March 1985 - The UK Miners' Strike Ends

This week in 1985, the National Union of Mineworkers’ National Executive voted  98 to 91 for a return to work. The Miners’ Strike had begun one year earlier, protesting the proposed closure of 20 pits deemed by the National Coal Board to be inefficient and unprofitable, leading to the loss of up to 20 000 jobs, although many suspected the true figure would be much larger.

During the strike, there were over 11 000 arrests, several deaths, miscarriages of justice, and an irretrievable breakdown of trust between police and many communities.

 NUM president, Arthur Scargill said,

 “…We have decided to go back for a whole range of reasons. One of the reasons is that the trade union movement of Britain, with a few notable exceptions, has left this union isolated. Another reason is that we face not an employer but a government aided and abetted by the judiciary, the police and you people in the media, and at the end of this time our people are suffering tremendous hardship…”

 A National Coal Board spokesman argued that the Coal Board itself was the victim, and said there would be no amnesty for workers who had been dismissed during the dispute over incidences of picket line violence or damage to NCB assets.

The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, expressed relief that the strike was finally over, stating;

“…I want a prosperous coal industry obviously, but the privations some of those families have been through…And they would have been back earlier had it not been kept going by intimidation, and I’m very glad that now they can go back…”

At the beginning of the strike, there had been 173 collieries operating across England, Scotland and Wales, employing over 180 000 people. The BBC reported that, 20 years after the strike, only 20 collieries remained operational, employing 5000 people. On the 30th anniversary of the strike, Al Jazeera  reported  that, as of 2014, only 3 pits remained, and that the National Union of Mineworkers’ membership, once numbering around 200 000, was now around 1% of that amount. 

Many miners took redundancy payments, and the process of complete privatisation of what remained of the coal industry was completed by the end of 1994.