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Thatcher considered using troops during Miners' Strike
NEWLY released files reveal Margaret Thatcher stepped in to ensure Nissan’s arrival in the North-East but also considered ordering troops to deal with the Miners’ Strike and was desperate to stop Soviet cash reaching their starving families. Eight months on from her death, the Iron Lady still divides opinion. Mark Tallentire reports.
MARGARET Thatcher secretly considered sending in the troops during the 1984 Miners’ Strike amid fears the long-running industrial action could destroy her government, according to newly released files.
Government papers released today (Friday, January 3) from the National Archives show ministers were so worried about dock workers following miners in walking out, they considered declaring a state of emergency.
Plans were drawn up for thousands of service personnel to commandeer trucks to move vital supplies of food and coal around the country.
The dockers’ action petered out after a few days and the plan was never implemented.
However, the revelation, which adds detail to that from similar papers released last August, met with strong reactions from the Iron Lady’s supporters and enemies in this region last night.
Dave Hopper, secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association, said he was not surprised as Mrs Thatcher would have done anything to smash effective trade unionism, without a thought for working people.
“She hated the miners and she hated working people.
“If there had ever been any danger of us winning that dispute, the troops would have been used,” he said.
However, Martin Callanan, Conservative MEP for the North-East, said: “There was a serious threat to public order at the time.
“It didn’t prove necessary to use troops but if it had been – to preserve law and order and make sure people could carry out their lawful lives – I would have supported it.”
The epic 12-month confrontation between the Conservative government and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) became a defining moment of the Thatcher era, with hundreds hurt in picket line clashes.
NUM leader Arthur Scargill said the union was engaged in a “social and industrial Battle of Britain”, while a Number 10 official wrote it was “a unique opportunity to break the power of the militants in the NUM”.
Following months of attritional struggle, a dispute at Immingham docks in early July appeared to offer the miners a chance of victory.
On July 16, with the Ministry of Agriculture warning of possible panic buying of food, Mrs Thatcher summoned key ministers to discuss declaring a statement of emergency.
They quickly agreed using 2,800 troops to move 1,000 tons of goods a day using 50 lorries was “far too low” for what was needed.
Ministers were also nervous deploying the Army could make matters worse and some questioned whether it was legal.
The dock strike ended on July 21 and the immediate crisis was over.
Later that month, Thatcher loyalite Norman Tebbit, then Trade and Industry Secretary, wrote to the Prime Minister warning coal supplies were set to run out by mid-January and miners would be “fortified in their resolve” by this.
But, assured by her officials power supplies could be maintained for over a year, Mrs Thatcher stuck to her guns.
The final crisis came in October when Nacods, the pit deputies’ union, threatened to walk out.
Worried officials drew up contingency plans including a return to the three-day working week.
But the Nacods strike was called off and by November 20 10,442 miners had returned to work.
“There can be no better evidence that Mr Scargill’s case is failing,” the government’s daily coal report declared.
The Miners’ Strike ended on March 3, 1985.
But Mrs Thatcher has continued to arouse strong opinions ever since.
When she died on April 8 last year, aged 87, Mr Hopper said she had damaged the North-East more than Adolf Hitler, former miners threw a party and Marilyn Johnson, who ran soup kitchens for striking miners in Easington, drank champagne.
On today’s revelations, Mr Hopper said: “She was half-mad. She wouldn’t have any tears at bringing troops in.
“If there had been blood baths on the streets she wouldn’t have worried about it.”
But Mr Callanan said: “This was a battle about whether the country was governed by Arthur Scargill and some very violent picketers or the elected government.
“It was absolutely vital for the country and the rule of law.”
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