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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #240 - In 1984, the British miners defy the Iron Lady (fr, pt) [machine translation]

Date Tue, 08 Jul 2014 15:32:33 +0300


June 18, 1984, lorsqu'éclate the "Battle of Orgreave", the British miners' strike has already lasted three months, led by a powerful union, the National Union of Mineworkers. It was not until March 1985, a year after the beginning of the strike, the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher manage to break one of the most important movements of the English working class. ---- In England, the minor in the 1970s the archetype of the "working class hero" . 100% union, the 180,000 miners are determined to let it go while in the early 1980s the "neoliberal revolution" came from overseas prepares its defenses. But they do not know, 6 March 1984, the strike will they start - after a year of bitter struggle - the most iconic and stinging of the British working class defeat. Yet all was not a bad start.

The first "flying pickets"

It is a little over ten years ago that this clash of Homeric class finds its sources. England was not spared by the wave of protests hit many countries in the 1970s. In 1972, opposed wage policy implemented by the Conservative government of the day, the miners of Yorkshire will take action copy the class solidarity that unfolds. Inventive, their struggle is based on two innovations: that of "flying pickets" flying pickets strike that extend the action going in groups of strikers from well to well to the strike vote; and the "secondary" strike of sending pickets with suppliers to trigger sympathy strikes preventing the supply of mines. These means are put at the service of a flawless fighting that will culminate in Saltley coke depot where more than 10,000 miners flying pickets, led by the ebullient leader of the trade union left the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Arthur Scargill (see below), were able to retreat to the forces of repression. The strike of 1972 was a resounding success which followed two years later another strike by dropping the Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath.

More generally, these practices attract an English working class seeking radical: in 1979, the overall number of unionized peaked with a little more than 12 million workers and workers joining a labor organization [ 1 ].

The class war is declared

That same year 1979 the Conservatives found power under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, and fierce anti-neoliberal convinced. The new government decided to end the union against-power, mainly represented by the Trades Union Congress (TUC Union Federations) which adheres NUM) [ 2 ]. And of course it is the miners who are chosen to target: because they are a strong symbol for the English working class and because they have to pay their strikes of 1972 and 1974 who knelt by the previous Conservative government. The operation is almost prepared militarily. The Chancellor of the Thatcher government (equivalent to Minister of Finance), Nigel Lawson, spoke in a similar government mobilization "against the threat of rearmament Hitler in 1930" [ 3 ].

Specifically, an additional 11 000 police officers are recruited and a crisis center is located at New Scotland Yard. With more lasting impact, a series of anti-union laws (the "Employment Acts") was adopted between 1980 and 1984. Strikes "secondary", solidarity and "political reasons" are declared illegal, pickets should be limited six strikers, social benefits for families of strikers are reduced, consultations by ballot shall be made mandatory before any outbreak of strike, the government finally gives itself the right to seize the funds of trade union solidarity and freeze their accounts . Baron Ridley, Secretary of State for Transport, organize the storage and transport of coal "yellow".

Beginning in March 1984, the offensive was launched suddenly the National Coal Board (British collieries), a Crown corporation that is responsible for mining, announced the immediate closure of the mine Cortonwood in Yorkshire reduction programmed production (while the supply of electricity depends on the time to 80% of coal) and the phasing of twenty wells on the 150 account Britain. These closures representing the destruction of more than 20,000 mining jobs. Especially, a secret plan, the "Ridley Plan" (named after the Minister of Transport who was the author) is brought to the attention of minors: it provides actually closing 95 wells and the installation of 100,000 unemployed minors [ 4 ]. On March 6, the strike broke like a clap of thunder, flying pickets from well to well in Yorkshire with the strong support of Arthur Scargill who headed the NUM in 1980 The strike spread quickly to. Scotland, Kent, Wales and soon nearly 150,000 miners are on strike. Some wells remain away from the strike, mainly those of Nothinghamshire considered to be very profitable and insured by the government for their continued activity. A government that starts having cold sweats to the strong fighting minors.

"Turn into Saltley Orgreave"

NUM's strategy is based on three pillars. First, active support for pickets, without complaining to confrontation and violence class, with the desire to repeat the strikes of the previous decade. Then, the denunciation of anti-union laws and the refusal therefore to organize a formal vote on a national strike that would have been an opportunity for active smear campaign, the risk of influencing the vote and weaken the strikers well . Finally, the popularization of the strike to counteract denunciations Thatcher designating minors as "enemy within", but also a release orders describing Scargill at pretty much like a megalomaniac Bolshevik because of its proximity to the Communist Party.

In the foreground, the Battle of Orgreave will be a turning point. Located in South Yorkshire, the filing of Orgreave will be chosen by Scargill order to concentrate its "flying pickets" 5-6000 are moving, representing tens of thousands of strikers. On 18 June, clashes with the Mounties will be extremely violent killing more than 70 wounded. 93 pickets were arrested. Arthur Scargill himself at the scene, was arrested. On placards brandished by activists pickets that read "Turn into Saltley Orgreave" ("Make a new Saltley of Orgreave"). But unlike 1972 Saltley, the battle is lost and the deposit remains open Orgreave. Repression will intensify. Cities and neighborhoods minors are literally occupied by the police. At the end of the movement, in 1985, there were 20,000 wounded, 11,000 arrests, a little over 8,000 convictions and 200 activists remain imprisoned.

The direct action was the only option NUM who refused to pass under the forks Caudine anti-union legislation claimant to submit the continuation of the strike to a secret ballot. The savagery of repression made it difficult to continuing clashes ... especially if the miners remained isolated.

However, after the Battle of Orgreave, the Labour Party did not hesitate to publicly denounce violence "where they come from" . We must therefore call for solidarity: posters, badges are printed. The leftists groups are facts and causes for minors. Women miners create their movement, "Women against pit closures" ("Women against the pit closures"), which brings together nearly 10,000 adherent and organized a women's demonstration in London on 11 August 1984. But what will make sorely lacking is the union solidarity. Scargill and the NUM leadership, entangled in their bureaucratic contradictions, sparing other TUC unions who refuse to engage in an "adventurist" solidarity, since the anti-union laws illegal action. Scientists balance between union currents (which are also reflected in the Labour Party) led mainly to inertia and attempted strikes in July 1984 in dockers and railway workers are quickly broken in the bud by the government and the legalistic bureaucracy TUC [ 5 ]. Scargill himself not free from some corporatism, do not go to meet other professional sectors as he could do ten years earlier.

"The Reds under the bed Thatcher"

In July 1984, the last hope, union foremen, foremen mines, announces that it is preparing to strike. The cessation of mining was widespread and coal production "yellow" in Nottinghamshire finally interrupted. Alas, the backstage dealings have reason to strike foremen. In December 1984, the court gave the coup de grace by saying the seizure of all property of the NUM, effective at the beginning of the following year. Cornered, the direction of the NUM turns to the TUC to solicit financial support. Therefore the TUC takes the reins of the "negotiation" with the Thatcherite power. On 3 March 1985 the NUM delegates voted to return to work by 98 votes against 91.

Undeniable defeat the miners' strike of 1984-1985 failed to prevent the progressive closure of almost all British well. In the early 2000s, there were just a little more than 10,000 children in the UK and less than twenty wells. But the strike has nevertheless been a time when the class struggle has been brought to its incandescence. Among those returning to work, there are those who are determined to remain "Reds under the bed Thatcher." In 1994, a group of 250 miners use their severance pay to buy and self-manage their mine, Tower Colliery in South Wales [ 6 ]. While many aspects of this "proto-self" can be discussed and leave doubtful [ 7 ]. There remains, as recalled in 2000 Tyrone O'Sullivan, former trade unionist working in Tower Colliery NUM: "We are demonstrating to the world that workers are able to take control of their own affairs and the Socialism can work " .

Theo Rival (AL Orleans)

Arthur Scargill, AN "ENEMY WITHIN"

Born in 1938, the young Arthur Scargill was 15 when hired for the first time at the mine. It is then a member of the Young Communist League (YCL), where he became one of the national leaders in 1956 before being expelled in the early 1960s. He inaugurated a golf union with its first wildcat strike at the age 17 years. In 1967, he hosted the "Forum Barnsley miners' union rally left National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). In 1972, he coordinated the flying pickets of striking miners of Yorkshire. It is based on the radical dynamics, he was elected with 70% of mandates to replace Joe Gormley moderate head of the NUM in 1981. Strike of 1984-1985 will be his biggest fight. British unionism is historically linked to the Labour Party. Scargill leaves in 1996 lorsqu'est abandoned the fourth clause of the statutes of the party who claimed "complete collectivization of the economy."

To the left of the Labour Party, he founded the Socialist Labour Party - which he is still a leader today - while retaining the Presidency of the NUM until 2002.

Sources: Maitron online


[ 1 ] John Mullen, "Freedoms and union duties Thatcher to Blair" , speech at the conference "Freedom, freedom", University of Tours, September 2001.

[ 2 ] 2. Even if it is crossed by opposing currents, it is fundamentally associated with British institutions through the Labour Party which is organically bound.

[ 3 ] "And Margaret Thatcher broke the unions" , in Critical History of the twentieth century, the history of Le Monde Diplomatique Atlas, 2011.

[ 4 ] Arthur Scargill, "The British miners' strike" in Papers of the Institute of Social History Mining Energy No. 27-28, June 2010, published by the FNME-CGT

[ 5 ] Sheila McGregor, "1984: the miners' strike that could beat Thatcher" on Alencontre.org

[ 6 ] Jean-Michel Carré, Hot coals , documentary film, 2000

[ 7 ] See "Tower Colliery mine to minors! "In the self-management, always a new idea , coedition Alternative libertarian / Nefac, 2008.
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