Chapter 16: November 1984 - A divided ruling class...NCB bribe...more rage against the State...Willis attacked...


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.

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 subversion of 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.

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 violence “away 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.” [20]

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 “When Britain Went To War” showed the Battle of Orgreave with the song “When two tribes go to war money's all you can score” sending the subliminal message that 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 [21]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.

Posted By

Red Marriott
Jul 5 2009 08:45

Share

Attached files