4. Defining moments of the Thatcher years | The Battle of Orgreave | 18 June 1984
“Mob rule . . would be the end of liberty and democracy.”
On 18 June 1984, thousands of police officers from across the country and picketers from Arthur Scargill's National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) clashed in and around the South Yorkshire village of Orgreave. Orgreave was home to a British Steel coking plant, where coal was turned into coke for steelmaking, which had attracted the wrath of the NUM for exceeding the "dispensations" of coal allowed to keep the furnaces just ticking over.
The exact chronology of events that day is still disputed, but what cannot be questioned is that the day descended into unprecedented industrial violence from both sides, with scores of picketers and policemen injured. By the end of the day, over 80 people had been arrested. However, none of these arrests resulted in a successful conviction, and in 1991 South Yorkshire Police agreed to pay £425,000 to victims in damages for assault, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution in relation to the incident.
The Battle of Orgreave is significant not only as perhaps the most violent incident of the miners' strikes. Through photographs from the day and a 2001 re-enactment by the film director Mike Figgis and conceptual artist Jeremy Deller, Orgreave has become a lasting and potent symbol of the broader conflict between the authoritarian state apparatus and radical dissenters.
But the confrontation of that day is most iconic of ordinary people's struggle for a livelihood and identity in times of huge social and economic upheaval, playing a significant role in informing our present-day understanding of Thatcherism.
Tags: Margaret Thatcher