Tuesday, December 23, 2014

British Miner's Strike 30 year Anniversary

Richard Mellor
I thought folks might appreciate these two historical clips from the great British Miner's Strike.

It's 30 years since the British Miner's Strike. Thatcher, and her co-thinker Reagan were out to destroy the workers' organizations both sides of the Atlantic. The Scottish American industrialist Ian MacGregor joined Thatcher in her war on the miners and their union, the National Union of Mineworkers.  The NUM was the most powerful union in Britain at the time and the attack on the NUM was political, part of the Thaterchite/Reagan plan to privatize the industry. Reagan was to launch a similar government offensive against air traffic controllers and their union Patco a few years later. He fired 11,000 of them banning them from working in their industry for life.  That ban lasted until the late 1990's.  That was followed by a war on organized labor in transportation, meatpacking, and other areas. In both these cases, the failure of the national leadership of organized labor to generalize the struggles and mobilize all of labor in the defense of these workers contributed immensely to the defeats.

I was on the picket lines in the British miners strike. I had gone up to Barnsley.  I had never been to Yorkshire before and the people, solidarity and courage moved me deeply. Workers fighting for the right to work, small businesses supporting them knowing that a miner without a job meant an end to their livelihood.  I will never forget walking up toward the pithead in the early morning mist. I had been told there was about 3000 of us and a similar number of cops.  As I looked to the left and right in to the fields bordering the lane I could see these rows of mounted police, the steam coming from their mount's nostrils in the morning air. The workers carried marbles that they threw down to protect themselves from the charging horses, horses can't walk too well on marbles. Being charged by cops on horseback and cops with shields and batons is a bit scary to say the least. Fistfights were raging at the head of the picket line near the pithead as a scab was being escorted or as they tried to escort a scab through.

The defeat of this strike was a huge setback for the workers and the trade union movement in Britain. Thatcher, the great private sector guru succeeded in crushing the miners and imposing her pro-market agenda.  It's ironic that when she died recently the taxpayer picked up a huge tab for a state burial.  Thatcher was a nasty piece of work. My experience on that picket line and my stay in Barnsley during the strike will always be with me. It was a civil war.  There were some 18,000 police on picket lines and the freeway south to Nottingham where Notts miners were still working was blocked to striking workers from the north for fear they would convince their co-workers to join them. I was told that some of the cops were brought from Northern Ireland, fresh from keeping the Catholics under control, some had no identification. I thought some followers of this blog might appreciate these scenes. We should also remember that we have a great history of struggle in this industry in the US. For those young people who have not seen it, Harlan County USA is a great film about a miners strike in Kentucky.  I hope people enjoy these clips.

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