Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave. This was where striking miners from across the UK clashed with police officers in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

The 1984-85 miners’ strike was a pivotal event in our cultural and industrial history. The Thatcher government wanted to break the labour and trade union movement to grease the wheels of a free and deregulated market economy. 

Striking miners from across the UK – including in Scotland – would travel as “flying pickets” to protest outside of coalfields, collieries and coking plants where some workers refused to strike.

On 18 June 1984, 8,000 striking miners picketed lorry drivers outside of the Orgreave coking plant. Pickets were peaceful but at Orgreave, miners were met with 6,000 police officers in riot gear with batons, shields and horses.

Miners in attendance said the police attacked them in a preplanned brutal assault without justification. That evening, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sided with the police and described the miners as “mob rule”.

Miners said the BBC showed reverse footage which wrongly suggested they threw missiles at the police before the police charged at them first. The miners’ position was the police had engaged in unprovoked violence against them.  

We now know that the full force of the state – the police, courts and media - were mobilised to defeat the miners. Thousands of miners were arrested, fined, sacked or imprisoned. Many never worked again in their lives.

95 miners had been arrested at Orgreave with charges that carried potential life sentences, but in 1985 the prosecution’s case collapsed and the miners were acquitted.

Evidence of senior police officers had been discredited in court. In 1991, South Yorkshire police paid almost half a million pounds in compensation to miners who sued for assault, unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution. Yet not one police officer was disciplined or prosecuted.

In June 2015, the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that senior police officers in command at Orgreave had “made up an untrue account exaggerating the degree of violence (in particular missile throwing)” to justify their actions.

The role of South Yorkshire Police would be called into question a few years later during the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster with the loss of the lives of 97 Liverpool F.C. fans.

Fresh inquests found in 2016 that fans played no part in the deaths. A jury found there had been a series of police failures, stadium design faults and a delayed response by the ambulance service.

Parallels between Orgreave and Hillsborough can be drawn with the more recent Post Office, Windrush and Covid-19 scandals. Abuses of power, allegations of misconduct and cover-ups.

The deployment of trusted public or state institutions to protect vested interests and not the public interest is deeply troubling and unacceptable.

The immediate impact of Orgreave was to help defeat the miners’ strike. That in turn signalled the closure of mines, UK deindustrialisation and the privatisation of nationalised industries.

Orgreave fuelled the hollowing-out of working-class communities and an increase in inequality. Thatcherism set the scene for today’s gig economy and housing crisis.

Last week, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign welcomed Labour’s pledge for an inquiry into the Orgreave cover-ups. This Friday, Bafta-winning Daniel Gordon’s new film - Strike: An Uncivil War – is released in cinemas.

We need to learn the lessons of Orgreave.