Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Remembering the Great Miners' Strike

When a Tory Lord dismisses an account of the Great Miners' Strike of 1984-5 by Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and a symbol of socialism and class struggle in Britain, as 'total rubbish', you can safely surmise that Scargill has just highlighted a very great truth that simply has to be denied because it is too unpalatable for the British ruling class and its lackeys in New Labour to handle.

That truth is that the Miners Strike which began 25 years ago very nearly won - and if it had won it would have brought down Thatcher at the very height of her power. As Scargill notes, 'Over the years, I have repeatedly said that we didn't "come close" to total victory in October 1984 - we had it, and at the very point of victory we were betrayed'. It is a truth that as Mike Simons and Owen Hatherley point out, is supported by the new information turned up in a new history of the strike, 'Marching to the Fault Line: the 1984 Miners’ Strike and the Death of Industrial Britain' by Francis Beckett and David Hencke, even if the authors of that book wrongly chose to blame Scargill himself for the defeat rather than the failure of the official Labour Movement in Britain to rally enough solidarity with the miners. As Scargill rightly and eloquently concludes about the real lessons of the dispute to be learnt,

'A full account of the strike of 1984/85 is still to be written. However, we have learned more and more about the then Labour party leader, Neil Kinnock's treachery, the betrayals by the TUC and the class collaboration of union leaders such as Eric Hammond (the electricians' EETPU) and John Lyons (Engineers and Managers Association), who instructed their members to cross picket lines and did all they could to defeat the miners.

We have also seen how many who, like Kinnock, bleated constantly about the need for a ballot during the miners' strike didn't call for the British people to have a ballot in 2003 when Tony Blair took the nation into an unlawful war and the occupation of Iraq.

During the past 25 years, many who have attacked the NUM, and me, about the need for a ballot, or argued that we selected the wrong targets have done so to cover their own guilt at failing to give the miners a level of support that would have stopped the Tories' pit closure programme and thus changed the political direction of the nation. Britain in 1984 was already a divided and degraded society - it has become much more so in the 25 years since.

The NUM's struggle remains not only an inspiration for workers but a warning to today's union leaders of their responsibility to their members, and the need to challenge both government and employers over all forms of injustice, inequality and exploitation. That is the legacy of the NUM's strike of 1984/85, a truly historic fight that gave birth to the magnificent Women Against Pit Closures and the miners' support groups. I have always said that the greatest victory in the strike was the struggle itself, a struggle that inspired millions of people around the world.'



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