We now return to the chronology of miners' struggles.
1981 – 1983
We now return to the chronology of miners' struggles.
At the start of 1981 the NUM executive started talking about threatening a national strike unless the pit closure plan was withdrawn, pushing for talks with the government. The executive realised that strikes could break out immediately. Gormley, still president, feared "We'll have difficulty holding the lads back", whilst McGahey declared that "the union could be balloting for industrial action with the miners already on sttrike." and pre-empted independent action in defiance of union democracy in order to appear to be a man of the people: " If the Scottish miners come out against the threat of closure, I'll not be telling them to go back, I'll be leading them out." In other words, "If the Scottish miners come out independently of what I say or do, I'll have to pretend it was me who led them out".
In February closures were announced in Durham, Kent and South Wales, with some compulsory redundancies. All of these areas had a left-controlled NUM area executive, and a history of independent struggle. A year earlier, the NUM in Wales had lost a ballot for a strike: the left had spent this time perfecting their organisation and aiming to ensure that next time there were strikes, they'd be able to control them. Unofficial strikes immediately broke out in the whole of South Wales, involving flying pickets and solidarity with railwaymen. There were also strikes in Yorkshire, Durham and elsewhere. Well over half the pits were shut down for 3 days. Scargill, as president of Yorkshire area NUM, opposed attempts by South Wales pickets to spread the strike to Yorkshire, but he didn't entirely succeed. It was this autonomous content which forced the government into verbally retracting its closure plan, agreeing to safeguard British industrial capital by restricting imports of coke, and the NCB withdrew its proposals. It was quite clear that the Tories were testing the water – seeing how the miners would react in order to better prepare themselves for the future planned confrontation. In exchange for a few worthless promises from the Tories, the NUM, including Scargill, did all it could to suppress the unofficial actions. All this was just a couple of months before the riots in Brixton of that year, which sparked off a summer of rioting in July. But no connection was made between such riots and the autonomous action of the miners – not until 1984, when many miners retrospectively recognised themselves in the fury of the rioters of '81 against the State. At the time, however, almost all of them believed the media's version of events – crazed hate-filled black mobs etc.etc., despite the fact that they, in a milder form, were also victims of the media bullshit. In fact, the riots – during which Thatcher suffered acute insomnia but managed to dream up her plan for provoking a war in the Falklands as a way of creating an external enemy to unite the country - probably delayed the further announcements of pit closures until a couple of years later.
By our Industrial Correspondent
The TUC has had to issue a retraction of a statement which has been claimed to have been issued by Mr Frank Chapple, this coming years’ chairman of the TUC. In it, Mr. Chapple is said to have denounced the call by rank and file workers of the NHS to occupy private hospitals and call for mass popular assemblies involving the unemployed, housewives, kids, the old, as well as present workers.
According to this reported statement Mr.Chapple denounced this so-called demand as a “vicious lie put about by a couple of wierdo revolutionaries whose lack of realism has made them delirious with rhetoric.” Mr.Chapple is expected to be given an award in the 1983 New Years Honours List.
Apparently, what these supposed popular assemblies were intended to discuss were problems like:
1. The abolition of wage slavery, capital, the State, the World Market, of all relations of domination and submission and of the whole of a world based on the division of desire from reality, the division of thought and imagination from life, the division of labour, the division of individuals into specialised roles with a function as a cog in the machine of the Abstract Economy.
2. The spreading of the occupation move-ment to offices, docks, factories, super-markets, governments buildings, schools, football stadiums, town halls, theatres, streets, museums, council estates, pits, uni-versities, etc. – all open to those genuinely intent on confronting the reality of life rather than playing a manipulative role.
3. How to overcome the division of the world into hierarchical roles which, amongst other things, turns people into full- time nurses and impatient patients.
4. How to revolutionise social relations so the 80% of patients whom even the most
conventional doctors admit are being treated because of blatant social irrationalities can discover their health in a revolutionary solidarity which discovers itself in rational self-assertions against the terrorism of class society. In such a struggle health can no longer mean mending someone so that they can filling themselves with ulcers, petrol fumes, windscreens, asbestos, coal dust or whatever.
5. How to organise the systematic destructions of: cash registers, parking meters, Rolls Royces, clocking-on machines, government computers, empty social security offices, all underground ticket machines, the Stock Exchange, etc., which daily colonise our misery.
6. How to face the immensity of our tasks and not resign ourselves to the massacres that constantly getting closer to home (in the Falklands the masses of resigned spectators were treated to a little bit of dramatic slaughter in order to fatten them for a similar massacre in Ireland, or even here in England).
7. How to learn to extend the supercession of false identities that the riots, in uniting black and white, men and women, young and old, etc., momentarily cut across all the superficial identities manufactured by an alienation which divides so its can rule.
The TUC have insisted that that neither this so-called popular assembly demand nor Mr.Chapples’ apparent denunciation of it ever existed. “As fas as I’m concerned the whole thing is a complete and utter red herring designed to undermine my power. How, anyway, could I issue a statement about demands which nobody has ever made in the first place?”. “And I certainly hope they never will”, added Mr.Scargill, who was also present.
Mr. Chapple is 147 on Monday next, assuming he survives.
Reproduction of part of a short tract distributed during a demo for the health workers strike in 1982 (most of the rest appears in "Miner Conflicts...")
In January 1983, with Scargill now NUM president, closures were again announced in Scotland, South Wales and Kent. As pickets from Kinnel pit in Scotland gained support for their sit-in, McGahey called off the strike and Kinnel pit was closed. Why the strikers accepted McGahey's "lead" is the fundamental problem of the dialectic of leader/led which screws up all struggle. In Wales, a base movement of strikes forced the area NUM to make them official after first opposing them. However, the Welsh NUM ignored an 80% vote for a strike against closures. Welsh miners independently organised trips to try to co-ordinate the strike with other areas. They persuaded their comrades at Selby in Yorkshire to join the strike, but this was overturned by union officials and the threatened pits were closed. In Kent, the NUM opposed strike action over a union-boss deal over redundancies at Snowdon.
By March, various NUM areas were trying to put an end to the autonomous content of the strikes by officially calling for strikes, whilst the NUM national executive tried to gain a grip on events by condemning the South Wales strikes as "unconstitutional".
In June '83 Scargill said that he'd heard wind of plans to close 70 pits and scrap 70,000 jobs out of the total of 190,000 in the coal industry.
By September, the NCB had built up coal stocks partly through overproduction caused by decreasing exports and partly through deliberate preparation for the virtually inevitable all-out strike they'd planned for. There were wildcat strikes and occupations at Cardown, Kinneil and Polmaise in Scotland – the Scottish NUM refused to back them despite the prospect of 70,000 redundancies. Previously, there had been walkouts at Solsgirth, Comrie and Seafield in solidarity with the struggle of the miners at Polmaise against closure, but these walkouts were ordered to stop by the Stalinist McGahey, which they did.
In October the annual NUM conference voted for a national strike in principle but realised that the high level of coal stocks would mean that an immediate strike, if peaceful, unimaginative and traditional, would have no effect on the Coal Board until the coal stocks had been greatly reduced. So the union, in order to both oppose the NCB's closure policy and to put an end to the wildcat strikes and occupations in Scotland (18,000 miners on unofficial strike) decided on a policy of a preliminary ban on overtime working, which would allow the coal stocks to dwindle to be followed by an all-out strike at a later date. At this time there was a 7 week strike at Monktonhall pit in Scotland. The NUM negotiated what it called a "victory": since none of the strikers demands were met, anyone with an independent mind, with good reason, later questioned what the NUM's "Victory to the Miners!" would mean. In fact, this 'victory' was an agreement from the NCB to consult the NUM before making further closures (a pathetic agreement which they didn't even keep).