Lessons from the 1984-85 miners strike

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THE government papers released under the 30-year rule concerning the 1984-85 miners strike confirm that Thatcher and the Tories, despite their considerable preparations over four years, faced defeat on a number of occasions during the strike, particularly when the dockers came out briefly in July 1984 and the NACODS pits safety men were about to take action.

On the first occasion, they feared that Britain would run out of food and an emergency powers act would have to be passed to bring in the army to declare martial law and break the dock strike.

Such a step would have incited millions more workers to join the struggle, and touched off a revolution.

A Nacods stoppage would have meant that the strike-breakers in Nottingham would have had to stop work and coal stocks, which by then were running low, would have run out, meaning that the government would have had to settle.

In fact, the year-long struggle showed that the role that the TUC played, in keeping the working class at work, was even more vital than all of the preparations that the capitalist state had made for what was, on its part, a carefully planned battle.

Tens of thousands of police were mobilised in a national strike-breaking force along with other special forces to fight out battles, such as the battle of Orgreave.

The North Sea oil wealth was used for at least four years before the strike to build up vast coal stocks capable of withstanding a year-long action without a power cut, and scab coal supplies were secured from the then-Stalinist Poland, via Thatcher’s new friend, Gorbachev.

And last, but not least, a scab movement was organised in Nottingham to carry on producing coal.

The military itself was on a high after the Falklands war victory and were eager for the fray to put the working class in its place.

However, it was proven that all of the King’s Horses and all of the King’s men were not capable of beating the working class.

What proved to be decisive in preventing a defeat for the government was the refusal of the TUC to call the working class out in support of the miners.

If this had happened, the Tories would have been brought down or would have had to settle, amounting to the same thing.

In fact, TUC leaders had several meetings with MacGregor, the Coal Board boss, and Tory leaders during the strike to try and ‘find a way of ending it’.

Thatcher was not under any illusion about the gravity of the situation. In her book ‘The Downing Street Years’ she called the strike ‘Mr Scargill’s insurrection’.

MacGregor in his book ‘The Enemies Within’ describes the September 1984 TUC conference in these terms.

He writes of the resolution that was carried, of full support for the miners, that ‘it took all Len Murray’s (The TUC general secretary – News Line) considerable skills to defuse the various bombs in that motion and render it, on the day, strong on rhetoric and weak on action.’

Of the call for total support, MacGregor reveals that Eric Hammond, the notorious leader of the Electricians, remarked: ‘“Either this means a complete cessation of civilised life, or it doesn’t mean what it says and it is a contrick on the miners.” Thankfully to the great credit of the TUC it looked to me like the latter,’ said MacGregor.

The TUC kept the mass of the working class out of the struggle and after one year the miners, by a narrow vote, returned to work without a contract to the relief of Thatcher and the Tories.

The Tories then waited for Thatcher to go in 1990, and for three further years, before they were able to carry out their pit closure programme.

What this massive struggle shows is that the working class is the strongest class in society, but that to use its full power to win the great battles and get rid of capitalism it requires a revolutionary leadership.

The TUC in 84-85 ‘to its great credit’ refused to call a general strike. Today it is in the second year of considering the practicalities of calling a general strike.

To win today’s struggles, the working class must remove the TUC leaders and replace them with a revolutionary leadership prepared to use the full strength of the working class to get rid of capitalism. This is the lesson from the 1984-85 miners strike.