32 Years, No Justice – Orgreave and the power of graphic protest

Craig Oldham’s work for the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign has helped communicate its ongoing demands for an inquiry into one of the darkest days of the 1984-85 miners’ strike. With the home secretary ruling out an investigation last week, we talk to the designer about where the protest – and the visual language behind it – goes next

Posters for the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, designed by Craig Oldham as a response to the Home Secretary’s decision not to hold a public inquiry into the events of June 18 1984

On Wednesday of last week, Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that there would be no public inquiry into the events that took place in South Yorkshire on June 18, 1984, during the year-long miners’ strike, and that became known as the ‘Battle of Orgreave’.

Following the bloody confrontation between picketing miners and police, 24 miners were charged with violent disorder, a further 75 with rioting (an offence that, at the time, could result in a life sentence). The trials collapsed and, six years later, 39 miners eventually received compensation, though South Yorkshire police never admitted wrongdoing or liability.

Writing in the Guardian in 2014, David Conn outlined where things stood for those who had campaigned for justice over the intervening 30 years. After the paper had revealed the unsuccessful Orgreave prosecutions of 2012, followed by a BBC Inside Out documentary, South Yorkshire police took the step of referring itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Billboard poster featuring home secretary Amber Rudd. Design: Craig Oldham

“The referral,” Conn wrote, “was for some of the most serious criminal offences police officers can commit: the alleged assault of miners at Orgreave during the mass picket of June 18, 1984, principally battering them on the head with truncheons and then allegedly perverting the course of justice, committing perjury and misconduct in public office in the failed prosecutions of 95 miners for riot and unlawful assembly.”

Reeling from the Hillsborough verdicts announced on April 26 this year, Dave Jones, the newly appointed Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire police force then issued a statement saying he would “welcome an appropriate independent assessment of Orgreave, accepting that the way in which this is delivered is a matter for the home secretary.” As of this week, however, an inquiry under the current Conservative government has been ruled out altogether.

Legal submission on behalf of the OTJC. Design: Craig Oldham

But Rudd’s decision does not mean that the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign will give up its fight. Indicative of this is the fact that Manchester-based designer Craig Oldham, whose father Mick was arrested at Orgreave and who has worked with the OTJC since the publication of his book on the miners’ strike, designed two sets of campaign posters to be readied as a response to either outcome. Both versions are defiant examples of graphic protest – and show that even if the inquiry been given the green light, the campaigning would not have stopped.

Posters by Craig Oldham designed in the event of a ‘positive’ outcome for the OTJC campaigners last week

The idea behind designing for the two possible outcomes was that “if they don’t give us what we want that we should still hammer home the fact that these people have been waiting 32 years,” says Oldham. “If they give us what we want, let’s make sure that were still fighting for the fact that we want it to be done properly, to be full and transparent, to repair all those things.”

Since his book, In Loving Memory of Work: A Visual Record of the UK Miners’ Strike 1984-85, Oldham has had direct involvement with the OTJC. While his familial connection to Orgreave has meant that his work for the organisation is highly personal, he has effectively taken on the OTJC as a client, designing its legal submission (given to the then home secretary Theresa May in December last year), alongside a range of striking type-led banners, posters and protest material.

Conference poster, October 2016. Design: Craig Oldham

“I’ve been passionately behind it, but the book gave me a reason to actually pursue my involvement with them,” says Oldham, who met with the OTJC to offer financial support through the sale of the book. “It’s had an impact on me and my upbringing – many will feel similar emotions to the police and the government. The Campaign appreciate my passion and my personal aspect to it but also the fact that I offer another dimension other than the same voices….

“The other thing that [they’ve] been encouraged by is that I wasn’t there, I wasn’t born – and it’s important to them that they show some evidence that it matters to people beyond the generation who were there, either on the day or in the community at that time.”

Oldham was with the OTJC at Westminster to hear Rudd’s announcement last week and says that the group found out on Twitter while waiting in a committee room rather than being given any advance notice of the decision. “I think they knew what they were doing, saying that they were going to announce it in October and leaving it until the last day,” says Oldham. “Not even giving us the opportunity to prepare a response.

“We had to prepare a statement on the hoof in the committee room after we’d heard, with no information to respond with other than our emotions. And I think they wanted that; they wanted us to look angry. [But] that’s what we tried not to do by saying we’ll just keep fighting.”

Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign banner. Courtesy OTJC

Throughout the campaigning to-date, Oldham’s skill has been to unite the protest with a solid and resonant typographic identity – one that stems from the protests that took place during the year-long strike.

Of the typefaces that appear in his campaign work, Oldham says it was important that they came from the time in question and looked distinctive. Here, Liaison takes centre stage. It’s a headline typeface based on the Liaison Committee For The Defence Of The Trade Union (LCDTU) placards used during the strike.

Liaison Committee For The Defence Of The Trade Union (LCDTU) placard. Courtesy OTJC

“The other idea I really wanted to make sure happen was that it democratises it all,” adds Oldham of the typefaces choices. “That, even if I couldn’t do something, they’d have the typefaces and [could] give it to someone else to do something. And it still holds together.

“Although the typefaces are important from a design and a campaigning level, they’re also a really good practical tool – because they are so visually distinct. They just empowered people to do stuff if they wanted as and when they could, in the spirit of it all from the strike.”

The original NUM Ferrymoor Riddings banner. Courtesy OTJC

A secondary font called Ferrymoor (as used in the red conference poster, shown above) was inspired by the reverse of the National Union of Mineworkers Ferrymoor Riddings Branch banner, while Oldham’s most recent work for the OTJC utilises Stillingfleet, a face inspired by a message on a T-shirt worn by NUM miner Mark Davies during the Yorkshire Miners Gala 1984.

In a reference to Yorkshire NUM President Jack Taylor’s insistence that “If you get a ballot paper, you burn it” (a response to National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor’s call for a ‘return-to-work’ ballot) the T-shirt’s angular-looking text reads “Come home to a living fire / Burn Ian McGregor”.

“There’s a story behind each and every one of them,” says Oldham. “That’s the main thing, that you can’t dispute that they are fundamentally grounded in this struggle and they are now being used to fight it – that can be quite a powerful thing.”

Over its duration this has inevitably proven to be a unique project for Oldham as a designer: he’s approached it as a professional but the message of the work is steeped in a personal commitment to the cause. Oldham says that striking a balance here is key.

“Through my profession I have to keep a considered approach and have to apply my own professional belief systems on the work I do … whether there’s got to be an idea in the work, [or] it’s got to be clear – contrasted with a pretty emotionally-charged piece of work. But I have an inherent belief that great work comes from an emotional response…. [You’ve got] to care for it, or about it at some level to do a believable piece of work.

Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign banner. Courtesy OTJC

“Especially with things to do with struggle,” he continues. “I think it’s important that you channel that energy that you’ve got with it emotionally because you’re going to have something to say and creativity just becomes a tool for you to say it and express yourself. So I wouldn’t want to deny myself that because, in a way, I’m dealing with those things through my creative process, it’s another way of understanding the world and dealing with it.”

A rawness to the work adds to its ability to communicate, Oldham believes. “If they were really shiny, professionally slick things, I think [they’d] lose something; people really connect with imperfection sometimes, because you can identify with that as a human. If it looked like an Apple ad I don’t think anyone would really give a shit about it. I’m happy that it looks distinct, that, to some people, it’s pretty abrasive. But that’s the point of it and it’s got to be that way.”

As for what’s next for Oldham’s involvement with the OTJC, he’s adamant that the campaign will keep going as will his commitment to the mission. “We’re going to have to keep in mind what happened to the Hillsborough families,” he says. “They kept getting knocked back and knocked back and it took them a hell of a long time to get to where they are. So on a personal note that will keep us going.

Hillsborough campaigner Margaret Aspinall addresses an Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign march. Courtesy OTJC

“[For the] communications, we’ve just got to try as best we can to keep the noise up, to keep reassuring people that were still there, to support the wave that’s coming towards us. Keep pushing the stories of what happened,” he adds. “We’re not going to go away. It’s been a pretty harsh blow to take, but it’s going to continue because is has to.”

For more information on the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, visit otjc.org.uk. A petition “for the home office to hold an inquiry into the battle of Orgreave” is at petition.parliament.uk. Craig Oldham’s book, In Loving Memory of Work: A Visual Record of the UK Miners’ Strike 1984-85 is available from inlovingmemoryofwork.com. Our story on the making of the book is here.

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