Statement on Thatcher

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Joined: 27-02-06
Apr 18 2013 10:29
Statement on Thatcher

AF statement on Thatcher for International of Anarchist Federations

Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservatives (or ‘Tory Party’) from 1975 and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1979-1990 is dead at last. Many working class people, including anarchists, are very, very happy. From the date it was announced on 8th April, there have been festivities on the streets in many towns and cities of the so-called United Kingdom. In 2013, because of her legacy, the World we now live in is more dangerous, oppressive, unequal, impoverished and corrupt.

From the start of her time in power, Thatcher’s government built up Britain’s military so that a generation of young people grew up in fear of nuclear conflict with the USSR. In 1982, by ‘defending’ the Falklands 12000 kilometres from the UK she heralded in a new era where Britain would quickly send soldiers to war around the globe, alone or as part of NATO. She openly supported the Apartheid regime in South Africa and was best friends with dictator General Pinochet who brought neo-liberal politics to Chile through violence and murder. She was hated most of all in Northern Ireland where working class people were brutalised under a divide-and-conquer approach to domestic dissent.

Thatcher’s government increased the use of finance capitalism to make profit. At the same time she tried to convince working class people that if they bought their own house, or owned a few shares in the privatised telephone, water or electricity companies, they too could be rich. We were told that the government would support ‘opportunity’ to succeed, if you were prepared to work and not cause trouble. But this individualistic and competitive ideology helped to start the attack against the ‘social wage’ of welfare benefits. At the same time many young people ‘Maggie’s millions’ became unemployed because of the reduction in manufacturing industry and economic recession.

Working class militancy in the remaining ‘traditional industries’ was attacked in explicitly anti-working class terms, to smash confidence and ability to fight, using laws against trade unions and by creating a militarised police. These ‘riot police’ were fully in position after the uprisings against poverty and racism in the Inner-city Riots that started in Bristol in 1980, and continued in 1981 in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester with more riots in the years after this. The government and press portrayal of these uprisings as 'race riots' helped support the rise of the far-right. The riot police were then used against the Miners, who struck in 1984-5 but were tragically defeated, as were the Wapping print-workers in 1986 (Rupert Murdoch, please die soon as well). These defeats were not without a good fight of course and there were hugely important acts of bravery and inspiring solidarity. Community initiatives like the miners’ support groups that were mainly run by women in mining areas were also very influential. These groups were supported by anarchists.

During the Thatcher period, although it was made legal to be homosexual in Scotland in 1981 and Northern Ireland in 1982, the first anti-gay law for 100 years in Britain was passed: Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. ‘Section 28’ made it illegal for the public sector (local authority or school) to ‘promote homosexuality’ including publication or teaching it to be acceptable.

The only major working class victory in the Thatcher period was the struggle against the Poll Tax. Officially called Community Charge, it was a tax on individual occupancy of housing which was intended to replace the Rates, which was a tax on the house you lived in. It hit families with working age children and other shared households very hard.

The attack of the Poll Tax took place in the context of dismantling and destroying things traditionally understood as social property: the major industries, public services, jobs and welfare. Local councils were tasked with implementing the tax starting with Scotland only in the first year. Opposition began in Scotland in 1987 and was quickly spread to England and Wales by an amazing feat of working class solidarity, organisation and a willingness to take to the streets and fight. This included the Poll Tax Riot of 1990 in London and mini-riots in other towns, but more importantly it included a sustained political activity in working class communities. Apart from very few examples of trade union action, the opposition was mostly by groups working together in the community, not in the workplace. The Poll Tax was abandoned after Thatcher lost the Conservative Party leadership to John Major in 1990.

This is not to suggest that things were better before Thatcher. ‘Old’ Labour was a fiasco and an example of how not to share out common resources. All politicians are the enemy of the working class, but some do more damage than others. ‘New’ Labour that followed Thatcher and Major under the leadership of Tony Blair was never going to be a knight in shining armour to rescue us, and when the Tories finally fell in 1997, there was already no hope except in a class-based revolutionary solution. The left-wing socialist parties cannot accept this and continue to support the Labour Party, even after more major NATO-led wars and the even worse economic crisis we have been living in since 2008.

Margaret Thatcher, after dying at the Ritz Hotel, a symbol of inequality if there ever was one, has her funeral with ‘full military honours’ on 17th April. If it seems strange to some people that others would happily dance on the grave of a long-senile old lady, it’s because we are still her victims, after all this time. Does her passing mean that we can reclaim some power to make a change? A small boost in our confidence at this point in the class struggle could be vital. Even if there is some sense of closure about the past by giving her a raucous and disrespectful send off, we have to shake off the hangover and use these two or three weeks as an opportunity to talk to our workmates, friends, family, everybody about new beginnings and new possibilities. But first, Let’s Party!

International Secretariat, The Anarchist Federation, Britain, 9th April 2013