Miners' strike: Battle lines drawn
We reprint below our first response to the miners’ strike from an edition of The Leninist
The most important decision of the January 1984 first conference of supporters of The Leninist - our faction in the Communist Party of Great Britain - was to go monthly.1 Our perspectives and methods have already been outlined in the extracts reproduced in last week’s paper.2
The article we reprint below is from the May 1984 edition and represents our first response to the miners’ strike. True, its style reflects where were at. But, as we shall see over the coming months in the material we reprint, articles in The Leninist were to become more and more authoritative and knowledgeable.
This one correctly identified some of the key political issues that, left unresolved, would ultimately lead to defeat. At the same time, it brings to the fore the potential role that Miners’ Support Committees could play beyond the simple provision of supplies to keep the miners and their families alive; the vital need for our own, working class ‘police force’ - Workers’ Defence Squads (miners’ hit squads, as they were concretised in the course of this epic 12-month war); the potentially treacherous nature of the trade union apparatus; and the need for rank-and-file organisation.
May Day statement: The miners’ fight is a fight for all workers
Ever since their humiliation at Saltley Gates by 15,000 secondary pickets in the 1972 miners’ strike, the capitalist class and their state have been working systematically to ensure that they never suffer such a defeat again.
And certainly after the 1974 miners’ strike they were determined that in the event of a similar struggle with the miners not only would they be revenged, but the entire working class would receive a crushing reverse of strategic proportions. The election of Thatcher marked the end of the era of cosy 10 Downing Street chats over beer and sandwiches between government ministers and trade union leaders. In place of this 1970s method of defeating the working class came head-on confrontation.
Steel workers, health workers, car workers, train drivers, print workers, civil servants - all fell victim to the Tory onslaught. Despite often heroic resistance from the rank and file, the trade union officials showed none of the determination of Thatcher and her single-minded approach of advancing the interests of the class she represents.
Wedded to their sectional trade unionism, softened by their bureaucratic privileges, they surrendered their members’ wages, conditions, rights and jobs. The Trades Union Congress functionaries were no better - in fact they were often worse; far from acting as the general staff of the trade union movement, they proved time and time again that they were nothing but a bunch of spineless fat cats, far removed from the lives of ordinary workers, who would rather betray workers’ interests than take on an aggressive Tory government.
Although gaining victory over one group of workers after another, Thatcher bided her time before taking on the miners. They not only have the victories of 1972 and 1974 under their belts, but despite the ravages of pit closures suffered under Labour governments they are clearly the most powerful section of the organised labour movement; they are its heavy guns.
Because of this the state has prepared carefully for the inevitable clash. Saltley is engraved on the minds of top government officials; in the light of it they scrapped the old Home Office Emergencies Committee and replaced it with the Civil Contingencies Unit, which keeps an updated file on 16 essential industries and services. It assesses their vulnerability to strikes and develops contingency plans to defeat the workers by the use of the police force and deploying troops as alternative labour. This reorganisation has been augmented by a host of other measures - above all the anti-trade union laws passed under Prior, Tebbitt and King. To provide the cutting edge for this array of new laws, army units have been specially trained and the police have been radically reequipped with anti-personnel equipment.
Dixon of Dock Green is dead and buried; in his place stands the highly paid, nationally organised and coordinated PC Thug. He is well versed in the use of the truncheon, baton round and water cannon; always ready to don riot gear, always willing to smash in the skull of any ‘coon or commie trade unionist’ that gets in the way of his masters’ plans.
To cap the preparations Thatcher appointed Ian MacGregor to head the National Coal Board. As we all know, he was chosen not because of his expertise in the technology of mining; he was the ideal candidate because of his record of butchery in the United States, his cold-hearted crushing of the steelworkers in 1980. Here was a class fighter who would not flinch, who could be trusted in an unyielding fight with the miners. With MacGregor coming to the NCB, the stage was now set for a decisive battle.
What makes them do it?
A defeat for the miners would be a prelude to an all-out assault on the rights, pay and conditions of the entire working class. Such an attack is not the result of Thatcher’s psychology, rabidly anti-working class that it is, or some collective insanity suffered by her cabinet. No, the Tories are quite clear what they are about: they know the demands of the system itself necessitate the assault. They, like Callaghan and Wilson before them, are driven against the interests of the working class under the lash of the economic laws of capitalism. The iron law of capital accumulation allows no argument, no appeals to reason; attack, attack, bludgeon into submission, it demands; drive down wages, destroy all that is inefficient, all that is not sufficiently profitable.
Already over three million unemployed workers stand witness to the callousness of the system, sacrificed to the god of profit, a deity which is seemingly insatiable. For, faced with an inherent decline in the rate of profit, international competition has increased tremendously. If British capitalists are not to go under, workers’ wages must be reduced. In their ‘eat or be eaten’ world they have no choice.
Survival demands they sacrifice the interests of the working class on the altar of profit. All this was proved by the Financial Times of April 6 1984, when it reported the highly significant fact that the CBI “is telling its member-companies to aim for zero increases in unit labour costs during the next 10 years and, where possible, to seek actual reductions of about three per cent” - something that was vital, the CBI stated, if British industry was to compete successfully internationally.
To achieve this aim the present rise in wages ahead of productivity must be reversed, an economic end which they look to the class-war politics of the Tory Party to ensure. Thatcher’s victories so far are all very well, they say, but they are not enough; in order to force down real wages the demoralised and depleted trade unions must not only be blooded, but now they must be cowed.
Central to this is the battle now unfolding with the miners. The capitalist class reckon that if the miners can be crushed the entire working class will be unable to resist wage cuts, non-trade union measures and speed-ups. Tory ministers have no illusions about the fight with the miners. They do not believe for one moment that this is some straightforward industrial dispute between the NUM and the NCB. Likewise they know that their talk of the police being impartial is nonsense - the police serve them - it is as simple as that.
All workers must join with the miners in a fight against not only the NCB, but the forces behind it which threaten all of us: the capitalist class, their Tory government and their state.
We must fight the class war without the blinkers of reformism, which tells us the state is neutral - ask the miners’ flying pickets about police neutrality; they will tell you what Marxists have always been propagating. The state is an instrument of force, used by one class against another. If we let the miners fight alone, if we content ourselves with pious resolutions in solidarity with them, then not only will the miners fall under the Tory boot, but all workers will come to feel its imprint, as they mercilessly grind us down.
How we can stop them
Let us meet the Tory attack on the miners with a united workers’ front. Let us meet Tory class war with proletarian class war. Let us meet their attempts to crush us with a counterattack which will reduce the Tory government to dust and destroy both the state machine that supports it and the economic system that feeds it. This is the way to answer the Tories. Meet attack with attack. To do this we must fight for the following demands now:
- Form local miners’ support committees on the basis of elected, recallable delegates from trade union branches, unemployed workers’ groups, trades councils, shop stewards committees, and all working class political and other organisations. Organise speaking tours for militant miners in every town and city. Publish local bulletins explaining the miners’ case.
- The militant rank-and-file membership of the trade unions must begin organising independently of the leadership in order that pledges of solidarity are realised, and so that in the face of Tory threats and the use of courts there is no retreat. Support the officials only in as much as they fight to fully represent the needs of the working class as a whole.
- Set up workers’ defence corps to protect meetings and picket lines. These should be controlled by trades councils or, where this is not possible, by miners’ support committees. They should consist above all of unemployed workers and strikers.
- The co-ops must provide and send large amounts of free food and provisions to the strikers and their families; this is something that miners’ support committees should pay particular attention to in non-mining areas.
- The TUC and Labour Party must be forced off the fence. They must declare their unconditional support for the miners’ strike and declare unequivocally that their picket lines must be respected. The TUC must be made to call a general strike against the pit closures and against the Tory anti-trade union laws.
- Halt the movement of all coal.
- All out for total victory.
1. Reported in the first copy of The Leninist in its new format in April 1984 - see www.cpgb.org.uk/home/about-the-cpgb/our-history/the-leninist-archive for a complete set of The Leninist online.
2. ‘The gathering storm’, February 27.