. The film also showed the abject poverty associated with the strike, the harshness and desperation of not having coal for heat in winter as well as depicting the contrast between miners and the middle-class.The strike is also involved in the background to the plot of the 1996 film Brassed Off, which is set ten years after the strike when all the miners have lost the will to resist and accept the closure of their pit with resignation. Brassed Off was set in the fictional "Grimley", a thinly disguised version of the hard-hit ex-mining village of Grimethorpe, where some of it was filmed.

The satirical Comic Strip Presents episode The Strike (1988) depicts an idealistic Welsh screenwriter's growing dismay as his hard-hitting and grittily realistic script about the strike is mutilated by a Hollywoodmarker producer into an all-action thriller starring Al Pacino (played by Peter Richardson) as Scargill, and Meryl Streep (played by Jennifer Saunders) as his wife. The film parodies Hollywoodmarker movies by over-dramatizing the strike and changing most important historic facts. The film won a Golden Rose and Press Reward at the Montreux Festival.

The 1984 episode of the 1996 BBC television drama serial Our Friends in the North revolves around the events of the strike, and the scenes of clashes between the police and striking miners were re-created using many of those who had taken part in the actual real-life events on the miners' side. In 2005, BBC One broadcast the one-off drama Faith, written by William Ivory and starring Jamie Draven and Maxine Peake. Many of the social scenes were filmed in the former Colliery town of Thorne, near Doncaster. It viewed the strike from the perspective of both the police and the miners.

The strike on the stage

The film Billy Elliot was turned into a musical, Billy Elliot the Musical by Elton John, and has been successful on London's West Endmarker. The musical has been brought to Broadwaymarker and won a Tony Award in 2009 for Best Musical (the highest award given to musicals in the U.S.).

The strike in fiction

There is a book based on Lee Hall's screenplay Billy Elliot. The book by the same title is by Melvin Burgess, published in 2001.

A 2005 book, GB84, by David Peace combines fictional accounts of pickets, union officials and strike-breakers. Graphic details are provided of many of the strike's major events. It also suggests that the British Intelligence services were involved in undermining the strike, including the making of the alleged suggestion of a link between Scargill and Muammar al-Gaddafi.

The strike in art

In 2001, British visual artist Jeremy Deller worked with historical societies, battle re-enactors, and dozens of the people who participated in the violent 1984 clashes of picketers and police to reconstruct and re-enact the Battle of Orgreave. A documentary about the re-enactment was produced by Deller and director Mike Figgis and was broadcast on British television; and Deller also published a book called The English Civil War Part II documenting both the project and the historical events it investigates (Artangel Press, 2002). Involving the re-enactors, who would normally recreate Viking battles or medieval wars, was a way for Deller to situate the recent and controversial Battle of Orgreave (and labour politics themselves) as part of mainstream history.

Popular songs about the strike

The strike has been the subject of songs by many music groups. Of the more well known are the Manic Street Preachers' "A Design for Life", and "1985", from the album Lifeblood; Pulp's "Last day of the miners' strike"; Funeral for a Friend's "History", and Ewan MacColl's "Daddy, What did you do in the strike?". Newcastlemarker native Sting recorded a song about the strike called "We Work the Black Seam" for his first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, in 1985. Billy Bragg's "Which Side Are You On?," neatly encapsulated the strikers' feeling of betrayal by the perceived indifference of wider elements within British society. Also in 1985, English punk group The Mekons portrayed the miners' situation in the song "Abernant 1984/5" on the album Fear and Whiskey.

The folk song "The Ballad of '84" contains the view that David Jones and Joe Green died as a result of the police's handling of events. U2's song "Red Hill Mining Town" from their Joshua Tree album is about the strike, according to lead singer Bono. On 7 July 1984 the anarcho-punk band Crass played their final show in Aberdaremarker, Wales at a benefit for striking miners.

Chumbawamba recorded several pieces in support of the miners. These include the cassette only "Common Ground", recorded as a benefit for the miners. They also recorded a song called "Fitzwilliam", which described the Yorkshire village of that name after the strike. Fitzwilliammarker eventually saw around a third of its housing stock demolished due to the dominance of derelict properties. They also made a song called "Frickley" about the football club Frickley Athletic, which referenced the continued distrust of the police by those in mining areas after the strike.

Chris Cutler, Tim Hodgkinson and Lindsay Cooper from Henry Cow, along with Robert Wyatt and poet Adrian Mitchell recorded The Last Nightingale in October 1984 to raise money for the striking coal miners and their families.

Dire Straits' "Iron Hand", from their 1991 album "On Every Street", refers to the Battle of Orgreavemarker, one the best known events of that period.

Banner Theatre recorded two cassettes - "Here We Go" in 1985 and "Saltley Gate" in 1993, with many songs from the pen of Dave Rogers. The best known are "Saltley Gate" about the mass Birmingham picket, "Maerdy, the Last Pit in the Rhondda" and "Busking for the Miners" which celebrates how Birmingham people supported the miners' struggle. "Monday Morning Rain" was written for Banner's 1989 show "In the Reign of Pig's Pudding" and is a poignant song about the effects of unemployment after pit closures - it is included in the album "Elixir of Life". Rogers also wrote songs for the New Vic Theatremarker production "Nice Girls", relating to the protest camps set up outside threatened pits by women from all over Britain in 1993. Banner toured these camps and created the song "Women on the Line" - this was later included in their video ballad "Burning Issues" which marked the twentieth anniversary of the 1984/5 Miners Strike and was developed with former mining communities in Yorkshire, Lancashire, the Midlands and South Wales.

The strike also inspired two entire albums. Freq, recorded in 1984 by ex-Hawkwind singer and lyricist Robert Calvert. Alternating with songs such as "All the machines are quiet" and "Work song" are five short tracks taken from speeches and demonstrations recorded amongst the miners themselves. The industrial group Test Department recorded the 1984 album Shoulder to Shoulder, in collaboration with the South Wales Striking Miners Choir. The album combined harsh industrial rhythms with the traditional songs sung by the male choir, and also included poetry and speeches from the strike.

Soul/punk/pop/rockabilly band The Redskins, who were notable for their left-wing views and lyrics, supported the struggle of the miners and the union. Their song "Keep on Keepin' On" was a rallying support for the strike, and the band played benefits in support of the strike. The punk/Oi! band Angelic Upstarts recorded a song supportive of the miners called "One More Day". Welsh punk rockers Foreign Legion's song Another Day is about the strike.


  1. Coal production
  2. Tim Jones, "Two miners charged with murder of taxi driver", The Times, 1 December 1984.
  3. Campbell, p. 366.
  4. Thatcher, p. 369.

See also


  • Map showing location of pits in 1984 and the closures each year up to 2004.
  • Includes lists of mine closure dates.

Further reading

  • Pages 18–19 give details of the 1991 payouts to miners from the Battle of Orgreave.
  • A novel.
  • Compilation of eyewitness accounts of the miners' strike from both sides of the dispute
  • A critique of policing methods in the coalfields during the strike

External links

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