Wednesday, October 26, 2005

the miners strike: twenty years on

This was written by dave e originally for Red Star 6 which was never eventually published

Mr Scargill told a news conference: "We have decided to go back for a whole range of reasons. One of the reasons is that the trade union movement of Britain with a few notable exceptions has left this union isolated."
"Another reason is that we face not an employer but a government aided and abetted by the judiciary, the police and you people in the media and at the end of this time our people are suffering tremendous hardship."
The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, said she was very relieved the strike was over, "I want a prosperous coal industry."
In their report entitled 'TWENTY YEARS ON: HAS THE ECONOMY OF THE COALFIELDS RECOVERED?' Beatty, Fothergill and Powell (Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University, March 2005) state;
'Since the end of the miners’ strike in March 1985, Britain’s coal industry has experienced an unprecedented loss of jobs. Total employment in the industry has fallen from over 220,000 to around 7,000. The number of miners has fallen from 170,000 to 4,000. Only 8 of the 170 pits at the time of the strike remain in operation.
About 60 per cent of the jobs lost from the coal industry since the early 1980s have now been replaced by new jobs for men in the same areas. That still leaves some 90,000 coal jobs still to be replaced. Taking a wider view of the employment problems of the coalfields – for instance to include unemployment inherited from before the pit closures – only around half of the overall job shortfall for men in the coalfields has so far been eliminated.
Claimant unemployment figures, which are currently relatively low in most former coalfields, give a wholly misleading view of the strength of the local labour market. Since the early 1980s, the rise in the number of ‘economically inactive’ men of working age in the coalfields has been twice as large as the fall in recorded unemployment. In the English and Welsh coalfields in mid-2004, no fewer than 336,000 adults of working age (201,000 men, 135,000 women) were out of work and claiming incapacity benefits, compared to just 67,000 (50,000 men and 17,000 women) claiming unemployment benefits. The evidence supports the view that in the coalfields, as in some other parts of older industrial Britain, there has been a huge diversion of people with health problems from unemployment to incapacity benefits. Estimates suggest that as many as 100,000 men in the coalfields are currently ‘hidden unemployed’ in this way.'
The Old Club, Stainforth, Report.
On 5th March, I went to a 'do' to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the end of the miners' strike. Locally this coincided with the closure of the Hatfield branch of the NUM after 87 years of struggle.
When the strike kicked off in 1984 I didn't fully realise the extent of what was happening. I thought it was a noble union defence of the mining industry and employment against governmental economic policies, but it was much more.
Betty Cook, of the Barnsley Women Against Pit Closures, summed it up when she said, 'They killed our pits, they killed our communities and attacked our way of life.'
It was an attempt at social genocide by an embittered vengeful right wing bitch.
Chris Skidmore, President of Yorkshire Area NUM, described the miners' response to this attack as - 'all for one, one for all, an attack on one is an attack on all.'
Dave Douglass
When Dave Douglass, Hatfield Main NUM Branch Secretary and author, stood up to speak, I thought he might give us a 'burial' speech, but I was wrong. It was a speech that embodied the pride of the mining communities, the lessons learnt, and some optimism for the future.
He pointed out that there are now more people working in the mining heritage industry than the pits in South Wales. If there is to be a future for the industry in the UK, government funding is essential, and it needs to be quick. Experienced miners are an ageing population. Once the mining village traditions are broken, who will want to work in the pits?
Thatcher had been determined to break the miners', and the NUM's, resolve because they posed a threat to the system. They were able to effectively intervene in society. The end of the strike, however, wasn't the end for UK coal mining. Even in 1988, coal still provided 90% of the UK's energy needs. It was the second tranche of closures, under Major, that broke the mining communities. (John Major had promised to turn Britain into a classless society. What he really meant was the destruction of the working class as a unified entity.) It left a legacy of unemployment, poverty, deprivation, drug addiction, and anti-social living conditions. The communities now suffer from lost vision and lost heart, but the soul remains alive.
There is still much to commemorate. Next year sees the 80th anniversary of the 1926 strike, cavalry charges, burning barricades, brick throwing and hand to hand fighting.
Hatfield NUM branch learned many things from the strike, amongst them are -
1.Don't believe anything in the press, who are quick to condemn anyone who threatens the system.
2.Always make sure that the members, not the leaders run the union. (I think this applies more widely)
3.Working people must find their own solutions, they're not going to get help from anyone else.
A Brief Chat etc.
Prior to the whole event starting, I had a word with Dave Douglass to ask his opinion of left unity.
He said, 'The trouble is that everyone wants to be boss. You (i.e. the Red Party) have recently started a new party - you must think you've got something that no-one else has.' He then went on to say, 'I liked the idea of the Socialist Alliance, sorry it was stillborn.'
After hearing me mouth an unconvincing defence of the Red Party and the SA, Dave went off to carry on with his preparations, leaving me to further ponder his responses.
This pondering has continued for some days after. I checked out Class War (of which Dave Douglass is a member) on their website , their declaration seems to succinctly catch the spirit of the working class unity required to change the order of society.
Shouting at the Moon no longer seems enough. It also reminded me of correspondence I had last year on this issue.
I'd written to the AWL expressing my frustration at the pedantic posturing of the 'voices' of socialism. My bone of contention being that their insistence on universal ideological purity was self defeating to any chance of left unity.
To illustrate my point I wrote, 'NUM members in the 1984/5 strike were not ideologically pure, but clearly showed the power of working class unity. A little more unity from others, and who knows...?'
I got a response from Daniel Randall. He wrote, 'On the miners' strike, I think you're confusing unity of the labour movement with unity of left organisations. We're Marxists - we have a certain way of analysing the world and a certain set of political ideas based on our Marxism. We must also win workers to this perspective - arguing against the politics of the bourgeoisie but also against the mistaken politics of some left groups where necessary.'
At the time I declined to reply. I thought it to be an answer based merely on theory with little reference to practice.
However, I've now framed this reply.
Marxist theory is just that, a 'theoretical' attempt to resolve working class subservience and subjugation. You can have as many united socialist groups as you like, but if you haven't got the working class it's pointless. Marxism is purposeless without the working class. The whole point is that this is a class issue, a class struggle, a class war - the class is the working class, and that class is the labour movement.
To quote from Class War Federation;
'We must unite on the common basis of what we have in common - our Working Class background and needs.
Above all the CWF believes that politics cannot be separated from life - and life from politics. We reject the missionary/righteous so-called "revolutionary" Left. Our politics must be fulfilling and relevant to our everyday lives.
Working Class people must take responsibility for their progressive revolutionary politics - fly by night middle class radicals have been the bane of our movement for as long as the Working Class has existed.'
I think these points demand due consideration if we are to further the socialist cause.

No comments: