Halloween for the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) is no longer a day of fictitious horror and ghost stories. It now marks the anniversary of the acceptance of an actual atrocity: the Tory government’s refusal to order any kind of Orgreave inquiry.
On October 31st, 2016, Tory Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced this decision in parliament. The OTJC had been campaigning then for four years, to right injustices that were 32 years old. Miners arrested during the strike, children of miners who have died and supporters watched from the public gallery as the full horror of a Tory government bore down on us. It will forever be remembered as the day this government put protecting the legacy of Margaret Thatcher ahead of truth, justice and accountability.
We know that the Tories will always close ranks to protect their own. Nevertheless, two successive Home Secretaries implied that some kind of inquiry could be possible. On September 15th, 2016, The Times even reported that Rudd would be setting up a judge-led inquiry. We dared to dream, but that dream was shattered. The campaign now sadly has another anniversary to mark each year – one of Tory trick and no treat. The Tories cannot escape the ghosts of their past mistakes forever, and those who continue to fight against this historic injustice are not distant shadows but very much active and still angry.
What happened during the miners’ strike is not history. The 1984/85 strike was not only about fighting for the right to work and expose the lies of the Tory pit closure programme. It was about protecting workers against the Tory plan to destroy the trade union movement to clear the path for their free-market ideology and privatisation plans. The results of this are an unstable economy, the exploitation of workers and the private market putting profit before people. While this was the case before Covid, the pandemic has sadly opened this Pandora’s box.
The government has made one U-turn after another during the current coronavirus crisis. Some of their MPs are even rebelling over the callous vote against free school meals. And a number of the new 2019 general election intake of MPs claim they understand and represent the working class in previously Labour-voting, ex-mining communities – yet none have spoken in support of righting the wrongs of the strike, or in favour of an Orgreave inquiry.
This week brings hope. SNP justice minister Humza Yousaf announced plans for a collective pardon for Scottish miners convicted there during the strike. While the eligibility criteria are yet to be decided, this is a victory for those who have campaigned for so long, including ex-miners and their families, supporters, the National Union of Mineworkers and supportive politicians, such as Labour MSP Neil Findlay.
We take hope from the justice minister’s agreement with concerns about the “political motivation and interference” in the strike by the UK government of the day and his commitment to calling on the Westminster government to order a review into the policing of the strike in England and Wales. As Findlay says: “The need for an inquiry into events at Orgreave over 30 years ago grows stronger as each year passes. The need for justice does not diminish through time, the resolve of campaigners and the communities affected to get to the truth is inspiring. We will not go away.”
The Welsh Assembly has continuously called for an inquiry. Mick Antoniw was a trade union solicitor representing Welsh miners during the strike and during the ten-week Orgreave trial in May and July of 1985. Today, he is a Labour member of the Senedd, and continues to raise the issue in the Welsh Parliament. Antoniw says: “Orgreave is the great injustice of the 1980s that still remains to be resolved. Why is it important after all these years? Because it represents the gross abuse of power and a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by the state. For many former miners and their communities, there will be no peace until there has been a full public inquiry and disclosure by the government of all the documents held by them that they still refuse to disclose. What do they have to hide?”
Labour’s 2017 and 2019 election manifesto commitment to holding an Orgreave inquiry was recently confirmed by Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, with LabourList reporting that this pledge was put forward as a reason for left-wing MPs to abstain on the covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) bill this month. Our campaign is not a trading card, however, and we continue to publicly voice our opposition to this legislation. The instruction to abstain has sent out the wrong message to our campaign and supporters, as well as to our sister injustice campaigns including the Blacklisting Support Group, the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign, Justice 4 Grenfell and ‘spycops’ campaigners.
The OTJC continues to explore any legal challenges. Our activism is relentless but we need a political response, too – and the Labour Party, the party of our movement, needs to keep the pressure on.