The Miners' Strike

1984 - 85

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Before the miners' strike - 1970s

  • 1970s - STRONG UNIONS, weak government.

  • governments had limited powers to prevent trade union action.
  • January 1972 & 1974 - miners strike over pay.  Picketed mines & power stations with other unions supporting them by stopping fuel being imported or transported.
  • Tory government imposed 3-day working week to SAVE POWER but soon forced to agree to miners' demands.
  • February 1974 - government defeated in general election over its handling of unions.
  • Stikes were successful because they happened when coal was essential to industry, there wasn't enough coal being imported, other unions supported the miners and it happened in winter - demand for strike = high.
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Causes of miners' strike

MARGARET THATCHER! - CONSERVATIVE - Back in power in 1979.  Authority increased by victory in Falklands War in 1982 and was re-elected in 1983!  At same time, coal mining = serious trouble - cheaper to use oil, gas or coal from abroad - mines uneconomical - cost more to get coal out of ground than it was worth as fuel.

1st March 1984 - plan announced to close 20 PITS with LOSS OF 20,000 JOBS.  First pit closed was Cortonwood Colliery in South Yorkshire, which started the 1984-85 miners' strike!!

Thatcher's government was determined to defeat miners and portrayed struggle as another war, like Falklands. - Giving into miners would be surrendering the rule of parliamentary democracy to the 'rule of the mob'.

ARTHUR SCARGILL - LEADER OF NATIONAL UNION OF MINEWORKERS (NUM) After news about 20 pits closing, Scargill persuaded rest of NUM leadership to begin national miners' strike.  New laws stated it was illegal not to ballot workers before a strike.  Scargill argued different areas had already voted for a strike and a ballot was not needed. - many miners unhappy with undemocratic prcess.

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Miners' tactics

  • Difficult for NUM - not all miners though jobs were under threat & many miners unhappy that there hadn't been a national ballot.
  • No national ballot - ensured strike went ahead and no delay.
  • Strike set out as a fight for survival against a government determined to destroy miners and unions - set up the protest as all or nothing.
  • 'Flying pickets' used - some miners in some 'economic' mines didn't want to strike - pickets were transported from supportive areas.
  • Media described police intimidation & brutality against miners.
  • Women in mining communities supported strike by organising marches, raising funds and supporting struggling families.
  • NUM gave financial support to miners who picketed - encourage people to picket.
  • Miners who didn't strike called scabs and were ostracised in mining communities - intimidation and violence against scabs.
  • Picketers resisted police attempts to get workers across picket line = fights between police and miners.
  • Posters, badges & leaflets distributed to raise needed funds.  NUM successfully appealed for money & food from trade unionists abroad.
  • Links made to other groups opposing Conservatives' politics - support.
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Government's tactics - prepared well

  • Government STOCKPILED coal, converted some power stations from coal to oil & recruited private hauliers to transport coal in case railway workers went out on strike - keep on producing energy throughout strike.
  • National strike without ballot - government could use legal powers to fine NUM.  NUM refused to pay but the courts seized NUM assets - £5 million.
  • No national ballot - illegal and say strikers were acting as a mob.
  • Strike illegal - government refused to pay state benefits to miners = poverty.
  • Other unions unhappy about lack of ballot and didn't support strike - government got info about NUM plans from sources in other unions.
  • Brought in police to build up massive police presence in strike area.  Although local police might be too sympathetic to miners.
  • Police used to prevent strikers - FLYING PICKETS - from travelling between strike areas using road blocks.
  • Government fed media info about alleged corruption in NUM, including stories that NUM accepted funds from Soviet Union.
  • Government media appearances continually stressed that stikers used VIOLENT INTIMIDATION against miners who wanted to work - pickets!!!
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Media & public opinion

  • Government generally had more support than the miners.
  • The Sun and the Daily Mail were very anti-strike whilst Morning Star and Socialist Worker were constantly supportive of the strike.
  • At time, NUM members claimed most of the media seemed determined to show violent scenes of conflict, although they claimed it was mostly between unarmed men and some women facing large numbers of well-organised police armed with truncheons, riot shields & horses.
  • Public support for miners badly affected by SCENES OF 'MOBS' of miners attacking police and 'scabs'.
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The Battle of Orgreave

18th June 1984 outside the Orgreave Coking Plant in South Yorkshire - most publicised scenes showed violence between police and picketers.  TV showed strikers throwing rocks, bricks and bottles at police who then retaliated with a mass charge on the pickets.  Coverage badly supported miners and media increasingly attacked the miners and the strike.  NUM area leaders decided to call of further mass pickets.

BBC later admitted order of events had been reversed as the real footage showed the mounted police attacked a peaceful picket line first and inflicted serious injuries upon several pickets, with the miners only then fighting back.

Now agreed that police overreacted to the situation at Orgreave.  Number of injured pickets was double that of injured police.

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Financial costs of striking

September 1984 - turning point in miners' strike - High Court ruled that NUM had breached its own constitution by calling a strike without holding a national ballot. 


  • Striking miners NOT entitled to state benefits - families forced to survive strike on handouts & charity
  • NUM fined and refused to pay = courts seizing NUM funds - reduced ability of NUM to support strikers.

Povery and hunger became rife in mining heartlands.  Dilemma = return to work and be viewed as a scab, or remain on strike and be unable to provide for family.

Wide network of support groups set up, led by miners' wives and girlfriends.  11 August Women Against Pit Closures organisation held first demonstration in London.  Support groups organised communal kitchens and benefit concerts to help miners win the strike.

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Supporting the strike

Traditionally women had no active role in strikes.  Now, however, women began to take action and develop growing independence by providing food and drink.  Women supported the picket lines, organised meetings and travelled across the country to speak at fund-raising meetings.

Some unions refused to support the strike - Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union ( EETPU) and the Steelworkers' Union, despite the fact in the steel strike of 1980 miners had supported them.  Labour Party didn't support strike because there wasn't a ballot, although they raised funds to support striking miners and their families.  If a union were to be effective in a democracy, they had to represent ALL members.

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Support for miners faded following manslaughter of a taxi driver driving a working miner to work in South Wales on 1st December.  On 5th December, Ian MacGregor announced plans to privatise some pits.  On 14th December, TUC put pressure on the NUM to settle.  On 7th January 1985, the NCB (National Coal Board) - own all of the mines - claimed that 1,200 striking miners had returned to work.  On 13th February, High Court banned all mass picketing in Yorkshire and the Yorkshire NUM was faced with an injunction that pickets should not have been more than 6 miners.  If this was broken, the area funds would be confiscated by the courts, showing the government's ability to use their new laws to put PRESSURE on the strike.

28th February - Ian MacGregor - manager of NCB - announced that sacked miners would not be re-employed.  2nd March - meeting on Yorkshire miners voted to continue strike, but the following day the NUM voted 98-91 for a return to work.

After 51 weeks, the strike had officially ended.  When miners had stayed locked out for 6 months before returning to work, returning miners decided to celebrate their year-long struggle.  Went to work with heads held high, with brass bands playing and banners flying.

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