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Peter Hadden

Miners turn tide

(December 1984)

From Militant Irish Monthly, No. 127N, December 1984–January 1985.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The miners strike in Britain is without doubt the most important industrial battle taking place anywhere in the world today. This momentous struggle marks a turning point in class relations in Britain. No matter what the immediate outcome things will never be the same again.

The miners have been involved in struggle for over a year. In October last year an overtime ban was begun against the pit closure programme and on pay.

Early in 1984 the government and the NCB, fearing that the overtime ban would run down coal stocks and lead to a strike this winter, instead provoked the present dispute by closing both the Cortonwood and Bullcliffe collieries in Yorkshire. On March 6th the Yorkshire miners walked out and the strike spread.

MacGregor and the N.C.B. hoped for a swift victory over a strike begun at an unfavourable time for the miners. They entirely under estimated the determination of the miners of their wives and families. Despite hardship and despite massive police repression the miners have stood it out through the long summer months and are determined to stay out while “General Winter” swings the dispute in their favour. In their struggle they have won the respect and support and captured the imagination of millions of workers in Britain and in Ireland, and of the working class movement internationally.

Class law

The miners have not been broken but this not for lack of effort by the government and the ruling class. This strike has been the vindication of the warning given by the Marxists since the early 1970s – that the repressive methods being perfected in Northern Ireland would be used against the British working class. 8,000 miners have been arrested.

Riot shields, batons, curfews, harassment of pickets, are now the order of the day. The law has been revealed as class law, with the courts being blatantly used against the NUM.

Yet all that has been thrown against them has not broken the miners. The latest NCB trick of bribery, offering miners who return to work a holiday bonus to which all miners are entitled in any case, has not worked. The drift back to work has become a trickle as the huge propaganda exercise of newspapers and T.V. has not convinced the majority of miners to return.

On both sides the battle lines are sharply drawn. The government began the strike hoping to crush the N.U.M. and then to ride roughshod over a drastically weakened trade union movement. For them to give in now would probably immediately mean the end of Thatcher and could quickly mean that the Tories themselves, would suffer the fate of the Heath government of 1974.

The miners now have a sense that victory can be won. The most active, especially the younger miners, are solidly determined to stay out for “as long as it takes”.

Miners can win

The miners can win this dispute. There are no grounds for the pessimism about the outcome which is broadcast by the capitalist media and which is echoed by most of the leaders of the TUC and Neil Kinnock. In fact if the resolution on blacking of coal and oil, passed at the TUC Conference, had been put into effect by all unions in the way this has been done throughout the strike by the railwaymen and the seamen, the miners would already be celebrating a victory.

The key to victory is the situation in the power stations. Despite media distortions the position is already quite critical especially in Scotland and the North of England. Power cuts are possible at any time. These would give a huge morale boost to the miners and would swing the pendulum of the strike towards victory. The most essential task now to be carried out is to take the case to TGWU drivers who have or will be asked to move coal, to the oil tanker drivers, who are supplying power stations and to the power workers. If this is done victory will be assured.


The entire trade union movement must be prepared to come to the assistance of the miners. Already, through magnificent donations, workers have shown their support as the monies raised in Ireland North and South indicates. This must be stepped up. In the North the trade union leaders have been unforgivably slow and hesitant in organising support. They should immediately set up miners support groups to organise collections, on a weekly basis. Where this has not already been done the trades councils should take the initiative.

The movement must be prepared to provide other support. A date should now be set by the N.U.M. for a one day general strike and the rest of the movement should respond to this call. This protest could not only show solidarity with the miners, it could link this to resistance to the other attacks being made by this government – for example the attempted legal theft of £200,000 which belongs to members of the TGWU.

It is a scandal that the imposition of fines on the NUM has not already been answered with decisive action called by the TUC and Labour Party leaders. The vacillation and now open opposition of some right-wing trade union leaders has given the Tories the ground it uses to attack the miners. It is not ruled out that this government may attempt to save its bacon by using even more desperate and vicious methods, for example by jailing the NUM leaders or by using troops to move coal.


Should this happen all trade unionists, including those in the North, must be prepared to immediately respond by striking in support of the miners. This would show Thatcher that such things would not be tolerated and would bring a swift victory.

It is most likely that the miners will win this strike. But even if there were to be a defeat it could not be of the crushing character which the Tories desire. It would be of the order of the defeat suffered by the miners in 1921 which paved the way for bigger battles within a few years and not of the much greater defeat of 1926 which paralysed the trade unions for a period.

Win or lose the effects of the strike will remain. They will be seen in all future struggles. Most particularly they will be felt within the labour and trade union movement.

It is not going too far to say that the right wing of the British labour movement have disgraced themselves in their attitude to the strike. While the ruling class declare war on the miners Eric Hammond of the EEPTU publically requests to be allowed to go over to their side by suggesting the affiliation of his union to the CBI. It turns out that his predecessor. Frank Chapple was one of those who advised the Tories to appoint “Butcher” MacGregor head of the Coal Board because “he could stand up to Scargill”.


For the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock has been little better. The time he spent prevaricating and attempting to sit on the non existent fence would haw been better spent wholeheartedly backing the miners.

All these things will not be forgotten. A chasm between right and left has opened within the TUC. The NUM itself will be transformed as the younger miners, blooded by this struggle, move into positions in the NUM and consolidate it more firmly on the left. The rank and file of other unions will also learn the lessons. Not only will the more left unions be radicalised but within unions like the AUEW and especially the EEPTU, opposition to the Duffys and Hammonds will grow.

Thousands of EEPTU members already feel themselves disgraced by the outrageous behaviour of their leadership.


It will not only be industrial lessons which will be drawn. As Lenin once explained “Every strike brings thoughts of socialism very forcibly to the workers’ mind. Thoughts of the struggle of the entire working class for the emancipation from oppression of capital. ”

To win a strike is only to win a battle. If the employers and their system remain they will counter-attack. So it was after the miners’ victory of 1972 and 1974. The government and NCB regrouped preparations which have led to the present strike.

Political action

Political action to change the system is necessary. Drawing this conclusion many miners and their wives are joining the Labour Party. In areas where groups of miners have joined, the party has been transformed. This is an indication of what will happen in the future up and down the country as the political input of this and future struggles is felt.

The lessons being drawn by workers in Britain apply also to Ireland, North and South. The working class here have been made to pay for mistakes made by its leaders, both industrially and politically. Through their nine months of hardship the striking miners have demonstrated the need for fighting trade unions and for fighting socialist Labour Parties. Their struggle is a challenge to the rank and file of the Irish labour movement to ensure that their organisations fight as determinedly as the NUM has done on their behalf.

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