After thirty years of collecting dust, the declassification of secret government papers has finally exposed Margaret Thatcher’s and senior cabinet ministers’ true role in the 1984-85 miners’ strike. The extent to which Mrs Thatcher and her cronies were prepared to go to will come as no surprise to those of us who lived through the wanton destruction of our industry and communities.
This was a government that gave serious thought to deploying troops against a striking workforce who were fighting to protect their communities. Communities which had grown around the coal industry, communities who had paid the ultimate price to feed the countries insatiable appetite for black gold, communities which had been the backbone of the industrial revolution, communities who had fought to make the work as safe and secure as possible.
Many of these have not recovered from the events which followed the strike.
The government and National Coal Board always claimed that only 20 or so Collieries were to be closed. The NUM knew the number was far higher despite its vehement denial by MacGregor and Thatcher. Today shows just how little regard was actually given to the people of the country who were deliberately misled by senior politicians and civil servants.
The painting of the miners as the aggressors and the out and out denial of a secret hit list of more than 70 collieries earmarked for closure are now proven as lies. Mrs Thatcher was involved in the wilful destruction of the coal industry and micro managed the government’s side of the strike, prepared to use any possible measures to win – whilst lying to the country about the scale of the closures programme and simultaneously scheming to use the armed forces to ensure victory.
What we have seen today is the lengths that the Tory government of the era was prepared to go to. Lying to the country and using every tool of the state to destroy a trade union movement full of ordinary working people who fought for the future of their communities. This is but a small piece of the archives, we can only wonder what papers remain unseen, still classified and for what reason.
We could be forgiven for being confused, but this is not a tale from the Orwellian dystopia 1984 but Britain in that year and our communities still suffer for it now.
Ian Lavery is Labour MP for Wansbeck and was President of the NUM