On this day in history : 3rd March 1985 – Miners’ leaders vote to call off the longest industrial dispute Britain had ever seen – without any deal over proposed pit closures….

Miners’ strike rally London, 1984 – Image : Nick from Bristol CC BY 2.0

Ian McGregor, Chairman of the National Coal Board – a Government body – had announced on the 6th of March 1984 that plans were being made to cut production in Britain’s coal industry, which would result in the closure of some 20 pits and the loss of 20,000 jobs…..

Some of these pits still had plenty of workable coal to offer; one such colliery was Cortonwood in South Yorkshire…. Miners at Cortonwood walked out on strike….triggering a chain reaction across the country as other collieries joined them…. However, there were some mines who opted to continue working….this prompted ‘flying pickets’ to target these pits, along with power plants and steel works…. Often violent scenes erupted….

Badge produced by Kent NUM in support of miners’ strike – Image : Simon Speed – own work – CC0

The National Union of Miners, led by Arthur Scargill, were divided but decided not to ballot its members…. Few other trade unions lent their support…. As a result the strike action was declared illegal in September 1984 as no national ballot had been held…. A breakaway union had formed in Nottinghamshire, calling itself the Union of Democratic Mineworkers….

Arthur Scargill on a demonstration rally against pit closures – Image : Tyne and Wear Archives & Museums

Just before Christmas miners were encouraged to return to work with the promise of extra pay and bonuses – approximately 19,000 took up the offer but two thirds of the workforce were still out…. Clashes between flying pickets and those working became commonplace – as did confrontations with the police…. Some 3,000 extra police officers were drafted in to deal with protests during the lifetime of the action….and approximately 10,000 arrests were made….

Clashes at Rotherham Silverwood Pit – Image : Paige via Flickr

The Conservative Government’s policy had been to stock pile as much coal as possible, keeping as many miners working as it could and use the police to break up attacks by the flying pickets on those still working…. Margaret Thatcher was known to want to reduce the power of the trade unions….

Huge stockpiles of coal meant striking miners were unable to disrupt power supplies…. This became all too evident when the Central Electricity Generating Board managed to fulfil demand on the 8th of January when it was at its all time highest…. The NUM decided there was little choice but to return to work….

Protest march at Port Talbot – Image : Alan Denney via Flickr

Arthur Scargill announced that the miners would return to work on the following Tuesday but the campaign against job losses would continue…. The final vote of the NUM had been close – 98 to 91 for a return…. The picketing miners were bitterly disappointed with the decision – Scargill was booed and jeered…. Major restructuring plans for Britain’s mining industry were still in place….

Margaret Thatcher expressed relief that the action was over…. The Treasury estimated the strike had cost the country some £1.5bn…. The total number of lost working days collectively totalled over 26 million – the biggest since the 1926 general strike…. In context most of Britain’s collieries ended up being closed….

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