ON 1 AUGUST, LOUISE HAIGH MP contacted the Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign and requested we meet with Owen Smith at a fish and chip shop near the site of the former Orgeave coking plant. The request was politely declined. End of that - or so I thought. The next morning, while driving down to visit my family, I got a phone call from a campaign member to tell me that Smith was still going ahead with his visit.
A couple of phone calls and my family, all Corbyn supporters, were told that my visit was cancelled and I was diverting to Orgreave to see ‘Mr Normal’. Furious that this most noble industrial dispute was about to be hijacked, and the site of the most iconic battle of our strike was to be exploited, I diverted off the M1.
After searching all the landmarks, now a mixture of housing and technology sheds, I eventually saw a number of TV vans parked outside a unit on the industrial site. My keen instincts, honed on the picket lines, told me he was here! It turned out he was holding a press event, closed to the public, inside the unit and giving individual interviews to various news broadcasters.
I sat and fumed patiently for 90 minutes until an assortment of his aides appeared. One of them asked me if I was waiting for ‘Owen’ and would I like a word? I replied I wanted more than a word! Eventually the man himself appeared, I approached him politely, (you will never know how hard that was), introduced myself as “John Dunn, former striking miner” and, again politely, asked him if he would “kindly stop exploiting our struggle” of 1984-85 as he had never expressed support before and had never even signed Ian Lavery’s Early Day Motion calling for an enquiry into the events at Orgreave.
Instantly the shutters came down and he switched into PR mode and proceeded to talk about his grandad. Again politely I interrupted him and said, “While you were busy making pharmaceutical companies rich, we were struggling on and it is disgusting that you are exploiting and hijacking our struggle”. His entourage then tried to get between us so I politely, as always, said, “What you are doing in this so-called leadership battle is no different to what the UDM scabs did to my union in undermining our strike!” No response. He dived into a getaway car, wound up the window and sped off. I was able to use the word “Traitor” though, before his escape.
In the strike 11,000 of us were arrested and 7,000 of us needed medical attention. At Orgreave itself 95 pickets were savagely beaten, arrested and charged with riot. Since then the mining industry has been destroyed, our communities are in ruin, racked with drugs, unemployment and poverty. We now have a chance to right those wrongs and build a decent future, something we fought for 32 years ago. Jeremy Corbyn was there with us then and has been ever since.
For the first time since our strike we have hope. We cannot let the scabs in the PLP, Owen Smith in particular, take that away from us!