The miners and democracy

by Chris Bertram on March 6, 2004

Seumas Milne has an article in today’s Guardian plugging a book of his and remembering the British miners’ strike of 1984—5. Like Milne I was an active supporter of that strike, collecting for striking miners and offering as much propaganda and political support as I could. I worked for Verso, the publisher of Milne’s book, at the time and we produced a special on the strike called Digging Deeper in record time: going from copy to bound volume in about two weeks.

So my memories are still pretty vivid and I think I’m in a position to assess the claims Milne makes. With his general characterization of the strike as being self-defence against a class war fought by a vengeful Tory government, I have no quarrel. Likewise with what he says of the police at the time. Since the strike we’ve had to listen to no end of sermons about “insurrection” and the assertion of the “rule of law”. There was no rule of law. The police and the government and the courts acted violently and cynically against the miners and their communities: men were attacked and beaten, their freedom of movement was restricted, they were not given fair hearings by magistrates and courts. I could go on, but those who know know and those who don’t want to will not be persuaded by further extending the list of arbitrary and violent state actions. The government had decided to break the NUM, was going to apply all necessary resources to doing so and could do so untrammeled by worries about legality.

It is interesting to wonder how things would have developed if they’d taken place today. My guess is that the legal situation would have been basically the same, Human Rights Act notwithstanding, for all practical purposes. Maybe the miners would have received some redress from the ECHR, but only months or years after they’d lost anyway. Technology might have helped the miners, though. Cellular phones and the internet would have made it easier to organise pickets and to thwart police roadblocks and would have given early warnings of other police operations.

I do disagree with Milne profoundly, though, on what became the central political issue of the strike within the left and the labour movement: the NUM leadership’s refusal to call a national ballot. He puts the point thus (I find his 1969-70 date confusing btw, surely he means 1973-4?)

The NUM’s decision to rely on the domino tactics that had been so successful in 1969-70 and 1981 – often claimed as Scargill’s key error – reflected the division between coalfields with apparently different long-term prospects as well as a determination to give those who realised what they faced a chance to defend their jobs. The dominant view among NUM leaders and activists was that to call a national ballot after the strike had already drawn in the overwhelming majority would have been seen as a get-out, and invited a no vote.

The key tactical issue for the strikers was not—despite what some clearly believed—whether they could defeat the government through their own physical force, they couldn’t. It was whether they could succeed in mobilising enough of the labour movement in their support, whether they could win over public opinion and neutralise the hostile. The failure to hold a ballot, an elementary requirement of democracy, meant that they could do none of these things. It was wrong in principle to commit thousands of men to a battle like that without a vote, and it was wrong as a matter of tactics. Not holding a ballot lent legitimacy to the strikebreakers in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere and provided ammunition to the Labour leaders who were hostile to the miners. Arthur Scargill and, following him, Milne, clearly regarded democracy in purely instrumental terms: if it delivers, fine; if not, not. The presumption of a vanguard to speak for the workers and to articulate their “real” wishes whether they recognize them or not has done fantastic damage to the left over the past century. What a pity that such a presumption still survives at the Guardian in the form of the Stalinoid patrician Milne.

{ 24 comments }

1

John Quiggin 03.06.04 at 11:04 am

I agree entirely. The failure to hold a ballot was a disaster at every level.

2

Doug Muir 03.06.04 at 12:57 pm

It always gives me an interesting little frisson to find myself in complete agreement with Chris.

Scargill was a pompous ass, a stubborn, ill-tempered, pig-headed, narrow-minded tinpot tyrant wannabe, a jerk and a fool. If the Thatcher government had tried to pick an opponent who would make bad tactical choices and alienate the public, they could scarcely have done better.

It would have been funny if it hadn’t mattered. But it did matter; fourteen people died, hundreds of lives were ruined, billions of dollars were wasted. And while I hold no brief for radical worker’s movements, in retrospect it’s clear that in breaking the strike, Thatcher managed to shatter one of the important counterweights in the orrery that was British liberal democracy. The wild oscillations that ensued are still playing out today.

And the miners. Lions led by donkeys; the strike as the Somme of the British labor movement, if you like.

Neil Kinnock would later say that his failure to insist on a democratic ballot in 1984 was one
of two “hideous mistakes” that he made during his nine years as Labour Party leader. Firm agreement on this point too.

What makes it so very heartbreaking is that it was actually a damn’d close thing. It was the NUM Board, rather than Scargill himself, that rejected a national ballot. Scargill did his best to put the fix in, but when the actual vote came he had to leave the room, and it ended up being surprisingly close. The 24 member board voted the ballot down just 13-8 with three abstentions. Three guys changing their mind, and things might have been very different.

(Of course, these “moderates” were jeered and harassed by Scargill supporters when they left the building afterwards. If they’d actually won… who knows. But it would have been, if nothing else, a victory for democracy — no irony intended.)

Doug M.

3

Doug Muir 03.06.04 at 12:58 pm

Scargill is still around, BTW — as most Timberites probably know, but some USAn readers may not. He long ago left Labour to set up his own Itsy Bitsy Totally Pointless Pure Socialist Workers Stalin Wasn’t Actually All That Bad Party, or some such.

Ill cess to him.

Doug M.

4

Doug Muir 03.06.04 at 1:08 pm

One thing that struck me about the Strike (I wasn’t there at the time, but I moved to Britain just a few months later, when memories were still fresh) was that pretty much everyone hated Scargill. Even most on the left hated him.

But while everyone hated him, nobody — on the left, anyway — dared say so. I mean, nobody, _at all_. There was this huge tacit conspiracy to treat him as the untouchable crusader for the Good and the True, the man upon whom all our dearest hopes rested… and, you know, so /authentic/.

A year or two after the end of the strike, I was drinking at the LSE student union with a lefty student-government acquaintance. This was a person of the female persuasion, towards whom I had an interest that went a bit beyond the academic. We drank, and we got on the topic of the strike, and we drank some more, and the hour grew late, and, well, one thing led to another.

That is, she suddenly opened up about Scargill: he was stubborn, he was stupid, he was arrogant, he was crude and odious and megalomaniacal. And it was downright wicked, *wicked*, how he had led the miners to defeat. And (this was perhaps the worst) he was _just_ like a Tory caricature of a working class union boss.

All this delivered in the voice of one telling a painful secret with sorrow and shame.

And she was never quite easy with me afterwards.

Doug M.

5

Russell Arben Fox 03.06.04 at 1:20 pm

I’m curious, as one who has little knowledge of the strike besides vague reports filtered through American news magazines which I read in high school: if a vote had been called, how do you think it would have gone? A completely counterfactual quesion, I know, but I’d be interested to hear your speculations (Chris, Doug, others). My memory tells me that I read a news report which claimed the decision to strike had been a contentious one for a large portion of the mining population from the start, and that the strikebreakers benefitted from a widespread sense of futility (both economic and technological) regarding their cause. True, or was I misinformed?

6

Motoko 03.06.04 at 1:24 pm

So you never did her?

7

Bob 03.06.04 at 1:32 pm

Chris: “I was an active supporter of that strike . . “

Do you then support as a general principle industrial action to bring down a government elected the previous year or only in the specific circumstances of Britain’s coal mining industry in 1984?

If so, that is most illuminating in the light of this:

“Also named is Vic Allen, a retired professor of economics at Leeds university, who was a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and went on the first Aldermaston march. A firm Stalinist, it is alleged he passed on information about CND to his East German handlers. . . Prof Allen was an ally of Arthur Scargill during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. In 1987 he published a book, The Russians Are Coming. His pro-Soviet views were well known.” – from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,271697,00.html

For more information on Prof Allen: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1999/09/99/britain_betrayed/451366.stm
http://intellit.muskingum.edu/uk_folder/ukspycases_folder/ukspycasesfever20.html

Perhaps a point of more than passing interest is that Putin, now President of Russia, was based in East Germany from early 1985 through 1990 as a KGB liaison officer with the Stasi. He was therefore placed to know whatever it was that Prof Allen fed back to his Stasi controllers about CND in Britain and the mining strike. Also of more than passing interest is that, as a matter of public record, several members of Blair’s cabinet, including Blair, were highly active in CND in the early 1980s when Prof Allen was on the national council of CND.

Chris: “The police and the government and the courts acted violently and cynically against the miners and their communities: men were attacked and beaten, their freedom of movement was restricted, they were not given fair hearings by magistrates and courts.”

The fact is that the Thatcher and then the Major governments sank Billions of taxpayers’ money into the coal minining industry:

External financing requirements of state-owned coal industry (UKP Billions):

1979 £0.6 1980 £0.7 1981 £0.8 1982 £1.2
1983 £1.0 1984 £1.2 1985 £1.7 1986 £0.4
1987 £0.9 1988 £0.9 1989 £0.8 1990 £1.3
1991 £0.9 1992 £0.6 1993 £0.8 1994 £1.4
1995 £0.7 1996 –
Source: David Butler: Twentieth-Century British Political Facts 1900-2000 (2000), p.444

8

Doug Muir 03.06.04 at 3:23 pm

Russell: It’s an excellent question. My impression is that, yes, the vote would have been winnable. Yes, there was a deep divide between miners in “economic” pits — i.e., those who had some possibility of a future even after the reorganization — and the rest. But that had been patched up at least once before, and there were deep reserves of solidarity and goodwill to draw on. And then of course the government’s fairly obvious intent to not just win but crush the union served to focus minds considerably.

It might have required someone other than Scargill, mind. I won’t reiterate my earlier comments about him, but I’ll just add: the man was not a consensus builder.

But for a vote to be held in the first place, Scargill would probably have to be out of the picture anyhow. So.

Motoko: What do you think?

Doug M.

9

harry 03.06.04 at 3:23 pm

Bob, In the last month of the strike, having witnessed a group of police officers start (not, note, provoke, START) a riot, I was beaten up by police officers and then convicted of threatening behaviour despite directly contradictory evidence given by the two cops at the trial, one of whom I’d never seen. I watched the magistrate smile with disbelief as the cps told their stories, and then convict me anyway. Thousands of other people had the same or similar experiences. If you have evidence disputing Chris’s claim that

bq. “The police and the government and the courts acted violently and cynically against the miners and their communities: men were attacked and beaten, their freedom of movement was restricted, they were not given fair hearings by magistrates and courts.”

give it, please.

Chris, I agree with all that. Interesting, though, that at the time there was great opposition on the left to Tory laws requiring democratic procedures within unions, and also the OPOV elections for leadership positions in the Labour Party. Those aspects of those laws were absolutely right (the kind of thing that, simulatneously, in the US, leftists like TDU were enthusiastically pressing), as was the adoption of OPOV; not just right, but to the advantage of the left.

10

harry 03.06.04 at 3:25 pm

Bob, In the last month of the strike, having witnessed a group of police officers start (not, note, provoke, START) a riot, I was beaten up by police officers and then convicted of threatening behaviour despite directly contradictory evidence given by the two cops at the trial, one of whom I’d never seen. I watched the magistrate smile with disbelief as the cps told their stories, and then convict me anyway. Thousands of other people had the same or similar experiences. If you have evidence disputing Chris’s claim that

bq. “The police and the government and the courts acted violently and cynically against the miners and their communities: men were attacked and beaten, their freedom of movement was restricted, they were not given fair hearings by magistrates and courts.”

give it, please.

Chris, I agree with all that. Interesting, though, that at the time there was great opposition on the left to Tory laws requiring democratic procedures within unions, and also the OPOV elections for leadership positions in the Labour Party. Those aspects of those laws were absolutely right (the kind of thing that, simulatneously, in the US, leftists like TDU were enthusiastically pressing), as was the adoption of OPOV; not just right, but to the advantage of the left.

11

Motoko 03.06.04 at 3:44 pm

Motoko: What do you think?

I think you have good reasons to dislike Scargill.

12

harry 03.06.04 at 4:53 pm

Its part of ther tragedy that Doug is probably rihgt, and the vote was winnable. Perhaps not before the strike, and perhaps not after 2 months or so, but maybe within the first two months.

But it is hard to believe that the *strike* was winnable, even with a ballot. That was one of the problems with the Labour leaders asking for a ballot — its absence gave them an excuse to do what they would anyway do — avoid giving conrete support. And they had reason to avoid giving concrete support, because the strike looked like a loser from before day 1. What would constitute victory? The NCB giving in? And then closing the pit a year, or two years later? By about August of 1984 all this was pretty clear.

13

Bob 03.06.04 at 6:28 pm

Harry, I’m sorry to learn of your experience of, and participation in, the 1984/5 mining strike but note that you haven’t responded on the matter that in Yorkshire at the time the strike was widely regarded as a way of bringing down the government elected with a large majority in June the previous year. That and the failure to hold a strike ballot, as remarked on by others above, doesn’t suggest much of a commitment to the ways of democracy.

It is perhaps worth recalling that the Labour manifesto for the 1983 general election was later aptly described by Gerald Kaufman MP as, “the longest suicide note in history,” so you know who to blame for Labour’s failings. Curiously, that was when Blair was first elected to Parliament – he seems to have changed his mind since about Britain withdrawing from the European Community, extending state ownership of business and unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Nor have you responded on the documentation relating to the Billions of taxpayers’ money sunk into maintaining and developing coal mining by the Thatcher and Major governments.

If the real purpose of the strike was about preserving mining jobs, as claimed, the stark implication is that even more Billions would have been needed. The truth of the matter was that the NUM then had a monopoly grip on Britain’s electricity supplies with some 70% of electricity generation coming from coal sourced in Britain, as coal imports were effectively blocked, and the NUM wanted that monopoly further entrenched. Ultimately, of course, consumers of electricity and taxpayers would have had to pay.

There is also the matter of Scargill’s links to Prof Allen, which are well documented in several sources, including Crick’s biography of Scargill, published in 1985. As you may recall, part way through the strike the then editor of the Yorkshire Miner suddenly took flight to East Germany to seek political asylum there.

Btw The NUM has form – see Correlli Barnett: Audit of War, and, The Lost Victory, on the mining strikes during WW2: “More working days were lost through strikes every year from 1942 to 1945 than in 1938, the last full year of peacetime. Coal was far and away the worst offender, with no fewer than 1.2 million man-days and 2 millions tons of coal lost in the first quater of 1944 alone. Usually a coal strike was about wages, which really meant the miner’s place in the industrial pecking order. But one local strike during the Normandy invasion year of 1944, costing a 1000 tons of production, took place simply because the miners wanted to get rid of the canteen lady.” [The Lost Victory (1995), p.34]

14

msg 03.06.04 at 7:07 pm

Chris-
The point about the vanguard opportunistically using and discarding democracy – the same thing in a reverse polarity happens around things like the media technologies that have insinuated themselves into the public mind, below the threshold of conscious participation.
There’s those that will use those same technologies for messages that subvert the original intentions of whoever built them, and there’s those who feel that using them, no matter what the message, is compromised from the outset.
Mass adult smoking, for all the yammer of self-help and twelve-step cultists, was the direct result of subliminal coercion and seduction. Its sudden reversion to pariah behavior was the direct result of those tools applied to remedy. But what discomfits me is the acknowledgement of the process was never made plain, and still hasn’t been, because that’s where its power lies I suppose, and to me that’s still insidious.
Big Brother on a health kick.
So, democracy is well and good, but when the people themselves are no longer capable of freely choosing their leaders, even though the form of choice has been maintained, then what?
That would be the argument I guess.
Or you have, in the US especially, fundamentalists whose loyalties are to something higher than democracy, participating in the democratic process until they have enough of a base to subvert the system to a theocracy.
So how does tolerance protect itself from intolerance, without becoming it?
Can democracy allow the participation of non-democratic citizens? Where’s the check and balance? Doesn’t it rest on faith in the innate nobility of the common man?
Can the nature of the common man be manipulated?
What then?
Tyranny and dictatorship for the good of the people.
It’s so 20th century.

15

Gary Farber 03.07.04 at 5:08 am

Although an American who was deeply politically interested at the time, with many British friends, almost all on the left of one variety or another, I must say that the issue appeared then, to those of us lacking either the Internet, or a sectarian god we were willing to accept (much as they were offered), opague,not entirely clear, much as we were inclined to oppose Thatcher and respect labor, er, “labour.” I find this fascinating, therefore.

(I guess it was anti-leftist to not automatically assume that a union must be right, but I had that weird way of not being automatic that made me not a regular member of any group, despite my distinct tendency to a sympathize with a union side.)

16

Doug Muir 03.07.04 at 9:09 am

The question of subsidizing coal is relevant, so it’s good that bob has raised it. Unfortunately it’s a lot more complex than he’s making it out to be.

Britain in 1984 was hooked on coal, and there was no easy or simple way to get the monkey off. Nuclear power brought in a whole new set of problems. Renewable technologies simply weren’t there yet. Oil-burning plants required expensive imports (remember, North Sea was only just coming on line then) and put British electricity prices at the mercy of the world crude market.

Which is not to say that the traditional solution — keep all the pits open and give the miners whatever they wanted — was the way to go, either. But nor does it mean that the Thatcher and Major investments in coal showed them friendly to mines or miners; they really had no choice, macroeconomically speaking.

On the miners’ side, of course, the issue of saving jobs turned out to be a fatal distraction. The coal industry was going through a period of increased mechanization and higher productivity worldwide, so jobs were pretty much certainly going to be lost at some point. A sensible policy would have been to accept this but seek to minimize the suffering — invest in retraining programs, let workers retire and not be replaced, you name it. It’s not like these problems were new, or lacking in solutions that had already been worked out elsewhere.

Scargill’s insistence that he was defending, not just jobs today, but jobs forever — in his own words, “the right of a coal miner’s son to be a coal miner” — was just another of his numerous and egregious tactical mistakes. It caused reasonable Britons, who might otherwise have supported the strike, to pause and say, well, what if they /do/ win?

Agh, don’t get me started.

Doug M.

17

Doug Muir 03.07.04 at 9:12 am

The presumption of a vanguard to speak for the workers and to articulate their “real” wishes whether they recognize them or not has done fantastic damage to the left over the past century.

I firmly agree with this. But an imp is whispering in my ear, asking how Chris reconciles this with his repeatedly expressed admiration for Lenin… since “democratic centralism” was arguably Lenin’s key innovation and his most lasting contribution to both socialist and revolutionary practice-on-the-ground.

But no. Away, imp.

Doug M.

18

Chris Bertram 03.07.04 at 9:53 am

Doug,

I’m aware that we tangled on the question of Lenin in discussions both of the greatest figure of the 20th century and of Norman Geras’s “greatest Marxists” poll, but I’d dispute your characterization of what I said there as “repeatedly expressed admiration”, at least if that is supposed to convey the impression to readers of this thread that I think Lenin was an all-round wonderful human being. For the record, I don’t endorse either Bolshevik or Jacobin versions of the view that the will of the proletariat or people can be incarnated by a small elite. Happy?

19

Bob 03.07.04 at 2:21 pm

Doug: “Britain in 1984 was hooked on coal”

That was the inherited position in Britain in the early 1980s and there was little that could change about that in the short or even the medium term. Given sufficient time there was a running government policy option to direct the nationalised electricity industry to invest in other means for generation instead of coal-fired power stations. At that time, the principal identified alternative was nuclear power, a route chosen in France, where c. 70% of electricity then (and since) came from nuclear power in consequence of policy decisions largely made decades before during De Gaulle’s presidency (1959-69), I believe. In Britain, it could take up to a decade to build a nuclear power station as construction tended to be inflicted with its own variety of industrial relations problems.

The Conservatives in Britain had foreseen the possibility of a coming show-down with the NUM before their election to government in May 1979. As I recall, The Economist ran a piece in the autumn that year reporting a political assessment by the late Nicholas Ridley of the options for responding to the NUM’s monopoly grip on coal production for power supplies. The mining strike of 1984/5 broadly followed the strategy Ridley outlined.

Something not mentioned here so far is that prior to the strike, power station stockpiles of coal had been built up to record levels. If the intent of the strikers was a knock down fight with the government, the timing of the start of the strike – in the spring and with record stocks of coal above ground – could hardly have been worse. There were indications at the time that the NUM hoped and expected other trade unions would follow the NUM’s lead and commit to industial action to prevent movement of coal supplies to power stations and block the handling of any imports of coal or the heavy oil some power stations were equipped to burn as a coal substitute. That hope remained unfulfilled.

Famously, miners in parts of the East Midlands kept on working after local strike ballots and by the winter of 1984/5, some miners in pits in other regions were starting to trickle back to work. The cause was lost. A year after the strike started there was a general return to work. At the next election in 1987, the government was returned with a comfortable majority.

20

Doug Muir 03.07.04 at 6:52 pm

supposed to convey the impression to readers of this thread that I think Lenin was an all-round wonderful human being.

Those two threads (greatest Marxist, greatest figures of the 20th century) included quite a lot of discussion of whether we were talking about “great” in the “hugely influential” sense, or “great” including the implication of “good, positive, beneficial.” ISTR you came down pretty clearly in favor of the latter, but you never did say why — at least not WRT to Lenin. (Trotsky, yes.)

It’s in the archives here, if anyone wants to look.

Not to yank your chain. (Well, okay, maybe a little.) But I do think democratic centralism has been a lingering curse. Perhaps it was an obvious bad idea, but Lenin’s triumph made it a very attractive one. IMO this helped grease the skids on the slide to tyranny for many, if not most, revolutionary movements of the left.

Happy?

Delighted to the point of tingling. But that’s just because the baby has finally gone to sleep, actually.

Doug M.

21

Doug Muir 03.07.04 at 7:05 pm

That was the inherited position in Britain in the early 1980s and there was little that could change about that in the short or even the medium term.

Er… that was my point.

If the intent of the strikers was a knock down fight with the government, the timing of the start of the strike – in the spring and with record stocks of coal above ground – could hardly have been worse.

Not altogether their fault. The government picked the time of the confrontation. And it’s hard to see how any NUM leader, never mind Scargill, could have stretched out negotiations for six months.

There were indications at the time that the NUM hoped and expected other trade unions would follow the NUM’s lead and commit to industial action

Indications? Hell, they came right out and said so, repeatedly. Although they turned weirdly timid when it came to /formally/ asking for help.

Not lining up allies in advance was yet another gross tactical blunder, of course. Add it to the list.

At the next election in 1987, the government was returned with a comfortable majority.

Not relevant, unless you’re just feeling like getting a quick gloat in.

The ’87 win probably had very little to do with the strike per se. Indeed, the strike probably cost the government more votes than it gained. Insofar as it did help the government, it was indirect (frex, by exacerbating the pre-existing painful divisions within Labour).

I remember the 1987 election well — the poster with the soldier with his hands over his head, and all the rest of it. Fascinating, but outside the scope of this thread. Anyhow, the political effects of the strike, good and bad, were actually deeper and more lasting than one election.

The mining strike of 1984/5 broadly followed the strategy Ridley outlined.

I was wondering if someone would bring up the Ridley Plan.

If anyone is interested, there’s a Usenet newsgroup that deals with alternate history — soc.history.what-if. It’s infested by three or four remarkably tenacious trolls, but still manages to produce a surprising lot of high quality threads. We had a discussion of the miner’s strike a few months ago; go to groups.google.com and search for “Ridley Plan” and the thread should pop right up.

Doug M.

22

Bob 03.08.04 at 12:08 am

“Not altogether their fault. The government picked the time of the confrontation.”

The announcement of the closure of Corton Wood Colliery was provocative, of course, but from their own perspectives, the NUM’s membership might and should have given more thought as to whether the market conditions were opportune for the strike to achieve both its ostensible and undeclared objectives.

As it was, for many detached or distant observers, the whole thing looked like an exercise in futility, albeit an exercise that brought huge hardships to strike afflicted mining communities then and later.

I mentioned the outcome of the 1987 election not out of triumphalism but to show that the impact of the strike on national political sentiment was minimal, which only underlines the ultimate futility of the strike. Arguably, the consequences of the damage to the political credibility of the NUM and the strikers have been longer lasting than the social pain of the hardships inflicted by the strike.

The instructive insight now is that many on the self-proclaimed left evidently haven’t yet learned the lessons. In retrospect, the strike is still seen as a high-point in the class battle against “Thatcherism”, without explaining quite what that is in terms of policy specifics, and without acknowledging the implications of the fact that other trade unions backed off from supporting the NUM at the crucial moment.

Yet another insight into downstream consequences comes from election results in mining areas lately: candidates standing for Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party regularly come at or near the bottom of the poll. BNP candidates, if any, tend to attract more votes. One of the reasons I don’t find that surprising comes from this entry from George Orwell’s diary entry on 16 March 1936 when he was researching for the book that became: The Road to Wigan Pier (1937):

“Last night to hear Mosley speak at the Public Hall, which is in structure a theatre. It was quite full – about 700 people I should say. About 100 Blackshirts on duty, with two or three exceptions weedy looking specimens, and girls selling Action etc. Mosley spoke for an hour and a half and to my dismay seemed to have the meeting mainly with him. He was booed at the start but loudly clapped at the end. Several men who tried to interject with questions were thrown out . . . one with quite unnecessary violence. . . . M. is a very good speaker. His speech was the usual clap-trap – Empire free trade, down with the Jew and the foreigner, higher wages and shorter hours all round etc. After the preliminary booing the (mainly) working class audience was easily bamboozled by M speaking as it were from a Socialist angle, condemning the treachery of successive governments towards the workers. The blame for everything was put upon mysterious international gangs of Jews who were said to be financing, among other things the British Labour Party and the Soviet. . . . M. kept extolling Italy and Germany but when questioned about concentration camps etc always replied ‘We have no foreign models; what happens in Germany need not happen here.'” [George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Vol. 1 An Age Like This 1920-1940; Penguin Books, p.230]

It was not accidental that the proper name of the nazis was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Nor was it accidental that Stalin had no insuperable ideological objections to the Soviet Union signing up to a Friendship Treaty with Nazi Germany on 28 September 1939 when Britain and France were already at war [Norman Davies: Europe (1996), p.1001].

23

Doug Muir 03.08.04 at 3:21 pm

“Not altogether their fault. The government picked the time of the confrontation.”

The announcement of the closure of Corton Wood Colliery was provocative, of course,

Proximate, ultimate, camel, straw.

You might want to review the chronology of McGregor’s actions in the 60 days or so following his appointment to run the Coal Board(December ’83 IMS).

the NUM’s membership might and should have given more thought as to whether the market conditions were opportune for the strike

As noted, the membership had much too little to do with it.

Doug M.

24

Bob 03.08.04 at 8:55 pm

“As noted, the membership had much too little to do with it.”

C’mon. Just who do you think turned out for the mass picket lines in Yorkshire when the pits in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire kept working? Even in Yorkshire, some pits were back working in the winter of 1984/5 before the strike was finally called off.

IMO the mining strike was almost certainly a play in the Cold War and intended to bring down the Thatcher government at a time when the personal alliance between Reagan and Thatcher was tightening the squeeze on the Soviets by deploying US cruise missiles in Britain. Much circumstantial evidence points to this assessment, as I hinted above.

The mining strike in the winter of 1973 had brought on the February 1974 election and a change of government so the Soviets hoped for a replay of that scenario leading to the return of a Labour government. By the early 1980s, the Labour Party in opposition was deeply committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament with several cabinet ministers in Blair’s government now, including Blair himself, much engaged in that campaign. It’s arguable that one motive for Blair’s unstinting support for the Bush administration’s gambit in Iraq was to repair the credibility of Labour governments in Britain with American administrations.

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