Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

 

When reflecting on the lasting impact of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, a struggle that has become so firmly embedded in the collective memory of political and industrial events of recent years, I am often tempted to hit fast-forward rather than press the play-back button. How would a year-long fight-to-the-finish that pitted the country’s strongest trade union against an all-powerful Prime Minister, play out three decades later? Given the revolution there has been in communication techniques, what would the chances be of success if there was a repeat of the grassroots revolt against the decimation of the coalfields and their communities?

Black and white photographs taken by friends, family and supporters at the 1984 Battle of Orgreave helped subsequently to demolish Police prosecutions for rioting that were levelled against 95 striking mineworkers.

But at the time, very few close-up – and potentially incriminating – pictures made it into the news coverage of the mainstream media.

Most press photographers and television camera crews were penned in behind police lines, and therefore kept largely to the perimeter of the eight-hour confrontation between pickets and mounted police.

While newspapers and television news bulletins captured the scale of the conflict – and especially the graphic images of police on horseback charging through the pickets – there was nothing like the visual record of hand-to-hand combat that would be available today as a result of the abundance of camera phone pictures and videos that invariably emerges from demonstrations and protests.

No wonder the iconic photograph taken by John Harris of Lesley Boulton, cowering as a mounted police officer approached her with a raised baton, has become an enduring image of the strike, reproduced repeatedly to illustrate the violent response of the police as the pickets assembled outside the Orgreave coke works on June 18, 1984.

Such was the divisive nature of so much of the news reporting of the 1984-85 miners’ strike – and media concentration on picket line violence – that there was often little coverage of the remarkable solidarity shown by the international trade union movement.

Pit Props, a new book examining the strength of international support during the dispute, seeks to put the record straight. Editor Granville Williams says it tells the story of the magnificent response of fellow trade unionists around the world.

Nicholas Jones, a former labour and industrial correspondent, who reported the strike for BBC Radio, compiled a diary of news reports of help and assistance from overseas during the miners’ year-long struggle.

For the first time for 30 years he re-opened his file marked “miners’ international solidarity”, and it took him straight back to the events surrounding the largely under-reported, but totally unprecedented action by other mining unions and the wider international trade union movement.

 

Nicholas Jones at Hatfield pit, near Doncaster, which ceased production in July and is currently being dismantled and its shafts sealed.“If only”…if only there had been a deal in the 1980s the coal industry might have survived, says Nicholas Jones, who was a BBC labour and industrial correspondent during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

I returned to Yorkshire for BBC Newsnight to report on the industry’s final demise, and to visit the UK’s very last deep mine that is still producing coal, but only for another few weeks.

Deep mining of coal will cease by the end of the year when the Kellingley pit near Castleford closes in early December.

As I stood in the yard, looking across as coal poured from the pit shaft conveyor, I was almost lost for words, sensing that an historic moment was only weeks away.

“I can hardly believe it…” were my opening words as I described the imminent demise of the Big K, the Yorkshire super pit that once employed 3,000 men, and was the biggest deep mine in Europe.

Margaret Thatcher’s 1985 cabinet papers about the 1984-85 miners’ strike were a revelation for Nicholas Jones, as he explained when giving the annual lecture at the commemoration meeting to mark the death of two Yorkshire miners killed while on picket duty.

After a wreath laying ceremony, Jones told the gathering at the Barnsley headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers that he had been misled and that an award winning programme was based on inaccurate information.

Jones, who was named the 1986 Industrial Journalist of the Year, asserted in his BBC Radio 4 programme Codename Tuscany that it was confidential advice from European banks that allowed the courts to seize the miners’ missing millions.

But Mrs Thatcher’s papers have revealed that in fact it was tip-offs from the Security Service MI5 – based on telephone taps and surveillance – that enabled the sequestrators Price Waterhouse to take control of £8.7 million deposited in banks in Luxembourg, Zurich and Dublin without the NUM’s knowledge.

Jones said his experience in being misled during the strike – as had also happened over denials of a secret hit list for pit closures – had made him all the more determined to unlock the secrets of the strike.