The balance begins to shift
The lack of such a rank and file movement was the basic reason for the failure to stop steel. By late June all the major steelworks were fully supplied, and set to stay that way.
Click here for part one.
The docks strike, the solidarity which stopped almost all coal trains, and the six well-supported regional days of action (well-supported considering the lack of official campaigning) offset the failure in steel.
On 16 July the well-informed Financial Times wrote: “There is now a substantial lobby in the Coal Board — though not in the government — for a settlement before the end of autumn, even if a settlement means conceding that pits cannot be closed on purely ‘economic grounds’...” These tensions in the NCB would erupt later in sackings and resignations of top officials.
But nevertheless from early August, as we have seen, the balance began to shift. The government had used its legal bludgeon on a section of the labour movement, and discovered that it could get away with it without the TUC responding on behalf of the whole movement. Now it could confidently wait its time to use the bludgeon again.
The shift in balance was, however, slow and unstable. The miners put up a fierce resistance. They were still solid, and would remain fundamentally solid until November.
No-one quite knew how near or remote power cuts were. The debacles at Llanwern and Ravenscraig had marked a reflux of solidarity, following its high point, but the rail action was still strong — and, indeed, additional solidarity action was still developing in late 1984 and early 1985, in the form of new mass pickets of power stations. In the huge furnace of the strike, new flames were constantly leaping up.
For example, at Florence colliery, North Staffs, the first women’s picket in the Midlands took place as late as 11 October. “150 women descended on the picket line armed with song sheets, candles, streamers, and bags of enthusiasm. The all-male police presence were at first slightly bemused, but soon called in a couple of dozen women PCs.
“The non-stop singing and jeering turned three scabs back, but much more than that, the whole atmosphere generated vast quantities of energy, confidence and determination.
“As a grand finale, the 150 women joined together to form ‘the Miners’ Strike Conga’, and danced and sang around the main road to the pit. The police found this ‘intimidating’.” (S0201)
Meanwhile, the longer the miners stuck out, the more likely was a ‘second front’ which would put the screws on the Tories. (The second docks strike, for example, ran from August 24 to September 18).
From June, and more intensely from August, the Tories and the NCB mounted an offensive to break the strike. Backed by all the propaganda the tabloid press could put out — backed up none too subtly, though less crudely, by TV — they launched a back-to-work drive. Scargill-baiting and NUM-bashing became the obsession of the press, in a campaign of unbridled hatred against the miners’ leader they could not cow.
To match and balance their demonology against the best leader any section of the labour movement has had in decades, the press in 1984 (in August, especially) discovered the representative working-class hero of Mrs Thatcher’s new Britain — the scab.
An atmosphere of hysterical pressure was built up in the country, resembling almost the atmosphere in the big marquee during an evangelical revival meeting when the call goes out for sinners to get up and ‘testify for Jesus’. Instant glorification, if not on-the-spot canonisation, awaited the man who would step forward to ‘testify’ for Thatcher and for strikebreaking. He would be dubbed with some would-be glamorising name like “Silver Birch”, or the “Dockers’ Silver Birch”.
The back-to-work drive had little success in June. Then from July North Derbyshire NCB area director, Ken Moses started a campaign of unprecedented ruthlessness. Miners living outside the main pit villages were singled out. They were written to, phoned, visited, systematically pressurised.
Moses’ effort produced few results until November. But in late August a “National Working Miners’ Committee” was set up, under the wing of Thatcherite whizzkid David Hart. A Notts “Working Miners’ Committee” had existed since the end of May.
Ominously, towards the end of August a few scabs appeared in South Yorkshire. Huge numbers of police descended not only on the picket lines but also on the pit villages, which in the following months were transformed into mini police states.
Sue Carlyle penned this picture of life in Kiveton Park, where it sometimes seemed as if the entire might of the British state were being mobilised to ensure that seven scabs would get to work.
“To support and defend their right to scab, and help the Coal Board break the strike, the village has been turned into a mini police state.
“The scabs now have police guards back and front of their houses, or hiding in their garages and back gardens. After each shift the scabs are taken home in convoys consisting of from three to five transit vans loaded with police.
“As you look through the guarded windows at them speeding past, the scabs hold their heads down...
“Every morning in the early hours between 2,000 and 3,000 police drive in to barricade the pit from pickets. The picket line is physically pushed every morning from the pit entrance into a country road away from the village. The police make charges through the old people’s estate and parade horses and riot gear through the main street, endangering local people, young and old.”
From late August, a second wave of mass picketing was mounted by striking miners — not to spread the strike but to stop scabs at their own pits, where, as soon as one single scab could be found, the government would send hundreds of police to bully and intimidate the community.
The TUC Congress
This was the situation when, six months into the miners’ strike, the TUC congress opened at Brighton on 3 September. By now even David Basnett [leader of the GMB] was worried enough to make a seemingly sincere speech about the responsibility of the TUC to stop the government in its manifest desire to destroy the NUM.
The ball was at the feet of the TUC. There was still time to rally the working class to the miners. But, of course, the TUC leaders had made it clear months before that they would not support the miners. They wanted to get themselves in as mediators between the miners and the government, so that a deal could be fixed that would end the strike.
The congress, despite all its bureaucratic limitations, would want something better. The miners’ strike had gripped the imagination of militants and activists throughout the movement. So the leaders trimmed and faked.
The NUM had put down an amendment calling for “industrial action involving all trade unions”. The furniture union FTAT called for a 24 hour general strike. But, under pressure from the TUC leaders, these were withdrawn in favour of a near-unanimous resolution recommending — conditional on the agreement of each individual union concerned — a boycott of coal, coke or substitute oil moved across NUM picket lines.
The resolution was passed with great enthusiasm from the floor.
SO commented: “Either this TUC congress will mark the beginning of a new rallying of the working class around the miners. Or it will go down in history as one of the worst examples of vile left-talking fakery in the history of the labour movement.
“The reflex of every militant with an ounce of sense will be to regard the almost unanimous vote as mainly an exercise in left-fakery by the leaders of the TUC...
“[But] the TUC decision is a lever which miners can use to gain solidarity. For it to be effective rank and file militants should start organising to use it now” (SO 195).
Vile left-talking fakery it was. The railworkers and seafarers had already been giving such support for months. Some power-stations likewise. A few more power stations did start boycott action, but, as it turned out, not enough to be decisive. The EETPU and the power engineers’ union voted against the TUC resolution and did nothing to implement it: the GMBU and the TGWU, who had the majority of coal-handling workers in power stations, did practically nothing.
Arthur Scargill complained in mid-January: “I did ask the leaders of the major power unions if they would arrange meetings of shop stewards in the major power stations. Although there was no rejection of this idea, it has not been put into operation” (SO212).
The TUC resolution strengthened NUM appeals for solidarity, and was thus something to build on. But it wasn’t much. The question arises: would it not have been better if the NUM leaders had pushed the call at congress for a general strike? It would have given a rallying point for the militants and the Left, at least. Socialist Organiser thought at the time that they should have pushed the general strike resolution, and in hindsight we think we were right.
But the lack of an organised rank and file movement was especially critical in the weeks after the TUC. This lack ensured that the solidarity produced was no more than the TUC leaders intended.
The first week after the TUC was occupied by talks between the NCB and the NUM — shifting to and fro between Edinburgh, Selby, Doncaster and London. Many rank and file strikers were bewildered and disturbed.
Stan Crawford of Bevercotes NUM, Notts, wrote in SO: “The main problem during the week of NUM-NCB talks was not knowing what was going on... All we knew was what we saw on television or read in the papers. We were left to guess.
“I would like to see talks held in the open, as they were during Solidarnosc’s negotiations with the Polish government four years ago. Then, the discussion was broadcast to the membership as and when it was happening” (SO 197).
Then, once more, the prospect opened up of other workers decisively tilting the balance in favour of the NUM. The pit deputies’ (overseers’) union NACODS decided on 12 September to ballot its members on strike action over the two issues of pit closures and pay being stopped for deputies who refused to cross picket lines. If NACODS struck, every pit in Britain would stop.
The result of the ballot — 82.5% for a strike — was announced on September 28. The same day the High Court declared whole NUM strike “unlawful” because there had not been a national ballot.
Labour Party conference
The Labour Party conference opened at Blackpool on 1 October. Labour Party conference is less tightly sewn up than the TUC, and it overturned and overruled the platform line on the miners’ strike.
Arthur Scargill got a tremendous reception. Neil Kinnock had given the impression for six months of slinking around on the edge of the great working class battle, waiting for a good chance to savage Arthur Scargill; but now the Labour Party conference rejected his “statesmanlike” even-handed condemnation of violence, by which primarily he meant pickets’ violence.
Conference condemned police violence, called for police to be removed from the coalfields, and thus implicitly sided with the pickets. (SO supporters originated the crucial clauses).
Albert Bowns (Kiveton Park NUM commented: “We got the support we wanted from the rank and file, but we certainly didn’t get the support we wanted from the leadership, particularly Kinnock.
“I thought he was very skilful, the way he skirted round the issue — it was a typical politician’s answer.
“Kinnock is concerned only to put forward policies he thinks people will vote for and so, of course, he was worried about the violence. But the present situation is the perfect opportunity to put forward socialist policies. Instead the leadership... think that all working people are ‘moderates’. But what is happening now is not moderation...”
Two scab miners had applied for a High Court declaration that it was unlawful for the NUM to run a national strike because its rulebook required a national ballot for a national strike. The legal action paralleled the new Tory anti-union law which had come into force in the course of the strike, requiring ballots for all strikes, but that law was not actually used. The court took it upon itself to interpret the NUM’s rulebook, and declared the strike unlawful.
On 1 October the NUM leaders were served with a court order, as they sat in the Labour Party conference, declaring that they were in “contempt of court” for continuing to call the strike official. They responded by insisting that the strike was official according to the rules of the NUM, and that they would not let the court dictate to the union. On 10 October the court fined the NUM £200,000. When the union would not pay, it ordered the seizure of the NUM’s entire funds, on 25 October.
The day before, 24 October, NACODS had called off strike plans with a miserable compromise, slinking away while the miners fought for jobs. Now, for the NUM, blow followed blow.
Police violence in the Yorkshire pit villages was stepped up dramatically. The screaming, spitting gutter press was now witch-hunting and agitating about an NUM official’s fund-raising visit to Libya (although many British firms, and even the NCB itself, have links with Libya). The TUC leaders did nothing to help the NUM. Congress was over for a year, so fake militancy and fake concern for the survival of the NUM was no longer at a premium.
TUC chair Jack Eccles said publicly that the TUC, should pressurise the NUM into accepting the NACODS deal. Several top trade union leaders agreed — off the record. TUC general secretary Norman Willis went through the motions of dissociating the TUC from Eccles’ rambling. He did nothing to help the miners.
At the time union leaders who backed Eccles did not even dare go on the record about it. But now many people in the labour movement or on its journalistic fringes are trying to set up in business as wise men and sages with the thought that really the NUM would have been best advised to accept the NACODS deal in October. After all, the NUM did end up in February offering to accept that deal and being told by the Tories that now they had to have something worse.
Such a philosophy would rule out almost any serious struggle. In October the strike was still around 80% solid. The strikers were still confident and strong. The Coal Board was visibly in trouble: NCB official mouthpiece Michael Eaton was suspended on 29 October, and director of information Geoffrey Kirk was sacked on 31 October. A second front was about to be opened up by Austin Rover and Jaguar car workers striking over pay from 1 November. Only a faintheart could recommend settling for the miserable NACODS deal.
Even as it turned out — with the Austin Rover unions leaving their members in the lurch, and the TUC remaining inactive even when the High Court appointed a receiver over the NUM’s finances — the miners did not end up worse than they would have done by settling in October.
If, by some quirk, the NUM leaders had gone for the NACODS formula and bulldozed the strikers into accepting it, then many miners — certainly, the militants who were the heart and soul of the strike — would have gone back feeling let down and shamed, if not betrayed. They would feel that they had accepted defeat in mid-battle. Such an outcome would have been worse for the miners, and for the labour movement as a whole, than the defeat which actually happened.
In any case, there was not a single voice within the NUM for accepting Eccles’ fine. Right-winger Trevor Bell talked about a ballot on the NCB’s proposals in mid-November, but that was all.
November: onto the defensive
With the start of November, the strike went decidedly onto the defensive. After months of chipping away, the Coal Board finally claimed a breakthrough with scabbing in North Derbyshire. The NCB offered a massive Christmas bribe to miners -who had not had a wage packet for eight months, and were now suffering serious hardship — if they returned to work. By 19 November the NCB was claiming a record 2282 miners returning to work on a Monday. Two pits which come under the Yorkshire NUM but are geographically in Notts — Manton and Shireoaks — suffered major back-to-work moves.
The NUM was organising a series of regional strikers’ rallies. These showed the tremendous continuing determination of the hard core of the strike, but also their bitterness about the official leaders of labour. At Aberafan on 13 November a symbolic noose was dangled in front of TUC general secretary Norman Willis; “Ramsey MacKinnock” was pilloried for refusing to speak at the rallies.
Now there was a growing note of anguish in Arthur Scargill’s appeals: “We have to translate resolution into action. I am not going to appeal to the barons of the TUC — I want to ask the ordinary men and women of this country to give industrial action support to this union.
“How much longer can you stand to one side and see this union battered? We are asking you to come out now and stop scab coal being delivered into power stations” (Birmingham, 14 November: SO 206).
At police-battered Kiveton Park, there were still only 26 scabs in mid-November. But branch delegate Albert Bowns, a leading militant, told SO how things now looked to him:
“I think a general strike is less likely at the moment than it has been in the past... I just can’t see anything happening through the TUC.
“I was hoping for something more from the national delegate meeting [of the NUM on November 5] than these rallies. I was hoping for, perhaps, a national mass picket on particular collieries or particular areas. Now, we’re just sticking to our own collieries and it’s making us weaker...“ (SO 206).
The labour movement was shamelessly leaving the NUM to its fate in the struggle against the government. So the Tories pressed relentlessly on.
On 30 November the Tories delivered what they hoped was a knock-out punch. Tory lawyer Herbert Brewer was appointed by the High Court as receiver of the NUM’s finances. Brewer declared, “I am the NUM”.
Legally, he was the NUM. But there was another NUM, not the notional legal entity now embodied by the High Court in the unlikely figure of the former Tory councillor, but the 140,000 striking miners and their families. And that NUM refused to go down under the new blow. They refused to surrender the union’s money, which they had moved overseas.
Four days previously, on 26 November, the High Court had fined the TGWU £200,000 (to be paid by 10 December) for supporting the Austin Rover strike without a ballot in Tory-prescribed form. All the other car unions wriggled out (including the Communist-Party-led TASS, whose general secretary, Moscow-liner Ken Gill, told the court that he had wished to obey the injunction to withdraw support from the strike — but since he had not been supporting it anyway, he had not known what to do). But the TGWU would not pay the fine.
Unfortunately, it would not do anything positive either. The meeting of its executive in early December decided to take no action against the threat to the union. If passive endurance could beat the Tories, then the TGWU would have done the workers of Britain a great service in 1984. But passivity — even defiant passivity -is not enough.
Now Arthur Scargill’s efforts to rouse the labour movement and to make it aware of what was happening reached a new peak of desperate urgency. Again and again he appealed for industrial action to back the miners. “There must be the most massive mobilisation of industrial action our movement has ever known, and we must have it now.
“There is no other way to stop the court’s attempt to destroy the NUM” (SO209).
Other voices on the left augmented and supplemented Scargill’s. Tony Benn (reportedly on the private urging of Scargill and Heathfield) called for a general strike; so did Dennis Skinner.
But the TUC leaders did nothing. They went sleep-walking on. Neil Kinnock had earlier refused a request by the Labour Party NEC to speak at the November series of NUM rallies. Now he condescended to speak at a miners’ rally in Stoke on November 30, to put “the case for coal” (as distinct from the case for the miners!) and — faced with jeering, baiting demands from Mrs Thatcher and her press that he do so — to denounce pickets “”violence”.
Things were going badly for the miners, but, despite all the miners’ difficulties, the Tories were still scared of a second front. That was shown very clearly by the careful way the courts handled the TGWU, using an official called the “Queen’s Remembrancer” to take £200,000 rather than seizing the union’s whole funds. Despite everything, even a limited initiative from other unions could have swung the balance against the government.
Socialist Organiser proposed a campaign for a recall TUC, which might call the leaders to account for their failure to implement the decisions of September. A campaign for a recall TUC could be used to focus discussion of the miners’ strike in the trade union branches. We argued that, if a full general strike were not possible immediately, then as a first step a 24 hour general strike should be called by the pro-NUM unions or even by the NUM itself.
“I’m not sure”, objected Paul Whetton. “It’s a hell of a gamble. A call for a strike could rebound on the NUM if the NUM itself called it... For the NUM to call a one-day general strike would be the last card. It always is the last card in a shop steward’s or a branch secretary’s hand — if you call a strike and nobody answers, then you have played your last card” (SO 210).
That “last card” could have rallied and helped to organise the hundreds of thousands of active supporters that the NUM had won in the labour movement. But scepticism was understandable. Albert Bowns, for example, disputed the demand for a recall TUC. “We all hoped that we would get a good reaction from the TUC when its congress met. We hoped that they would get everyone out alongside us. Since that hasn’t happened, I just can’t see anything happening through the TUC” (SO 206).
“I think we’ve got to call for a recall TUC conference”, said Paul Whetton, but without any illusions — “put the arguments again and give them one last chance to come in with us”.
The NUM leaders followed up their November rallies with a speaking tour in the pit villages during December. The back-to-work drive tapered off, collections increased as Christmas came nearer, and at Christmas itself the pit communities celebrated with defiant solidarity. Despite all the hardships, many strikers and many strikers’ wives insisted that it was their best Christmas ever, because of the warmth and comradeship. Instead of isolated families each slumped in front of their television, whole communities came together to support each other and celebrate.
But the turn of the year brought back the grimness. Energy minister Peter Walker confidently claimed (December 29) that there would be “no power cuts in 1985”. Although the City and East London were blacked out for some hours on January 7, the policy of oil-burning and maximum use of nuclear power did in fact see the Central Electricity Generating Board through to the end of the strike without any crippling cuts.
As if to rub brine in the miners’ wounds, the Tories marked New Year’s Day by giving peerages to Len Murray and former electricians’ leader Frank Chapple — the symbols and representatives of everything in the labour movement that had combined with the slump and effects of mass unemployment to allow the Tories to impose the sufferings of a ten month strike on the miners and their families, and would ultimately allow them to win the strike.
The steady dribble back to work was now usually to be measured in hundreds per day. Neil Kinnock decided that the strike had gone near enough to defeat for him to visit a picket line (by chauffeur-driven car) in the same way that he might attend commemorations for the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
But the miners were very much alive. The indomitable spirit of defiance of capitalist “normality” was still strong.
At Kiveton Park the strike started to break up seriously from 21 January, after 10 months out and five months of heavy police occupation of the village.
When people set out together on a difficult, testing struggle, and some of them break and give up or change sides, those who continue to fight are forced to think hard and define for themselves and others just what they think they are doing. Albert Bowns did that when Reg Moss, a branch official at Kiveton Park, started scabbing in late January and allowed the Daily Express to proclaim the fact and use him against the strikers. Albert Bowns published an open letter to Moss — and to others who had given up the strike — in Socialist Organiser:
Reg Moss had said he wanted to return to “normal life”. But: “What is normal about having to accept mass redundancies? What is normal about having to accept pit closures on economic grounds (possibly Kiveton Park)?
“What is normal about craftsmen being de-skilled ... ? In effect, what is normal about running to accept every crumb which the management might, and I say might, condescend to offer us?
“That is the ‘normality’ which you will have to return to if the rest of us follow your example.
“The Kiveton Park NUM was directed to fight against this kind of ‘normality’ and will continue to do so until the final outcome” (SO 214).
Socialist Organiser tried to present an accurate picture of the stages the strike went through as it unfolded. We refused to voice any of the pessimism or defeatism rampant in sections of the left (in Socialist Worker, for example). Even so, by 6 February we had to admit: “Whatever the exact number of new scabs, it is true that a steady stream of strikers seem to be giving up and letting themselves be driven back to work. Inevitably this drift back puts pressure on the strikers and encourages Thatcher’s belief that her lust for the NUM’s blood can be satisfied” (SO 215).
In this adverse situation, South Wales NUM official Kim Howells floated the idea of a return to work without an agreement (6 February). Whatever the possible merits of this as a tactic once the union was collectively convinced that a further attempt to maintain the strike would only tear shreds off the NUM, to raise it there and then through the hostile media was highly counter-productive.
Paul Whetton commented: “To make that statement on the eve of a crucial meeting of the executive showed exceedingly bad judgement, at best, and at worst an attempt to scupper any cohesive policy... When it came over on the news, the reaction amongst the Notts striking miners was one of horror. Absolute horror... In fact the Notts striking miners lobbied the executive meeting... to oppose the suggestion coming out of South Wales” (SO 216).
The executive did not even discuss the idea, and Kim Howells was removed from his job as an area NUM spokesperson. But damage had been done. And then the TUC stepped in with its final blow.
Tories out to shred the NUM
On February 19 seven TUC leaders scurried to Downing Street, not even bothering to conceal their glee that they were back in contact with the people who had just sent Len and Frank to the House of Lords. They eagerly took on the job of acting as messenger boys to the NUM. The message from Thatcher said, in essence: “Surrender, or else. No negotiations, no concessions: surrender!”
When the NUM rejected this document, the TUC let it be known that they were washing their hands of the miners, and retired to let Thatcher urge her surrender terms under the title of “the TUC document”.
Few things in the strike were more sickening than the cat and mouse games played by the government from November to the end. First they offered the Christmas bribe to needy miners, and howled with indecent glee when some miners deserted the strike. They were showing their displeasure with Scargill’s undemocratic methods, said the press, as the broken men slunk back to work.
Then the Tories played the game of the on-off negotiations, raising the hopes of the miners and then, having softened up a few, slamming the door and waiting for more miners to give in. Having said for months that the NACODS deal was on offer to the NUM, they withdrew it at the point, at the end of the strike, when Arthur Scargill said he would accept it.
The Tories now did not want a settlement. They wanted to shred the NUM.
Commenting on the great Dublin lockout of 1913, the employers’ leader in that struggle, William Martin Murphy, cynically identified the fundamental disadvantage for labour in any long industrial war of attrition. The workers, he pointed out, soon have difficulties getting enough to eat; the employers rarely have that problem. By March 1985 Britain’s glorious miners had that problem.
The Tories had all the resources of the ruling class at their disposal. The miners, some 2 per cent of the labour movement, had to fight 100% of that centralised ruling-class power with insufficient support and sometimes downright sabotage from the leaders of the other 98%. That was the cause of the defeat.
On 3 March the eighth NUM conference since the strike began met to decide what to do. South Wales proposed a return to work without an agreement. Arthur Scargill opposed the return to work, and so did the executive. They argued instead that, with over 50 per cent of miners still out, the strike should continue until 700 sacked strikers got their jobs back.
The majority of delegates felt that there was a danger that a big acceleration of scabbing would further erode the union’s bargaining power on the 700 (and everything else), and result, ultimately, in a return to work with the union in tatters. They decided to stop that happening.
Starved, battered, but still defiant, they voted by 98 to 91 to return to work without a settlement, but as a still-intact union.
To go back without the 700, and fight for their reinstatement in local negotiations, was a bitter and agonising decision to have to take. In the circumstances the conference had little viable alternative. This was confirmed a few days later when the first wave of left-wing led, left talking - a la Ken Livingstone - Labour councils failed to deliver on their promises of opening up a second front, instead collapsing ignominiously.
Once the decision was taken, Scargill and the left-wingers on the executive urged a united return to work, and most areas went back on Tuesday 5th.
Kent, and a few pits elsewhere, stayed out for a week after the national return to work. Polmaise, in Scotland, the first pit out in 1984, did not go back until Tuesday March 12, after one year and four weeks on strike.
The greatest strike in British history was over. But the miners’ strike was one battle in a war, and the war is far from over. “The fight goes on”, said Arthur Scargill after the decision to return had been taken. The NUM has been forced to retreat to “guerrilla” struggle — “like the Resistance in World War Two”, as Scargill put it.
The fight goes on
It was a defeat; and what we said during the dispute about the heavy implications of a defeat for the whole labour movement was true. But it was not just a defeat; nor was the struggle in vain. And it is not the end of the fight.
Despite all the horrors and hardships suffered by the pit communities during the strike, and the further horrors and hardships that will be imposed on them and on the whole working class in the immediate period ahead as the Tories improve on their victory, many good things have already come or can yet come out of this struggle.
In the first place, the Tories were shaken. We still do not know how close they were to crippling power cuts at the end of the strike. They certainly had to sacrifice over £5 billion for the dispute, and they have built up a vast fund of working-class resentment against themselves.
Thatcher’s success so far will reconcile the ruling class to the huge costs of this strike as a “worthwhile investment” in crushing class struggle once and for all. But class struggle never can be crushed once and for all. And the ruling class will not lightly agree to Thatcher taking them into further ventures if they look like rousing resistance similar to the miners’.
History shows a standard pattern after serious working-class defeats in struggle: first, a period, often not very long, when matters go from worse to worse and reaction reigns; then a revival during which it sometimes becomes clear that the defeated struggle chastened the ruling class more than at first seemed.
Studying the very terrible defeat of the Paris workers’ uprising in 1871 (30,000 supporters of the Commune were massacred, and many others deported), Marxists later argued that despite defeat the uprising actually did achieve limited gains, in that it tipped the scales towards a republic in the long debate during the 1870s on whether France should be a republic or a monarchy, and helped thereafter to safeguard France’s republican constitution .
They also hailed the uprising as a great political inspiration for future generations.
The 1984-5 miners’ strike will inspire not only future generations but this one. The miners have shaken Britain and remodelled the political landscape. Class conflict, class bitterness, and class hatred on a level not seen here for a very long time have been brought into the centre of British politics. The ruling class starved men, women and children for a year, and now Mrs Thatcher gloats in public over her triumph. But the miners’ strike has stored up memories and hatreds — not only among miners and their families — that the ruling class and the Tories will live to regret.
Tens of thousands have learned that capitalism is a soulless system that sacrifices people for profit; tens of thousands of new militants have learned to hate capitalism and those who run it.
Coming out of jail after a week of being locked up simply because she insisted on picketing, despite police “cautions” and despite bail conditions, Nottinghamshire striking miner’s wife Brenda Greenwood spoke the language and expressed the feelings that live in thousands who have gone through the miners’ strike.
This is not, as the editorial writers fondly believe, the language of the past, or of a stage in the history of the labour movement which the miners’ strike has brought to an end. It is the language of the future.
“The shattering experience of being sent to prison will be etched on my memory for as long as I live. But I am in no way deterred, nor has my spirit been broken.
“The time has come for the working class of the 1980s to stand up and be counted. We must not be afraid to face the machinery of the state head-on in defence of our rights.
“We must fight on every front in defence of all the rights and standards that have been won for us in blood, sweat and tears by the working class of the past.
“It is our duty to defend, protect and uphold all these rights and standards, and it is our proud heritage to hold them in trust for future generations of our class”.