First Published: Autumn 1984.
Source: Published by the Workers Socialist League.
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The miners’ strike has transformed the situation in the working class. Like an engine deep down in the movement agitating, churning, stirring it up, it has created a new spirit in the labour movement.
After the TUC’s betrayal of the NGA in December 1983, the prospects looked bleak. In June the Tories had won a second term in office. In September the TUC Congress had approved the ‘new realism’ – a policy of negotiating with the Tories over new anti-union laws, and therefore implicitly accepting the existing anti-union laws. Now the employing class and the courts had taken on a small but powerful union – the NGA – and imposed those anti-union laws on it with the help of the TUC.
The miners’ strike, however, has shown how wrong premature and one-sided exaggerations of that defeat were.
The strike was provoked by the Tories in early March because they thought that the time had come when they could take out the NUM. But the fight back has been more than they bargained for.
As we go to press – in mid July – a second front has just been opened up by the national dockers’ strike. This – on top of the solidarity by railworkers and the numerous regional days of action – is additional evidence that the labour movement has been roused and revived to the point that it could be capable of a general strike. Any one of a number of moves by the Tories, the police, or the courts, could trigger such a mobilisation. The job of socialists is to do all we can to argue, explain, and organise for a general strike.Solidarity
Every union must be committed to boycotting the movement or use of coal not licensed by the NUM, or of alternative fuels brought into replace coal, Miners should make a direct appeal at rank and file level to steel workers, backed up by mass picketing to stop steel production. Rail unions should be committed to strike action in defence of workers victimised for boycotting coal. We should demand that the TUC adopts, advocates and fights for a policy of boycotting coal throughout industry.
We should argue for all workers with outstanding claims and grievances to bring them forward and strike alongside the miners. A common working class struggle to save jobs in all industries is the best way to save steel jobs. This is the time to fight!General Strike
A general strike could stop MacGregor’s pit closures plan and rip up the anti-union laws. It can win this struggle. And it can do more. It can make it impossible for the Tories to govern; and the level of mobilisation involved would open up big possibilities beyond that. We should call on the TUC to organise for a general strike, while also arguing for rank and file action which should not wait for the TUC.
We should not pose ‘kicking the Tones out’ as the aim of the general strike. The slogan ‘general strike to kick the Tories out’ is ambiguous – to most workers it will mean ‘general strike to force a general election’, while the revolutionaries who use the slogan privately interpret it as ‘general strike for revolution’ – and it would leave us endorsing in advance the ‘ballot box trap’ which a beleaguered government could use to end a potentially revolutionary general strike and regain control of the situation. We should link the general strike call to immediate demands (support the miners. stop the cuts and closures, smash the anti-union laws), while explaining that the general strike once underway is in its essence a challenge to state power.Anti-union laws
Since the June 1983 elections and especially since the September 1983 conference of the TUC, the Tories and the bosses have gone on the offensive over anti-union laws. So far they have refrained from using the laws decisively in this dispute, But David Owen of the Social Democratic Party and John Hoskyns of the Institute of Directors have publicly attacked the government for its failure to get the nationalised industries to use these laws. At any turn in the struggle now, the balance of Tory and ruling-class opinion could shift in favour of using the laws.
The issue of the rights and freedoms of the whole trade union movement is also raised by the massive, nationally coordinated police operation in the coalfields. A National Riot police under centralised command has been created in all but name.
Police accountability is therefore now a burning political question. So is the danger that this militant class struggle Tory government will use troops against the miners or the dockers.
We should campaign in the Labour Party for Labour councils to try to deny funds for the police operation and to demand the resignation of the Chief Constables responsible for coordinating it.Working class self-defence
At the same time we must argue the right of working class self-defence against capitalist state violence, and explain that organisation is the key to making picket lines able to hold their own against police brutality.
We reject the argument that the strike is invalid, unjustified or undemocratic because there was no national ballot.
The NUM militants are right when they argue that miners in relatively prosperous areas do not have the right to veto the action of miners in areas facing closure. To have called a national ballot in the early stages of the strike would have meant breaking the momentum of the escalation of the strike from area to area. Whether the advantages of a national ballot in perhaps reducing the number of scabs outweighed that problem was a tactical decision for the miners to take. They took a democratic decision at their special delegate conference in Sheffield that the disadvantages of a ballot outweighed the advantages. They had a right to take that decision, and no press baron and no scab miner has the right to condemn them.
Moreover, an individual ballot is not the most democratic method (even apart from the 55% rule which the NUM had at the start of the dispute). Votes at mass meetings immediately after workers have heard and discussed all the issues are far more democratic and responsible.The Labour Party
Neil Kinnock has shown his true colours as leader of the Labour Party by his snivelling equivocation on the strike. But local Labour Parties, together with Trades Councils. etc., have built miners’ support committees all across the country. Socialists must help develop these committees – organise collections in workplaces and door-to-door; fix up accommodation and transport for flying pickets; send solidarity delegations physically to back the miners on their picket lines; spread the arguments for a general strike through the working class.
We should argue for Labour councils to offer their facilities (accommodation, communications. etc.) to the strikers, as several councils have done.Women in the struggle
One of the most important features of the dispute is the unprecedented flowering of ‘women against pit closures’ groups. Women have organised their own pickets and demonstrations, and have also begun to challenge sexism in miners’ slogans and sexist attitudes which would relegate women to the role of running soup kitchens and looking after children. The women’s involvement has also injected an extra element of imaginative tactics into the dispute. The tactics of the Greenham women have obviously served as an inspiration.
The experience is a resounding proof that feminist issues are relevant to and appreciated by working class women. It opens tremendous new possibilities for our perspective of a mass working class based women’s movement.
After four months on strike, just the withdrawal of the pit closures announced in early March (perhaps to wait for a better time reintroduce them?) is not enough. The NUM has put forward additional far-reaching demands. Of these the most important are the scrapping of the area incentive schemes which have helped to split off many of the Notts miners from the union, and the four-day week.
Against the rundown of coal, steel and rail jobs, we need a socialist alternative to the vandal Toryism of Mrs Thatcher and the inadequate policies of Neil Kinnock.
* We need a sliding scale of hours. Divide available work with no loss of pay.
* We need a workers’ plan for the energy industry, transport and steel. Such a plan would have to be a plan for energy, transport and steel throughout Europe. We need to fight for a Socialist United States of Europe.
* We need training and re-training under workers’ control.
* We must open the books of the nationalised industries, expose the profits of the money-tenders and suppliers.
* We must nationalise the banks and financial institutions, and the supply industries, without compensation.
We need to relaunch and continue the fight to transform the labour movement, to make it capable of creating a ‘Labour’ government accountable to the movement and committed to such measures – a real workers’ government.Kick the Tories Out
We can make Britain ungovernable. In 1974 when the miners forced him to ‘go to the country’ – which rejected him – Edward Heath also had a big, stable Parliamentary majority. We must bring down this Tory government.
Labour under Kinnock cannot be relied upon to implement the working class policies we need. Nevertheless, the Labour Party is the only conceivable immediate alternative to the Tories. A general strike could open up possibilities of quite new forms of government based on the labour movement: as of now, however, we must fight for a Labour government. At the same time we must fight in the labour movement to commit such a Labour government to anti-capitalist measures. That means continuing the battle in the Labour Party for democracy and accountability and for socialist policies.Kinnock
The labour movement must demand of Neil Kinnock that he stand on the line four-square with the miners without weaseIing and without talking out of both sides of his politician’s mouth. And to those miners rightly disgusted with Kinnock’s performance so far, we say – come into the Labour Party, organise other workers to come into Labour Party, fight for a working-class takeover of Labour Party and a leadership which really speaks for the working class!
Kick the Tories out! Victory to the miners! Victory to the dockers!