The Labour Party conference opened at Blackpool on 1 October. It overturned and overruled the platform line on the miners’ strike.
Arthur Scargill got a tremendous reception. The conference rejected Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s “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. (Members of the Socialist Organiser Alliance, forerunner of the AWL, originated the crucial clauses.)
Albert Bowns (Kiveton Park NUM) commented: “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…”
Violence? How could the miners maintain effective picket lines against massive police assault without self-defensive violence? How would it have helped if Arthur Scargill had condemned violence? Who would it have helped? It would have been about as useful to the miners as nightly appearances on TV by Margaret Thatcher to denounce police violence would have been to the Tories.
The hang-up about “moderation” stopped the likes of Kinnock addressing themselves to broad public opinion. They wanted to narrow their appeal to the dwindling ranks of traditional industrial trade unionism.
The miners’ defiance of the “iron laws” of Profit First actually broadened their appeal.
By arguing the issue head-on, they rallied professors of accountancy, editors of scientific journals, pop stars and bishops to come out against the National Coal Board — and, more important, they helped to generate a mass working-class support movement.
The class politics put across by the NUM leaders built a broader popular movement than “moderation” ever could.
Indeed, if a valid criticism can be made of the NUM leaders, it is the opposite one to the Kinnockites: that they laced their messages with phrases about the “national interest” and did not talk about a workers’ plan for energy.