Monday, January 06, 2014

Tory Liars and Labour Lords

ORGREAVE  For those who did not believe Thatcher's lies, the government had other convincing arguments.

HITHERTO secret papers from the Thatcher government have revealed the plans it made before the 1984-5 miners' strike, and confirmed what many of believed from the start, and many more people became convinced of  as time went on.

National Union of Mineworkers' leader Arthur Scargill was telling the TRUTH.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was LYING.

A document, marked "Not to be photocopied or circulated outside the private office", records a meeting at No10 Downing Street, attended by just seven people, including the Prime Minister Thatcher, the Chancellor, the Energy secretary and the Employment secretary.

The meeting was told the National Coal Board's pit closure programme had "gone better this year than planned: there had been one pit closed every three weeks" and the workforce had shrunk by 10%. The new chairman of the board, Ian MacGregor, who had made his name battling trade unions in the United States, meant to go further.

"Mr MacGregor had it in mind over the three years 1983-85 that a further 75 pits would be closed... There should be no closure list, but a pit-by-pit procedure. The manpower at the end of that time in the industry would be down to 138,000 from its current level of 202,000.

As a result, two-thirds of Welsh miners would become redundant, a third of those in Scotland, almost half of those in north east England, half in South Yorkshire and almost half in the South Midlands. The entire Kent coalfield would close.

The final paragraph of the document read: "It was agreed that no record of this meeting should be circulated."

A week later another document written by a senior civil servant suggested the same small group should meet regularly in future, but that there should be "nothing in writing which clarifies the understandings about strategy which exist between Mr MacGregor and the secretary of state for energy".

"If this document had ever emerged during the strike it would have been devastating for the credibility of Margaret Thatcher" because Mrs Thatcher and Mr MacGregor always maintained there were plans for the closure of only 20 pits, said Nick Jones, who covered the strike for the BBC..

 " It raises in my mind the question of whether there was a cover-up of these figures, and whether when we look back at what actually happened Arthur Scargill was right when he claimed that Ian MacGregor wanted to butcher the industry all along."

In the Morning Star, NUM secretary Chris Kitchen, who was a 17-year old miner at Wheldale colliery in West Yorkshire when the strike began,  said the revelation of MacGregor's hit list came as no surprise. Wrecking the coal-mining industry following the strike paved the way for privatisation of a raft of publicly owned industries - and led to today's energy crisis, soaring fuel bills and economic decline.

"We all knew it was not an industrial dispute, but a political dispute orchestrated by Thatcher and following the blueprint of the Ridley Report to destroy the trade union movement and pave the way for privatisation."

He said Thatcher and the government determined when the strike should be provoked - just as summer was approaching and coal stocks were high."We did not decide the timing of the strike. But the only option was to fight. If you just roll over you have no hope of winning. If you fight at least you have a chance."

Besides strikebreaking plans going back to Tory minister Nicholas Ridley in the 1970s, the newly released documents show the Thatcher cabinet considered using troops to break the strike. This was in July 1984 when it also faced a docks dispute. Fortunately for Thatcher this was avoided, and with it the feared possibility that power workers would react to the military bringing fuel through busted miners' picket lines.

In later years when workers in other industries said "Arthur Scargill was right", they were not just expressing sympathy for the miners and their communities, but ruefully acknowledging that thanks to other unions not backing the NUM, the Thatcher government and big employers were able to take on different sections of workers one slice at a time. Devastating an entire industry and the communities around it was a price the Tories were happy to pay to smash union strength, especially as they favoured finance capital and the City above all else. Globalisation means the rich can export capital and the country can import energy and goods produced in Third World sweatshops. Public services can be milked by private companies, though it is the users who are stigmatised as a burden, as the call is made for more cuts.

With Thatcher finally dead and buried, discussion of the released papers and memories of the strike have quickly led to consideration of who her accomplices were, and how did she get away with it? Neil Greatrex, of the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers(UDM) which led scabbing, is serving time for ripping off miners' sickness charity funds. Serve him right, we agree. But there were others in the shadows who aided and encouraged the UDM, and some may still have managed their stealthy re-entry into the movement.

And what of the TUC? Its leaders refused to support any action in solidarity with the miners, adopting a neutral stand while leaving it to ordinary working people throughout the country to do what they could in collecting food and money for the miners and their families.

As for Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, he was much readier to denounce the pickets and say he "detested" Arthur Scargill than he had been to condemn Margaret Thatcher. Putting this together with his attack on left-wing councillors like those in Liverpool who resisted the Tories, some people say the rot started in the Labour Party with the leadership of Neil Kinnock. Maybe so, but we should not forget that Kinnock was promoted as the "left-wing" half of the so-called "dream ticket" for leadership. Roy Hattersley, later to find himself overtaken by Blair's party as it moved to the Right , was the other half.

It was to some of the supposed Left - the Communist Party's "Euro"s - that Kinnock looked for ideas, and their part in prettifying Thatcherism, as well as their conduct towards the strike, should be looked at.

After the longest ever run as opposition leader, Kinnock never made it to Prime Minister, becoming instead a European Union commissioner and Baron Kinnock of Bedwellty. It was left to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to say they followed in Thatcher's footsteps.

 But it is was another Labour Lord who caught my attention, well after the strike was over, by what he said. In 2003, during the Brent East by-election, in London, I was having a cup of tea in Alf Filer's house in Kensal Rise, when who turned up in the road outside but Labour's John Reid, MP, accompanied by a couple of large minders. Reid was serving as Health Minister at the time, and Alf stepped out to challenge him on something happening in a local hospital. I followed,

Possibly misinformed by his minders into thinking that we were supporters of Scargill's Socialist Labour Party (we were actually working with the Socialist Alliance, though the SLP also put up a candidate), Reid said something like  "Tell Arthur Scargill to come up to my constituency and see the damage he did to communities". Seeing us momentarily puzzled by this, he repeated that Scargill should come and see the communities he had ruined.

."But that was Margaret Thatcher!", I replied. Then as Reid looked as though he might have realised he had said something outrageous, I added "Oh I forgot -you lot have joined her", By then the minders were hustling him back into his car.

John Reid had started, like Arthur Scargill, in the Young Communist League. At one time he had a 'Marxist' reputation and an image in the Labour Party as a Glasgow "hard man", He became an adviser to Neil Kinnock. By the time I met him he had evidently softened enough to accept a Tory view of what happened to the mining areas. Anyway he is now Lord Reid of  Cardowan. 

A miner's views on Neil Kinnock

Neil Kinnock's "Favourite Marxist"

  Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

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