In Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure, there is a strange, affecting scene, in which the butchering of a hand-raised pig is described. It is told with great sympathy and empathy from the pig’s point of view.
(Parables for Socialists-5)
Reared close to the family, as was common in nineteen century England, the pig is well-treated, mothered like a pet and fed on tit-bits — all the better to fatten it up so that it could at the right moment be turned into as much pork and bacon as possible. The pig is happy and contented, not knowing his place in the human scheme of things.
Then one day the indignant, bewildered, screaming animal finds himself seized by the men of the household, fettered and hauled up by his hind legs, squealing and kicking air.
It is with relief that the poor, betrayed, very confused pig sees his special human friend, the woman who petted him and favoured him with tit-bits and soft words, approaching in a business-like way, a bucket in one hand and a long shiny thing in the other.
She puts the bucket on the ground, directly under the pig’s head, places one hand on his upside-down chin, pressing it down so that the neck is taut in a clean line, then jabs her shiny, sharp-edged knife deep into his neck and cuts his throat. The bucket fills up with the draining life-blood of the pig, to make black pudding for human beings….
For her too, the fattening pig, who thought himself a member of the family, was just so much potential pork, bacon, blood pudding and sausage. The once-contented pig had radically misunderstood his place in the world.
And not only pigs. Consider the story of the Nottinghamshire “working miners”, who scabbed on the other miners during the 13 months of the great national coal strike of 1984/5.
A sizeable majority of Nottinghamshire miners did that. Why?
The Nottinghamshire pits were very rich in coal, highly modern, and very productive. The insecurities, which drove other miners to take on the Coal Board and the Thatcher Government, were no concern of theirs. So they thought. That was the real reason why they scabbed. Their dispute with the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers about “union democracy”, was merely a “good reason”, the one they could most easily live with. It was a case of: “F. you, Jack, I’m alright!”
Their future was secure. So they were told. So they believed.
Only a minority of Nottinghamshire miners, led by the late Paul Whetton (a supporter of and columnist for Socialist Organiser, Solidarity’s predecessor), struck work.
The leader of the majority, Roy Lynk, was the Scab-Herder General in Prime Minister Thatcher’s war against the miners.
The scabs and their leaders had a vital part to play in the Tory war on the miners. The militarised, often mounted police, broke miners’ skulls and terrorised the mining villages; they illegally stopped miners on the public highway to prevent them going on picket-duty. The press, radio and TV denounced the miners for their “violence”, and a dozen other alleged faults. Lynk? Scab-Herder Lynk’s role was to organise the Nottingham “working miners” to break the strike.
Lynk was an important man. So were they all, the “working miners”, all, important men. Then. They were petted and feted by the press. Some of them, no doubt, were given special tit-bits too.
Mrs Thatcher called the striking miners “the enemy within”, but Lynk and his friends were part of the national family, at the bead of whose table sat the bourgeoisie and their Government.
As the war of attrition wore on, the government, the police, the bludgeoning press combined with deprivation to drive individuals and small groups of miners here and there back to work. For a while the scab and the Scab-Herder were the press-lustred heroes of the British national family, the emblematic, the typical, the characteristic heroes of Mrs Thatcher’s brave new dog-eat-dog Britain.
The capitalist press would focus its attention on some poor fellow who went back to work because he — or his family— could no longer take what the capitalists, the press, the police and the politicians were dishing out. The demoralised, desperate, broken man, ratting on his comrades, would be given some glamorising nickname — “Silver Birch” was one — and talked up in the press as a hero.
He did what the media, the TUC leaders and the politicians — leading Labour politicians too — were screaming at him to do. So he was a man of independent mind.
He decided under pressure to give up, abandon the strike and scab on his mates. That proved him to be was a man possessing great strength of character. They were all fine, independent, strong men, the scabs, great guys, special people. Prime Minister Thatcher was proud of them.
The “working miners” would be taken care of. Nottinghamshire coal had a future, they could be sure of that! The Tory Nation would not forget.
Having helped the Tory Government defeat the NUM, the Notts scab miners then founded a union of their own, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers.
Seven years passed. Seven years during which, in conditions of general mass unemployment, the majority of British coal mines were shut down.
Once the NUM had been defeated the Government was able to do as it liked.That was the point.
There were 170 collieries in Britain in March 1984. Eight years later, 97 pits had been closed. 25 pits closed in 1985, the year of the NUM’s defeat.
Notts pits too. In the six years after 1985, 12 out of the 25 Notts pits were closed down. Even so, there were no compulsory redundancies. Notts miners prospered, secure and earning well. Until 1992.
Then Roy Link and his followers were seized with rough hands and made to learn what their real place in the world was.
In October, 1992, the Government announced that a further 31 pits would close, with a loss of 30,000 jobs. It was the final death-blow to the industry.
During the strike, none were more special than the Notts “working miners”; and Roy Lynk had been the extra-special leader of this “special breed of men”. But now there would be no special treatment for the former scabs.
Three pits of the remaining 13 were to close in 1992.
Seven more Notts pits would close between 1993 and 2004.
The pampered, tit-bit fed, pet workers’ leader, and his followers, having served their purpose, got no better treatment than Scargill and the defeated NUM miners had had.
The savage ingratitude of it, the treachery, the casual breaking of promises that had been solemnly given when the Government needed strikebreakers — it was all so gross that there was a big public outcry against the proposed pit closures. To no avail.
Thatcher, with the help of the UDM had already destroyed the miners’ power of collective resistance.
The UDM was helpless. So, in terms of effective action, was what was left of the NUM.
Roy Lynk was reduced to staging a one-man stay-down protest, skulking at the bottom of a coal pit due for closure! (NUM people said he wanted to avoid facing his dupes and fellow-scabs of 1984-5, for a while…)
He must have pondered bitterly on the changes seven years had brought.
The Notts scab miners had listened to the press, the politicians and the scab-herders, and sided with the Government against the rest of the miners. They had heard with hostility and contempt, or refused to hear at all, the great socialist truths about the capitalist world we live in, the truths, which the NUM fought for and lived by for 13 heroic, magnificent months in 1984-5.
Workers exist in the eyes of the bourgeoisie and of bourgeois governments to be exploited. The worker’s right to a job, and even to life, is subordinated to that fundamental role: workers are profit or potential profit, or else those who own the means of production will not allow them to be workers at all.
Whether the capitalists and their governments pamper workers, or cut their throats — or, as with the UDM miners during the NUM strike, encourage them to cut their own throats — the general principle governing their behaviour is always the same: the workers’ place at a given moment in the system designed for exploiting their labour in order to turn a profit for the bourgeoisie.
The tragedy of the Notts “Working Miners” — and of the miners they betrayed — was that they did not know what their place in the bourgeois scheme of things was, until it was too late.
They did not know that there is no such thing as a “national family”, but only a society split into classes, in a condition of latent or open class war.
Refusing to recognise the class war and take their proper place in it, rejecting working class solidarity, they played the role of traitors to their own side in the war whose outcome made possible what the bourgeoisie and the Tories eventually did to them.
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