An issue of Black Flag from 1984. Scanned in by the comrades at Sparrows Nest, Nottingham.
Black Flag vol 07 #119 (1984)
Letter: Anarchists and the Miners’ strike - again
This was reprinted (with four other articles and letters on the 1984-85 Miners' strike from Black Flag) in KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 91-92, October 2017 https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/vq8510
Dear Black Flag,
I was pleased to see the letter from RG (Exeter) in the Flag No. 116. I had been furious about the article “The Miners and the Left” and had intended to write to you myself.
I am stunned that any Anarchist can write that the structures that the miners, or any other strikers, work within are “irrelevant”. When I read the article a picture immediately entered my head of a hypothetical union run on fascist lines and headed by a dictator. One sunny day the dictator called a strike and threatened to expel/beat up/ murder every worker who did not support it. As it happened a group of Anarchists supported the premises of the strike and joined the dictator and a small band of others in their actions. A few of the @s had some qualms about it and asked: “Is it really libertarian to work with a dictator?” But their newspaper hastily reassured them that the structure of the union was irrelevant.
You can’t be serious.
I thought M (Doncaster)’s reply was useful. It clarified a lot of points which should have been said more clearly in the original article. There’s a lot of difference between “running in during disputes, attacking the structures and generally being negative” – which I am sure no @ would advocate – and seeing the structures as “irrelevant”.
I was amazed to learn that the article was written to stimulate debate about the nature of solidarity. You could have fooled me!
I thought it was a thinly disguised attack on the SWP. Next time could you make it a bit clearer. An interview with the miners as to their idea of useful forms of solidarity would have been far more interesting.
Another point about Ms reply to RG. It was couched in terms of disagreement yet to me M seemed to be making very similar points to RG. eg. I was glad to hear that M does recognise as does RG, that criticism if it comes from people clearly giving solidarity can be constructive.
Last point – above all “The miners and the Left” was a waste of valuable space which could have been filled with info about workers’ struggles – in particular about the miners strike, which to me, is the most important industrial action for years and deserves all of our informed support.
Fighting with the miners,
C.G. Hackney/ London E8
To CG, Hackney,
For your information, the article “The Miners and the Left” was written from a report ‘Bores Under the Floor’, which happened to be written by a miner for miners; also from conversations with miners on picket lines; as our neighbours; as our friends; and as our comrades. Of course it was about the nature of solidarity. As for the attack on the SWP, that comes directly from the miners.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but your hypothetical case seems to be a thinly disguised, cheap and safe attack on A. Scargill! He did not call the strike – this happened as a direct result of miners coming out in support of the Cortonwood men whose pit was threatened with imminent closure. Scargill & Taylor had nothing to do with it – see previous issues of Black Flag which spells this out quite clearly. Expulsion of scabs is a call from the rank & file. Of course there are doubts about this, but it is up to the rank & file miners to decide. Plus, the deaths in this strike have been the deaths of pickets; people are lying in intensive care with broken skulls & suspected brain damage – they are pickets injured by thug pigs. Old women have had their homes broken into by pigs wielding truncheons. Children have had limbs broken by these same pigs.
Having been involved with this strike from day one, not only on picket lines daily but also giving economic support, moral support, our time and energy to the communities involved in this dispute – including our own – I find your cheap jibes insulting. If you believe that debating about the nature of solidarity is a waste of space then there’s something wrong – because the nature of solidarity is about workers struggle and vice versa. Our reporting of the strike in this area for Black Flag has been informed – if you want interviews with miners go on the picket lines – you’re not too far from Kent, & talk with the people involved there.
There seems to me to be too much attacking of the NUM in this strike* and not enough attacking the NCB, the government, or the pigs. The structure of the NUM may not be perfect, but attacking that during the middle of the most important workers struggle in the country for years, is counter-productive. Miners themselves have started to question the structures but want unity now & we should respect this. This is not defending the bureaucrats, only the rank & file. Talk with members of the mining communities, don’t patronizingly spout purist platitudes from the safe confines of Hackney. And if you want articles on workers’ struggles, and can’t get to Kent, why not try writing about those struggles in your area – or aren’t there any?!
At the moment we in mining areas feel that we are in a country that is occupied by an enemy force – which we are. Pigs from London, Manchester, in fact from all over the country, are occupying our streets and attacking us. Living here doesn’t allow itself to us wasting time on cheap jibes about a union. Our solidarity is with the men, women and children who make up the pit communities, & we shall continue to fight with them, and report about that fight.
Fighting with the miners (literally)
J & M (Doncaster)
* by people who know nothing of its history, structure and nature.
The Miners & Social Change - Albert Meltzer
Albert Meltzer on the miners strike and its critics.
Transcribed by Kate Sharpley Library.
Strikers now find themselves in major confrontation with the police. It is an eye-opener for all those trade unionists who have been elected to public office, to councils and to Parliament, who sit as magistrates or school governors or on tribunals and fancy themselves as part of the Establishment, to find that a determined government can at one blow wipe it all away. Miners – even the lower echelon of the union machine – are having to battle in the streets, to bleed under truncheons, to face political grilling in police stations, to be stopped at roadblocks, to have their homes searched, to be fined and imprisoned. All this has happened before, but to ‘extremists’… suddenly the ‘extreme’ becomes nearer than they thought.
Only a matter of months ago one odd member of the anti-strike brigade was deprecating the printers of Fleet Street and their high wages (which were fought for over the years) saying how much more he would think of them (not that he would do anything) if they were to stop printing lies – regarding this as totally unthinkable. Now they have done just this. They have forced the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail to print the other side, they have stopped the Sun altogether because it wouldn’t. (‘An infringement of free speech!’ cry those who think only a few proprietors have the right to freedom of expression).
Amongst the lies being hurled at the strikers is the one that says that this is all a bid for power by or for Arthur Scargill. Mr Scargill is being built up as the Lenin of the strike by the anti-strike brigade: those who fight for it are tarred as wishing to build up a Scargill Government, as puppets of Scargill, as bootlickers of Scargill, as minions of a Scargill dictatorship.
The miners are organised in an authoritarian body, the National Union of Mineworkers, and Scargill at it’s head has the spotlight on him. But to imagine the fight is for ‘Scargill’ is to fall for the most obvious brainwashing we have had since we were told the war was ‘won’ by Churchill. Few men will undergo six months of voluntary semi (or actual) starvation out of hero-worship or blind following – against the brainwashing of the media – however eloquent or handsome Scargill is – and if they did they would not have the backing of the women who have emerged as the greatest of fighters.
Scargill happens to boss the NUM, but then the struggle is not for the NUM. It is the whole structure of the NUM – tied to the closed shop system beloved of British trade unionism because it saves them so much bother and normally excludes having to fight that has caused the division between workers. If an independent miners union wanted to fight and some people didn’t want to, they could go and be damned.
In a closed shop union miners who want to scab – because of greed or fear of the consequences or concern for their families – want at the same time to remain as unionists because it is the only way they know to guarantee having jobs at all. If expelled they appeal, to the courts. What have judges to do with a workers union? A union is to fight economic battles; not to be determined by every law. The fight would have been long won since if those who felt threatened by the closures had been able to part company with those who did not feel the threat affected them yet, and who think they can afford to wait until it does and work meantime, paying their mortgages and hire purchases and keeping their holidays and cars.
If those who had no stomach to fight had been allowed to leave the union, they would have seen there was no alternative but to fight. The notion that ‘they should have balloted’ (echoed by all the reactionaries who never hold ballots on anything affecting themselves) is a false cry. The only purpose of balloting would be to preserve the unity of the closed shop union. No miners would vote yes on whether they wanted pits to close. A number would have disagreed with striking – but obviously they would not be people being closed down, they would be the ones in hopefully secure pits (or so they think).
The struggle has transformed the mining communities politically. Most older miners always hoped that the task of mining as it is known would eventually cease. But nothing is offered in its place. The NCB is taking the means by which whole valleys and communities live and ordering them to be extinct. This is being done by the nationalised coal industry, which was a 75 year ambition of socialism and trade unionism – something which the NUM forgets when it mightily attacks coal chief MacGregor.
The younger miners are battling against police and pickets. But this is not a battle for the streets and it will not be won there. If the police are defeated they bring in the army and all the reserve forces being built up by the new dictatorship. That front must not be neglected and it is one on which major support is needed, but like war the strike will be won or lost on provisions. In this the women of the coalfields have shown superb communal organising ability and received enormous support which has won the admiration of organised workers everywhere. They must not be allowed to perish for want of ‘lease-lend’.