By the 18th of June 1984 – thirty-seven years ago today – miners in England had been on strike for three months. In what has been called “the most bitter industrial dispute in British history”, the National Union of Mineworkers was attempting to bring the coal industry to a standstill in protest against planned closures of certain pits. That day, over 5000 striking miners from all over the country were brought to Orgreave in south Yorkshire to picket – to stand outside the local mine and stop people or vehicles from entering or leaving the site.
6000 police officers assembled in huge lines nearby. Tensions were running high and things quickly got out of control. Mounted police (on horses) charged at the crowds. Vicious fights broke out everywhere and there were injuries on both sides. Many were shocked by the levels of violence used by the police and upset by TV footage showing police officers hitting unarmed miners with their truncheons.
Ninety-five people were arrested and charged, but no-one was ever prosecuted and all walked free. Judges in the courts called the police testimony unreliable. Many officers provided suspiciously similar statements, which gave rise to allegations that that they had all been coordinated. The police force presented a united front amid accusations of a cover-up.
Five years later, the same South Yorkshire police force faced similar accusations after the Hillsborough disaster, which you can read about here, if you’ve not heard of it. Unlike at Hillsborough, no-one died at Orgreave, but its name is now burned into British working class history. Orgreave became a byword for state violence against the striking miners and led to a distrust of the police spanning generations.
In recent years, the government has gone back on previous statements and announced that there would be no public inquiry into what happened that day. Predictably, the government were then accused of a whitewash. A whitewash is an official attempt to stop people discovering the true facts about something, in order to prevent people in authority from being criticised – or worse. This was obviously a further embarrassment for the government, given that they were already facing accusations of a whitewash over the failures to fully investigate historical sex abuse claims against senior politicians.
The truth is out there.
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- Do you know of any clashes between the police and other groups in your country? What happened?
- Have there been any famous strikes in your country?
- Have you – or has anyone you know – ever been on strike? When? Why? How did it go?
- Do you think there’s much distrust of the police in your country? Why? / Why not?
- Can you think of any other examples of official whitewashes?