so near so far: a history of the british miners part 2 (2005)

Continued from part 1

Chapter 15:

September – October 1984

2nd dockers strike…TUC Brighton Conference…pathetic Leftism…

…niceness and urgency…Contradictions of the NUM….

…More attacks on NCB property and on cops…

…Thatcher almost caves in…IRA bombs Thatcher…

…unpublished leaflet…NACODS and the almost strike…

…MI5’s dirty tricks…Thatcher almost lost…almost almost…

September saw the second national dock strike, called in response to the BSC allowing a coal ship to dock at Hunterston in Ayrshire without TGWU boatmen to moor the ship – they used a local contract firm instead. The union had blacked the ship after talks broke down between them and the BSC over the level of iron and coal supplies to Ravenscraig. In Scotland, dockers responded immediately with solid strikes in all 12 DLS ports. None of the non-DLS ports in England joined at any stage and the situation in the English DLS ports was a complete mess, with dockers either unable to decide whether they were in or out, expressing and ;encouraging serious splits within ports. In Britson, a meeting broke up in confusion after shop stewards refused to allow a vote. At Tilbury, the shop stewards blatantly tried to rig the vote byt means of a confusing resolution which led many dockers to believe they were voting to return to work when in fact they were voting to strike ( a cou;e of days previously 600 dockers had held an unofficial meeting and voted to return to work, but only 40 of the scabs actually dared to cross the picket line.

By the second week there were over half of the DLS dockers (almost 8,000 out of 13,000) out on strike and almost none of the non-DLS dockers. Then John Connolly said that although the strike was over “scab labour”, it could be resolved through lower coke quotas for Ravenscraig. In other words, the question of preserving the Dock Labour Scheme was being quietly shelved once again. During this second week, there were quite a few attempts to picket out the working ports, with Southampton dockers unsuccessfully picketing Felixstowe, Portsmouth and Poole, and by the third week some miners were jioning in the picketing of Grmisby and Immingham (several hundred being turned back by the cops, as were 50 Hull dockers). In the middle of all this the TGWU leadership responded by saying that pickiting must be stepped up providing, of course, that it is within TUC guidelines. The TUC picketing guidelines were drawn up between the TUC and the Callaghan Government after the Winter Of Discontent. Basically, the guidelines said that pickets should act in a “disciplined and peaceful manner”, even when provoked and should obey the instructions of union officials at all times.

By the end of the third week a shabby deal was patched together involving collaboration between union bureaucrats and slimy Labour politicans like John Prescott and Neil Kinnock. At the end of it all, BSC gave nothing away over the employment of non-DLS labour and the union agreed to meet the BSC/ISTC quota of imported coal through Hunterston in Scotland within 2 months. Another great victory!

3/9/84:

In Brighton there was a mass lobby of the TUC by miners and supporters. In different parts of the town there’s graffiti saying T.hatcher’s U.nofficial C.ops.

“We arrived, about 12 of us, men and women, in Brighton after going a round about way to avoid the cops’ possibly turning us back. It’d been an unusually long drive in the van, considering the normal short distance. We parked the Southwark Unemployed Centre van over half a mile from the beach, drank a bit of wine and headed off, mid-morning, towards the sea front for the demonstration, armed with spray cans and pamphlets. There’s a statue of Queen Victoria in the park so two of us went down to the statue and one gets up high to shove a black flag in her hand, whilst the other one at the bottom spray-paints, “We are all abused”. Cops come along and, without radioing for back-up, attempted to arrest him, holding him in an arm lock from the front round his neck and at the side. The others came along and one of them bit one cops hand, whilst others pushed the other cop out of the way, and the guy ran like fuck through the narrow streets and everybody else did likewise – everyone gets away. As soon as the spray-painter meets up with one of his mates, she gives him her jumper so he looks different, whilst the cops go round Brighton peering out of their cop car in vain all round the demo for the crowd who assaulted them. No one gets nicked, and we continue the day in good spirits, elated by this small victory, handing out subversive pamphlets and chatting and arguing and feeling good, whilst most other people felt pretty bored.” At the time, this seemed to be the only incident of the day, the rest of the lobby being utterly peaceful, whilst the TUC leaders bent over backwards to praise the miners all the better to bury them – basically to avoid any conflict which would show up their utterly repressive function. Like bosses and leaders everywhere, they were full of promises – which meant zilch. But, it seemed like a successful method of pacifying the miners, who’d been threatening for days, weeks, months even, to get angry with the TUC: according to the papers, the whole day passed peacefully.

A letter was later sent to one of those involved in the incident mentioned above:

“Dear G.,

I have been asked to write to you about the incident involving you, some of your friends and the police at Brighton on the TUC lobby on Sept.3rd.

Whilst it is obviously no concern of ours how individuals behave in their own time, a number of those attending the lobby and several Miners Support Group members who did not expressed their feelings that it was frankly out of order for people representing the MSG and therefore the NUM as a whole to behave in such a way that could bring the miners and their supporters into disrepute. We spoke to a number of Kent miners whom the MSG is supporting and they have echoed our sentiments.

At last Monday’s meeting of the MSG (10/9/84) it was therefore suggested that we write to you expressing our concern over the matter and requesting you to inform your friends that, should they wish to attend future lobbies, demonstrations etc. organised by us they must refrain from acting in the way they did previously or else exempt themselves from the right to attend such events in our name and using our transport.

Yours fraternally,

N.Phillips,

for and on behalf of Southwark Unemployed Centre Miners Support Group.

Sheer poetry. Especially the bit about “how individuals behave in their own time” – if only we’d realised this was work-time, we could have demanded a wage for the day. Or perhaps we weren’t meant to be wage-slaves at all, simply slaves.

But what a laughably pompous bureaucratic representation of outraged reasonableness! What’s sadly sad behind this joke is that there was too much of this crass conservative desire to represent, and demand that everyone represent, a ‘reasonable’ moral goody goody image amongst the Left and the liberal supporters of the miners which miners failed to oppose.

There was a more interesting incident the day of the TUC lobby deserving of mention which would have shocked the above quoted N. Phillips into writing an even sterner letter and maybe wag his forefinger till it dropped off – if he’d heard about it: several union leaders cars had been attacked and smashed in the evening in a car park near the TUC conference – but it was mostly kept quiet to give the image of sweet harmony. People only heard about it some time after. This ability of the ruling world to keep secrets until their revelation has no practical use is something that any future movement will have to find ways of attacking – not just by creating informative information nextworks (like the regular monthly, sometimes, weekly, journal produced during the Wapping dispute – “Picket”) but also finding ways of uncovering the seemingly invincible manipulations of the State’s secret services – but more of this later.

Let’s continue the point above where we said, “… there was too much of this crass conservative desire to represent, and demand that everyone represent, a ‘reasonable’ moral goody goody image amongst the Left and the liberal supporters of the miners which miners failed to oppose.” This was probably because it would have seemed too much like ungratefully biting the hand that feeds them. They were grateful for any support they could get, and held back on any criticism of patronising attitudes or ‘correct’ line-pushing. The desire to just get on, to be ‘nice’, can often repress the most fundamental things, particularly in a struggle as vital as this. Too often those fighting this fight confined their criticisms to behind people’s backs. A Fitzwilliam miner’s wife said towards the end of the strike, “I didn’t mind the lefties at first. Then I realised they just wanted to manipulate us.”

In fact, on both sides – miners and even their most radical supporters – there was a tendency to hold back what you really thought. Those supporters who were critical of the NUM and of Scargill voiced their critiques fairly mutedly – holding back on any sense of urgency in trying to find some way of going beyond and subverting the union. This was partly because they felt kind of grateful that they could come along and help out the struggle, grateful for the generous warmth and spirit, grateful that the miners were open to support as compared with a more corporatist mentality – “we’ll fight and win our fight on our own – we don’t need outsiders” – from the pre-Thatcher epoch (a mentality which, in its own terms, was true: workers often did win without connecting to ‘outsiders’ because there was already a general rising confidence to struggle and because the State hadn’t yet found a way to divide and rule so well).

The path of least resistance is paved with good intentions and we know where that road leads to.

Nowadays people’s sense of self and of each other is so fragile that niceness seems like the only essential thing in life and the slightest expressed frustration leads to an explosion of variations on “You’re not being nice to me!!”. Arguing having less and less connection to a social struggle against hierarchy, avoiding arguments seems like the only way to be.

But at that time arguing about what to do to extend the struggle for ‘outsiders’ should not have contradicted the desire to get on on a friendly basis. Which was why it was a shame we didn’t express ourselves better. Perhaps this was just a fear of falling into the role of arrogantly trying to teach the workers lessons. Whilst everyone could agree about the media and Kinnock and the cops, arguments about the union were far too often avoided, or limited to light chat. This isn’t a plea for the virtues of getting heavy, like some people play the challenger role – but over time, it was very important to do something about the union – not just chat…In part, however, this was due to the surprise that the union wasn’t exactly like other unions…For some, this meant completely dropping their critique of unions (or at least of the NUM) – a cowardice justified with a Leninist-political mentality of trying to be popular above all, the place where ‘niceness’ and opportunism meet [11]. Whilst others just didn’t want to analyse the subtleties of the contradictions of the NUM, falling back on an oversimplified critique from a distance. They condemned the NUM as being like other unions, looking mainly at unionism as a generality and in terms of its most well known full-time leaders but not at the daily life of the NUM in the villages. Unlike most unions and industries, its members were still living as a community in the locality of their workplace, a kind of “throwback” giving them an unusual cohesion and solidarity (the absence and/or disappearance of this in other industries has certainly affected and weakened work-based struggles). The hit squads were the living evidence of an autonomous self-organised struggle which also usually involved the local union leaders, and union equipment and local union financing – although it should be emphasised that union officials contributed no more than any other striker. In fact, the union was seen as being a lot less separate from the strikers and from the wider community than in other (non-miners) strikes. Ultra-leftists and others were right to point out the times when the NUM clearly did act as something against the strikers (e.g. when in Fitzwilliam, the NUM withdrew its mini-bus, enormously limiting locallly controlled action) but tended to exaggerate them and ignore the aspects of how the NUM were also intertwined with independent struggle. At the top it was partly an old vanguardist project of developing a State capitalism tied to industrial capital, but at the bottom it was a hell of a lot more blurred. Without wishing to minimise some of the hierarchical aspects of the NUM at local level, there was a difference between the national NUM and the local NUM. Of course, NUM ideologists ignored the aspects of the NUM which contradicted their notion that there was no difference between the union and independent struggle, that it was nothing more than the autonomous power of its members, that the Union was its members. They see no critique, hear no critique, speak no critique. Simple. Fitzwilliam strikers were far more critical of the national leadership, which may have been one of the reasons why the NUM withdrew its minibus in the last couple of months of the strike. The reason for their dislike of Scargill was straightforward. Kinsley, the Fitzwilliam pit, was originally a deep mine, which closed, leaving all the Fitzwilliam miners having to get jobs in pits miles away. Then some years later, it re-opened as a drift mine – Kinsley Drift. The miners from Fitzwilliam wanted their jobs back, but Scargill helped to stitch them up by getting the miners from his own pit jobs there. The fact that Fitzwilliam miners didn’t work at Kinsley was significant during the strike because the miners at Kinsley (and therefore in the local NUM branch) were far less militant that the Fitzwilliamers, and they weren’t part of the community, nor did they have any stake in it.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

3/9/84: 2 molotovs are chucked at the electrical substation near Kiveton Park colliery as 7 miners went back to work. Later on in the strike (no date, but well before Christmas) a TV programme showed the dispute between scabs and pickets in the area by reducing this to two personalities (the leading scab and the local NUM branch official). Up till Christmas there were something like 15 scabs in Kiveton out of a total workforce of almost a thousand, but the TV gave equal time to the leading scab and his wife and the branch offical. The scab was portrayed as reasonable. This is known as ‘balance’. Just how balanced the scab was is shown by the fact that after the strike he went to his local bank and demanded to see his bank balance, his savings. When the manager showed him the credit print-out, he said he didn’t want to see it on paper he wanted to see the actual amount of cash he had saved, in notes and coins to make sure the bank actually had his money.

4/9/84:

16 members of management and lower management of the Edinburgh Destroyer and of an off-shore platform near Cammell Laird shipyards, Birkenhead, try to get on board the ship which had been occupied for 11 weeks by just 50 boilermakers protesting against redundancies. Immediately, having been alerted by the unemployed centre in Birkenhead, 200 people, among them many miners, arrived quickly and chased them off.

12 unemployed members of Clydeside Anarchist Group stormed a multi-storey office block in Glasgow and occupied the 13th floor office h.q. of the Price Waterhouse millionnaire accountancy firm responsible for sequestrating the South Wales’ miners funds. 2 60 foot banners were stretched around the outside of the block, reading, “Glasgow Backs The Miners” and “Unemployed Solidarity”. 1000s of leaflets explaining the action were handed out at job centres and dole offices throughout the city. The 12 were arrested by the cops, strip-searched and charged with breach of the peace and malicious damage.

September saw the 2nd national dock strike, which was a defeat – it didn’t even achieve the “promise” “won” by the first strike. It wasn’t a sign of growing docker’s solidarity with the miners, even if there were postive moments such as joint dockers’ and miners’ pickets (as there were in the first strike) – it wasn’t even the usual story of growing discontent forcing the union to make the strike official. In the end the TGWU virtually allowed the bosses to ship in any amount of imported coal they wanted through Hunterston in Scotland (which was the origin of the strike). Both unions and bosses claimed a victory, and that they had conceded nothing.

6/9/84:

9 cops and 4 pickets injured as 3000 pickets gather outside Kellingley coliery in North Yorks. The nearby A615 is closed for a time. An ITN crew’s Volvo Estate, parked near the Nottingley miners’ welfare centre, is turned over, partially set on fire and its tyres slashed. Film equipment worth more than £10,000 is taken from the car and strewn across the road. Council workers from the road department of S. Yorks. county council went on strike and joined the miners pickets after 3 of them had been threatened by cops when they were searched in a particularly rough way. In Kiveton Park, 3000 pickets gathered to prevent 7 scabs from entering: the village was under total occupation of the cops, with cops giving V signs to miners’ kids as young as 8 for no particular reason, openly urinating in front of pickets and their families, charging through parts of the village on horseback and beating people up. Seizing the opportunity given by the concentration of police forces at Kiveton 

Park, 3000 pickets gathered to prevent 7 scabs from entering: the village was under total occupation of the cops, with cops giving V signs to miners’ kids as young as 8 for no particular reason, openly urinating in front of pickets and their families, charging through parts of the village on horseback and beating people up. Seizing the opportunity given by the concentration of police forces at Kiveton, the people of Edlington attacked scabs’ houses and the few cops remaining there were injured.

 

 

24/9/84:

Over 4000 pickets occupy Maltby where there are a couple of scabs and bombard the cops, several of whom are injured.

 

During August and September, every single local coal board had its reports of sabotage. The Sunday Times moaned, “it is the thousands of cases of minor damage that may in the end prove more costly than the spectacular vandalism”.

 

Incomplete and unpublished leaflet written at this time:

 

The fundamental lie of all the current false choices of submissive life is to scream out at you, 24-hours a day, from the billboards, the radio, the TV, the newspapers, from the teachers and social workers, from shop windows and from the city’s architecture, from every nook and cranny of colonized space, that your anger, your desires, your point of view are all nothing, unrealistic, impossible. If you don’t resign yourself to the ‘realistic’ inevitability of cops, schools, money, hypocrisy, mass starvation, wage labour, buying and selling, bureaucracy, boredom, despair and all the forms of external authority that organize this misery for you, you’re obviously just an idle dreamer, well on the way to being locked up in a bin. Calm down, take some valium, switch on Channel 4, go down the club, find someone to screw with, score some speed, try roller-skating or take up gardening, invent a dance or turn your frustration into a song or a poem or something – just don’t take life so seriously – after all, we’ve all gotta compromise – what makes you so different? Why do you have to remind me of the anger I’ve managed to repress?

 

As the ruling scum’s servile guard-dogs, the cops, and the courts, get heavier so the rulers’ lies aim closer closer to Goebells’ dream that “The bigger lhe lie, the more it is believed.” In the miners’ strike this is already a daily banality: everyday the BBC or ITV churn out lies with the cool calm assurance of bourgeois ‘objective’ truth (for example, on the day the strike became 6-months old, all channels published the lie that striking miners had lost £4000 in lost wages, as if the average miners wage was £160 a week, instead of the average £80 for 40 hours without overtime which was the true figure). It’s no coincidence that the monologue of the radio was one of the fundamental means of manipulation used in Nazi Germany. Since the war, the box has supplanted the radio as the main form of manipulation. Everyday the Left and the Centre churn out different lies and half-truths and the spectator is meant to join in on one side or the other, rather than make sides, rather than intervene to uncover the false choices of all hierarchies, of all wings of capital.

28/9/84:

Half a mile from Silverwood colliery, where just 2 scabs had returned to work, a convoy of cop vans are stopped by a 3 foot high barricade and are surrounded by pickets. The press and the cops refer to this as a “diabolical ambush”. “Striking Times”, a one-off radical paper set the following competition:

 

Striking Times Diabolical Competition

All you have to do is decide what truly happened in the so-called ‘Diabolical Ambush’ at Silverwood Colliery on 28th September. Was it:

(a). 9 police dog vans and a cop Range Rover were attacked by 700 miners acting on the

direct instructions of the NUM leadership? (Home Office version)

(b). 2 dog vans were overturned and one dog handler was knocked over, his dog escaping to attack both pickets and cops (Guardian, 29th September).

(c).500 pickets plus their cars were attacked by 1,500 police in riot gear? (Sheffield Police Watch version).

(d).Up to 3000 pickets threw stones at police vehicles and at pickets’ own cars by mistake? (Police version)

(e).Miners had finally had enough of bieng continually on the receiving end of police violence and harassment. The miners acted on their own initiative, not the NUM leaderships, according to the old saying “Attack is the best form of defence” (Striking Times version)

(f). Other journalistic lies and distortions?

 

Send your answers to Striking Times along with a cheque for £5. Please include a statement using not more than eight four-letter words on the role of the British Bobby in industrial disputes.

The lucky winner of this competition will win a cheque for £2.50p.

 

The police weren’t the only repressive arm of the State that the miners direcly confronted. In Burnley, a 19 year old pregnant miner’s wife was told by a Social Worker to “eat potato peelings”.

Round about this time, though it may have been earlier (no date) 2 striking miners (from South Wales, I think) in a car are driven at at full speed by cops and are foced off the road, their car crashing and they’re killed. Nothing in the press about it. And the NUM could’ve made more about it….

 

2/10/84:

Village of Rossington completely occupied by anti-riot squads equipped with vicious dogs; against this provocation, people succeed in building a barricade.

Round about this time (no date), the people of Wooley, near Barnsley built barricades across roads and at the pit gate. The fight lasted two hours without any arrests. A group of cops under hot pursuit retreated into the colliery and were immediately locked in.

4/10/84:

Just after midnight, about 600 pickets blocked the entrance to Hartlepool nuclear power station. 2 patrol cars get stoned by the pickets and were forced to withdraw. The miners then barricaded the entrance, ripping up fencing and setting it on fire. Two British Oxygen tankers which were driven up to the site were pelted with stones and one of the windscreens was shattered although the driver wasn’t hurt. John L:yons, general secretary of the Electrical Power Engineers’ Association condemned the pickets saying that the TUC had specifically excluded nuclear power stations from any action and the behaviour of the pickets breached TUC guidelines.

At Wooley colliery, hundreds of cops get pelted with stones for a short while.

 

5/10/84:

Once again, a scab, father of two, died – crushed by falling coal 3000 feet underground at Wolstanton Colliery whilst he was clearing a blockage. These kinds of facts could’ve been shouted at scabs on picket lines – and maybe sometimes they were.

In some of the most combatative mining areas, where the miners had been unable to pay their bills for 7 months, fuel workers refused to go in and cut off supplies, some out of solidarity, some out of fear of the reception they’d get. In Glasgow, a group of unemployed workers cut off the mains to the Electricity Board Office to give them a taste of their own medicine, and organised an “Instant Response Unit” to intercept employees going to cut off working class households.

This kind of exemplary act of solidarity was too rare throughout the strike; too often the support remained just that, rather than turning into any independent iniative to be acted upon. Supporters generally stood behind the miners struggle, rather than alongside them. The heroic, vanguard reputation of the miners worked against them – aided by years of Lefty mythologising, people saw their support as giving secondary backup activity to the strikers, rather than taking a lead from their own situation to initiate something. Just as the majority of miners ulimately abdicated initiative to the NUM leadership, so did ‘supporters’ abdicate initiative to the miners they supported.

Some time during the week 8th to 13th October (can’t be bothered to find the date), the IRA bombed The Grand Hotel in Brighton where Thatcher was having a piss at the time of the explosion. The London radio station vetted all incoming phone calls to the programme to make sure that only “outraged members of the public” would have their say about the Brighton Bomb. One woman slipped through the net and said that most of her friends saw “the funny side”. In fact, the bomb was a great show – the IRA’s image shot up in the eyes of the miners, and no-one could understand it if you said they just aspired to be another government. This uncritical admiration for the IRA was helped by the anti-terrost style of Thatcher’s rousing speech to the faithful, implicitly comparing violent pickets with the IRA knee-capping nationalists. After that, a certain anti-terrorist revulsion-inciting amalgam technique on the part of the Tories and the TUC developed against the picket-line violence, as if a hierarchical elite force aiming to take over the State, often killing indiscriminately, brutally punishing soft-drug dealers because they intruded on their own dealing, knee-capping looters, partly financed by sections of the American bourgeoisie – that this racket could compare with the direct autonomous actions of people fighting for some sense of community against State power. However, a helluvalot of miners had illusions in the IRA just on the basis of ‘our enemy’s (apparent) enemy is our friend’-type identification.

At this time, I suspected that the State would carry out some atrocity and blame the IRA or the miners or both, preferably. But the State was subtler than that, as we only discovered several years later.

 

15/10/84 – 18/10/84:

Grimethorpe, early morning of the 15th, lorries coming to load coal were bombarded with missiles; a worker left his excavator and it was set on fire. At midday, 200 young people, some wearing balaclavas, attacked the police station. A male and a female cop, who came to help put things in order, were chased off. The female cop, who had been known for her viciousness for some time, was caught, knocked to the ground, kicked and ended up in hospital. She said, “I am going back to work as soon as the swelling on my head goes down enough for me to wear my hat.” In the evening, people gather to attack the shops, while at the same time, several masked pickets ransacked the colliery control room and tried to set fire to the manager’s office. On the 16th, about 200 youths stoned the police, the police withdrew and 50 – 60 men and women built a barricade across the road with a car which was then set on fire; 3 shops had their windows broken and £100 worth of spirits was taken. On 17th October a 13-year old boy was arrested by 4 cops in riot gear.

All this was a response to the arrest on the week-end before of 19 people for ‘stealing’ coal off a coal-tip (expropriating the expropriators, more like). Whereas before the strike there had always been an agreement with management that miners could take some coal from the slag heaps, from the summer of ’84 onwards the NCB began prosecuting every miner caught helping himself. When a young teenager died on a slagheap collecting coal because part of the heap collapsed, papers like the Daily Mail blamed “Scargill’s strike”. Such professional manipulators will, hopefully, one day end up like the Mussolini or Hitler they once admired – hanging from a lampost or driven to suicide. The total value of the coal was £100.50p. – and miners were fined £375. A Grimethorpe miner, at a meeting on the 18th Oct., pointed out of the window at a cemetery and said that the coal morally belonged to the miners, “There’s men laid in them cemeteries that died through being gassed or explosions, having their legs blown off. They paid for that coal.”

At the meeting, the chairman of the South Yorkshire police authority, Mr.Moores, said the police joined the force as decent chaps and were then sent to training centres and came back “like Nazi stormtroopers”, adding that he “would defend to the last any policeman who used his truncheon in defence but I abhor situations where policemen are dishing out punishment as judge and jury”. A young miner got up at the meeting and said that no one condemned David when he stoned Goliath. Mr.Moores said that no one would get anywhere by throwing stones, to which miners responded “David did”. The Deputy Chief cop responded by quoting the Bible, saying “blessed are the peacemakers.”, and then added, “I have shuddered at many of the things said against police officers. For some of the things they have done wrong, I unreservedly apologise”. One member of the police committee, Councillor Tom Williams said the community would only damage itself through violence – “Just keep emotions down and give us a chance.” Here we have all the typical contradictions of British workers when dealing with the cops and their hypocrisy. That is, the police are seen only in specific circumstances as an arm of government policy – but the local copper is seen as somehow ok, and at least someone you can have a polite dialogue with, to whom workers feel they have to justify illegality in pursuit of basic needs. It’s probably not since the First World War that there’s been a working class culture that recognised cops as a whole as inherently part of the enemy. The intensification of ideological manipulation has something to do with it, but also it’s because the State recuperates real needs arising out of the misery of the market: psychos and muggers, arising out of the suppression of community, have to be dealt with, so the State presents itself as the protector. So even in situations of mass class struggle the complaint is that the cops aren’t doing their job – protecting workers from burglars, for instance. If a radical movement doesn’t take on the task of both protecting people from the State and from the ‘enemy within’ – i.e. those who embrace this dog eat dog world and prey on the weakest of the working class – then obviously the State will fill the vacuum.

17/10/84:

Clashes between cops and 2000 pickets at Wooley colliery near Barnsley. A cop has his face punctured in 2 places by pickets with darts in their fists. 25 cops injured officially. At Tow Law, a private coal stocking site in Durham, 700 pickets attack the cops with bricks from a ripped down wall, and 3 cop vans are overturned whilst the cops abandoned the vehicles and retreated into the depot. At Rossington, 2000 pickets tried to prevent 5 scabs going in. “This police horse box accelerated and swerved towards a group of pickets. Darrel got hit. I thought he was dead. Another two feet and he would have gone right under the wheels. Some lads went over to tell the police he was seriously injured and all they did was laugh. They started chanting ‘We hope he’s dead’. They wouldn’t call an ambulance”. `A wall was pulled down and used to stone the cops. 2 barricades were built, one set on fire. 2 cops were hospitalised

 

In October NACODS, the union of safety workers and colliery overseers, a union a majority of whom were what in other industries would be called “foremen”, was involved in a widely publicised dispute with the Coal Board over the conditions which its members were expected to have to face in order to get to work, and over closures. MacGregor had ordered them to cross picket lines at strike-bound collieries, provoking them into a major threat to go on strike, thus shutting down every pit, because it was illegal for a colliery to be in operation without safety workers. 9 years after the strike, Thatcher described on TV the crisis this provoked: “We had got so far and we were in danger of losing everything because of a silly mistake. We had to make it quite clear that if that was not cured immediately, then the actual management of the Coal Board could indeed have brought down the governement. The future of the government at that moment was in their hands and they had to remedy their terrible mistake”. It turned out, however, that all those who thought that a traditionally ‘moderate’ union would do such a big favour for the miners already on strike were wrong. Despite an 83% vote for a strike, the NACODS bureaucrats agreed to a deal over “revised conciliation procedures” just 24 hours before the safety workers and overseers were supposed to come out on strike. Under Thatcher’s instructions, MacGregor offered NACODS a sop – a mildly souped up closure review procedure, which, in the decade that followed, didn’t save a single pit, surprise surprise. There were no condemnations of NACODS by Kinnock or by Thatcher for refusing to abide by the decisions of the majority (as always, ballots mean fuck-all – what matters is how people act).

There were a few reasons why this strike didn’t happen:

First of all, none of the moderate members of the moderate union had a tradition of going against their leaders, unlike in the NUM: despite the fact that the leaders acted undemocratically even in terms of bourgeois democracy, the overseers and safety workers had neither the will, the experience nor the audacity to go on a wildcat. Those most used to giving orders were also those most used to following them – so they submitted to the NACODS leaders.

There were also external pressures not to show support for the miners at this moment. The media “revealed” that an NUM bureaucrat had met Gadafy, public enemy no. 1 after the killing of a policewoman supposedly by Libyan diplomats during a demonstration outside the Libyan Embassy, London, in April 1984 [12]. The meeting between Gadafy and the Union bureaucrat – the NUM’s top accountant, Roger Windsor – was very publicly broadcast on Libyan TV (so-much for the Sunday Times’ stunning revelations!) under Windsor’s insistence – he claimed that the NUM had nothing to hide in accepting this money. This put a lot of pressure on NACODS leaders and members not to side with the miners, who were rapidly being portrayed as terrorists – or , at least, in the pockets of terrorists [13]. As revealed about 10 years later, by a Lefty journalist – Seumas Milne – Windsor was working for Stella Rimington, later head of MI5, who won her spurs heading the MI5 section directly responsible for policing the dispute. Phones were tapped, the State surveillance apparatus of GCHQ deployed, buildings bugged, bundles of supposed Libyan cash faked. Windsor was at the time the highest ranking non-elected official in the NUM and was later revealed as a double-dealing security service agent positioned, almost a year before the strike, to destabilise the dispute. Later in 1990, he acted as chief witness in the prosecution of Arthur Scargill, when he claimed that money collected for the miners during the strike went to pay off Scargill’s supposed mortgage, when he never even had one (in fact, there’s plenty of evidence that much of this money went into Windsor’s pocket).

The attitude of the miners themselves didn’t help: they were almost completely indifferent to whether NACODS went on strike because after all these were ‘foremen’ who’d humiliated them in the past and they rightly had complete contempt for their function (though not all of them were foremen). This was understandable given the fact that up till then they had been the bosses’ toadies – but hardly strategic. A total strike at this point would have meant almost certainly that the miners would win, and any return to work would have weakened the authority role of these overseers (as it was, their authority role was strengthened). To assume that people are immutable on the basis of their past and their most conservative past, is to ignore the process of struggle and of what happens when people are challenged to change. An aggressive direct challenge to them, which needn’t have involved challenging overseers personally known to the pickets, might have made them at least realise that their self-interest, their desire not to lose their jobs at least, lay with the miners. Pressure from strikers may have tipped them over into having a wildcat. Indeed, many NACODS members refused to go into work when confronted with a picket line they could very easily have crossed (invited to do so with the usual protection of the cops) as late as February 1985, when there were increasing amounts of strikers turning into scabs. Hardly the sign of people reluctant to strike. But the miners treated the whole situation impassively, as if it was something they couldn’t affect, certainly something they were indifferent to affecting. One suspects that this attitude on the part of the miners was also part of a hangover of the 70s strikes – when the miners won on their own. They believed they could do so again. Partly stemming from this, many miners had a vanguardist notion of themselves, that they were the most radical section of the working class, even though, for instance, very very few identified with the 1981 riots at the time that they happened (by 1984 this had changed – retrospectively they understood these riots).

At this time, as later admitted by Government ministers and even Thatcher herself, the miners were close to winning. 10 years afterwards, Frank Ledger, the Central Electricity Generating Board’s (CEGB’s) operations director, recalled the situation as having been verging on the “catastrophic”. Throughout the autumn months, there was a serious risk of power cuts. Secret internal forecasts predicted that – in the words of Lord Marshall, then CEGB chairman – “Scargill would win in the autumn or certainly before Christmas”. In a tense meeting, a “wobbly” Thatcher told him she would have to send troops in to move the coal (see this recent article revealing her belief in using the army). If that had happened, Marshall believed the power workers “would have gone out within a week”. Thatcher was persuaded to hold off, while CEGB managers started to bribe certain groups of workers with vast wage hikes to move the vital coal supplies (mainly, lorry drivers, who’d been particularly petit-bourgeoisified – encouraged to become self-employed – after their collective victory in the Winter Of Discontent, when most lorry drivers had worked for bosses). The miners’ failure was to fail to communicate directly with electricity workers – not to try to overcome the separation imposed on them by the cops at picket lines keeping them from talking to power workers and lorry drivers – but of course, such a possible course of action would have been very difficult, though not impossible – it would have involved making connections away from the immediate power station gates, which the cops controlled. UK workers have often had a crippling tendency to rely on solidarity between workers in different industries to be negotiated through official union channels; if the solidarity is not forthcoming this is usually accepted as an immovable fact of nature. Yet situations where workers could talk face to face, unmediated by their official representatives – such as a simple visit by strikers to the workers’ local pub – were rarely attempted as ways of forging links. The official political/union arena, with its tedious bureaucratic rituals of motions, meetings, negotiations etc were allowed to have their intended effect of dissipating energy, spontaneity and initiative. 

Chapter 16:

November 1984

A divided ruling class…NCB bribe…more rage against the State…

…Willis attacked…NCB figures for scabbing…death of scab driver …

…Kinnock…discussion on class violence…

Britain is fast becoming that most dangerous of societies, a nation in which Government and the governed speak different languages…The atmosphere is reminiscent of the countries on the eve of revolution in the past, where the ruling class never mingled with the people at large, did not know how they lived and seemed not to care what was to become of them…Beneath the glossy conventional surface of tolerated opinion and authorised vocabulary, the absence of real communication permits and encourages the growth of resentment…Resentment at the apparently wilful blindness and ignorance of those in authority, resentment at the apparently unrecognised destination towards which those living under authority are being inexorably borne…hope has become extinct, and where there is not hope, people will not hear.” – Enoch Powell, 10th November, 1984.

enoch powell

1968 Private Eye cover 

As a somewhat ‘independent’ member of the ruling class, detached at least from any party allegiance, after having been kicked out of the Tory Party for his racist demagogy and after urging voters to support the Labour Party in 1974, Powell could occasionally express openly what other rulers dared only mutter in private. Of course, he had to pose things in terms of ‘resentment’, rather than class anger because for the ruling world there cannot be any reversal of perspective, any fundamental hatred of hierarchy – it’s all just a matter of envy and spite. Nevertheless, substitute the word “hatred” for resentment and Powell’s quote is a lucid insight into the atmosphere of Britain in 1984. And now? – there is far less real hope now than in 1984 because at that time practical hope was being developed in the subversionof the “destination towards which those living under authority [were] being inexorably borne”– but now people with plenty of false hope are “listening” much more to the dominant authority of the commodity economy, even if they bemoan all its results, precisely because the hope of some genuine reversal of perspective, the hope of a revolution, seems to be becoming increasingly extinct.

It’s a measure of how out of touch many ‘revolutionaries’ are that they have no idea or, even no interest in, how close to a revolutionary explosion Britain was at this time. If the miners had won, it would certainly have encouraged a far more widespread movement as well as a lot of repression, but also inspiring a lot of resistance globally, especially as the possible coming to power of a Left-nationalist-social democratic government under the likes of Tony Benn would very likely have caused a run on the pound and a realisation that reform or keeping things as they were was not an option and…..But this is only if only. And then again, fear, including the fear of revolutionary upheaval by a significant number of proletarians, was certainly a factor in why this chance was missed.

Powell’s fears, and that of sections of the ruling class in general, are illustrated by the previous chronology of violence but this rage against the State continued into November and beyond, in part incited by the NCB offering a bribe of £600 – a hell of a lot in those days, and especially for those who’d not had an income for 8 months – to miners who returned to work before Christmas (in addition they were informed that their income would not be subject to tax):

7/11/84:

Barricades built across road to Whittle colliery, Northumberland, to stop 27 scabs, 12 having been persuaded to return home. A bus carrying the scabs was stoned, and the barricade set alight.

9/11/84:

Just 1 scab escorted to work by 1000 cops. Barricades burnt, 2 cop Range Rovers crashed as cops were hit by a fusillade of ball bearings fired from catapults, along with loads of milk bottles. An air gun was also used against them.13 cops injured (as well as the usual injuries to miners) and a police horse visor was smashed. Miners rolled a disused workman’s hut twoards police lines, then moved a second hut nearby and set it alight.

12/11/84:

About 25 pits experience significant violence against scabs, cops and NCB property. We mention half. At Dinnington, barricades were set alight, stones hurled relentlessly at the cops and a steel rod speared through colliery windows. A concrete block and two petrol bombs, one failing to explode, were hurled at the cop shop. A 4 inch bolt was hurled through the cops window. 27 street lamps smashed to the ground. £1000 worth of electrical equipment stolen from looted shop. Maltby: 3 cop shop windows broken, street lamps pulled down as barricades and a garage and general store near the pit are looted. Hickleton: a steel wire was strung across the road aiming to severely injure cops on horseback, but it only tore off the aerial of an NCB management car. 2 NCB security guards attacked by a group of men wearing balaclava helmets, one ending up in hospital. 2 management cars were overturned, one set on fire. 33 cops were injured. Brampton: barricade set on fire near the co-op, whilst cops standing behind shields were repeatedly stoned. A huge turf roller was taken from the nearby cricket ground and rolled through police lines. A molotov lands near a cop car. Cortonwood: stones, bottles, nuts and bolts used to pelt cops. Molotov hits cop Range Rover. South Kirby: colliery offices broken into and ignition keys removed so that earth-moving machines could be moved to block roads. Windows smashed in the NCB buildings and fires lit. Dodsworth: fires lit and 3 foot steel rod pitched through pit windows. Darfield Main: pit roads blocked and stores looted. Dearne Valley: NCB office windows smashed and a foklift truck and crane damaged. Rossington: pit control windows smashed and 3 cars and a motorbike overturned. Barrow: trees felled and hauled across the road as blockades. Oil poured all over the road. Stainforth: A Sunday Times cameraman was punched and had his camera snatched, with the film dropped in the mud. “Fortunately it’s only my pride that was damaged”, he said – as if anyone working as a cameraman for Murdoch has some pride left to be damaged. St.Johns, S.Wales: pit gates blocked by telegraph pole, so manager abandons car, which is then overturned. Cwm, S.Wales: bottles, stones and iron bars hurled at cops, as old railway sleepers were used as barricades. etc.etc.etc.

13/11/84:

Norman Willis, head of the TUC and ‘benign’ bastard with the ‘common’ touch, denounced the violence at a meeting in Port Talbot, but his speech was barely audible as strikers chanted “Off off off!”. He apologised for the lack of support from other unions, but stressed that the TUC was “backing the miners in the very best traditions of the trade union movement”. This was undoubtedly true – traditions which went back to 1926, when the TUC also did its best to fuck over the miners, though we suspect that these were not the traditions Willlis was talking about. In a famous incident, 3 Welsh miners clambered onto roof supports and lowered a rope with a noose on the end to loud cheers from the audience. Justified as the miners’ criticism was, it still remained at the level of ‘the leadership have failed us again’ – with all the acceptance of the leader/follower relationship that this implies. Only a seizure of initiative by miners on the ground to themselves approach workers in other industries directly could have transcended this. 8 years later, in 1992, I saw Willis with his entourage of bureaucrats in the crowd of a miners demo against the decimation of the pits proposed by Major’s government, and shouted “This time we’ll string you up properly”. Having had 8 years to work out some kind of clever pun, he retorted, “Thank you for your support”, the kind of typical joke people tell at their own expense designed to take the wind out of the sails of an attacker. He’s now a Lord, for services rendered to Thatcher and to capital in general.

norman willis

Norman Willis: no noose is bad noose

Goldthorpe: a bus driver driving scabs to work had his bus attacked and broken into and he was beaten up. Frickley: 42 cops injured. Barrow: power line brought down. Celynen pit: cops bring out the riot shields for the first time against missiles, as 18 miners refused to accept the decision of a mass meeting of the 12th to continue supporting the strike, and turned into scabs. Strikers occupied NCB premises, and were evicted by the cops, whilst tyres of a TV crews van were let down.

The NCB claimed that 56,000 miners were working, the vast majority having scabbed from the beginning, whillst 133,000 were on strike, a figure of 189,000, 7,000 more than the total number of miners accounted for in the boards accounts, a contradiction never pointed out by the media, which was generally becoming recognised by strikers as “an arm of the State”.

The fears amongst the ruling class of everything going pear-shaped were expressed not just by Powell, as in the quote above, but also by the former Tory Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, who, after praising Thatcher for her “courage, determination and persistence which must surely be admired by all reasonable men and women” then went on to bemoan the dangers of the strike, “It breaks my heart to see what is happening in the country today. This terrible strike – and by the best men in the world. They beat the Kaiser’s army. They beat Hitler’s army. They never gave in…We cannot afford this kind of thing.” (interestingly, he also attacked the growing submission of British capital to American capital, something that many of the anti-Iraq war movement today also bemoan, wthout seeing how conservative such a limited take on world politics this is).

15/11/84:

Savile pit: strikers stone the pithead baths where 17 men have supposedly returned to work. Windows are smashed. Goldthorpe: barricade built and set alight because of one scab returning. BBC cameraman has a stitch inserted in his chin after being pushed while filming.

Father Christmas arrested outside Hamleys in Regents Street – a member of Westminster Miners Support Group launching a Christmas toy appeal for miners’ kids.

A striking miner, 47, father of 4, dies whilst digging for coal on a tip, trapped under tons of rock falling on him. Virtually no mention in media.

19/11/84:

NCB geological exploration unit in S.Yorks abandoned by staff after being sytematically wrecked. Computer terminals and keyboards smashed, 22 out of 24 offices vandalised and rooms flooded after a mains pipe was burst open. Windows smashed and typewriters and other equipment damaged. An IBM computer linked to the NCB’s computer centre in Cannock was smashed. The 20 members of staff had to be placed elsewhere in Yorkshire until the building became operational again. The NCB said that the incident brought their whole planning procedure to a halt as they did not have access to records. How sad. Damage was estimated at £250,000. One of the better critiques of computers, which now dominate our daily lives in ways unthinkable 20 years ago.

Aberaman, South Wales: pickets smashed window of Land Rover taking a single scab to work, and a cop van windscreen was broken. At Merthyr, S.Wales barricades were built and oil poured on the road outside the pit. According to (dubious) NCB statistics, 85 men are scabbing in South Wales out of a total of nearly 20,000 miners – a bit over 0.4%.

24/11/84:

Yorkshire scab’s £40,000 house gutted by fire in arson attack. This was before the protperty boom – £40,000 for a house in this part of the country was a hell of a lot of money. The owner claimed that strikers had threatened to kill his 2-year old daughter and that the blaze had started in her bedroom. Not sure if this was the case, but a couple of arson attacks which at the time were attributed to strikers turned out to be self-inflicted, done for the insurance money. Certainly, to threaten and even try to kill the daughter of a scab was not the kind of thing 99.99% of strikers even remotely considered. Another scab was hospitalised with a broken shoulder, broken ankle, bruised ribs and other injuries when beaten up by masked men. In a well-publicised visit to the hospital of the latter, the former fire victim (?) urged the NUM to change its rules so that Scargill could be got rid of. The NUM, the NCB and the cops were all united on the attack on the scab: they condemned it. The media, of course, always gave full publicity to the attacks on scabs – attacks, including arson attacks, on strikers were never mentioned.

All emergency calls throughout most of Mid-Glamorgan were blacked out by the sabotage of a South Wales police telecommunications station – 20 inch-thick cables were severed with an axe.

Merthyr Vale, S,Wales: 11 cops injured, one suffering a fractured cheekbone and a bruised eye.protecting 2 scabs.

By the end of the month, the NCB bribe had not worked. Even according to the grossly inflated figures of the NCB (which even a Tory recently admitted, because it was safe to do so, were absurdly inflated), the increase was only 8000, leaving 50,000 working – most of whom had never been on strike in the first place , and 140,000 on strike. Admittedly these figures didn’t make sense – but even within their own terms, this meant, that in the areas most threatened by closures – Yorkshire, Kent, South Wales, Scotland and the North-East there were at this time 113,000 strikers out of a total workforce of 116,500. Pretty solid after almost 9 months on strike!

30/11/84:

First and only death on the enemy’s side during the strike, near Merthyr pit. A concrete block dropped on a mini-cab taking a scab to work killed the driver. This is an occasion for endless horror shock pronouncements by the media and the State, with the Sun, the paper that cheered the sinking of the Belgrano with “Gotcha!”, leading the attack on “anarchy and murder”, complete with photos of the scab-drivers’ family, a classic hypocritical manipulation of the emotions. The families of the Belgrano sailors were never shown, any more than the families of Joe Green or of anybody else killed by scabs or cops were shown. Why mention the obvious? Because in these chronicly ignorant times, the obvious is often the last thing most people think.

3/12/84:

Kinnock denounced the killing of the mini-scab driver, as well as all picket line violence, during a speech on a platform shared with Scargill. “You shame us all”, he said of the men who did it. Had Kinnock said anything about David Jones’ murder? About Joe Green’s? About the other deaths of miners or their kids scrabbling for coal during the strike? About the cops who drove at full speed at strikers in a car, forcing them off the road and killing them? About the oh so tragic deaths of scabs in pits due to unsafe work conditions during the strike? No – but he had had nothing but praise for Indira Gandhi, who, before being assassinated, had ordered the shooting down of up to 100 blind demonstrators. Kinnock, some time later, went on to support the Gulf War, which killed 200,000 Iraqui civilians. Those who attack anti-hierarchical violence from their position in the hierarchy attack it because they know that they could be the victim of it – they want this society to have the monopoly of violence.

Scargill himself denounced all violenceaway from the picket lines”, dissociating himself from what had happened in Merthyr. Sadly, no-one heckled him for this or for sharing a platform with Kinnock. Kinnock’s speech, which was inaudible for the first 5 minutes, was permanently interrupted by shouts of “scab”, “traitor” and “Judas”. These insults weren’t entirely accurate: Kinnock only visited one picket line during the whole of the strike, which he did for the cameras, and didn’t cross it, so ‘scab’ made no sense. If he’d done that, he’d have had absolutely no credibility within the Labour Party (or even for the rest of the pro-strike supporters) who needed him to play up to his down-to-earth image so as to represent the working class in a period when the class struggle could’ve gone either way, all the better to fuck us over. “Traitor” is hardly appropriate either – those whose career is part of the State (either as an M.P., or in his capacity as President of the European Union, and now as a member of the House of Lords) cannot betray the class struggle since it implies they are on the side of the struggle; in fact they would only betray themselves, or, at least, their well-paid complicity with this society which their role implies, if they sided with the class struggle. As for “Judas” – you usually apply this to friends who betray you, and Kinnock was never a friend: he himself declared he was “the policeman’s friend” and said, at one time, that he’d wanted to be a cop. Some time after she was forced to retire, Thatcher praised Kinnock for his gentlemanly conduct. That’s as much as can be expected from “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”. Those who have always looked to the Labour Party, strangely use the same kinds of words (such as ‘traitor’) to attack Blair, when, as part of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, he’d always shown his true colours – e.g. by refusing to support the signalman’s strike of ’96, despite 95% of the population supporting it. So much so that Thatcher herself recommended, in 1997, that Murdoch plump for him, since a further continuation of Tory rule might backfire against the ruling class. As a piece of graffiti painted on a wall outside a public meeting where Kinnock was speaking just a few days after the end of the strike said, Kinnock, like the rest of the Filth, like all leaders, is only doing his job – policing autonomous class struggle.”[14]

In the days that followed the killing, many strikers showed none of the remorse that was demanded of them by the NUM, the media, the Labour Party and the rest of the power of this society – “Go get a mini-cab” was constantly shouted at scabs going into work. And just 4 days after the death, a 3 foot metal spike was dropped from a Derbyshire railway bridge onto an NCB van carrying 100lb of explosives, the blunt end penetrating the metal and lining of the cab roof. Cops said that those who did it, if found, could face a charge of attempted murder. And this violence was “away from picket lines” – so not something approved of by Scargill. And a cab from the same firm that had hired the killed scab driver had its window broken, the driver being hit in the back by an 8lb stone, on 16th January 1985.

It’s maybe hard to comprehend in today’s atmosphere of depressed indifference why strikers could be so violent towards scabs. When class conflict is intense, when it really matters, the conflict between those who are actively resigned to the violent stupidities of this world and those taking the risk of opposing it is fundamental – there can be no reason for “tolerance”: such “tolerance” is tolerance for a complicity with a very brutal enemy, an enemy which kills with the swipe of a pen or a bid on the stock exchange and which is prepared to destroy this world to insure the victory of the economy. As I said in “Miner Conflicts…”:

The working miner has all the reasonable lies of the commodity economy on his side: he knows that £1,000 for every year worked isn’t bad compensation for having slaved his guts out to be able to consume the videos and three-piece suites of his choice. The cynical dreariness and hierarchical ‘security’ … seems almost ‘natural’ to those who see their own narrow immediate interest as separate from their class interest. It is not merely the cops and ruling ideology which break up the possibilities of class solidarity: the Notts miners are not victims – they have consciously chosen to accept all the hypocrisies of the State. They know all the media crap about the cops protecting their “Right To Work” (read: Right To Be Exploited) is bullshit, even in it’s own terms: it’s a “right” their continuing to work is going to take away from thousands of others. They know that all the media crap about “Democracy” (read: the right of each isolated intimidated individual to choose who is going to isolate and intimidate him) is bullshit: when – in 1977 – all the miners voted overwhelmingly against productivity deals, Nottingham area voted separately, and undemocratically, for their own bonus scheme. They know that they too will be the victims of pit closures…..Those who choose, with the support of the whole weight of the commodity-spectacle, to reduce their lives to a narrow survivalist notion of their immediate interest obviously regard history , both past and possible future, with equal indifference.

Undoubtedly in periods such as this, almost all of us, from very different levels in the hierarchy (and it’s these levels that are vital), support, in practice, this brutal world – for example, the poor in the UK buy cheap goods often made from death-inducing conditions in countries such as China. We cannot avoid participating in violence. Which is why, when people risk attacking the system violently all those who denounce them become very definite friends of the violent system that crushes people daily, even if they claim to be pacifists. The economy kills – whether it be the thousands of old people who die from hyperthermia each winter because they can’t afford to pay gas bills or nurses avoiding treating dangerously ill patients in casualty so that they don’t get the sack for prolonging, beyond the target times, the waiting time of less threatened patients or…the list is endless and anyone reading this far will know how violently crazy the commodity economy is.

Work accidents and other disasters caused by the need for profit are only the more visible aspects of this violence. The enormous levels of stress and psycho-socio-somatic illnesses, even in kids and teenagers oppressed by the increasing pressures of an education system geared to intensified exploitation at work, are probably a more significant part of this violence.

We cannot renounce our share of violence – directed at the right people at the right time. However, if people seem wary of riotous violence it’s partly because riots ain’t what they used to be. A riot against the cops in Bradford in 2001 also involved crazy psychotic behaviour such as the parking of a car right across the entrance of the Labour club and setting fire to it, preventing those inside from fleeing. Though they managed to get out through windows, if this tactic had succeeded it would have been a massacre. The increasingly mad behaviour of some young people is a sign of how defeated all sense of community has been since the strike. Fewer and fewer people have any idea who their real enemies are.

If there was a big riot now in an urban working class area it might be really depressing, scary and horrific – the number of gangsters and anti-social vicious youth around nowadays would possibly see it as indiscriminate open season and easy pickings on the general public. So if such riots were to maintain some clear anti-hierarchical perspective, it’d be necessary to create some way of dealing with these psychotic elements – by organising some kind of healthy (as opposed to crazy) vigilantism. However, it’d be a mistake to think of riots as automatically outmoded in the present epoch: a break with the normal violence of capitalist daily life involves violence as the physical expression of this break, and though such violence might not conform to a theoretical ideal of what should happen, proletarians are going to have to deal with such contradictions when they arise, not condemn them but to find some practical way of overcoming their miserable side. Maybe this would involve occupying public or empty buildings so as to at least create an area in which people can work out such practical questions in some form of mutual dialogue. Just because something like a riot or a strike doesn’t nowadays develop into something new and different in a positive way doesn’t mean we should say such methods of struggle are automatically outmoded.

Most people think of violence as individuals or gangs attacking you for money or for perverse excitement and somehow think that an attack on a scab is like that, because violence is violence is violence, making no distinction. Whilst in times of intense class struggle verbal or theoretical violence might be more appropriate towards the more passive spectators, physical violence towards those who are actively supporting the brutality of hierarchical power, like scabs, is essential. However, given the enormous retreats and defeats suffered by the masses of individuals, it’s hard to know whether violence towards scabs today in fact advances the struggle. But one day such violence will be both appropriate and strategic.

During the strike, various professional feminists condemned the violence of the pickets towards the cops as typical macho posturing, making an equivalent between the cops and the picket’s violence. This was not echoed by the women directly involved in the struggle – the miners’ wives etc., who knew well the cops’ brutality and generally supported the violence. The logic of this crass feminism would be to condemn the actions of a woman who hit out at a rapist as mere macho posturing. In other words, to effectively say you can and should do nothing against hierarchical violence if you want to maintain some feminist purity/political correctness/moral superiority.

The nauseating 20th anniversary programme “WhenBritainWentToWarshowed the Battle of Orgreave with the song When two tribes go to war money’s all you can score.” sendingthesubliminalmessagethat this was a tribal conflict, both equally violent and equally to blame and equally having a narrow tribal mentality. For those who see things utterly superficially, this kind of rubbish might work. But it’s kind of obvious that it was the cops who were scoring big bucks (two and a half times their normal already inflated wage[15]) whilst the miners were deprived of any income other than the pittance given them by the NUM for picketing and Social Security and anything they could get through collections.

Chapter 17:

The Last Three Months

Collections, charity and the Band Aid spectacle…strikers Christmas…

…Snow fun……Power cuts…the subtle sell-out…

…contradictions of low level NUM officials…increasing scabbing…

…Tony Benn…indifference towards the strike…Paul Foot…

…the bitter end…

As mentioned in the previous chapter, Father Christmas, a collector for the striking miners, was arrested mid-November. Collections up down the country were subject to police harrassment, collectors often having the money confiscated – but then the working class have always been robbed.

geldof blair Recent picture of Slob Geldof and his mate: for the most interesting account of the Gleneagles conference see “Aufheben” #14 (October 2005).

At the same time as thousands of people were giving money and gifts to the strikers, Band Aid was launched by Slob Geldof [16]. In Apocalypse Now, the main character says after an accidentally shot Vietnamese woman, bleeding profusely and half-dead, is given a plaster First we shoot them half to death then we give them a band aid.”– the kind of one-off insight one occasionally hears amongst the pile of dross coming from the movie industry. That more or less says it all about Band Aid and all the subsequent guilt-quenching spectacles brought to you courtesy of the same society that starves millions. The condition of aid is that the recipients produce cash crops, which makes them utterly dependent on the world market, and destroys the margin of self-sufficiency they had. In this way Aid – dependent also on compliant governments – kills as much as Third World debt (incidentally in 1985, for example, – the year that Band Aid supplied the money it collected to Ethiopia – Africa’s debt was 3 times the amount given by all the nicey nicey charities to the starving). Moreover, in presenting illusions that one can somehow save lives through the charity business it props up the system ideologically and reinforces resignation and illusions, making people believe that something less than global revolution can assure that the unnecessarily starving can survive. Is there any coincidence that Band Aid was launched at this time – when the possibility of challenging the system of mass slaughter, the world market, was a genuine concrete threat? Though for Geldof himself, the concern for the world’s poor was merely a career move, for the rest of the dominant society it served a very useful function as a distraction from the essential. Some journalists even made direct comparisons between giving to the deserving poor – the starving Ethiopians – and giving to the undeserving poor – the striking miners (the obnoxious Julie Burchall, whose career was and is based on an ugly aestheticisation of petty, shallow, arbitrary ‘shock’ provocation without point, was one).

The collections for the miners, whilst also having some of the defects of charity insofar as they were often seen as substitutes for solidariity action and were extremely unevenly distributed, were also self-organised expressions of identification with a real movement of opoposition. Loads of people throughout the country used the collections as a point of contact, a place where they could talk about the news, about what was happening in the strike and about themselves.

Before this intensified spectaculisation of Giving epitomised by Band Aid, Comic Relief, etc.etc., the tendency was for people to give money – but not to make a song and dance about it. Few made much about giving to the miners, for instance – it was just something that had to be done [17]. But since then, the tendency has been to make a big moral thing about how much or often you give, people more and more feeling the need to wear their pure hearts on their designer sleeves. For most, charity is simply an instant cleansing of the soul, a redemption for the ‘sin’ of being better off than someone lower down the international hierarchy, who are seen as merely victims to be pitied, not fellow proletarians in struggle with whom one can express practical solidarity. There’s always someone worse off than yourself”just keeps the international division of labour going: on the one hand it provides ‘solace’ for those who remain passive before their own misery, on the other hand, it substitutes mutual recognition and a sense of responsibility for changing the world with mere guilt.

***********************

In anticipation of Christmas, at the end of September me and a couple of others decided to go round toy shops on a regular basis and accumulate loads of toys, using large coat pockets and bags, to be given to miners’ kids at the end of the year. This has been recounted in ‘Jenny’s Tale’ in a slightly embellished form: “He had asked smart London shops for donations to the miners’ strike and those that didn’t cough up he and his mates would rip-off blind. Mind you, even those shops that agreed also were shoplifted, but it didn’t really matter as they had more than enough in this society of raging inequality.” We certainly never asked them, as most of them were in wealthy areas and wouldn’t have given us any toys if we’d asked, and asking would have certainly made it very difficult for us to shoplift since they would have been suspicious. No – we just simply shoplited them, helped, on occasion, by others. It might have been that someone else elaborated on the story to Jenny, because, as it is, it’s fairly banal, though we helped save the Christmases of 2 pits – Kiveton and Monkwearmouth. The latter seemed largely indifferent, even when we put two nicked battery-operated fluffy rabbits that moved onto a table and set them up in a fucking position – a somewhat dour lot dominated by the Communist Party”.

Despite the image perpetuated by the media of misery for striking miners’ families at Christmas, and in particular by the well-known film Billy Elliottwhich presented the father and Billy as alone, cold, presentless and almost foodless, many if not most strikers had a good communal Christmas – and for many it was better than the usual nuclear family-round-the table watching telly, having a traditional Christmas row, with the kids complaining that they haven’t got what they wanted or wanting more…Though undoubtedly there were far less presents for the kids, the excited collective atmosphere and sense of support from others made it, for some at least ”The best Christmas I had”, ”Everyone banded together”, ”Lots of cheap wine flying about – brilliant – really good atmosphere”as various miners put it on the BBC’s 20th anniversary programme. Sure, there were always hardships, but community in struggle, even with poverty, is infinitely more enriching than the impoverishment of conspicuous consumption. And many miners stole to make up for their poverty, to make sure their kids had enough – theft as part of struggle is always simply one method amongst many of stealing back the life that’s been stolen from us. Another miner, who’d had a fight with the cops, been arrested and beaten up, said, ‘‘I got more women that Christmas than I’ve had since. Unbelievable.” At this time it wasn’t hierarchical power and money that (supposedly) was an aphrodisiac but the passion of revolt: one became attractive by asserting oneself against everything that repressed oneself. Although at that time there was a common practice of middle-class lefty women trying ‘a bit of rough’ during the strike by getting off with a miner, as they came into closer than normal contact with them through miners support groups etc., it’s hard to know whether this was the case with that guy, as it seemed the Christmas festivities at Hatfield mainly involved the locals. However we shouldn’t ignore the fact that there was added prestige at this time on the lefty scene to be seen to be shagging a striker (or a miner’s wife) – a kind of ‘donate your body to a miner’ attitude. Patronising but true.

Christmas also saw one of the few collective attacks on the NUM by striking miners. A few days before Christmas, hundreds of Durham miners (can’t remember what pit), promised £40 Christmas money by the relatively cosy officials, when given just £10 each, ransacked the whole of the Union building, looting everything that hadn’t been nailed down, including furniture.

* * * * * * * * * *

One of the lighter incidents of the strike happened about this time, though perhaps a bit later – in January: in the snow at Kiveton Park, a Chief Superintendant – Nesbit – drives up to the picket line and sees a snowman with a cop’s helmet on it. This is clearly an affront to the dignity of policemen everywhere, so he orders the other cops to get rid of it, but they can’t be persuaded – it’s too silly. So he gets in his cop car and drives full speed at it. Little does he know that the snowcop is built round a concrete post – with the obvious result of a smashed up cop car, a very undignified Mr.Nesbitt and a very happy picket line, a story that spreads, despite the snow, like wildfire and keeps strikers warm for weeks to come, and picket lines reverberate with the following song, sung to the tune of “John Brown’s Body”: “The pickets built a snowman Around a concrete post. The pickets built a snowman Around a concrete post. The pickets built a snowman Around a concrete post…But Mr.Nesbit mowed it down. Silly bugger Mr Nesbit. Silly bugger Mr Nesbit. Silly bugger Mr Nesbit…And he needs a new Range Rover Now!”.

* * * * * * * * * *

The year ended with one of the most significantly stupid statements from Peter Heathfield (NUM general secretary) and from Arthur Scargill that there would be no power cuts this winter, and that they’d never said there would be power cuts. ”I accept that if this Govenment, regardless of cost, is prepared to use substitute fuels in power stations, then with the current level of economic activity, and with a mild winter, it is probable that there will be no cuts. The Central Electricity Generating Board will survive on a wing and a prayer.” , said Heathfield, adding ”I never anticipated power cuts’‘. This was a double lie:

1. They’d both repeatedly said there would be power cuts, as did the NUM paper The Miner.

2. More importantly, there had been power cuts and there continued to be power cuts in January. Not many and not nearly enough, but significant ones neverhteless. And if the strike had continued there certainly would have been more, particularly with the blacking of international coal distribution to the UK on the cards.

At a time when, as never before or since, the pound almost reached parity with the dollar – and this solely because of capital’s fears about being defeated by the miners, one has to assume that these statements amounted to a sell-out. The point was not to be superficially upbeat about power cuts, but being so downbeat as this was deliberately demoralising. On January 15th, Edward Heath, former Tory PM, was more encouraging of the strike than Scargill and Heathfield had been two weeks previously. Referring to the collapse of sterling, he said, «People abroad are worried about a prolonged miners’ strike which is very damaging indeed.» Certainly the NUM leaders had a more demoralising effect. One wonders whether this was to give a nod to the NCB that they were worth negotiating with because they could help to deflate things or if this was just plain stupidity. But the national negotiations did start up again at this time (in 1981, the most exemplary action in Poland was the use of public loudspeakers to broadcast the negotiations going on between Solidarnosc and The State, a way of reducing the chance of a sellout, which has rarely been used as far as I know, and sadly was never used in the miners strike).

Take a look at these unpublished notes – January – February 1985 (includes repetition because they were never organised):

POWER CUTS

Those radical striking miners who find Scargill vapid and hollow have also avoided making their disgust public. This is particularly self-defeating now that Scargill has made an idiot of himself by stating that there’ll probably be no blackouts this winter and that he’d never said that there would be. Given the fact that there have been blackouts, euphemistically defined by the CEGB as “maintenance problems”, in several areas (including 2-hour blackouts in Blackpool, Sheffield, Birmingham and Bradford) and which led to Peter Walker giving express instructions to the media not to mention them – given these facts, this demoralising claim of Scargill’s amounts to doing the Government’s dirty work for it, i.e. a subtle form of “sell-out” (the only form Scargill is capable of, since if he did what the NGA did in 1983 or what Ray Buckton did in 1982 he’d immediately be forced to ask for round-the-clock police protection to save him from being strung up by the militant radical section of the miners).

Scargillites have so consistently said “Arthur’s not put a foot wrong in this dispute” – and not been answered back – that even when Scargill says such a demoralising load of bullshit like there’ll probably be no power cuts, everyone keeps quiet [18]. Up until the beginning of January, up until Scargill and Heathfield made these crass statements, the strike was virtually solid in those areas that had been on strike since the start: the drift back before Christmas was just a trickle back compared to since the New Year.[Phoenix note: this light seem like simplistic reasoning, but though undoubtedly there were other factors,the blatant contradictions of Scargill and Heathfield were definitely one of the more important ones.]

“The bigger the lie, the more it is believed” – Goebells.
It’s a banality that all news of the class struggle is heavily censored. Recently Peter Walker, Energy Minister, issued instructions to the press not to report any of the CEGB’s “maintenance problems”, as euphemism for power cuts. The only one-off report was in the Guardian of Jan.8th Outside London, places where there have been 1½ – 2½ hour power cuts include Sheffield, Bradford, Blackpool and Birmingham. Elsewhere there have been significant voltage reductions. Also reported in neither the national press norThe Minerhas been a few days of rioting in Lincolnshire, including Lincoln, Boston and Grantham (the Maggot’s birthplace)…Wood Green (Class War’s 2nd front), Paddington White City…Newman’s 52 riots. All the time – silence, no news. In the information society: no information. Censorship – mass censorship. The ruling show has to present – to the miners as well as to other people who have no control over their own lives – the image of being in control, of the fatality and lack of effectiveness of all resistance to the inevitable 1000 year reign of Market Forces.

One of the most obvious, yet least talked about, of the reasons for the post-New Year mass scabbing is Scargill and Heathfields’ statements after Christmas that there would be no blackouts. In view of the fact that there had been 2-hour blackouts in Birmingham, Bradford, Sheffield, Blackpool and lots of other places before Christmas, and given that since then there have been 2-hour blackouts in several parts of North and East London (notably on January 7th), several blackouts between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. in other parts of the country, and vast voltage reductions everywhere, including fog-ridden motorways – given all this and more these statements by the bureaucrats seem, at first glance, utterly stupid. Particularly when one discovers that about 10 days before Christmas Peter Walker instructed the media not to mention any of the CEGB’s euphemistically labelled “maintenance problems”, a silence from the rulers’ media which seems to have also inflicted the NUM paper The Miner. In their January 17th issue, they attacked the media for being silent about the relation between the falling pound and the miner’s strike, but nowhere do they attack it for silence on the power cuts, nor for Peter Walker’s demand for this silence. This puts the NUM in the position of being more defeatist, if it’s possible, than even The Guardian (of ruling mediocrity), which at least prints the occasional letter mentioning power cuts (probably because of pressure from radical printers). Power cuts would clearly have been one of the most vital morale boosts to the strike: yet Scargill & Heathfield have done the opposite – done the government’s dirty work for it. Certainly a subtle sell-out: it passes the buck for the strike’s failure to the base, who have been starved and demoralised back to work, which, of course cannot be blamed on the bureaucrats, who, after all, just take their marching orders from the rank and file. But why this demoralisation? What are the ulterior motives?

Although these particular notes end there, the only satisfactory answer is that the NUM leadership, despite needing the continuation of a large coal industry to maintain their own organisation and their roles and, amongst those higher up, their careers, had had enough of the strike which was becoming increasingly difficult to control. Sure, they didn’t want to overtly sell it out. But they probably felt it would be a Pyrrhic victory for Thatcher (given the plunging pound & the government’s forced re-organisation of it’s vastly over-spent budget) and that the Labour Party was bound to come back to power and slow the coal industry’s decline. At the same time we shouldn’t forget that incompetence and personal fears are oft-ignored reasons for the acts of those in power and were probably a factor in Heathfield’s and Scargill’s attitudes. Towards the end of November ’84 I was at some miners’ benefit where a guy from South Wales, a Communist Party member, got up and said something like “If we don’t get some good power cuts soon, if we don’t win this strike over the next couple of months, then we’re going to have to give up…” As we shall see, this is basically what happened, and with the manipulations of the C.P. at the centre of the bitter end.

On ‘When Britain Went To War,’ Peter Walker claimed that enough coal stocks had been horded to last two years. But according to the Guardian at the time of the strike (18/1/85)“some power stations are nearly out of fuel, although imports of coal during 1984 were double what they were in previous years.” Now one might think that this could have been just disinformation by some Lefty journalist, but if that’s the case, why did Walker see the need to instruct the press not to mention ‘maintenance problems’? In today’s atmosphere, the most outright lies about the present go pretty much uncontested: one about the past wasn’t even noticed. The aim is to present the State and the Economy as immutable, an all-powerful system that has never been threatened and therefore never can be in the future and that such ideas as a social movement to undermine this power are purely pathetic utopian dreaming.

At the beginning of ’85 I wrote to an NUM branch secretary in Derbyshire (Peter Elliott of Warsop Main) I was in touch with, about what seemed to me the beginnings of a ‘subtle sell-out’. I have no copy of this letter, but I do have the reply:

I agree with your analysis of the subtle sell-out: other events (full executive on the negotiations) seem to confirm that fact.

I am at this moment organising inN.Derbyshire,and hoping to broaden the base, a challenge to the Stalinist bureaucratic approach now more openly being pursued by the NUM not only at national but at regional level. Our objectives are simple.

1. Which is fundamental give the running of the dispute where it should be, with the rank and file.
2. Intensify our activities in seeking support by more physical approaches to other rank & file trade unionists, by-passing the leadership.
3. Incorporate into our struggle unemployed workers, who until now we have largely ignored.
I am having tremendous pressure put on me by our local leaders and there is the beginning of a character assasination programme being levelled against me, so I don’t know how far we will get – however, the fight goes on….”
– letter from a Derby branch official, Jan 1985.

One can see here a bit of one of the contradictions of low level NUM officials: he wanted to “ the running of the dispute where it should be, with the rank and file”. If this meant giving the access to files of contacts, the use of money, use of phones, vans and all the union equipment to all those who wanted it to advance the struggle – fine. But the idea of “giving” still implies a certain paternalism – it was really up to the ‘rank and file’ to take it, maybe by means of mass assemblies…Someone who is in an authority role, however minor such a role is, can only refuse such a role if he is to help develop a social movement. But this didn’t happen. The guy was an ok decent guy – he had none of the pretensions of some of the more heavily ‘political’ branch secretaries – the CP fellow travellers, or those in lefty organisations, and was rather contemptuous of those who sought media attention or those who’d developed theirrhetoric at Ruskin College”. But, after the strike, when I mentioned I’d liked the attack on Mick McGahey, he came to the old Stalinist’s defence, saying he’d always admired him. Branch delegates and secretaries like this guy have played a dual role of leader-representative and initiator equal to the rest of the strikers – but because the strikers looked up to them and looked to them, as specialists, to provide the means for the struggle, the inevitable consequences were confusion and demoralisation, regardless of their radical intentions, regardless of their integrity. So in the end, this branch secretary was, as a representatative, reduced to justifying the scabs (the February ones) – whilst his wife, out of a fury that came from not being trapped in having to represent (though also she knew she wouldn’t have to work with these scabs), had refused to share the same bed as him, and he had to sleep on the couch. It was a measure of his honesty that, despite having only seen him twice before, he told me that. Whilst nowadays, people are often so closed that they hardly ever reveal anything personal, in those days, this was fairly common. On the other hand, in a struggle against this world, the central question is not that this or that person is nice or not, is endearingly ‘honest’ about their lives or not, but whether they are able to honestly confront their petrified ideas and the hierarchical roles that maintain them so as to advance the struggle, so as to break through the contradictions that stop the advancement of this struggle. But that would also require some confrontation coming from those lower in the hierarchy, those who looked up to these officials.

****

On 17th January there was a one-day national rail strike against the intimidatory policies of Brutish Rail against train drivers blacking coal trains. Ray Buckton, ASLEF leaders said, “If it hadn’t been official, there would have been chaos because there’s a tremendous amount of feeling about this.” Which says everything that needs to be said about official strikes: for the unions, chaos is when workers are not controlled by them.
Thatcher was well known for saying, “We are not going to intervene in the coal dispute.” (Thatcher, Scottish Tory Conference, 11/5/84.) But “documents leaked to the Daily Mirror show that the Government had intervened – by persuading British Rail to settle with its workers, then in dispute, in order to prevent the two unions joining forces.” (Thatcher’s Reign – A Bad Case of the Blues, McFadyean & Renn, 1984).]

***

On the same day as the national train strike Paul Foot of the SWP carried a short article about the miners strike in the Daily Mirror, recounting an interesting story where a miner had been beaten up, his kids intimidated and his car attacked, and that the media had decended on him, assuming he was a ‘working miner’ (euphemism for ‘scab’), but , as soon as they heard he was a striker, a victim of the scabs’ violence, they retreated and ignored the whole event. But the main part of his column was a long article about how cleaners in the House of Commons were giving fake names to avoid tax and national insurance, whilst he complained that the DHSS and Inland Revenue knew all about it but did nothing about it, moaning that nobody was prosecuted. Normally these middle class investigative journalists who claim to be the vanguard of the working class at least feign sympathy for the poor but clearly here Paul Foot, the epitome of this tendency, let his guard slip: he always led such a respectable life that for him cheating the State, even one run by the Tories he claimed to oppose, was considered an outrage. But this was typical of most of the two-faced utterly out-of-touch Left (and even a few on the ultra-Left), and this disconnectedness from basic class instincts made them express all their moralistic qualms about attacks on scabs. Foot always maintained good relations with his ex-public school chums at Private Eye till the end of his days. In the Daily Mirror article, Foot showed in a crude form the aim of all investigative left-wing journalistic revelations: to get the State to rationalise the anomalies and incongruities in the organisation of the market economy which the State manages, and in so doing, putting even greater constraints on the dispossessed (often as the pay-off for a few reforms). Recently (March 2005) Foot was uncritically praised in a memorial service in Sheffield by Arthur Scargill and Bridget Bell of Women Against Pit Closures. During his lifetime, workers in struggle were a little less enthusiastic about this professional wordsmith. In the early 70s, after a big confrontation with the cops at the Fine Tubes factory in Plymouth, where workers had been on strike for sometime, Foot, introduced as the NUJ journalist-of-the-year, got up at a meeting and descibed how “we fought and beat the police this morning”. He was greeted with jeers and catcalls because everyone knew that this ‘we’ was a lie – the lame Foot had remained on the other side of the road observing the fight from a safe distance.

paul foot

Foot, of course, was part of the popular front of the miners strike which included the Bishop of Durham, Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Beatrix Campbell, etc.etc. – who always banalised and ideologised the struggle. Using their hierarchical roles (through which they tried to repress class violence against the rape of our lives) they publicly denounced the Police State; yet they only showed what a good liberal country we live in. Britain’s so tolerant: anything can be said about anything – and just as long as this “freedom” of speech without consequences practically submits to all the logic of hierarchical power, of the market economy, it can flourish as an example of how ‘democratic” our misery is, how unlike a Police State it is.

* * *


In the last two months of the strike, in the face of increasing scabbing, initially exaggerated by the NCB, there were constant schizophrenic swings amongst the most active section of the strikers and those who supported them, between a terrible desperate demoralisation (encouraged even by some of those who apparently supported the miners [19]) and loads of plans to kick-start the strike up again. Everywhere the most active strikers were saying
“I hope it never ends”. These desires, however, were overwhelmed by the forces of the old world, and our hesitations won out in the end. For example, Peter Elliott’s plans never came to anything – and nor did mine. Read once again, my notes written at the time:

It is true that the miners strike has not collapsed into the apathy, impotent depression and demoralising despair (at least not with any consistency), which has been so persistently predicted over the last year or so. But unless this vital battle attempts some further qualitative leaps, it will. It’s not enough for the hit squads to continue doing what they’re doing, however audacious and exciting such activity is.

For the past year, the miners strike has been manic-depressive: sometimes it has almost collapsed into clichéd predictability, apathy, impotent depression, humiliating demoralisation and unarmed despair; at other times, it has violently exploded into unpredictable qualitative leaps on all fronts of daily life! Of course, from the start, the pundits – and many who thought of themselves as revolutionaries – were predicting the strike’s imminent collapse. But the fact that it’s lasted so long – and has revealed so much about class society in Britain and the world – isn’t enough to keep it going. There is a steady return to scabbing, however much the NUM has to maintain a front that everything’s ok. And the next few weeks could see over 50% of the strike scabbing. Certainly, whilst those who are wholeheartedly involved in the strike and support it practically only see things in terms of what they’re going to do “when the strike’s over” (e.g. complete our text on the strike; get into permanent sabotage of the pits; produce the best video on the strike) there will be no way to stop a massive uncontested humiliation which the end of the strike would imply. Indeed, the most practical of the post-strike hypotheses (e.g. consistent sabotage of the pits) the State has also anticipated and will already be working out ways of getting information in order to fill the massive extra prison space which by 1986 they will have generously provided for. As for those hoping to produce their particular view of the strike – in text or video form – after the strike, even if their aim is to push the class struggle further by drawing out some of the less banal aspects of their experience of the strike, this reflective task is as necessary now to deepen the movement as it will be when and if the strike ends. If the strike ends? Well, it’s still a bit of far-fetched optimism to hope that a significant minority of class conscious proletarians here and throughout the world could provoke a revolution within 2 years, which would see the “end” of the strike: realistically, even if the strike officially ends, there will still be vast numbers who will be signing themselves off sick, which miners can do themselves, without a doctors’ certificate, for up to 8 weeks (in Shirebrook, 50% of the scabs are doing this, and the figures must be pretty high elsewhere also).

Scabs 

“A scab is still a scab” – Kiveton miner, late Jan. ‘85

Another vital change in the battleground has been the change in attitude from the early “super-scabs” to the present plain “scabs”. Even after dozens of pits throughout the country exploded against the rats who grabbed at the NCB bribe last November, and against their guard-dogs in the police force and the media, Scargill was condemning violence “away from the picket lines” and saying that these scabs would be forgiven if they came out again after Christmas (some have been stop-go on strike and scabbing from November to today).

Leftists like the SWP were already excusing those who returned to work at the start of December, and even came out saying that maybe the attacks on the scabs had been a bad tactic and really shouldn’t have happened.

Whilst some Leftists complained that attacks on scabs were contrary to trade unionist tradition, the sub-Leninist pseudo-revolutionary ideologues of the ICC went one better than the Left – this clique displayed its uniquely delirious sectarianism by condemning the attacks on scabs for being within the ideological traditions of trade unionism (by which abstract criteria, one could condemn all strikes!). What all these groups have in common is the verbiage of struggle (and of a definition of struggle that supports their own notion of themselves) but when some real concrete violent necessities and realities about this struggle are expressed and exposed they run away shitting in their pants. It’s always been a violent minority that initiates struggle, that has gone through the pain/fear barrier and acted concretely to extend their struggle. No innocent bystanders! The attacks on scabs, on or away from the picket lines, might have horrified the spectators whom these self-proclaimed vanguards hoped to win over – but they also certainly did put off many miners who had remained spectators of the strike from returning to work. That the majority of striking miners had remained largely spectators of the strike was/is both their fault, the active strikers’ fault and the NUM’s.

In the 1983 NGA Warrington battle, or with Ray Buckton and the 1982 ASLEF strike, or NUPE in the ’82 health strike, the bureaucrats consistently passed the buck to the TUC – a convenient scapegoat for the sell-out. This time, however, the miners haven’t let Scargill pass the buck to the bureaucrats – for too large a minority this con would be shown to be too obviously convenient for him and clearly unnecessary – so Scargill has had to subtly undermine the resistance of the strikers from within, to scapegoat the drift-back to work he in the first place had helped to encourage. Why did he say nothing to condemn GMBATU’s withdrawal of its daily £1000 donation to the miners, which, significantly, was also made right after Christmas?

Before Christmas, giving to the miners strike was Today’s Good Deed. Since Christmas it’s more like “Let’s get the nuisances back to work as quick as possible: the longer this thing continues, the more my position is in the balance”.

Nevertheless, the State and its servile guard-dogs in the media, with the help of the pseudo-opposition in the NUM hierarchy & the Labour Party etc., will do their best to make sure that this ‘defeat’ goes out with a whimper, not with a bang, that this ‘defeat’ is made to seem like not just a partial defeat of one battle, but a permanent defeat. The mass depression and demoralisation the State will do their best to inflict on you and me here – & even in other countries – can only be avenged by the sort of explosion of anger that spread through the mining villages from July onwards – and this time not just against scabs & cops, but also the Union scabs, the NUM cops. Of course, this rage won’t come from thin air, but, above all, from an understanding of the subtle compromises & lies perpetuated by Scargill, Heathfield, Jack Taylor & co; it’ll come from all those striking miners & sympathisers who, up till now, have been relatively private about their critiques of the NUM hierarchy.

* * * * * * *

However, instead of producing these notes in publishable form (I’ve transcribed them above into a more coherent form from almost illegible – even to myself – scrawls on different scraps of paper), which would have been more useful, I produced the following, still interesting, leaflet for a miners’ demo, January ’85, in Islington, North London, where Tony Benn was the main speaker:

TONY BENN – ANOTHER LEFT-WING CAPITALIST PIG

It is the Government’s policy to phase out subsidies to the nationalised industries. In line with this the Government hope that the coal industry will be able to operate without the need for assistance, apart from the social grants”

(27/11/75, Hansard, Vol.901, Col.1062) (Tony Benn)

What is needed is a viable industry to get the coal out of the ground. And to get it out at competitive prices.”

(Colliery Guardian, May 1976) (Tony Benn)

I am reluctant to engage in the House in discussion of individual pits, for the reason that I have given, namely, that there is a proper procedure and that where necessary, the NUM can come to me and I can raise the matter with the NCB… I have never found the NUM in any way unreasonable where closures are necessary because of exhaustion or because pits are out of line in economic terms.” (Hansard, Vol 959, Col. 1015.) (Tony Benn)

Like most social movements that concretely contest symptoms of the misery of capitalist development the miners’ strike is an amalgamation of contradictory aspirations, a popular front which contains within it both counter-revolutionary and revolutionary perspectives. One of the more evident aspects of this contradiction is the way in which miners, and their supporters, have remained silent about what they know of some of the hypocrisies of the bureaucrats who claim to support them. Under the illusion that they have to present an image of unity in order to win, striking miners have swallowed their pride and allowed 2-faced leaders to speak “on their behalf’ with hardly a hint of opposition. Tony Benn is merely one of the most well-known of these scum whose aim is to get back into positions of power over the backs of the miners.

In 1977, that benignly patronising grey-faced ponce, Tony Benn, as Minister of Energy, collaborated with Joe Gormley, former NUM boss, in manipulating the notoriously divisive bonus scheme for the Notts, South Derbyshire and other areas, a scheme that had been decisively rejected by a majority of the miners in a ballot.

Also in 1977, Benn did his best to crush the unofficial power workers’ strike, which had courageously risked one of the few attacks on the Labour Government’s Social Contract (otherwise known as the Social Con-trick), and which was even organised, by some of the workers at the end of the strike, against the divide and rule tactics of the ‘militant’ shop stewards. Benn had even made contingency plans to call the army in to do the work of the power workers, but he’d found this unnecessary when the so-called ‘militant’ stewards accepted a deal worked out with Benn and the CEGB bosses which created a skill hierarchy (status, ‘responsibility’ and small differentials) as the ‘reward’ for weakened solidarity.

Another one of Benn’s achievements as Energy Minister was the closure of more pits than Thatcher has managed, and all justified with the same monetarist logic that he now denounces the Tories for. Moreover, despite the Left’s attack on the development of nuclear power, the brutality of the cops and the threatened use of the army to put down strikes, when Benn was part of the Cabinet, he armed the Atomic Energy Authority, participated in the government’s brutal use of cops to put down the Notting Hill carnival riots of 1976 and 1977 and never raised a squeak in protest against the use of troops in the firemen’s strike of ’77 – ’78.

Leftists say “Aaaah – but Tony’s criticised a lot of his past …he is capable of change, you know.” Though it might well be that he’s conveniently changed his image now that he’s not part of a government (i.e. not directly helping to organise the commodity economy and the crushing of resistance to it), a minimal (very minimal) basis for accepting a person has changed is that they criticize precise past behaviour and resolve not to put themselves in a position where they could repeat this behaviour (even then, it would be stupid to judge them on their intentions, rather than their concrete acts). But even by these insufficient criteria Benn has not changed: he still aspires to a position of hierarchical power, still seeks the limelight of the TV studios, and hasn’t even criticized any of these precise previous acts. Far from it: in his present criticism of monetarism, he has stated, “The BBC, the police and the army are uneconomic. But we all need these. The same goes for coal.” Who is this “we” that needs the BBC (Bourgeois Brainwashing Creeps) and the rabid guard-dogs of wage slavery and the market economy (the filth and the army)? Certainly not the masses of dispossessed individuals! The “we” he is referring to, of course, are politicians and other organizers of our misery, whether in right-wing or left-wing guises. It’s about time we gave them despair and paranoia! The anti-hierarchical violence of some of the miners, and the rioters of 1981 before them, have shown us the way. Bosses left, right and centre must disappearforever.

P.S. Scargill constantly claims that the agreed ‘Plan for Coal’ makes no mention of closing uneconomic pits. This is bollocks. In fact, in ’74 the NUM and its Labour allies committed themselves to the “inevitable” closure of pits “as their useful economic reserves of coal are depleted”.

January 19
Produced by: B.M.Combustion, London WC1N 3XX

tony bennSir Anthony Wedgwood-Benn

For some reason, this leaflet was not particularly liked by Benn’s admirers. I was profoundly upset when one nice middle class lady politely handed the leaflet back. Some said it must be a fascist leaflet – the B.M. obviously stood for British Movement (for those who don’t know, it stands for British Monomarks, a company that works like an anonymous post box, receiving mail that you then pick up from them for a small fee). Stalin and his supporters likewise characterised any opposition from the left of Stalinism as “fascist”.

* * * * * * *


One can see in the intitially absurd exaggerations of the amount of miners scabbing and the eventual result this encouraged of a genuine flood of scabbing the way lies and ideology function in the ruling world. What starts off as an aim is presented as a fact and thus creates the conditions for its own realisation – that is, unless more forcefully contested. The crude manipulation of lies by the Hungarian Stalinist ruling class in the early 50s, for example, didn’t prevent these lies being contested by an explosion of social contestion in ’56. But modern capitalism is far more subtle in its demoralisation, functioning more on the basis of utter isolation, making you think you’re the only one who sees through the lies, when usually there are a considerable minority who do but who haven’t yet found the means to make their doubts count.

The following were amongst my notes for this period:

When bully-girl Thatcher challenged Scargill to condemn the violent “bully-boys” amongst the striking miners she knew perfectly well that, despite the fact that Scargill would have to remain silent, in the past Scargill has condemned the necessary violence of miners against the hierarchical violence of the State. With this ploy she could present the Union bureaucracy as responsible for the most autonomous aspects of this strike, the violent initiatives outside Union control. The rulers’ show – the ruling spectacle – needs to determine the image of what constitutes an opposition to it in order to confuse the more radical opposition to the system. At the same time it’s a way of getting the bureaucrats, ever-anxious about their image, to police the violence of their members (after all, in the past, such violence has been turned against the Leftist manipulators as well as the ruling ones). This confusion of the Union with class violence mirrors the confusion of the mass of the miners – and other proletarians also – a confusion maintained by the fear of the more rebellious miners to explicitly go against the hypocrisy of the unions, and the misery of union ideology. That Dave Douglass, an NUM official, can distribute ‘Class War’ (journal of that gang of anarcho-social democrats who seek, by violent means, a society based on equality of bullshit: self-styled opportunists who aim to “win people over” to their gang and use writing as a way of presenting a public image – much like a record is for a rock star – conveniently forgetting that analysis is as vital a weapon as a Molotov, that the class war won’t be won without it) is illustrative of how schizophrenic the proletariat is at the moment – on the one hand desperately angry, on the other hand, having no perspective outside of reforming what is, even if such reforms require violence. Going beyond such a limit requires not only going beyond the limitations imposed by the Unions, which also means recognising that solidarity from other sectors of the working class will best be developed from an attack on the bureaucrats, but also going beyond the humiliating defence of jobs which is how the Union officials can dominate the argument.

The following unpublished notes were written by the author of this text during the period January and February:

Notes written in the last two months of the strike
(there’s no precise chronological order to these notes – all of them were undated – but I’ve put them roughly in the order they were probably written, written often in a scrawl which was almost incomprehensible to even me)

“There’ve been so many ways that the NUM hasn’t helped during the strike – like when they took the minibus away and had nothing to do with our communal kitchens – that it’s made me see that we shouldn’t ever look to the unions for help. We should organise ourselves outside them, without them, against them…” – Fitzwilliam miner’s wife.

What can be done during the strike: blackouts/2nd front/ picketing of police stations. Different meetings: form and content. Demos over collections. Graffiti and damage. Involvement of striker-spectators (what objective and subjective/inter-subjective obstacles to involvement?). Limitations on transport to London for collections.

Lack of permanently revocable strike committees.

The striker as spectator – what they miss out on.

Getting their picket-line money.

Few texts have helped theoretically prepare the rebellious minority of miners and sympathiser for “making the best of a bad situation – the compromise necessitated by circumstances out of our control” – i.e. the sell-out (as far as I know, the following English language pamphlets are the only lucid undogmatic support over the last 9 months for the most radical aspects of the strike which have also tried to prepare, with any consistency and honesty, the rebellious miners for the cop-out to come: Workers Playtime, June 1984; Miner Conflicts July 1984; The Positive and the Negative Sept. ’84; A Communist Effort December ’84; and, to a certain extent, Wildcat Jan/Feb 1985).

“Don’t follow leaders” – son of Scottish striking miner.

“They’re all just in it for themselves” – Yorkshire miner.

“Scargill would make a better boss than MacGregor” – another Yorkshire miner.

“If he sells us out – we’ll kill him” – miners everywhere.

Dear Hack Arselickers,

Thanks for everything!

Even the most ‘oppositional’ of you are essential for the perpetuation of our rule. Once again we thank you! If it wasn’t for your excellent job of presenting the ordinary-slave-in-the-street with the false choices necessary to maintain his passivity our skins wouldn’t even be worth the paper their printed on. Once again we thank you! Though we shit on you like all the rest, even the most ‘crusading’ of you only complain about the exhorbitant price of the turds. Most of you – resigned cynics, alcoholics, moralists – are happily content to churn out yet another tear-jerking photo of the sewer we protect. Once again – we thank you!

Like us, you have learnt the only lesson the World Market teaches: contempt and the apparent ‘success’ of contempt. Once again we thank you!
All your ‘scandals’, ‘exposes’ and ‘insights’ into ‘bad’ authorities and ‘bad’ commodities reveal nothing more than your need to perpetuate a self-image of your benevolence and indispensability – defended with implicit ideologies of the ‘good’ authority and the ‘good’ commodity. That’s just what we need. Once again let us thank you for all your services rendered in the maintenance of submissive conditions. With a sincerity that us full-time liars can only muster for their fellow professionals, once again we thank you.

You remain, sirs, our obedient servants ~
The Capitalist Class.

“After the strike’s over most of us’ll probably just collapse exhausted – until one day we’ll just have to start up and get organizing again…We’ve had support from everyone – people from right across the world – and if there’s any people in the world, anywhere, who need our help in the future, we’ll try, through our action groups, to do our best to help them.” – Striking miner’s wife, S.Yorks.

Chapter 18:

The End of the Strike – March 1985

It was the saddest day of my life. I cried openly…”

Notts striker, the day he returned to work, March 5th.

The end of the strike was narrowly voted for at a delegate conference at the TUC’s HQ ‘Congress House’ in London, most of the Communist Party delegates pushing for this end – a vote of 98 to 91. Their decision to end the strike by this time if there was no victory in sight was probably already taken in November ’84. There was talk amongst miners of CP manipulations amongst the delegates at a South Wales pit (Maerdy, I think) and at Easington, where the vote to return was narrow, and tipped the balance in favour of going back (sadly, I’ve forgotten the precise content of these manipulations). Many miners, a sizeable minority including most of the Kent and Scottish pits, wanted to continue – but it clearly would have meant an intensification in the level of violence and a development away from and against the NUM. In Kent the idea of continuing for a year longer was often voiced, though this might have been because they were suffering the least financial hardship – being close to the rich pickings of London gave them an edge over other areas.

The decision to call off the strike was announced by Scargill outside Congress House, after which the crowd shouted “We’re not going back!We’re not going back!” several times as Scargil was abused by some of his former worshippers as a “sell-out’. As the delegates left the building, they were jostled and pushed and insulted with the words “Scum, scabs, traitors”. Scargill himself said “I feel great” whilst thousands of striking miners fell into a deep depression. The NUM demanded an orderly return to work with marching bands and “heads held up high”, which one miner called “about the most stupid thing in the strike” considering everybody felt defeated. The NUM rag “The Miner” even openly denied it had been a defeat, whilst many sacked miners were, for several months after the strike, denied the most basic State benefit because officially the dispute had not been settled. Immediately following the return to work, Kent miners picketted out the Yorkshire pits, but this didn’t last.

In the days following the end of the strike, Kinnock was pelted with tomatoes, Willis was pelted with sticks and bottles and Mick McGahey, Scotland’s Stalinist manipulator, got badly beaten up. Meanwhile, scabs were attacked and there were lots of little disputes, including one by ex-scabs because one of them had been sacked for insulting a scab whilst he was on strike (pathetic!).

All the following were written by me at the end of the strike:

Last draft but one (don’t have a copy of the final draft) to John and Jenny Dennis – my first ever letter to them:

Dear John, Dear Jenny,

I felt awkward about phoning you back after Monday night – facts, details, information about precisely how you’d been humiliated wasn’t what I wanted to hear – and not able to offer any practical help made feel as impotent as you must have felt and I’m not very good at dealing with such a bitter, or any highly-charged, situation over the ‘phone. What could I say after such a sickening let-down – the “Putting-A-Brave-Face-On-Defeat” Show reproduced for the cameras in pits up and down the country (the “tactical withdrawal” lies pushed by sections of the Union designed to console you and to let them off the hook with their “good intentions”). After your carefully controlled telephone voice, Jenny, and your disgusted “It’s sick” brief comment, John, what could I say? (Sunday afternoon at Congress House was agony – but at least I could insult the cops and journalists and shove, push and stamp on the toes of the bureaucrats to release some of my bitterness). What could I say when I knew you – like almost all the most active strikers and supporters – must feel bitterly let down – let down by those you thought were closest to you, and maybe even – like me – feeling useless yourselves, let down by your own failures..? The NUM wants to treat defeat in the battle like a good sportsman in a cricket match who hates to be thought of as a bad loser. Really useful. “I feel terrific” said Arthur Scargill on Sunday night. I phoned a Nottingham striker I’d been arrested with in London in summer and he said that Tuesday was the saddest day of his life. The best comment I heard was from a Kent miner on the Monday, who said “First day back I’ll bop the foreman, get sent to the manager’s office for my cards, bop him one and tell him, ‘I never wanted to work in your fucking industry in the first place.’ ” – easier said than done for most, but it’s a desire which probably many striking miners share, no? But defiance has got to be more strategic than this – it offers nothing more than a personally satisfying – and very short-lived – “solution”.

What could I say? Since I felt battered and dragged along by something out of my control for 4 days, I knew it must have been immeasurably more demoralizing for you – and I felt useless, that anything I could say would just be platitudes to cheer you up, empty encouragement. Even now, having reached my 7th draft of writing to you, and feeling self-conscious, I end up feeling clumsy, not knowing…

After that Sunday 3rd March, it’s felt like a cold wall has descended – though the NUM and the Left are trying to do their best to deny it. They hope that in despair everyone will seek an image of unity to hide this despair rather than confront this despair openly, autonomously. Sure, it’s not a 1926, not the definitive demoralisation the rulers hoped it to be – but it’s been a big kick in the balls, and it’ll need something more than the rhetoric of struggle and wishful-thinking to turn bitter tears to sweet revenge (helping to bring about a situation where the likes of Jack Taylor need the same degree of police protection as those scabs in Aberdare are getting might be a good starting point – but I doubt if you’d get the idea passed at a delegate conference).

On the Wednesday rate-capping march it was as if nothing had happened – unaffected by reality the WRP were still chanting “Organise the General Strike!” and all the rest of the Left were happy to see how many people had turned up – but it was as shallow as the Fun Fair – light years from Sunday February 24th. They even stopped a miners’ banner leading the march because “the strike’s over”. The only good bit was the attack on Willis (which I missed).

Anyway, I feel like I’ve already pushed my gloomy “line” too much when all I wanted to do was say “hi” and to send this video and “The Fraud’s Prayer” for what they’re worth and say I’ll see you soon.

My love to Matthew & Sarah –

Nick

I wrote the following disorganised series of disjointed and somewhat repetitive reflections after the strike but never organised or published them:

It would be miserable if the miner’s strike became reduced simply to a series of jokes to cheer up our friends or anecdotes and paper clippings stored up to impress our radioactive grandchildren. Or worse – reduced to a series of Channel 4 programmes. The question “What did you do in the miners’ strike?” must pass on to the more important question “What didn’t you do in the miner’s strike? What could you have done better?”. This is not some sado-masochistic game aimed to get you whip yourself for your failures – rather an incitement to each person reading this to reflect on and practically subvert their own complacency in a struggle which has been both excitingly daring and predictably demoralizing. Of course, those who remained spectators of the strike must firstly subvert their own passivity before they could even begin to undertake this task of self-reflection and decision: they have no concrete experience of their own to reflect on, no unrealized projects to test out, no hesitations to be corrected, no critiques to be expressed because for them the strike, like the whole of this alien world, was something to be merely commented on. Having given up their point of view, and the risk involved in acting on it, their comments are about as significant as a Catholic priest’s ideas on cunnilingus. What distinguishes the daring initiatives of the fighting minority of miners and their supporters from the majority who mostly relied on the wishful thinking of “We shall win” and simply watched the strike with peaceful picketing and collecting, is that the former have, at least, concrete contradictions – successes and failures – to reflect on and correct, whilst those who mostly remained spectators can only attribute the defeat of the strike to external factors.

Most of those spectators submissive to the dominant ideas of the Tories or right-wing Labour were those who felt most threatened by the actions of people prepared to fight, those resentful miseries who complained that collections were illegal or said “Get back to work, you lazy sods”: it’ll take a world revolution to shake these moralists and cynics out of their sneers and smirks, and even then they’ll probably end up as willing cannon-fodder for some tyrant or other.

The defeat of the miners has been a massive kick in the balls. Most people with any sense and sensitivity feel pretty depressed, partly demoralised – almost defeated…but not quite. There’s no easy way to pick ourselves up – none of the half-true platitudes (list) or practical attitudes that go with them (list) get us one step closer to actually trying to make sure we can correct our mistakes next time a mass revolutionary movement shakes up our despondent lives.

It’s easy to say “We’ve lost the battle but the war goes on” but unless fundamentals are ruthlessly faced up to and attacked practically, demoralisation and cynicism will fester…

On Monday 4th March in Hatfield a big majority voted to continue striking until the withdrawal of sackings (to call it an “amnesty” implies acceptance that “insubordination and insurrection” – even when they have been pursued by some of the sacked miners – are something to be forgiven…)

From the point of view of the ruling show the end of the strike has meant that the half-open cell door of capitalist misery has been shut tight and been locked: a cold wall of impossibility has descended on the struggle to abolish humiliation, hierarchy and classes. The “inevitable” fate we all have to accept – the relentless progress of the mad logic of market forces – has meant a big persistent kick in the balls for the miners – a warning to all those who resist, all those who struggle for their dignity and self-respect and the solidarity and the recognition they discover in each other in struggle.

So many words have been spilt on the miners strike, yet very few have tried to grapple honestly with its contradictions and few have, ultimately, been very useful in extending the struggle nor, in any way, clear. This is largely because the people writing the texts have generally just wanted to confirm points of view they’d had for a long time rather than make more daring breaks with the past: most of these writers don’t want to critically reflect on their own participation, and that of their friends’, in the movement of the last year and its relation to the whole movement. They don’t want to begin by recognising their successes and sense of discovery over the last year – and correcting their own failures, hesitations, weaknesses and dogmatic presuppositions, as a necessary step in recommencing the struggle against this sick world, this nest of complex and often subtle lies and insults. Many of the non-miners run to the security of I was right all along”and I told you so”, whilst patronisingly adding that the miners were ‘magnificent’ and an example to us all. Whilst what the miners inspired – the contacts, the solidarity and the concrete community in struggle – over the last year, was and could still be truly exciting, the bitter and not entirely predictable end to the strike demands something more than banalities if the dispossessed are to avoid the horrors of :

  1. Taking the desperation out on those who could be our best friends;

  2. Taking it out on ourselves (alcoholism, heroin addiction, religion, obsessions with hobbies and sports)

  3. Finding some “hope’ in the Labour Party or some other political organisation which will supposedly save us (all of which are recognised as false exits from facing the immensity of our tasks by a significantly angry minority of workers and unemployed.)

  4. Impotent cynicism – “It’s all pointless”, “We’re all doomed!”, “Just filling in time until death”.

  5. Violent anti-State fantasies without any risky practical consequence.

  6. Ideological platitudes – “In revolution you lose every battle but the last” or “We’ll be back” or “They’re going to wish we were back on strike” or “…” (fill in your own consolation)…Uselessly ‘defiant’ half-truths. All this is just pointless ‘hope’ – abstract, impotent wishful-thinking, subtle ways of not reflecting, in the present, on the strengths and weakness, the successes and failures,, of the past year, as part of renewing our only practical hope – the creative violence of the masses against different bars of the cage. Hope is like a barred window: no matter how large it is, you still remain caged up…

One of the things the miners strike has shown is the arrogantly simplistic and political nature of all those who judge individuals – and themselves – purely according to their ideas: those who really – concretely – revolt and want the world to make a revolution have at least not tried to make pedagogical interventionist-type critiques based on easy “analyses” suitable for all forms of revolt (“ready-made theory”) and have not judged others on their failure to appreciate this so-called “theory”. To attack the Unions is necessary, but it can only begin by concretely questioning and doubting first of all ones own complicity with more diffuse and subtle forms of social relations of which Unions are first and foremost an institutionalised legal form. The first and foremost alienation to be attacked is the extent to which your own point of view is colonised by your submission to the point of view of a collectivity which may merely be in your head, but more usually exists in the unwritten rules of behaviour which maintain the petrification of your circle of friends.

If the dispossessed are to get beyond consolations that numb the pain whilst enabling us to adapt to it, precise questions are going to have to be examined and answered. If writing has any use, the writer must first of all reject the teacher mentality that wants to preach the class the correct pat analysis which could have been churned out, with minor adaptations, over a year or over 10 years ago. Facing the facts means clarifying the confusion that has been the inevitable result of the various organisations competing for the adherence, hearts, minds, souls – but above all, the readership (and possible membership) of the miners and other proletarians; those who justify these sects, big and small, inevitably develop interests above and independent of practical solidarity.

One of the most likely, but least useful, effects of a demoralised movement now would be to compensate for the desolate sense of despondency the ruling world wishes to drain people with, to compensate for this with hopeful wishful-thinking, steeped in impotently abstract half-truths:

In revolution we lose every battle but the last” or Well, we can’t expect miracles of ourselves, anymore than of the rest of the working class” or We’ll be back!”

– all of which are half-true ways of not reflecting, in the present, on the strengths & weaknesses, the successes and failures, of the past year, as part of renewing the creative violence of the masses against differing bars of the cage. Hope is the leash of submission, which is why so many workers are thinking of joining the Labour Party, which is already devising patronising lessons of the strike, which basically come down to criticising any aspect of the strike that may have limited its appeal to the masses of spectators/voters. Inspired by such political organisations, hope springs eternally external: it always consoles you with an abstract wish for some solution outside of your own, and other people’s, organised initiatives. Rejecting autonomy for hope stops the rebels from asking themselves some basic concrete questions. Like, what can be learnt now about the strike since Christmas, & since November? Why, since the New Year, did the drift-back start to become a flood?

There are four essential, and very general, reasons:

1. The weight of the old world (survival miseries inflicted by the class enemy; dominant ideology in the media; intimidation by the courts and the cops; resigned indifference on the part of the majority of the mass of spectators, etc.) all of which, despite appearances, have been supported by:

2. The pseudo-opposition of the Left and the Union hierarchies, including the NUM hierarchy, all of which, despite appearances, have both encouraged & been encouraged by:


3.The inertia and passivity of the majority of striking miners, most of whom have depended on the initiatives of the active minority, and who now are betraying the minority who have supported them in the past[20].

4. The limitations of the real movement itself, limitations which can certainly be partly corrected, and immediately. It is now vital for the active minority (and all those who support them) – the miners and supporters who have made the most audacious initiatives in this strike by by-passing some of the controls of the various Union bureaucrats – to be explicit about their opposition to the ambiguities of the leaders and hierarchs, however “radical” their rhetoric.

In the above I mentioned Hatfield, where Dave Douglass was branch secretary:

The entrenchment of the NUM’s equivalent of a shop steward role has led this guy to do quite a few TV appearances and snippets on the radio. Doubtless it feeds his ego even to mention him so much in this text. But he is a significant actor in the spectacle of trade unionism and the contradictions between expressing, representing and repressing the class struggle inherent in trade unionism which his (and other people’s) history expresses [21]. It’s not just personal [22]. At the end of the strike, during a radio programme with Peter Walker, the Tory Energy Minister, DD phoned up, giving his name, and saying something like When we go back down the pits we’ll cause so much trouble the gaffers’ll wish we were back out on strike.”, though it was probably with a bit of swearing and more oomph to it than that – DD’s a good performer. The practice of this guy at the end of the strike was a little bit different. When Tony Clegg, the one sacked miner at Hatfield, sacked for attacking a scab, mounted a one-man picket line after the strike was officially over, no-one crossed it. But the majority, apparently, wanted to go to work. DD took Tony Clegg aside, had a little private word with him, and said his picket was embarassing the members, that they felt awkward about him and could he see his way to stopping picketting…Despite his resentment about this moral pressure, and the fact that it was all private, he stopped picketting so his fellow former strikers could return to work. He had lost everything – his work, his wife, his house and his mates…DD relished the role, probably wanting a nice orderly return to work but then so did a majority by this time: again it would have taken the (fairly sizeable) minority to re-gain the initative at a moment when there were stirrings to re-start the strike. DD is certainly just one factor in this equation – the majority of miners had no desire to wholeheartedly support Tony Clegg and preferred to hide behind DD in conveying the general consensus to him. DD, like many branch officials and shop stewards, clearly participated in some of the radical aspects of the strike – especially the hit squads. His participation was neither more nor less than the rest of this active section of strikers. But because of his greater access to contacts, phones, equipment, etc. he came to be seen by many as an indispensable leader. As with many shop stewards when there’s a downturn in any particular struggle, DD’s privileged position (in terms of his access to stuff) helped repress any possiblity of the strike starting up again: in Yorkshire, Kent and Scotland, there were moves to try to get the strike to continue, though it really would have taken a lot of risks, violence and innovative activity to kick-start it back to life again. DD preferred the rhetoric of struggle to helping to do anything. This is not to blame him: the initiative always remains with those who have no professional leadership status. But it does show how far he had retreated from his position in 1972 when his affirmation of the role of branch official was pretty muted – [A miner]prefers the open direct representation of ‘we are all leaders’. Even in the case of a working miner who is a branch official, yes – they can see he is a worker, but that would be no call to get excited…the branch officer can be regarded as distant, even after a year in office… the worker can trust the man who works next to him, even if he is wary of giving him too much power”. But then, in his uncritical respect for Scargill, he’d retreated far further than what he’d had to say about full-time officials in ’72: little leaders require bigger leaders to justify themselves and hope that they too can command hierarchical respect (and so on up and down the ladder).You never know where you are with a branch officia – they have such contradictory aspirations, wanting to struggle yet wanting their role in the struggle to be indispensable and therefore unable to distanciate themselves from the union and see what is needed to advance the struggle.

The fact that many Hatfield miners would mouth off to DD doesn’t mean that such a hierarchical respect wasn’t maintained: the respect was there in the lack of open access to all the resources – a democracy of “Complain all you want but for the moment I control”

Basically, branch officials, regardless of their own personal integrity, are trapped within the representative role of their authority position: they will. swim with the tide, generally going where the majority goes, showing about as much consistency and coherence as an alcoholic on speed. The main thing that holds them together is a certain more or less crass leftism, which at this time was linked to a shallow manouvering image of the combatative working class role utterly compatable with anarcho-roles. When it comes to practical initiatives, rare is the branch official so unconcerned about maintaining their status as to step out of line with what the – mostly passive – majority want of them. And if they do – it’s not because of their position as branch official. In the end doing somethingis started by a minority, whether that includes branch officials or not (and it rarely does). If a branch official is looked to as a benevolent authority, someone who can protect workers against vicious management fingering, it’s also indicative of the extent to which workers become dependant on them, even up to the point of coming to them with all their problems, treating them like a social worker, when, likely as not, these officials will also have a fucked-up daily life they’re desperate to talk about, but which their specialist position forces them to bottle up.

It is vital to analyse:

Trade Unionisms’ image and practice and trade union ideology as a whole.

How the NUM has functioned in the miners strike – e.g. how the branch delegates and secretaries have played a dual role of leader-representative and initiator equal to the rest of the lads, whose inevitable consequences have been confusion and demoralisation, regardless of their radical intentions.

How Scargill, despite the disgust and repressed anger of a minority of miners and supporters, has remained with his “pure” image in tact (despite innumerable, largely unspoken, retreats).

The leadership con.

History of Trade Unionism here.

How defending an organisation disorganises real solidarity.

How the NUM – like all organisations – is an entity greater than the individuals which comprise it, like the Labour Party or the Nation or the Economy.

Looking for fixed causes’ fixating a pre-defined perspective vis a vis the union….

Most people have changed – one way or the other – through this strike…

You never know where you are with a branch official…contradictory aspirations

Brave face on failure? Or a lying cover-up of surrender.

Guilt-money: not real solidarity.

over never posterSmall A3 size poster – with far too grandiose wishful thinking – which I  put out shortly  after the strike

Chapter 19:

The period up to the Present

29/4/85: Strike begins at South Kirby:

Counter-Information wrote:

South Kirby miners walked out immediately when management victimised and sacked yet another miner on 29th April. The strike soon spread to other pits in the Barnsley area.

But the Yorkshire NUM leaders went all out to sabotage the struggle, and the miners returned to work on May 9th with the men still sacked.

A local miner sent us the following information:

At the time of writing South Kirby pit walked out on strike after yet another man was sacked for alleged intimidation of a scab. This now brings the total number of men sacked to 5 all for alleged offences of this nature. The word SCAB is now good enough to get any man sacked. Combine this with a manager who thinks he’s God Almighty and we have now reached the stage of true “Capitalist democracy”. To use the manager’s own words when one of the sacked men said he could produce 20 people to say he had not done anything, “Bring them and I’ll sack them as well.”

This action is due directly to the hard line attitude of the management, under strict guidelines from “Mack the knife”. Well, they are in for a fucking shock if they think we are going to tolerate the bastard much longer and it is abgout time other people started to take the same stand. All conscious elements should now stand up and say fuck off you bastards, we want every sacked man back in this pit or you won’t get another cobble of coal cut”.

Another local miner described how the strike started with a spontaneous walkout. At the beginning the action came completely from the ‘rank and file’. There were no union officials involved.

But then the NUM moved in, saying the didn’t want too much disruption. Holding back the struggle as usual, the union officials issued orders restricting picketing. They said that miners could only picket pits that had already pledged support, that pickets should be limited to 6, that the sacked mem shouldn’t picket. Nevertheless, the SKirby and Ferrymoor Ridding’s pickets met with success – solidarity action was taken at Royston, Dodsworth and Haughton Main collieries and at the Shafton workshops miners were ringing up all round Yorkshire asking for pickets to come to their pits.

A S.Kirby miner told us that he and many other strikers believed that the strike shouldn’t only be for reinstatement for the sacked men but that the aims of the year-long struggle should be taken up again.

However, on 7th May the Yorkshire area executive of the NUM refused to make the strike official and urged that everyone return to work, and ordered the withdrawal of flying pickets. Though South Kirby and Ferrymoor Ridding’s strikers stayed out for another day, there wasn’t the confidence to defy the union and continue the strike until victory.

It’s no good relying on support from the Trades Union structure. They’re now part of the whole system of exploitation. We must expect that they will try and stop struggles, or contain them. From the start, struggles much be controlled directly by those involved. Union official should be treated with the same contempt as management or any other boss.” DD reacted furiously against Counter-Information for this article, attacking especially the idea that the NUM was somehow separate from the miners themselves, a theme he has constantly reiterated for the past 20 years or more. One assumes his ability to intimidate many anarchists into inarticulate silence is not just due to the hangover of an anarcho-syndicalist ideology amongst anarchos but also due to his abiloity to mouth an agressive rhetorical working class style which, like dust in the eyes, stops people looking the facts in the face. The following extracts from a letter written by a South Kirby miner published in Wildcat, June/July ’85 shows, as if it needed to be illustrated yet again, that indeed the NUM was not simply a reflection of the miners: “The strike started at South Kirkby colliery where the night shift walked out in support of 2 lads that were sacked that morning. What was inspiring…was that it was totally spontaneous…We stood up for the first time since we crawled back…We organised the picket of the day shift against the wishes of the branch officials, with great success; the scabs didn’t cross our picket line. We have 26 at S.Kirkby and only 1 of them scabbed this time. Even the scab who was allegedly intimidated by the 2 lads who were sacked didn’t cross. This amazing achievement can only be put down to the spontaneity in which it began. Ignoring bad advice from the officials and going for the throat while anger is rife and siezing support. An emergency branch meeting was called by the officials which only reaffirmed strike action making it official. From here on in it was doomed. The officials had no zest for the insurrection that had taken place. We were told after voting unanimously to strike –

a) There would be no pickets sent out until the next executive meeting took place. This was to make our offficial strike “OFFICIAL”.

b) Any pickets that were dispatched would need an officially stamped letter signed by the secretary.

c) Any picketting that may take place will be by “INVITATION ONLY” meaning that any pit would have had to have a meeting stating that they wanted pickets and would respect our line. …

We argued our right to seek support immediately and deploy pickets but were beaten by the bureaucrats. We stayed gounded for the rest of the week . You may be asking why we did not continue in the manner that we had been so successful at before. And the answer is simply this –

a) our official strike was not officially “OFFICIAL”.

b) That without our officially stamped lettter stating that we were official we were not official pickets.

c) We had to be officially invited (HA!).

Without the letter from the secretary we were rendered harmless, and wide open for the “troops in blue” to seize our liberty. We were not able to go out picketting until after our next branch meeting. Where after a very lukewarm speech by our president we were made to vote again on whether to strike…This was Sunday (5 May) following Monday’s magnificent walkout. We reaffirmed strike action – 290 to strike, 150 against. We were then told our officials had been to 6 branches and got official invitations for pickets. They stressed only these 6 branches would be picketted and only 6 letters would be endorsed. There was a sizeable rush to sign up for picketting and get off the subs bench. Letters would be given out on Bank Holiday Monday at our HQ after teams of 6 had been targetted for each shift. When we arrived for our letters we were told we didn’t need them and that we should go only where we were sent. We did, and we had success in picketting out our targets. Whilst we were out picketting we tuned to the car radio for news of disruption at the other pits.

To our utter amazement three branches that had pledged support had not been mentioned. After picketting out our target we returned to HQ to see what had gone wrong. I asked our secretary why the pits had not been affected. He told me that they had not been picketted. I asked why and he said, “I do not apologise for the lack of organisation. We have achieved what was necessary – the NCB knows we are here”

I told him it was a fucking utter crime to slap support in the face in this manner. That was deliberate sabotage right from the word “official”!…

That night Tuesday, as we made ready to go and picket out our target’s night shift , a news flash (5.45) informed us that the strike had been called off. The executive had put paid to our hopes of fighting for our sacked miners all over this country. All our mates in jail. And all our futures.”

But the defeat of these miners was not as definitive as this guy felt at the time, aothough in terms of resistance at work, it may well have been a virtually definitive defeat for that period at least. However, few months later, on the 24th October ’85, over 60 youths attacked cops in Mill Lane, South Kirkby. Mr.Clarke, S.Kirby NUM secretary played the usual role of soft cop, as to be expected from any official. “I succeeded in getting the lads off the street and asked the police to keep a low profile…For some reason, police are out in large numbers and if we are going to get back to normal, this is not the method. I do not condone violence at any time…there could be a riot and some innocent people could get hurt…I want trouble on the streets to stop. I don’t want to see an ‘us and them’ situation…” he said revealingly. In the next couple of months, S. Kirby became a no-go area for the cops, with any cop vehicles travelling around getting stoned and being forced to retreat.

This was part of the post-strike atmosphere at the time – for example, 13th July ’85 cops were attacked by a large crowd at a fairground in the mining village of Knottingley, Yorkshire. And on 27th July ’85 over 200 people battled with cops in Wombwell, S.Yorks, after an attempted arrest following the bricking of a police car. And on 4th Novemeber ’85 crowds of teenagers rampaged though the streets of the Yorkshire pit village of Askern, near Doncaster, laying siege to the police station and hurling stones, milk bottles and fireworks, breaking many cop shop windows.

The autumn of 1985 saw the renewal of a whole range of riots throughout Britain, most notably in Handsworth (Birmingham), Brixton (S.London) and Tottenham. These were not as friendly as the riots of ’81 in part because of the sense of despair following the defeated miners – they included a couple of rapes and other anti-social acts, but they expressed also a sense of rising community far more so than in recent riots, which have often had racist, and even psychotic, aspects.

The class struggle in the 80s continued with a degree of autonomy in the form of riots, strikes, prison riots etc. such that the defeat of the miners was not seen as especially important, as a defining moment which, up till now at least, was the moment that the balance of class forces tipped significantly towards the ruling class. It was more during the Major years, when the pits were decimated, and the advent of Blair that retrospectively the miners strike could be seen this way. The apparent enormity of the Poll Tax movement, for example, made it seem that it was possible for people to get together and seriously subvert the State on as profound a scale as any previous social movement- after all, it had played a significant part in getting rid of Thatcher. But what was ignored was how incredibly easy it was to refuse to pay your poll tax. It didn’t really involve much of a struggle at all (the riots, outside the town halls and in the West End of London, were something else) – it just involved you giving a false name or fiddling in some way. What was not noticed was that, despite this apparent ease of not paying, amongst miners who had been very militant and subversive up to and beyond the Great Strike, the fight had often gone out of them: many of the best paid their poll tax, fearful of the consequences of not paying.

When the pit closure programme was announced by Heseltine in autumn 1992 there were spontaneous walk-outs in virtually all the coalfields, and a few sympathy strikes by other workers (e.g. a wildcat by some nuclear power workers) and a big mid-week demonstration, brought together at very short notice, which sadly had none of the rage of the Poll Tax demos of two years previously (there had been three Major events in the intervening years: Thatcher, sacked partly over Poll Tax, had been replaced by Major; there’d been the brutal manipulation of the masses by the mass murder of the Gulf War; and the Tories had won – against all expectations – their fourth electoral victory in a row) . The decimation of the pits was ‘opposed’ by a majority of the media (this time playing the friend all the better to hammer them with silence later) and even many Tories – including Winston Churchill, the grandson of the bastard who shot down Welsh miners before the First World War. But the pits were closed not with a bang but a whimper: each individual pit was subject to a review procedure, there was a media blackout and each pit was closed one by one in isolation. The film Brass Tacks illustrates this defeat: oh how the culture industry love tragedies – a real victory of proletarians in struggle would be beyond them, partly because it would have to take on the culture industry. And of course, the content of the film reveals the circular tautological nature of culture: in the form of a musically exquisite brass band, culture is seen as the consolation for, the one redeeming result of, tragic defeat (with a very different – partly feminist, partly gay liberationist – content, there’s a similar underlying thread in the film Billy Elliott, most of which takes place during the miners strike; and also one could mention The Full Monty, with its backdrop of the decimation of the steel industry, in this vein – the culture in this instance involving humiliating yourself as a male stripper).

The atmosphere over last fifteen years since Poll Tax has been one of progressive defeat. For example, the Liverpool dockers, despite, for example, the innovation of their connecting with Reclaim the Streets, were predictably defeated under Major and Blair – the chickens of the limitations of their insufficiently independent actions during the miners strike having come home to roost. And since then we’ve had the fuel protests and the kids movement during the Iraqi war, none of which got out of their marginality, despite the excellence of much of their spirit and initiative. There has been no geographical proliferation or extension over time of any of the struggles that have taken place since Poll Tax, and there’s a suffocating stench of utter submission involving, amongst other things, taking it out on those closest to you rather than the development of a struggle to confront our real enemies.

Chapter 20:

Now & The Future

…Atmosphere in pit villages…media images of strike…

…gang psychosis of daily life…suicide…comparisons with France…

”And then 20 years later gazing at all the things around me just seemed to redouble my anguish and crying. Such great hopes and 20 years later still experiencing everywhere the desolation of what the state did to us. All around the scars of defeat: the near elimination of the mining community and here I was driving through a landscape – my landscape – where no pit winding gear was anywhere to be seen, except as a half wheel, sculpture-like marker, on the cross roads through Kiveton Park or a few buildings left, like the clockhouse or the pit head baths, because English Heritage had deemed them significant architectural monuments and far more important than discarded miners. Alas, our small community pit villages had become opened up, not to friends, but to new Barrett type estates appearing everywhere, unveiled as “executive suites” where strangers, mostly middle income personnel from all the UK, with no feel for our area’s past history moved in. These new dormitory estates and towns redefined the area . The point is: once I knew everybody I passed on the way to the local shop, their family history, their parents, grand parents and relatives, now – almost it seemed overnight – you no longer know a lot of the people you pass in the street and it’s getting to the point you feel a total alien on your own stomping ground. And then to cap it all now the whole of the …pit site is in the process of redevelopment and the amazing wildlife that flourished on the spoil heaps and which we all delighted in, has been engulfed by an umbrella group under the dubious name of Yorkshire Forward. Grimly turning my head away I cannot look at the small army of dumper trucks smoothing everything out for some Design and Build business park. Sure, Yorkshire Forward proclaim their bogus ecological sensitivity when all they are doing is sending nature backwards!…

As I thought of the human consequences of this brutal defeat for all of us who had the temerity to take on the state and very nearly win, it was obvious the end result of the strike would be a far more total devastation. And what an aftermath: I personally know of many families that fell apart and disintegrated. And then all the agonies, the alcoholism, heroin, anti-depressants, the many suicides, and the increasing illness both psychological and physical – often at one and the same time – this defeat entailed. Reviving memories of post strike hardship as money dried up as jobs became scarcer, I thought of a family I knew who only a week previously in late February 2004 had finally managed to pay off the debts incurred during the year long uprising. I also knew their particular case was no exception. I thought of the countless, untold sufferings that rained down on the vast majority of miners, fine people who fighting for their community also spoke for others, reaching out to those who wanted the same, faced with the horrible world now beginning to take shape, a world of isolation, loss and pathological behaviour then making its debut on the world stage….Here am I daily confronting wrecked lives and an often suicidal unhappiness and yet called a misery guts because I am unable to believe in a media/designer mythology of progress and nicey, nicey, lives I am now supposedly sufficiently programmed to want and proclaim. Here I am full of a dark disposition and forebodings yet also full of a yearning for a real joyous, passionate life!” – Jenny’s Tale

Media images 20 years after: mining the history of a Strike

The last two years have seen several TV dramas dealing with the Miners Strike. Twenty years after its existence, the media now feels able to play a more impartial role, giving a fairer, more truthful and sympathetic view of the strike, the real political motives behind it and the dirty tricks used to win it. The media was inevitably a blatantly biased tool of the State throughout the strike, but, as there is so little struggle of a similar nature at present, the ruling class and its media now feel it sufficiently quiet on the social and industrial front to deal with this decisive struggle more truthfully. Such truthfullness doesn’t, however, extend to showing the lies and manipulations of the media in helping defeat the miners. As an essential part of this omission, no significant informative lessons or reflections of a useful practical nature are taken from the defeat and applied in the present. Well, what else can be expected of the media?

The presentation is obviously a shallow one – little more than historical nostalgia. The miners’ story is portrayed almost as an anthropology lesson; the sad (but perhaps necessary in the course of evolution) story of the destruction of a tribe or species (or were they more self-destructive, like lemmings?). As dead as the dodo. The event is ripe for scriptwriters’ milking of its human drama; the passion of the mining community’s commitment and solidarity, the tragedy of defeat, but the retaining of dignity and defiance etc. Even when presented in a semi-soap opera form, one can still be moved and angered by the reminder of these qualities twenty miserable years on, when the significance of the defeat is clear in the consequences we suffer today. The wider class struggle never recovered from the miners defeat and declined from then on – the level of strikes has only in recent years revived a little and riots of any significance or quality are rare.

This decline and the lessons to be learned for the present are not even the questions being asked by these productions. But perhaps this recognition is, even in its tepid media form, an attempt, consciously or not, to note the significance of an event that asked the most fundamental questions of how this society would function, how the wealth created would be divided. Even a ‘reformist’ victory for the miners would have been a serious defeat for the whole Thatcherite restructuring project. The rest of Europe, having avoided such a decisive class conflict, is only now catching up in an accelerating way with the UK. Major changes to industrial relations, job security and conditions, big cuts in the benefit system with a more disciplinarian approach to unemployment, cruder stratefication of education factories, etc.

For some it is seen as a sign of the weakness of the class struggle in the UK that there was little visible practical commemoration of the anniversary of the Strike apart from, maybe, the blowing up of a police van with a huge firework in Goldthorpe, near Barnsley, the former Yorkshire pit village on May 25th 2004. Certainly, the defeat it ushered in is still being lived and, certainly, only a social movement of a similar scale could begin to avenge that defeat. But anniversaries are fairly artificial events. The 10th anniversary of the strike, so close to the brutal shut-down of the pits in 1992/3 received virtually no media attention for fear that it might cause trouble – but the 20th has been an occasion to churn out loads of programmes and articles because it is safely past. However, we shouldn’t be too simplistic about anniversaries: we must distinguish between the dominant spectacularisation of anniversaries of uprisings and genuine self–organised events of real movements. For example, annual anniversaries of the Paris Commune etc. were, in the 1980s and before, real popular celebrations in Iran and Kurdish areas. Despite their leftist associations, they are probably symptoms of a living culture of struggle in many places – even if not in the, in many ways exceptional, UK. In the 19th century there were many meetings, lectures and demos to commemorate anniversaries of past struggles – this was part of the culture of the international workers movement.

Historically the most significant ‘anniversary’ of a mass social movement was the 50th anniversary of the Paris Commune which was ‘celebrated’ by an even more significant uprising in Kronstadt against the Bolsheviks – but this uprising had nothing to do with evoking the memory of the Paris Commune – it was just a coincidence. But then, is your birthday a moment where you decide to renew your struggle against alienation? This society evokes anniversaries in a seemingly arbitrary fashion: the 20th and 25th anniversary of the end of World War II weren’t celebrated at all by the media or by the military – but the 40th – just after the miners strike – became such a useful method of evoking an ideology of progress from the savage ravages of fascism, and of repressing class antagonism, that the 50th and 60th have also been celebrated. But real communities of real struggle rarely have much to do with anniversaries, though occasionally anniversaries have been an excuse for them.

* * * * * *

The fascism of everyday life

One thing that stops people even thinking of beginning again is the extent to which daily life is overwhelmed by crazy behaviour on an unprecedented scale, a result of the implosion following the repression of the explosions against this society. The most obvious symptom of this is what might be called the “fascism of everyday life”, which is very far from classical fascism.

For example, nowadays there are an increasingly significant number of 15 year olds (mainly male) whose idea of rebellion is to scare the shit out of their elders by playing around with handguns or other ways of being psychotic. There have always been psychos in the working class, but in situations of some margin of independent community psychosis was more tamed, and often evaporated pretty quick in times of mass struggle. Known paedophiles (though not those in the family circle) would get a thumping and that would be the end of it: none of these crazy murders of kids to cover up their sick ‘sexuality’ or these crazy vigilante groups attacking some crazy guy who just touched a kid (when often worse abuses of kids are quite legal). Highly tense blokes, over-jumpy explosive minefields of stress, would direct their aggression towards the right enemy – the cops etc.- in situations of class conflict, their generous human side also bursting through to those on their side. But nowadays madness manifests itself in switches from power-mad notions of individualist dignity to a vicious identification with a gang, a nation, a family, an ethnic grouping or whatever.

There have always been gangs, scenes, cliques, milieus, Organisations, but in the past, in the 60s, 70s, 80s, these scenes had a far greater openness and fluidity between them. After all, there was a margin of freedom that had been won by 150 years or more of class struggle. In that margin separate from the immediate exigencies of work and money you could at least breathe a bit. You could find some ways to experiment independent of external authority. And you could recognise others because you and they were fighting for yourselves against the forces of external authority. The miners strike, for example, embraced people from all over – it was a crossroad of connections from squatting scenes, blacks, politicos, suspicions having been broken down in the practice of solidarity. But in the last ten years there’s been an atmosphere of being mopped up after a rout. The full implications of this rout have only sunk in, like a rock to the bottom of your soul, in the past 5 years or so: the mad world of the commodity is driving everyone mad.

Traditionally the gang leader is whoever impresses their peers with an ability to strike terror indiscriminately, indiscriminate apart from giving “rewards” to the loyal gang members. But nowadays, this hierarchical loyalty, which didn’t only assume a crude economic form, but had a harking back to a more moral, feudal, economy, and provided some, admittedly submissive, desire for community, nowadays even this is increasingly temporary. For example, along with an increase in scabbing there has been an increase in people grassing. This is not just due to an increasingly narrow petty malicious vindictiveness. But also to other factors: crack and money-madness destroying everything.

In this epoch individualism manifests itself as a pointless and self-destructive battle of egos. But most young individuals don’t see this search for some dream of immediate dignity in putting down others, as self-destructive. Having been so pushed into an “everyone for themselves alone” mentality which cannot see that being for yourself also means being for others, a mentality utterly determined by the economy which divides as it rules, the young proletarian has no margin of experiment outside of hierarchical power relations: pushed into being trapped in the family unit (nowadays, the economy has virtually forbidden leaving home at 21, let alone 16, for increasing amounts of proletarians, unlike in the 70s), a cage without a movement that would begin to make sense of the whole thing and which would seem like an exit from these separate cages, it’s hardly surprising that young people walk around either in an utterly depressed, jumpy, touchy, semi-suicidal state wracked with murderous fantasies. The psychotic gang mentality provides them with a false exit from the suicidal feelings and a realisation of the murderous ones. “Where are the parents?”, cry the State and the neighbours. Highly stressed by over-work (unprecedented at least since the 1920s), arguments, stuck in soothing seductive consumption suitable for all tastes, stuck in the all-pervasive fog of indifference, no time for the kids and no community to share the burden of looking after them. Not the same as it was in the 30s – because then there was some street life. Even with the domination of the streets by cars which developed in the 60s, 70s and 80s, there was working class street life, especially with the mass unemployment of the 80s. But now everyone is indoors, with virtual space provided by computers and TV. The invasion of our lives by a very sinister spectacle of contempt for everything and everyone nurtures the fascistic individualist authoritarian mentality so so far from classical fascism. It’s a fascism without unity – everyone their own Hitler. This is the real victory of Thatchism: a daily life in which the false choices of ignorant liberalism not understanding why people resort to Asbos and reactionary slap-an-Asbo-on-anything-that-moves mentality dominate the argument in such a way as to make things constantly worse, to reinforce the very madness that stops people organising against crackheads as well as the State.

* * * * *

Suicide is painless

Not surprisingly, there’s mass depression, a semi-suicidal gripping onto the edge of life that is driving millions, probably billions, to bad restless nights and tired tiring days. Everywhere people feel defeated – often at the simplest level (in their friendships, for example). Admitting defeat is not necessarily the same as resignation. Admitting defeat is not necessarily the same as accepting defeat as an inevitability. Accepting defeat doesn’t help: in fact, it can only help intensify suicidal and/or psychotically murderous feelings. Admitting defeat, however, should mean a recognition of what has happened, a recognition of reality which is a necessary basis for any consideration of a future attack on this brutal money terrorist reality.

We waver between the semi-suicidal exhaustion that defeat brings and the dream of some future total revolt. Hasn’t it always been the case for the survivors (the vast majority)? – after Spartacus, after the Paris Commune, after Kronstadt.? Probably not, for the most part, in the case of the Commune and Spartacus: the will to self-destruction is borne not just out of the impotence but out of a profound sense of isolation following defeat, a sense arising not merely from the feeling that destroying hierarchical power is an impossibility but above all from the lack of a communal consciousness that alienation is social (the rise of Stalin, however, was accompanied by a big increase in suicides, particularly amongst those who had placed their faith in the Bolsheviks).

Why be so morbid? Surely one cannot hope to inspire revolt if one talks about these desperate feelings. And yet not acknowledging them, and trying to uncover their material bases in the all-pervasive alienation of the Economy and its images makes people even more isolated in these feelings. These feelings are everywhere not admitted in the rulers’ overwhelming show of the possibility of happiness exclusively within the production and consumption of this society; these feelings are everywhere considered to be solely your fault, an aberration.

In the mid-1960s a revolutionary of that time said, “The will to live is a political decision”. We can see now that the project of destroying political social relations, the only political decision ever worth making, was effectively defeated – at least in the immediate epoch – in the mid-to-late 80s. Which is why the victory of political decisions over the will to live has never been so great – just look at the whole post-9/11 world. The intensification of political-economic power and of hierarchy at every level of life (in your relationships also, dear reader), in every part of the world has reduced the will to live to the will to survival. And mere survival makes death seem like a release, the ‘freedom’ of nothingness, the end to pain. In the end, the will to mere survival makes suicide seem a possibility.

Nowadays the etiquette is not to admit defeat and to sneer at those who readily admit to being defeated (for the moment). Isn’t this a bit like the way Christianity, after Spartacus, turned the crucifix, and the reality of defeat, into a symbol of defiance, but not the reality. The American comedian Lenny Bruce said that if Christ had existed today, everyone would be walking around with little electric chairs round their neck. Nowadays almost everyone hides their defeat beneath an ideology of defiance every bit as perverse as wearing an electric chair round your neck. This basic self-pride undoubtedly expresses a real desire to subvert daily life in some way but unless people recognise how far defeated they are, and the history of this defeat, this real desire can only be symbolic, as symbolic as an electric chair round your neck. Or an @narchist T-shirt.

What are we getting at here? It’s no use pretending we’re taking charge of even a little bit of our lives, or at least of the struggle to transform our lives, if all we’re doing is hiding from ourselves how much we have been forced to repress and how much insanity we are having to put up with. This goes as much for those who consider themselves revolutionary as for anyone else. The inability to attack the present, the only time revolt and revolutions are ever made, makes some people, whose significance is mainly in their heads, adopt a timeless theory borrowed from the specialists of the past which they hope one day the working class will realise the eternal truth of. But all the clichés about creating a global human community beyond the economy etc. can’t hide an essential retreat into an almost transcendental abstraction as cosily safe, and as dogmatic, as hope in its religious forms. To really re-discover the revolutionary energy of the past one must first despair of this world. One must face the enormity of the results of defeat and the history of why past struggles were defeated. The path to the end of alienation follows the straight and narrow path of alienation itself.

* * * * *

A Tale Of Two Countries

So what now? The UK seems like a hopeless case and many are looking for some social salvation from movements in other parts of the world – frighteningly though, it’s other parts of the world which look like they’re in the process of becoming as much a hopeless case as the UK. In France, for instance, the rush to Thatcherite/Blairite social policies is assumed to be something which will be contested satisfactorally, that the French spirit of revolt, having lasted over 200 years, can never be extinguished. But what this displays is not only a kind of French nationalism in a radical guise, but also an ignorance of the history of the UK, a country many French radicals assume was always pretty acquiescent, when in fact 200 years of history have been wiped out, or are in the process of being wiped out, on an unprecedented scale and to such an extent that nobody knows how to begin again.

France has one advantage over the UK in terms of comparing consciousness between the two countries when being confronted with a brutal enemy. Trade Unionism as an ideology amongst the working class is far weaker there than it is in the UK . Sadly, though, there are an increasing amount of young people who seem to have illusions in the younger Trade Unions with a more ‘radical ‘ history, such as Sud, which was involved in the co-ordinations, and even in the more modernised versions of the old unions, the CGT and the CFDT, which have also been involved in co-ordinations.

This was less so in 1986-7. In France Goes Off The Rails”(1987) me and some other people wrote – in relation to a strike wave on the railways initiated by a train driver distributing a petition committing workers to a strike if their demands weren’t met:

“On a more general level, there are, of course, many differences between the movement in the U.K. and that in France. One of the main reasons French railway workers could write and talk so well about what they were doing was because they were making a breakthrough the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the U.K. Put simply – they no longer gave a fuck about the union and weren’t worried about being frank about it. The ideology of trade unionism is much stronger in the U.K. than in France. Now only about 1 in 6 French workers are unionised, but in the U.K., it’s still the overwhelming majority (although it’s declining numerically) and, indeed, it tends to be the more rebellious proletarians who see Trade Unions as some support for their struggles – though this too is changing. But although there is an elemental movement in the U.K. – one that is almost without a name, and hardly even considers itself as a movement at all, but which appears in brilliant flashes like some Northern Aurora – it also, in off periods, falls uneasily back into the semblance of a tradition. Thus, in response to the stark facts that non-unionists in the French railway workers strike played a big part, the response of an independantly-minded U.K. worker, glad to see it happening across the Channel, was glibly, “How can they strike if they’re not in the union?” . An opened mouth, jaw-dropping reply quickly changed the initial reflex comment into a ready acceptance that non-unionists were able to initiate strike action as much as those in a union. Nevertheless, this incident does point to a major obstacle in the U.K. now: how to clearly break from the trade union form of struggle and not just endlessly criticise it in fascinating detail, ringing the changes on changing the union! From changing the personnel at the top ( election of leftist bureaucrats, etc.) to changing the rule book or the union structure to trying to make the officials be paid no more than the average wage of those they represent to more control by delegate conferences or particular mandated committees and so on and so on. In fact it’s been the unions – and trade unionist ideology in the practice of the working class – that have kept Thatcher in power. For example, NUPE playing off COHSE and vice versa in the health workers’ strike. Or ASLEF telling its’ members to cross NUR picket lines, and vice versa, in the ’82 post-Falklands rail strikes. The miners strike is more complicated – but, without going deeper into details, it’s clear that trade unionism was a vital limitation & weakness of that remarkable explosive struggle. Undoubtedly, in the heat of practice, the union baggage is often pushed aside and ignored, but only to be slipped in sideways when it seems pragmatic to do so. Thus, even in wildcat actions, the smokescreen of unionism (“This strike is official” when it very much isn’t, etc.) keeps making an appearance and it squeezes perception of struggle (which matters, too) into an outmoded shell which stops others connecting and catching on. Oh for the day when employed proles in the U.K. will be as forthright as the French railway workers in the long and difficult task of emancipating themselves from the trade union form.”

This is still one of the essential problems facing working class struggle in the UK today.

20:

The miners strike of 1972 managed to get 40,000 strikers picketting for every day of the 6 week strike. In part it was because this strike almost completely ignored the NUM leadership, whereas the Left that had won its spurs during the ’72 strike was now in power and did everything it could to keep control, which meant, amongst other things, completely ignoring the passive majority of strikers. Sure, we don’t complain that they didn’t act like good leaders – it should have been up to the more active miners and their supporters to get these passive spectators of the strike off their couches stuck in front of the telly – but it is a significant difference which can’t simply be explained by the enormity of arrests on the picket lines compared with ’72. Wildcat Jan/Feb 1985 quotes an interesting passage in Socialist Worker, 15th September ’84: “In our pit, we pulled a few of the lads who’d been arrested together. I managed to pul 3 lads round me and we started to go round knocking on doors and had some success with hgetting people out. Then we put a resolution to the branch. It said that we should get a list of everyone’s name and address who has been arrested and can’t go out picketing and form them into recruiting teams. We should also get a list of everyone who’s been passive and decorating or doing the gardening, and then the recruiting teams could visit them. Unfortunately, this was not passed by a branch committee – you have to put a resolution through the branch committtee and this had got knocked back – but it still had to go through the correspondance. So the week before it was due to come up we went round the soup kitchen asking lads to come to the meeting. We got !%) to the branch meeting where we usually get 35. The branch president refused to admit the correspondance so I got up and asked what had happened to it. He siad he didn’t know anything about a letter and threatened to put me through a window. But the lads who had come along to the meeting spoke up for me, so the branch president asked them if they wanted to hear the letter. Much to his surprise they all shouted yes. It just showed what an advantage we have got over the officials. We work with the rank and file day in and day out, while our branch president is up there at the area office in Barnsley and is so out of touch it’s unbelievable. So I explained the case, how we must step up picketing if we are to win the strike and moved a resolution condemning the branch committee for not supporting such a necessary step. I got a big cheer for this, but they had a fall-back and ruled it out of order. I think that shows you we’ve go to know the rule book and how we’ve got to intervene.” Wildcat rightly added: “What is actually shown is that militant workers need to tear up the union rule book. Instead of waiting weeks for proposed actions to be passed through union branches, these miners should have organised the recruiting teams themselves and ignored whatever the NUM tried to do to stop them.” Although no-one like to be told what they ‘should’ have done, how else do you learn from the past – doesn’t progress always come down to doing what you didn’t do in the past.

21:

As we say elsewhere on this site, in our text Now is the Winter Of Our Discontent, the history of the seventies “shows many of the historical reasons why Trade Unionism is so embedded in what remains of the rebellious sections of the British working class. In fact, the very success of the strike wave [of the winter of discontent ’78-’79], and of the whole decade of discontent before it, a success which never broke with Trade Unionist ideology (even though it very often subverted the capitalist function of Trade Unions as a tool for integrating workers into the structures of exploitation) is one of the most important reasons for the subsequent failure of the struggles of the employed working class in the Thatcher epoch. What, at that time, was a sufficient – if limited – framework for workers to express themselves autonomously, rapidly became an obstacle to autonomy.”

22: For those who really want to be bored by my petty pedantic compulsion to reveal all, read on.
In July 1984 I sent DD the text he wrote which we’ve published here in Chapter 4 – saying “This was written by someone you once knew.” A provocation like that incited his hatred of anything connected with ‘situationists’. I ‘met’ Ian Bone in a pub after a miners strike meeting during July and he said DD had sent a 13 page reply to my “Miners Conflicts…” text. I never got this letter, and I said so to Bone, adding “Maybe it’s been taken by Special Branch”. He turned to his mates and said, “That’s what everybody says when they don’t want to reply to something.” But if his text on “Miner Conflicts…” 8 years after it was written is anything to go by, the letter was full of deceitful out-of-context quoting. In Pit Sense versus the State he virtually says I supported scabs!! -, which is part of the typical bullshit politicking which this guy needs to do to defend his deeply entrenched petrified role. The deliberate dishonesty of the creep. See footnotes to Miner Conflicts for comments on his comments. Anyway, I’m just mentioning all this petty stuff as a tedious way of “declaring an interest”. It’s up to you to decide if this has clouded my judgement or led to me over-emphasising the guy. But it’s clear that DD received an the inordinate respect during the strike from the national anarchist milieu in the UK – probably because of their common taste for demagogic rhetoric – which made a small but significant contribution for the failure to confront the NUM which was part of the failure of the strike. It should be pointed out that more local anarchist groups, such as Sheffield Anarchist, which were well aware of how the NUM acted, were generally far more critical of the union, as were many individual miners.


FOOTNOTES 

10b: If it seems excessive to talk of Jack Taylor as a Stalinist, it might seem utterly dishonest to talk of DD as one. But it’s only stylistically stretching the truth a tiny bit. Taylor agreed with Scargill’s support for the Polish State’s crackdown on the class struggle in Poland at the end of 1981 in the name of opposition to ‘Solidarity’ and the Catholic Church, as if ‘Solidarity’ was in total control of the movement (to name just one example, at a prison riot in Bydgoszcz in Poland, before the crackdown, Communist Party hacks, State Police, and Solidarity union officials joined together in defence of the walls of the prison against the townspeople who were helping prisoners escape).In ‘Pit Sense versus the State’ DD virtually does the same as Taylor and Sargill; though he rightly attacks Solidarity for not blacking the export of coal to Britain, he conveniently fails to mention that it was Jaruzelski’s government, which Scargill supported, that was doing the exporting, and attacks me for attacking Scargill’s support for the Polish State. In the crackdown on the movement in Poland in 1981 – which was not merely a crackdown on Solidarity but on the whole of the class sttruggle, 6 miners were killed by the State when they occupied their pit – but we have heard nothing about this from DD – all we have heard is support for Scargill’s support for Jaruzelski. Of course, strictly speaking Jaruzelski too was not a Stalinist, since the whole of the East European Stalinist bureacuracy were officially not Stalinist from 1956 onwards, since Stalin had been denounced by Kruschev. But let’s not get over-semantic. DD, whilst still a supporter of the old Class War group, still writes for such papers as The Leninist or The Weekly Worker, the official organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain – and criticised nothing of their politics in either paper. An anarcho-Stalinist chameleon might be a better definition of him.

11: For example, Class War openly declared itself ‘opportunist’, re-writing the definition of the word to mean “We use every opportunity to communicate our ideas”, which even in its own terms is bullshit.

12: Whilst conspiracy theories are often just a way for some journalist-cum-writer to produce a kind of real-life whodunnit mystery as part of their career, and full of endless facts leading to something that demands even more endless facts to be revealed on a final page not yet written, there is some evidence that the shot that killed Yvonne Fletcher, the cop killed, was not fired from the Libyan embassy at all, but from a window in a building next door…Funnily enough, a recent leader in The Guardian on the 20th anniversary of the end of the Great Strike (March 5th 2005) was followed, on the internet, by a list of links to relevant articles on the strike. Top of the list – no.1 – was a link to the report in April 1984 of the killing of Yvonne Fletcher. The report doesn’t mention the strike. Was the webmaster trying to tell us something? – was this a subliminal message? Or maybe MI5 want to be thought of as invicible and have connived with the Guardian to create this conspiratorial myth. See next week’s thrilling episode. Conspiracy revelations are anyway, almost always five years or more too late. Whereas unveiling what’s going on now – particularly at work/in your street/neighbourhood/ region/ bedroom may be a dangerous risk, conspiracy theories are almost always very safe…

13: Scabs sometimes cited the acceptance of money from Libya as a pretext for breaking the strike – “Taking money from someone like that was really scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as I’m concerned” (Mel Hunt, Newsweek, November 26, 1984), about as silly as attacking someone starving in the Third World for taking money from the United Nations, because it was responsible for genocide in Iraq. Scabs, like everyone who makes unnecessary compromises with this sick world, will use anything and everything to justify their sickness.

14:Kinnock must have been a little annoyed by this bit of graffiti because he mentioned it during his speech at the meeting-cum-opening of an Islington Housing Advice Centre, opposite which the graffiti had been painted – “This council are doing something practcal, unlike some theory on a wall”. Someone else said that the only “practical” building that Islington Council had done was to build 6 Housing Advice Centres.

[15] The first thing Thatcher did when she came to power was to increase the wages of cops. Like Stalin’s, her withering away of the State began with its intensification.

16: By the end of 1984, Geldof was desperate for his pop group career to lift off – “It was coming to the end of 1984 and I could see no prospect for the release of the album ‘In the Long Grass’…I went home in a state of blank resignation and switched on the television”, he wrote in his autobiography ‘Is that it?’, adding that, watching the news of the Ethiopian famine, he almost immediately saw the opportunity of the charity-business bringing big publicity. Later he did a major UK tour whose success he openly admits was entirely due to Band Aid and its dire song “Don’t they know it’s Christmas?”. Having become an honorary knight (charity begins at home, after all) he obviously had nothing but praise for the biggest mob family in the UK – the Windsors, saying how vital it was to uphold the monarchy, one of the essential ways a fundamentally brutal system gives itself an image of harmlessness .

17: An anarchist journal “Insurrection” had a charmingly original take on the collections – they condemned them as pure charity. “Today even anarchist groups are quite happily busying themselves collecting funds to help the starving workers…If the workers don’t eat there will be two positive results: the clash will quickly come to a head, and it will immediately become obvious which side the trade union leaders are on”. Strangely , this delerious idea was not something they applied to themselves – they didn’t need the threat of starvation to, apparently, fight the system and understand which side the trade union leaders were on (rumour has it that whilst they had this crap distributed in the UK they themselves were languishing on an Italian beach feeding their cocaine habit). Ideology is, above all, for others. In this case, the ideology comes from the idea that the masses are not individuals capable of determining the conditions of their existence by conscious choice, but have to be supplied by the enlightened ‘radicals’ with an external motivation – in this case, starvation – they can’t resist. By “Insurrection” ‘s logic, the starving throughout the world were constantly threatening the class system.

18: The ‘Armthorpe Tannoy’, a local rank and file newsletter for the Hatfield/Armthorpe area, attacked Walker’s announcement that there would be no power cuts without mentioning a single thing about Scargill and Heathfield saying the same thing. The submission to the collectivity, in this case the NUM, invariably produces contradictions like this: in this case the ideology is ‘unity’ against an external enemy, but such false ‘unity ‘ is the real enemy within.

19:Some, supposedly radical, people thought they were being ever so clever and provocative to say “I’m bored with the miners strike”.

 
20:

The miners strike of 1972 managed to get 40,000 strikers picketting for every day of the 6 week strike. In part it was because this strike almost completely ignored the NUM leadership, whereas the Left that had won its spurs during the ’72 strike was now in power and did everything it could to keep control, which meant, amongst other things, completely ignoring the passive majority of strikers. Sure, we don’t complain that they didn’t act like good leaders – it should have been up to the more active miners and their supporters to get these passive spectators of the strike off their couches stuck in front of the telly – but it is a significant difference which can’t simply be explained by the enormity of arrests on the picket lines compared with ’72. Wildcat Jan/Feb 1985 quotes an interesting passage in Socialist Worker, 15th September ’84: “In our pit, we pulled a few of the lads who’d been arrested together. I managed to pul 3 lads round me and we started to go round knocking on doors and had some success with hgetting people out. Then we put a resolution to the branch. It said that we should get a list of everyone’s name and address who has been arrested and can’t go out picketing and form them into recruiting teams. We should also get a list of everyone who’s been passive and decorating or doing the gardening, and then the recruiting teams could visit them. Unfortunately, this was not passed by a branch committee – you have to put a resolution through the branch committtee and this had got knocked back – but it still had to go through the correspondance. So the week before it was due to come up we went round the soup kitchen asking lads to come to the meeting. We got !%) to the branch meeting where we usually get 35. The branch president refused to admit the correspondance so I got up and asked what had happened to it. He siad he didn’t know anything about a letter and threatened to put me through a window. But the lads who had come along to the meeting spoke up for me, so the branch president asked them if they wanted to hear the letter. Much to his surprise they all shouted yes. It just showed what an advantage we have got over the officials. We work with the rank and file day in and day out, while our branch president is up there at the area office in Barnsley and is so out of touch it’s unbelievable. So I explained the case, how we must step up picketing if we are to win the strike and moved a resolution condemning the branch committee for not supporting such a necessary step. I got a big cheer for this, but they had a fall-back and ruled it out of order. I think that shows you we’ve go to know the rule book and how we’ve got to intervene.” Wildcat rightly added: “What is actually shown is that militant workers need to tear up the union rule book. Instead of waiting weeks for proposed actions to be passed through union branches, these miners should have organised the recruiting teams themselves and ignored whatever the NUM tried to do to stop them.” Although no-one like to be told what they ‘should’ have done, how else do you learn from the past – doesn’t progress always come down to doing what you didn’t do in the past.

21:

As we say elsewhere on this site, in our text Now is the Winter Of Our Discontent, the history of the seventies “shows many of the historical reasons why Trade Unionism is so embedded in what remains of the rebellious sections of the British working class. In fact, the very success of the strike wave [of the winter of discontent ’78-’79], and of the whole decade of discontent before it, a success which never broke with Trade Unionist ideology (even though it very often subverted the capitalist function of Trade Unions as a tool for integrating workers into the structures of exploitation) is one of the most important reasons for the subsequent failure of the struggles of the employed working class in the Thatcher epoch. What, at that time, was a sufficient – if limited – framework for workers to express themselves autonomously, rapidly became an obstacle to autonomy.”

22: For those who really want to be bored by my petty pedantic compulsion to reveal all, read on.
In July 1984 I sent DD the text he wrote which we’ve published here in Chapter 4 – saying “This was written by someone you once knew.” A provocation like that incited his hatred of anything connected with ‘situationists’. I ‘met’ Ian Bone in a pub after a miners strike meeting during July and he said DD had sent a 13 page reply to my “Miners Conflicts…” text. I never got this letter, and I said so to Bone, adding “Maybe it’s been taken by Special Branch”. He turned to his mates and said, “That’s what everybody says when they don’t want to reply to something.” But if his text on “Miner Conflicts…” 8 years after it was written is anything to go by, the letter was full of deceitful out-of-context quoting. In Pit Sense versus the State he virtually says I supported scabs!! -, which is part of the typical bullshit politicking which this guy needs to do to defend his deeply entrenched petrified role. The deliberate dishonesty of the creep. See footnotes to Miner Conflicts for comments on his comments. Anyway, I’m just mentioning all this petty stuff as a tedious way of “declaring an interest”. It’s up to you to decide if this has clouded my judgement or led to me over-emphasising the guy. But it’s clear that DD received an the inordinate respect during the strike from the national anarchist milieu in the UK – probably because of their common taste for demagogic rhetoric – which made a small but significant contribution for the failure to confront the NUM which was part of the failure of the strike. It should be pointed out that more local anarchist groups, such as Sheffield Anarchist, which were well aware of how the NUM acted, were generally far more critical of the union, as were many individual miners.

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