The End of the Strike – March 1985
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 before he started scabbing (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 –
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 :
Taking the desperation out on those who could be our best friends;
Taking it out on ourselves (alcoholism, heroin addiction, religion, obsessions with hobbies and sports)
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.)
Impotent cynicism – “It’s all pointless”, “We’re all doomed!”, “Just filling in time until death” .
Violent anti-State fantasies without any risky practical consequence.
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 one's 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:
Ideological platitudes – “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!” 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…
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 
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.
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.