Chapter 15: September – October 1984 2nd dockers strike...TUC Brighton Conference...pathetic Leftism...

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unpublished leaflet...NACODS and the almost strike...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 couple 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 TUC= T.hatcher's U.nofficial C.ops.

"We arrived, about 12 of us, men and women, in Brighton after going a roundabout 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 . 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, 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 . 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 . 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. 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.

Posted By

Red Marriott
Jul 5 2009 08:38

Share

1926-1985: So Near - So Far - a selective history of the British miners

Attached files